Tag Archives: free speech

Four Lessons for Professors from Recent Campus Tumult

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

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

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

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

Excerpted with permission from Heterodox Academy

Middlebury Student Government Says No to Free Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Do Free Speech Students Outnumber the Snowflakes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: The Seven Deadly Sins of Higher Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some New and Narrow Versions of Academic Freedom

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

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

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

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

Campus Life Not Like a Baseball Game

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

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

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

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

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

Up for Grabs for a Century

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Printed with permission from the National Association of Scholars

Do Free Speech Students Outnumber the Snowflakes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NYU Professor Sides with “Snowflakes” Against Free Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Radicals Stop a Rose Festival

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their Violence Is Free Speech, but Our Speech Is Violence

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

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

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

Excerpted from The American Spectator

Colleges Still Lack Integrity on Canceled Speeches

At Middlebury, where Charles Murray was prevented from speaking about the disintegrating white working class, college president Laurie Patton made some appropriate comments on the need for free speech. But her remarks seemed slightly out of focus, as if the crisis revolved around discord between two groups of students, not basic freedom of expression, and that the job of Middlebury was to help guide disputing factions into getting along.

In a March 4 statement to the campus, Patton wrote: “The protests and confrontations in response to Charles Murray’s appearance laid bare deep divisions in our community. The campus feels different than it did before. It will take time and much effort to come together, and what the future ultimately looks like may not be anyone’s ideal—at least not for a while. We have much to discuss—our differences on the question of free speech and on the role of protest being two of the most pressing examples.”

This is verbal dithering. Free speech is not a “question” for discussion. It’s an essential need of any college or university. Without free expression, a college or university becomes a seminary for the dominant campus faction. Or as liberal scholar Robert Reich, puts it, “colleges become playpens.” Patton calls for everyone to submit community-building ideas for consideration. Compare Patton’s meandering comments to this focused one from a column by John Daniel Davidson of the Federalist:

“Our college students have come to this impasse in large part because their parents, high school teachers, college professors, and school officials have all failed them. They have not only refused to instill in them a reverence for the First Amendment, they have taught them to despise the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the very things that protect their right to protest. In so doing, they have turned them into the thing they claim to despise most: fascists.”

Note that 65 of Middlebury’s professors signed a statement strongly backing free speech. Good. But that’s just one-fifth of the faculty; 240 didn’t sign. Nationally, faculties have not been a factor in supporting free speech. As in most issues of college decline, they have been quiet onlookers. Meanwhile, a few people on the left dream of a hate-speech exception to the First Amendment, or think the exception has already been made. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean tweeted on April 20, “Hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment.” He is quite wrong.

Another concern is the endless delay.  Patton warned that sorting out the facts of the March 2 shout-down of Murray would take time. Nine weeks later, with classes at Middlebury ending in mid-May, many are concerned about the administration running out the clock without suspending or expelling any of the perpetrators.

Since February 1, when violent and masked demonstrators, canceled Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley, starting fires, tossing Molotov cocktails, beating people in the crowd and giving at least two people concussions, we count ten campus speeches or events disrupted or canceled on campuses. The responses by the colleges and universities has been meek with little taste for standing up to the visiting thugs.

When Yiannopoulos attempted to speak at Berkeley, police kept inside a building making no attempt to take control while the riot proceeded outside. Primary administrators (Patton at Middlebury, Chancellor Nicolas Dirks at Berkeley) have let us know at length what they think of Murray and Yiannopoulos. But nobody cares what their opinions are, just that they will act responsibly to keep the peace and let free expression proceed.

Meeting no resistance, violent agitators are likely to push further each time, though the end of the school year may postpone increasingly disastrous behavior. But college administrations will have to change and defend their campuses. That will mean a willingness to make arrests, to expel anyone showing up for a campus talk in a mask, to film the disruptions and to make decisions on penalties before months of delay have passed.

The disruptions and violence aren’t going to fade without some show of resistance. Keep in mind that the University of Missouri, after offering no resistance to Ferguson-related riots on campus, had to close four of its dormitories because many fewer students cared to attend a university that couldn’t keep the peace.

The University of California, Berkeley, after canceling Anne Coulter’s scheduled speech and hearing that she was determined to deliver it on April 27, announced that she would have to deliver it on May 2, a dead time on the academic calendar. This is gamesmanship, showing only the university’s disdain for the speaker. Having flubbed the Yiannopoulos speech, the university plays games with the Coulter talk. When will the colleges and universities act with basic integrity?

DePaul—The Worst University for Free Speech?

In February, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) named DePaul University as one of the worst 10 universities for the protection of free speech. It was not the first time that DePaul has been on FIRE’s radar.  Most recently DePaul University was in the news for actions which have blocked conservative speakers and limited the ability of the College Republicans and the conservative student group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) to get their message out to the DePaul campus.

No Milo, No Shapiro

Over the summer DePaul denied permission for the conservative students to host a talk by Milo Yiannopoulos, the controversial Breitbart editor whose talk the previous spring at DePaul had been closed down by protesters. Permission to invite Ben Shapiro to give a talk in the fall was also denied, in this case, because of fears of disruptive protests.

At the start of the school year, the school administration required the DePaul Socialists to spend about $360 for security personnel because it featured a talk about Marxism. According to the administrators, the topic was controversial. A request to put up a poster advertising the College Republicans featuring the slogan Unborn Lives Matter was denied permission by the university which claimed it was an attack on the Black Lives Matter movement. In November at a talk by Christina Sommers, the conservative students arranged for Shapiro to attempt to join Sommers at the event. When he was blocked by campus police from joining the event, there was a prearranged walk out and reassembly at a nearby off- campus venue where Shapiro could be heard.

Fear of Chalkings

The latest round of conflicts started in April 2016, when conservative DePaul students chalked pro-Trump slogans around campus, including “Build the Wall,” “Blue Lives Matter,” “Stand with Israel,” “Abortion is Murder” and “Trump 16.” The following morning the chalkings had all been cleaned off, and the administration banned further chalkings on the grounds that they could threaten DePaul’s status as a tax-exempt 501 (3C) institution. In response, the conservative students arranged an on-campus talk by the Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos that was ended by rowdy protesters who wrested away his microphone and refused to let the event continue.

Administrators had forced the conservative students to pay a considerable fee for security. As the event unfolded, not only did the DePaul security not intervene to halt the disruption, but the university administration instructed police not to interfere. So conservative students had been forced to pay a lot of money for a security force that in essence participated in the cancellation of the event.

The protesting students used the social media response as the central point of their protest over the president’s handling of the issue. First, as reported by the school newspaper, he was widely criticized at a meeting with angry students. Later, at a meeting with faculty, he was viciously assailed by a group of activist professors, many of whom called for him to resign. Somehow, in the space of a few days, the student disrupters had gone from aggressors to victims and the conservative students had gone from victims to victimizers.

‘Too Conservative’

These events have not occurred in a vacuum. I recently retired from DePaul after 27 years, and I can say without hesitation that DePaul has a nasty habit of suppressing views which are considered “too conservative.” The university president disingenuously says that DePaul only forbids speech that is intended to wound.

There is an activist core of faculty and administrators who believe that the purpose of education is to instill a set of liberal talking points in its students. This is done through its hiring practices, both academic and administrative, its curriculum development, its regulation of student groups, and when pushed, through the outright suppression of contrary views.

The university president is quoted above in the school newspaper saying “As we experienced last spring, it’s not difficult to agree that there is a difference between a thoughtful discussion about immigration and a profane remark about Mexicans scrawled in the quad, or between a panel on racial climate and a noose — a powerful symbol of violence and hatred — outside a residence hall. In both recent cases, the first, we encourage; the second, we abhor.” With all due respect, this quote is a perfect example of a straw man argument. No group was asking permission to chalk up the sidewalk with bigoted slogans or place nooses in residence halls. What has been banned is Ben Shapiro who expresses conservative positions and a poster that borrowed its phrasing from the slogan “Black Lives Matter” to express opposition to abortion.

The recent events didn’t happen in a vacuum. DePaul has a long history of using its resources to promote one-sided positions on gun control, the Iraq War, American foreign policy, the Arab/Israeli conflict, gay rights, immigration, crime and police accountability. At times it has shown hostility towards students and faculty who run afoul of the prevailing campus orthodoxies. What has made DePaul stand out is there is no pretense of objectivity. There is an influential body of faculty and administrators who believe the core mission of the university is to promote what could be summed up as “The Progressive Agenda.” While they claim to be promoting dialogue on issues such as race and gender, the easy use of terms such as racist, homophobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, sexist, and ableist guarantee that there will never be an honest discussion of such issues.

DePaul’s free speech controversies over the years cannot be extracted from the political climate that has been promulgated as part of its mission.

An Urban Mission

I started teaching at DePaul in 1987, and though initially I heard comments about an urban mission, the school seemed basically normal. This began to change in 1990 with the acceptance of a several million dollar Lilly Foundation grant to develop programs in multiculturalism. In the fall of 1990, a series of workshops were held, mostly around themes of identity.

In June 1994, then President of DePaul Jack Minogue authorized the creation of a large task force (The Multiculturalism Committee or MIC) made up of faculty, administrators, and students, to make recommendations on how DePaul could start to infuse multiculturalism into all of its activities. On February 7, 1995, Minogue sent out a memo to the entire university community with the report of the MIC and a statement pledging the university to work to implement its recommendations.

The recommendations began with a discussion of how to define multiculturalism including the reports working definition:

Multiculturalism is an approach and praxis that seeks to eliminate prejudice and bias of any type, conscious or unconscious, individual or institutional, which serves as a barrier to the survival and self-determination of individuals and communities. For example, a multicultural approach to scholarship and teaching is one which gives priority to the inclusion of those communities and cultures which have been historically disenfranchised, oppressed or excluded; seeks to equalize unequal power relations between groups, and strives to lessen the disparity between the privileged and those less privileged. Reaffirming their humanity and cultures as creators of knowledge and makers of history, these communities then redefine power relations and as such forge the transformation of knowing and place.

Uprooting Prejudice

The report describe the committee’s task as “not to impose a new orthodoxy, but to uproot the traditions of prejudice, exclusion, bias, racism, classism, ageism and homophobia, embedded in the academy as a whole and within our respective fields, in part by advancing an agenda that is by definition constant and critical.”

An extensive set of recommendations followed that segmented into General recommendations, faculty subcommittee recommendations, student subcommittee recommendations, and staff subcommittee recommendations. The various subcommittee recommendations were further segmented into very specific timelines for implementations. There were, for example, a total of 35 recommendations from the student subcommittee, 25 for the first year alone.

Among the first year recommendation for faculty was the proposal to enhance opportunities for faculty needing protection (i.e., women, racial ethnic and religious groups; non-heterosexuals and the physically disabled) to participate on committees with authority to affect change in the institution or to advance to positions of leadership on specific committees; and include for participation those perceived as aggressive and/or radical.

The student recommendations for the first year included the demand that the student newspaper be used as a forum for making the DePaul community aware of issues facing students regarding multiculturalism, increase student aid and scholarship money for minority students, and add a question on the instructor/class evaluation form to inquire regarding the sensitivity of the instructor and the extent to which the course attempts to address multiculturalism. Among the 25 recommendations, the most Orwellian were to “offer financial incentives to the diverse populations through a mandatory, universal, ongoing and continuous program of training workshops and retreats which are sensitive to the different levels of awareness of university employees (faculty, staff, and students) and provide an opportunity for growth and development.

25 Recommendations

In his memo, essentially accepting the recommendations, President Minogue said, “The university is deeply indebted to the members and leadership of the Implementation Committee for their fine and timely work on bringing previous initiatives and work on multiculturalism and diversity within the DePaul community, as well as recommending new initiatives.” The faculty as a whole either approved of the recommendations or basically ignored them. A charitable assessment is that they were simply a way forward to make the university a more tolerant and inclusive place. A more cynical and probably mere realistic view is that the report was a recipe for dividing up the benefits that could be extorted from the university and distributed among a collection of “underrepresented” subgroups claiming various degrees of victim status.

To be fair, not everyone liked the recommendations. A guest column by two students in the student newspaper in March 1996 asked, “Is it just us or have others noticed DePaul’s secret agenda to divide us, masked as multiculturalism?” Their complaint was summed up by the statement “Multiculturalism is what an ideal world would be; tolerant of all people. DePaul’s version is exactly the opposite. It divides students into separate groups and magnifies their differences.”

The MIC report is a blueprint for how the culture of political correctness would come to dominate the handling of conflicts that involved questions about free speech. Almost all the PC insanity that has exploded on college campuses in the past couple of years-safe spaces, micro-aggressions, speech codes, diversity bureaucrats, freshman orientation indoctrination, diversity training- can be found in embryonic form in this document. Almost immediately, clashes with students over free speech started occurring.

In the spring of 1995, the school newspaper the DePaulia reported on an arrest at a dance sponsored by Housecall, a DePaul student organization sponsored by Multicultural Student Affairs that published a quarterly magazine centered on African American issues.  According to the police, the dance had been advertised on at least 16 area campuses as a “booty call.” The trouble started when two groups got into a conflict. Police were called, and two people were arrested. The DePaulia story quoted the police report that said when police arrived they “learned there were several fights and the crowd refused to leave.” Once again relying on the police report, the DePaulia article stated “after the reporting officers began to disperse the crowd, another fight ensued, and officers ‘observed several M/Bs [male blacks] throwing chairs and trash into the crowd.’”

In reaction to the story in the DePaulia, the Association of Black Students (ABS) demanded an apology from the student newspaper. The next edition of the paper covered the black students’ version of the event and published an editorial in which the newspaper stated, “We empathize with the people who were offended or felt that the article damaged the reputation of Housecall, as this was not our intent.” This response by the DePaulia did not satisfy some students who took it upon themselves to destroy the entire press run of the newspaper.

Punishing the School Newspaper

A letter that appeared in the paper the following week reported that the President of the university, Jack Minogue, stood and watched them do it and did nothing to stop them. The ABS then staged a sit-in in the DePaulia office. In a reversal of reality, the administration temporarily suspended publication of the newspaper, blamed the event on the staff of the DePaulia, punished the paper by forcing the staff to abandon their office in Lincoln Park and make do with facilities at the inconveniently located downtown campus, accept a faculty advisor for the following year, submit to diversity training and agree to publish an issue entirely devoted to diversity. The ABS students were given amnesty for their actions, letters were sent to faculty asking them to forgive any missed work by the sit-in participants and an administrative position was created for a director of diversity with a salary of around $70,000 per year.

In the aftermath of these events, there were numerous columns and editorials in the local newspapers criticizing DePaul for refusing to stand up for the freedom of the press. At DePaul, such criticism was muted, and for many who are still around, it is pointed to as a great step forward in the school’s mission of promoting inclusivity and social justice.

Over the next few years, a new liberal studies program included a menu of freshman seminars, a sophomore course in multiculturalism, a junior year experiential learning requirement and a senior year capstone course in the student’s major that would weave together the various threads of the program. Many of the first-year courses had themes of social justice. Of the first twenty freshman seminars in the program, I counted thirteen that were related to themes of race, gender or some other form of oppression

I volunteered to be on a committee that set guidelines and referred course proposals for the sophomore seminar in multiculturalism. In an email to the dean offering my services I told him I was concerned that critics of multiculturalism such as Shelby Steele and Christina Sommers would not be considered for the classes. I was told that my services would not be needed. At the time I was chair of the math department, and as such, I attended the monthly meeting of chairs and program directors run by the dean. In a discussion of how we award transfer credits, I asked what type of course would be accepted as transfer credit for the sophomore seminar. The dean exploded and screamed at me “you’re the chair of the committee, you decide.” In retrospect, I should have simply immediately walked out; but I sat there, and the meeting proceeded without getting an answer to my question. The point was made that questioning the appropriateness of the school’s social justice agenda would not be taken kindly.

The political climate at DePaul would be on full display following the events of 9/11. In the wake of the attacks on the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and United 93, the DePaul administration reacted by sending a series of emails to the entire DePaul community warning about blaming Muslims for the attacks. In language that included reference to the internment of the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, it reserved its concern for the possibility that someone might make an insulting remark to one of the DePaul students of Arab background.

On 9/13, two days after the destruction of the Trade Center, the political science department held a forum that advertised itself as getting to the deeper meaning of the events. What actually occurred at the forum was one faculty member after another getting up to denounce American foreign policy as the cause of the attacks. The forum was attended by a large crowd including many of the college’s administrators who applauded loudly as the newly appointed visiting professor of political science, Norman Finkelstein, said that “difficult as it was, it was important to empathize with the hijackers” and “Americans care only about their consumer products.” I eventually stood up and yelled “God Bless America, Goddamn DePaul” and walked out.

Three years later, at a student activity fair at the start of the school year, an adjunct professor at the school for New Learning, Tom Klocek, got into an argument with a group of students from the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). They were handing out leaflets claiming that Rachel Corrie had been deliberately murdered by an Israeli bulldozer when she lay down in front of it to prevent it from destroying tunnels used to smuggle terrorists into Israel. To put the event in context, one week before this event, there had been several horrifying terrorist attacks including the slaughter of 350 school children in Beslan, the blowing up of two Russian airplanes in midflight and a bomb placed on the Moscow subway. In response, El Arabiya published a statement decrying Muslim violence against others that included the widely quoted statement “that while not all Muslims are terrorists, it is extremely painful that almost all terrorists are Muslim.”

Upon encountering the SJP leaflet, Klocek got into an argument with the students about who was responsible for the violence in Israel. In response to the students comparing actions of the IDF to those of Nazi Germany, Klocek quoted the comment from Al Arabiya. Further arguing ensued, Student Affairs was alerted, and Tom made a gesture of flicking his thumb under his chin and left. The students complained that their ethnicity and religion had been insulted and Tom was suspended with pay for the rest of the quarter and a letter was sent to the DePaul community mentioning that there had been a couple of incidents of DePaul not living up to its values. I wondered what that was about until an article was published in the DePaulia describing the incident and its aftermath. A week later the dean of the School for New Learning, published a letter in the DePaulia apologizing to the students for the incident.

One year later the DePaul Cultural Center, an entity created as part of the response to the MIC recommendations, sponsored a two-day event that featured Ward Churchill lecturing to students about diversity. The DePaul Conservative Alliance (DCA) was upset about the school spending a good deal of money to bring in Churchill for an official DePaul administratively sponsored activity to educate students. They confronted the director of the center rather aggressively about their choice of speaker. They also got a letter from the governor of Colorado suggesting that Ward Churchill was not an appropriate person for the school to sponsor. The DePaul Conservative Alliance put up posters with some of Churchill’s quotes, and they were removed by Student Affairs who claimed that they violated a school policy against propaganda (no such policy ever existed). The DCA was banned from the workshop with Churchill.

In the winter quarter of 2016, the DCA staged an affirmative action bake sale in which they set up a table in the student center and sold cookies with different prices that were determined by whether the students were male or female, white or black, an obvious satire of affirmative action. This was done by a women’s liberation group in the 1970’s to protest unequal pay for women. This bake sale was shut down by Student Affairs, and the DCA was banned from using university facilities for a year because they had not informed Student Affairs of the political nature of their event.

Shortly afterward, DePaul was hit by an apparent hate crime hoax in which the campus was vandalized by racial and anti-Semitic graffiti that included a comment that it was “brought to you by the College Republicans.” It was generally assumed that the graffiti was a hoax, an attempt to frame the College Republicans, perhaps in response to the bake sale.

As a result of these events, FIRE picked out DePaul as one of the worst violators of free speech among all universities and colleges in the US. DePaul received two separate awards for being among the most politically correct institutions. Its president, Dennis Holtschneider, was named as the second worst college president for protecting free speech rights.

During spring quarter, 2008, a group of conservative students brought a speaker from the citizen border patrol group, the Minutemen, to campus. In response to widespread criticism of the impending talk, the school administration imposed a $2500 fee for security at the event. In addition, they changed the location three times, banned media from attending and capped the audience at 200. At the event, a large crowd of protesters paraded outside including one with a sign calling one of the student organizers a fascist.

In the fall of 2008, Natan Sharansky was invited to speak on campus. The sponsors of the group were asked to provide a copy of his speech in advance which they did not do. However, the administration insisted that they be shown a copy of the introductory remarks to be made by a student speaker. Later on in the year, during the spring quarter, 2009, the announcement of a speaker from Israel to talk about rocket attacks on southern Israel included a plan to display an unarmed Qassam rocket to help illustrate what the Jewish state was up against. This prompted a letter to the DePaul faculty from nine student groups asking them to prevent the use of the rocket as a prop.they Nine student groups on the left argued that the weapon would be dangerous both physically and emotionally even though it would not actually have been armed. Secondly, they argued that it would support the Israeli side of the Arab/Israeli conflict without input from the Palestinian side.

In January 2013 Kristopher Del Campo and other pro-life students received permission from the university to erect a pro-life display featuring 500 flags. The flags representing aborted babies were displayed on an open area central to the DePaul campus. A group of students from a gender studies class vandalized the flags, throwing many of them into a trash basket.

The university’s public safety department investigated and identified 13 students who confessed to the crime and admitted that their actions were inappropriate. Those names were then published online. Del Campo was then charged by the university for releasing the names and found guilty by the university on two counts – “Disorderly, Violent, Intimidating or Dangerous Behavior to Self or Others” and “Judicial Process Compliance.” Once again, a way was found to turn the conservative student victims into oppressors and the offending pro-choice students into victims.

The Free Speech Task Force

In response to the controversy around the Klocek matter and the bake sale, DePaul created a free speech task force to try to reconcile the need to preserve a community that allows for vigorous uncensored speech and the demands of some to prevent speech that they deem offensive. The committee came up with a proposal that was a vigorous defense of free speech. Unfortunately, a subcommittee of the Presidents Diversity Council (PDC) claimed that they were the ones who decided speech policy and managed to intimidate the task force into rescinding its proposal. One of the task force members, a student Nick Hahn, published two articles in Frontpage Magazine, here and here that described what happened to the task force’s proposal As a result, hysteria followed in which Nick Hahn was denounced for violating confidentiality, the PDC subcommittee members declared they felt unsafe and threatened, Nick was kicked off the task force and the whole attempt to guarantee free speech rights was abandoned. In the recent DePaul discussions about the Milo incident, there are numerous references to the free speech task force, all from the perspective of the people who sabotaged it.

As regards the current controversies at DePaul over free speech, the administration is sponsoring an ongoing series of discussions on the issue of race and free speech. Some of its recent efforts can be seen here and here. The school has also assembled a group to look at considering university policy regulating speech. Needless to say, some of the biggest opponents of free speech are now on this new task force.

DePaul’s Political Climate

In light of the numerous times DePaul has been on the radar of FIRE, an obvious question to ask is why. Was there something unique about DePaul’s culture that made it particularly prone to attacks on free speech? DePaul is a Catholic school with a student body that comes from backgrounds that are not particularly liberal. Chicago is firmly in the camp of the Democratic Party but Chicago Democrats are not especially left-wing. Is DePaul more politically left than other colleges and universities? Clearly, it is overwhelmingly liberal but no more so than hundreds of other schools.

Many schools recently have had their fair share of attacks on free speech. In many cases, the administrative weakness has wittingly or unwittingly enabled disruption of talks given by conservative speakers and in some cases led to infringement on the political rights of conservative student groups. In most cases administrators have operated out of a kind of cowardice, believing that the disrupters are best off appeased rather than confronted. DePaul is different because much of the political bias is coming from the administration itself.

What struck me as unique about DePaul is that the administration made no effort to conceal its political biases. Rather, it reveled in them. In its public relations, it displayed great pride in producing public intellectuals, faculty who contributed their views to local media or gave talks in the community. Invariably, while such activity was described as using expertise to contribute public service, it was generally representative of a strong liberal agenda. In its hiring practices, there was an emphasis on hiring women and minorities as well as a preference for those whose research agendas contained the buzz words of gender, race and class. In addition, the school was very proud of its choice of very liberal graduation speakers because they helped advance the university’s mission.

There was a tremendous push to promote multiculturalism. Money was allocated to create a variety of programs and centers that were identity oriented. Administrative staff was hired to support agendas associated with identity. This sounds relatively benign. Minority cultures make up part of the United States. In some ways, we are a nation of minority subcultures. But at DePaul, multiculturalism was always centered on grievance.

There is a problem with this approach. It becomes difficult to criticize minorities. From this point of view, their grievances are real, particularly historically, and so people don’t really have the right to comment on them unless their comments reinforce an appropriate narrative. When conservative students confronted the director of the Cultural Center about spending a lot of money to bring in Ward Churchill to educate DePaul students about diversity, they were deemed bigots. When they staged a protest of affirmative action, they were told they were racist. When pro-life students on the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade put up flags to protest all the abortions since the Supreme Court decision, they must have been anti-women. Hence, after students outraged by the flag display vandalized their protest, a way was found to make the pro-life students the villains rather than those who destroyed their flags.

Tracing events at DePaul all the way back to the Lilly Foundation grant and the recommendations of the Multicultural Implementation Committee in the mid-90s, one can see the conflict between the administration and its conservative students as driven by a political agenda. It is a view that sees the world as separated into protected classes and their oppressors. Over the years the school has developed rules regarding various forms of harassment. These guidelines are codes which essentially say that in conflicts between a member of a protected class and its opposite, favor the member of the protected class.

When the university administrators say they are banning Milo from speaking on campus because he is a provocateur who strives to wound rather than persuade, they are being disingenuous. They banned Ben Shapiro as well as Milo. Though Holtschneider acknowledged that the differences with Shapiro were basically political rather than his style, he was banned anyway because they were afraid of more disruptions. The bottom line is that speech codes, anti-harassment rules and regulations concerning speakers are about political repression. Conservative students understand this very well.

Shouting Down Speakers—a Regular, Organized Campus Business

Last week a mob of chanting students prevented author Heather Mac Donald from speaking at Claremont McKenna College. After the students prevented entrance to the assembly hall, Mac Donald managed to give her talk by remote livestream for a while, until police cut her short out of concern for security; students had discovered her whereabouts and blocked all exits to the building. A noted author on a wide range of subjects (and former colleague of mine at the Manhattan Institute), Mac Donald has drawn particular ire of late by defending police departments against claims of racism brought by the Black Lives Matter movement.

Will the Colleges Even Try to Cope?

The campus attacks on speech are getting bolder and more organized, aren’t they? The night before Claremont, Mac Donald’s speech at UCLA had been disrupted, though with less physical obstruction. At Middlebury College last month, the assault on the American Enterprise Institute’s Charles Murray came near to injuring him and did injure faculty member Allison Stanger. Nor are conservatives the only targets: last month Princeton philosopher Peter Singer was shouted down at the University of Victoria, in Canada, by disabled-rights activists accusing him of “able-ism.”

Having long ago tired of hearing apologies for such attacks on speech, I’m also tired of efforts to dismiss them as scattered incidents blown out of proportion. “You keep talking about six or eight episodes but there are thousands of campuses.” Think of all the books we aren’t burning!

In Britain, where “no-platforming” has been going on for some years, they’re franker about these things: of course, it’s an organized movement with goals. Early on the distinction began to blur between urging campus officials to disinvite someone, and physically preventing them from speaking once invited. By now it is accepted that the goal of no-platforming is to stop hated figures from speaking not just on campus but to audiences more broadly — before public assemblies, on broadcast media, you name it.

They Won’t Even Debate Free Speech

Rather than equivocating on the question of whether their adversaries should be free to be heard in public debate, student activists will now just flatly say no, they shouldn’t. (This is beginning to happen in America too.) And once “direct action” against wrongheaded speakers comes to be accepted, the terrible trio of institutional risk aversion, security expenses, and insurance considerations tends to do most of the rest of the practical work in disposing of targeted speakers.

At Claremont, as at some other campuses in comparable episodes, there has been bold talk of consequences. “Blocking access to buildings violates College policy,” announced Claremont McKenna president Hiram Chodosh. “CMC students who are found to have violated policies will be held accountable.”

Well, that’s good. But if the script runs as before, his comment will stand in retrospect as the peak of any tough administrative response by the institution.

The working partnership between college administrators and security personnel, while successful in this instance at preventing injuries, will not turn out to have been optimally structured to gather the evidence needed for either criminal charges (should any be pressed) or college disciplinary action.

The College Censors Have Lawyers

The in-house process of investigation and discipline will be slow, while the national spotlight moves on. Affluent parents will hire lawyers to minimize consequences. The wider campus community of faculty and administrators, assuming it was privately on board with a hard line to begin with, will wobble. Time is on the disrupters’ side.

What’s particularly notable is that the Claremont action was planned in large part openly, on Facebook and other social media posts with visibility levels set to “public.” “Bring your comrades, because we’re shutting this down,” declared a Facebook event shared not only among students but by officially supported campus organizations like Pitzer Advocates for Survivors of Sexual Assault. (Pitzer is one of the five Claremont colleges.)

A training session for “accomplices” to the action was announced for the Scripps Student Union (Scripps is another of the five) with the advice, “For white accomplices: Please keep in mind that your role at this protest, aside from acting in solidarity with POC students at the 5Cs, particularly Black students, is to serve as a buffer between students of color and the police. That means, if the police come, it is imperative that you stay at the protest with fellow accomplices and engage with cops should it come to that.”

Training sessions for disrupters and allies are an important element of direct action, and they usually follow formulas closely informed by lawyerly knowledge of how to skirt the line of later-provable illegality. (Just because persons showed up in response to a call to “shut down” a speaker, can you prove they’re an unlawful assembly?) With the players prepared ahead of time, lucrative counter-claims can also be generated should police or authorities respond with too much force or the wrong kind of it or with the wrong timing.

Even if it doesn’t come to that, the university may find it difficult to establish precisely which students were responsible for what — and in this context, unlike that of a Title IX trial, federal agencies will not be in the background pushing for the use of standards more favorable to guilt-finding. Video evidence, if it exists, will be scantier than one might wish; reportedly angry demonstrators rushed student journalists from the conservative Claremont Independent whom they saw trying to videotape the events.

Why Not Ban Direct-Action Training?

If the will and the staying power were there, universities could fight back. Given advance word of an attempt to shut down speech, as they had in this case, they could make sure experienced videographers were there under university sponsorship to document what happened for the sake of both guilty and innocent. They could declare direct-action training (including for “accomplices”) contrary to university policy and deny meeting space to it. They could note as evidence students’ social-media promotion of calls for disruption, and strip university funding and official recognition from groups that openly promote such actions.

Failing such will, this is not going to stop with Mac Donald, Murray, Singer, or whoever is the next target after that, or the next, or the next.

Walter Olson is senior fellow at the Cato Institute

A UCLA Law Professor Spills the Beans on Free Speech

Our friends at Reason.com and Reason Magazine share many of  MTC’s concerns, not the least of which is the threat to free speech, sanctioned by America’s colleges and universities. They invited Eugene Volokh, a professor of free speech law at UCLA to speak at Reason Weekend, the annual even held by Reason Foundation.

Reason says, “Volokh believes free speech and open inquiry, once paramount values of higher education, are increasingly jeopardized by restrictive university speech codes. Instead of formally banning speech, speech codes discourage broad categories of human expression. ‘Hate speech. Harassment. Micro-aggressions,’ Volokh says. ‘Often they’re not defined. They’re just assumed to be bad, assumed they’re something we need to ban.'”

Edited by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Meredith Bragg.

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.