Student Grievance: Righting Imaginary Wrongs

In the persistent demands for submission to the current campus orthodoxy of verbal policing, there is evidently not a shadow of concern for the creation of ethical individuals capable of thinking for themselves. Instead, a distinctly authoritarian streak is proudly proclaimed in the assaults and threats angry students launch at others.

Ironically, the less there is to be angry about, the angrier student agitators get and the more vociferous their demands that the entire university is forced to conform to the particular terms official victim groups prescribe. And since anger, like the alleged pain of triggers and microaggressions, is the new currency of moral righteousness, those around them must genuflect and then rush to appease and heal the supposed wounds.

Surely only people used to enormous personal freedom are capable of willingly tossing it away in the name of righting wrongs that are ever more imaginary. How did it happen that the appeal to authoritarianism – the state and its institutions, the university and its administrators – has arisen in a modern liberal democracy as the path by which a better society is to be forged? Do students today lack all knowledge of the actual sordid history of the imposition of goodness (usually in the name of equality) throughout the world?  Or might it be not ignorance but a drive for power that leads many people today to embrace as solutions the very restrictions on freedom that have resulted in the death and destruction of millions?

Anger and accusations, it turns out, serve as powerful weapons, bringing administrators, faculty, and other campus reprobates to their knees. Perhaps it is the obeisance demanded and received that makes student protesters ever more aggressive, more extreme. Principles vanish, accusations grow more hysterical, reasonable voices are shouted down, claims to victimhood abound. What actually transpires, who does what to whom, who suffers what ills — none of this matters. Only the identity of the players counts.

And so, relinquishing reason and evidence bit by bit, we’ve come to the present pass, in which the presumptive powerlessness of minorities has turned into a strong and ever available weapon, just as the supposed powerlessness of women has become an effective bludgeon against men.  Abject apologies are extracted, careers are ended, resignations forced. Verbal disagreement is not to be tolerated. Nothing but capitulation will do.

No doubt the thrill of power so easily achieved is hard to resist.  But the groundwork for this new spectacle was laid decades ago, when well-meaning academics accepted double standards by which whites were permanently on the defensive, forever needing to apologize for their “white privilege.”

The language of white privilege wasn’t that common back in 1989 when Peggy McIntosh’s article on the subject began to wend its way through education programs.  Who could have anticipated such wild success, as the term became a tireless mantra for those taking up McIntosh’s call for curriculum reform and an “anti-racist pedagogy”?  And who could have foreseen such rapid surrender on the part of school faculty and administrators, as if they were in endless need of atonement?

Calm disagreement, when expressed, is treated these days as further incitement, as demonstrated by the reaction in 2014 to Princeton undergraduate Tal Fortgang’s article refusing to apologize for his supposed privilege. His words caused a storm, and the ensuing tempest was picked up by national media.  But Fortgang’s explanation rested on some details that undermined his own cause.  He was Jewish, and his family had fled Nazi-occupied Poland (those who didn’t were killed). In fact, he should not have had to offer such a defense.  The child of, say, wealthy Protestant parents should have the same right to not constantly apologize for his existence, for once identity politics are unleashed, no one is immune.

Indeed, the logic of demanding that people “check their privilege” is hard to grasp unless it is merely a verbal gesture (one so many academics are apparently willing to make).  Are they to hand it over? In what form and to whom? As in China? Cambodia? Eastern Europe? Or simply apologize for it forever more – as so many people who attacked Fortgang’s article seem inclined to do?  Yet it is telling that the meas culpas written to protest Fortgang’s and similar articles tend to be written in highly confident and assertive tones, perhaps in the belief that such self-criticism, so familiar a sight in totalitarian regimes, might spare the writers from personal attacks.

Do these good souls eager to “check their privilege” really aspire to live in a society that imposes ideological conformity and rhetorical policing on all its citizens? Or do they just want to display their own sterling credentials and moral superiority?  In fact, saying “Yes, I am privileged, I am guilty” changes not a thing.  It is an act of acquiescence to ritual humiliation.

The logical fallacy of this offering was beautifully displayed at Harvard in March 2016: During a formal debate ostensibly about renewable energy, two black debaters decided instead to attack their opponents’ skin color, and suggested that since “white life is based off black subjugation,” the ethical thing for whites to do is to kill themselves. “Affirmative suicide, that’s cool,” one experienced debater declared. “It’s one little step in the right direction.”

Related: Working Hard to Convince Freshmen They Are Victims

In the light of such statements, the recent attacks on Professor Bret Weinstein at Evergreen State College are mild—students merely shouted obscenities at him and demanded that he be fired. Evidently, even polite disagreement with the new campus dogma is not allowed. Weinstein’s great offense was to express the opinion that the college’s Day of Absence (whereby whites are asked to stay off campus for a day, an inversion this year of the annual ritual by which black students and faculty leave the campus to demonstrate how sorely they would be missed).

It is intolerable that Professor Weinstein should say, as he did: “On a college campus, one’s right to speak – or to be – must never be based on skin color.” No, according to his student critics, the mere expression of such a view provides incontrovertible evidence of the professor’s racism, which must be punished.

When the supposed oppressors knuckle under, either because they really believe in their guilt or because they’re trying to protect themselves from similar attacks by being vocal “allies,” a healthy society of individuals not subjected to group-think evaporates quickly. All that is left is arguments based not on reason and evidence but on blackmail and threats of violence. The rapid capitulation to the presumably correct politics of inflamed students has been visible for decades; it just wasn’t so cravenly embraced by administrators most of the time.  But now it is.

A Nation of Whiners and Grovelers

Claiming to feel unsafe—but only when the claim is put forth by a member of an official oppressed group–is the facile new campus device for preventing unpopular speech. News flash: life is dangerous, full of risks. Being safe from the words and attitudes of one’s neighbors isn’t possible in any absolute sense.  Never having to hear a discouraging word is incompatible with a society of free people, who, yes, are capable of being unkind, thoughtless, even mean and nasty.

It’s difficult to let go of highly emotional accusations that take no account of changing conditions or individual agency. Is the U.S. the same now as it was in the 1960s, the 1980s?  Hardly. Yet today, in the sub-legal environment of college campuses, any hurt feelings can be turned into a weapon, and the truth of an accusation counts not at all, merely the identity of the accuser and the accused.

We have created categories positively designed to stimulate accusations and aggravate resentments, and it should surprise no one that this is precisely what is taking place, as self-righteous students believe ever more deeply in their right to control others. Evidently, it is far easier to play this game of gotcha than to go about constructing a positive life for oneself.  The herd mentality is at work. We’ve become a nation of whiners and grovelers. Are all such demands for greater equality destined to founder and become mere reversals of privilege? Is that the new ideal of American citizenship?

In this topsy-turvy world, speaking truth to power has morphed into endless lies about our social reality. Everything in life is supposedly stacked against those whose forebears may indeed have experienced prejudice and marginalization, even if they have no experience of it in their own lives.  Who would wish to admit to not actually being a victim, when the payoffs are lavish, in sheer emotional indulgence, destructiveness to those around one, and the actual power to bring them down? How much more gratifying and, indeed, economical, than trying to work hard, learn, and forge a path through life. Claiming victimhood denies any agency while paradoxically fully displaying it in the too often successful attempts to destroy others over a comment or opinion.  Why not threaten violence in order to suppress expression of the “wrong” opinions?

What Fun to Attack Their Elders

The need to count grievances, and to invent them if none are readily available, creates a new social reality. But no one calls this the social construction of grievance. No; it’s simply called reality, and presented as if it were a fact of contemporary life. And like all other closed systems, there is no way to combat or contradict this representation, since to do so immediately marks one as a defender of privilege, a loathsome enemy of those suffering souls clamoring for justice.

That those suffering souls are college students in modern-day America evidently does nothing to modify this caricature.  Identity is all – except, of course, in those cases where one simply decides to adopt another identity (e.g., males “identifying as female”), in which case that simple declaration must be respected by all.

So, what have we? A real reality, in which race, sex, and class actually do exist and matter? Or a make-believe reality of which I am a victim if I say so and you an oppressor if I say that? Of which not referring to me by my preferred pronoun is a grievous injury?

In today’s academy, all offenses are treated as the same offense. When a cruel word is the same thing as a physical assault, a skeptical attitude about claims to perpetual victimization is simply not to be tolerated.  The inmates are running the asylum; the doctors have capitulated, afraid of losing their jobs or merely being stigmatized by people whose newly acquired virtue consists in insisting they are victims.

Enraged students these days evidently have too much time on their hands. Their school work is ever-less demanding, and their energy seems to find no outlet in positive activities – say, learning. Thus they must seek out alternatives.  What fun to attack their elders, those who dare imagine they have something to teach them, those whose lives will (if they don’t lose their jobs) continue in these educational institutions long after the irate students have gone on to greener pastures.

Or maybe not. Perhaps not using their time in college to actually learn about the world beyond their narrow little vision of villains and victims will have some cost in their future lives.  Maybe one day they’ll realize they wasted a great opportunity, that they weren’t in college to do moral grandstanding, to engage in risk-free politics, to create little storms endlessly magnified by the media, but to actually explore the world, to get beyond frantic recriminations and gain some understanding.  To do that, however, they’d have to value the opportunity to study, open their minds, give up their puerile grievances, and grow up.

Of course, if the elders around them can’t get beyond abject apologies and groveling, the adult world doesn’t look very enticing.  In which case, it makes sense to just continue with the same drama, the same recriminations, forever more. After all, it seems to pay—at least for now, at least on the very dangerous terrain of the modern university.

When Universities Go Out of Control

Edgar Rice Burroughs foresaw the situation at Evergreen State and other campuses. He described it in Tarzan Untamed, a 1919 novel in which the hero finds himself in the lost city of Xuja.

Xuja, hidden in a secret valley, cut off from the rest of the world, resembles the typical American campus today in that the Xujans are also given to occasional eruptions of insanity. A citizen might be walking down a street, conducting a rational conversation when he will be suddenly enraged (triggered, you might say). His eyes will go dull, enameled by some obscure idea, and he will assault a fellow Xujan, and beat him savagely.

The entire country feels like Xuja now—a circus of the Id. It’s not just the universities. Donald Trump is the President of Xuja. A hitherto respectable citizen of lesser rank (Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte, let’s say) will erupt in a mad fit and throw a reporter to the floor.

If Edgar Rice Burroughs was a racist, it is not evident in the Xuja story: His villains in the tale—aside from the crazies in the lost city, who are sort of white, or something—were Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germans, who appear earlier in the story; they had been marauding in East Africa in the years just before Burroughs wrote the novel.

Too many American colleges — sometimes I think all of them — have become satellite campuses of the University of Xuja. They have aspects of the insane asylum (in which the patients are of course not responsible for their actions). Giving the matter a different emphasis, you might call them institutions of higher daycare.

Evergreen State is an especially vivid case because of the widely shared video in which students confront Professor Weinstein outside his classroom. Professor Weinstein is a professor of evolutionary biology; here we see him in dialogue with the adolescent reptilian brain.  Amazing.  The students are perfectly moronic in their virtue. Send the video over to the anthropology department. Jean Cocteau once wrote: “Stupidity is always amazing, no matter how often one encounters it.”

The Red Guards in China’s Cultural Revolution behaved in this fashion—banging through the institutions, humiliating their elders and now and then destroying a professor’s life’s work.  Pol Pot’s youthful idealists did the same before they got down to the hard work of Cambodian genocide.  This is human nature in its state of raw and most profound stupidity— murderous and yet astonishingly sentimental about itself. What could equal the chivalrous indignation of a Mississippi lynch mob assembled on a Saturday night in 1910 to vindicate the virtue of Southern Womanhood?

What’s at work in the campus eruptions is not a virtue or social justice; it has nothing whatever to do with learning or knowledge or the life of the mind.  It’s the other way around. These performances — a travesty of education — do not expand the mind, they devour it.

College authorities — a term of irony, a perverse oxymoron — are desperate for the approval of the children. That’s what is essentially wrong. The college sets up bouncy castles in the quad. They go over language and Halloween costumes with a fine-tooth comb, seeking not truth or knowledge or insight, but, rather, evidence of micro-aggressions. Brains shut down and become Play-Doh.

Yet, at the same time: they are given over to a permanent state of agitation – to hysteria. Learning to tend the fires and ceremonies of their grievances, they acquire plausible historical and ideological excuses for not studying — and indeed for not thinking. Ideology does the thinking. Some parents pay something in the high five figures for four years to have their sons’ and daughters’ minds systematically disabled.  Pre-frontal lobotomy would be cheaper.

The Evergreen president’s message to his students — after they had assaulted one of his professors and demanded the destruction of that honest man’s career and livelihood, on grounds of an imagined ideological slight — was a masterpiece of the sniveling and craven. Although Evergreen President George Bridges announced that progressive professor Bret Weinstein wouldn’t be suspended, Bridges said that he would comply with the long list of demands brought by the students, whom he called “courageous.”

University presidents in the twenty-first century have perfected this form of self-abasement. It is one of their tools of survival.

The sane response at Evergreen, Middlebury, Yale and elsewhere would be to expel the students involved:  Not to warn them, not to counsel them, not to suspend them, but to expel them. In no other way will the virus be brought under control. At Yale,  angry students who abused and threatened the husband and wife professors drew no punishment, but the innocent professors were driven from the campus as the students demanded, and the president of the university took no action.

A good education, ardently pursued, would go a long way to curing crises of identity and to composing differences.  But those presiding over the ideologies have no wish to cure; the point is to use the crises and to inflame them.

In loco parentis, indeed.  The elders (so many of them veterans of the Long March of the nineteen sixties, now holding the presidencies and chancellorships and tenured professorships) busy themselves at making the young as fatuous — as intellectually lifeless — as themselves, bundled up in the neurotic vocabularies of Caring.  It is an ignoble business.

Self-confidently virtuous students and college presidents might take a few hours to study Robert Jay Lifton’s extraordinary 1986 book, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, which has just been reissued in paperback.

A quote: “As Bavarian professors were told by their new minister of culture: ‘From now on, it will not be your job to determine whether something is true, but whether it is in the spirit of National Socialist Revolution.’”

Of course, zealous American students and educators claim that they are, quite precisely, fighting Nazis. If so, they should be more careful not to imitate them. They should look in the mirror, and then look a second time, and a third, and try to see how, with an entirely different eye from theirs, history will see them.

What is at stake is not students’ racial, ethnic, or gender identity. Such issues, believe it or not, are transient.  The twenty-first century is moving on at the speed of light and has far more serious business in mind.

As for the universities, their very reason for being is at stake. Right now, it seems to me that they are in the active process of trying to destroy themselves.

Four Lessons for Professors from Recent Campus Tumult

1) Never object to a diversity policy publicly. It is no longer permitted. You may voice concerns in a private conversation, but if you do it in a public way, you are inviting a visit from a mob or punishment from an administrator.

2) Do not assume that being politically progressive will protect you (as Weinstein found out at Evergreen and the Christakises learned at Yale). Whatever your politics, you are eventually going to say or do something that will be interpreted incorrectly and ungenerously. Your intentions don’t matter (as Dean Spellman found out at CMC). This is especially true if your university offers students training in the detection of microaggressions.

3) If a mob comes for you, there is a good chance that the president of your university will side with the mob and validate its narrative (as the presidents at Yale and Evergreen have done, although the presidents at Middlebury and Claremont McKenna did not).

4) If a mob comes for you, the great majority of its members will be non-violent. However, given the new standard operating procedure (which I described in a recent Chronicle article entitled “Intimidation is the New Normal”) you must assume that one or more of its members is willing to use violence against you, and you can assume that many members of the mob believe that violence against you is morally justifiable.

Excerpted with permission from Heterodox Academy

Angry Students Turn on Another Progressive Prof at Evergreen

Evergreen State College Biology professor Bret Weinstein is surprised. Indignant. Alarmed.

Weinstein is the new Allison Stanger—the progressive Middlebury professor still suffering a concussion from the attack by the masked anti-Charles Murray rioters on March 2. Weinstein is also the new Laura Kipnis, the progressive Northwestern professor hauled up on Title IX charges in 2015 by her university after she published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which she criticized the “sexual paranoia” of some of her fellow campus feminists.

Kipnis now faces a “Jane Doe” lawsuit from a former Northwestern student Kipnis called “Nola Hartley” in her book, Unwanted Advances.   Weinstein also has some kinship with Jordan Peterson, the social democratic professor at the University of Toronto who has been mobbed by protesters for his objections to proposed legislation that would require faculty members to use “non-binary pronouns” such as “zhe” and “zir.”

Weinstein, Stanger, Kipnis, and Peterson are all left-of-center faculty members who are—or were—at peace with the progressive agenda whipping through higher education like a wind-driven prairie fire in a drought.  And they all found themselves suddenly on the wrong side of the flames.

Year of the Shout-Down

Judging by his op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Professor Weinstein remains puissantly in favor of Evergreen College’s progressive approach to higher education and its octopus embrace of diversity, racial grievance, and victim identity.  He is no backslider from the core doctrines of contemporary academe as advanced by the last generation of leftist ideologues. He just hasn’t kept up. He’s aware of the new positions, which have evolved from the old ones, but he somehow cannot get himself to march to the new music.

The essence of the Weinstein story is that he was perfectly good with Evergreen’s “Day of Absence,” when “students and faculty of color” left campus for a day to remind those left behind how much the community as a whole was enriched by their everyday presence.  But this year Evergreen flipped the theatrics and asked the white students, staff, and faculty to make themselves scarce. Weinstein objected, and then met his classes as usual on the day in question, April 12. Nothing happened.  But someone was keeping track, and on May 23, some fifty students invaded his class, yelling obscenities, calling Weinstein a racist, and demanding that he resign. He now lives under a threat of violence from these students, and Evergreen’s president, George Bridges, has allegedly told the campus police to “stand down.”  Weinstein is left to fend for himself.

That last detail would seem hard to believe except that it so closely matches what has happened on other campuses. Stanley Kurtz has put together a nice compendium of “The Year of the Shout-Down,” and more than a few of the incidents involve college authorities simply deciding not to enforce their institution’s own rules against disruptions.  Middlebury president Laurie Patton “vowed” accountability to the disruptors, but then handed out wrist slaps of a leniency similar to a mandatory application Oil of Olay hand cream.

Patton and the other presidents who stand by and do nothing are not just appeasers of the student mobs; they are diffident admirers. They dare not say outright that the raw authenticity of black students tearing the place up with the connivance of white “allies” gladdens their progressive hearts. They know the alumni wouldn’t like that.  But these presidents will do all in their considerable power to protect their cohort of mischievous social justice warriors.  Those mobs threatening conservative speakers and insufficiently enthusiastic progressive professors are a badge of honor for the college presidents whose greatest fear is that they will be left out of the Great Historical Moment.

White Racism—Is It Relentless?

Perhaps the biggest question for those outside the academy is: What is that Great Historical Moment?  It is probably best grasped as Ferguson, though it could as easily be named Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter, or even the Obama Era.  It is the moment defined in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, in which the fading residue of institutionalized racial discrimination is amped up to a belief that white hatred of blacks pervades every aspect of American society, and nothing short of a revolution will end it.

The less actual evidence there is of racial animosity coming from whites, the more important it is to conjure its insidious presence, and the more urgent it is to teach the coming generation of black Americans to ground their lives in victimhood, resentment, and robust resistance to surrounding society.  This apotheosis of resentment, of course, is not limited to blacks.  Any collection of people willing to band together into an identity group based on a history of victimization can do the same thing.  Women, Hispanics, Native Americans, illegal immigrants, and sexual minorities of all sorts can adapt both the logic and the techniques of revolutionary existential despair.  But black Americans define this territory; the others merely emulate.

The Great Historical Moment comes with the realization that this movement must discard all the old forms of civility that governed society in general and the university in particular.  Willingness to listen to arguments on the other side is a sign of weakness.  Toleration of dissent from the views being asserted today only vitiates the solidarity of the movement.  Deference to the individuality of people in all their diversity dilutes the purity of the group’s will to power.

Professor Weinstein is blind to most of this.  He persists in thinking that he is engaged in a defense of liberal or even progressive principles.  In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, he sees himself as a critic of President Bridges’ campaign to substitute the principle of “equity” for the formerly reigning shibboleth, “diversity.”  The “equity agenda” at Evergreen ramps up the demand for hiring people on the basis of race rather than ability or accomplishment.  The diversity agenda, of course, did the same thing, but lightly disguised the proceedings with an appeal to the good will of all involved.  “Equity” removed the velvet wrapper from the iron fist.  And Weinstein sees this as finding support among the campus postmodernists.

Here Comes the Equity Agenda

He is not wrong about the postmodern element.  He is speaking of those academics who can no longer credit the idea that there are foundational truths, and who instead see the world is little more than fragments of attention spent on a perpetual struggle for power and privilege.  These folks, holding forth in the humanities, have no basis on which to stand against an organized grievance group.  Unable to oppose it, they either accede to it or adopt it as their own.

Jonathan Haidt has drawn some plausible conclusions from the Weinstein affair, coming on top of other such descents.  Haidt observes that the rules appear to be: (1) “Never object to a diversity policy publicly”; (2) “Do not assume that being politically progressive will protect you”; (3) “If a mob comes for you, there is a good chance that the president of your university will side with the mob and validate its narrative”; and (4) “If a mob comes for you, the great majority of its members will be non-violent, [but] you must assume that one or more of its members is willing to use violence against you.”

Alas, these are sound points.  But they probably do not go quite far enough.  What I have called the Great Historical Moment is a delusion that lives in the heads of a great many faculty members, college presidents, and even some trustees.  It has found fertile ground in the minds of a generation of students who have been marinated for their entire education in progressive ideology and who have but the thinnest comprehension of human nature, civilization, the rule of law, and American history.  They have a rage to destroy, and only utopian fantasies to put in place of what they would tear down.

Like all utopian movements, this one will also fail.  The great Historical Moment is a figment of their collective imagination.  But the failure is bound to be costly, not only to the students themselves but also to the institutions that have fostered it.

Evergreen College was a somewhat silly experiment when it was started in 1967.  It belongs to a small category of “alternative” colleges opened in that era, including Hampshire (1970) and Prescott (1966), which replaced traditional curriculum with a surfeit of progressive novelties. What the Weinstein affair really teaches is that the experiment has run its course.  But it may take a few years for Evergreen to realize that.

Middlebury Student Government Says No to Free Speech

Middlebury’s response to the disruption of Charles Murray’s invited campus address—followed by the protesters assaulting and injuring Professor Alison Stanger, moderator for the talk—offered little ground for optimism. A statement from the college implied that evidence (albeit ambiguous evidence) existed suggesting that some professors violated the Faculty Handbook in the pre-disruption period. The disruptors themselves received token punishments, as several sympathetic professors supported them in the disciplinary process. The chief of the Middlebury Police Department even denied that the disruptors assaulted Stanger. (“It was more of a scrum. There wasn’t any assault per se.”)

The Middlebury student government, moreover, has seemed intent on confirming the critics’ case about a campus out of control. After repeatedly expressing support, in words and deeds, for the disruptors, the student government concluded its term by rejecting an academic freedom/viewpoint diversity bill, which sponsors Rae Aaron and Jack Goldfield hoped would reaffirm the college’s stated commitment—clearly not upheld in the Murray case—that “officially recognized student organizations may invite to the campus and hear any person of their choosing,” and that “free intellectual inquiry, debate, and constructive dialogue are vital to Middlebury’s academic mission and must be protected even when the views expressed are unpopular or controversial.”

In the body’s first meeting after the Murray disruption and the attack on Stanger, the student government’s co-chair issued an apology—for not convening an “emergency session” before the Murray event, with the goal of appeasing the would-be disruptors. The only resolution the student government passed on the issue was a thinly-veiled effort to urge that the disruptors avoid all punishment for their actions. The measure was approved on a 10-3 vote.

The academic freedom/viewpoint diversity resolution noted that pressure on campus free speech has come from both sides of the ideological spectrum. It urged the administration to champion diverse viewpoints on campus, expressed support for the right of peaceful protest, and looked to have the student government call “upon Middlebury College to allow outside speakers of all viewpoints—assuming they are invited by a student organization, conduct themselves in a lawful manner, and do not physically harass—to speak on campus without the threat of disruption, and to enforce the policies as set forth in the Student Handbook.”

This commonsense proposal generated furious opposition, and ultimately (in a somewhat weakened form) went down to defeat. If nothing else, opponents of free speech on the Middlebury campus are unusually candid in their distaste for the concept. While some critics offered the unusual canard—that a distinction exists between “hate speech” and free speech, and the college needs to crack down on the former—they also presented some intriguing claims.

One student senator, for instance, incredibly asserted that the college had both a statutory (hostile work environment for student employees) and a constitutional (“due process”) requirement to censor. Other student senators claimed that passing an academic freedom resolution would “prioritize” some voices, while ignoring “voices that can’t be heard because of societal pressures”—even though Middlebury has myriad student identity politics groups (and, of course, academic programs as well), while the only students whose voices were suppressed in this affair were those whose group had invited Murray to speak. Several senators justified their vote on grounds that defending free speech could be interpreted as criticism of the student disruptors, who at the time still had not received their (token) discipline.

In perhaps the strangest section of the debate, a co-sponsor of the resolution pointed (appropriately) to the suffrage movement as an organization that used peaceful protest, and the power of ideas, to win support. (She could also have referenced Jon Rauch’s arguments on the importance of free speech to the gay rights movement.) The critics’ response? Using “the women’s right to vote movement is not applicable,” because it was “only white women” who benefited from suffrage.

The minutes also featured a lengthy statement from one of the student disruptors. After speaking of his desire for a “middle path” on the issue of free speech—“I’m not saying Charles Murray has to be arrested if he comes onto our campus (that would be repression/censorship)”—the disruptor affirmed that if “we as a community are going to commit to ending discrimination, we will also have to commit to denouncing speech that constitutes discrimination (either by further normalizing white-supremacy or engendering violent/discriminatory action).” His conclusion? “We must name white supremacy and deprive it of power. Robbing Charles Murray of one platform for his racist pseudoscience is a small but important part of that resistance.”

In an interview with The New York Times, a Middlebury political science professor worried how events of the year showed a failure of teaching, in that many of the college’s students “don’t understand the value of free speech at a college and what free speech really means.” Based on the outcome of the free speech resolution debate, it would be difficult to argue with that assessment.

Re-Educating Whites on Campus

Colleges are now increasingly busy herding faculty members into racial equity training seminars where they are urged to examine and eliminate their white privilege, implicit bias, and role in maintaining institutional racism. It’s as though Mao’s Cultural Revolution has come to campuses everywhere.

One such effort recently erupted into bitter dissension at Duke Divinity School when Prof. Paul Griffiths, Warren Chair of Catholic Theology, responded to an email sent to faculty urging them to attend a two-day Racial Equity Institute. Calling it a “waste” and objecting to the “exhortation,” Griffith predicted “with confidence” that it would be “intellectually flaccid,” filled with “bromides, cliches, and amen-corner rah-rahs.” If it gets beyond that, he added, “its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show. Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual.”

Griffith was subsequently chastised by his dean for using email to “express racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry,” and threatened with disciplinary action. He then resigned. (The American Conservative reported on this controversy and reprinted relevant documents.)

Now comes a friend from the left coast who has forwarded to me a May 17 invitation to the faculty from The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness at San Jose State University to participate in an eight-week  re-education exercise professional development program on “Whiteness and Race.”

This eight-week indoctrination “professional development series,” the invitation states, “offers the opportunity for SJSU white-identified faculty to build their racial literacy through participation in a seminar focused on whiteness, white racial identities, white racism, and anti-racist practice.” Whiteness, the program description helpfully explains, “refers to hegemonic racial power that privileges white groups while subordinating racialized ‘others.’” Still not clear about “whiteness”? Never fear, there’s more: “As an identity and performance, it is a position of racial privilege, a standpoint perspective, and a set of cultural practices that often remain unmarked. As an ideological and institutional structure, it is a complex web of discourses and processes that sustain racial domination.”

This program reflects the research of, and is “facilitated” by, SJSU Sociology Professor Susan Murray, whose professional preoccupation seems to be a social science version of racial navel-gazing. From her web page:

White culture, white racism, and white privilege are so deeply embedded in American history, in our social institutions, and in everyday thinking that I find myself in constant self-reflection about my own racial location. American cultural denial of privilege, of history, of institutional racism, and the constant barrage of white racism in the media (especially during this election season) create moments of intellectual self-doubt about my research agenda.

Based on the scholarship and other notions that inform this seminar promoting “racial literacy” (see, for example, Murray’s article, “Whitened rainbows: how white college students protect whiteness through diversity discourses”), I confess that I must be a racial illiterate. Although my racial illiteracy and the inevitably resulting racial insensitivity no doubt make my opinions and judgment suspect, I wonder if I am the only one who sees a problem with a state institution limiting an educational …  er, well, … opportunity to “white faculty,” or rather to “white-identified faculty.”

And for that matter, who is authorized to do the identifying or to judge the authenticity of the identifying? For example, if a Rachel Dolezal in reverse — a woman (i.e., a person who identifies — or perhaps is identified by others? — as of the feminine gender) who has a dark skin but identifies as white — if such a person wanted to attend, would she be allowed? Or what about Justice Clarence Thomas, should he find himself at some point on the SJSU faculy, or better yet, Shelby Steele, who taught At San Jose State from 1974 to 1991?? Neither, of course “identifies” as white, but others have described both of them as “Oreos,” a person who is black on the outside but white inside.

And what about those people, of whom there are many (some perhaps even on the SJSU faculty), who appear to be white but for whatever reason don’t “identify” as white? I’m sure Prof. Murray thinks those are precisely the people most in need of re-education attending since she freely admits that she herself was late to the enlightenment party: “it was not until graduate school at UCSC that I really started thinking about my own racial privilege and racist proclivities.” Given the tainted American environment, then, it is not surprising that others are in need of what she has to facilitate.

Since white-appearing faculty who choose not to subject themselves to this “professional development series” are so obviously the ones who need it most, surely the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at SJSU must have some means at its disposal of forcing them to do so. Not doing so would seem to be a dereliction of its diversity-inducing duty.

Increased Sensitivity Needed–Yale Dean Yelps at Whites

It is awfully tempting to laugh at the case of Yale dean June Chu, for writing Yelp reviews of restaurants and food stores that referred to customers as “low class folks” and included statements like, “If you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!” Watching the sensitivity monitors go after one of their own is a guilty pleasure.

But the exaggerated response to Chu’s nasty remarks on Yelp about white people should sadden liberals and conservatives alike. The message sent out to students and faculty by Stephen Davis, the head of Pierson College, announcing Chu’s removal, is a jumble of sensitivity bureaucratese that embodies everything conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals, and any self-respecting American adult hates about tolerance ideology.

The sentences do what they are supposed to do, that is, to numb the independent will of a free citizen.  Examples:

  • “make sure that your academic needs are addressed”
  • “partner with me in envisioning a way forward”
  • “deeply harmful to our community fabric”
  • “a path toward healing and reconciliation”
  • “what holds us together is our collective effort to ensure that every single person in our midst is valued beyond measure”
  • “to honor and embrace those who are different from us”

The solemnity is hard to stomach.  The elevation of stupid remarks on a Web site into a grave hate crime shows the impulse of a totalitarian.  Do not take the words of sorrow and empathy at face value.  They carry a not-so-subliminal message to everyone at Yale: watch your mouth, even on private time.  You may have a sterling record of diversity worship on the job, but if you let slip a frustration that assumes the form of a group denunciation, you’re done.

Maybe this threat to private conduct is just a function of the Digital Age, which encourages individuals to share every thought and experience and which watches over them unless they block their “Privacy” settings.  Add to the technology the progressivist impulse to re-educate people who don’t follow the party lines on race, sex, gender, nation, and religion, and you get the language of Davis’s email.

At what point are a critical mass of people going to rise up and say, “That’s none of your business!”

Universities, Free Speech and the Rise of the Spit-Viper Left

Free speech on campuses has come on hard times. By now, we are all too familiar with the litany: invited speakers disinvited, talks by honored guests disrupted by shouting protesters, vandalism and riots forcing the cancellation of events, campus security announcing it cannot guarantee public safety.

The disruptions and attacks come almost entirely from an emergent Spit-Viper Left (as I call it), drawn from a motley collection of campus grievance groups that are angry, uninformed, anti-intellectual and uniformly illiberal in their attitudes and beliefs.  They may describe themselves as feminists, defenders of civil rights, or advocates for sexual minorities, but they are very different from the older, and more tolerant versions of such advocacy groups, and far removed from any manner of liberalism by their authoritarian ways and intemperate rage.

Whatever else may be among the concerns of this newly emergent Left, furthering its cause through rational discussion isn’t one of them. The 60s-era radical Todd Gitlin, distraught at this transformation of the campus Left, suggests it may subconsciously feel that reason and argument are no longer on its side. Free speech, a fruitful exchange of ideas, mutual intellectual enrichment — these are not its modus operandi. And those among the most illiberal segments of the Left on college campuses often attract to their protests even more radical and more illiberal supporters from beyond the university, who bring with them a love of violence, confrontation and disruption. Mayhem can be exhilarating for some people — especially young males —  and outside anarchists and nihilists come to join in the fun.

Related: Do Free Speech Students Outnumber the Snowflakes?

It is important to realize just how far this newly emergent Left has strayed from the American Left of the immediate post-WWII decades.  During the Cold War, it was often Social Democrats and other anti-Communist leftists who were leaders in the struggle to defend free speech, whether on college campuses or within the broader society.

People like NYU philosopher Sidney Hook, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, University of North Carolina President Frank Graham, and perennial American Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas were in the forefront of those defending a very broad understanding of free speech in America and its central importance to a vibrant, well-functioning democracy.

Together with influential organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Americans for Democratic Action, these left-leaning defenders of free speech proclaimed in unison the ideal attributed to Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Stalinists and other Communists, of course, never bought into such an ideal, but in the post-war decades, especially after Khrushchev’s famous 1956 Secret Speech denouncing the crimes of the Stalinist era, old-line Communists in America became increasingly marginalized, not least among the democratic Left.  This attitude carried over to the beginnings of the New Left, which in its founding Port Huron Statement praised American universities as “the only mainstream institution that is open to participation by individuals of nearly any viewpoint.”

The New Left first came to national attention in 1964 with a largely peaceful demonstration by students in Berkeley, California, as part of a Free Speech Movement challenging the university to live up to the free speech ideals it proclaimed.

Related: Their Violence Is Free Speech, But Our Speech is Violence

In the Cold-War years, it was usually members of the anti-Communist Right who sought to restrict the range of speakers permitted on college campuses. William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review and America’s leading conservative intellectual, considered it one of his great early achievements when he successfully convinced Yale University (his alma mater) to rescind a previous invitation to a prominent Communist to speak on the Yale campus. Dis-inviting invited guests didn’t start in the current century or with the Left.

The opposition to free speech on campus by the anti-communist Right, however, was hardly comparable in its scope or impact to the broad-based assault on free speech that we see today launched by the Radical Left. The anti-communist Right during the Cold War sought almost exclusively to deny hardcore Communists the right to speak — those seen by almost all Americans as not only odious but as traitors giving aid and comfort to America’s implacable enemies.

Aside from the views of pro-Soviet Communists, there were few views expressed on college campuses during the Cold War years that the Right sought to ban. Controversial speakers routinely came on campus with little opposition from organizations of the Right. There were no campus riots, the shouting down of lecturers, threats of violence, bomb scares and false fire alarms, strong-arm scuffles, acts of vandalism and arson — tactics that have become common among the Radical Left today.

And the targets of such assaults by the Radical Left are typically not those holding intolerant or extremist views like Klansmen or neo-Nazis, but often people of great moderation, decency, and an eagerness to engage those holding opposing views with sympathetic understanding and reasoned argument.

When people like Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Charles Murray, Suzanne Venker, Ben Shapiro, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Heather Mac Donald and others like them are forbidden to speak on various college campuses — or their invitations to speak suddenly withdrawn — we know we are in a big-time crisis far removed from the minor-league opposition to free speech on college campuses that existed in the 1950s and 1960s.

Elsewhere I have referred to the Spit-Viper Left as “snowflake Jacobins and crybaby fascists.”  This designation was intended to draw attention to the fact that those who comprise the Radical Left on college campuses today — many of whom were brought up in excessively protective and indulgent parental households — manage to combine an overly sensitive and thin-skinned temperament unable to tolerate criticism, with an anti-liberal ideology and fascist-like authoritarianism.  And these Black-Shirted Snowflakes gain the support of at least small numbers of radical faculty members — and the cowardly indulgence of many college presidents.

Related: The Seven Deadly Sins of Higher Education

Most troubling is the fact that there seems to be a significant number of people outside the academy who are not themselves radicals or leftists but who agree with the Radical Left that those espousing offensive viewpoints ought not to be permitted to speak on college campuses.

A recent poll (April 27-30, 2017) by the firm of Morning Consult found an alarming number of Americans who support an extreme speech-restrictive viewpoint.  The following was one of the questions asked of a representative national sample: “Universities should not allow guest speakers to appear on campus if the guest’s words are considered to be hateful or offensive by some.”

If you scratched your head and asked, “Who could possibly agree with such a broadly proscriptive statement?” you are not well attuned to public opinion today. A very significant minority of Americans believe that only speakers should be invited to college campuses whose message does not seriously offend anyone and is not considered by anyone to be hateful.

The poll showed that support for such an “offense-takers veto” differs considerably by demographic groups. Women were much more likely than men to support the “don’t allow offensive speakers” position (36 percent vs. 23 percent), Blacks more likely than Whites (43 percent vs. 28 percent), and Democrats more likely than Republicans (41 percent versus 28 percent).

When gender and political categories are combined, the statistics looked particularly grim: Close to half (47 percent) of female Democrats agreed that offense-giving speakers should not be allowed to speak on college campuses versus only 18 percent of male Republicans. When one considers that females as both students and administrators often outnumber males on many college campuses, that at Ivy League and other elite institutions students identifying as Democrats often far outnumber those identifying as Republicans, and that many of the most politically engaged students are drawn from departments like Sociology, Women’s Studies, and Comparative Literature that are dominated by female Democrats, one gets a sense of the fragility of any free speech consensus on American campuses today.

Why should we worry about free speech on college campuses? How important is free speech on or off campus?  These are perennial questions that need to be addressed now more than ever.  I’ll just say briefly that for answers we could hardly do better than turning to the defense of open discussion and free speech in John Stuart Mill’s classic On Liberty, or to the defense of the university as the place where people of differing backgrounds can come together and share their differing perspectives found in Ralph Mannheim’s long neglected Ideology and Utopia. A brief word about each.

Mill starts out with the sensible claim that on many issues of public controversy, truth is often not monopolized by any one side.  While the human mind tends toward simplicity and one-sidedness, the fullness of truth, Mill believed, usually requires the interweaving of the partial truths contained in varying and often conflicting positions. Free speech and a vigorous confrontation with viewpoints differing from one’s own are indispensable to realizing this goal. Common opinions, Mill says, “are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth.  They are part of the truth, sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjointed from the truth by which they ought to be accompanied and limited.”  “In the human mind,” he goes on, “one-sidedness has always been the rule, and many-sidedness the exception.”

The only way that anyone — even the wisest and smartest — can ever come to know the truth on complex issues of morality and public policy is to listen attentively to the best presentations of the various opinions held on these subjects and then weld together whatever insights can be gained from a fair-minded assessment of each. “No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this,” Mill writes, “nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.”  Such a process, of course, requires open, vigorous, and often contentious debate.

Even if an expressed opinion has no truth in it whatever, it can serve an important function in the truth-seeking process, Mill explains, in that its refutation requires understanding why it is not true and why an alternative view is better. Above all, disapproved opinions must not be prohibited if the goal is to know the truth and to know why it is true, and to know why competing views are not true or not the whole truth. “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion,” Mill writes, “is that it is robbing the human race — those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.  If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

Mill’s defense of freedom of thought and freedom of expression in On Liberty is still the most eloquent and intelligent treatment of its subject in the English language.  It should be on every college reading list for entering freshmen.

Mannheim has a view similar to Mill’s regarding the complexity of truth in the area of controversial political issues and he shares with Mill the belief in the natural one-sidedness and parochialism of the human mind.  And like Mill, he believes that the only way that this limitation can be overcome is by bringing together people representing contrasting viewpoints and integrating the truth within each into a more comprehensive whole.

“It has become incontrovertibly clear today,” Mannheim writes, “that all knowledge which is either political or which involves a world-view, is inevitably partisan. All points of view in politics are but partial points of view because historical totality is always too comprehensive to be grasped by any one of the individual points of view which emerges out of it.”  He continues: “The fragmentary character of all knowledge is clearly recognizable.  But this implies the possibility of an integration of many mutually complementary points of view into a comprehensive whole.”

Mannheim believed that this integration process would be easiest to achieve by university-educated intellectuals who would attend institutions where they could receive a similar educational experience that would enable them to share with one another their varying perspective viewpoints. The unifying bond of such educational institutions would be the shared conviction that all could learn from one another and that a vigorous exchange of contending ideas would enrich everyone’s understanding.

Today the central ideas of both Mannheim and Mill could be used to defend some kind of university focus on “diversity” in its faculty and student body though it would be a very different kind of diversity than what is currently understood by that term in most of today’s institutions of higher learning.  The most important kind of diversity for Mannheim and Mill was ideological or viewpoint diversity, especially in regard to politics, economics, morality and religion. The fact that on many of these subjects contemporary American universities are often among the least diverse institutions in American life would clearly be seen by them as a tragic failure.

The systematic silencing of voices challenging the Left, and even within the Left a narrowing of permissible opinions to those of angry, anti-intellectual grievance groups, is a betrayal of a central mission of a university education. We have allowed the barbarians to destroy what should be one of the citadels of our civilization.  That, at least, would be the judgment of the older liberal defenders of universities and free speech like Mannheim and Mill. The Spit-Viper Left has spread its venom far and wide and paralyzed the work of one of the few institutions democracies rely upon for their sustained vibrancy and good health. There remains for us — whether liberal, conservative, libertarian, or social democrat — the work of reconstruction.

A Sad Goodbye to a Great Friend

Peter Augustine Lawler of Berry College, one of our best writers, has passed away at age 65.

His last article for us appeared here last Thursday, “The  Withering Away of the College Professor,” an excerpt from his last book, American Heresies and Higher Education. 

We extend our deepest sympathies to his family.

He will be missed.

The Kipnis Lawsuit Seeks to Muzzle the Truth

The lawsuit filed by Northwestern Title IX accuser “Nola Hartley” against best-selling author Laura Kipnis (Unwanted Advances) has attracted substantial attention from both the mainstream media and from commentators; the two best pieces (taking differing approaches to the lawsuit’s merits) come from Robby Soave and Michelle Goldberg. The Kipnis book looks primarily at four cases—one at Colorado and three at Northwestern: Kipnis’ own Title IX witch hunt, and two cases involving former professor Peter Ludlow.

One case involving Ludlow (who seems to be an extremely unsympathetic figure) and an undergraduate student almost certainly ended wrongly; as presented by Kipnis, while Ludlow used horrible judgment, the accuser was unreliable. The second case, which involved Ludlow and a graduate student in his department, prompted the Title IX complaint against Kipnis and is also the subject of the lawsuit.

Related: Professor Laura Kipnis–She Faced Title IX Charges for Writing an Essay 

Three items particularly struck me from Hartley’s lawsuit—which, if anything, makes Kipnis look even more sympathetic than the Title IX allegation Hartley previously filed against Kipnis. The first involved Hartley’s peculiar definition of her own credibility. Northwestern’s investigator, the lawsuit asserts, found Hartley “extremely credible,” and, therefore, by implication, Kipnis should have, too.

Yet Northwestern’s own investigation ultimately did not proceed with the most explosive claim in the case: that Ludlow had sexually assaulted the Ph.D. student. The lawsuit massages this inconvenient fact by asserting that the investigator “found that she did not have enough evidence to determine whether or not a sexual assault had occurred.”

But using the preponderance of evidence standard, “not enough evidence” means that Northwestern’s own investigation deemed Ludlow, not Hartley, more credible on this critical point. (It probably helped that Ludlow was able to show he slept elsewhere on the night in question.) So Hartley is the “extremely credible” accuser whose central allegation even Northwestern didn’t deem credible.

Second, the lawsuit claims that Kipnis inaccurately portrayed the Hartley-Ludlow relationship. It wasn’t, Hartley asserts, the romantic fling that a thousand text messages and emails between the two implied. Kipnis, according to the lawsuit, quoted these text messages out of context. (How she did so must remain a mystery; the lawsuit doesn’t mention even one out-of-context text.)

Related:  A Judge Catches Notre Dame Acting Badly in a Title IX Case

Instead, according to Hartley, Ludlow all but groomed her from the start, inappropriately pressuring her to have a relationship with him in an almost textbook case of sexual harassment. The evidence she presents? Three conversations—each of which, conveniently, seem to have lacked any witnesses—in spring 2011, mid-fall 2011, and at an indeterminate date in late 2011.

It’s possible that Kipnis failed to appreciate that the Hartley-Ludlow relationship can best be reconstructed not by thousands of Hartley’s own words from the time, but instead by three witness-free conversations as Hartley (who the lawsuit describes as “emotionally intimate” with Ludlow) now remembers them. I doubt, however, any court would agree with Hartley on this point.

Third, multiple elements of the lawsuit make Hartley look (to be charitable) odd. She claims, for instance, that Kipnis’ book presented her in a “false light” as “litigious.” And her response to this problem is to sue over Kipnis’ interpretation of events? As part of her grooming claim, she asserts that Ludlow “enrolled” in a seminar, taught by another professor, that she took in her first year as a Ph.D. student. A senior professor “enrolled” in another professor’s class?

Hartley complains that Kipnis’ book “needlessly devotes an entire chapter to Plaintiff.” And the federal court system is the appropriate venue for resolving disputes over an author’s editorial choices? That chapter, Hartley continues, contains “facts never before publicized, and facts that Plaintiff did not want to be publicized,” thereby providing “far more detail” about the Hartley-Ludlow relationship than the “bits and pieces” previously in the public domain. (Again: these descriptions of the Kipnis research effort are Hartley’s.)

Related: Ruined by the Beach Boys and Other Title IX Disasters

Perhaps Hartley didn’t want some of the “facts” Kipnis uncovered to see the light of day—Northwestern’s secret process doubtless was preferable to her—but it’s hard to see the merit in a lawsuit downplaying the importance of “facts” about a widely-publicized case on a widely-publicized issue, and instead seeming to prefer that the public rely on “bits and pieces” of information.

Goldberg criticizes Kipnis for failing to ask Hartley for a comment before the book went to press. Kipnis should have done so if only to avoid this criticism—but there seems to be no chance Hartley would have agreed to speak with her. That said, the book extensively presents Hartley’s own words and actions (as even the lawsuit concedes), primarily by using text messages written by Hartley to Ludlow.

Given that the Kipnis book describes in some detail the claims Hartley presented to Northwestern, gathered from documents (including Northwestern’s Title IX report) obtained by Kipnis in her research, I don’t agree with Goldberg’s assertion that “there’s no indication [Kipnis] ever sought to hear” Hartley’s version of events.

My approach to writing about this issue is to post everything—all documents that I have used in writing about sexual assault and due process, either at Minding the Campus or in the new book, are available on my website. It’s true that Kipnis hasn’t posted the documents from the cases about which she writes. But the lawsuit’s implication that she simply chatted with Ludlow and then accepted his version of events is absurd.

Beyond the exaggerated claims, the baseline premise of the lawsuit is a chilling one: that while the Ph.D. student purportedly “takes no issue with [Kipnis’] choice to write on this topic,” Hartley, as a Title IX accuser, some of whose claims Northwestern accepted, should have a veto power over which “facts” Kipnis can present. This argument should raise grave concerns.-

Some New and Narrow Versions of Academic Freedom

The right to breathe is not generally understood as the right to choke others.  The right to move freely is not widely understood as the right to slip into your neighbor’s house in the middle of the night unannounced.  The right to listen to Neil Diamond’s greatest hits is not universally interpreted as the right to make other people listen to “Sweet Caroline.”

And yet these days more than a few people have decided that “academic freedom” guarantees your right to silence other people who are attempting to express views you disagree with.

This sounds like a joke, but it has been put forward in earnest by many student protesters in the last few years.  I first heard the “I’m-exercising-my-academic-freedom-to-shut-you-up” rationale in connection with the Black Lives Matter protesters who invaded the Berry-Baker Library at Dartmouth in November 2015.  But it has since become the common currency of lawless protesters, whether at Berkeley, Middlebury, or Claremont-McKenna.

Perhaps the open letter from Pomona College students to President David Oxtoby demanding that he “take action against the Claremont Independent editorial staff for its continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds,” is the perfection of this conceit.  The Pomona students decided that “free speech” has become “a toll appropriated by hegemonic institutions.”

Campus Life Not Like a Baseball Game

Actually, on that last point, they are right.  Colleges and universities are “hegemonic institutions.”  I don’t know if those students understand their own catchphrases, but translated into plain English, this simply means that colleges impose broad control over their community of faculty members and students.  They have rules above and beyond the rules of the surrounding society.  If you go to a baseball game, you are free to boo the other team and scream at the umpire if you think he made a bad call.  On campus—at least in principle—you must listen quietly when someone argues a point you disagree with, and if the moderator in a debate makes what you think is a bad call, your only legitimate option is to explain why you think it is wrong.

Those rules are part of what we mean by “academic freedom.”  Clearly, academic freedom is not the natural way people behave towards each other.  It is an artificial thing, a “social construct,” as we say these days.  And because it is artificial, it only works in special circumstances where people agree to forego their right to boo the other team, shout imprecations at the umpire, or move beyond words to the kind of hard buffets that put professors of political science in the hospital.

Three cheers for institutional hegemony, without which no would have academic freedom.  “Good times never seemed so good,” Sweet Caroline.

But how is it that good old Hegemony U has found itself so incompetent in upholding its most basic rules of the road?   Observers have offered some pretty persuasive answers to why Middlebury President Laurie Patton has been so feckless; why UC Berkley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks displayed the steadfastness of a saloon door; and why Claremont McKenna President Hiram Chodosh has risen to the occasion with the moral dignity of a fidget spinner.

The answers include the continuing descent into postmodern insouciance, where no encompassing principle presides; the swarming animosities of identity politics, which have stung all the beekeepers into submission; and the progressive left’s willingness to kick away the ladder of free speech by which it climbed to dominance, lest anyone else try that ascent.

Up for Grabs for a Century

I have one small addendum to that list of explanations for why our defenders of academic freedom went out to lunch and never came back.  I suspect that some of them got confused by the menu.  “Academic freedom,” an artificial thing, a “social construct,” isn’t amenable to scientific precision.  It isn’t Mars or Jupiter, sitting in the heavens as a definite planet.  It is more like Pluto or one those other trans-Neptunian objects with strange names, such as the dwarf planet Haumea:  detectable but not settled into any plain definition.

Because “academic freedom” isn’t any one, definite thing, it has been up for grabs for over a century.  The grabbing began in 1915, when the newly formed American Association of University Professors offered its “Statement of Principles,” that in twenty-some pages of stately syntax and high-minded declaration laid out a commanding vision of the intellectual rights of America’s university faculty.  The 1915 AAUP statement didn’t settle anything.  For the next 25 years, the AAUP and college presidents went on wrangling, with numerous summits and unsatisfactory attempts to reach

For the next 25 years, the AAUP and college presidents went on wrangling, with numerous summits and unsatisfactory attempts to reach an agreement.  In 1940, they did, at last, reach an agreement of sorts and issued a much shorter and—in many ways—less satisfactory statement.  The 1940 AAUP Statement remains in force at the vast majority of American colleges and universities as their basic position on academic freedom.  But having discovered the fluidity of the idea, the academic world could not stop with just two statements.

There are in fact now many thousands of statements, interpretations, codicils, redactions, and expostulations about academic freedom.  The World Catalog lists nearly 100,000 books on the topic.  “Look at the night and it don’t seem so lonely,” Sweet Caroline.

My colleague David Randall and I have undertaken the task of providing a little bit of order to this chaos.  We have just posted a chart that offers an easy comparison of what we take to be the top ten authoritative treatments of academic freedom.  It gives the reader the opportunity to see at a glance which definitions are rooted in the pursuit of truth, which ones connect tenure, and which ones call for sanctions against violators, and so on through 25 categories.  It is a work in progress if we are still allowed to talk about progress in the post-modern anti-hegemonic hegemony.

I offer this in part as a service to Presidents Paton and Chodosh and Chancellor Dirks. They can now pick the definition that best lends itself to doing nothing while their students riot, or imposing “sanctions” on violators that have the permanence of a Snapchat message.  “Charting Academic Freedom: 102 Years of Debate” may also, however, prove to be of some value to others who have found little clarity in the swirl of conflicting claims about academic freedom.

Explore, and find the most compelling definition and sing in your best imitation of Neil Diamond, “How can I hurt when I’m holding you,” Sweet Caroline.  Well, you can and will, but you will still be better off knowing that some definitions of academic freedom are a lot better than others, at least if you care about creating a civilized place for learning.

Printed with permission from the National Association of Scholars

The Withering Away of the College Professor

An excerpt from the book American Heresies and Higher Education

Some conservatives say that the main cost-control issue in American higher education today is tenured faculty who don’t teach enough. It would be better if their lazy self-indulgence could be better controlled by more accountable administrators. Tenure, from this view, is a kind of union, and “faculty governance” is collective bargaining.

It would be better if administrators could be empowered by the “right-to-fire” situation found in our more entrepreneurial states. What the union-taming governor wants, he doesn’t understand that the administrators have already been achieving. In the industrial world, the war against unions is suddenly becoming more aggressive and more effective because unions can’t deliver the goods anyway, given the dynamic realities of the twenty-first century’s globally competitive marketplace.

No Need to Fight Tenure

The same is true of the war against tenure. Tenure is withering away, and astute administrators know better than to launch a frontal assault that would result in really bad public relations and many unnecessary casualties.

The truth is that the number of tenured faculty is rapidly diminishing as a percentage—the tenured and those on a “tenure track” now are a still fairly unoppressed and, I admit, often fairly clueless minority—of the “instructional workforce.” There are doubtless good reasons why, at some places, tenured and tenure-track faculty should teach more. It would be better if more students had their “personal touch,” just as it would be better if they graded their students’ papers themselves at research institutions.

 Teach More, or Teach Less?

But, given how cheap adjuncts are, it’s a big mistake to believe that tenured professors taking on an additional class or two would be a significant saving. It’s often even the case that administrators would rather they not teach more.

At some places, at least, the situation seems to be that the administrations are buying off tenured faculty with low teaching loads and various research perks. That incentivizes them to be compliant with the transfer of instruction to adjuncts and other temporary faculty.

There Goes Content

It also allows them to accept the emptying out of the content of “general education” as requirements focused on the content and methods of the academic disciplines—such as history, literature and philosophy—are replaced by those based on abstract and empty (or content-free) competencies.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty often come from highly specialized research programs where, even in history and literature, the tendency is to know more and more about less and less. There are also allegedly cutting-edge approaches, such as neuroscience, “digital humanities,” rational-choice theory, and so forth, that take the researcher away from being attentive to the content that’s been the core of undergraduate instruction.

And then there’s the pretension of “undergraduate research” (which originated in the hard sciences and makes a lot more sense there) that it’s best for students to bypass the bookish acquisition of content about the perennial fundamental human issues and questions and get right down to making some cutting-edge marginal contribution.

All in all, it’s often not so hard to convince specialists to surrender concern for merely general education. Or at least to convince them that the imperatives of the marketplace and the increasingly intrusive accreditation process demand that the value of their disciplinary contributions is reconfigured in terms of competencies. That way, they’re led to believe, they’ll be able to hang on to their curricular “turf.”

The study of history (or philosophy or whatever) can be justified, after all, as deploying the skills of critical thinking, effective communication, and so forth. One problem, of course, is that those skills can be acquired more easily other ways, ways that aren’t saddled with all that historical or philosophical content.

And when the disciplines of liberal education are displaced by competencies, institutions tend to surrender the content-based distinctiveness that formed most of their educational mission.

Philosophy and Theology

The biggest outrage in higher education right now, for example, is not this or that report of students or administrators whining about microaggressions or being insufficiently trigger-warned. It’s that Notre Dame might be on the road to surrendering its requirement of courses in philosophy and theology for all students for competency-based goals. What distinguishes or ought to distinguish Notre Dame is the seriousness by which it treats philosophy and theology as disciplines indispensable for all highly literate Catholic men and women, or not primarily by its provision of a Catholic lifestyle.

As institutions surrender their liberal arts substance (while sometimes retaining their classy liberal arts brand), they become pretty much identical in terms of their educational goals. Lists of competencies always seem to me vague and rather random, but they still seem to turn out about the same everywhere. Their measurability usually depends on multiple-choice questions and the sham exactitude of points distributed on rubrics. And, in general, the data gets its veneer of objectivity through the intention to aim at sometimes stunningly low and only seemingly solid goals. It’s easy to mock the earnest redundancy of the competency phrases themselves. “Critical thinking”—well, if it wasn’t critical, it wouldn’t be thinking. “Effective communication”—well, if it wasn’t effective, it wouldn’t be communication.

What Is Being Communicated

In any case, the thought being surrendered is that the dignity of thinking and communicating must have something to do with what is being thought or communicated. It’s just not true that the same methods of thought and communication can be applied in all circumstances. Thinking about what or who is a man or woman is way different from figuring out how to rotate your tires or even maximize your productivity.

Communicating information is different from “winning friends and influencing people” (or persuasion and manipulation) and from communicating the truth through irony or humor or esoteric indirection— through the parables of the Bible or the dialogues of Plato. The forms of communication that distinguish the great or even good books that provide most of the content of liberal education elude measurable outcomes, and it’s not immediately obvious that they have much value in the marketplace.

Actually, the kind of insight they provide can be invaluable in marketing, as anyone knows who’s watched an episode of Mad Men or read one of those eerie, philosophical, uncannily effective pitches of Don Draper. But the administrators would reply, “Well, sure that Don’s a genius, but he’s so damn unreliable. We don’t want professors like that!”

As the low but seemingly solid goal of competency becomes about the same everywhere, the delivery of education can become less personal or quirky and standardized according to quantitatively validated best practices. Courses can become more scripted, and then delivery can be increasingly open to the use of the screen.

So the “intellectual labor” of college administrators—the number of which is “bloating” and the perks of which (at the highest level) are coming to resemble those of corporate CEOs—is directed in much the same way as it is in other sectors of the economy. What’s going on, for example, in the Amazon warehouse or in large chains such as Panera Bread, is occurring on our campuses.

A Class-Based Agenda

The idea of “competency” being enforced by the accrediting agencies—basically run by administrators and following a “class-based” administrative agenda—serves the goal of disciplining instruction through measurable outcomes and then displacing actual instructors, as much as possible, by education delivered on the screen.

The Seven Deadly Sins of Higher Education

About 15 years ago I began writing extensively about the rising cost of higher education, even starting a research center (the Center for College Affordability and Productivity) focused on that topic. I am now convinced that rising costs are NOT the dominant problem facing our universities. There are at least seven deadly sins –not precisely the original Christian deadly sins of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth—but pretty close.

Let’s start with greed. The first deadly sin is that colleges are outrageously expensive. It takes a larger proportion of the income of the typical citizen of New Jersey to pay the listed tuition fee of Princeton University today than it did in 1840. Whereby the cost of virtually everything else has risen less than our incomes, thereby making them more affordable, college is the unique exception.

The federal government has contributed mightily to the problem: tuition growth has accelerated rapidly since the late 1970s –when federal student loan and grant programs were vastly expanded to the bulk of the college population. In 1987 Education Secretary Bill Bennett claimed federal aid programs enabled colleges to raise fees dramatically, and recent research at both the New York Federal Reserve and the National Bureau of Economic Research confirms it. Higher tuition fees have funded a vast unproductive university bureaucracy (the sin of gluttony) that detracts from teaching and research.

Related: How Students Intimidate Professors and Stymie Learning

Not only are costs rising, benefits are falling. The second deadly sin is that there is far too little “good” learning going on in America’s universities. By good learning, I mean learning that entails the transmission of the knowledge and wisdom of previous generations to the current one and enables us to add to this past cultural and intellectual capital. Today’s college students, typically spending less than 30 hours weekly for 32 weeks a year on academics, are remarkably ignorant about our own past, giving them the impression that they are the Superior Generation, possessing an extraordinary fount of knowledge and moral virtues.

Thus historical and wrathful ignoramuses at Yale insisted that John C. Calhoun’s name be taken off a college, despite the fact he served as Vice-President of the United States under two presidents, was in Congress (elected by the people or the state legislature) for over two decades, and held major cabinet appointments under two other presidents.  Like many others of his generation, he strongly defended slavery, becoming a strong believer of state rights. Times change, and the notion of today’s faux Superior Generation that “only our values are morally sound” denigrates those responsible for America’s exceptionalism.

This sin in not limited to historical illiteracy. For example, I suspect one-third of my students use the word “compliment” when they mean “complement.” A federal Adult Literacy Surveyed some years ago showed declining literacy among college students, an undoubtedly continuing trend. I doubt most college students could name one of John Milton’s works and are clueless on what Aristotle or Rousseau contributed to our culture. Contrary to the contemporary zeitgeist, an appreciation of the contributions of some “dead white men” strengthens the greatest civilization ever created.

There are not only sins of omission (failure to teach the Western canon) but also of commission –the third deadly sin is that political correctness has led to the suppression of many ideas and freedom of expression, robbing students of the vitality associated with questioning conventional wisdom. We increasingly preach ideology –universities often appear to be secular theocracies, with campus bullies – 21st-century Torquemadas–suppressing free expression.  Scientists, for example, are increasingly afraid to suggest that global warming is possibly not quite the threat the establishment believes –the Spanish Inquisition redux.

Why aren’t university presidents asserting their authority to put an end to this foolishness, especially the suppression of First Amendment rights and free expression? To be fair, some do, but far too many let the campus crazies intimidate them. The fourth deadly sin is one of feckless non-leadership –sloth if you will –that enables the barbarians to storm the gates and dramatically diminish the vitality and good coming from the campus experience.

Related: Crime but No Punishment at Middlebury?

Yet the presidents are not alone in consenting to the gradual deterioration of the campus learning environment. A fifth sin emanates from a faculty that too often fiddles with its often non-consequential research while letting Rome (or Berkeley, Missouri, Claremont McKenna, Middlebury or Yale) burn. After all, the faculty do the teaching and usually control the curriculum. It is the faculty that removed required courses in history, language and other foundational subjects while implementing all sorts of politically correct courses devoid of intellectual content to appease vocal minorities.

Also, the governing boards of universities are typically made up largely of excessively prideful folks who combine their lust for recognition with a slothful inattention to what really is happening on campus—a sixth sin, one of neglect. To be sure, the information they receive comes typically from the president, who often fails to inform trustees of wasteful spending and campus scandals.  When trustees occasionally try to fulfill their oversight role by seeking delicate information, they are sometimes ostracized and even sued —witness the sad spectacle of Wallace Hall, a regent at the University of Texas, a man who exposed an admissions scandal– and consequently faced impeachment and vindictive legal proceedings.

Or how about governance in North Carolina’s Research Triangle, where Duke University trustees protected the university president as his administration savagely and unjustly punished the lacrosse team, or where North Carolina’s trustees were either sinfully unaware of a major athletic scandal or hid it from the public they allegedly served. Trustees, indeed,   too often serve as administration cheerleaders rather than overseers.

Related: Troubling News from North Carolina

That brings me to the seventh deadly sin: a lack of transparency, combined with obfuscation, and deception. Universities go to great lengths to hide important information about themselves –the amount students learn or earn (after college), salaries of key employees, or morally questionable activity (remember Jerry Sandusky?) They bury the bad news, exaggerate and promote the good news. They suppress competition and innovation through their accreditation agencies that they claim promote integrity and high quality. I would be very hesitant to buy a used car from a senior university official in today’s America.

To be fair, not all universities are highly sinful, and there are many good people in America’s colleges. But the seven deadly sins mentioned above are prevalent enough to erode public confidence in our universities (as recent New America polling confirms), ultimately leading to reduced support and declining enrollments.

Fake Hate in Minnesota

So, the report of a racial threat at very tiny and very liberal St.Olaf College in Minnesota was a hoax. On April 29 Samantha Wells, a black student at the college, reported discovering a note on the windshield of her car with the message, “I am so glad that you are leaving soon. One less n‑‑‑‑‑ that this school must deal with. You have spoken up too much. You will change nothing. Shut up, or I will shut you up.” Wells contacted police but declined to make an official report.

A student confessed to writing the note, St. Olaf President David R. Anderson wrote in a message to students. For some reason, he declined to use the word “hoax” for the false report. The threat — an anonymous, typewritten note — was “fabricated,” he said, as an apparent “strategy to draw attention to concerns about the campus climate We’ve confirmed that this was not a genuine threat. We’re confident that there is no ongoing threat from this incident to individuals or the community as a whole,” he said.

In a second campus-wide email sent later Wednesday, Anderson used stronger words to explain what happened, while still steering around the word “hoax.”

Anderson, citing federal student privacy laws, did not identify the person of interest. Nor did he discuss the tumult caused to the campus or to the damage of race relations by using a fake racial incident to extract concessions from the college.

For instance, one demand called for removing alumnus Arne Christenson from the advisory board of university’s Institute for Freedom and Community because of his “political views and values as a Christian Zionist.” Another demanded “visible and easily accessible gender neutral housing on all residence halls.” Anderson negotiated with the black students and set parameters for formal discussions. Anti-white posters appeared on campus during the crisis.

President Anderson has yet to address students on the wisdom and morality of fake hate crimes as a way of getting what you want.

A Judge Catches Notre Dame Acting Badly in a Title IX Case

Notre Dame stands to lose a Title IX case in an unusual flurry of kangaroo court blunders. It “investigated” the case and came away only with the female’s hostile emails, none of her loving ones (knowing that many emails were missing). When the male contemplated suicide, Notre Dame interpreted those thoughts as “dating violence,” and the male was denied a lawyer on grounds that the procedure was “educational” and not “punitive.” The “non-punitive” action cost him a lot of tuition money, banned him from taking two finals and got him expelled.

A narrow judgment in a broad, well-reasoned ruling came from Judge Philip Simon in a due process lawsuit filed by the accused student at Notre Dame. The ruling (which you can read here) was a reminder that in virtually all due process lawsuits, a fair-minded judge can find ample reasons to rule against the university.

A narrow judgment in a broad, well-reasoned ruling came from Judge Philip Simon in a due process lawsuit filed by an accused student at Notre Dame. The ruling (which you can read here) was a reminder that in virtually all due process lawsuits, a fair-minded judge can find ample reasons to rule against the university involved.

The specifics of the case were a little different from most due process cases. The couple had been in an ongoing relationship, for about a year. The male student (who I’ll call JD) suffered from depression in summer 2016, and this past fall, the accusing student (who I’ll call AS) decided to break things off after JD started sending her text talking about how he might commit suicide. She also reported JD to the Notre Dame Title IX office, which concluded that the texts constituted “dating violence,” since they purportedly manipulated AS.

Related: The Title IX Mess—Will It Be Reformed?

The accusing student then indicated a desire not to move forward with any allegations and reconciled with JD, only to change her mind again and reinstitute charges. Notre Dame immediately issued a no-contact order between JD and AS, to which JD responded by deleting AS’s contact information, and all of the duo’s texts, from his phone. AS, on the other hand, retained their full text message history.

Notre Dame conducted an “investigation,” but for all practical purposes, AS was the university’s investigator—she turned over text messages from her cache, but only ones that made JD look bad. As Judge Simon explained, Notre Dame had no idea that—after AS first went to the Title IX office—AS identified as Jane by the judge:

told him to “Come overrrrrr.” [Id.] He proposed that they “take a nap” and she responded that “I‘M SO PUMPED.” [Id. (emphasis in original).] The following week, on November 7th, Jane asked John if he could sleep over. Jane then implored John to “Come to champaign” (sic), which seems to have been a reference to him meeting her in Champaign, Illinois. She also offered to meet him in Chicago. [Id.] Jane then asked John to come over that day because “she was having a really bad week already and I just wanna cuddle.” The following day they planned to get together again. Jane asked John “where you at (sic)” and he responded that he would “be there in 15 minutes.” Jane’s response demonstrated that she was happy to be seeing him. She said “yayyy.” The next day they planned to meet up again at Chipotle around the noon hour. And then later that night they must have planned another get-together because Jane told John that she was coming “to pick him up.” A week later, on November 15, Jane told John to “sleep overrrrrrrrrrr.” She later had a change of mind and canceled because she needed to study and he responded that that was no problem. John told her that he loved her and Jane responded that “I LOVE YOU TOO.” [emphasis in the original.]

Incredibly, Notre Dame never asked AS to turn over all text messages (which only came to light as part of the litigation). According to the complaint, Notre Dame also ignored copious exculpatory information, including a videotape of AS saying, “I want to fuck up his [JD’s] reputation; I want to make sure he never has a girlfriend . . . here or anywhere . . . and I want him never to be able to have a social life.”

Related: Title IX Tramples Free Speech and Fairness, So Now What?

At this stage of the lawsuit, JD asked for very narrow relief—that Notre Dame allows him to take his two remaining final exams, and give him grades for those courses. Simon granted that request. But the judge’s ruling also indicated grave concerns with three aspects of Notre Dame’s investigation, and his wording suggests this lawsuit could be very difficult for the university to win. He focused on three principal issues:

(1) Evidence. “The University’s investigation might have been arbitrary and capricious,” Simon noted, “for failing to obtain and review the entire context of the couple’s texting history.” Indeed, he added, “the text messages that . . . were not available to the Hearing Panel—text messages showing sleepovers, naps together, invitations to go on trips, and lunch dates—strongly suggest that Jane did not feel threatened or intimidated by John.” In some ways, Notre Dame’s conduct was more egregious than that of the foundational text-message case (Amherst), since here, the university knew that a text message history existed, and still didn’t ask for the whole file. AS conceded in a filing to the court. Her attorney, meanwhile, bizarrely claimed that the lawsuit had left her in threat of “physical” harm.

(2) Procedure. Simon criticized multiple aspects of Notre Dame’s procedure. He noted that the university essentially allowed AS to introduce character evidence but denied JD the same right, seemingly lest the accuser be traumatized. He questioned the university’s denial of direct cross-examination; Notre Dame instead used a “stilted method” of requiring JD to submit questions to the panel, which he hoped they would ask, not allowing “for immediate follow-up questions based on a witness’s answers, and stifling [his] presentation of his defense to the allegations.”

(3) Purpose. Judge Simon appeared baffled by the university’s decision (typical in these circumstances) to deny the accused student a lawyer. And he made clear he didn’t like the university’s response. When asked “why an attorney is not allowed to participate in the hearing especially given what is at stake—potential dismissal from school and the forfeiture of large sums of tuition money—Mr. [Ryan] Willerton, the Director of the Office of Community Standards and a member of the Hearing Panel, told me it’s because he views this as an ‘educational’ process for the student, not a punitive one. This testimony is not credible. Being thrown out of school, not being permitted to graduate and forfeiting a semester’s worth of tuition is ‘punishment’ in any reasonable sense of that term.”

This statement was a remarkable denunciation of the kangaroo court structure evident at most universities in sexual assault cases. While Simon termed his comments “conjectural,” it’s hard to see how his mind would be changed on these points, since the facts of Notre Dame’s procedures and text messages already have been established.

Will Notre Dame take from this rhetoric a need to settle? And, more broadly, will other judges learn from this impressively reasoned opinion?

The Middlebury Punishment Is Finally Here

Those of you waiting to see the decisive smackdown of the Middlebury demonstrators who thought it was a good idea to shut down the Charles Murray talk, well, here it is: a letter will be placed in the files of some 30 students, and it won’t be removed until the end of the school year.

If any student commits another offense before then, the letter will be left in his or her file. (NO, NO, NOT THAT.) Not to worry, though. It’s not a real punishment and it won’t be seen by anyone unless it falls out of the folder and a janitor spots it.

It isn’t as if the students pursued Murray out of the building, stomped his car and put a professor briefly in the hospital, and in the opinion of some, came close to putting Murray’s life in danger. No wait, that’s exactly what the students did. No wonder Middlebury gave it to them with both barrels: a temporary letter that nobody will ever read, just what every campus delinquent fears most.

Wait. There’s more. An official bulletin on the matter from Middlebury, apparently published April 25, but taking some time to reach the real world, said that “some students expressed frustration with the process, saying that it seemed arbitrary and ill-defined. Others condemned the punishments altogether, citing them as an example of the college stifling students’ ability to express themselves.”

Here I think we can all agree. If your parents are paying $61,917 per year, there really should be no stifling while junior is roughing up two or more professors in the parking lot. It just isn’t right.

Do Free Speech Students Outnumber the Snowflakes?

As Middlebury initiated what appears to be token punishments (single-term probation) for the students who disrupted the Charles Murray talk, the college’s student government (which has yet to condemn the disruptors in any way) passed a resolution demanding that Middlebury cease all punishment of students under the current college disciplinary code, lest they “contribute to psychological trauma for marginalized students held accountable for disruption.” The vote continued a disturbing pattern of the majority of the Middlebury student body (the measure passed 10-3) seeming to endorse, or at least excuse, the actions of the mob. For a sense of the demonstrators’ hostility to free speech in their own words, listen to this New York Times podcast from Monday.

Countering this news, however, came a recent poll from Yale. Sponsored by the William F. Buckley, Jr. program, the poll found that by a more than 4-to-1 margin, Yale students opposed speech codes; and by a 16-to-1 margin, students endorsed bringing in intellectually diverse speakers, as opposed to forbidding “people from speaking on campus who have controversial views and opinions on issues like politics, race, religion or gender.” While some caveats exist (the pollster, McLaughlin, has a bad track record; and asking the second question in a different way—stressing the purported harm speakers pose to students—might have yielded a less promising result), this result is encouraging.

It also matters, from a policy angle. If, in fact, the Middlebury student government represents the majority viewpoint among most students, then little chance exists for meaningful dialogue on campus, absent very aggressive intervention, likely from trustees and perhaps even from legislators. If, on the other hand, anti-civil liberties activists represent only a minority, then colleges and universities should do more to facilitate events where the more passive (silenced?) minority of students can exchange ideas. Administrators, in particular, could do more, at relatively little cost—perhaps by adopting the University of Chicago principles, perhaps by encouraging faculty to do more to facilitate a broader array of voices speaking on campus.

Along these lines, it might be useful to share a recent experience of mine at Lafayette College. Early in the term, a newly-formed campus organization, the Mill Series, asked me to give a talk on due process and campus sexual assault. It quickly became clear things might not go well; the social media response among campus seemed fairly unfavorable, and the date of the talk had to be changed twice to avoid further inflaming campus constituencies. But the talk wound up going very well. (I’ll link to the video when available on my twitter feed.) Turnout was robust. Some questions were supportive of my thesis; some were skeptical, a few highly skeptical. But all of the questions were well-informed and responded to the actual content of the talk, rather than what the students might have thought I would say when the talk started. A couple of students even noted in the Q+A session, which wound up going several hours, that they had anticipated a somewhat different talk, seemingly because of the hostile pre-talk social media content.

So why did this talk not generate a disturbing response, like Charles Murray’s at Middlebury or Heather Mac Donald’s at Claremont McKenna? First, the organizers—Professor Brandon Van Dyck and Lafayette student Abdul Manan—actively engaged with campus critics before the talk. (Because the Mill Series has no sponsorship, they were volunteering their effort.) Obviously, this type of pre-talk engagement placed an unfair burden on their time, and shouldn’t be a requirement of any talk organizer, but their willingness to be proactive clearly defused a good deal of the tension before I came.

Second, the Lafayette students themselves already had been engaged with the issue of speech on campus. Earlier this semester, the student government had appointed an ad hoc committee to look into whether Lafayette heard from a sufficient variety of speakers. While many of the students who attended my talk (it was an ideologically diverse group) seemed critical of the committee’s work, none questioned the general principle that hearing from people with different views formed an important part of a quality liberal arts education. In a concrete way, the students’ behavior seemed to confirm the findings of the Yale poll.

For understandable reasons, protests like those at Claremont McKenna and Middlebury attract media attention. But to the extent disruptive students can be isolated rather than accommodated, colleges should do so.

Professor Laura Kipnis–She Faced Title IX Charges for Writing an Essay

It is not too early to say that Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus by Laura Kipnis, professor of film studies at Northwestern University, will be one of the most important books of 2017. Kipnis gained some notoriety two years ago when she was hauled before her school’s Title IX investigators on a complaint of creating a sexually hostile environment because of an essay she wrote criticizing the campus sex panic, with a focus on the case of Peter Ludlow, a Northwestern professor brought down by accusations of sexual misconduct toward an undergraduate and later also a graduate student. (See Minding the Campus coverage of the case.)

Now, Kipnis tackles the same subject in a book that takes an unsparing look at the current campus climate, from the witch-hunts to the trigger warnings. And she does so from a liberal feminist point of view—one of the things that exasperates her most about this new climate is the infantilization of women, reduced to eternal helpless prey—that makes it difficult to dismiss her as a backlash peddler. Even the devoutly feminist New York Times opinion writer Jill Filipovic, who assailed as misogynistic another book on the subject, Campus Rape Frenzy by K.C. Johnson and Stuart Taylor, described Unwanted Advances in the same double review as “persuasive and valuable” if “maddening.”

CATHY YOUNG: So, the genesis of the book is that you wrote the essay for The Chronicle of Higher Education about the then-ongoing Peter Ludlow case at Northwestern and the excesses of Title IX and what you called the “sexual paranoia” on campus—and then you got hit with a Title IX complaint.

LAURA KIPNIS: I was writing about this increasing climate of sexual paranoia, and I knew about the Peter Ludlow case. But I didn’t know anything about Title IX until I got this letter saying that there was a Title IX complaint against me.

CATHY YOUNG: So at the time you were writing your essay, did it ever occur to you that you could be the subject of a complaint?

LAURA KIPNIS (laughs): Oh gosh, no. I don’t think it would have occurred to anyone that you could be the subject of a Title IX complaint for writing an essay. When I got the letter, I was immediately curious—was this the first time someone had applied Title IX to an essay. But of course, there’s no way to know that, because it’s not public and there’s no centralized database of cases. We’re starting to hear more as these cases hit civil courts. They’re popping up every day and they’re new variations on the theme, which is really capricious prosecutions of people on strange grounds.

CATHY YOUNG: Did you find any other cases in which someone was targeted for a Title IX complaint based simply on something they wrote?

LAURA KIPNIS: I did have a case—sometimes, you’re not clear, is it precisely a Title IX case. I had a case of a professor of intellectual history [where] a student complained about his assignments on gender. Sometimes these complaints go through various administrative offices and I’m not sure they’re precisely Title IX. One of the problems in writing about this stuff is, you don’t always know—you know what somebody told you. You don’t have the documents, you don’t have the whole picture. So I’m not sure, off the top of my head, if I know of another case where it was simply speech. But sometimes speech would get brought into these cases—like, a poet who was asked, why are you teaching poems with sexual content, that sort of thing.

CATHY YOUNG:  Did you have any concern that you could get in trouble again because of the book?

LAURA KIPNIS: Oh yes, definitely. I think I could be subject to some of the same charges of retaliation [against Ludlow’s accusers]. Although, since I was already found innocent on the retaliation charges, it would be difficult to bring those charges again. But they could.

CATHY YOUNG: What has the overall reaction been to your book? Are there reactions that have surprised you, pleasantly or unpleasantly? 

LAURA KIPNIS: I’m obviously pleased that the reviews have been so overwhelmingly positive. The first review from an explicitly feminist site also just came out—Broadly—which was a subtle and positive reading of the book. What’s most surprised me is that I expected a lot of discussion—and a lot of pushback—in the feminist media and blogosphere and I haven’t seen that. You tend to see what’s posted as people usually tweet things once they’re up, though there may be things I’ve missed.

Maybe the pushback is to come. What’s been great is that even reviewers who say they’re to some degree irked by the book—the two New York Times reviewers—have been honest enough to say that it’s also persuasive and “necessary.”

CATHY YOUNG: This climate of what you call sexual paranoia today—in the 1990s, there was, as I’m sure you know, a lot of debate about the sexual climate on campus, about sexual assault, sexual harassment. Then this discussion more or less dropped off the radar and lay dormant for a number of years, and now it’s back. Do you see a difference between the way this issue played out in the nineties, as compared to today? Did you pay attention to it in the nineties?

LAURA KIPNIS: Oh yes, particularly to the anti-porn feminist contingent, [Andrea] Dworkin and [Catharine] MacKinnon. I think that is a lot of the difference—[in the 1990s] a lot of the energy and mobilization had to do with pornography under their auspices, and I think the same impulses are persisting now, but without pornography. I think most students—that I encounter, anyway—think that porn is benign, but this issue of campus rape culture is having such an ascendant moment now. I think the impulses are the same.

CATHY YOUNG: Is there a difference in the level of support from students? Obviously, anti-rape activism on campus existed then, but it seems that there’s a much larger percentage of the student body that is swept up in this today. Is that your impression as well?

LAURA KIPNIS: That’s what’s so hard to gauge. It’s not like we have data on this. There’s a lot of attention being paid to rape culture activism, and maybe in some ways, it’s seen to dovetail [with] or have the same kind of constituencies as, Black Lives Matter and the racial justice movements, whereas I think they’re politically different sorts of movements. But I don’t know how much support there is on campus! My own students—I should backtrack and say, the students who marched against me during that campus protest and the students who brought a complaint against me, these were not my students; these were students I didn’t even know.

My own students—they have social concerns, but I don’t think, for the most part, they’re activists. What percentage of students [on my campus] would say they’re in support? I don’t know. There are a lot of students who feel like they need to be on the right side of the issue. So there are people—say, people in student government—it’s a [big] concern to them to make sure that they’re known to be on the right side of the issue. And even frat presidents make all those public statements to indicate that they’re on the right side of the issue, that they support survivors, that they take sexual assault very seriously.

CATHY YOUNG: How did your students react to the charges against you? Were you allowed to discuss the case with them?

LAURA KIPNIS: Yeah, sure. No one would have disallowed it, it’s just—my own students didn’t bring it up, so it’s not like I would have devoted a class to talking about my own situation.

CATHY YOUNG: Were they aware of what was going on?

LAURA KIPNIS: Oh, yeah. My students—they’re sort of sweet. I actually did say to some students that I knew—we were talking in a casual way, and I said, “How come nobody ever brought up the fact that there has been this protest march against me?” They treat me with some irony, and one of them said, “Oh, Laura, we knew about it.” But nobody said anything! (laughs) Maybe they thought it would be impolite.

CATHY YOUNG: Some polls show that there’s a lot more support among students today, compared to ten or twenty years ago, for the idea that you shouldn’t express things that are hurtful to someone else—that offensive speech which triggers someone or causes them emotional damage should be regulated. Is that something you’re seeing? Do you think there is a troubling level of support for censorship, in that sense, on campuses?

LAURA KIPNIS: I’m probably a frustrating interviewee, because I have a hard time generalizing. (laughs) I don’t know. Is there a general level of support for something? I haven’t seen any polls on this. With my own students, they are very much individuals. I think because of the kind of education they’ve had, they’re very attentive to issues about minorities, about discrimination, about social justice, about using language that would make minority people feel stigmatized—any kind of minorities. I remember a discussion recently in a class where somebody used the word…

I remember a discussion recently in a class where somebody used the word… (pauses) What was it? It was some synonym for… maybe somebody said “mentally handicapped,” and somebody said, “I don’t like that term.” Or maybe it was some other term, and he preferred “emotionally handicapped” or “intellectually handicapped.” You have things like that crop up, where somebody thinks someone else’s language is problematic. So yes, I have seen that happen in my classes. Certainly on things like gender, sexual orientation. At the same time, I think they’re very open-minded to the difference, which I think is an upside.

CATHY YOUNG: Speaking of campus speech, your appearance at Wellesley caused quite a controversy, with some professors publicly stating that speakers like you are harmful and shouldn’t be invited. Do you have any further campus appearances planned? Obviously, you’re not Ann Coulter, but are you concerned about protests getting out of hand?

LAURA KIPNIS: I’m going to the University of Oregon and Simon Fraser University at the beginning of May, but not expecting trouble. I’m obviously not as deliberately incendiary as someone like Coulter or Milo [Yiannopoulos], who clearly want to provoke a reaction and are invited for that purpose. So I’d be surprised if anything like that arose, especially since so many of the reviews have made persuasive arguments on behalf of the book.

CATHY YOUNG: Moving on to sexual misconduct, there’s been a lot of debate about whether Title IX is a good way to handle accusations of sexual assault on campus, or should we be channeling those complaints into the justice system and try to refer them as much as possible to the police for a real investigation. Where do you come down on that? Do you think the Title IX system just needs reform so that it doesn’t run roughshod over the rights of the accused the way it has recently, or do you think that we should be working toward deemphasizing it as much as possible and try to work within the actual justice system?

LAURA KIPNIS: The problem is, both sides are a mess. The obvious thing to say is that the campus system has been a kind of overcorrection in response to the feeling, and the actuality, that the justice system and the police have overlooked rape and sexual assault too much, and that it was too difficult for students who’d been assaulted to work their way through that system. The problem is that the on-campus system seems to be very unprocedural. They obviously don’t have the rules of evidence that you would want to see, but they also don’t have real fact-finding capabilities.

When a Title IX officer on campus does an investigation, she or he doesn’t have subpoena power, that kind of thing, and is free to ignore evidence that they want to ignore. I’m not a policy person; I’m a cultural critic. I was in a discussion the other night with Seamus Khan, who’s at Columbia and he’s a sociologist who works on these issues. So I said I thought, if you’re talking about rape, forcible sexual assault, these should be handled by the police—because, for one thing, to expel somebody is not sufficient punishment for assault. And he made the point, which is a good point, that one reason to avoid that system is that it’s often been very unfair to minorities, we know the situation of black men in the criminal justice system. So either way that you come down, there are huge problems.

CATHY YOUNG: Obviously, a lot of the cases that you’re discussing don’t rise to the level of criminal sexual assault, but they may involve one student behaving badly toward another. Do you think there is a place for some sort of campus system that could handle non-criminal but damaging conduct within the community, without necessarily labeling it as rape? 

LAURA KIPNIS: I think that’s a really interesting idea. Because I do think campuses are communities, and the idea of some sort of community judgment or community standards where grievances are brought forward and heard—it’s a really interesting idea. Because the fact is that there is a lot of shitty sexual behavior that goes on, and the majority of it is by men toward women, and anybody who thinks that’s not the case I think has their eyes closed. So, I’m very much in favor of emphasizing an educational approach to this, and especially educating women in how to get themselves out of situations that aren’t going well, out of situations that don’t feel good.

I really do think, the more students I talk to, that there are a lot of women having sex in ways that are either physically uncomfortable or emotionally injurious or some combination, or things have happened that they didn’t want to have happened, people are drunk out of their minds. And honestly, having some drunken guy on top of you who outweighs you by 80 lbs. may not be the world’s best experience. So, I think all that should be talked about more openly, in ways that stress education over regulation.

CATHY YOUNG: So, in a way, this whole debate over “is this rape or is it not rape” is taking us in the wrong direction, isn’t it?

LAURA KIPNIS: I would have to say, and maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned on this point—I think the dividing line is the use of physical force to [make someone] have sex, and I do think that’s a criminal matter.

CATHY YOUNG: Or if we’re talking about someone who is not just intoxicated but physically incapacitated, to the extent that they are unable to remove themselves from the situation.

LAURA KIPNIS: Absolutely true. But then you get into questions that are complicated—how drunk is too drunk to consent, the fact that people can be in a blackout state and seem conscious. I think people are trying to draw hard and fast lines, and Title IX investigators are in that position of making pronouncements in fuzzy situations.

CATHY YOUNG: One of the things that the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter [from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights] did with regard to sexual assault on campus, besides requiring a lower standard of proof for Title IX complaints, was to prohibit mediation in such cases. Yet it seems that in many of those gray-area situations—for instance, where someone felt pressured into sex but didn’t feel able to speak up—mediation would be a much better way to go. What’s your opinion on that?

LAURA KIPNIS: It seems like a strange mistake, and I don’t understand it at all. Some of these measures really push in the direction of policing and turning campuses into increasingly carceral atmospheres—where mediation I think would make much more sense, and would also be educational as opposed to punitive.

CATHY YOUNG: You mentioned before that there’s a lot of bad behavior going on sexually on campuses and most of it is by men toward women, and it includes women feeling pressured into things they don’t really want. To play devil’s advocate: do you think the way we see this is also partly rooted in very traditional ideas about sex being something men get from women? For instance, if it’s a guy having sex with a woman he wouldn’t have had sex with when he was sober, it’s difficult for people to see him as a victim, even if he feels bad about it the next day. There are studies where almost as many young men as women will say that at some point they went along with a sexual situation they didn’t want, but it’s not part of our cultural language to see these men as having been done wrong.

LAURA KIPNIS: My sense is that there are a lot of contradictory ideas or subjectivities floating around when it comes to gender and sex. I have the sense there are a lot of women students who have three or four different positions on it at once: on the one hand, they want to have sex like the guys, and this could be meaningless and they’ll be the aggressors in the situation and then they’ll ditch the guy, and that’s all fine, and then that kind of competes with this other position of feeling you have been wronged and that sort of thing.

I also do think there is a lot of gender traditionalism that comes out—I say this in the book—when people drink. The more people drink, you get the sense that men become more aggressive and women become more passive, partly because they’re just more incapacitated by alcohol. So it may be that there are guys who have sex in circumstances when they didn’t want to, I’m sure that’s completely true. I do think that men—maybe this is stereotyping, but men are the ones who are more willing to force a situation, to pressure somebody, to coerce, to plead, to persuade. Maybe women have other tactics that they use—that we use to get sex from a reluctant guy. But the problem is, you’ve got this gender traditionalism in the mix with this supposed gender neutrality—we’re all equal here, and girls and guys are all on an equal playing field.

CATHY YOUNG: Still, in some of the situations you discuss in your book—including the one with Ludlow, especially his relationship with the graduate student—the women are very aggressive at times, and may even be in a quasi-dominant position. So isn’t it a lot more complicated?

LAURA KIPNIS: With the grad student, I feel on firm ground saying that, because I read their text messages and emails. I definitely think that was more in love and she had more power in the relationship, partly because she had another [boyfriend]. That’s not something that gets taken into consideration in these proceedings.

CATHY YOUNG: You also mentioned this one case in which the woman sued [claiming she was too drunk to consent], and there was evidence that she had made aggressive sexual advances toward the accused and his friend—

LAURA KIPNIS: Yes, in Colorado.

CATHY YOUNG: And she did get a disciplinary finding against her, because the other man, the friend, made a complaint about her making non-consensual advances toward him.

LAURA KIPNIS: Yes, but that’s a case where she got a $800,000 settlement also.

CATHY YOUNG: And the accused man, in that case, another grad student, was expelled?

LAURA KIPNIS: Yes, he was.

CATHY YOUNG: That was another interesting example that seemed to go against a pattern of intoxicated women being more passive—she was anything but.

LAURA KIPNIS: That’s true—good point.

CATHY YOUNG: Are you familiar with the Amherst case where they were both drunk but he didn’t remember anything, and her text messages showed that she made advances toward him? It seems that in a lot of cases this is very complicated.

LAURA KIPNIS: I like the position that you take on it—in some ways, I agree with you, in other ways, I’m trying to balance all of this out. But I like that that’s what you stress—female agency.

CATHY YOUNG: A number of social conservatives, such as Wendy Shalit in A Defense of Modesty, have argued that the real problem is that we have been chasing a utopian idea of equality instead of recognizing that traditional norms served women best by assuming that they will not have sex in casual situations. Their argument is that those norms empowered women to say no [without having to justify it]. Do you think there is anything to this argument? Should we be more sensitive to traditional notions of sex differences, or go forward to more equality?

LAURA KIPNIS: I don’t find Shalit’s argument compelling at all. I don’t know where to even start with this. (laughs) The version of feminism I would subscribe to looks at historical structures as opposed to inborn [gender differences]. Maybe propensities are inborn, but I also think that these are social structures, and if you’re a feminist you want to push toward ones that allow for women and men to have equal lives and equal versions of autonomy and equality in personal lives. This idea of gender traditionalism as something to [aspire to]—this could not be more inimical to what I think.

CATHY YOUNG: Well, the argument some would make—in the book, you referred to an incident your mother had in which a professor was literally chasing her around the desk and she was batting him away, and you were saying it’s ironic that a woman in that pre-feminist era seemed to be more assertive in fending off unwanted male advances than many women seem to be in our feminist age. And this is where some would argue that partly, in that era, it was presumed that women would reject male advances; there was a social framework in which women were supported in say no or even slapping a man in the face if he was sexually aggressive.

LAURA KIPNIS: Oh, come on—there were also women getting raped, there wasn’t access to birth control. There has certainly been a tremendous amount of progress on the gender front. It’s not like you want to look backward with nostalgia at the good old days when professors were chasing women around [the desk]. I don’t, anyway.

CATHY YOUNG: One area that you didn’t really get into in the book is that there’s a racial angle to a number of these campus cases—minority men who are accused of sexually assaulting white women, and some of these accusations definitely have questionable circumstances. Do you find it odd that at a time when there is so much sensitivity to minority issues, and especially to the issue of minority men being mistreated by the police, there doesn’t seem to be much awareness of that in the progressive community on campus?

LAURA KIPNIS: I’ve heard that there are some student groups that are aware of that. There was some kind of conference—a student conference at Brown, I believe, a couple of years ago, and it was under the auspices of “fight the carceral versions of Title IX.” The term “carceral feminism,” I think, gets brought up by people—and I think it is feminists on the left, who call themselves leftists—who are trying to make that issue be known.

CATHY YOUNG: Do you see the situation [with regard to Title IX] changing at all under the Trump administration?

LAURA KIPNIS: I think everyone is waiting to see what [Betsy] DeVos and these new people in the OCR are going to do. I can only think that they’re going to dial back on the “Dear Colleague” letters. But the question is what that means on the ground because these infrastructures are already so much in place, and with the student activists there is so much pressure to keep the adjudication machinery going—the Department of Education might dial back and it still might not change on campus. I think what will change [the situation] is these cases moving through the civil courts, and some of the decisions that are coming down are really, I think, forcing campuses to review the due process issues. It does seem like it’s all heading for some kind of clash. When we all assumed that [Hillary] Clinton was going to be President, that’s what I assumed—that this would end up, perhaps, in the Supreme Court, over the constitutional issues that are raised by Title IX. At this point, I don’t know—I don’t think anyone is really predicting.

CATHY YOUNG: Perhaps the flip side of this is that the cultural left—for lack of a better word—has been incredibly energized by Donald Trump’s election. Could this lead to more pressure from campus activists? In the current atmosphere where so many people feel there is a “war on women” coming from Washington, do you think there is going to be more of a backlash against anything that’s seen as rolling back protections for women? 

LAURA KIPNIS: That’s a good point; I hadn’t really thought about it, but it makes sense to me. [But] like I said, I think that with more and more of these cases hitting the courts, I think that will achieve some kind of turnaround. Maybe Congress will also subject this to congressional review at some point.

CATHY YOUNG: With your book among others, do you that we will see more of a pushback in the liberal and progressive community against some of the overreach—not only on Title IX but on “safe spaces,” with regard to both sex and speech?

LAURA KIPNIS: I think there will be rethinking,  particularly as more information gets out. I think the issue is that, in terms of Title IX, the information isn’t out there because it’s all confidential. The book by [K.C.] Johnson and [Stuart] Taylor, I think, puts more information out there. I wish it had had a different title—Campus Rape Frenzy seemed to be appealing toward a certain crowd, toward right-wing or anti-feminist sensibilities. [But] it was really thoroughly researched, far better than my book on explicating the tangled history of Title IX.

I do think that people who consider themselves liberals are concerned, certainly, about speech issues. Any classic liberal is concerned about speech [and] due process issues, for sure.

CATHY YOUNG: As far as getting more information out there, do you think the confidentiality rules for Title IX cases should be relaxed?

LAURA KIPNIS: Yes, absolutely. I don’t see a reason for it, particularly since these cases are hitting civil courts and a lot of them under “Doe” directives, where it’s “Jane Doe” and other pseudonyms in the cases. There should be far more transparency than there is. That doesn’t mean people’s names have to be used. But I do think that, as I exposed some of this information because these documents were not, as far as I understood it, confidential—I think just people reading about how these decisions are made and how preponderance is achieved has been shocking for some people, who thought this was all a fair process.

CATHY YOUNG: That was one of the fascinating things in your book—you shed a lot of light on what exactly goes on with the preponderance standard, where it seems to be a matter of, as you put it, either guesswork or caprice.

One final question: at one point, there was an active group called Feminists for Free Expression, which did a great deal to counteract the Dworkin-MacKinnon anti-porn feminism. Is there a need for a group, either feminist or more broadly progressive, in opposition to some of the speech and sex regulations that we’re seeing now?

LAURA KIPNIS: I would love that. You know, my sense is that there are a lot of people who are afraid to say what they really think. People have said that to me personally and in emails. They want to be seen as being on the right side of these issues. But the more people speak out about the bizarre experiences that they’ve had, the sort that I’ve had, and talk about what’s going on behind closed doors—maybe more people will come forward, and such a group would be a possibility.

NYU Professor Sides with “Snowflakes” Against Free Speech

Many leftist academics have denounced the recent spate of riots and shouting down of non-progressive speakers on college campuses – and good for them – but you knew that there were others who were glad to see students fighting back against such supposedly dangerous people as Charles Murray. One of them has put his thoughts into an op-ed piece for the New York Times and it is worth reading to understand why this kind of behavior is apt to continue.

Writing on April 24, New York University vice provost and professor of literature Ulrich Baer makes a case for the suppression of some speech in “What ‘Snowflakes’ Get Right About Free Speech.”

In Baer’s opinion, “The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks. It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community.”

Let’s stop and take a look at that assertion. Freedom of speech really does mean “blanket permission” for each person to say whatever he thinks, just as free trade means blanket permission for people to enter into trade with anyone they want. Once you take away that complete freedom, you enter a world of selective permission to speak or to trade and that in turn requires having some person or group in authority to decide who receives permission and who does not.

Baer continues, declaring that “the inherent value” of some idea a person might want to express must be “balanced” against something else, namely “the obligation to ensure that other members” can “participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community.” But how do we (that is, whatever authority gets the power) balance the value of an idea against the notion that each community member must be able to participate in discourse? If we have a regime of free speech, then everyone is able to participate in discourse and no one has to “balance” anything.

What Baer is getting at is the claim that some ideas are so hurtful to some people that those injured individuals cannot participate in discourse because they aren’t “fully recognized.”  The question he never addresses is why we should believe that.

Let’s say that a college allows someone on campus who argues in favor of white supremacy, as Auburn recently did. Everyone was free to ignore the speaker as a fool or argue against his ideas. No non-white student or other members of the Auburn community felt “unrecognized” by this speaker’s presence or unable to participate.

Baer argues that some ideas should not be debated because they “invalidate the humanity of some people.” On the contrary, even terrible ideas should be debated. Doing so sharpens the case against them, as John Stuart Mill pointed out in On Liberty.

Furthermore, Baer sets up a straw man when he writes, “I am not overly worried that even the shrillest heckler’s vetoes will end free speech in America.” Of course, the sorts of nasty actions we have seen at Berkeley, Middlebury and elsewhere won’t “end free speech in America,” but what they do accomplish is to prevent particular instances of free speech at specific places.

If we excuse those actions, as Baer does, we will get more of them and less free speech. You would think that a college professor would understand that our national commitment to freedom of speech necessarily means defending it each time it is attacked.

Implicit in Baer’s piece is the idea that because certain groups of people are less adept at making rational arguments for themselves, they should be allowed to veto people who are (or at least might be) good at that by preventing them from speaking. That, obviously, is a dangerous concept. Who then gets to decide when a person or idea is unacceptable and deserves to be censored? History gives us the answer: It will be those who are zealous fanatics for authoritarian programs that undermine civility and our social fabric.

Marquette Can Fire McAdams over Gay Marriage Post, Judge Says

A Milwaukee County judge ruled today that Marquette University has the right to terminate tenured political science Professor John McAdams for writing on his blog in 2014 that Cheryl Abbate, a teaching graduate student, had refused to allow someone in her ethics class to make a negative argument on gay marriage. Abbate told the student that dissent on gay marriage was offensive, homophobic and besides, the gay-marriage issue had been settled and was no longer up for debate. Abbate was likely aware that Marquette, as a Jesuit institution, does not agree that the gay-marriage issue has been fully disposed of, or that students are no longer allowed to hold negative views on the subject.

To some observers, Marquette seems in full flight from its Catholic heritage, and instead of admonishing Abbate for incompetence and closed-mindedness, college president Michael Lovell went after McAdams, an outspoken conservative gadfly at the college, suspending him, banning him from the campus and demanding a written apology, which McAdams refused to supply. Lovell set up a faculty committee to judge the case and today the judge, David Hansher accepted that committee’s negative ruling. McAdams says he will appeal.

Racial Conflict on an Unlikely Campus

St. Olaf, a tiny Lutheran college in rural Minnesota, a very liberal campus where four of every five students backed Hillary Clinton for president and where conservative and pro-Trump students have been cursed and threatened, is the improbable site of the latest campus racial conflict. Black students took over the cafeteria during dinner, blocked entrances and boycotted classes Monday to protest seven typed and written racist statements discovered on campus in recent weeks.

Over the weekend, a black student reported having found a note on the windshield of her car that read: “I am so glad that you are leaving soon. One less n‑‑‑‑‑ that this school must deal with. You have spoken up too much. You will change nothing. Shut up, or I will shut you up.” Students gathered Saturday night inside a student union building, chanting: “This ends now.”

“The students have taken over the campus like a coup,” Kathryn Hinderaker, vice president of the College Republicans, told The College Fix in a telephone interview Monday.

A source who reached out to The College Fix on Monday via email said a friend of hers was working in the library Saturday evening and was allegedly pushed aside by a throng of student protesters who demanded she turn over the library intercom for them to make an announcement.

Related: THE FLAW IN THIS RACIAL HOAX: SHE SPELLED ONE NAME RIGHT–HER OWN

“When she refused, they stormed the circulation desk and forcibly grabbed the intercom mic to make their announcement,” said the source, who wished to remain anonymous for safety concerns. “They also ripped the phone out of her hand and off the wall when she tried to call the police.”

Though the reported racist statements, including “go back to Africa,” may have been the work of one or two individuals, the protesters insist that “these racially charged reported and unreported hate crimes are not driven by individual incidents or students, but an ideology that is continuously supported by the administration’s lack of action and the student body’s harmful attitudes.”

College President David Anderson met with protesters in the afternoon and signed an agreement on how to proceed with addressing issues of racism. The agreement seemed to accept the protesters’ view that institutional racism is the core problem at St. Olaf. As part of their terms, students demanded the creation of a task force led by “two faculty members of color” and “three students and one alumni member of color.”

Related: ADD BABSON TO THE LIST OF CAMPUS HOAXES

In addition to their terms and conditions, students put together a separate list of demands, which includes the creation and enforcement of “a comprehensive racial awareness and inclusiveness curriculum” and a revision of the school’s general education requirements to include “mandatory introductory courses in Race & Ethnic Studies and Women’s & Gender Studies departments.”

On March 21, the student newspaper Manitou Messenger interviewed 12 St. Olaf students and several reported having been violently threatened because of their political beliefs, and almost all of them said they felt as though they can’t speak up about politics on campus – in class, online or with their friends.

On the night of the election, a student threatened to beat up College Republicans President Emily Schaller, calling her a “f***ing moron.” Over the next couple of days, she said she overheard multiple students threaten to hurt the next conservative or Republican they saw. Vice President of St. Olaf College Republicans Kathryn Hinderaker said she had a similar experience.

Related: A CONSERVATIVE HATE CRIME HOAX

In the past few days, several anti-white posters appeared on campus.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the AP, and The Washington Post all covered this story, but none mentioned how unlikely it is that a remote liberal campus with only 30 or so black students should be the site of an anti-black crusade. One site, Legal Insurrection, mentioned the possibility of a hoax: “The racist notes at St. Olaf could be real, but this situation is unfolding in a manner similar to the great Oberlin College racism hoax of 2013, in which racist posters were placed on campus by liberal students who wanted to start a dialogue. If you wanted to force your school to mandate race and gender classes, planting racist notes on campus then expressing outrage about it and making demands would be one way to achieve it.”

At other colleges where racist statements or attacks have been reported, many have turned out to be hoaxes, as here, here, here, here, here and here.

Self-Censorship Is Easy to Learn, Particularly in Dormitories

William Deresiewicz is an essayist and author of two books, Excellent Sheep, the Miseducation of the American Elite and A Jane Austen Education:  How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter. He was born in Englewood, N.J. in 1964, graduated from Columbia, taught at Scripps and Yale and now is a full-time writer living in Portland, Oregon. He is a contributor to The Nation and The New Republic. This interview, conducted by Minding the Campus editor John Leo, took place on April 13.

John: You wrote a recent article on political correctness in The American Scholar which drew an unusually high amount of traffic and focused on the persistent attempt to suppress the expression of unwelcome beliefs and ideas.

Bill: The high-profile disinvitations of conservative speakers are probably the best example of PC. But much more pervasive is the constant policing of what everybody says on campus. Mainly the policing of peers by other peers. What they say, things they wear, the language they use. My students understood that there was always something new that they weren’t supposed to say, but they often didn’t find out what it was until after they said it.

John: You said that self-censorship is an easy thing to learn, particularly in dormitories.

Bill: Yes.  Self-censorship sets in very quickly once you’ve been censored. And in the hothouse environment of a college campus where people are living in close quarters and very invested in the good opinion of their peers, it can be very intense.   What’s missing is the core purpose of a liberal education, inquiry into the fundamental human questions, undertaken through rational argument, not the “ustalk” of PC consensus.

John: And then rather quickly in the article, you come to the conclusion that selective private colleges have in effect become religious schools. Explain.

Bill: I think one of the central ways this phenomenon can be understood is that those schools, in particular, are enforcing a certain ideology which has many of the characteristics of religion. And I mean I think it’s a useful way to understand it. I think it’s also an intentionally provocative way because part of that ideology part of that religion is itself to be anti-religious to be militantly secular and very hostile to religion and especially to Christianity.

John: Explain that dogma. I was just going to say you list some aspects of the dogma of this religion.

Bill: I mean obviously there’s a strong emphasis on identity categories and identity politics particularly the categories of race, gender and sexuality. There is also as I said the secularism itself and I think the last element I lift is environmentalism. Now I should say, I mean some of these things are things that I share. I mean I believe that environmental concerns are extremely urgent. The problem is how it gets translated into a dogma rather than what should happen in college which is that people have genuine arguments and you might actually change your mind about things.

John: You say students seldom disagree with one another anymore in class. Why is that?

Bill: As one student said, we all have more or less the same set of opinions, so there isn’t that much to disagree about. Obviously, another aspect is this enforcement of a consensus so that if you do disagree, you’re often very reluctant to say so. And then I think that there’s a general sort of generational attitude that it’s really important to be nice and not confrontational and to support everybody. And you know disagreement, and certainly, the argument is seen as a form of aggression rather than disagreement.

John: And you say where there’s dogma there’s going to be heresy. Right?

Bill: Yeah. I mean one aspect of seeing these places as religious communities or religious institutions is how they deal with defense. When I say that there’s going to be heresy, I  mean that that disagreement will be perceived not as a minority opinion but an impermissible and morally offensive opinion.

John: Right. And you say any challenge to the hegemony of identity politics will get you branded as a racist. As in don’t talk to that guy, he’s a racist.

Bill: Right. And again, I’m using a certain amount of hyperbole. But I’ve heard over and over again from students themselves that this has happened to them, or it’s happened to people that they know.

John: Talk about virtue. You mention there’s a sense that not only is the truth possessed but that the group or the religion is in full possession of virtue– we don’t just have perfect wisdom we embody it with perfect innocence. How does that work?

Bill: Well I mean again and let me also say that this is hardly something that’s confined to the left or to college campuses. I mean we certainly see this on the right. But I’m specifically concerned that it’s happening in colleges. And college is where it should not be happening.

So what I’m talking about is the very clearly embodied attitude, that we don’t need to argue about a large range of fundamental issues because we already know the right answer. But also, that because these tend to be social issues like identity, because we possess the right answer we are morally superior to those who disagree, and that’s why we are entitled to have content for them, to silence them, even to demonize them.

John: And you also say I’m jumping a little bit here that there is less interest in a critical mentality and learning about how to live a good life and how to develop and what you should do in life there’s less emphasis on that.

Bill: And what I’m talking about is the core purpose of a college education is to debate, to debate within yourself, what is true and good. So instead of debating, the questions that political correctness regards as settled are precisely the questions that college should open up to debate. And again for everybody, not just for people on the left but also for people on the right.

John: And the people who are unapproved or demonized on campus are conservatives, religious students, particularly Christians, students identified as Zionists, athletes and white males in general. Right?

Bill: Broadly speaking that’s correct.

John: How did that come to be. Why is the white male a demonized figure?

Bill: Well I mean this sort of grows out of a lot of the thought on the left for decades and it’s implicit in the premises of identity politics. It’s the idea that we live in a society that’s dominated by white racial supremacy and male gender domination. I actually agree with those premises. I do think we live in a society where there is still great systemic racism and great systemic sexism, and I think it’s foolish to deny that. The problem is what you do with that.  I think one of the unfortunate things that political correctness does, especially in college campuses does, is that it stigmatizes individual white people and individual males and especially white men, especially straight white men. As if they were responsible for the systemic situation and that somehow by treating them as lesser it would it would actually help the systemic situation. This is revenge. This is confusing equality with revenge, but equality is not revenge.

John: And you say that race, sex, and gender are the dominant categories, of course, but what happens to class? In your opinion, class has not really been considered, right?

Bill: So what I go on to say here, I mean we can talk about everything we just talked about and the development of a kind of religion on the left, but in the second half of the piece I connect this to things I’ve written about with higher education before. Which is that what this really is about especially at elite college campuses is concealing the role of class, because class is the one identity category that we never talk about– not in society in general and not in a system of political correctness in particular.

But it is the purpose of elite colleges to reproduce class. They mainly enroll affluent students. And the purpose of affluent families sending their kids to those schools is to make sure that their kids remain affluent, so we’re reproducing the class. But obviously,  if you are a liberal, if you’re a progressive, that would cause enormous cognitive dissonance. You would be embodying the thing that you’re pretending to fight — inequality. So political correctness provides a cover, and it enables you to say you’re actually morally virtuous because you’re against racism and you’re against sexism and unable to conceal the fact that all that may be true, but you are embodying classism.

John: I just wanted to say the politically correct culture, in lumping all whites together loses all nuance. You lose the Appalachian whites and other struggling whites who may have voted for Trump in rebellion against this regime.

Bill: That’s exactly right. Even before we get to working-class whites, as a Jewish person, I resent being lumped together with all of the white people because of my historical exposure; my personal experience is not the same as every white person. But you were talking about this other thing. So there’s a whole missing class on elite college campuses. The college campuses have, and I think admirably made an effort to include historically marginalized groups, people of color. I think that’s good. But then they can point to the socioeconomic distribution of their student bodies and say look, you know 10, 15, 20 percent of our students come from lower-income groups. Which isn’t very many anyway but, fine, it’s better than nothing. But the vast majority of those are non-white.

So 40 percent of America, which is the white working class, is essentially excluded from elite college campuses. You know, here or there you’ll meet someone from that background and they tend to feel extremely alienated. Because that class is absent from the campus, it’s possible to pretend they don’t exist. Which I think was the huge liberal mistake in 2016, or it’s possible to demonize them which was the other liberal mistake in 2016, they can be dismissed, they’re deplorable, whatever. So I think that there are real social and political implications of raising an elite in complete ignorance of this huge chunk of the country.

John: Your theme seemed to shift a little bit. Your theme that on the whole, the PC-infected people don’t study to learn about the human condition or to find their place in the world. Since they have a sense that they have all the truth they need. Is that fair? I mean I interviewed Harvey Mansfield last year, and he said something very similar about the kids at Harvard. He said they don’t think there’s anything more for them to learn. Which I thought was surprising then, but now it seems to make more sense in light of your views.

Bill:  I think that that’s absolutely right. I mean listen let’s differentiate. They’re there to learn certain chosen and specialized body of knowledge I don’t think they would ever say that there are more to learn about biology or economics or English literature if that’s what they’re studying. But that’s sort of the technocratic education. That’s education to become an expert. That’s kind of said over again on one side. The side that I’m talking about that I imagine Mansfield was talking about is sort of self-knowledge is sort of social wisdom for lack of a better word. It’s moral knowledge. The sense that your own exploration about what a good person and a good society are has more room to go. I think that’s what’s not being, let me say, listen, I don’t think that’s anything new about being eighteen. I mean I was like that when I was eighteen. What’s new is that the colleges aren’t doing anything to disrupt it, for a variety of reasons some of which we haven’t really talked about.

John: If you were to project reform what would it consist of? What should we do about the condition we are in?

Bill: There are so many things. Partly because as we’ve been saying these things are rooted in some pretty broad problems. But you know, what I say in is that if we’re going to talk about campus speech, I think the rule of thumb should be the First Amendment. OK, so no speech codes. No disinviting speakers. If it’s permitted by the First Amendment, it should be permitted on campus. And if it bothers people that’s part of what free speech means.  It means tolerating the speech of others even and especially when it bothers you.

Beyond that, I certainly think that we need admissions policies that give preferential advantage not just to marginalize racial groups but also to class. I think we need class-based affirmative action in addition to or instead of race-based affirmative action. And then more broadly, and this is sort of what my last book, Excellent Sheep, was about. We’ve entrusted the training of our elites to a set of private institutions that will have their own interests that they will serve first. That training should involve broader leadership.

Instead, what we really set out to do in the 1960s and did all the way through the 1970s was have great, free public higher education. And if you look back at the colleges that each of the major party presidential candidates went to since Harry Truman in 1948, and for the first few decades after the war, almost all of them went to public universities. A few of them, like Truman, didn’t go to college at all. Since ‘88 they’ve all gone. Almost all of them have gone to private, basically Ivy League or equivalent colleges and graduate school.

This is a problem, but it’s a problem essentially created by the tax revolt. You know we decided that we weren’t going to pay for other people’s kids to get a good education. So you only end up screwing yourself, because you’re going to have kids some day too. And you’re going to want them to be able to go, not take out $50,000 in loans to go to college or not have to go to a public university that’s desperately underfunded.

John: Say something if you will about the leadership at the colleges. I run this site on the universities. We have a lot of articles on Yale, and we watch it pretty carefully. They run kangaroo courts, let the feminists expand the definition of sexual assault and investigate a professor without telling him and for some reason, have a major disruption over Halloween costumes–just amazing that a major university could behave that way. Do you know about that?

Bill. Yeah. Sure.

John: Well I thought what you said about the students being in the saddle all these days was what made me think about Yale right away because one of the students really abused the Christakises — husband and wife professors — threatened them, cursed them, and got no penalty at all for that, no suspension, no expulsion. Whereas the two Christakises were driven off campus. That sort of made me think of your comment that the kids are in the saddle now and the teachers are teaching with their tails between their legs.

Bill: That’s absolutely right. Take the Middlebury incident where their teacher was assaulted. I haven’t been following the aftermath carefully, but I don’t think anyone was expelled or maybe even suspended over that.

John: They said something would happen. They always say that. They said that at Berkeley. “Just you wait and see what we do.” That sort of thing and then there’s often a special commission that reports just the day before Christmas. I don’t think anybody’s been expelled anywhere. And the current routine is not to make any arrests, so nobody gets punished that way. So what do you think about that system?

Bill: Well here’s what I think about it because I dealt with it as a professor, at Yale and elsewhere. But it’s not specifically about what we’re talking about -– abusing teachers. But for instance, when students plagiarized they were never properly punished. And I remember one case where a student (it was the most cut and dried version of plagiarism you could possibly imagine). And when I reported it to the Dean, I said promise me that this time there’ll be consequences.

And of course, in the end, there were no consequences. These schools have come to treat their students as customers. They will almost never throw a student out, no matter what they do. They don’t want students to feel like they’re not going to graduate. Graduation rates are also a part of the U.S. News & World Report statistics.

No one’s ever going to flunk out at this point. Not going to happen. Even just giving students an F in one class is more or less impossible. And that’s the process. Once you’ve done that and once it’s become clear to students that they can basically get away with anything

John: Back up a little bit. It seems to me that in your analysis you’re really saying that the kids at the elite colleges are not really getting an education. Are you saying that?

Bill: Well. Yeah. I’ve said that.

John: Well then that’s a serious problem. If you can’t get a good education at Yale, Harvard or Princeton, where are you going to get it? And if something is that radically wrong, what should we do about it?

Bill:  Well again let’s say a couple of things. First of all, if we’re talking about education in a narrow sense and a technocratic sense, I would not say that that’s not true. I mean they certainly are producing very well qualified scientists and blah blah blah. So that’s not what I’m saying. I’m talking about education of a different kind. Outside of the sciences, it’s often very difficult to really have an intellectually rigorous education. There are some schools still do it.

Reed College in Portland is one of those schools. There are other schools that I can name. It’s rare. It tends to be bad for business. But listen, I’m not sure that American society cares that much. People go to college to get credentialed. If it’s a prestigious college, they want a leg up. They want to be injected into the elite at high speed. These colleges still serve those purposes. I don’t think people care whether someone’s getting a rigorous education. Sometimes employers will complain, and employers have complained in surveys and studies that relatively few people they hire are really equipped to do the kind of thinking that they want them to be able to do.

John: But aside from the scientists, who have to deal with ideas and technical training, a lot of kids just float through the four years and then do nothing. Manhattan Institute, where I was for several years, got drawn into concern about education because employers in New York City couldn’t even hire kids for drudge work out of college. They just couldn’t function at all. So the quality problem stretches from top to bottom of the spectrum of brains.

Bill: It certainly isn’t a problem just at the fancy expensive schools. I don’t think that our public universities or third-tier schools are necessarily doing a good job either.

John: I wanted to ask you one or two questions about the earlier book Excellent Sheep, out in 2014. You were saying in effect that we have been churning out blinkered overachievers and conformists.

Bill: Yeah. Again there are exceptions but I mean, that’s right.

John: If you were doing that book again, how would you change it? Is there anything different that you would put it in now?

Bill: No, because I mean I’ve been thinking and writing, speaking, listening, reading about this for years before I wrote the book. Since then I would say the main thing that I’ve learned is just how widespread the things I described are. I mean I was talking about elite private and even elite public colleges. Say a hundred, hundred fifty institutions in the United States. Now it’s a broader trend.

What I’ve discovered is that a lot of what I’m talking about is true at many colleges in other countries and in K through 12 education as well. That is sort of a systemic problem. I blame the admissions process, still a big culprit. But really I think it’s about the way our ideas globally about education and what it’s for have changed. And if we see education simply as being in the business of producing workers for the job market, this is where we’re going to get. I mean it may be paradoxical because as you said, we’re not even doing a good job doing that.

I think it’s because we’ve set the terms so narrowly that we think that if we have kids solving equations 5 hours a day from the time they’re 6 years old we’re somehow going to produce good engineers. That’s not how it works. You need to produce a human being, and a human being is also going to be the best worker because there are going to be able to think for themselves. But we have you know we’ve tried to make education as efficient as possible. It’s like if a Martian were asked to design education that didn’t really know anything about actual human beings. So you try to leave out all the parts that supposedly aren’t necessary, but they are necessary.

And ironically you know we’re doing a lot of this because we feel the heat from our East Asian and South Asian competitors. They seem to be doing a better job. But actually, those very countries are looking at us and saying how can we become innovative? How can we move up the value chain so that we’re not just assembling products that are designed in California? And their answer has been we need our students to get more liberal arts. We need to be able to think flexibly and creatively. But we’re going in the opposite direction because we somehow think that those things are frills.

John: OK. Let me switch back to the earlier discussion. Isn’t there a long-term price to pay when you allow a culture to dominate the elite institutions and maybe even some of the publics based on racial antagonism toward whites. And sometimes Jews too because the BDS stuff has really gotten out of control. Don’t we pay a price letting that go on and not doing anything about it?

Bill: To me, the left just paid an unbelievably large price for this last year. I mean I’m not saying this is solely responsible for the election of Donald Trump. But you saw in Hillary Clinton in her campaign in the Democratic Party establishment the consequences of exactly what we’re talking about. People who really do think that the Democratic elite is out of touch not just with the people who voted for Trump, they’re out of touch with a lot of people who voted for them.

Among the elites are a lot of people completely ignorant of anybody who isn’t exactly like them, and they can’t understand how anybody could have a different opinion once you’ve explained things to them clearly enough. And I think it’s because their whole life their whole training their whole education has been in this bubble of other liberal elites whether it’s at the colleges or before that at the private schools or the wealthy suburban public school.

John: But I’m thinking in terms of the whole of American culture.. All my friends say don’t worry about these kids that are shouting down speakers once they get out in the real world, they’ll learn. What if the real world is like these kids, grown up? Maybe they can carry the adult world with them. What if there’s a huge lobby for the Supreme Court to find a big hole in the first amendment for hate speech.

Bill: Yes. I mean whether we’re actually going modify the First Amendment, I’m skeptical. I would say that we already see it in the culture at large. We see it in those parts of culture that are dominated by liberals. We see it in Hollywood. We see it in the conversation the liberal media. Listen, I don’t think conservatives have anything to feel smug or complacent about with respect to this because I think they enforce norms just as ruthlessly on their side.

But obviously, we’re all suffering from the fact that American society has largely been divided into two mutually hostile religions. Each of which is self-contained in this way. So yeah, I mean I think we’re paying that price. I don’t think left political correctness is solely responsible for it, but I certainly think it bears a lot of the blame.

John: Last question:  Do you have any ideas for reform or to obliterate or at least dent this tendency of partisanship and the antagonism behind the PC ?

Bill: Well, I mean you asked me before about what colleges can do in terms of admitting more white working-class students, changing their own attitude about speech on campus, about how they treat their students as customers. I think the larger sort of polarization in American culture is going to be very difficult to address.

And I don’t think that there are easy solutions. I think that we need to I think probably on each side the left within itself and the right within itself we need to change the norms. And like I said in The American Scholar piece, radical feminists are attacking other radical feminists. So I think in general we need to listen even within our own camps as a way to start to begin to listen to each other. But the way you begin to listen to other people is by starting with a recognition that you don’t know everything and that you aren’t the most moral person in the world and we seem to be so addicted to moral superiority. I mean I think there’s some truth to the idea that this is America’s sort of Puritan nature coming out again. You know, everyone is a member of a tiny group of the elect.

John: Good. Thanks very much for your time, Bill.

Need a Commencement Speech? Try This One—It’s Free!

This is a generation that faces new challenges. You are not millennials, not Gen Xers, you are quite literally in a class by yourselves—the class of 2017. All around us we see changes we never expected, changes that demand acceptance—or “resistance.” There are economic and political alterations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East. They are accompanied by revolutions in communication, in science, in art. Thanks to the education you’ve received over the last four years, you’re well-equipped to handle these challenges. Good luck. Not that you’ll need it.

Oops. That was from a pre-millennial commencement speech. As you can see, it was a hit with school officials and alumni and the graduates could recite every word, even to this day.  Here’s this year’s speech:

I am a recognizable name. My achievements will be duplicated by few, if any, of you.

This is not a matter of arrogance or superiority. My IQ is no larger than yours, my background no more illustrious. It’s just that I had to make my own way in college and in life. Believe it or not, we had to read books that upset us. If you had to do that today, it would be called lit boot camp. Your courses outdid themselves with political correctness on steroids, identifying the emotional triggers in the classics and dismissing them as harmful and irrelevant. And who could blame them? Reading books without “trigger warnings ” might upset fragile sensibilities, never acknowledged by the unwary professors in my time.

When I attended this institution, we were exposed to a barrage  of philosphical, political and sociological ideas. Some were agreeable, some were challenging, some were repulsive. But they were all vital components of the undergraduate experience. In those vanished days we were so naïve. You, on the other hand, are well versed in White Privilege, Cultural Appropriation, and Safe Spaces.

In my time, there were no holes pre-cut in the knees and thighs of our jeans—we had to cut them open ourselves, with little guidance from elders, and there were no safe rooms. There were no unsubstantiated accusations of date rape, no charges of “fascism” from people whose parents were not even alive when the Third Reich was in the ascendant. (That Reich, by the way, found many early supporters in the German universities.) I can’t believe we missed out on all the fun you millennials were having.

In the day, my generation was thought of as the real game-changer. You know–teach-ins, speakouts, loud protests.  But these were modest indeed by your standards.  Maybe it started when you were invited to “Rate My Professors,” as if they were a new reality show.  When my generation invited people to speak, people of all shades in the spectrum of ideas came, addressing us with discretion and dignity. We returned the favor. If we challenged them it was with courtesy, and they departed without incident. Sound familiar? Of course not. During your college years, when those with unpopular ideas were invited to speak, vehement objections were heard—and the speakers were quickly “disinvited.” On the rare occasions when they did appear, they were intimidated or even injured.

Talk about fascism: Could Jason Riley, a black conservative and a star of the Wall St. Journal, be peacefully heard at colleges and universities? Nein.  Could Professor Charles Murray  be listened to quietly by people who hadn’t read  his books and had no idea what he wrote? Nein. Bestselling author Heather Mac Donald? Nein. Would provocateurs like Milo Yiannoppoulos  and Ann Coulter be tolerated?  Nein nein, nein.

And that’s looking at the glass as half full. Looking at as half empty notes that you have turned Amendment Number One into Enemy Number One. Look around you. Almost everyone speaks in the same tone, expresses the identical views. To violate this conformity is to invite outrage, ostracisim, violence. You have been called snowflakes. This is unfair to such flakes everywhere. For they have character—no two are alike.

Your college president knows this and will do nothing about it. He is busy with something else. Nobody knows what. College, once a place for the exchange of ideas, a spacious home for the liberal arts, has become at best a serious joke, at worst a national scandal. You’re not entirely to blame for your post high-chair tantrums; no one ever dared to say “no” to you. No one helped you get the hang of a  a pluralistic marketplace of ideas, least of all a timorous faculty ever fearful that they might say something that might lose them tenure.

I don’t envy you folks. Out there is a world full of people who do not look to authorities for a list of approved Halloween costumes or novels without any offensive  words.  You’ll have to make your own way among employees with different ideas, and among employers who don’t set aside safe spaces. For those of you wounded by opinions you haven’t even heard yet, good luck. You’ll need it.

 

Radicals Stop a Rose Festival

I saw this on Althouse, Ann Althouse’s excellent blog:

“You have seen how much power we have downtown and that the police cannot stop us from shutting down roads so please consider your decision wisely,” said the anonymous email that caused Portland, Oregon, to cancel its Rose Festival Parade.

The local frenzied left said it would disrupt the parade, dragging and pushing people, because the 67th group in it was the Multnomah County Republican Party.

“We will not give one inch to groups who espouse hatred toward LGBT, immigrants, people of color or others,” it said.

Althouse: “So now that’s all it takes to end freedom of expression in Portland. What a flimsy, pathetic place.”

This is what has been going on at Berkeley, Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, UCLA, Brown, Rutgers and many more campuses. The Brownshirts won’t go away on their own. They will have to be confronted.

Their Violence Is Free Speech, but Our Speech Is Violence

A ludicrous inversion has taken place. The speech of Charles Murray, Heather Mac Donald, and other conservatives whose ideas cross the race taboos of the left are claimed to be violent. It is now one of the truisms of identity politics that words can hurt. As Toni Morrison said in her 1993 Nobel Prize speech, “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.”

So free speech by conservatives is violence. On the other hand, the left’s real violence is free speech, and when the police arrest protesters who intimidate attendees, block entrances, and shout down lecturers, they’re interfering with free speech rights. As a Middlebury professor and two alums said at Inside Higher Ed after the affair, “If free speech can justify a platform for Murray, it also justifies students talking back.” The ridiculous understatement of the words “talking back” shows how distorted the perspective of the angry campus left has become.

The solution is clear. The next time the protesters commandeer public grounds and threaten innocent citizens, they must be seized, immobilized, and carted away. Until that happens, the upheavals shall continue.

Excerpted from The American Spectator