Tag Archives: civil

The Campus Assault on American History

As a professional historian at Hamilton College, I teach my students that the United States was founded on the principles of limited government, voluntary exchange, respect for private property, and civil freedom.  Does any sane parent believe that more than a tiny fraction of students graduate from college these days with a deep and abiding appreciation of the worth of these principles? 

For Doubting Thomases, look no further than the eleven elite liberal arts colleges that comprise the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC), which includes Amherst, Williams, Trinity, and Wesleyan.   Not one of these eleven colleges requires undergraduates to take a single course in American history.  Even worse, a substantial majority of these eleven elite colleges do not even require that students majoring in history take any American history courses. And none of the eleven history departments requires a two-semester American history sequence for its majors.

Non-Western history, however, has a privileged status in a majority of the departments.  Amherst requires of history majors that they take only “one course each in at least three different geographic areas.” The United States is but one of six geographic areas from which students can choose.  Bowdoin College’s history department offers eight fields of study.   Four “non-Euro/U.S. courses” are required, but not one US history course. In 2007, one-third of all history majors at my college, Hamilton, were graduated without one course in American history. 

As the American historians in my department battled to remedy this disgrace, the majority voted a minor concession: Starting with the class of 2012, majors must take one course in US history, although the non-Western requirement would remain: “Three courses must focus upon areas outside of Europe and the United States.” The downgrading of American history continues.

Harvard, Where Civility Trumps Free Speech

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Harvard’s Dean of Freshmen Thomas Dingman has managed to circumvent the brouhaha he created last year with his “kindness pledge.” To recap: In the fall of 2011 Dean Dingman drew the wrath of former Dean of Harvard College Harry Lewis, as well as the mockery and criticism of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education(FIRE) and the media, when he pressured incoming students to sign a pledge to “act with integrity, respect, and industry, and…civility” and to believe that “the exercise of kindness holds a place on par with intellectual attainment.” Dingman posted the pledge with signatures affixed near dormitory entrances where all could see who had surrendered to this strange attack on freedom of conscience and who had not. Dean Dingman eventually caved under the pressure and agreed to take down the signature lists, although not the text of the pledge itself.

We now know that Dean Dingman’s retreat was merely a tactical one. He was not persuaded by his critics’ arguments against pressuring college students to publicly display their personal and ideological opinions, especially when the pressure was to announce belief in the Dean’s own personal views. Dingman must be unfamiliar with the sordid centuries-long history of authoritarian figures requiring the less powerful to mouth officially-approved views. And so this year, without any public pre-announcement (which doomed last year’s thought-reform efforts because it gave opponents time to mount an attack),Dean Dingman managed to slip a stealth re-education program into Harvard’s freshman orientation week. It was essentially the same stuff recycled in a format where he did not have to get the students to actually sign, and so where there was no clear forum or trigger for dissent.

Continue reading Harvard, Where Civility Trumps Free Speech

Harvard Won’t Stop Pushing ‘Community Values’

After pushing freshmen
to “pledge” to official Harvard values last
year, this year the college is training students that there is One Right
Ethical Way to Live Here at Harvard. 
“We did not have
[freshmen] sign pledges,” Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman told 
The
Harvard Crimson
 for a Sept. 7 article, “but we pushed
every bit as hard on how important it was to consider their growth on all
fronts.” Dingman described as having “potential for insensitivity”
situations, such as a wealthy roommate purchasing a large TV that other
roommates cannot afford to chip in for. 
So, Harvard College
thinks it must protect freshmen from the hurt feelings of having a wealthy
roommate. There’s a cruel world ahead, but at least Harvard can be their mom for four
more years.

Every academic
community lives by moral values. In the United States, these values often
include proscriptions against plagiarismfalsifying datacheating on exams, and revealing private information.
Harvard still has trouble with each of these values sometimes.

Although everything
should be up for debate at a university, academic morals are rarely (yet occasionally) up for debate
in the United States because few people argue that such practices are morally
acceptable. 
But many universities
go much farther and apply great pressure upon students to adopt specific
positions on much more controversial values. Even such oft-lauded ideals as
“tolerance” and “diversity” should be open to serious debate and not pushed as
official university values. 
Yet, the Crimson adds:
“Proctors [RAs] were provided with a list of goals for their
students, including honoring diversity, recognizing the value of honesty, and
being aware of unhealthy competition.”

Dingman still doesn’t
quite get it. Last year when Harvard pushed students to pledge to particular non-academic
moral values, such as the idea that kindness was “on a par” with intellectual
attainment, 
it was the opposite of respecting freedom of conscience. This year, it’s still
backwards. It’s antithetical to the values of a great university to tell freshmen on the first day that they don’t need to study moral reasoning since Harvard College already knows what is right and
will show the way to goodness. I
t’s backwards to
teach freshmen an official line on morality rather than to help them inquire about what is just. It’s 
also mistaken to put proctors in the position of teaching justice, moral reasoning,
sociology, cultural analysis, and the other subjects that students can learn
with much greater sophistication and open-ended investigation from world-class
teachers and researchers.

“Student life”
professionals might feel good that they are important than
professors because professors fail to teach and preach virtue. But
this desire to preach merely proves how far from the professoriate these
professionals are. Too many residence life folks think their job is to
inculcate specific virtues, but professors — the good ones, at least — present evidence in ways that permit students to think for themselves and draw
their own conclusions. That’s a far cry from the new policy of imposing
Harvard’s own values of “diversity” and “tolerance” on
students.

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Adam Kissel is a 1994
graduate of Harvard College.