Tag Archives: Charles Murray

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.

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.

The Real Defense of Charles Murray: Truth Not Free Speech

The Middlebury College incident in which Charles Murray was forcefully prevented from speaking about Coming Apart has generated a mini-industry of brilliant responses on behalf of academic freedom. Unfortunately, at least from my perspective, these high-sounding admonitions are misdirected and paradoxically give comfort to disruptors. Murray’s champions uniformly embrace the classic let- a-thousand-flowers-bloom, anti-censorship argument so vital to a democracy. Surely a noble sentiment but it is content-free and herein lies the problem.

Murray’s lecture should have been defended on substantive grounds: he is a highly qualified expert who has something important to say, and those who shouted him down represent the forces of darkness. The Middlebury fiasco was more than just a generic attack on free speech, though it was certainly that; it was the triumph of the barbarians—the town folk with torches marching up to Dr. Frankenstein’s castle– who substitute feelings for science as a method to discover truth. That this anti-science assault occurred at a college only compounds the harm.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with the venerable argument that free speech, save some special exceptions, should be tolerated even if views expressed are noxious, factually incorrect, and hateful or makes people uncomfortable. This Hyde Park Speaker’ Corner crackpot defense would certainly apply to Middlebury if the college invited, say, somebody promoting astrology.

But, this all-encompassing defense hardly applies to Charles Murray. He is not a crank needing a safe space or extra legal protection; his books and articles are models of social science analysis making major scholarly contributions and as such his presence need not be justified by some catch-all free speech protection. Yes, not everybody accepts his methods and conclusion, but to intimate that he should be lumped together with soapbox orators preaching the likes of creationism is a grievous mistake and, to boot, a personal insult.

Unfortunately, this generic approach is the safe path taken by Murray’s academic supporters—we should permit him to speak just as we might allow a wacko creationist to present his evidence. It is, indeed, an alluring and 100% safe defense: embrace the First Amendment and escape any suspicion that one might actually agree with his “racist” views. All gain, no pain for these apostles of intellectual freedom.

Those going to bat for Murray should have directly confronted the accusation that Murray is an incompetent who traffics in pseudo-scientific racism, classism and all the rest. Don’t retreat to a web-based safe space and quote from J. S. Mill’s On Liberty yet one more time; one should have been there to expose the disruptors (especially Middlebury faculty joining the fray) for what they are—ill-informed enemies of science, albeit of the social science variety.

This science-based defense hardly entails embracing Murray’s contentious conclusion. Rather, it calls for Murray’s arguments to be tried in the court of science, not affirmed or rejected by whether somebody, somewhere is offended. Defenders should have confronted the shouters and asked for a show of hands on how many protestors members have actually read The Bell Curve or any science-based rejoinder?

Similarly, how many of these noisy social justice warriors can briefly summarize the core argument of Coming Apart? Here’s a trick question: what does Coming Apart say about African Americans? (Answer: nothing, it’s only about whites). I suspect that even a few simple questions would expose the protestor as anti-knowledge airheads.

Better yet, stand tall and let it be known that you are not intimidated by masked disruptors and their snowflake auxiliaries. Openly ask for reaction to The Bell Curve’s most controversial data (p. 279) that African Americans on average have IQ’s 15 points lower than whites.  This gap explains numerous educational and economic outcomes, including the failure of myriad government imposed, well-funded measures to close the academic gap between blacks and whites.  In other words, do not concede the science to those silencing Murray. The real cranks are the ones in the black masks and students with signs saying, “No Eugenics” (Murray has never advocated eugenics). Protestors, not Murray, need an unrestricted Hyde Park Speakers’ Corner soapbox to explain why IQ tests are meaningless, why there is no such thing as “intelligence” or why spending trillions more will surely cure poverty.

Going one step further, the post-incident reaction should skip the empty rhetoric about needing yet more free speech protection etc. etc. How about demanding that Middlebury require all liberal arts majors take one course in scientific methodology? In this “Science for Snowflakes,” students will learn that science moves forward via falsification and shouting “racist” is not falsification. This would certainly be an improvement over a compulsory course celebrating multiculturalism (and I can only imagine the give and take when those learning about scientific methods enroll in fantasy-filled PC courses).

Sad to say, a substantive defense of Murray—his so-called noxious, arguments rest on solid science and can only be rejected scientifically—is unlikely to be offered on today’s PC-dominated campuses, at least in public though, I suspect, some Middlebury faculty and even a few students will agree in private with the doors locked, the shades pulled and only among trusted colleagues. In fact, the very idea of an objective, scientifically verifiable truth regarding racial differences might be deemed “too controversial” to even discuss.

If this event proves anything, it demonstrates that the Left now dominates the campus, and speaking the truth on contemporary taboo topics is career-ending; offering up a day late, dollar short celebration of the marketplace of ideas is not about to upend this control.

The power to silence those who believe in science has been metastasizing for decades. Those seeking a professorial career, at least in the humanities and social sciences, have long been socialized to accept that saying anything “disrespectful” about certain minorities and women is professional suicide no matter how strong the evidence and endless qualifications. And, with so many safe research topics available, it makes perfect sense to drink the Kool-Aid and insist that 2+2=5.

In the final analysis, Murray’s “talk” given electronically from a secure location was highly educational to those contemplating intellectual honesty, though not in the way Murray intended. The real bad news is not the silencing of Murray (he will convey his ideas elsewhere); it is the example given to younger academics.

They will see that if they should, even accidentally, stray over the academy’s invisible fence, dozens of fellow professors will write brilliant defenses of intellectual freedom on their behalf on countless websites. To recall a saying when growing up in NYC during the early 50’s: that and ten cents will get you a ride on the subway (today it would be $2.75).

Crime But No Punishment at Middlebury?

Two weeks have passed since a student mob shouted down visiting lecturer Charles Murray at Middlebury College, injured a professor, and jumped up and down on Murray’s car. But college President Laurie Patton still hasn’t acted to deal with any of the perpetrators. The action necessary was laid out clearly and forcefully by Rod Dreher in the American Conservative: “Middlebury College is on trial now. Its administration will either forthrightly defend liberal democratic norms, or it will capitulate. There is no middle ground. “

The normal and disappointing college procedure in cases like this is to wait several weeks, issue a vague statement on free speech and a mild and nonspecific penalty that lets the issue slide. The announcement is customarily issued quietly around 5 p.m. Friday of a long holiday weekend. We note that Good Friday and Easter are coming up.

Possible Criminal Charges

In fact, before Murray rose and tried to speak, Bob Burger, a college VP and head of PR for Middlebury, did announce penalties—including suspension–for shouting down a speaker, but video shows he did so in an amused way, as noted by Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, writing in the Federalist. Burger omitted one point from Middlebury’s rules that would soon seem applicable: “Disruption may also result in arrest and criminal charges such as disorderly conduct or trespass.”

Related: Middlebury Will Either Defend Democratic Norms or Capitulate

By the time Murray arrived on campus, Middlebury was in an explosive state. Disdain rose to hatred. Much of that atmosphere was the work of 450 Middlebury alumni who asked that the speaker be disallowed, and some 70 professors who protested the lecture and called Murray a “discredited ideologue paid by the American Enterprise Institute to promote public policies targeting people of color, women and the poor.”

This was an unusually tawdry account of Murray’s long career, including his 2012 book on the collapse of much white American culture, Coming Apart, which might have explained the rise of Donald Trump to Middlebury students had they read some of the book or listened to Murray’s speech instead of shutting it down.

“Both groups cued the anger of undergrads, few of whom had read Murray or even heard of The Bell Curve. Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury, under pressure to endorse free speech while identifying with the crowd’s anti-Murray emotions, accomplished both goals in much the same way that Lee Bollinger did when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke at Columbia University in 2007. Bollinger introduced the leader and excoriated him for “exhibit[ing] all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator.”

Patton said of Murray in her introduction:” I would regret it terribly if my presence here today, which is an expression of support I give to all students who are genuinely seeking to engage in a very tough public sphere, is read to be something which it is not: an endorsement of Mr. Murray’s research and writings. I will state here that I profoundly disagree with many of Mr. Murray’s views.” Though Patton had put out an advance statement on free expression, Peter Wood pointed out that her 6-minute introduction of Murray contained no clear mention of the need for free speech.

Related: Charles Murray on Why He Was Silenced at Middlebury

As Wood observed, Patton positioned herself almost identically to how Chancellor Nicholas Dirks at UC Berkeley had positioned himself before the Milo Yiannopoulos event and riot, emphasizing his extreme dislike of the speaker’s views and his temperate allegiance to free speech.

The anger and hatred by alumni and some faculty may have affected students who apparently knew little or nothing about Murray, beyond the awareness that liberals in good standing are expected to detest him. Many of the protesters dismissed the speaker as “anti-gay,” perhaps because it fit the rhyme scheme of a popular left-wing chant, though Murray has not written anything anti-gay and has come out for same-sex marriage.

What ‘The Bell Curve’ Said

Peter Wood offered this brief account of the argument in “The Bell Curve”:

*The book has very little to say about race. But it argues that a considerable portion of intelligence—40 to 80 percent—is heritable; and it also argues that intelligence tests are generally reliable. Those ideas irritate people who have a deep investment in three beliefs: extreme human plasticity; the social origins of inequality; and the possibility of engineering our institutions to create complete social justice.

*Murray’s 1994 argument that intelligence is mostly fixed at birth runs afoul of the hope or the belief that children who have significant intellectual deficits can overcome them with the right kinds of teaching.

*Murray’s argument can be interpreted to mean that social and economic inequality are rooted mostly in biological inheritance—though Murray never says this, and to the contrary has often argued for social changes that have nothing to do with biological inheritance.

*Murray is broadly on the side of pragmatic steps to ameliorate social ills and is skeptical of utopian proposals.

Related: The Bubble at Middlebury

*Murray has written many books since “The Bell Curve,” but for many on the left, it is still 1994, and they still have not read the original book, let alone Murray’s more recent work, including his 2012 best-seller “Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.” Any familiarity with that book—a sustained lament for “The Selective Collapse of American Community,” as he titles one chapter—would render it impossible to sustain the cartoon image of Murray as a racist bigot who wants to keep in place the inequities of American life. Murray has ably answered these kinds of attacks before, not that any of his opponents truly care about the accuracy of their accusations.

*It testifies to the shallowness of elite liberal arts education today—and not just Middlebury—that significant numbers of students and faculty members can repeat the old slurs against Murray. And not just repeat them, but intoxicate themselves with hatred towards a man whose ideas they know only third- or fourth-hand through individuals who have a strong ideological motive to distort them.

The welcome-and-disparage maneuver is not enough, President Patton. Uphold standards and deal with the perps.

The Bubble at Middlebury

Photo: The Rutland Herald

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more outrage about the somewhat violent silencing of Charles Murray at Middlebury.

I feel more than a little threatened by the fact that a political scientist was actually injured in the line of duty. I thought I had prudently chosen a profession where that just couldn’t happen. As C. C. Pecknold points out, these demonstrations are a kind of ritualized playacting of the privileged, those who think they are somehow reenacting the idealism of the Sixties. The script today is that the threat to our country is now anti-gay white nationalism, and Murray’s work has to be made to fit that script.

But Murray, of course, is a libertarian who refused to support the nationalist Trump. And he’s all about letting people live as they please so long as they productively take responsibility for themselves and their own. Murray often distinguishes, following Hayek, being libertarian and being conservative.

Consider that Murray came to Middlebury to talk about his book Coming Apart as one way of understanding the outcome of our recent election. Well, let me be courageous enough to say I’ve deployed parts of that book in my classes for that very purpose. It contains a lot of outstanding sociology, most of which is both pathbreaking and not really very controversial.

Murray’s least controversial observation, in my view, is that sophisticated and highly productive Americans now inhabit an increasingly impervious bubble. They live in their own zip codes, have their own schools, have developed their own set of values, have seceded from the various civic experiences (such as military service and socioeconomically diverse public schools) that used to bring diverse Americans together, and relate to those not of their kind in a distant, condescending, and manipulative manner.  Our elite colleges — despite their official commitment to diversity — are pretty much all part of the bubble.

Related: Middlebury Will Either Defend Democratic Norms or Capitulate

And Middlebury students and faculty could have benefited from Murray’s incisive yet lighthearted description of all their bubble’s distinctive prejudices. They could have gotten more than a bit ironic about themselves. There’s little in Murray’s description of the complacency of the privileged few that wouldn’t benefit Sanders voters as much as or more than it would Trump enthusiasts. It might help Clinton supporters even more in seeing why ordinary Americans, including “skilled labor,” thought of their candidate as lacking in real virtue and indifferent to their struggles.

Who can deny that the basic experiences of ordinary life for Trump voters and Clinton voters are now so different that it makes sense to talk of two alternative realities or bubbles? And that each bubble can be incisively criticized from the perspective of the other. And that each bubble is so protective that Americans are in some way less ironic than ever about their class-based limitations. It’s hard to admit that ours is not so much a middle-class country any longer.

Murray observes that our meritocracy based on productivity typically talks Sixties liberationism and social justice and might even join in demonstrations and other forms of activism in college. But its members’ actual ways of living after college are pretty bourgeois. They develop the habits of highly effective people, including child-centered marriage and assiduous health-and-safety regimens.

There really is a lot to admire in the way they live, even if they’re weak in connecting their privileges to civic responsibilities and living in the whole truth about who each of us is. Their education serves them well on one front, but not on others. Murray also notices that the habits of worthwhile work and healthy living are disappearing from the bottom 50 percent of Americans. He’s right on that. He’s wrong, I think, that they can be restored to middle-class responsibility through the removal of welfare dependency.

The problem is much more complicated than that. It has to do, in part, with the real disappearance of jobs that provide the secure wherewithal to live with dignified relational responsibility and that provide the satisfaction that comes with worthwhile work well done. There might have been a great debate at Middlebury between Bernie supporters and libertarians over that issue, an issue over which reasonable people can disagree. And that debate might have allowed the bubble men and women at Middlebury really to think as citizens about what’s best for all Americans.

Related: Charles Murray on Why He Was Silenced at Middlebury

All in all, Middlebury seems unreasonably resistant to the kind of liberal education that comes with questioning one’s own cherished opinions and forms of pride or self-esteem. That comes with curbing anger through really reading with an open mind the serious and well-intentioned books of those not of their kind. Let me add: I don’t deny that the students’ idealism is a real, if misguided, attempt to find meaning on campus in the only way that seems available. It’s just that they’re ending up reinforcing rather than disrupting or even popping their bubble.

As William Deresiewicz wrote in The American Scholar: “Unlike the campus protesters of the 1960s, today’s student activists are not expressing countercultural views. They are expressing the exact views of the culture in which they find themselves (a reason that administrators prove so ready to accede to their demands). If you want to find the counterculture on today’s elite college campuses, you need to look for the conservative students.”

Reprinted with permission from National Review’s Online blog, The Corner

Charles Murray on Why He Was Silenced at Middlebury

A few months ago, AEI’s student group at Middlebury College invited me to speak on the themes of Coming Apart and how they relate to the recent presidential election. Professor Allison Stanger of the Political Science Department agreed to serve as moderator of the Q&A and to ask the first three questions herself.

About a week before the event, plans for protests began to emerge, encouraged by several faculty members. Their logic was that since I am a racist, a white supremacist, a white nationalist, a pseudoscientist whose work has been discredited, a sexist, a eugenicist, and (this is a new one) anti-gay, I did not deserve a platform for my hate speech, and hence it was appropriate to keep me from speaking.

Middlebury College.

Last Wednesday, the day before the lecture was to occur, I got an email from Bill Burger, Vice President for Communications at Middlebury. The size and potential ferocity of the planned protests had escalated. We agreed to meet at the Middlebury Inn an hour before the lecture so that we could go over a contingency plan: In the event that the protesters in the lecture hall did not cease and desist after a reasonable period, Professor Stanger and I would repair to a room near the lecture hall where a video studio had been set up that would enable us to live-stream the lecture and take questions via Twitter.

Here’s how it played out.

The lecture hall was at capacity, somewhere around 400. There were lots of signs with lots of slogans (see the list of allegations above), liberally sprinkled with the f-word. A brave member of the AEI student group, Ivan Valladares, gave an eloquent description of what the group was about. Middlebury’s president, Laurie Patton, gave a statement about the importance of free speech even though she disagrees with much of my work. A second brave member of the AEI club, Alexander Khan, introduced me. All this was accompanied by occasional catcalls and outbursts, but not enough to keep the speakers from getting through their material. Then I went onstage, got halfway through my first sentence, and the uproar began.

First came a shouted recitation in unison of what I am told is a piece by James Baldwin. I couldn’t follow the words. That took a few minutes. Then came the chanting. The protesters had prepared several couplets that they chanted in rotations—“hey, hey, ho, ho, white supremacy has to go,” and the like.

It was very loud and stayed loud. It’s hard for me to estimate, but perhaps half the audience were protesters and half had come to hear the lecture.
I stood at the podium. I didn’t make any attempt to speak—no point in it—but I did make eye contact with students. I remember one in particular, from whom I couldn’t look away for a long time. She reminded me of my daughter Anna (Middlebury ’07) — partly physically, but also in her sweet earnestness. She looked at me reproachfully and a little defiantly, her mouth moving in whatever the current chant was. I’m probably projecting, but I imagined her to be a student who wasn’t particularly political but had learned that this guy Murray was truly evil. So she found herself in the unfamiliar position of activist, not really enjoying it, but doing her civic duty.

The others…. Wow. Some were just having a snarky good time as college undergrads have been known to do, dancing in the aisle to the rhythm of the chants. But many looked like they had come straight out of casting for a film of brownshirt rallies. In some cases, I can only describe their eyes as crazed and their expressions as snarls. Melodramatic, I know. But that’s what they looked like.

This went on for about twenty minutes. My mindset at that point was to wait them out if it took until midnight (which, I was later to realize, probably wouldn’t have been long enough). But finally, Bill Burger came on stage and decided, correctly, that the people who had come to hear the lecture deserved a chance to do so. Professor Stanger and I were led out of the hall to the improvised studio.

I started to give an abbreviated version of my standard Coming Apart lecture, speaking into the camera. Then there was the sound of shouting outside, followed by loud banging on the wall of the building. Professor Stanger and I were equipped with lavalier microphones, which are highly directional. The cameraman-cum-sound-technician indicated that we could continue to speak and the noise from outside would not drown us out. Then a fire alarm went off, which was harder to compete with. And so it went through the lecture and during my back and forth conversation with Professor Stanger—a conversation so interesting that minutes sometimes went by while I debated some point with her and completely forgot about the din. But the din never stopped.

We finished around 6:45 and prepared to leave the building to attend a campus dinner with a dozen students and some faculty members. Allison, Bill, and I (by this point I saw both of them as dear friends and still do) were accompanied by two large and capable security guards. (As I write, I still don’t have their names. My gratitude to them is profound.) We walked out the door and into the middle of a mob. I have read that they numbered about twenty. It seemed like a lot more than that to me, maybe fifty or so, but I was not in a position to get a good count. I registered that several of them were wearing ski masks. That was disquieting.

What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.
I had expected that they would shout expletives at us but no more. So I was nonplussed when I realized that a big man with a sign was standing right in front of us and wasn’t going to let us pass. I instinctively thought we’ll go around him. But that wasn’t possible. We’d just get blocked by the others who were joining him. So we walked straight into him, one of our security guys pushed him aside, and that’s the way it went from then on: Allison and Bill each holding one of my elbows, the three of us plowing ahead, the security guys clearing our way, and lots of pushing and shoving from all sides.

I didn’t see it happen, but someone grabbed Allison’s hair just as someone else shoved her from another direction, damaging muscles, tendons, and fascia in her neck. I was stumbling because of the shoving. If it hadn’t been for Allison and Bill keeping hold of me and the security guards pulling people off me, I would have been pushed to the ground. That much is sure. What would have happened after that I don’t know, but I do recall thinking that being on the ground was a really bad idea, and I should try really hard to avoid that. Unlike Allison, I wasn’t actually hurt at all.

The three of us got to the car, with the security guards keeping protesters away while we closed and locked the doors. Then we found that the evening wasn’t over. So many protesters surrounded the car, banging on the sides and the windows and rocking the car, climbing onto the hood, that Bill had to inch forward lest he run over them. At the time, I wouldn’t have objected. Bill must have a longer time horizon than I do.
Much of the meaning of the Middlebury affair depends on what Middlebury does next.

Extricating ourselves took a few blocks and several minutes. When we had done so and were finally satisfied that no cars were tailing us, we drove to the dinner venue. Allison and I went in and started chatting with the gathered students and faculty members. Suddenly Bill reappeared and said abruptly, “We’re leaving. Now.” The protesters had discovered where the dinner was being held and were on their way. So it was the three of us in the car again.

Long story short, we ended up at a lovely restaurant several miles out of Middlebury, where our dinner companions eventually rejoined us. I had many interesting conversations with students and faculty over the course of the pleasant evening that followed. In the silver-lining category, the original venue was on campus and would have provided us with all the iced tea we could drink. The lovely restaurant had a full bar.

* * *

Much of the meaning of the Middlebury affair depends on what Middlebury does next. So far, Middlebury’s stance has been exemplary. The administration agreed to host the event. President Patton did not cancel it even after a major protest became inevitable. She appeared at the event, further signaling Middlebury’s commitment to academic freedom. The administration arranged an ingenious Plan B that enabled me to present my ideas and discuss them with Professor Stanger even though the crowd had prevented me from speaking in the lecture hall. I wish that every college in the country had the backbone and determination that Middlebury exhibited.

Both Bill Burger, who made the initial remarks in the lecture hall, and President Patton spelled out Middlebury’s code of conduct and warned that violations could have consequences up to and including expulsion. Those warnings were ignored wholesale. Now what?

I sympathize with the difficulty of President Patton’s task. We’re talking about violations that involve a few hundred students, ranging from ones that call for a serious tutelary response (e.g., for the sweetly earnest young woman) to ones calling for permanent expulsion (for the students who participated in the mob as we exited), to criminal prosecution (at the very least, for those who injured Professor Stanger). The evidence will range from excellent to ambiguous to none. I will urge only that the inability to appropriately punish all of the guilty must not prevent appropriate punishment in cases where the evidence is clear.

Absent an adequate disciplinary response, I fear that the Middlebury episode could become an inflection point. In the twenty-three years since The Bell Curve was published, I have had considerable experience with campus protests. Until last Thursday, all of the ones involving me have been as carefully scripted as kabuki: The college administration meets with the organizers of the protest and ground rules are agreed upon. The protesters have so many minutes to do such and such. It is agreed that after the allotted time, they will leave or desist. These negotiated agreements have always worked. At least a couple of dozen times, I have been able to give my lecture to an attentive (or at least quiet) audience despite an organized protest.

If this becomes the new normal, the number of colleges willing to let themselves in for an experience like Middlebury’s will plunge to near zero. Academia is already largely sequestered in an ideological bubble, but at least it’s translucent. That bubble will become opaque.

Middlebury tried to negotiate such an agreement with the protesters, but, for the first time in my experience, the protesters would not accept any time limits. If this becomes the new normal, the number of colleges willing to let themselves in for an experience like Middlebury’s will plunge to near zero. Academia is already largely sequestered in an ideological bubble, but at least it’s translucent. That bubble will become opaque.

Worse yet, the intellectual thugs will take over many campuses. In the mid-1990s, I could count on students who had wanted to listen to start yelling at the protesters after a certain point, “Sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say.” That kind of pushback had an effect. It reminded the protesters that they were a minority. I am assured by people at Middlebury that their protesters are a minority as well. But they are a minority that has intimidated the majority. The people in the audience who wanted to hear me speak were completely cowed. That cannot be allowed to stand. A campus where a majority of students are fearful to speak openly because they know a minority will jump on them is no longer an intellectually free campus in any meaningful sense.

A college’s faculty is the obvious resource for keeping the bubble translucent and the intellectual thugs from taking over. A faculty that is overwhelmingly on the side of free intellectual exchange, stipulating only that it is conducted with logic, evidence, and civility, can easily lead each new freshman class to understand that’s how academia operates. If faculty members routinely condemn intellectual thuggery, the majority of students who also oppose it will feel entitled to say “sit down and shut up, we want to hear what he has to say” when protesters try to shut down intellectual exchange.

That leads me to two critical questions for which I have no empirical answers: What is the percentage of tenured faculty on American campuses who are still unambiguously on the side of free intellectual exchange? What is the percentage of them who are willing to express that position openly? I am confident that the answer to the first question is still far greater than fifty percent. But what about the answer to the second question? My reading of events on campuses over the last few years is that a minority of faculty are cowing a majority in the same way that a minority of students are cowing the majority.
The people in the audience who wanted to hear me speak were completely cowed. That cannot be allowed to stand.

I’m sure the pattern differs by geography and type of institution. But my impression is that the problem at elite colleges and universities is extremely widespread. In such colleges, events such as the Middlebury episode will further empower the minorities and make the majorities still more timorous.

That’s why the penalties imposed on the protesters need to be many and severe if last Thursday is not to become an inflection point. But let’s be realistic: The pressure to refrain from suspending and expelling large numbers of students will be intense. Parents will bombard the administration with explanations of why their little darlings are special people whose hearts were in the right place. Faculty and media on the left will urge that no one inside the lecture hall is penalized because shouting down awful people like me is morally appropriate. The administration has to recognize that severe sanctions will make the college less attractive to many prospective applicants.

My best guess is that Middlebury’s response will fall short of what I think is needed: A forceful statement to students that breaking the code of conduct is too costly to repeat. But even the response I prefer won’t generalize. A tough response will be met with widespread criticism. Students in other colleges will have no good reason to think their administration will follow Middlebury’s example.

And so I’m pessimistic. I say that realizing that I am probably the most unqualified person to analyze the larger meanings of last week’s events at Middlebury. It will take some time for me to be dispassionate. If you promise to bear that in mind, I will say what I’m thinking and rely on you to discount it appropriately: What happened last Thursday has the potential to be a disaster for American liberal education.

Printed with permission from the American Enterprise Institute where this essay was originally published.

Charles Murray Insulted but Allowed to Speak

The thought police are at it again. The latest confrontation is at Virginia Tech University at Blacksburg where the usual suspects — a coalition of black activists and white leftists — have called upon the university president to withdraw an invitation to Charles Murray, where he is scheduled to speak on March 25 at Tech’s business school. Murray will give an address drawn from his latest book, Coming Apart, which explains the increasing economic and cultural polarization that has taken place in America because of structural changes in our information-based, post-industrial economy.

Like much of Murray’s interest over the past three decades, Coming Apart focuses on the alarming growth of a downwardly mobile, and ever-more disoriented white underclass at the same time that a highly educated white over-class has pulled away and isolated itself in upscale, affluent communities.

These latter groups, Murray argues, have a vastly disproportionate influence on how public policy is conducted in America, yet they lack an understanding of the needs and traditions of less affluent and less well educated people. The protesters, however, seemed unconcerned with what Murray intends to say at Virginia Tech. Their sole objection is to the very appearance of Charles Murray, the co-author of the rarely-read but much vilified book, The Bell Curve, which was published more than 20 years ago.

<How Our Campuses Came to Reject Free Speech>

Together with his co-author, the late Richard Herrnstein — a distinguished Harvard psychologist — Murray documented in The Bell Curve the increasing returns in the job market to those with high abstract reasoning ability as indicated by high IQ test scores. The book’s primary concern was with IQ differences among socio-economic groups — a topic Herrnstein had written about many years earlier. But two chapters dealt with the data on IQ and race. It was this material that produced an explosion in commentary by reviewers, much of it hostile, uninformed, and irrational.

The Bell Curve pointed out that decades of testing had shown a persistent IQ gradient around the world with Ashkenazic Jews at the top, followed by northern Asians, whites, Latinos, African Americans, and at the very bottom black Africans, the latter a full standard deviation (15 IQ points) behind their descendants in America. After surveying much of the relevant technical literature on the topic, Murray and Herrnstein concluded with what, under more rational circumstances, would surely have been considered a very moderate, reserved, even anodyne statement about the likely causes of these differences:

If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or the environmental explanation [for racial differences in IQ scores] has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other.  It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences [in IQ scores]. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate. (p. 311)

Moderate and circumspect though such a statement may seem, it brought the roof down on the two Bell Curve authors, with Murray having to face the avalanche of criticism alone since his co-author died unexpectedly just as the book was going to press. The style, substance and quality of much of the criticism are well captured by the title of one of the reviews in The New Republic: “Neo-Nazi!”

The Bell Curve had clearly breached a powerful taboo, one that calls for explaining racial, ethnic, and socio-economic differences in IQ scores solely in terms of non-genetic, non-heriditarian factors.  To a large segment of the American intellectual and media elite a genes-plus-environment explanation was simply unacceptable and identified with the demented minds of Nazis and Klansmen. Even if Murray himself were not a Nazi or Klansman, he was, many commentators seemed to believe, at the very least a fellow traveler and his book gave aid and comfort to the most despised enemies of the human race.

An Open Letter from a Suddenly Disinvited Speaker

For many elements of the campus Left, this is still where Murray stands, and his appearance on a university campus, even to discuss matters unrelated to race, must never be tolerated. This is true despite Murray’s impeccable scholarship, his great personal integrity, his concern in recent years for developments among whites rather than non-whites (Coming Apart is subtitled “The State of White America 1960-2010”), and the ever-increasing acceptance by knowledgeable researchers of The Bell Curve’s basic genes-plus-environment explanation for a host of human differences.

Even in its own time The Bell Curve was hardly an outlier in terms of what it said about racial differences in IQ scores and their likely origin. A poll of professional psychologists, sociologists, and behavioral geneticists conducted years before publication of the Murray/Herrnstein book found the proportion of those favoring a genes-plus-environment explanation for the persistent black/white IQ-gap exceeding those favoring an environment-only explanation by a factor of 3-1.

Only 17 percent of the respondents were in the environment-only camp, versus 53 percent who believed that both genes and environment were responsible for the observed IQ differences. Of the remainder, only 1 percent adopted a genes-only explanation while the rest said the data were insufficient to make a sound judgment. See Mark Snyderman and Stanley Rothman, The IQ Controversy, the Media, and Public Policy. In recent years, with the exponential growth of interest in behavioral genetics, this 3-1 ratio may well have increased.

<How Universities Promote the Coming Apart of America>

Among the campus Left, Murray continues to be vilified as a “fascist,” “Nazi,” “Social Darwinist” and the like, though he is simply a rigorously honest scholar — the New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan once described him as “honest to a fault” — with an exceptionally humane, classical liberal approach to most social problems. At Virginia Tech, a group calling itself the Coalition for Justice fell into this standard pattern of Murray vilification. In a public statement, the group objected to having Murray speak on campus saying that his was a voice of prejudice and hate that should not be given a Virginia Tech forum.

“At the time when rising racism, misogyny and anti-intellectualism have moved to the forefront of our national consciousness,” the group said in its statement, “there is no better place than a college campus from which to focus our efforts against the voices of prejudice and hate. … Mr. Murray’s social Darwinist take on intelligence, ability and morality — and his assertion of the inherent racial and gender inferiority of non-whites and women — do nothing but promote a white supremacist agenda, cast in the guise of ‘scientific discourse’.” The group wanted the business dean to rescind Murray’s invitation.

(How the “misogyny” theme got in there is anybody’s guess, since Murray has never written anything that can be construed — or even misconstrued — as critical of women whether in The Bell Curve or, to this writer’s knowledge, anywhere else.  In Coming Apart it is the lazy, irresponsible, uninvolved white fathers in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown who clearly stoke his ire).

The anti-Murray onslaught was joined by both the local Virginia Tech chapter of the NAACP and several faculty members of the Africana Studies Program. The latter group issued a statement that while not calling for revocation of Murray’s invitation said that Murray was “engaged in a mission to use discredited pseudoscience to perpetuate the subordination of people of African descent, Latino/as, Native American Indians, the poor, women and the disabled.”  His ideas were seen as perpetuating a kind of narrative that would “visit violence upon marginalized populations — recalling the history of forced sterilization, unjust institutionalization and incarceration, and denial of basic human rights.”

The president of Virginia Tech, Tim Sands, also got into the act of issuing public statements with “An Open Letter to the Virginia Tech Community” that can best be described as combining elements of “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” On the good side, Sands refused to rescind the invitation to Murray while reaffirming the values of academic freedom and open debate at Virginia Tech.

On the bad and ugly side, the Open Letter erroneously claimed that Murray’s views on race and IQ had long been discredited, and that Murray’s scholarship promoted ideas that were not merely false but dangerous, since they gave aid and comfort to fascists and other evildoers. Murray, said the Open Letter, “is well known for his controversial and largely discredited work linking measures of intelligence to heredity, and specifically to race and ethnicity — a flawed socioeconomic theory that has been used by some to justify fascism, racism and eugenics.”

Murray could not take all this sitting down, and in the form of his own “Open Letter to the Virginia Tech Community,” he responded to president Sands’ remarks. While giving a “Bravo” to Sands’ defense of intellectual freedom, Murray accused Sands of being “unfamiliar either with the actual content of The Bell Curve …. Or, with the state of knowledge in psychometrics.” Anyone who has carefully read The Bell Curve and kept up with developments in psychometrics and related fields of intelligence research would hardly dispute Murray’s assessment.  Murray proceeded to cite some of the findings of the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on intelligence, a group of leading specialists in psychometric testing, which published its findings in the February 1996 issue of the American Psychologist.

On the issue of black/white differences in IQ scores, the hereditability of intelligence, and the predictive validity of IQ for the differing black and white populations, the Task Force came to conclusions virtually identical to those of The Bell Curve authors (the Task Force’s report can be obtained online by googling “Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns – CiteSeerX”).

<Princeton Takes a Stand on Free Speech>

Continuing his indictment of Sands’ statement, Murray wrote that it was particularly exasperating to have the president of a distinguished university accuse the authors of The Bell Curve of presenting material that has been scientifically discredited.  On the contrary, Murray says, “our presentations of the meaning and role of IQ [in The Bell Curve] have been … steadily reinforced by subsequent research in the social sciences, not to mention developments in neuroscience and genetics.”   Murray was most upset, however, by Sands’ accusation that he was promulgating a theory used in the past to justify fascism and racism.  At this point President Sands, Murray wrote, “went beyond the kind of statement that merely reflects his unfamiliarity with The Bell Curve and/or psychometrics. He engaged in intellectual McCarthyism.”

Such is the state of much of academia where a combination of left-wing political correctness, the cowardice of university presidents, and the fear of being called a racist determines the order of the day.  In saner times, a scholar of Murray’s stature would be honored wherever went and he would probably hold an endowed chair at an institution like Harvard or Stanford. Today, he never knows if he will be allowed to show up even at an institution that has invited him to speak.

Investing in Higher Education Will Not Bring Democratic Equality

old-fashioned-school-room.jpgBy Robert Weissberg


America’s
huge investment in higher education has always had a democratic justification: everyone
should be able to attend college because this opportunity would flatten the
social pyramid. Yes, a North Dakota State and Harvard degree differ in
prestige, but at least the North Dakota State graduate can join the game. Put
ideologically, investing in higher education–more schools for more kids–is
egalitarian.

Reality,
it seems, has refused to cooperate. The billions poured into higher education
have not flattened the social pyramid. If
anything, income gaps have widened as graduates from the top schools often earn
“obscene” salaries while those from lesser schools struggle to find decent jobs
to pay down student loan debt. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart depicts an America where the rich and poor increasingly live in diverging worlds. Clearly,
something is wrong with the traditional narrative that insists that a well-
funded, open access higher education for all can ameliorate the evils of
hierarchy.    

Continue reading Investing in Higher Education Will Not Bring Democratic Equality

How To Bridge the Educational Divide

In an essay in the Wall Street Journal plugging his new book “Coming Apart” (which I haven’t read yet), Charles Murray writes about a new American divide: “We have developed a new upper class with advanced educations, often obtained at elite schools, sharing tastes and preferences that set them apart from mainstream America. At the same time, we have developed a new lower class, characterized not by poverty but by withdrawal from America’s core cultural institutions.”

Conservatives like Richard Vedder see this as the inevitable result, not of a system rigged to favor the elite, but of bad government policies, particularly in education: because of government-sponsored grants and students loans, too many people are in college who shouldn’t be there; decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court and other legislative actions have virtually eliminated employment testing, which paved the way for certification inflation and the need for a college degree; laws protecting labor unions have virtually allowed them to put a choke-hold on the K-12 public school system.

These points have merit. But will less (or no) government support and more “vouchers and other pro-competitive measures” at all levels of education reverse the decline of real opportunities that Professor Vedder finds so disheartening? Should the free market determine who has access to higher education and can advance economically, culturally, even socially?

Continue reading How To Bridge the Educational Divide

How Universities Promote the “Coming Apart” of America

Coming Apart.JPGEvery decade or so, Charles Murray writes a blockbuster book captivating America. First came Losing Ground, focusing attention on our dysfunctional system of public assistance, and, along with Richard Herrnstein, The Bell Curve, a controversial but rigorous examination of the role played by cognitive endowments in American life. I suspect his new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, will be another mega hit. Based on a quick read, Murray demonstrates the growing gaps between affluent upper-middle-class Americans and their blue-collar, lower-income counterparts. He confines his analysis to whites to avoid all sorts of unrelated side issues, including the tendency to see the growing gap between Americans as primarily a problem of race, ethnicity or bias.

Murray’s thesis is simple: a powerful new class has emerged in America, based on cognitive and educational homogamy–the interbreeding of individuals with like characteristics. Colleges and universities have played a key role–particularly the elite institutions, which attract almost no one outside the top ten percent of the nation’s cognitive talent. (Fifty years ago, only three percent of Americans graduated from college, and the elite institutions tended to attract the well-connected and the economically successful, not necessarily the brightest.) These institutions now function as sorting mechanisms. The exceptionally bright now tend to meet and then marry similarly bright partners. In addition to building a culture vastly different from that of mainstream America, they perpetuate the advantages that high levels of cognitive skills offer. As a result, Murray concludes, “Highly disproportionate numbers of exceptionally able children in the next generation will come from parents in the upper-middle class, and more specifically from parents who are already part of the broad elite.” As the new class pulls away from mainstream America, so does the discouraged underclass–now made up of all ethnicities–giving up on work, family and community.

Continue reading How Universities Promote the “Coming Apart” of America

The BA is a False God

That I disagree with nothing important in Patrick Deneen’s post is a measure of how different this elephant seems, depending on what part you’ve got hold of.

Very briefly: I want everybody, not just an elite, to acquire as much liberal education as possible, for the reasons that Deneen describes. But we don’t have to wait until college to get a great deal of that done. E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge curriculum is a wonderful example of how much can be done in K-8, and a lot more can be added in high school. At that point, I think this way of formulating our objective is helpful: “The educational system has succeeded when a child reaches adulthood having discovered something he loves to do, and having learned how to do it well.” If that’s the objective, then of course we want to say to the young person who has high academic ability “Here’s why pursuing a liberal education gives you your best chance of finding your vocation.” But if the answer we get is “Thanks but no thanks, what I really want to do is study marketing and go to work,” that student needs options other than a four-year residential program that will leave him deep in debt and have wasted a lot of his time. What Richard Vedder’s stunning statistics about the jobs of college graduates tell us is an indictment of a system that has held up a false god, the BA, as something that is required for social respectability. It is a system that doesn’t even think about helping all young people find something they love to do and teaching them how to do it well.

Two More Reasons Why College Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

George Leef so thoroughly dismantled Help Wanted Thursday and Friday that there’s not much for me to do but poke around the rubble.
Let me take up two collateral points that are too little discussed. First, the assumption that a college degree means that the student has learned much of anything, let alone how to deal with complexity and adapt to changing job requirements, is a joke. I exempt those who major in math, engineering, and the hard sciences. But otherwise, I think the stereotype of the hard-partying, class-skipping, unmotivated undergraduate applies far more widely than most people realize. Hundreds of thousands of the children of upper-middle class parents are in college because their parents are paying for it and it’s expected of them. They treat college as a four-year vacation before they have to think about dealing with the real world. I cannot be more precise because it is one of those topics that hasn’t received as much systematic scrutiny as it deserves. But a recent report on trends in studying among college students concludes that study time for full-time students at four-year colleges fell from 24 hours per week in 1960 to 14 hours per week in 2003. That’s a very big drop to a very low level. And I know that the reaction I got from college professors and administrators—and students too—after I criticized today’s college education in Real Education was overwhelmingly of the “You don’t know the half of it” variety.
My second under-discussed point is that many young people who could profit from a college education are more likely to do so if they don’t go straight to college from high school. My wife, who formerly taught English literature at Rutgers, was just the first of many college faculty to bring this to my attention. The students who have come to college after a hitch in the military or working for a few years know why they are in college, why they are taking a particular course, and what they want out of it, in ways that kids fresh out of high school seldom do. Apart from that, quoting my wife, “Henry James wasn’t writing for nineteen-year-olds.” Neither were Aristotle, Milton, or Adam Smith. One of the best things we could do to improve the college experience for students and faculty alike is to persuade a new generation of high school graduates that they ought to get the hell out of the educational system for a few years and thereby learn something about themselves.

The University Tomorrow?

IMG_2301_sm.jpgOur Center for the American University hosted a conference Thursday on New Institutional Forms in Higher Education, which traced the origins of the modern university and forecast its likely future.
John Leo conducted two podcast interviews with participants: take a look here at Charles Murray, author of Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality and Anthony Kronman, author of Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life (why not, each is only about ten minutes). As for the conference:
The first panel dissected the historical origins of the modern university, with panelists addressing, respectively, the medieval origins of the concept of the university, the rise of the University of Virginia and the American university, and the importation of the German model of the University in the 1880s. Anthony Kronman of Yale Law, the final speaker, offered an apt closing thought, noting that, while the American university is a “glorious thing”, the “triumphal rise of the modern university has put in doubt, under a cloud of uncertainty, that older educational ideal which is centered upon the development of the soul..”
The history of the institution being by this point mapped out, the following panel took up the question of contemporary challenges to the configuration of the university. All of the speakers stressed the unsuitability of the current model of organization to the needs of our students, our employers, and to society a large. Each arrived at this grim conclusion from a different angle. Frank Macchiarola, the chancellor of St. Francis’ College, welcomed straitened circumstances of the financial crisis, having witnessed both the waste and the lack of utility that the modern model of “sleepaway” colleges had brought. Carol D’Amico, of Conexus Indiana, an organization dedicated to workforce preparation, spoke to the irrelevance of college education to the requirements of most employers, and to potential employees, noting particularly that community colleges, in the pursuit of “junior university” models provide fewer practical skills, and, importantly, fewer graduates. “We cannot use that model to get us where we need to be.”
Charles Murray followed with characteristically blunt words about the American higher educational system, arguing for the perversity of a society that had elevated the BA– a credential all-but-meaningless to employers—into an essential educational attainment, “when I say that the BA is worthless as a credential I actually mean it’s worse than that.” He echoed the calls of other panelists for the structuring of higher education.
David Gelernter of Yale University closed with portends of an electronic future for education, with online courses and lectures becoming de rigeur, and the geography of the classroom and the university upended,”the undergraduate college will surely evaporate into the cybersphere.” Gelernter’s very correct about most things; we shall see.

Overselling Law School

Here at Minding the Campus we’ve been elaborating on Charles Murray’s argument that college isn’t for everyone, and that a college degree—which can cost graduates at least four years of forgone earnings and leave them drowning in student-loan debt—isn’t necessarily the ticket to economic prosperity that it’s cracked up to be. So what?, you might say. If my literature degree qualifies me only for working the cash register at Borders, I’ll just go to law school, because everyone knows that lawyers make big bucks.
Dream on. At the early-January annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), Richard Matasar, dean of New York Law School, blasted U.S. law schools, which can cost as much as $120,000 for three years’ worth of tuition for “exploiting” less-than-successful students by taking their money (usually in the form of a loan) and failing to disabuse them of the notion that their degrees will automatically translate into a high-paying job on graduation. It’s common knowledge—at least among lawyers, law professors, and law students with street smarts—that unless your law alma mater is Harvard or a school of that ilk, you’ve got to graduate in the top ten percent of your class in order to get one of those perks-laden white-shoe-firm jobs that will make the sky-high tuition you paid (plus books, living expenses, and three more years of forgone earnings) worth your while. Matasar called the odds of attaining a high enough class ranking to justify the huge expenditures a “lottery shot.”
As for the other ninety percent, they struggle to get some sort of middling-paying law job after graduation that might enable them to retire their loans within some reasonable time before their own retirement, or they never manage to land a law job and drift into something else, or, worst of all, they never even graduate at all–although they still rack up plenty of student debt before they fail their courses or drop out. According to Indiana University law professor William Henderson, who also spoke at the AALS meeting, a survey of fifty law schools revealed that 20 percent of law students either flunked out, couldn’t find jobs after graduation, or had unknown outcomes. Those dismal numbers nonetheless haven’t stopped law schools from admitting, filling classrooms with, and collecting tuition from students whose SAT scores indicate that their chances of forging successful legal careers are dicey at best.

Continue reading Overselling Law School

New Criterion on Higher Education

Look to the latest New Criterion, focused on liberal education, for some incisive writing on the modern academy and its afflictions:

Our own Jim Piereson, reviewing Education’s End, in “Liberalism vs. humanism”

Alan Charles Kors’ fascinating and depressing account of his long experiences in the academy in “On the sadness of higher education”

Charles Murray on our extravagant educational expectations in “The age of educational romanticism”

more also from Victor Davis Hanson, Robert Paquette, and Roger Kimball. Take a look.