Tag Archives: free speech

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).

Language Tricks on the Quad

What is “symbolic violence”? A popular PC language maneuver, taking something non-violent and associating it with danger and crime. A rhetorical trick that creates and magnifies a sense of crisis among campus activists. Here is a guide to proper usage. You too can translate from PC to English.

Visual Rape. Peeping or ogling. Checking a woman out without getting her written permission.

Cultural appropriation. Sartorial theft. Wearing hoop earrings or any garment invented by someone in another culture.

Intellectual harassment. Criticism, disagreement. The gravest version is “anti-feminist harassment. Prof. Annette Kolodney at the University of Arizona says “This serious threat to academic freedom” occurs when any statement or behavior has the intent or effect of devaluing (feminist) ideas about women.

Non-traditional violence. Criticism, disagreement (see intellectual harassment). Lani Guinier says she became a victim of non-traditional violence when the media attacked her novel plans for proportional racial voting in 1993. Husbands who argue with their wives are behaving in a non-traditionally domestically violent manner.

Mental Rape, emotional rape. Paula Jones said Bill Clinton’s unzipped behavior was “almost like a mental rape.” Monica Lewinsky said she felt emotionally raped by Kenneth Starr.

Symbolic and low-tech gang rape. Feminist Catherine Stimpson’s term for Anita Hill’s treatment by the Senate Judiciary Committee. A rebuttal to Clarence Thomas’s ‘high-tech lynching” (a nontechnical non-lynching.).

Economic violence. Jesse Jackson’s term for abrupt plant closings, home foreclosures and other economic dislocations.

Economic censorship. Any boycott against any product or person associated with your side of a political issue. Also a familiar complaint by artists, meaning “Nobody is buying my work,” closely related to censorship by omission, which means ‘Why am I never on TV? “Why don’t I get invited to big parties?”

Retinal chauvinism. Flashy internet graphics that totally disregard the visually impaired.”  Web design is primarily driven by retinal chauvinists,” said Jerry Kuns, a technology specialist for the California School for the Blind. “Pictures are great, but they are stumbling blocks to me.”

Emotional intelligence, bodily intelligence. Harvard’s Howard Gardner, who concocted the theory of multiple intelligences, was once asked, ‘why?’.” If I had called them talents, no one would have paid any attention,” he said. So now, everybody is smart in some way, even if they can’t read or write. And thanks to Gardner no athlete can ever be called a dumb jock. If they are athletic, they can’t be dumb—they have bodily intelligence.

Semantic violence. Northwestern University professor Regina Schwartz says the biblical covenant between God and the Israelites committed semantic violence by cutting the Israelites off from any sense of common humanity with other peoples. She has said that religions with only one god induce violence behaviors.

Cultural genocide. Intellectual genocide. Complete destruction of one culture by another. Or an easy but vague way of complaining about American public schools. “Public school students (in Washington) are being subjected to a particularly insidious brand of intellectual genocide—Columnist Courtland Milloy.

Environmental racism. A racialized version of NIMBY. No dumps or incinerators in my backyard, please.

Symbolic hate crimes. Noncriminal incidents with doubtful connections to hate or bias. At Swarthmore College years ago, feces was discovered at a table in the Intercultural center. Outraged critics didn’t miss a beat when the offending substance turned out to be chocolate cake because the cake “had the symbolic effect of a hate crime.” This proves that baked goods can be hate speech if you think about them hard enough.

Another Speaker Shut Down by College Students

Add Jordan Peterson to the list of professors shut down as visiting speakers by angry university students.

Since last fall, Peterson, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, has enraged many people by refusing to use the growing vocabulary of pronouns preferred by transgender people. On Friday night at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Peterson was set to serve on a four-person panel to discuss the use of these pronouns, but three of the people dropped off the panel and a student mob shut down the event featuring Peterson alone. “It’s like being pecked to death by a bunch of ducks,” Peterson said later.

On Saturday night, Peterson spoke without incident at the University of Western Ontario. At McMaster, Peterson sent people to guard the fire alarms, which are often activated to stop lectures that displease students.

Margaret Wente wrote in the National Post, “They argue that the very idea of two genders is a restrictive system that cruelly discriminates against many. They demand the right to construct their own reality as they see fit. Some want to be known (singularly) as “they.” Others think “they” isn’t the right fit either and prefer to choose from an ever-expanding list of made-up pronouns such as “xu,” “hir,” “ze,” and so on. Conrad Black, the founder of the National Post, wrote on the pronouns issue:

 “Every legally competent individual has a perfect and absolute right to declare their sex, but not to create a new legal status and legally require the use of a new vocabulary for those in flux between the only two sexes we have, mercilessly binary though their finite number may be. The individuals in that condition may change their registered sex each day if they wish, but not treat anyone who declines to address them in terms that debunk the gender-binary world as guilty of a hate crime, punishable by imposable fines.”

Peterson has posted 500 videos on YouTube, many or most of them criticizing Bill C-16, legislation to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act by adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. Peterson said, “If what I put up on YouTube objecting to an unpassed piece of legislation is enough to cost me my career, then I can tell you that the university’s days are done.”

At Western Ontario, the university forced the group sponsoring Peterson to pay the $1200 security fee. Marc Mercer, president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, says Western Ontario is responsible for providing security during University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson’s sold-out Saturday lecture.

“If there are security fees to be paid for a campus group that is sponsoring an event, (they) should be assumed by the university as part of the mission to promote discussion and dialogue,” said Mercer, a London-born philosophy professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

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.

Intimidated Faculty Find a New Way to Capitulate

Last week’s campus irritant,  a story in the Wall Street Journal, “Faculty’s New Focus: Don’t Offend,” claimed that an increasing number of professors are changing the contents of their syllabi.

The story exposes the advent of bias response teams and undergraduates demanding a supportive, untroubled campus experience, along with the Obama Administration’s “Dear Colleague” letters on sexual matters, has intimidated teachers and made them self-protective. They don’t want to provoke a student complaint about an assigned book that has the n-word or a scene of sexual violence or even humor.

The Lens of Grievance

Although the story doesn’t explain further, we can say that it won’t matter if the complaint is groundless or absurd. The fact is that the offended student is a hypersensitive, self-dramatizing adolescent who, apart from his personal issues, has been keyed up by other professors and administrators who see the world through the lens of grievance.  Even if the professor is entirely cleared of any wrongdoing, who wants the aggravation? With the Federal government involved, the process can go on for weeks or months. The administrators, too, aren’t there to support their teacher colleagues. They’re there to protect the institution.

Professors know this. They know, also, that once the procedural gears of a complaint start turning, their colleagues and admiring students will be of little help. Many of them won’t want to get involved, and those who do will be frustrated by the question: How? When a group of principled professors approaches the dean about halting a ridiculous persecution, all the dean has to say is, “I know, I know, but the Office of Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education makes us take every one of those complaints VERY seriously. My hands are tied.”

A Rational and Smooth Exit

And so, says The Journal, professors are taking the rational and smooth way out. They are removing materials from a class that might offend racial, sexual, and other politically correct scruples. A film teacher in the story admits that he has pulled Birth of a Nation, The Bank Dick, and Tootsie from his courses. The first film is white supremacist propaganda, the second, with W. C. Fields, pokes fun at blandness, and the third trades in “gender stereotypes.” (I won’t comment on the more serious problem with Tootsie, namely, that it is one of those insufferably cute ’80s films that should be shelved forever.)

The academic objection to this revision is obvious, but such capitulations to political correctness have been happening so often and for so long that it is hard to get exercised over them anymore. The history of higher education for the last half-century clearly says that it wasn’t going to take long for the ideals of higher education to give way to this rising demand that offense never transpire.

I sense in my colleagues, liberal and conservatives both, a certain fatalism about the whole thing. Many liberals regret the hypersensitivity that pressures them to delete Huck Finn and the operas of Wagner. They know that the absence of D. W. Griffith’s epic from a course in the history of film distorts the actual history of film. They realize, too, that sensitivity is an anti-intellectual condition, and that they would prefer to examine racist elements from the past, not pretend that they didn’t exist.

Offended by “The Bank Dick”

But all those hesitations don’t alter what they believe is a juggernaut that smashes anything that gets in the way. Is it really worth standing up and risking a two-month headache when all you have to do in your week on 1930s Hollywood comedy is drop The Bank Dick and insert It Happened One Night? This is the smart way to run an academic career, especially when you find that academia has numerous apologists for the sensitivity regime such as the professor of educational leadership who tells the Wall Street Journal:

There’s a tremendous amount of research in higher education showing different experiences for people by race, gender or sexual orientation or religion…. [These students] need a place to go to get support and report issues they are having.

The vagueness of the language–“different experiences,” “report issues”–is deliberate, and it has the effect of making professors uncertain. A professor not only has to choose his words because of their truth, that is, on the grounds of their correspondence to the object under discussion. He also must consider their impact on the students — not on the students as a whole, but on each group identity represented in the chairs throughout the room.

It’s a recipe for guardedness. The more the rules operate by insinuation, the less free and open is the classroom. The more sensitive the students are (and encouraged to report any discomfort they undergo), the more circumspect the teachers will be.

The days of the strong mentor and the teacher who is powerful and engaging enough to inspire disciples and alter students’ lives are numbered.

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.

The Campus Left Discovers Free Speech

The data are beginning to bear out the popular theory that free speech on campus is in steady decline.

A study commissioned by the William F. Buckley Center at Yale found that 51% of college students favor speech codes to regulate speech for both faculty and students. Relatedly, a Pew poll found that a full 40% of American millennials feel that the government should be able to take measures preventing speech that is offensive to minority groups.

It is against this backdrop that pockets of the left have found a reason to fight for free speech—to resist conservative efforts to ban “whiteness,” and “white privilege” studies and other classes likely to produce group resentment. An example is the now-dead HB 2120, a bill by two Arizona Republicans calling for the prohibition of any curricular activities that promote resentment of particular groups, or in any way “advocate solidarity or isolation based on ethnicity, race, religion, gender, or social class.” The catalysts were events like the University of Arizona’s annual “privilege walk” and a course called “Whiteness and Race Theory.” The bill, in essence, sought to rein in those courses and campus events that use diversity as a cudgel in today’s culture wars.

Related: Brown’s President Says She Values Free Speech, but…

What seems to distinguish it from other recent reform efforts being undertaken by a handful of states is its active identification of unscrupulous, if not outright discriminatory, academic programming. Advocating group solidarity or isolation could conceivably be said to violate standards of inclusive excellence or cross-cultural dialogue, two mainstays of the progressive administration of higher education. Within that rhetorical framework is the rationale for many state legislators who feel that such concepts militate against free and open discourse by marginalizing certain viewpoints and establishing protected classes of students.

The states that have modeled their reforms on statements like the University of Chicago’s Stone Report and the draft legislation proposed by the Goldwater Institute have, quite rightly, identified speech as a negative liberty, not to be infringed upon by arbitrary and exasperatingly fluid terms of discourse. Thus, these legislative efforts have taken aim at such things as “safe spaces,” speaker dis-invitations, and active, repeated disruptions of those exercising the right of speech. The reasons are clear. As Tennessee’s Student Free Speech Protection Act plainly states, “In recent years, state institutions of higher education have abdicated their responsibility to uphold free speech principles.”

However, Arizona’s HB 2120 seems to be ironically somewhat congenial to a culture in which students are deterred from taking political chances or saying virtually anything that could be construed as a personal affront or an inducement to emotional discomfort. Despite its placement athwart the identity studies paradigm, the bill could still be said to validate a commitment to the creation of a safe and inclusive learning environment. Such thinking is not wholly irregular. It simply applies the idea that speech which targets individuals for their membership in a particular identity group is divisive and thereby subject to regulation.

Related: How Soft Censorship Works at College

What connects the two competing legislative tasks is an acknowledgment that the rancor and division on campuses can be perpetuated rather than mitigated by diversity regimes that are sustained by narratives of victimization. Likewise, they both presuppose a correlation between the campus’s multicultural ethos and the student’s manufactured right to be protected from certain forms of speech. The logic of this fundamental freedom has been inverted and exploited, and the notion that First Amendment protections can be circumscribed for identitarian reasons has become intuitive.

And so, HB 2120 might, in fact, be interpreted as taking aim more broadly at institutionalized political activism. As such, it has its detractors, many of whom have unfurled the banner of free speech. Criticisms of Arizona’s bill, not unpredictably, are consistent with those of speech protection acts elsewhere, and they are not necessarily wrong. They are just late and unevenly applied.

Consider, for example, the AAUP’s Academe Blog, which, while opposing the Goldwater Institute’s model, expresses concern that “it uses legislation rather than persuasion to accomplish its goals.” Similarly, its response to Tennessee’s bill claims an attack on free speech and complains that the legislation “imposes bizarre and burdensome regulations that administrators will struggle to understand and implement.” While the AAUP has been fairly consistent in its skepticism of federal and state intervention into the affairs of higher education, a more overtly partisan campus constituency might make the false distinction between the legislative efforts in question and things like Title IX-related “Dear Colleague” letters.

Related: Donald Downs on the Return of Campus Censorship

Thus, the responses to HB 2120 are instructive. While local and somewhat obscure, the bill has garnered the attention of some students and faculty who are aghast at the prospect of any challenges to their role as arbiters of protected speech.

An opinion piece in the Daily Wildcat, the University of Arizona’s student newspaper, is titled “HB2120: The Next Step in Ending Education as we Know it.”

Indeed, education as we have come to know it is a social justice crusade, interested as much in promoting a left-wing, globalist counter-culture as it is discovering truth through inquiry. That this model might be imperiled by such legislation is surely something that more than a few observers could live with, for better or for worse.

Nevertheless, the inscription of censorship within this curricular model seems lost on those inured to its orthodoxies. A columnist for the State Press at Arizona State University argues without irony that the bill targets both “diversity and individuality.” That view is reinforced by LaDawn Haglund, associate professor of Justice and Social Inquiry at ASU, who claims the bill “ignore[s] the very foundation of American society.”

The outrage is not confined, however, to the state of Arizona. A columnist for the Indiana Daily Student finds the bill “sickening” and urges readers to “come together as a nation and realize that freedoms of speech and expression trump anyone’s feelings.” That theme was echoed on my campus, where the student newspaper devoted two editorials to the topic. One wrote that “There should never be a reason to silence other individuals to push a political agenda,” while another, also relating symptoms of physical illness, complained that “we are being strangled by more rules and regulation that are simply unnecessary.”

Amen to all that. If the idea of speech deregulation catches on, perhaps we can add to the list “free speech zones” as well as those codes discouraging the utterance of such verbal haymakers as “ugly,” “you guys,” “illegal alien,” and, you guessed it, “political correctness.”

Unfortunately, students take many cues from the social justice reprogramming they are now vigorously defending. Lee Bebout, an English professor at Arizona State who teaches a course on whiteness, is afraid of “nonexperts” making decisions over what can and cannot be taught on today’s campus.

The criticism is a fair one, but when it comes to the type of courses targeted by HB 2120, we are all experts. Critical race theory suffuses nearly all of the disciplines within the humanities and, most nefariously, general education classes that can be taught as anything, by anyone. Given the ideological makeup of today’s professoriate, one need not wonder why those courses tend to be more James Baldwin than James Burnham.

The grave threat to free speech did not begin with HB 2120 or sundry speech protection acts. The Berkeley riots are just the most recent illustration, but that behavior is enabled by a culture that safeguards against many forms of speech that administrators are all too eager to label “hateful.” It is a baldly political move, and the theory of inclusiveness has been weaponized to cleanse campuses of politically unorthodox thought.

Examples are not hard to find, but interested students might look to Title IX inquisitions against Northwestern feminist professor Laura Kipnis or of Kentucky journalism professor Buck Ryan, who was disciplined for singing “California Girls” in front of female students on a trip abroad. Bias Response Teams have materialized as a way to enforce administrative speech codes, and conservative student organizations can be bullied and harassed while merely attempting to conduct their business.

It would seem that in the case of HB 2120 and similar bills materializing elsewhere, what students have found most frightening is not that speech can be constrained, but that it might not always be constrained by their progressive ideological handlers.

On the campus, free speech is selective, and it is afforded proportionately to students on the basis of their level of grievance. Peter Wood, in The Architecture of Intellectual Freedom, refers to this phenomenon as compensatory privilege, and it would seem that in the age of Trump, Diversicrats are digging in their heels.

I am in no position to comment on the merits of legislation aimed at restricting university curricula. As a matter of principle, I am generally opposed to it. It is not, after all, a partisan issue. Both Joe Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and Katherine Timpf at National Review have argued cogently against HB 2120 for the damage it would do to academic freedom. This places reasonably concerned parties in good company.

However, anyone experiencing end-of-days deliria over the bill might do well to consider how it is that we arrived at this point. The multicultural program demands obeisance to its dogmas, even at the expense of thought and, yes, free speech. It has led to the still-isolated legislative efforts that students are now so threatened by, even as they sit idly in the face of vandalism, hate-crime hoaxes, and mindless hysteria.

The suppression of speech on college campuses is very real, it is menacing, and it continues unabated. To those just joining the chorus against its excesses, welcome to the club.

Free Speech at Berkeley Once Again

Judith Butler and a dozen other Berkeley professors urgently wanted Milo Yiannoppoulos and his “Dangerous Faggot” tour banned from the campus, but University of California Chancellor Nicholas Dirks delivered a strong free-speech explanation of why he won’t cancel the speech and can’t.’’ In an open letter, he said, “From a legal perspective, the U.S. Constitution prohibits UC Berkeley as a public institution from banning expression based on its content or viewpoints, even when those viewpoints are hateful or discriminatory.”

He also rejected the argument that Yiannopoulos, an unusually sharp-tongued apostle of the far right, regularly engaged in so many “insulting behaviors” during his speeches that he should not be protected under free-speech principles. This was quite a good performance from Chancellor Dirks, singular only because ringing defenses of free expression are currently so rare on our campuses.

Dirks also argued that the speaker’s values “are at odds with the values of our campus.” Many of us will disagree with that (including the whole diversity juggernaut and its detractors, I would think).

Another noteworthy point: sponsors of the talk, the Berkeley Republicans, will pay a basic security fee for protection against disruption, but they won’t pay the jacked-up fee normally imposed on conservatives because of threats from demonstrators of the left. Charging conservatives a lot of money to cope with trouble from the left is a form of heckler’s veto, and it’s good to see that Berkeley is beyond that.

Nat Hentoff, a Great Journalist

If you spent any time on the streets of Greenwich Village in the 70s or 80s, you stood a good chance of seeing two great and prodigiously productive journalists of the era go by — Murray Kempton on his bicycle, usually headed toward City Hall, and Nat Hentoff walking along while reading a book.

For Hentoff, who died over the weekend at age of 91, there was no such thing as downtime (35 books, thousands of articles, published everywhere, from journals of the far left to those of the far right) so reading while dodging Village drivers was a sensible use of time.

Nat Hentoff
Nat Hentoff

Kempton, who died in 1997, defied liberal orthodoxy by saying occasional nice things (usually in obits) about people such as Cardinal Spellman and Jimmy Hoffa. Hentoff dissented from the left by opposing abortion and with his strong and hard-line defense of free speech both before and during the left’s current tolerance of censorship on campus and off.

In fact, Hentoff was the moderator in 1992 the night that the first high-profile, high-publicity censorship by the left took place. The pro-life liberal Governor of Pennsylvania, Robert Casey, had just been barred from speaking at the Democratic convention that nominated Bill Clinton for president.

The Village Voice, to its great credit, sponsored a talk by Casey at Cooper Union in the Village to let him say what the convention wouldn’t, but radical gays and radical feminists packed the hall, along with backers of convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, and kept screaming, shouting and blowing whistles so Casey could not be heard. Hentoff wrote in the Washington Post: “They reminded me of the domestic brown shirts breaking up Jewish meetings in my youth, but these were howling soldiers of the left.”

I never detected any resentment in Nat, though he paid a heavy price with the left for his abortion stance, and though as a Jew growing up in Boston he was beaten up regularly by Irish Catholics kids, some of whom were later among the adults showing up at his anti-abortion lectures.

In his later years, I made no attempt to see him, because I had heard his health was bad, but I dropped a lot of material off for him at his apartment, three blocks from mine, and always got back a short note saying that I was doing important work here at Minding the Campus and must keep it up. I always thought that if atheists decided to set up a secular sainthood, Nat would be one of the early people installed.

U of Oregon Violates Free Speech in Halloween Costume Punishment

The University of Oregon suspended a tenured professor for wearing blackface at an off-campus Halloween party, and now is considering additional punishment.

The university admits the professor had no ill intent (reports suggest that she wore it in a strange attempt to honor a black physician, by dressing up as the title character in a black doctor’s memoir, “Black Man in a White Coat”). But it claims — falsely — that this off-campus expression of racial insensitivity on a single occasion constituted illegal racial harassment under federal law (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act). In punishing the professor, it has violated the First Amendment.

As law professor Josh Blackman notes, the controversy began after “Nancy Shurtz, a tenured professor at the University of Oregon Law School, wore blackface to a Halloween party” as part of a costume that “also included a white lab coat and stethoscope.” In response, “Shurtz was suspended with pay, pending an investigation. That investigation came to a close on November 30.”

The University of Oregon’s investigation concluded that Shurtz had created a hostile environment through this mere act, even though constitutional experts such as UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh had observed weeks earlier that the professor’s off-campus expression was protected by the First Amendment under court rulings such as Iota Xi v. George Mason Univ. (4th Cir. 1993), which ruled that even a mocking portrayal of blacks by students using blackface was protected by the First Amendment. Moreover, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled in Berger v. Battaglia (1985) that public employees have a First Amendment right to perform publicly in blackface while not on duty.

On December 23, notes Professor Blackman, “the Provost of the University of Oregon released a statement, along with a redacted version of the investigative report,” claiming that “Shurtz can be disciplined consistent with the First Amendment and principles of academic freedom. Here is the Provost’s summary:

Though the report recognizes that Professor Shurtz did not demonstrate ill intent in her choice of costume, it concludes that her actions had a negative impact on the university’s learning environment and constituted harassment under the UO’s antidiscrimination policies. Furthermore, the report finds that under applicable legal precedent, the violation and its resulting impact on students in the law school and university outweighed free speech protections provided under the Constitution and our school’s academic freedom policies.

The report’s findings of “harassment” are nonsense. Courts have ruled that far more offensive behavior does not rise to the level of illegal racial harassment, such as occasionally overhearing or witnessing the use of the N-word by co-workers. (See Bolden v. PRC, 43 F.3d 545 (10th Cir. 1994) and Witt v. Roadway Express, 136 F.3d 1424 (10th Cir. 1998)).

Bias Response Teams—Not Gone Yet

At Emory University, when someone had the nerve to write “Trump 2016” in chalk on some sidewalks and steps, a wave of “fear” struck the campus, according to the university president. He made it clear that “Trump’s platform and his values undermine Emory’s values of diversity and inclusivity.” He also said that any student found guilty of chalking up that dreaded name would “go through the conduct violation process.”

Welcome to the new hyper- bias. On the modern campus, it’s an inflatable concept that can include a recommendation to vote Republican.

We were once told to worry about hate crimes–a recognized legal category. Then the focus turned to hate speech and microaggressions–not crimes, really, but at least plausibly offensive incidents. Now we are told to guard against ambiguous and seemingly innocuous incidents, such as a trio of Wisconsin students who dressed as the three blind mice for Halloween and were accused of mocking the disabled.

Related: Watch out for Bias Team

Buoyed by the belief that the university exists to protect them from words that upset them, students and even professors now fight against unwanted speech with righteous fervor. “Bias” has evolved into a quasi-religious concept that lurks in the hearts of unsuspecting students–like a demonic force–that must be exorcized by the Orthodox priests of the liberal academic order.

Who are the inquisitors of this order? Enter the “Bias Response Team,” or, in some cases, the “Bias Awareness Response Team.” They walk the halls of the modern university, monitoring speech, reviewing anonymous complaints at closed-door hearings, painting scarlet Bs on people’s foreheads. The free exchange of ideas–a principle that was once sacred to the very idea of the university–has been replaced by the new sacred principle of the safe space.

They’ve even developed a cute acronym for these inquisitions. BRT’s or BART’s have become a standard part of the vast academic administrative apparatus. More than one hundred U.S. campuses have some version of it on campus. In some cases, they’re dubbed BIRT’s or even BERT’s or BHERT’s. (The ‘H’ stands for hate.) But, alas, a committee by any other name smells just as Orwellian.

Related: How Soft Censorship Works at College 

One thing these diversely acronymized bias response teams have in common is a kind of air of self-evident righteousness. A belief that words ought to be closely policed. There is a sense of moral urgency and faith that precludes all questioning. Don’t you believe in tolerance, openness, and inclusiveness? How dare you speak of stifling speech!

Nevertheless, some universities have begun to break faith. While these kinds of anti-bias teams remain prevalent, more than one campus has disbanded BART concerned that the constant fear of being reported to the university administration as a “biased person” by anyone who happens not to like what you say in the classroom could, maybe, possibly–there is a chance–lead to a stifling of free speech.

The University of Northern Colorado announced that it would terminate BART back in September with the president, Kay Norton, explaining that the bias team had “sometimes made people feel we were telling them what they should and should not say.” What she didn’t detail in the statement were the hundreds of posters the bias team had put up around campus warning students not to use controversial terms or phrases such as “illegal immigrant” or “all lives matter.”

Even worse, two professors received visits from the school’s bias response team after they asked students to consider an opposing viewpoint as part of a class assignment. Some students in their classes had complained that the assignment constituted bias. In August, officials at the University of Iowa put their plans to launch a bias team on hold, citing the controversy at Northern Colorado.

In an essay in The New Republic, professors Jeffrey Snyder and Amna Khalid of Carleton College cataloged a long list of troubling incidents involving bias response teams. They included professors being pressured to resign, students dragged in for questioning and punishment, and episode after episode of students anonymously reporting “bias” when a professor or student simply said or did something they didn’t like. The result of all this has been to exalt the status of the tattletale, and to give one self-entitled student power to threaten and silence, by proxy, any person who crosses his will. The BART became a weapon for the brat.

Little wonder that even many conventionally liberal academics have begun to join conservatives to say enough is enough.

Ironically, none of these universities appear at all interested in taking steps to correct the most glaring bias of all–the hiring bias against conservative and Republican-voting faculty candidates. According to one study, only 14% of U.S. professors identify as Republican. The ratio is even more skewed at the nation’s most elite institutions. In 2012, for example, 96% of Ivy League faculty political donations went to Obama. (Mitt Romney, presumably, divided the remaining 4% with Jill Stein.)

The humanities and social sciences, where political issues are more likely to emerge in class discussion than in sciences or technical disciplines, are laughably bereft of diversity. Only 2% of American English professors identify as Republican. Two percent! Among social scientists, there are three times as many self-identified Marxists as there are Republicans–a figure so ridiculous it caused even The New York Times’ Nick Kristof to cry foul.

It’s a shame these anti-bias teams were not conceived to look into university hiring practices. And it’s no wonder students get confused and begin to think they are victims of bias whenever they encounter a differing political opinion. They go nearly all the way through college without ever hearing one.

How ‘Soft Censorship’ Works at College

These days, administrators at public universities must be very jealous of their counterparts at private institutions. As non-governmental actors, private college administrators can suppress any speech they don’t like – or, probably more to the point, that displeases their dissent-intolerant student constituents.

There is no better illustration of the extremes to which a university will go to suppress speech than the recent actions by DePaul University, a private institution. Two student groups had invited noted conservative Ben Shapiro to speak at an event they were sponsoring, “Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces and Attacks on Free Speech.” The university, however, banned him from attending the event either as a speaker or as a member of the audience. Administrators claimed that the sponsoring groups had not properly registered Mr. Shapiro as a speaker and that the university was concerned with security issues.

Related: Feminist Censored from Censorship Panel

Public universities have the same incentives to ban speakers like Mr. Shapiro, but they have less leeway than their private counterparts. For example, the president of California State University, Los Angeles, giving in to student protestors, cancelled a scheduled speech by Mr. Shapiro just days before it was to take place. But Mr. Shapiro vowed to show up anyway. And appropriately using the First Amendment as a weapon, he threatened the university with a lawsuit.

Those tactics yielded the desired result: the president backed down and allowed the speech to go forward as planned.

Although public universities cannot suppress speech using heavy-handed tactics, they can use more subtle measures to chip away at free speech, as illustrated by my experience at Brooklyn College, a public institution where I teach.

In April 2015, I sponsored a talk at the college entitled “Free Speech and Social Criticism,” by prominent blogger Pamela Geller. A few hours after I publicized Ms. Geller’s upcoming event, the national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) emailed the college president, the provost, and other campus officials asking if it was true that Brooklyn College was hosting “the nation’s leading Islamophobe.”

Related: A New Age of College Censorship

Apparently prompted by that email, the provost phoned my department chair at his home early (7:30 AM) the next day to discuss the event. There was no legitimate basis for that call. First, my department (earth science) had nothing to do with the event.  Second, the provost’s office has no administrative responsibilities over campus events of that sort. Further, had the provost been genuinely interested in information about the event, he should have called me, its sole sponsor.

Because there was no legitimate reason for it, I have to assume that the call was intended

to send a message. Emails from an influential lobbying group had apparently alarmed and displeased the administration. Calling my boss was a means of conveying that displeasure to me in the hope of getting me to modify my plans. Simply put, the provost became the conduit by which political pressure from CAIR to back off the event was transferred to me.

Related: Harmless College Jokes Punished at Civility Seminar

In a similar example of soft censorship, a college vice president telephoned the speaker I had lined up to open the Geller event. (That speaker teaches at Kingsborough Community College, which, like Brooklyn College, is a branch of the City University of New York.) He asked if she would care to discuss her role in the event. That call to a speaker at my event was also wholly unjustified: First Amendment case law forbids administrators at publicly funded universities from involving themselves in the content of events sponsored by their faculty or students, who are free to choose themes and presenters as they see fit.

At a minimum, these telephone calls from upper-echelon administrators were chilling to free speech and open communication on campus.  Would faculty be eager to participate in provocative or politically incorrect events if their participation generated investigative calls from provosts and vice presidents? That kind of pressure can easily chill speech. Some faculty – especially untenured ones – would avoid sponsoring or participating in controversial talks in order to avoid the ire of – and possible retribution from – their administrative superiors. Even I will think twice before doing so again.

I get it: college administrators hate controversy and use small acts of suppression – soft censorship – to help them avoid it. But speech suppression, even when subtle, is still antithetical to a core mission of a university – fostering unfettered debate. An open discussion of the largely hidden practice of soft censorship may help preserve that core mission.

Harmless College Jokes Punished at Mandatory Civility Seminar

At a Virginia college, inspirational slogans were recently posted in a residence hall to buoy the spirits of students cramming for exams. Resisting the inspiration, some students posted satirical  responses. “You are what you think you are, aim high!” drew the reply “You appear to be suffering from delusions of adequacy.” Another encouraging slogan, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” drew the non-inspirational answer, “Yeah, but you miss 99% of the ones you do.”

Harmless, right?  No! A residential life officer was not amused and sent this message to all residents: “This is not a joke…. This is not ok. Our community is meant to be one of encouragement and acceptance and the posting of materials against this goes directly against what we are called to stand for. This is home, no one should be insulted or fear insults within the domain of their own house, apartment or residence hall. If you feel attacked by any of these notes, please know that I am here to listen and support you.”

The RA asked students to inform on the irreverent counter-posters, and scheduled a dorm-wide meeting, with attendance mandatory, to discuss “civility.” Underlining the gravity of the allegedly humorous prank, the RA continued: “I would like to remind you of the power of words. You do not know the affect your words may have on someone else. Words that mean nothing to you may trigger an emotional response to someone, you do not know everyone’s backstory. Because of this, I encourage each of you to think carefully before you speak.

“Tensions are high due to elections, and exams are around the corner; we all need to be at our peak performance to succeed. Take care of each other, don’t say anything that can hurt someone, regardless of whether you think it is funny. A person finding offense at your joke or statement is not their fault, it is not a result of them needing to change or of them being weak. The change needs to happen in your words.”

The mandatory civility session was set for “after the break,” apparently a reference to the Thanksgiving break, though the RA seems to have avoided the term as too religious. The student who sent all this information said the dorm was ready to organize a “secret Santa” gift-giving, but would call it a “secret snowflake“ instead since “Santa” seems to evoke the overly religious term, ”Christmas.”

How Colleges and Universities Foster “Hate Culture”

Many of my colleagues and students are responding to the results of the 2016 presidential election with fear, disappointment, and disbelief. For some, Trump’s victory and the social unrest that followed dramatically changed their perceptions of Americans, democracy, and human nature. They are mourning the loss of a progressive dream.

Although I share my colleagues’ and students’ concerns that the current political climate has emboldened people who say and do hateful things to others, I am in no way surprised by the election outcome or its aftermath. These events are entirely predictable and much of what we do in higher education has contributed to them. Despite our best efforts to the contrary, institutions of higher education have helped to foster what some people have referred to as “hate culture.”

Academics frequently identify conditions that lead to negative behavior. For example, in order to address sexual violence on campus, sociologists and others identify the forces behind “rape culture,” including the objectification of women in the media and glorification of “hyper-masculinity.”  Similarly, my colleagues who study terrorism identify socio-political conditions, such as unemployment, as contributing factors. At the same time, we seem unwilling to examine the culture and psychology behind hate crimes, as if this would be excusing the behavior or “blaming the victim.” Yet, we cannot merely stomp out hate through coercion, punishment, and social shaming. If we want to prevent or reduce group conflict, we have to identify the social conditions that create it. I argue that an honest assessment of group behavior reveals that academics often contribute to the problem by amplifying social identities.

According to Henri Tajfel and John Turner’s (1979) social identity theory, one’s self-esteem is tied to the status of the groups to which one belongs. People elevate the status of their own groups by comparing them to lower status groups. The salience of these social identities is malleable and researchers have found that they can actively manipulate the strength of people’s social identities by priming them to think about their group memberships or by introducing threat from another group. In higher education, we consistently prime social identity.  Strong social identities lead to intensified group conflict, as defense of one’s own group is achieved through degradation of other groups.

On college campuses, political dialog is driven by a commitment to identity politics — activism in support of movements that are organized to promote the status of people based on categories such as gender, race, religion, or sexual preference. Social movements are not always defined according to these groups. For example, Marxist movements defined conflict by class, thereby bringing together people of various racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Social movements can also be driven by ideology or shared values, such as the environmental movement.

This isn’t to say that colleges should not educate students on the history of discrimination against women, blacks, or other groups. Students should be educated on how laws, social norms, and values shape the distribution of power in society. They should study the psychology of discrimination, prejudice, and bias. Yet, academics often pursue social and political goals, choosing sides between groups in a conflict.  For example, The American Studies Association has declared a boycott on Israeli universities as a show of opposition for Israel’s actions in Palestine.

Fostering strong social identities is a recipe for group conflict. Colleges prime social identities in a number of ways. For example, we strengthen social identity when we sort students into housing options by race or ethnicity, rather than shared interests; when we spend more time talking about group differences than about our common humanity; and when we create “safe spaces” to protect some groups of people from others.  All students should have ‘spaces’ where they are safe and comfortable, surrounded by people they trust. The rest of us have this safe space.  We call it “home.”  The problem comes when we assign these spaces based solely on social identity.  It’s the equivalent of moving into segregated neighborhoods. This makes us feel more comfortable at home, but it has negative consequences for our interactions with others.

Colleges and universities encourage students to think primarily in terms of social identity. To make matters worse, we then encourage conflict between groups by framing debates as false dichotomies. The current uproar over free speech on campus is a great example. Free speech is not inherently pro-egalitarian or anti-egalitarian. The Civil Rights Movement relied heavily on the protection of free speech and freedom of the press to spread its message in the face of institutionalized opposition.

Free speech often protects minority voices. Yet, colleges and universities have established speech codes on campus, aimed at protecting vulnerable minority groups from words or phrases that might offend. This sends students the message that one group’s rights are gained at the expense of another group. Free speech is now frequently framed as something that protects racists, sexists, and other “deplorables.”

Arguing in favor of free speech threatens to paint one into this group or, at the very least, suggests that one is insensitive to the needs of minorities. The assumption that silencing offensive ideas reduces hostility against vulnerable groups is deeply flawed. Research shows that the classical liberal approach is more useful – we confront harmful ideas by exposing them to truth.  At the very least, grappling with uncomfortable ideas is more fitting to an institution whose purpose is education.  Silencing ideas is more suited to an institution whose primary purpose is scoring points in the culture wars.

Finally, we add fuel to this fire because we tend to favor some voices and perspectives over others. We do this when we are too quick to label ideas as “racist,” “sexist,” or “homophobic,” merely because they do not conform to the most progressive ideals; people who favor greater enforcement of immigration laws are “racists,” as is anyone who admits to voting for Trump. The search for microaggressions contributes to this sense that anything that offends protected groups is off limits, even if no harm is intended. Students are actively encouraged to recognize and report microaggressions.

In other words, we encourage them to approach others with suspicion and distrust, rather than goodwill and generosity. Even ambiguous words and behaviors may be reported to overzealous “bias response teams.” Merely the accusation that one has said something racist, sexist, or offensive can do irreparable damage to one’s reputation.  The effect of this is that some students are afraid to have open, meaningful conversations with faculty or peers about sensitive topics. This impedes our efforts to promote cross-cultural understanding.  And when people believe they are denied legitimate voice in the system, they are more likely to engage in hostile, antisocial behavior.

Well-meaning liberal academics have helped to create our current predicament by promoting a toxic political environment that unnecessarily triggers group conflict. We encourage “hate culture” by creating an environment in which: (1) power and conflict is defined primarily in terms of social identities, such that social identity is frequently primed and becomes more salient than shared values or ideologies; (2) power is defined as a zero-sum game, creating false dichotomies between winners and losers, or victims and perpetrators, which are defined by social identity; (3) the opinions and experiences of members of some groups are awarded less value than those of others, contributing to feelings that one has little voice.

These are the conditions that would seem to create group conflict and cause people to act out aggressively against members of other groups.  I think it is clear that these conditions are rampant on college campuses. In the name of promoting social justice, we are instead promoting group conflict.

The Title IX Mess—Will It Be Reformed?

Since 2011, the federal government has made successful and devastating efforts to undermine civil liberties on campuses. The surprise outcome of the presidential election raises at least the possibility that this illicit campaign, based on a vast extension of Title IX, will be reversed. Thousands of students accused of sexual misconduct but denied due process have been victimized by the frenzy stimulated by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and by the unfair procedures that OCR has championed. (Consider events at Amherst or Yale or UVA or Brandeis, for starters.)

College hearings on sexual misconduct are often a travesty of justice. Usually, there is no attorney for the accused, no cross-examination, no discovery, no note-taking, little time for the accused to prepare and often a form of double jeopardy (the accuser can appeal but the accused cannot). Individual universities can broaden the definition of offenses (at Yale “economic abuse” counts as sexual assault) and uninvolved third-party accusations can sometimes launch hearings.

Some comments on what should, and should not, occur:

The Fate of Obama-Era Guidance

President Obama’s two heads of the OCR have ignored the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act and imposed their dubious interpretations of Title IX without required notice and comment. They never offered a convincing explanation as to why, in part because Congress only rarely pressed them; outgoing OCR head Catherine Lhamon purported to justify OCR’s actions in this exchange with Tennessee senator Lamar Alexander, but only revealed herself to be ignorant of congressional authority.

Related: How the Feds Use Orwell to Apply Title IX

But the arrogance of Lhamon and her predecessor, Russlynn Ali, means that the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter—and OCR’s even more troubling 2014 guidance, which suggested that OCR’s imaginative interpretation of Title IX could trump the constitutional protection of due process promised to all students at public universities—can be withdrawn without going through the notice-and-comment process.

Given the Access Hollywood tape, it might well be politically impossible for a Trump administration to simply withdraw the 2011 and 2014 “guidance.” But another avenue for action exists, including the FIRE-orchestrated lawsuit filed by a former University of Virginia student and by Oklahoma Wesleyan University. The new administration could easily enter into settlement negotiations for the lawsuit and concede the inappropriateness of issuing new regulations on all colleges and universities outside the APA’s requirements.

If this doesn’t occur, Congress becomes all the more important. The two people to watch are Lamar Alexander and Oklahoma Republican James Lankford. The Oklahoma senator issued an encouraging statement the day after the election, noting that the Education Department had “used Dear Colleague letters and guidance documents to mandate policies for schools without adhering to legally required regulatory processes. It is extreme overreach at agencies like the Department of Education that the American people repudiated in this election. I will push our new Republican-led Washington to put a stop to this abuse and restore proper regulatory and guidance processes to the federal government.”

Related: How Title IX Became a Policy Bully

Accusers’ rights organizations seem to have recognized that, at the very least, the anti-due process agenda of the current OCR might be discontinued in the next administration. And so, as the Chronicle recently reported, they’ve ratcheted up pressure on colleges to maintain the current unfair procedures that the Ali/Lhamon-led OCR helped to establish.

Yet even the most extreme of the activist groups—Know Your IX—has conceded that colleges are obliged to provide “fair” processes. (The group’s founders, Alexandra Brodksy and Dana Bolger, have defined “fair” in Orwellian terms, but they nonetheless use the language.)

Early in her tenure, Russlynn Ali made clear that the new OCR would welcome Title IX complaints from accusers angered at their college having returned not-guilty findings, or simply not rendering a guilty finding quickly enough. The new OCR could make clear that given the manifest unfairness of most college disciplinary systems on sexual assault matters, it would welcome complaints from accused students, to give the federal government a chance to counteract the improper pressure to keep disciplinary systems unfair. The resolution of the pending Title IX complaint against Brandeis—in a case that was the subject of the piercing opinion by Judge Saylor—could provide a template.

Along these lines, resolution agreements from OCR should restore earlier principles (from the Bush II administration) that colleges aren’t obligated to reinvestigate claims where a criminal complaint has been filed; and that colleges aren’t obligated to investigate allegations that occur off campus.

Distractions

Over the past five years, only a handful of politicians have paid any attention to the issue of campus fairness; as Christina Hoff Sommers presciently noted, “due process has no lobby.” Scores of GOP legislators and governors, on the other hand, rose up as one against OCR guidance regarding bathroom policies for transgender school kids.

For advocates of campus due process, then, the great fear is this: given Republican priorities, the new administration will focus its OCR reform agenda on eliminating protections for transgender public school students—a move that will receive fierce political resistance—and therefore will decide not to address the campus due process issue at all.

Related: The Feds Now Run a Bureaucracy That Regulates Sex

Any comment on a Trump-led OCR has to address what was avoided. While OCR under Obama was disastrous for due process, the crusade always had a surreal element to it. Obama, after all, was formerly a constitutional law professor, and also someone who was willing to stand up for campus civil liberties (albeit only in the free speech context). Even as his administration eroded due process rights for accused students, there was always the chance that a President with Obama’s beliefs would recognize he had gone too far.

No chance would have existed for such a course correction under Hillary Clinton, had she been elected. (Full disclosure: I am a Democrat who donated to, and voted for, Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. My only federal political donations in 2016 went to Jason Kander, who narrowly lost in the Missouri Senate race.) To the extent that Clinton had any consistent beliefs, they revolved around a fierce connection to gender-based identity politics. And there was no doubt as to how these beliefs would have translated on campus.

Clinton’s campaign began with an official policy toward campus sexual assault—that all accused students who could not prove mistaken identity were guilty since all campus accusers had a “right to be believed.” Even Obama’s OCR, as extreme as its approach toward campus due process had been, never adopted such a policy. Clinton withdrew the line only after she was asked how it would apply to her husband’s accusers, but there seems little doubt that she would not have granted the same degree of skepticism for students accused of sexual assault on campus.

It also seems likely that a Clinton OCR—perhaps with Lhamon staying on for a second stint in charge of the agency—would have more aggressively targeted campus free speech. The University of Montana “blueprint” (imposed by OCR and the Justice Department) supposedly was abandoned after a public outcry. But its basic principles were quietly extended to the University of New Mexico and could have formed a national template under four years of Clinton.

In a Clinton presidency, Title IX would have been used as a sword against fairness and due process. If nothing else happened last Tuesday night, that outcome appears to have been avoided.

The Gender Lobby Guns for Toronto Professor

The most controversial man in Canada these days is probably mild-mannered Jordan Peterson, professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.

Peterson has run afoul of the gender/transgender lobby by refusing to use the personal pronouns favored by students, faculty and others with non-binary gender identities. Those with such identities want to be referred to as “zie” “sie” “zim” “vis” and an array of other recommended and personal choices.

He is under pressure from his university, which has ordered him to use personally approved pronouns, as well as from the Province of Ontario, which defines resistance to the new personal pronouns as discrimination and harassment.

Neither Male Nor Female?

The tenured professor drew major media attention after the first part of his YouTube lecture series called Professor against political correctness came out. In the hour-long video, Peterson criticized Bill C-16 — which would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to criminalize harassment and discrimination based on gender identity. Peterson compares this amendment to “the way that totalitarian and authoritarian political states (develop).

The Ontario Human Rights Commission defines gender identity as “each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is their sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum.”

“I don’t know what ‘neither’ means because I don’t know what the options are if you’re not a man or a woman,” Peterson states in his YouTube lecture.

“It’s not obvious to me how you can be both because those are by definition binary categories. What should you ask of the collective if you deviate in some manner? And you might say, to welcome you with open arms,’” he said. “And I would say, ‘That’s probably asking too much.’ I think what you should ask the collective is that they tolerate your deviance without too much aggression.”

A Radical Fringe

He attributes his concerns regarding the Ontario Human Rights Commission to “social justice warrior-type activists [being] over-represented in the current provincial government.” as well as the fact that Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is a lesbian.

“I can’t help but manifest the suspicion that that’s partly because our current Premier is lesbian in her sexual preference and that in itself doesn’t bother me one way or another,” said Peterson in the video. “I don’t think it’s relevant to the political discussion except insofar as the LGBT community has become extraordinarily good at organizing themselves and has a fairly pronounced and very, very sophisticated radical fringe.”

In an article on the Federalist site, Stella Morabito writes, “Today Peterson is laser-focused on fighting the cultural cancer of political correctness. He is alarmed at how quickly it is metastasizing into laws that seek to punish any and all self-expression.”

Waking up the Right

Peterson said he fears an extended left-right battle over PC. “One of the things I’m afraid of with regards to all of the continual radical activism on the left is that they’re waking up the right,” he told The Varsity, a student newspaper. “And all you have to do is look around. There’s a huge resurgence in right-wing parties in Europe.”

Peterson stood by this speculation: “It’s perfectly reasonable to question the company that they keep. If you’re a trade union leader, I presume you’re going to surround yourself with left-wing activists. If you’re a gay politician, I think it’s reasonable to assume that some of the people in your political surrounds are going to be relatively radical LGBT activists.”

Mandatory Anti-Racist Training

Peterson objects to the U of T’s Human Resources Department requirement for mandatory anti-racist training.
“I take exception to that for a variety of reasons. One is, it isn’t obvious that there is a racism problem on the U of T campus. Second is, it isn’t obvious to me that it’s reasonable to term people sufficiently racist when they haven’t one anything to deserve that epithet so you have to retrain them. Third, it isn’t obvious to me that you should make it mandatory,” Peterson said.

“And fourth, I don’t think the people who have been put in charge of the education program have the credentials or the ability to deliver what they claim to be able to deliver. And finally, I don’t believe that there’s any evidence that these anti-racist training programs actually produce a decrement in racism. In fact, they might make people worse,” continued Peterson.

Peterson’s video lecture also calls gender-neutral pronouns “connected to… an entire underground apparatus of… radical left political motivations.”

Laying out a hypothetical situation in which a student asks to be addressed by a different pronoun, Peterson said, “If someone just came up to me and said that, I would definitely just tell them to go away. They have to have a reason to have a conversation with me.”

Peterson spoke at a free speech rally on campus October 11. His detractors worked hard to drown out his voice with chants, shouts and white-noise machines. Student supporters of Peterson and free speech advocates circulated and signed this letter of support:

An Open Letter to the Administration of the University of Toronto

First of all, we would like to commend and thank you for agreeing to host the series of debates proposed to you by Professor Peterson. We believe that this is a step in the right direction, and are looking forward to witnessing what constitutes an example of a free and reasoned exchange of ideas on campus. We believe that fostering a climate where all topics, no matter how controversial, are up for intellectual exploration is one of the fundamental functions of a post-secondary institution, and, as such, we applaud the University’s decision to host the debates.

Nevertheless, we continue to be disturbed and appalled by the incidents that took place at the Free Speech rally on October 11, 2016, and, most of all, by the University’s response to the aftermath of the event. We came to the rally to express our views in a respectful manner; we were instead silenced by members of the University of Toronto Students Union (UTSU)and the Black Liberation Collective (BLC), then slandered by members of these same groups, and finally left aghast at our administration’s failure to protect students’ fundamental rights and freedoms and their decision to muzzle Professor Peterson.

The University has been quick to condemn online threats of physical violence against members of the transgender community; it has also been quick to condemn the few racists and transphobic slurs that were, unfortunately, voiced by a small minority at the Free Speech rally. These fringe views are in no way representative of the opinion of the majority of free speech protesters; in fact, we fully support the University’s decision to denounce these acts. However, we also believe that choosing to draw attention only to those incidents that were perpetrated against the transgender and the Black community is dangerous and wrong.

Why did the administration not condemn the use of white-noise machines, allegedly rented by an executive member of the UTSU? Cassandra Williams and other counter-protesters have clearly broken the Obstruction Clause of the University’s Free Speech policy. Although the rally was technically held in a public space, the white noise machine was plugged into a power outlet; thus, the University had a responsibility to prohibit and condemn such actions.

Where is the University’s response to co-founder of the BLC and student at the University of Toronto, Yusra Khogali, calling an Ethiopian refugee a “coon” for politely expressing his views on the state of free speech in his home country? This was the most evident act of anti-Black racism at the rally – yet the University and media (including the Varsity) fail to recognize this.

Where is the University’s condemnation of an anti-Peterson protester assaulting a journalist, Lauren Southern, and their response to Theo Williamson, the New College Equity Director, lying about it to police? It should be noted that both of these individuals are having criminal charges currently pressed against them. Furthermore, Williamson is having legal action pressed for a completely different altercation, where they seem to have stolen a pro-free speech attendee’s cell phone, assaulted the attendee with the phone, and then smashed it against the pavement [3]. Why has the University not reprimanded Cassandra Williams who used her body to physically block the attendee from trying to retrieve her phone?

Why has the University failed to protect student organizers and supporters of the Free Speech rally from slander? Unsurprisingly, it appears that the media narrative surrounding what happened at the rally is based exclusively on the accounts of the counter-protestors, such as Theo Williamson. These are the same individuals who have insinuated that we are no more than a group of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. It is clear, at this point, that we must take these accounts of events very skeptically considering that an active leader of the anti-free-speech movement has no problem lying–even to the police].

Why has the University failed to recognize the very real danger posed to students in support of free speech and Professor Peterson? Wesley Williams (also known as Qaiser Ali), another prominent leader in the anti-free speech movement has been documented proudly and clearly declaring himself to be “the death of the palefaces”. What more is needed to constitute a threat to a given demographic?

Perhaps the actions of Yusra Khogali could be it. The fact that Khogali has not been censured by the University for her words and actions is perplexing and disturbing, to say the least. In her various media communications, she has claimed that white skin is “sub-human”; used racial slurs against individuals respectfully sharing their opinion; and expressed a desire to murder “white ppl and men”. It is difficult to put into words just how alienating and terrifying it is to know that an open racist who advocates for the use of violence is advising the University on pertinent matters, claiming to hold the secrets to “anti-oppression” and being allowed to ruin peaceful demonstrations. What Khogali’s actions amount to is bullying, at best.

Finally, where is the University’s condemnation of the Black Liberation Collective – a racist activist group that openly embraces violence(“We will strive for liberation by any means necessary, including but not limited to armed self-defense. […] We condone whatever methods Black people adopt to liberate themselves and their kin.”)? We find the fact that the administration has not availed itself of this openly available information baffling and hard to believe. And if the University has been aware of the violent nature of the BLC, then why has the administration not only failed to denounce this organization, but also continues to take anti-oppression training advice from this group [10]?

There is video footage and written evidence supporting every claim made in this letter. If you choose to ignore this information, you are engaging in willful ignorance, at the expense of violating the fundamental rights and freedoms of the majority of your student body. If you ignore this letter, you admit to condoning radical activist groups to silence, bully, assault and threaten those who dare to disagree with their views.

In short, we no longer feel that the University of Toronto is a place where students are free to share their ideas without risking being aggressively silenced, insulted, assaulted and slandered. We contend that the University is choosing to pursue political gain at the risk of being slandered by the BLC and the UTSU. It must be acknowledged that as long as militant, racist groups are allowed on campus and, moreover, permitted to advise our University administration – those who wish to espouse opinions not in line with the aforementioned groups are not safe.

We demand justice and equal treatment for all students, regardless of their sex, race, gender identity, religion or political persuasion. As citizens of a democratic society and members of your institution, we deserve the right to free speech and fair treatment. We deserve to have an administration that cares about all students equally and takes a nonpartisan approach when conflicts between various student groups and interests inevitably arise.

The University has failed to protect their students from violence, bullying, racism, sexism and slander. We are speaking up – we need you to listen. What’s happening is fundamentally wrong, and against all values of this institution and of Western, liberal democracy.

Sincerely,
Concerned Students

Does Free Speech Matter at UVa?

An adjunct lecturer at the University of Virginia was forced to take a leave of absence because his criticism of Black Lives Matter in a Facebook post was “inappropriate” and “inconsistent with the University of Virginia’s values.” The lecturer, Douglas Muir, had been teaching at the university’s Darden School of Business and the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Muir’s Facebook post, now deleted but quoted by the Cavalier Daily, asserted that “Black lives matter is the biggest rasist organisation [sic] since the clan [sic]. Are you kidding me. Disgusting!!!” Muir was responding to comments about a lecture given by Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza.

Undermines Our Values

Muir’s statement is obviously provocative (not to mention poorly spelled), and his rapid resignation suggests that the University of Virginia’s vaunted dedication to free speech and “inclusion” does not extend to provocative posts on social media.

“While free speech and open discussion are fundamental principles of our nation and the University,” a late Friday statement from the Dean of Engineering and Applied Science declared, “Mr. Muir’s comment was entirely inappropriate. UVA Engineering does not condone actions that undermine our values, dedication to diversity and educational mission.” The School of Engineering apparently regards a Facebook post as an “action,” not speech, and it deems only “appropriate” speech and speech that does not challenge “diversity” worthy of protection.

A statement from UVa Provost Tom Katsouleas was even more smarmy: Muir’s comment “is inconsistent with the University of Virginia’s values and with its commitment to the principles of academic freedom…. This position in no way squelches academic freedom, which welcomes dissent and encourages the voices of others whose perspectives may differ from ours — thereby adding new insights to our own. But statements such as Mr. Muir’s do not foster intellectual exploration, nor do they encourage the voices of others.”

What about Alicia Garza?

The fundamental question, in short, is not whether Black Lives Matter is or is not like the Klan. It is whether provosts and deans should be in the business of awarding or withholding UVa’s imprimatur of approval on highly charged political speech and empowered to decide which points of view are legitimate and which are “inappropriate” or “inconsistent with the University of Virginia’s values” or “do not foster intellectual exploration.”

But even if speech is to be monitored and regulated, that cannot be done in a discriminatory manner. In dismissing Mr. Muir because of his criticism of Black Lives Matter, however, UVa seems to be clearly engaged in content-based discrimination, since not only does it not ban but in fact welcomes speech that is equally if not more offensive.

Consider, for example, the typical invective of Alicia Garza, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter whose recent appearance provoked Muir’s rant. For example, responding to Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention this summer, Garza stated that “[t]he terrifying vision that Donald J. Trump is putting forward casts him alongside some of the worst fascists in history…. Trump is proposing a new, dark age where police have carte blanche authority to terrorize our communities.”

Garza is obviously fond of comparing Trump to Hitler because she does so repeatedly. And her target is not simply Trump — whom her friend and co-founder of Black Lives Matter Patrisse Cullors calls “a terrorist” — but also Trump’s supporters. “There’s millions of people backing a fascist ideologue,” Garza told Bloomberg News, anticipating by a month BLM supporter Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” description of the same voters.

In a similar vein, no doubt intended to “foster intellectual exploration” and “encourage the voices of others,” Garza responded in The Guardian to those fascists who insist that all lives matter by declaring that “[b]y and large, I’m starting to feel like, if somebody doesn’t want to f***ing understand — excuse my language — if somebody can’t see the contradiction of saying all lives matter … then they’re just wilfully [sic] being ignorant, and an a****le. If a movement can be judged by its heroes, what does it say about Black Lives Matter that Garza proudly asserts that she uses Assata Shakur’s “powerful demand in my organizing work”? Here’s a description of Shakur, originally known as Joanne Chesimard, from the FBI Most Wanted List:

“On May 2, 1973, Chesimard, who was part of a revolutionary extremist organization known as the Black Liberation Army, and two accomplices were stopped for a motor vehicle violation on the New Jersey Turnpike by two troopers with the New Jersey State Police. At the time, Chesimard was wanted for her involvement in several felonies, including bank robbery. Chesimard and her accomplices opened fire on the troopers. One trooper was wounded and the other was shot and killed execution-style at point-blank range.”

Chesimard was convicted of first-degree murder, but in 1979 she escaped from prison and fled to Cuba. Despite pressure to do so, President Obama refused to demand the return of Chesimard as part of his opening relations with Cuba, a decision supported by Hillary Clinton.

My point, it should go without saying, is not that Alicia Garza should be barred from speaking at University events, although I do think it odd that UVa’s Office of Diversity and Equity invited her to be keynote speaker at a Community celebration of Martin Luther King last winter (cancelled because of a scheduling conflict). Rather, it is the question of whether university administrators should be empowered to decide whether comparing the Black Lives Matter movement to the Klan is really beyond the pale of legitimate debate and discourse.

If BLM’s critics are not allowed to compare it to the Klan, what of its supporters? What, for example, will the protectors of UVa’s values do when celebrated Selma director Ava DuVernay’s new film about the incarceration of blacks, 13th, is shown in Charlottesville and predictably elicits some faculty gushing? According to the New York Post, it “wowed audiences at the New York Film Festival and looks like a leading Oscar contender,” no doubt in part because of its “[e]quating Donald Trump supporters with Deep South Lynch mobs.” Could a UVa faculty member now make that equation?

Is There Free Speech at UVa?

In any event, if UVa’s Provost and Deans insist that a Lecturer’s personal comments on social media must not be inconsistent with the University’s values, why are they not concerned that an official University invitation to Garza to be a keynote speaker at a University event might lead some observers to infer endorsement of her extreme views? Would they dismiss any untenured faculty members who posted or tweeted some of the things Garza says all the time?

No doubt the now problematic standing of free speech at “Mr. Jefferson’s University” will be subject of some discussion at a long-scheduled Symposium on Free Speech on Campus in Charlottesville on October 13-14 sponsored by the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Speech. How embarrassing, not to mention ironic, if in the coming year would earn one of the Jefferson Center’s noted and notorious Muzzle Awards.

Will Princeton Change Its Name?

Elle Woods, the sexy Harvard Law School student from la-la land in the 2001 comedy Legally Blonde, got a taste of what has become a daily diet of politically corrected speech.

In that movie, Enid, the super-smart lesbian in the study group from which Elle was excluded, was lobbying to change the word semester to “ovester.” The reason: semester sounded like semen, which was offensive to women.

Today, PC language is causing a ruckus at Princeton and many other private and public universities. Some administrators want to ban what they claim is sexist terminology from official campus communications. Fireman, freshmen, and policewoman become firefighter, first-year students and police officer.

“Manning” the front desk is unacceptable. Employees must “staff” the front desk. This language war dates back to the early 1960s when feminists began writing irate letters to the editor complaining about words such as mankind. Today, those letter-writers are college administrators, determined to change the language by decree.

princeton-man-out

At Yale and Harvard, the undergraduate residences are overseen by faculty members known as “masters of residential housing.” Oops. Not anymore. The term master offended people of color, even though it was derived from schoolmaster or headmaster — the latter a term derived from Oxford and Cambridge.

One of two things are apt to happen next: abolishing the Master’s degree or implementing the Mistress degree. Wait. That doesn’t sound right.

There is a glimmer of hope for Princeton, as The Daily Princetonian is fighting back. A recent editorial said, “Censoring the English language through the dissemination of lists of acceptable vocabulary is contrary to the values of the University and a sinister first step towards Orwellian restriction of language and speech.”

In previous outbursts over this issue, some worried about what to do with terms such as “manhole.” Somehow person hole doesn’t sound right. “Mankind” should yield to “humanity,” but the word man is embedded in humanity, just as “son” is right there in “person” and “male” is buried in “female.”

And how about the sexist “Prince” in Princeton?

What if you are on a ship, maybe a Princeton cruise, and someone falls overboard? It would be sexist, of course, for Princetonians to shout, “Man overboard!” A quick poll among people on deck could settle whether most observers thought the unlucky person was male or female.  Couldn’t they just yell, “Person overboard”? Not really.

A generic shout for help could be taken as a subtle rejection of the falling person’s private gender choice. Not everyone who appears to be a man considers herself a male, even during a fall overboard. “Possible male or female overboard” wouldn’t work either, since everyone knows there are somewhere between two and 32 genders and failing to acknowledge them all before attempting a rescue would surely be seen as non-inclusive and therefore micro-aggressive.

Since nomenclature is so difficult in this case, it might be just as well to let the individual drown and get the gender right later. The Princeton administration would know.

Brown’s President Says She Values Free Speech, but…

Christina Paxson, president of Brown University, published a ringing endorsement of free speech on campus yesterday in The Washington Post. The op-ed said, “Freedom of expression is an essential component of academic freedom, which protects the ability of universities to fulfill their core mission of advancing knowledge.”

That’s nice. What the article didn’t say is that Brown has long been an unusually censorship-minded institution and that a short documentary, released in July, is making the rounds saying so. According to the Web site the College Fix, the documentary (see below), by Brown graduate Rob Montz, says, “the university is plagued by administrators who shelter students from controversial ideas and faculty who are too cowed to publicly defend free speech.”

Also, The Brown Herald, the student newspaper, scrubbed two columns from its site on grounds that they were hurtful and inaccurate. One took on the campus anti “white-privilege” movement, “The Whiteness of Cows;” the other argued that Columbus Day should be celebrated for the infusion of European values, culture and technology, even if Columbus himself is not regarded as admirable. A Daily Beast article on the subject, “Freedom of Speech? Not at Brown University,” noted that “the Brown administration appeared unconcerned by the attempt to censor freedom of speech.”

When Christina Sommers spoke at Brown, arguing that “Rape Culture”—systemic social and political support for rape—does not exist, Paxson scheduled or (allowed the scheduling of) a feminist rape lecture at the exact time Sommers was to speak, presumably to draw away attendees.

Brown also made the news in 2013 when angry Brown students shut down a scheduled speech by then-New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on grounds that the city’s stop-and-frisk policy was racist. Despite ample indications that students would try to shut Kelly down, the Paxson administration supplied only one security guard for the event. If Paxson really valued free speech, there was an obvious way to demonstrate it: She could have re-invited Kelly and supplied enough campus cops to handle the yahoos. But she didn’t.

Finally, One Major Campus Condemns Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces

Now that the University of Chicago announced that it does not condone “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces”—apparently the first major American university to do so—it is time for other institutions of higher learning to get behind this basic and rather obvious educational idea and create a genuine trend.

For some 30 years now, the idea has grown on campus that feelings are more important than ideas and openness to learning, more specifically that hurt feelings are a trump card for student efforts to limit campus discussion. Sometimes “marginalized” students (chiefly non-Asian minorities) are identified as those needing protection from open discussion, but as the movement has gathered force, the notion has grown that almost anybody can rightfully quell open discussion and intimidate teachers from raising certain issues, with race and gender atop the list.

If everyone is entitled to a sensitive person’s veto, universities are reduced to grade schools. Colleges and universities have meekly accepted this diminished status. Now it is time for a grown-up response from the campuses.

Related: The New Age Of Orthodoxy Overtakes The Campus

Another potentially important initiative has appeared in this unlikely month of August: NYU professor Jonathan Haidt of Heterodox Academy has called on students to declare whether they are satisfied with what many of us call the current campus monoculture.

He writes: Calling all college students: Do you love the intellectual climate on your campus? Or do you sometimes wish that a broader range of viewpoints was represented in the classroom, and by invited speakers? Are some students reluctant to speak up in class because they are afraid they’ll be shunned if they question the dominant viewpoint?

American college campuses have been growing more politically purified since the 1990s. Professors and visiting speakers who are not on the left, politically, are becoming increasingly rare.”

Haidt and most of his colleagues at Heterodox Academy are not on the right. They are not seeking more conservatives on campus. They want viewpoint diversity and a university with open and vigorous debate, not the semi-official leftist seminaries taking shape now. As with the University of Chicago letter, this initiative deserves a response. What colleges and universities, and which students will stand up for openness and integrity in higher education?

Pundit Wages War on Campus Correctness, 2001

The speech below was delivered on March 19, 2001, by then U.S. News & World Report columnist John Leo, who is the founder and editor of Minding the Campus. Leo has spent much of his career reporting on the vicissitudes of campus political correctness, many of them recorded in his latest book, “Incorrect Thoughts: Notes on Our Wayward Culture.”

The following excerpts are from the speech Leo gave  at the National Press Club at a gathering sponsored by the Independent Women’s Forum. They were reprinted in The Washington Times and are published here with permission.

I want to say a few words on how I got interested in political correctness. I’ll start off with the famous Goya nude that was molesting and harassing the women at Penn State. It had been hanging on the wall for 10 or 20 years before it decided to molest this teacher and she made a big fuss about it. So the painting was moved.

Then there were stories like the columnist for the Boston Globe who was having a private conversation with another male about basketball and he used a vulgar synonym for being henpecked and a woman was walking by who was of course affronted. He was fined $1,200 by the Globe and suspended for weeks. I said, “What’s going on here?”

My favorite was the Beethoven story when the feminists in charge of trashing music by white males announced that most Western music was pelvic pounding. And that Beethoven’s Fifth symphony was the murderous rage of an impotent rapist. I thought, “College has changed a bit since I was there.”

I know we’re all concerned about racism and sexism, but this list of “-isms” started to get longer and longer and attract my attention. One was “ableism,” maybe not having a ramp in your home. “Homeism,” which is not treating homeless people with the same respect as people with homes; “adultism,” which is when your parents tell you what to do; “majoritarianism,” when it comes to a vote and you lose; “borealcentrism,” this was on “West Wing” last week– that’s when you have white nations at the top of the globe instead of the bottom of the globe.

One of the campuses said you could not exclude anyone in conversation, so conversational exclusionism became a campus sin. At Smith College, they had an explicit warning against “looksism,” which is creating a standard that some things and some people are more attractive than others, which doesn’t fly at Smith.

And there’s “faddism” and “faceism.” I looked this up and not only is there such a thing as “faceism,” it is legally banned in Santa Cruz, California. You simply cannot hire a pretty receptionist in Santa Cruz if a homely one is available.

I got this up to 75 “isms” and I wondered if there was such a thing as “breastism,” you know, the unwanted male gaze at a female upper torso. And sure enough, I checked Lexis and there was “breastism.” The total rose to 78 isms. So now I’m deep into PC.

My next step was to notice what happened to Linda Chavez. Now this was 10 years ago. Linda Chavez was canceled out of a speech at the University of Northern Colorado. Now why was she canceled? She was the wrong kind of Hispanic. How did they know? She had worked for a Republican president.

This was 1990. It proved for the first time that a small number of agitators could make the president of a university grovel and impose identity politics, and it’s become a pattern in the culture, at least the campus division. They said she wasn’t a real Hispanic because she didn’t speak Spanish. My father told me he was Irish, but he must have lied because he doesn’t speak Gaelic.

Then there was the Egypt business. The story was pervading the campuses that the pyramids weren’t built by Egyptians; they were built by sub-Saharan blacks. So, believing in the journalistic method, I thought it was a good idea to call seven Egyptologists and ask them who built the pyramids. And they all said, “Well, the Egyptians, of course.”

So I wrote that down. And then they all said, “Well, don’t use my name.” So here are these specialists in Egyptology who are afraid to say the Egyptians built the Egyptian pyramids. I thought that was pretty telling. It was the beginning of double bookkeeping in the academic world, where you have one reality you think is true and one you tell people because it is “correct.”

I was at Time Inc. before I came here and I noticed Time Inc. put out a poster to celebrate Black History Month and on the border [of the poster] were real achievements by blacks and in the center of the poster were the pyramids. I knew the guy who had put this out, so I called him up and said, “Michael, you just sent out a million posters saying the blacks built the pyramids?” And he said, “Yeah, I know.”

“Isn’t that wrong?” “Yeah, I know, but they felt so strongly about it.” So this means that if you feel strongly about it, you too can get credit for building the pyramids.

Next, I started to notice the itch to censor on college campuses. I started collecting these speech codes. At Colby College, any speech that caused a “loss of self-esteem or even a vague sense of danger” was illegal. At North Dakota State, it was “intentionally producing discomfort.” At Minnesota, “insensitivity to the experiences of women”; at West Virginia, “feelings about gays, which evolve into attitudes.” At Connecticut, it was “inconsiderate jokes.”

At Sarah Lawrence, it was “inappropriate laughter.” Someone called an ex-roommate, who was gay, a nasty word for gay. And this fellow snorted, whether out of nervousness or laughter, and he was brought up on snorting charges. And I think he got 100 hours of community service and he had to write an essay on homophobia.

The [American Civil Liberties Union], which has not been good on these cases, woke up and defended him and he got off.

At Michigan State, “eye contact or the lack of it.” That pretty much throws a damper on what you can do with your eyes at Michigan State. At the University of Maryland, it’s “licking lips or teeth; holding or eating food provocatively.”

This is the public face of a movement that pretends to be elevating us to the next stage of truth and justice. What’s behind PC is a therapeutic ethic. It wasn’t just about equality, women and minorities, it’s about feelings and how important those feelings are. When you criticize women or minorities, you do a great disservice, because their self-esteem is threatened. It’s very important to have mandatory niceness on campus.

A lot of this came from the beginning of sexual-harassment theory. Catharine McKinnon says rape is when a woman has sex and feels violated. As soon as you put it into the “feeling” category, you take it from sex that is an actual violation to sex that didn’t turn out well and you feel bad about the next day. The “feeling” of being violated is more important. Negative feeling creates and defines the offense. You abandon all communal standards and everything becomes subjective.

Sexual-harassment theory became the jackpot for the PC movement. It was a decisive turn away from anything objective. When [society] created the “hostile-work-environment climate” argument, it sprang loose from the traditional American approach in law that you had to prove something harmful; that something had happened. But once you talk about environmental things, you erode all common standards and the only standard becomes the subjective feeling of being hurt by the person attacking. So, on college campuses, the indictment became the conviction.

We are in the heyday of censorship. The PC culture says: We are right; our opponents are wrong. Why should we let them speak? Oppressors should have no rights, anyway. This is our college, these people are backward, so let’s just get rid of them. So there is no give and take in argument or debate. The PC job isn’t education. It’s simply to root out villains.

Words You Just Can’t Say in Houston

Rohini Sethi has beaten the rap at the University of Houston.  As vice president of the student government at the University of Houston, she has escaped sanctions and a forced resignation from office. But she had to apologize profusely, take an unpaid leave of absence and serve some time in a diversity workshop to make up for the grossly offensive words she wrote on Facebook last month.

Since we are pretty sure those words are protected by the Constitution, we will risk writing them here, no matter how many maddened Houston students come after us. The words—brace yourselves–were “All lives matter,” or to be complete about it,  “Forget #Black Lives Matter, more like # All Lives Matter.”

Under the procedures of the Houston Government Association, the president,  Shane A. Smith, was allowed to punish Ms. Sethi. Not to worry, though, Smith is aware of the First Amendment.

Clearing up that point, Smith said, “For those who were upset due to what they considered a violation of the First Amendment, that was never my intention and I apologize for that impression. I have tremendous respect for freedom of speech as a core American value. For those that are disappointed by the change, this is a compromise based in the reality of the situation. My stance on racial injustice has always been clear. For all involved, this is truly the best outcome.”

Ms. Sethi regrets her offense and said “My words at the time didn’t accurately convey my feelings and caused many students to lose their faith in me to advocate for them. I take my responsibility seriously and want to re-earn their trust.” Now, if she doesn’t say anything crazy, like “Cops lives matter too” or “Let’s all vote for Trump” she ought to be all right.

Progressive Policing of Speech Moves Off Campus

“Hate speech is excluded from protection,” CNN anchor Chris Cuomo tweeted last year, echoing a dangerously common misconception. “Hate speech isn’t free speech,” people say, assuming they have a right not to hear whatever they consider hateful language and ideas. Government officials sometimes share this view: The Mayor of West Hollywood confirmed to Eugene Volokh that she would not issue a special events permit for a Donald Trump rally so long as he trafficked in hate, contrary to the “values and ideals” of the West Hollywood community

Related: A Champion of Free Speech Takes on the Muzzled Campus

But you don’t have to indulge in allegedly hateful speech to violate questionable local laws: In Washington D.C., an employer who fails to call a transgender employee by the employee’s preferred pronouns, including “ze,” “zir,” or “they,” may be liable for harassment, as Hans Bader explains. The New York City Commission on Human Rights has issued similar mandates, applying broadly to employers, landlords and businesses, meaning that customers and tenants, as well as employees, have a “human right” to regulate ordinary speech used in ordinary commercial transactions.

“(P)eople can basically force us — on pain of massive legal liability — to say what they want us to say, whether or not we want to endorse the political message associated with that term, and whether or not we think it’s a lie,” Volokh laments. “We have to use the person’s ‘preferred … pronoun and title,’ whatever those preferences might be. Some people could say they prefer ‘glugga’ just as well as saying ‘ze’.”

Progressive speech policing has moved off campus, in a trend as alarming as it is unsurprising. College and university speech codes conflating allegedly offensive speech and discriminatory conduct date back a quarter century. They partly reflect hostility toward unwelcome speech spawned by popular therapies of the 1980’s that equated verbal and physical abuse and by the feminist anti-porn movement, which equated pornography with rape and declared misogynist speech a civil rights violation.

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

By now, generations of students have been taught that unwelcome speech isn’t speech but discriminatory “verbal conduct;” these days, it’s even condemned as violence. (When I quoted the word “nigger” instead of referencing it by an initial during a panel on free speech while discussing Huck Finn, I was accused of committing an act of racial violence.) Who decides when speech is not speech but abusive or violent conduct? The offended listeners — if the listeners belong to disadvantaged groups. Their subjective reactions are the standard by which the right to speak is judged.

Again, this ideology dates back decades. So, the first wave of students to imbibe its lessons is entering middle age. Some have remained in academia, as faculty and administrators, partners in campus censorship. Others have assumed influential positions in the wider world, including the federal bureaucracy.

Under the direction of Catherine Llhamon, Amherst, ‘93, Yale Law, ‘96, the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has continued conflating sexual harassment (including speech) and sexual misconduct, while depriving accused students of due process rights in campus disciplinary proceedings.

Related: Feminist Censored from Censorship Panel

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, led by Vanita Gutpa, Yale, ‘96, NYU Law, 2001, recently issued a remarkable order to the University of New Mexico (a public institution) requiring it to violate the First Amendment by investigating instances of “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including the proverbial, “verbal conduct,” as harassment whether or not they “cause a hostile environment or are quid pro quo.” As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) observes, the university is required to investigate “all speech of a sexual nature that someone subjectively finds unwelcome, even if that speech is protected by the First Amendment.”

Censors Coming from ACLU Staff

It’s worth noting that both Llhamon and Gupta are former ACLU staff attorneys. (Gupta, who has an impressive record on criminal justice reform, was Deputy Legal Director in the national office.) Whatever values they absorbed at the ACLU did not, it seems, include a firm commitment to free speech (or, in Llhamon’s case, due process). Indeed, one measure of censorship’s embrace by progressives outside academia is the national ACLU’s relative silence in the face of the free speech crisis on and off campus.

Some state affiliates remain pockets of free speech advocacy, and (following early missteps) the national office has mounted strong challenges to security state abuses. But as Harvey Silverglate sadly observes, “The national ACLU Board and Staff are nowhere to be seen in the increasingly difficult battle to protect First Amendment freedom of expression rights. This is especially so in areas where the ACLU, more and more, pursues a political or social agenda.”

That agenda, and the equation of allegedly hateful speech — as defined by aggrieved listeners — with discriminatory conduct practically sanctifies the heckler’s veto. And it too is gaining acceptance off campus. In a thoughtful exchange at reason.com, Black Lives Matter organizer DeRay McKesson argues that the heckler’s veto is an exercise in free speech, worthy of protection. In this

view, the loudest voices win, I guess. “They always do,” hecklers might respond.

The Limits of Heckling

I don’t share this vision of free speech, although I understand it. If you believe the dominant discourse in your community systematically ignores your values and concerns, you may consider shouting it down your only option. But free speech can’t merely mean the right to say what people don’t mind hearing. And heckling doesn’t always, or often, stop at shouting, especially when metaphors about the “violence of the word” are taken literally, thus rationalizing violence in response to words.

Right-wing provocateur Milos Yiannopoulos was not just shouted down but assaulted during an appearance at DePaul University. As reason.com observed, students justified their violent actions by declaring that Yiannoloupos “spreads hate and violence.”

In its most extreme and virulent form, the heckler’s veto devolves into an assassin’s veto, and even that has evoked some measure of understanding from grown-up elites, who should surely know better. When PEN bestowed its 2015 Freedom of Expression Courage Award on the surviving staff at Charlie Hedbo, hundreds of PEN members protested. After issuing relatively perfunctory condemnations of murder, over 200 eminent writers sharply criticized Charlie Hedbo for satirizing disadvantaged, vulnerable groups of people.

“To the section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized, a population that is shaped by the legacy of France’s various colonial enterprises, and that contains a large percentage of devout Muslims, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering.”

Cartoonist Gary Trudeau joined in this excoriation of Charlie Hedbo’s murdered satirists: “By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died.”

These statements accusing Charlie Hedbo of verbal abuse and blaming it for the violent acts of an offended audience, read like excerpts from a college newspaper column justifying shout downs or assaults on a presumptively hateful speaker. They make clear that outside academia, some accomplished adults will join undergraduates in framing free speech as a potential source of oppression — a privilege or weapon used by the powerful to “silence” the relatively powerless.

Not surprisingly, corporate speech rights, on the increase, generate increasing concern. The political speech and associational rights of non-profit as well as business corporations are primary targets of progressive wrath (despite the fact that incorporated advocacy groups give voice to millions of ordinary people.) So are the rights of corporate “climate deniers” and associates. But, as the Charlie Hedbo protests showed, any individual or publication that speaks “offensively” from a perceived position of power is suspect.

Words are weapons, progressive censors argue, and they’re right, however inadvertently. Words are weapons; that’s why we protect them. Speech is the ideal weapon of non-violent political combat, most essential to the relatively powerless. Virtually every movement for social change has relied on politically weaponized speech, including today’s student protest and civil rights movements. Progressives might agree, if only elites would engage in some unilateral disarmament. “Power and prestige are elements that must be recognized in considering almost any form of discourse, including satire,” PEN’s Charlie Hedbo protesters insisted. “The inequities between the person holding the pen and the subject fixed on paper by that pen cannot, and must not, be ignored.”

Of course, progressives are not alone in supporting censorship. It is a non-partisan vice, evident today in across the aisle support for security state speech surveillance. The nation has also endured authoritarian assaults on dissent emanating primarily from the right, notably during 20th century red scares, which had particularly chilling effects in academia. Current conservative governors in Wisconsin and North Carolina have mounted controversial political attacks on state university systems, while the emerging Republican platform condemns pornography (whatever that is) as a “public menace” and calls for theocratic alignment of law with “God-given, natural rights” (as defined, I suppose, by Republicans.) I’ve focused on contemporary left wing censorship partly because it’s increasingly influential and partly because censorship is now embedded in the progressive ethos, as an essential weapon against inequality.

PEN’s protesters called for self-censorship, but demonizing speakers who fail to censor themselves effectively excuses and encourages their censorship by the state. (Gary Trudeau, for one, apparently approves of French laws criminalizing whatever authorities deem hate speech.) Students who protest offensive or presumptively traumatizing “verbal conduct” are indeed exercising their own speech rights, as they claim.

But in insisting that those rights require administrators to censor other people’s speech, they’re not exercising rights so much as seeking anti-democratic power. Progressive policymakers pledge allegiance to constitutional values and rights, while defining harassment broadly, according to the unpredictable, subjective reactions of any listeners labeled disadvantaged.

Old-fashioned liberals and civil libertarians do strongly contest this view of censorship as a civil right, but they seem a dwindling, aging minority — unlikely architects of the future. In providing constitutional protection to allegedly hateful speech, the U.S. is an outlier among Western nations. You have to wonder how long it will remain one.

Brexit Shows Ugly Side of British Universities

Censorious antics of ‘snowflake’ students have regularly made front-page news here in the UK. No longer. The momentous political fall-out from the June 23rd referendum, when a majority of citizens voted in favor of Britain leaving the European Union, has swept all other concerns aside. Whatever occurs in the coming months, whether ‘Brexit’ actually happens, or, as looks increasingly likely, the democratic will of the people is kicked into the long grass, the response to the referendum from within universities has had a devastating impact on academic freedom.

A Predetermined Position

My first indication that the debate around Brexit might be used to curtail free speech on campus came, ironically, after I gave a lecture on academic freedom. When I had finished speaking, the vice chancellor of the university thanked me but then went on talk about the institution’s perspective on the referendum. It surprised me that, despite making a rhetorical nod to the importance of debate, the most senior person in the university was prepared to advocate so forcefully for one particular political position. A week later, over coffee, a colleague confided that although he wanted to argue the case for Brexit publicly, he was concerned that this might have a negative impact upon his career.

It would be difficult to imagine universities, in the run up to a general election, publicly articulating a preference for one party over another, or urging staff and students to vote a certain way. But this is what happened in the run up to the referendum. Universities UK (UUK), an umbrella group representing the collective interests of the British higher education sector, launched its Universities for Europe campaign in July 2015. Its aim was to demonstrate how ‘the EU strengthens our already world-class higher-education system’ and to ‘promote powerful evidence and highlight compelling stories about the benefits of European Union membership’.

If an undergraduate sought ‘powerful evidence’ to prove an already determined political position they would, rightly, be criticized. An academic would be accused of blurring the lines between research and propaganda. Yet UUK expected scholarship to support a clearly defined agenda rather than simply contribute objective knowledge to a marketplace of ideas. If academic freedom is not formally curtailed, it certainly becomes more difficult to practice when intellectual contributions are not seen as competing claims of truth but as moral position statements.

Academics Fall in Line

When scholars first fought for the right to academic freedom it was precisely so that they could teach and argue for ideas that ran counter to the beliefs of university managers and benefactors. Today, the expectation that academics will fall in line with an institutional perspective on EU membership has passed virtually without comment. It has gone unchallenged because the overwhelming majority of academics share the opinion they were asked to support.

In the weeks prior to the referendum, a poll conducted by a British magazine, the Times Higher Education, suggested that 90 per cent of academics intended to vote to remain in the EU. As the referendum approached, a number of these scholars took to social media to declare ‘I don’t know anyone who is voting leave.’ Such statements were intended to summon up the collective might of academia, the assumption being that if all these clever people are voting remain then that must be the only reasonable course of action. Obviously, with hindsight, these bold declarations only emphasize how cut off some academics are from the general population.

The result of the referendum, a 52 per cent vote in favour of leaving the EU, reveals at a stroke the gulf between the political views of an academic class and the views held by the general population. This chasm, together with academia’s growing ideological homogeneity, is bad for both academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge. When one view dominates over all others then the voices challenging dominant perspectives and asking awkward questions of research data are silenced. Truth does not emerge from consensus, even if all members of the consensus have doctorates, rather it emerges from putting theories to the test and rigorous testing requires a plurality of perspectives.

Homogeneity Suppresses Knowledge

 The shock that many academics expressed upon hearing the referendum result provides a neat illustration of how political homogeneity acts to suppress knowledge. If British universities had acted less like an ideological bubble, then scholars may have been less surprised at the outcome and more aware of the factors influencing the leave vote.

Since the referendum result has been announced, rather than expressing humility at their ignorance of public attitudes, many academics have instead further pulled up the university ramparts. One professor has called the vote to leave a triumph of ‘xenophobia, fear, ignorance and nostalgia.’ Everywhere leave voters were charged with racism, xenophobia and ignorance. Yet this is despite the fact that polling conducted on the day showed the primary motivation for people deciding to vote leave was ‘the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK.’ Another highly respected survey, conducted a year before the referendum, showed that ‘the poorest and least educated were less likely than anyone else to think Brexit would reduce immigration.’

The sentiment some academics have expressed against leave voters has been ugly, unfounded and prejudiced. This was not just directed at voters from outside of universities but at the tiny minority of academics brave enough to declare publicly that they voted leave. One lecturer tells me she was yelled at in a corridor, another that colleagues have stopped speaking to him altogether. The danger now is that the 90 percent political consensus is turned into 100 percent ideological homogeneity as academics with opposing views are told that they are not welcome in academia.

How to Overcome the Referendum

Since the referendum, academics have been busy. Some, such as Professor A C Grayling, Master of the New College of the Humanities, have been demonstrating, signing petitions and writing letters ‘urging Parliament not to support a motion to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty’ or, in other words, campaigning to have the referendum result overturned. Others have been re-evaluating degree programs, exploring ways to make the promotion of European citizenship more explicit. But it is no more the role of academics to interfere in the democratic process than it is to instruct students in which values they should adopt.

After the referendum, British academics need to pause for thought. They urgently need to consider the consequences for academic freedom and the pursuit of knowledge of the emergence of an institutional perspective on the one hand and a growing political consensus on the other. Not all ideas are equally valid and the university provides an ideal place for testing opinions through debate. However, for debate to be meaningful a variety of views must be heard. Attempts to use higher education to mould a particular type of citizen, one who enacts values predetermined by an academic elite, can only ever lead to the stifling of debate through mindless conformity.