Tag Archives: free speech

Will Princeton Change Its Name?

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

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

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

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

princeton-man-out

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

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

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

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

And how about the sexist “Prince” in Princeton?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, One Major Campus Condemns Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces

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

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

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

Related: The New Age Of Orthodoxy Overtakes The Campus

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

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

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

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

Pundit Wages War on Campus Correctness, 2001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words You Just Can’t Say in Houston

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

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

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

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

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

Progressive Policing of Speech Moves Off Campus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Feminist Censored from Censorship Panel

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

Censors Coming from ACLU Staff

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

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

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

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

The Limits of Heckling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit Shows Ugly Side of British Universities

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

A Predetermined Position

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

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

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

Academics Fall in Line

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

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

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

Homogeneity Suppresses Knowledge

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

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

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

How to Overcome the Referendum

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

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

Liberals Who Drifted Toward the New Illiberalism

Liberal. Progressive.  Liberal progressive.  Progressive liberal.  Radical.  Social democrat.  Democratic socialist.  Occupiers.  Social justice warriors.

What do we call today’s leaders of the political left?  Where do they stand in the eye of history?  Answering these questions resembles sometimes trying to grab an eel with your bare hand.  Most likely it will slip away, but it may bite as well.

Related: The Strange World of Social Justice Warriors

Kim Holmes, a historian who served as assistant secretary Closing of Liberal Mindof state under Colin Powell, has undertaken an ungloved eel-hunt in The Closing of the Liberal Mind (Encounter, 2016).  It is not an entirely thankless task in that there are those of us who will thank him.  (Thank you, Dr. Holmes.)  But a book such as this will win no friends in places such as The New York Times or The Chronicle of Higher Education, which are among those who insist that today’s leftist priorities are the plain extension of the same principles that animated the leftist priorities of past generations of liberal activists.  Holmes opposes that narrative.

Holmes’ thesis is that “progressive liberals” are not “really liberals,” but are “postmodern leftists.”  The eel is touched.  What, in turn, is a “postmodern leftist”?  The postmodern part, says Holmes, is the belief that “ethics are completely and utterly relative” and human knowledge is whatever people say it is.  (Truth, fantasy, error, and lies flow together in the endless stream of consciousness.)  The “leftist” half of “postmodern leftist,” in Holmes’ unpacking, is “radical egalitarianism” along with “sexual and identity politics and radical multiculturalism.”

Related: The Power of Buzzwords like ‘Dispositions’ and ‘Social Justice’

This is certainly a serviceable definition.  One could—and Holmes does from time to time—annex other pieces of the left’s core agenda.  Let’s not forget sustainability and radical environmentalism, or the apocalyptic element in the left’s agenda; or transnationalism (turning us all into “citizens of the world”); or radical feminism’s war on marriage and the family; or the numerous importations from Marxism.  How much of the “postmodern leftism” is the legacy of Barack Obama, and how much was Barack Obama just the cork floating on the wave of postmodern leftism?  Holmes starts with the easier clarification that the two go together.  Postmodern leftism is “the predominant worldview of Barack Obama’s Democratic Party.”  That seems to me an objective truth of the sort postmodern eels squirm away from.  Holmes sets himself the task of holding on tight.

Two Closings: Bloom and Holmes

The Closing of the Liberal Mind echoes Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, but while Bloom put his primary emphasis on the university as the door-closer, Holmes sees a whole army of door-slammers at work as much in the media and politics as on campus.  But as this is Minding the Campus, I will attend to just the academic portion of his argument.

Holmes’ point of departure is the 18th century Enlightenment, which he divides into the “moderate” Enlightenment (Locke, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, the American Revolution) and the “radical” Enlightenment (Spinoza, Bayle, Diderot, Rousseau, the Reign of Terror, socialism, communism, and postmodern ideas of egalitarianism.)  This is an important distinction that is familiar to readers of intellectual history but Holmes presents it lucidly for readers who aren’t.  The line from Spinoza’s 17th century materialism to today’s academic ascendency of leftist utopians passes through the New Left of the 1960s.

A large part of the story Holmes tells is how the New Left revived the radical egalitarianism of the radical Enlightenment and gave it a new home on the college campus, where it shortly found its postmodernist component in the likes of French theorists such as Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault.  It also found its anti-liberal lodestars in Frankfurt School Marxists such as Marcuse and Adorno.  The cast of relevant characters is large, but Holmes is excellent in pinning them to their places in the story of how old-style American liberalism, with its emphasis on liberty and individual rights, transformed to the new-style postmodern leftism, with its emphasis on conformity, control, and group identity.

As an analyst of the contemporary university, Holmes’ great strength is, perhaps paradoxically, his decision not to lean too heavily on campus developments themselves.  For example, his explanation of the rise of multiculturalism puts as much emphasis on the residue of the “legal realist” movement of the 1920s, which attacked the ideal of legal neutrality and the notion of “general principles,” in favor of a view of law as essentially arbitrary.

As Holmes sees it, legal realism was the nihilistic blade that cleared the ground for feminists and other radical identity theorists to turn the law into a tool of their political agenda.  Without the radical multiculturalist legal theorists who moved into this vacuum, “there would be no talk of ‘hate speech’ or ‘hate crimes’” and “no expansive judicial interpretations of Title IX to force universities to act like courts in rape cases.”

The drift from liberalism towards illiberalism, Holmes says, is partially explained by the emergence of a new ruling class distinguished by “cultural habits.” He refers to David Brooks’ term for Baby Boomers who grow rich but persist in thinking of themselves as cultural outsiders, “bourgeois bohemians,” and he updates Brooks with Charles Murray’s characterization of the “cognitive elite” who dominate the professions.

These folks “think alike” and “live in the same kind of places, eat and dress alike, watch the same movies, read the same blogs and news sites, and listen to the same radio programs (All Things Considered, not The Rush Limbaugh Show.)” And they attend America’s elite universities. “The result is a high correlation between elite education and wealth. Murray observes that 31 percent of Wesleyan University graduates, for example, live in what he calls ‘Superzips’—the wealthiest zip codes in America based on median family income and education—and 65 percent live in zip codes at the 80th percentile or higher.”

This aristocracy plainly sees itself as superior to everyone else and Holmes says it is “ruthless” in maintaining its position. But members of this elite also “fashion themselves as hip advocates of equality.” The paradox has grown old.  Tom Wolfe’s depiction in Radical Chic of Leonard Bernstein’s posturing to a leader of the Black Panthers as angry about his own wealth and privilege goes back to 1970.  I pick up today’s New York Times to read in the letters a declaration from someone who says, “I, too, am a white male and work every day to overcome how I was raised, to recognize that I am not entitled to superior rights because I was born a white male of European heritage.” The moral vanity of people who say this sort of thing is the real enunciation of their elite standing.  Instilling that vanity is the principal work of elite colleges, which teach this exquisite form of self-regard far more effectively than they teach the heritage of Western civilization or the substance of any particular subject.

The subtitle of Holmes’ book is “How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left.”  Because the motherlode of groupthink and intolerance is the contemporary American university, Holmes has bright and shining examples by the truckload of such academic devilment.  Many of these are familiar, e.g. the Rolling Stone University of Virginia rape hoax and Marquette University’s effort to unseat tenured professor John McAdams. But even the familiar stories of academic groupthink and intolerance gain from Holmes’ careful contextualization.

The Closing of the Liberal Mind is a synthesis that comes along at the just the right political moment.  As we ponder the shift in American culture that has made avowed socialist Bernie Sanders the most popular presidential candidate among college students and that has kept Hillary Clinton afloat on a platform of feminist exceptionalism, we are in need of some sober thinking about the decline of the old liberal tradition.  Postmodern leftism is a threat not just to higher education but to our Constitutional republic.  It may not be the only threat, but it is one that deserves focused, historically informed, and intellectually precise attention.  Holmes has reached into the basket of eels and given us that.

4 Well-Known Universities With No Integrity

In a Commentary essay earlier this spring, I argued that universities’ response to the 2015-2016 campus protests can be seen, in part, through the lens of faculty and administrators sharing the protesters’ diversity-obsessed goals, if not agreeing with them on tactics. A recent protest from Dartmouth confirmed the point.

Sometimes, campus speech issues are complicated. This one wasn’t. The Dartmouth College Republicans, following college rules, requested access to a bulletin board, where they posted items with the theme of “Blue Lives Matter.” The move coincided with National Police Week.

Related: DE PAUL FAILS FREE SPEECH AGAIN

In response, “Black Lives Matter” protesters tore down the Republicans’ posters, put up posters that reflected their political viewpoints, and “occupied” the area around the bulletin board to prevent the College Republicans from re-posting their original material. The College Republicans went to the administration throughout the day to ask for assistance in replacing their posters, but were rebuffed. The administration, apparently fearful of confronting the students engaged in a heckler’s veto, informed the Republicans they’d have to wait a day; when the building was shut down in the overnight hours, the hecklers’ posters would be removed. Dartmouth administrators followed up with a statement forcefully condemning the removal of the posters—but without any indication of punishment. Nor was there any indication of Dartmouth devoting additional resources to free speech. This type of non-effect would have been inconceivable if the “Blue Lives Matter” students had torn down the “Black Lives Matter” students’ poster.

The student activists remained defiant. In an open letter, they remarked, “We acknowledge that many of you are concerned about the question of free speech. However, one hundred students’ disapproval for ‘Blue Lives Matter’ does not constitute a disregard for free speech, nor does it condemn policemen who have died in the line of duty. What it does constitute is a concern for anti-blackness on this campus and nationwide.”

Related: TITLE IX TRAMPLES FREE SPEECH AND FAIRNESS, SO NOW WHAT?

Again: the student protesters took down posters with which they disagreed, and, on a bulletin board temporarily designated to the College Republicans, put up posters that reflected the protesters’ point of view. If that doesn’t “constitute a disregard for free speech,” it’s hard to imagine what could.

Missouri

The campus that triggered the fall protests was the University of Missouri, where the highest-profile defender of the protests, ex-Professor Melissa (“muscle”) Click was back in the news last week. The AAUP produced a report faulting the University of Missouri for its slipshod procedure in firing Click. I agree.

But then the AAUP offered the following conclusion: “[W]e doubt whether Professor Click’s actions, even when viewed in the most unfavorable light, were directly and substantially related to her professional fitness as a teacher or researcher.” This statement is astonishing. Recall, again, the context: on the campus quad—a public area of the university—Click called for “muscle” against a University of Missouri student. How could such conduct possibly not be directly related to her position as a teacher? And, again, imagine the unlikelihood of the AAUP in reaching this conclusion if the facts had been reversed—if, say, a white male professor, an advisor of the Mizzou Republicans, had called for “muscle” against a black student journalist.

Rutgers

One of the most perceptive analyses of the fall 2015 protests came from Robert Tracinski. Writing in The Federalist, Tracinski observed, “The more you read through the students’ demands, the more they look curiously like a full-employment program for the faculty who just happen to be egging on these naive youngsters.” The demands, he noted, read “less like a manifesto of student revolutionaries, and more like a particularly aggressive salary negotiation. But this is not about higher pay for all faculty members. Notice in the middle the emphasis on “specialty positions,” we are defined as “faculty who work on critical issues related to social justice.” So it’s a special sinecure for those with the correct political agenda.”

Tracinski’s observations came to mind when reading a Chronicle piece earlier this month involving a tenure case at Rutgers. The basics: Rutgers denied tenure to an African-American professor of communications, Jennifer Warren. Warren came up for tenure without a book. And her teaching evaluations had recently declined. According to the article, Warren seems to have blamed both developments on guidance she received from her department. But on paper, it hardly seems outrageous to see a quality research institution like Rutgers deny tenure to a professor without a book, and with falling evaluations in the classroom.

Related: IS YALE USING TITLE IX TO TRUMP FREE SPEECH?

Nonetheless, the tenure denial triggered protests, holding signs with such sayings as “RU for Black Tenure.” (Imagine the outrage if students carried signs demanding “RU for White Tenure.”) And then, according to the Chronicle, “Several days after the students’ rally, Ms. Warren received good news: She had won her grievance hearing and would have another shot at tenure, in the spring of 2017.”

The article supplies no additional information regarding the contents of Warren’s grievance, or the substance of the appeals decision. This incomplete record leaves two options: (1) Warren’s department committed an unspecified major procedural error, and it fortunately was caught in a university appellate process. (2) After denying tenure to someone whose scholarly and teaching credentials the university had deemed insufficient, Rutgers reversed itself to appease the protesters. The statement from the head of the Rutgers faculty union didn’t inspire confidence: “Students are driven to involvement,” said he, “in a sense of desperation because they’re seeing that percentage go down in a microcosm. What they see in Jennifer Warren’s case is the black-faculty percentage falling instead of rising.”

That might well be true. But a decline in the percentage of black faculty doesn’t constitute a procedural violation.

Amherst

The New York Times has been all but hermetically sealed, ideologically, in covering campus events in recent years. Its one-sided approach to due process and campus sexual assault has matched its fawning, uncritical coverage of the 2015-2016 campus protests.

But even against that standard, a recent column from Frank Bruni stood out. It offered the administration of Amherst’s Biddy Martin as a model for other schools to follow in the quest for student diversity. That would be the same Biddy Martin whose administration has presided over what is likely the most egregious sexual assault trial since issuance of the Dear Colleague letter, and who proposed a new campus speech code modeled on the anti-due process approach Amherst has used for sexual assault. The idea that Amherst would be the model for anything is absurd.

Yet none of these controversies are mentioned by Bruni. He even gives column space to Martin to allow her to suggest her administration isn’t obsessed with only the usual types of campus diversity: “The college’s president told me that one of her current passions is to admit more military veterans, who bring to the campus abilities, experiences and outlooks that other students don’t possess.”

How many veterans has Amherst admitted in the past three years? Bruni can’t find the space to reveal the total.

De Paul Fails Free Speech Again

Black protesters and their allies shut down a speech by a conservative gay activist at DePaul University in Chicago last night. That’s not news, of course– it’s just what the campus left does.

The news is that the security guards hired for $1000 to protect the speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos (after, he says, they threatened to let demonstrators cancel the talk if he didn’t pay), just stood around and made no effort to ward off the protesters.

This is an interesting breakthrough in college treatment of speakers: two separate levels of incompetence in protecting free speech. Neither the campus guards nor the hired Hessians did anything. We look to the president of DePaul–the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider–to get the money returned, reprimand the campus guards for also doing nothing, apologize for the neglect, and make sure the speaker is re-invited as part of the required apology.

No—just kidding. President Holtschneider is, by reputation, one of the shakiest defenders of free speech at large on America’s censorship-minded campuses.

In 2006, Holtschneoder was co-winner of the annual Sheldon given for worst college president of the year. Holtschneider scored a rare triple in the campus censorship sweepstakes:

1) Cracking down on a satiric affirmative action bake sale like the ones routinely sponsored on many other campuses.

2) Suspending an instructor without a hearing or even notification of charges after a testy out-of-class argument with pro-Palestinian and Muslim activists.

3) Making an unusually strange move after pro-choice students ripped up an administration-approved anti-abortion exhibit, he penalized the pro-lifers for posting the names of the 13 pro-choicers who admitted destroying the display.

Penalizing the wrong party is a familiar move in the Sheldon competition and is deeply admired by judges. Sheldon Hackney, for whom the Sheldon is named, set the standard there: when an entire press run of the school paper was stolen at Penn because it contained a column opposing affirmative action, Hackney penalized not the thieves, but the campus guard who caught them.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said Holtschneider talks a good game on free speech but doesn’t deliver on the promises.

Holtschneider is now in position to contend for his second Sheldon, which is like getting into the Hall of Fame twice. But he will have to keep failing at his regular rate. Competition is so keen.

Let’s Reject This Endorsement of Free Speech on Campus

Today in the Wall Street Journal, an op-ed by Michael Bloomberg and Charles Koch explains “Why Free Speech Matters on Campus.”

Many conservatives might jump to endorse this article as a welcome indictment of liberal censorship and bias by two powerful campus donors. But that would be a mistake.  Look more closely at what Bloomberg and Koch are saying.  

Whether in economics, morality, politics or any other realm of study, progress has always depended upon human beings having the courage to challenge prevailing traditions and beliefs.

Got that?  Prevailing traditions and beliefs are a hindrance to progress. They are the obstacles to overcome. We must stand up to them, and that means saying things people are going to find uncomfortable. Bloomberg and Koch say nothing about education as the focusing of young minds on religious, political, and artistic traditions.  Nothing about how you cannot “challenge prevailing traditions and beliefs” intelligently until you have studied those things.  No, it’s all about innovation and reform and progress.

Bloomberg and Koch’s examples show how misguided is the approach.

Many ideas that the majority of Americans now hold dear–including that all people should have equal rights, women deserve the right to vote, and gays and lesbians should be free to marry whom they choose–were once unpopular minority views that many found offensive.

This is the standard justification, and it’s a misleading one.  It overlooks a giant contrary category: things that came along and were hailed as forms of progress but sooner or later exposed as terrible mistakes.  Some instances: early-20th-century eugenics, open classrooms in secondary education, the destruction of Penn Station . .

Bloomberg and Koch compound their blindness to the dangers of progress in the very next sentence.

They are now widely accepted because people were free to engage in a robust dialogue with their fellow citizens.

To claim that the same-sex marriage controversy has been settled through a “robust dialogue” is to rewrite history.  Has any conflict in recent times been less civil and open than this one? 

The progressives on this issue have used tactics of shaming, demonization, intimidation, and litigation, not those of debate.  There is no tolerance for differing opinions, which Bloomberg and Koch hail as a proper effect of liberal education.  They believe in a society in which “individuals need not fear reprisal, harassment or intimidation for airing controversial opinions.”  We don’t have one right now, not on this issue.

The problem in Bloomberg and Koch’s declaration is a discursive one.  They praise progress, in the process setting the status quo as a roadblock to it.  But what, then, about people who believe in the status quo?  And what if the conflict turns upon deeply held beliefs, perhaps religious ones, that won’t be managed and accommodated so smoothly by a marketplace of ideas. 

Let’s face it: some commitments run deeper than that.  Moral positions can be visceral.  Bloomberg and Koch think that “open minds and rational discourse” may proceed if we only show more tolerance. 

But to Bloomberg and Koch tolerance is simply a pathway to shedding principles important millions of students.

A Champion of Free Speech Takes on the Muzzled Campus

Harvey Silverglate delivered these remarks upon receiving the Manhattan Institute’s Alexander Hamilton award Monday, May 9th at a dinner in New York City. Silverglate is a Cambridge attorney, a veteran defender of civil rights and civil liberties, and co-founder, along with University of Pennsylvania professor Alan Charles Kors, of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).


I have dedicated much of my career to two contests that are consuming our nation, the ramifications of which will impact generations to come as well as the health of the republic itself.

I am referring to, first, the capacity of the criminal law, especially federal law, to turn all of us into criminals, at the government’s whim, for engaging in what to us appear to be the most benign personal and professional actions or inactions.

And, second, the effort, well underway, to destroy the liberal arts university by replacing the quest for human knowledge with the indoctrination of students into truth as it is postulated by self-righteous fanatics who think they have a monopoly on human wisdom, when in fact all they really have monopolized are the levers of academic and administrative power.Harvey Silverglate

And, with respect to these two areas – due process and fairness in the criminal law, and free speech and thought and procedural fairness on college campuses – I have long taken comfort in the reliability of allies such as the Manhattan Institute. This is the reason that, despite my reputation for accepting rather few invitations, I gratefully accepted the Manhattan Institute’s invitation to venture to New York (where, by the way, I was born, so this is not foreign territory to me) to accept, along with my co-recipient the redoubtable Bruce Kovner, the Institute’s Alexander Hamilton Award.

Thank you, Manhattan Institute, and the Institute’s leadership – President Larry Mone in particular, and the entire Board – for this honor, but, even more important, for the Institute’s ceaseless support for civilization and sanity in my two areas of interest, the criminal law and our institutions of higher education.

Interestingly, I noticed that dangerous trends in each of these two areas accelerated around the same time –the mid-1980s. Might the explanation, I asked myself, be that suddenly the universities were accepting a more diverse student body? Rather than celebrate this liberalization of American society and academic culture, I wondered, perhaps the colleges, fearing that students of different racial, religious, and social backgrounds would clash with one another, expanded the student-life bureaucracies to, in their view, keep the peace.

Regardless of the justification, definitions of “harassment” were adopted that were so vague and broad so as to escalate the numbers of disciplinary proceedings, many of which were deemed confidential so that the outside world had no idea what was happening. Speech codes popped up that sought to prevent students from insulting or offending one another, but in practice the codes strangled the academic enterprise. Kangaroo courts were established to adjudicate the many violations of the new rules. Remember that we’re talking about liberal arts colleges, not prisons, not re-education camps!

At about the same time, I noted a proliferation of prosecutions in the federal courts that were ensnaring defendants who, it seemed to me, had conducted themselves, if not superbly, then at least within legal limits. This ensnaring was enabled by the greatly expanded use of inherently vague federal statutes, such as “fraud.” The concept of “fraud” suddenly meant whatever a United States Attorney wanted it to mean, with the target often being selected for the personal aggrandizement of the prosecutor’s reputation and future career prospects rather than for the protection of the public.

The bottom line was that I saw these major institutions – the college campuses and the federal courts – take a turn toward precepts and practices that furnished a nutrient-laden petri dish for an experiment in an authoritarianism that was very different from the America I was familiar and comfortable with.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s co-founders, University of Pennsylvania Professor Alan Charles Kors and I, established FIRE in 1999, a year after Professor Kors and I published our book, The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. That book followed Professor Kors’ representation, with some legal advice from me, of an undergraduate who was being persecuted in a Penn campus tribunal in the famous “water buffalo” case, where a well-meaning student named Eden Jacobowitz addressed a group of undergraduate women who were raucously celebrating their sorority’s anniversary just outside his dorm window as he was studying. He shouted “shut up, you water buffalo!” The women being African-Americans, this was deemed by them, and by student-life administrators, to constitute “racial harassment.”

It turned out, actually, that in the offending student’s first language, Hebrew, the common slang term behema reasonably translates into “water-buffalo” and refers to a rowdy or thoughtless person. Penn’s administrators, unaware of, and uninterested in, Jacobowitz’s cultural background, assumed that the water buffalo was native to Africa (it’s not), and from this they extrapolated their hate speech theory. In the face of derisive worldwide publicity, the campus bureaucrats backed down, but it turned out to be merely a strategic retreat, not a true surrender.

Sanity’s well-publicized victory in the water buffalo case triggered a flood of students seeking assistance from Professor Kors and me. These beleaguered individuals were suffering not only from unfair persecutions, but also were being cheated out of a genuine liberal arts education. The liberal arts are not readily compatible with censorship and mindless ideological persecution. It is impossible to teach, and to learn, in the liberal arts arena under such conditions of hypersensitivity and authoritarianism. Indoctrination was replacing true academic study. From the day students arrive as freshman they are subjected to “sensitivity training” engineered by burgeoning student life bureaucrats who intrude into their most intimate lives and thoughts. I recognized that students, and even dissenting faculty, were at the mercy of a new regime, something of a cross between Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Kafka’s The Trial.

Kors and I could not handle the volume, and so FIRE was born out of sheer necessity. I at the time had assumed that surely the ludicrousness of the campus persecutions would result in the phenomenon burning itself out within less than ten years. It was, I told myself, a momentary social panic. FIRE would be a temporary project. The burning of witches in Salem, after all, ended rather abruptly when the Supreme Court of Massachusetts decided that enough was enough and put an end to the trials in 1693. That scourge lasted but one year.

Well, FIRE is in its 17th year, with no end in sight. We are in trench warfare.

The success of The Shadow University triggered my next project.

I wrote a book about the decline of justice in the federal criminal system, which I titled Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent. As you might intuit by the title, my thesis is, essentially, that the average American arguably commits three federal felonies in a typical day, but does not even realize it. All that is needed is an ambitious federal prosecutor, and a prosecution is born. One has to pray that his case is assigned to a judge who sees through the scam. Most do not. Like campus administrators, too many judges tend to be either cynics or true believers.

And, contrary to the way book projects are traditionally carried out, I went to sell the completed book to a publisher – no book proposal, but, rather, a full manuscript. The publisher of The Shadow University was unwilling to take on the project, perhaps, I wondered, for fear of the U.S. Department of Justice? Other publishers I contacted likewise turned me away.

Enter my dear friend Dorothy Rabinowitz, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning columnist for The Wall Street Journal, who suggested that I send the manuscript to her friend Roger Kimball, the brilliant publisher at Encounter Books (who I see in the audience this evening, and who is on the Board of the Manhattan Institute).

Roger, who had seen some of his own friends get ensnared in the traps for the unwary strewn throughout the ocean of vague federal statutes and regulations, agreed to publish the book. Three Felonies’ has become somewhat of a handbook for the counter-revolution against tyranny. The book’s influence has been such that I recently acceded to Roger’s plea that I write a sequel that would focus on the proposed solutions. I’m nearly half done with the manuscript, and Conviction Machine is due out sometime next year.

In these two theaters of battle in which I find myself, reliable allies are highly valued. This is why the Manhattan Institute is so important: It recognizes the stakes, in terms of liberty and of civilization itself, in both the criminal justice arena and the education arena. I am proud, and buoyed, to have allies like MI. I know that FIRE likewise is grateful to have such a reliable cohort in the fight for restoration of liberty, fairness, and sanity on college campuses.

Together, and with all of the other groups across the political spectrum that see the reality of what is happening and are determined to do something about it, we will prevail.

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

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has just dipped its oar in the dank water of Title IX.  The AAUP’s draft of its new document, The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX, leaves much to be desired.  But welcome to the fight, AAUP.  We’ve been wondering when you would show up.

From 1972 to Now

A refresher.  How did we get here?

Title IX is Title IX of the Higher Education Act, which was added to the 1965 Act as part of its 1972 reauthorization. The key sentence in it is, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

That seemed simple enough at first. Don’t discriminate against men or women on the basis of their sex, you American colleges or universities, or we will cut off your federal funds. “Financial assistance” referred primarily to federally guaranteed students loans, codified as Title IV of the Higher Education Act. By 1972, almost all colleges and universities had become addicted to the money flowing in from those loans.  The loans officially went to the students, but the dollars went to the college bursar offices, and the colleges had to be pre-approved by the Department of Education as worthy recipients.

So Title IX had instant clout. But it was also a bit murky.  Clearly it didn’t apply to single-sex institutions.  What forms of discrimination did it legislate against?  The answer emerged slowly, first through regulations issued by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1975 and later through litigation. The 1975 regulations suddenly made it clear that Title IX was going to be used to advance women’s sports on campus. But it took years of litigation to arrive at what Title IX would really mean: the destruction of many men’s sports teams to ensure that women’s sports were in parity with men’s sports.

Title IX soon began to grow in new and unexpected directions, sometimes in conjunction with court decisions that didn’t initially appear to have anything to do with higher education.  A good example is the Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1986, which defined “hostile environment” for sexual harassment cases under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  It would take several more decisions and some creative thinking on the part of regulators to get to the idea that wherever an environment can be described as “hostile” there also is a Title IX discrimination case waiting to be framed and fitted out.

“Hostile environment” was supposedly limited by the Supreme Court in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education in 1999 to “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” sexual harassment, but OCR has seen no need to get so fussy.  It sees “hostile environments” created by harassment pretty much wherever it likes.

Complaints about how Title IX now runs roughshod over due process, academic freedom, and basic fairness are now legion. The basic picture is that the mere expression of some words and ideas is now at risk of being conjured into a Title IX complaint on the grounds that those words and ideas make some people uncomfortable.

Dissents

My organization, the National Association of Scholars, has been criticizing the new Title IX regime for years.  We also have an older history of wrestling with the excesses of the feminist-inspired attacks on academic freedom. NAS isn’t alone in this.  FIRE is a stalwart ally, among others. NAS’s 2014 “Compendium of Key Sources” on sexual assault provides a good summary as well as a gateway to other materials.

The AAUP has also on previous occasions ventured into this topic, most notably in its 2012 “Campus Sexual Assault: Suggested Policies and Procedures.” But the AAUP’s brand new statement ventures in a somewhat unexpected direction.  It seems, at least to some of its first readers, like a stronger check on OCR policies.

“A Slew of New Problems”

The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX impressed The New York TimesInside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education the same way:  as a complaint that Title IX rules have gone too far and are stifling free speech.

The New York Times leads with “broadening definitions of inappropriate sexual behavior” having “a chilling effect on academic freedom and speech.”

Inside Higher Ed leads with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) creating “a slew of new problems with implications for free speech and academic freedom.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education headlines, “AAUP Slams Education Department and Colleges Over Title IX Enforcement,” and leads with the sexual assault rules that “trample faculty members’ rights to academic freedom, due process, and shared governance.”

All three see the AAUP as boldly stepping forward to declare that the Title IX enforcement regimen has gone too far.  It is now chilling/compromising/trampling free speech—which doesn’t sound especially good.  Has the AAUP suddenly come to the realization, long since achieved by millions of other Americans, that Title IX rules and enforcement have gone crazily overboard?

Let’s not be hasty.

Two of the journalistic watchdogs of higher education are quick to add zag to their zig:

The New York Times: The AAUP “does not mean to underestimate the gravity of sexual harassment complaints.”

Inside Higher Ed: “The Office for Civil Rights brought needed attention to the problem of sexual assault and harassment on college campuses.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education, however, sticks closely to the theme that the AAUP has launched a relentlessly tough-minded criticism of OCR’s Title IX overreach.

What’s the truth of the matter?  Has the AAUP consulted its moral compass and found the true north of presumption of innocence, due process, fair treatment of the accused, respect for evidence, and freedom of expression?  Or has it offered a temporizing defense of some of its principles some of the time, provided that they don’t get in the way of the feminist social justice agenda?

Feminists Burnt by Feminism

Alas, when we turn to the report itself, it is more the latter.  The major problem that the AAUP raises with Title IX rules is that they have more than once been turned against well-meaning women’s studies professors and other campus feminists. The “abuses” signaled in the title of the report exist at an abstract level for much of the report: “OCR has given only limited attention to the due process rights of those accused of misconduct.” [p. 17] But when AAUP gets down to specifics, we hear very little of the hapless male students thrown under the Title IX bus on flimsy or no evidence.

Instead we have accounts of the travails of Professor Patty Adler at the University of California, Boulder, who was Title IX’d for having her undergraduate teaching assistants in her Sociology class, “Deviance in US Society,” act out roles in class as “Eastern European ‘slave whore,’ pimp, a ‘bar whore,’ and a high-end escort.”  For this Professor Adler found herself accused by students of sexual harassment and was pressured by her dean to accept an early retirement.  The dean eventually backed down but Adler, “deeply affected by the chilling academic freedom climate,” retired anyway after one more semester.  [pp. 23-24]

AAUP’s second example: Louisiana State University early childhood education professor Teresa Buchanan, drummed out of her job after complaints from students about her “salty language.” Some of her students, preparing for careers teaching very young children, didn’t care for “F*** no” interjections, her use of “a slang term for vagina that implies cowardice,” and similar indiscretions.  Buchanan defended herself saying, “The occasional use of profanity is not sexual harassment.” But Title IX rules are pretty tough.  Buchanan is suing. [pp. 24-25]

Not So Fun Home

Another incident the AAUP draws attention to is the closing of Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina Upstate.  The closing “coincided” with controversy about the use of the “lesbian coming-of-age story,” Fun Home, as a common reading at the university. Fun Home had garnered “trigger warnings” at three other colleges, and a Title IX administrator at a university in another state in a previous year had issued a memo that warned that some students might have had “traumatic experiences” that teachers using “materials containing instances of violence related to power, control or intimidation” should take into account.

So, a memo by a Title IX administrator at a university in one state; a “trigger warning” on a book in three other universities in different states; and the closing of a Women’s Studies center at yet another university add up to what?  In the AAUP’s audacious analysis: “the fact that the serious study of sex and sexuality are becoming increasingly vulnerable fields of study.”

Kipnis’ Conniption

The AAUP report also devotes some attention to Northwestern University Professor Laura Kipnis, who was Title IX investigated after some students took umbrage at her article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” in which Kipnis leveled some criticisms at the “new paradigm” of sexual harassment rules.  In the article Kipnis styled herself a strong feminist:

For the record, I strongly believe that bona fide harassers should be chemically castrated, stripped of their property, and hung up by their thumbs in the nearest public square. Let no one think I’m soft on harassment. But I also believe that the myths and fantasies about power perpetuated in these new codes are leaving our students disabled when it comes to the ordinary interpersonal tangles and erotic confusions that pretty much everyone has to deal with at some point in life, because that’s simply part of the human condition.

But Kipnis ended up fighting—in the AAUP’s words—a “bureaucratic ordeal” or in her own words, a “Title IX Inquisition.” Kipnis won, but clearly Title IX was being put to uses that feminists didn’t intend.

Male Victims

The AAUP does find some male victims of Title IX. A University of Kansas student had to fight expulsion after he made tweets on his private account deriding his former partner as a “psycho bitch.” Chemistry professor Craig Anderson was Title IX’d after a lab assistant accused him of using aggressive and vulgar language. The AAUP rushed to his defense because Bard College failed to provide him due process. On the other hand, Title IX completely failed to catch University of California Berkeley astronomer Geoffrey Marcy, who met his comeuppance as a repeat harasser only when BuzzFeed broke the story.

There is a great deal more to say about the AAUP’s statement, issued as a “draft” and presumably open for further changes. But one thing at a time. The one thing to start with is that the AAUP is mostly upset that the new Title IX rules are producing “friendly fire” casualties. It was meant to punish men, regardless of their guilt or innocence. To accomplish that it set the evidentiary bar so low that some women faculty members are tripped by it as well.

Some of the cases the AAUP cites make that point well enough. Others entail some stretching. But the main thing is that AAUP has paid so little heed to the larger story of Title IX tyranny: the rise of bureaucrats that can and do ruin the educational careers of male students and some faculty members on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations and sometimes even in the face of exculpatory evidence.

The Distant Shore

I am, on balance, happy that the AAUP has decided to dip its oar in these waters.  It is better that it is half-heartedly alarmed about the rolling disaster of Title IX regulation than it sit back in smiling approbation of the new regime. But I don’t think the AAUP’s oar will propel us very far across the fetid lake. AAUP doesn’t like Title IX’s collateral damage. It is rather less concerned with its main targets.  What we really need is a thorough housecleaning at OCR; the retraction of the noxious “Dear Colleague: letters; and in due course the abolition of OCR itself, which has been a deep and continuing source of injustice in higher education.

Charles Murray Insulted but Allowed to Speak

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

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

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

<How Our Campuses Came to Reject Free Speech>

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

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

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

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

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

An Open Letter from a Suddenly Disinvited Speaker

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

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

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

<How Universities Promote the Coming Apart of America>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<Princeton Takes a Stand on Free Speech>

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

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

‘Uncomfortable’ Talk Censored at Williams

From FIRE’s site (The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) 

Williams College has disinvited a second speaker from
its student-run “Uncomfortable Learning” speaker series, a program specifically developed to bring controversial viewpoints  to campus. Unlike the first disinvitation (Conservative writer Suzanne Venker), which came at the behest of the speaker series’ student organizers, this order came directly from the college president.

Williams President Adam Falk said in a statement to the university community this morning that he was canceling next Monday’s speech by writer John Derbyshire, whose views have previously been called racist and sexist.

Falk blamed “hate speech” for the disinvitation.

From Roger Kimball (PJ Media) Feb. 19:

Yesterday, Adam Falk, the president of Williams College, disgraced himself, the college that he leads, and the institution of free speech that he has claimed to support. He did this by disinviting John Derbyshire, the mathematician and commentator, from speaking at Williams for a student-run program called “Uncomfortable Learning,” a series specifically designed to bring serious but alternative points of view to the expensive (this year’s tab: $63,290) and coddled purlieus of Williamstown, Massachusetts, where nearly all the faculty are left-leaning and the students, with rare exceptions, are timid if irritable politically.

Exchange on Facebook Feb 19

John Leo: This problem is easily solved, Ask President Falk to compile a list of 5 people he disagrees with that he feels would not seriously damage the minds of Williams students, and just keep inviting those 5. Easy, no?

Facebook commenter: if you read Falk’s email, and as a parent I was sent a copy, he makes it clear that there are boundaries–and Derbyshire crosses that boundary. Derbyshire’s work has disappeared from reputable conservative publications and web-sites for the same reason that William F. Buckley, Jr. decided to ban Pat Buchanan from National Review– he is a racist. We should not be in the business of supporting racists– not politically correct reasons but as Falk points out there are bounds of decency that an educational institution should not cross– and Derbyshire, I agree, is on the other side.

John Leo: I know who Derbyshire is. I think universities should trust their students and not censor any speaker.

Facebook commenter: Fred Luecher, for example?

John Leo There are many terrible people I would not invite, but once invited by people with the right to choose, I wouldn”t censor. If you wonder what happens when censorship is encouraged, just look at the campuses today.

America’s ‘Soft Civil War’ Is Here

By Fred Siegel

Twenty-five years ago, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.—premier historian of twentieth-century American liberalism, highbrow courtier to the Kennedys, and grey eminence for the Kennedy’s would-be successors—published The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society. The Schlesinger of the 1950s idolized Adlai Stevenson, whose professorial demeanor endeared him to academia. Academic expertise was, as Schlesinger understood it, the key to the American future.

But in the wake of the Black Power movement, feminism, and anti-Enlightenment postmodernism, the quota-driven academia of the late 1980s lost its rationalist moorings. Both lament and warning, The Disuniting of America reflected a Schlesinger disconcerted by the rise, within overwhelmingly liberal academia, of multiculturalism and political correctness, the linked solvents of American identity.

Related:  Left Intellectuals Hovering over the Campus

Well before the evils of Western achievement were written into the catechism of college courses, cultural pluralism—not white supremacy—had become the American norm. Multiculturalism displaced a hyphenated Americanism in which we spoke of Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans, and, eventually, African-Americans as the norm. Pluralism assumed that Americans shared a common identity even as they retained ancestral attachments. The problem was that supposed multiculturalists were often “ethnocentric separatists” (in the manner of the recent National Book Award winner Ta-Nehesi Coates) who, in Schlesinger’s words, “see little in the Western heritage other than Western crimes.”

Their mood was “one of divesting Americans of their sinful European inheritance and seeking redemptive infusions from non-Western cultures.” Further, Schlesinger understood that academic debates about what should be taught could be readily translated into the program of the Democratic Party. “The self-ghettoizing of black history or women’s history,” noted respected literary critic Frank Kermode in 1992, “presages a more general social fragmentation, and endangers the precious ideal of political unity in ethnic diversity.”

The connection between political correctness and the doctrine of multiculturalism is integral. PC proscribes open debate. Instead, in classic Communist fashion, it judges an argument on the basis of the interests it serves. Schlesinger clung to a traditional notion of truth: “There is surely no reason for Western civilization to have guilt trips laid on it by champions of cultures based on despotism, superstition, tribalism, and fanaticism. In this regard the Afrocentrists are especially absurd.

The West needs no lectures on the superiority of these ‘sun people’ who sustained slavery till Western imperialism abolished it (and sustain it to this day in Mauritania and the Sudan) . . . .” On numerous campuses today, the once-lionized Schlesinger’s words would today be condemned as “hate speech.” Worse yet, Schlesinger saw the malign consequences of a black nationalism that strives to separate African-Americans from an increasingly colorblind mainstream. He wanly notes that, “If some Kleagle of the Ku Klux Klan wanted to devise an educational curriculum for the specific purpose of handicapping and disabling black Americans, he would not be likely to come up: with anything more diabolically effective than Afrocentrism.”

The book has its failings. Schlesinger tries too hard to discern a comparable quest for correctness on the right. He fails. Similarly, the celebrated historian who had spent much of the late sixties lambasting the white-ethnic working class tries to equate the passing revival of a heightened ethnic consciousness with Black Nationalism. He makes much of the 1974 Ethnic Heritage Act, a symbolic piece of legislation with scant consequences.

But Schlesinger also reached for a touch of optimism. “I believe,” he wrote, that “the campaign against common sense would fail.” And to buttress his point from the Left, he cited my old mentor, Irving Howe—the venerable socialist and “storyteller of ideas”—to speak on behalf of Western Civilization, warts and all. “The situation of our universities, I am confident,” Schlesinger writes, “will soon right itself once the great silent majority of professors cry ‘enough’ challenging what they know to be voguish blather.” Shaken by the Right’s ability to speak in terms of American “commonalities,” “the Left,” Schlesinger insisted, “cannot base itself on identity groups.”

For a time it seemed that Schlesinger’s optimism might be justified. The collapse of Communism looked to have put on end to expeditions into Utopia. Then the Clinton presidential years seemed to staunch the drift to academic inanity. Alan Sokal’s exposé—a hoax, whereby a physicist claimed to deconstruct gravity—was published by Social Text, a postmodernist magazine, which took him as being in earnest. The Sokal caper made the front page of the New York Times. It was hard to see how the postmodernists could shake off this fiasco.

Further, two of the heroes of postmodernism, Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man, were exposed as Nazi sympathizers. Articles lamented that postmodernism no longer seemed fresh and innovative, and a few literary critics—most notably, Terry Eagleton—distanced themselves from the reigning academic fashion. But there was never a shout of “enough” from academia, which seemed, on the contrary, to have developed an insatiable appetite for infantile exhibitionism. With few exceptions, faculties had no desire to distance themselves from campus hijinks. The Clinton years proved to be a mere interregnum. It turned out that the- collapse of political and economic Communism paved the way for the cultural Marxism that took hold in the universities.

How Universities Encourage Racial Division

Collapsing standards in high schools and colleges reinforced one another. Ill-prepared college freshmen increasingly needed remedial assistance. They arrived at college equipped with the politically correct attitudes appropriate for what passed as “higher education” in the humanities and “social sciences.” They left with their attitudes reinforced. Likewise, academia increasingly marginalized or repelled students with less politically correct views. The sixties-born faculty repeatedly replicated itself. Last year, when Brandeis University disinvited as graduation speaker the famed and formidable Ayaan Hirsi Ali—an outspoken critic of the Muslim suppression of women—not a single faculty member rose to defend her.

As the faculty became increasingly uniform in its outlook, power passed to students, who were treated as precious consumers. At the same time, academic administrators, now outnumbering the faculty, aimed for a stress-free atmosphere on campus. Colleges across the country replaced their classes on American history with therapy sessions about diversity that demanded not just orthodox thinking but orthodox speaking and feeling as well.

Attempts to upend free speech in order to protect “group rights” has produced a rash of campus hoaxes. Under pressure from feminist ideologues, a “man,” explains David Frum, shifted from a demographic category to an “accusation.” Men accused of rape were denied elementary civil liberties in order to propitiate the gender activists. Civil liberties, wrote Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, “are regarded as a chief obstacle to civil rights.” The call for “safe spaces,” free of challenging arguments produced a Club Med ambience. Nursery school, sighed literary critic Camille Paglia only half-sarcastically, has become the model for college. Students today, Paglia explained in 2015, are “utterly uninformed,” and colleges are responsible for the lack of intellectual discourse in America:

“I’ve encountered these graduates of Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton; I’ve encountered them in the media, and people in their 30s now, some of them, their minds are like Jell-O. They know nothing! They’ve not been trained in history. They have absolutely no structure to their minds. Their emotions are unfixed. The banality of contemporary cultural criticism, of academe, the absolute collapse of any kind of intellectual discourse in the U.S. is the result of these colleges, which should have been the best, instead having retracted into care taking. The whole thing is about approved social positions in a kind of misty love of humanity, without any direct knowledge of history or economics or anthropology.

Related: How PC Corrupted the Colleges

In sum, explains former Harvard president Larry Summers, “there is a kind of creeping totalitarianism on college campuses.” Barack Obama, a product of the PC university, is the most polarizing president since Richard Nixon. Obama has reinforced the “which side are you on?” hyper-partisanship of the university, which is spreading beyond the campus. Ordinary working Americans are bullied by bureaucrats, who were, as Glen Reynolds, puts it, “credentialized” in college without being educated.

These preening bureaucrats are the ideal instruments of government overreach. They impose their ideological agenda in the name of racial, gender, and environmental equity, not to mention obscure IRS rules. And working Americans are forced to pay for a now-vast population of unemployed but subsidized Americans of working age, even as new immigrants—legal and illegal—undercut their wages. Meanwhile, college graduates educated in “victim studies” weaponize what they’ve learned and go to work in the aggrievement industry. The rhetoric of multiculturalism, feared Schlesinger, placed the American republic “in serious trouble.”

Somehow, even as they have spent the last 30 years insisting on the fundamental differences between people, multiculturalists are surprised at the rise of a white nationalism that feeds into the support for Donald Trump. Trump replays the extremism of Obama. Trump and Obama have been drawn into a see-saw dynamic in which each plays off the excesses of the other. Trump speaks to the frustration and anger of people whose wages have stagnated as government bureaucracy has grown dramatically more intrusive. Trump is a peculiar spokesman for that honor-driven egalitarianism that Walter Russell Mead describes as “Jacksonian America.”

“Our ruling class,” writes Angelo Codevilla, “has created ‘protected classes’ of Americans defined by race, sex, age, disability, origin, religion, and now homosexuality, (and perhaps Islam) whose members have privileges that outsiders do not. By so doing, they have shattered the principle of equality—the bedrock of the rule of law. Ruling class insiders use these officious classifications to harass their socio-political opponents.” Worse yet, Obama’s reaction to the San Bernardino terror attack has been to bemoan supposed Islamophobia—no evidence required.

Jim Webb would have been a better spokesman for Jacksonian America. Trump’s a big-city guy with a big mouth who made his money from casinos and TV shows and went bankrupt twice. His appeal lies in his brashness—his willingness to violate politically correct conventions that are widely despised. It was said in mistaken defense of Joe McCarthy that, unlike the liberals, he at least understood that the Communists were our enemies. True enough, but as Obama understands, liberals dined out for decades on the inanities of McCarthyism. Obama hopes that Trump will serve the same purpose.

Related: Too Many Hollow Men on  Campus

It’s been said of Trump that at least he understands that the Southern border needs to be closed, and at least he knows that the Syrian refugees are not, as Obama pontificated, all “widows and orphans.” Trump, we hear, understands that the deal with Iran boosts Iranian support for terrorism. It’s all well and good to suggest in a flight of realism that the Sunnis and Shia should feel free to kill each other. But what Trump seems not to understand is that Bashar al-Assad, the Iranian-backed ruler of the Syrian rump state, is the chief recruiter for the Sunnis of ISIS. Trump, like McCarthy, gets some things right, but in a manner that will pay dividends to his critics.

What rankles most among workaday white Americans is that, even as their incomes and life expectancies decline, and even as the protections promised in the Fourteenth Amendment are eviscerated in favor of new minority carve-outs, they’re accused of benefitting from “white privilege.” The rise of Ferguson’s Michael Brown and Baltimore’s Freddy Gray—the first a thug, the second a small-time drug dealer—as black icons of white oppression, exemplify the perversions of Obama’s America. Fifty years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, a dramatically diminished racism is asked to account for the ongoing infirmities of the inner-city underclass.

Trump is both a reaction to and expression of liberal delusions. Schlesinger’s fears have largely come to pass; we’ve become what he called a “quarrelsome spatter of enclaves.” Schlesinger was too much a part of the elite to imagine that the class he always thought of as representing the best of the future would come to be despised by a broad swath of Americans for its incompetence and ineffectuality. But what Schlesinger saw on the horizon seems to have arrived, with no sign of abating: we are in the midst of a soft civil war.

This essay in reprinted from City Journal, with permission.


Fred Siegel is a writer in residence at St. Francis College and author of The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class.

Campus Turmoil Begins in High School

A month before the Yale Halloween meltdown, I had a bizarre and illuminating experience at an elite private high school on the West Coast. I’ll call it Centerville High. I gave a version of a talk that you can see here, on Coddle U. vs. Strengthen U. (In an amazing coincidence, I first gave that talk at Yale a few weeks earlier).

The entire student body — around 450 students, from grades 9-12 — was in the auditorium. There was plenty of laughter at all the right spots, and a lot of applause at the end, so I thought the talk was well received.

But then the discussion began, and it was the most unremittingly hostile questioning I’ve ever had. I don’t mind when people ask hard or critical questions, but I was surprised that I had misread the audience so thoroughly. My talk had little to do with gender, but the second question was “So you think rape is OK?”

Related: A Targeted Teacher at Yale Quits

Like most of the questions, it was backed up by a sea of finger snaps — the sort you can hear in the infamous Yale video, where a student screams at Prof. Christakis to “be quiet” and tells him that he is “disgusting.” I had never heard the snapping before. When it happens in a large auditorium it is disconcerting. It makes you feel that you are facing an angry and unified mob — a feeling I have never had in 25 years of teaching and public speaking.

After the first dozen questions I noticed that not a single questioner was male. I began to search the sea of hands asking to be called on and I did find one boy, who asked a question that indicated that he too was critical of my talk. But other than him, the 200 or so boys in the audience sat silently.

After the Q&A, I got a half-standing ovation: almost all of the boys in the room stood up to cheer. And after the crowd broke up, a line of boys came up to me to thank me and shake my hand. Not a single girl came up to me afterward.

After my main lecture, the next session involved 60 students who had signed up for further discussion with me. We moved to a large classroom. The last thing I wanted to do was to continue the same fruitless arguing for another 75 minutes, so I decided to take control of the session and reframe the discussion. Here is what happened next:

Me: What kind of intellectual climate do you want here at Centerville? Would you rather have option A: a school where people with views you find offensive keep their mouths shut, or B: a school where everyone feels that they can speak up in class discussions?

Audience: All hands go up for B.

Me: OK, let’s see if you have that. When there is a class discussion about gender issues, do you feel free to speak up and say what you are thinking? Or do you feel that you are walking on eggshells and you must heavily censor yourself? Just the girls in the class, raise your hand if you feel you can speak up? [About 70% said they feel free, vs about 10% who said eggshells.] Now just the boys? [About 80% said eggshells; nobody said they feel free.]

Me: Now let’s try it for race. When a topic related to race comes up in class, do you feel free to speak up and say what you are thinking, or do you feel that you are walking on eggshells and you must heavily censor yourself? Just the non-white students? The group was around 30% non-white, mostly South and East Asians, and some African Americans. A majority said they felt free to speak, although a large minority said eggshells. Now just the white students? [A large majority said eggshells]

Me: Now let’s try it for politics. How many of you would say you are on the right politically, or that you are conservative or Republican? [6 hands went up, out of 60 students]. Just you folks, when politically charged topics come up, can you speak freely? [Only one hand went up, but that student clarified that everyone gets mad at him when he speaks up, but he does it anyway. The other 5 said eggshells.] How many of you are on the left, liberal, or democrat? [Most hands go up] Can you speak freely, or is it eggshells? [Almost all said they can speak freely.]

Me: So let me get this straight. You were unanimous in saying that you want your school to be a place where people feel free to speak up, even if you strongly dislike their views. But you don’t have such a school. In fact, you have exactly the sort of “tolerance” that Herbert Marcuse advocated [which I had discussed in my lecture, and which you can read about here]. You have a school in which only people in the preferred groups get to speak, and everyone else is afraid. What are you going to do about this? Let’s talk.

Related: Too Many Hollow Men on Campus

After that, the conversation was extremely civil and constructive. The boys took part just as much as the girls. We talked about what Centerville could do to improve its climate, and I said that the most important single step would be to make viewpoint diversity a priority. On the entire faculty, there was not a single teacher that was known to be conservative or Republican. So if these teenagers are coming into political consciousness inside of a “moral matrix” that is uniformly leftist, there will always be anger directed at those who disrupt that consensus.

That night, after I gave a different talk to an adult audience, there was a reception at which I spoke with some of the parents. Several came up to me to tell me that their sons had told them about the day’s events. The boys finally had a way to express and explain their feelings of discouragement. Their parents were angry to learn about how their sons were being treated and…there’s no other word for it, bullied into submission by the girls.*

Centerville High is not alone. Last summer I had a conversation with some boys who attend one of the nation’s top prep schools in New England. They reported the same thing: as white males, they are constantly on eggshells, afraid to speak up on any remotely controversial topic lest they be sent to the “equality police” (that was their term for the multicultural center). I probed to see if their fear extended beyond the classroom. I asked them what they would do if there was a new student at their school, from, say Yemen. Would they feel free to ask the student questions about his or her country? No, they said, it’s too risky, a question could be perceived as offensive.

You might think that this is some sort of justice — white males have enjoyed positions of privilege for centuries, and now they are getting a taste of their own medicine. But these are children. And remember that most students who are in a victim group for one topic are in the “oppressor” group for another. So everyone is on eggshells sometimes; all students at Centerville High learn to engage with books, ideas, and people using the twin habits of defensive self-censorship and vindictive protectiveness.

And then… they go off to college and learn new ways to gain status by expressing collective anger at those who disagree. They curse professors and spit on visiting speakers at Yale. They shut down newspapers at Wesleyan. They torment a dean who was trying to help them at Claremont McKenna. They threaten and torment fellow students at Dartmouth. And in all cases, they demand that adults in power DO SOMETHING to punish those whose words and views offend them. Their high schools have thoroughly socialized them into what sociologists call victimhood culture, which weakens students by turning them into “moral dependents” who cannot deal with problems on their own. They must get adult authorities to validate their victim status.

So they issue ultimatums to college presidents, and, as we saw at Yale, the college presidents meet their deadlines, give them much of what they demanded, commit their schools to an ever tighter embrace of victimhood culture, and say nothing to criticize the bullying, threats, and intimidation tactics that have created a culture of intense fear for anyone who might even consider questioning the prevailing moral matrix. What do you suppose a conversation about race or gender will look like in any Yale classroom ten years from now? Who will dare to challenge the orthodox narrative imposed by victimhood culture? The “Next Yale” that activists are demanding will make today’s Centerville High look like Plato’s Academy by comparison.

The only hope for Centerville High — and for Yale — is to disrupt their repressively uniform moral matrices to make room for dissenting views. High schools and colleges that lack viewpoint diversity should make it their top priority. Race and gender diversity matter too, but if those goals are pursued in the ways that student activists are currently demanding, then political orthodoxy is likely to intensify. Schools that value freedom of thought should therefore actively seek out non-leftist faculty, and they should explicitly include viewpoint diversity and political diversity in all statements about diversity and discrimination. Parents and students who value freedom of thought should take viewpoint diversity into account when applying to colleges. Alumni should take it into account before writing any more checks.

The Yale problem refers to an unfortunate feedback loop: Once you allow victimhood culture to spread on your campus, you can expect ever more anger from students representing victim groups, coupled with demands for a deeper institutional commitment to victimhood culture, which leads inexorably to more anger, more demands, and more commitment. But the Yale problem didn’t start at Yale. It started in high school. As long as many of our elite prep schools are turning out students who have only known eggshells and anger, whose social cognition is limited to a single dimension of victims and victimizers, and who demand safe spaces and trigger warnings, it’s hard to imagine how any university can open students’ minds and prepare them to converse respectfully with people who don’t share their values. Especially when there are no adults around who don’t share their values.

This article is reprinted with permission from Heterodox Academy.


Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

What Students Are Demanding Now

As protest season expands, students at a growing number of colleges and universities are listing their demands. Many of them are want to expand the campus diversity bureaucracies, curb free speech to stop microaggressions and anti-protest remarks, and impose mandatory social-justice training for students and faculty.

Walter Olson of Cato and Overlawyered.com compiled a list of demand highlights. They include:

  • “An anonymous student reporting system for cases of bias, including microaggressions perpetrated by faculty and staff” [@wesleyan_u]:
  • “Incorporate into each department at least one queer studies class.” [Dartmouth]
  • Compulsory, in-person, and regular [faculty] anti-oppression training” led by individuals with significant experience in anti-oppression work [Brown]
  • “Campus police participate in the University-wide political education…. Policing as an institution must be abolished.” [UNC, Chapel Hill]
  • An increase in tenure-stream faculty whose research specializes in…Black Queer Studies, Hip-Hop Studies…Decolonial Theory” (Michigan State)
  • Prioritize recruitment and retention of undocumented students.” [@GuilfordCollege]
  • “Mandatory programming [on] ways in which racial capitalism, settler colonialism, and cisheteropatriarchy structure our world.” [Chapel Hill]
  • One confession of racism by a faculty member each week @GuilfordCollege]

KC Johnson of CUNY, Brooklyn College and Minding the Campus, tweeted, “Striking how many demands violate core academic freedom principles by stripping from faculty control of curriculum & hiring.” FIRE’s Alex Morey wrote, “Among the enumerated items on lists of demands popping up at dozens of schools—at institutions like the University of WyomingSan Francisco State University, and Amherst College—demands that college authorities take steps to dissuade or even sanction community members who express disagreement with the protesters are worryingly common.

Particularly concerning are calls for speech codes demanding punishment of constitutionally protected “hate speech,” mandatory trainings requiring students to voice agreement with certain ideologies (compelled speech), and rules about what faculty cannot, or must, teach.”

North Korea Has Taken Over Academe

Perhaps it’s time for universities to institute a course in logic as a basic requirement for all students. Then we might encounter more rational and thoughtful protests taking place all over the country, instead of the spectacle of students demanding that professors and administrators be fired for using words or voicing opinions disapproved by minority students (or those who speak for them).But even in this climate, a particularly egregious case occurred recently, whose ramifications continue to unfold.

Don’t Mention the Slur

At the University of Kansas, on November 12, during a discussion of race in a graduate course in communications, Professor Andrea Quenette dared to the use the word “nigger” as an example of the sort of slur she had never seen on campus. Outraged students objected in a lengthy and detailed letter charging that Dr. Quenette’s deployment of racially violent rhetoric not only creates a non-inclusive environment in opposition to one of the University of Kansas’ core tenets, but actively destroys the very possibility of realizing those values and goals.

The professor had compounded her offense of disagreeing with the students’ claims of systemic racism by arguing that the low retention and graduation rates of Black students were due to, among other things, “academic performance,” not to constant threats to their physical safety.  The students cited these views as part of an “unsafe learning space and hostile work environment.”   Anticipating rejoinders, the twelve students made their views abundantly clear:

“The response that more dialogue is needed to resolve this problem is insufficient to redress our claim that the space of dialogue is coded through terror and hostility. The belief that democratic deliberation is neutral is wrong and dangerous.”

In a desperate attempt to stretch limitations to the First Amendment, they also argued that, “…by imbuing racist language, remarks, and viewpoints into the pedagogy her students were meant to replicate, Dr. Quenette was training us to perpetrate acts and ideas violating the policies of the university. Therefore, her speech is not protected by the First Amendment and employer discipline for her remarks is not only legal, but necessary based on her breach of contract.”

At the next class, the students demanded that Professor Quenette read aloud their letter calling for her termination. And when she refused, citing potential legal implications for herself, they walked out of her class. Several then filed charges against her, which the university dignified by investigating. Meanwhile, each day brings new charges against any and all, which the frightened administration seems eager to placate. As for the professor, she is on paid leave.

Placed on Leave, but Why?

Not one to mince words, Harvey Silverglate, civil liberties attorney and co-founder of FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has for more than fifteen years battled speech codes, obligatory diversity training, and other violations of First Amendment rights on campus, says, “[This case is] breath-taking as evidence that North Korea has arrived in academia, where students feel empowered to coerce a professor into reading a statement that the students drafted for her. (And for years, when, in my speeches and lectures, I’ve compared the campuses to ‘North Korean re-education camps,’ people said I was exaggerating and over-reaching! Turns out I was just a few years ahead of reality.)”

But the university itself evidently sees no such problem, as Provost Jeffrey Vitter’s letter of November 17th to the campus community makes clear.  Here he lays out the university’s commitments to end racism on campus and improve diversity – as if until this year no one had ever brought the matter up.  As at other universities, the mere voicing of charges is taken as evidence, which few (least of all administrators) dare question.

The blithe conflation of meliorism and indoctrination can readily be discerned in the Provost’s preview of an “action plan” that the university will unfold in January:

“The action plan will target retention and graduation rates of students, in addition to mandatory education, through facilitated sessions, on inclusion and belonging for all students, faculty, staff, and administrators and a plan for accountability.”

Helping with all this work are, of course, the many administrators – found at virtually all colleges these days – charged with overseeing diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism.

But most telling is the tone of anxiety, the evident desire to make it clear that such well-meaning and apologetic administrators should certainly not be included in students’ ire. Yet, ironically, by implication the Provost paints a portrait of  a university mired in a time warp where racism runs rampant and every one of the extraordinary gains made over the past 50-some years has somehow evaporated. He writes:

“I also am impressed by the KU faculty members who make it clear that racism and other forms of discrimination have no place in their classrooms and offices. As Chancellor Gray-Little mentioned in her message on Friday, change will happen not from the top down, but from within and with participation from across the institution. We must and will work together to make inclusion and respect for others a priority for everyone. As my time at KU comes to a close, I want to make sure everyone knows these issues will continue to command our attention. . . .”

One could hardly ask for a better obeisance to the current climate than the Provost’s concluding words:

“We can, and should, proudly proclaim, ‘Black Lives Matter.’ It is the first of many steps we will take together. KU must be a place where people are recognized and celebrated for their curiosity, intellectual gifts, cultural insights, and artistic talents. And as Jayhawks, we must acknowledge that how people identify themselves adds to the richness of what they have to offer.”

Then, for an even more chilling look at what passes for education these days, the Provost reminds his readers of an important annual program called the Tunnel of Oppression, provided by The Office of Multicultural Affairs, for which faculty are urged to offer students extra credit:

The Tunnel of Oppression is a tour that will engage students in an immersive experience of scenes where participants will experience, firsthand, different forms of oppression through interactive acting, viewing monologues, and multimedia. Participants directly experience the following scenes of oppression: ability, class, body image, immigration, homophobia, genocide, relationship violence, and race.

But not even this is something students can be expected to absorb on their own, for the information about the event also tells us, “At the completion of the Tunnel experience participants will go through an active processing session where they will discuss the experience and learn how they can rethink their role in creating positive social change.”

Evidently, a college education is no longer in and of itself a source of “positive social change,” left to the discretion of each student to interpret and enact, nor does it occur to campus vigilantes that someday they, too, may need the protections afforded by the First Amendment. If, that is, they ever find themselves on the wrong side of the reigning orthodoxies. But if the University of Kansas is such a distressingly racist place today, the Tunnel, which has been in existence for a few days each year since 2001, seems to be an abysmal failure. Perhaps offering extra credit for visiting it is not enough and we should insist that doing so be part of the mandatory training of incoming students. Anything less may be a betrayal of what higher education is supposed to be about!

 

‘Voices of the Yale-Mizzou Eruptions’

“The universities have done this to themselves. They created the whole phenomenon of modern identity politics and Politically Correct rules to limit speech. They have fostered a totalitarian microculture in which conformity to those rules is considered natural and expected. Now that system is starting to eat them alive, from elite universities like Yale, all the way down to, er, less-than-elite ones like Mizzou. They created this Frankenstein monster, and it’s up to them to kill it before it kills them.”
—   Robert Tracinski, The Federalist

Yesterday, I wrote about Yale students who decided, in the name of creating a “safe space” on compass, to spit on people as they left a talk with which they disagreed. “In their muddled ideology,” I wrote, “the Yale activists had to destroy the safe space to save it
Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic

Some friends (at the University of Missouri) tell me they are afraid to voice their opinions lest they come under fire from the administration or peers – or the police. The University of Missouri police department sent an email urging students to report offensive or hurtful speech – not because it is illegal – but so the Office of Student Conduct could take disciplinary action against these students. Several of us are afraid to disagree with other students, who in turn may report us to the authorities so we can be “dealt with.” Many students have told me they are also afraid to speak out against the protest narrative, afraid they will be called “racist” and become campus pariahs. What’s lost is honest dialogue.
—Ian Paris, U. of Missouri student, The College Fix  

“I have a question for the hand-wringers, the media people, academics and liberal thinkers who are so disturbed by what they’re calling the ‘Yale snowflakes’: what did you think would happen? When you watched, or even presided over, the creation over the past 40 years of a vast system of laws and speech codes to punish insulting or damaging words, and the construction of a vast machine of therapeutic intervention into everyday life, what did you think the end result would be? A generation that was liberal and tough? Come off it. It’s those trends, those longstanding trends of censorship and therapy, that created today’s creepy campus intolerance; it’s you who made these monsters.”
—   Brendan O’Neill, Spiked

I do not understand the student demands at the University of Missouri. From the published reports, the students are mad that University System President Tim Wolfe refused to get out of his car during a homecoming parade when protestors physically blocked his car. Where I come from, blocking his car is illegal and hostile. What would be the response if a group of white students surrounded an African-American administrator’s car and demanded instant dialogue? Is the new standard that when some redneck students hurl disgusting racial slurs at minority students the president is responsible and loses his job? Is demanding the president step down simply because he is white not a toxic form of bias and prejudice itself?
—    William Choslovsky, letter to Minding the Campus

Feminist Censored from Censorship Panel

British feminist Julie Bindel  was scheduled to speak at Manchester University on a panel discussing the subject “From Liberation to Censorship: Does Modern Feminism Have a Problem with Free Speech?’ That question was answered by the university student union, which canceled her appearance on the panel as a potential violation of “safe space” for transgender students at the school.

Bindel is in bad odor with radical feminists for two incorrect opinions:  she doesn’t think transgender females are real women, and she does not think prostitution is a form of female empowerment that should be legalized. Though she was not intending to talk about the transgender issue, the student union stated that “her views and comments towards trans people… could incite hatred towards and exclusion of our trans students.”

Bindel, a well-known  activist campaigning against violence toward women, has been “no platformed” (banned) as a speaker several times after  protests from the gay and transgender lobbies.

Yik Yak—Latest Target of the Anti-Free-Speech Left

Last Wednesday, 72 left-wing groups, including the Feminist Majority Foundation, American Association of University Women, and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, asked federal civil-rights officials to crack down on anonymous politically-incorrect speech on campus, which they claim violates federal civil-rights laws such as Title IX. They claim they are concerned about “harassment” on anonymous social media applications like Yik Yak, as the Chronicle of Higher Education notes in the article “Women’s Groups Urge Colleges and Government to Rein in Yik Yak.”

Related: Divestors—No Free Speech for Opponents

But their October 21 letter to the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights makes clear that their real goal is to restrict free speech, not just “harassment,” since the letter explicitly labels constitutionally-protected speech as “race-based harassment.” It seems their real goal is to silence dissent on campus by eliminating students’ ability to express their opinions anonymously. The ability to speak anonymously gives moderate and conservative students a chance to speak without vilified or punished by left-wing campus administrators or bullied by student government officials (who sometimes defund campus newspapers for having the temerity to print a moderate or conservative viewpoint about a racial or sexual issue.).

As their letter puts it, “Anonymous race-based harassment through Yik Yak is also pervasive on college campuses. At American University in Washington, DC, for example, Yakkers posted successive invidious comments targeting African-Americans, such as ‘Their entire culture just isn’t conducive to a life of success. It just isn’t. The outfits. The attitudes. The behavior.’”  Whether or not this sentiment is racist, it certainly is not “harassment.”  Indeed, even black newspaper columnists and entertainers regularly lament cultural impediments to success in the black community. Moreover, there is no “racism” exception to the First Amendment.  In 1993, a federal appeals court cited the First Amendment to overturn a fraternity’s discipline for a racist, sexist “ugly woman” skit, in Iota Xi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity v. George Mason University.  And calling racist viewpoints “harassment” does not change this, because as another federal appeals court explained in DeJohn v. Temple University (2008), “there is no ‘harassment exception’” to free speech about racial and sexual issues on campus.

Related: Is Yale Using Title IX to Trump Free Speech?

Requiring colleges to punish what is perceived to be “race-based” speech would endanger even viewpoints that are mainstream positions in society at large, but are disapproved of by politically-correct college campus administrators. Under campus hate speech and “harassment” codes, students have been subjected to campus disciplinary proceedings, in violation of the First Amendment, merely for expressing commonplace opinions about sexual and racial issues, such as criticizing feminism or affirmative action, or discussing homosexuality or the role of race in the criminal justice system.

Wesleyan University in Connecticut provides a recent example of how even mainstream conservative viewpoints are targeted for suppression on campus, in a saga so extreme that it drew criticism from the generally liberal Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell:

In September, sophomore Bryan Stascavage — a 30-year-old Iraq veteran and self-described “moderate conservative” — wrote a column for the Wesleyan Argus. In it, he criticized the Black Lives Matter movement — not the movement’s mission or motivations, but its tactics and messaging, particularly those of its more anti-cop fringe elements.

The essay was provocative, but it contained neither name-calling nor racial stereotypes. It was no more radical than the conservative commentary you might see on mainstream op-ed pages such as this one. That didn’t stop all hell from breaking loose.

Within 24 hours of publication, students were stealing and reportedly destroying newspapers around campus. In a school cafe, a student screamed at Stascavage through tears, declaring that he had “stripped all agency away from her, made her feel like not a human anymore,” Stascavage told me in a phone interview. Over the following days, he said, others muttered “racist” under their breath as he passed by.

The Argus’s editors published a groveling apology on the front page. They said they’d “failed the community” by publishing the op-ed without a counterpoint and said it “twist(ed) facts.” They promised to make the paper “a safe space for the student of color community.” This self-flagellation proved insufficient; students circulated a petition to defund the newspaper.

The Wesleyan student government has now voted to effectively cut the newspaper’s funding.

Related: A New Age of Campus Censorship

In their October 21 letter, the left-wing groups essentially ask the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights to repeal the First Amendment as to internet speech and anonymous speech, complaining that colleges have cited “vague First Amendment concerns” in refusing to crack down on such speech.  (The Supreme Court ruled that anonymous speech is generally protected by the First Amendment in McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Commission (1995)).

As they note, the Office for Civil Rights has already pressured colleges to adopt what are effectively campus speech codes in its recent “Dear Colleague” letters to the nation’s school officials, which label certain kinds of speech as probative of racial or sexual harassment: “In its October 2010 Dear Colleague Letter, OCR clarified that prohibited harassment may take many forms, including  . . graphic and written statements, which may include use of cell phones or the Internet . . OCR should also make clear that the First Amendment does not prevent schools from taking action” to restrict such speech, whether it “occurs in-person or online.”

It asks OCR to force colleges to take actions such as investigating “all” complaints of “online harassment,” whether or not the speaker is “anonymous”; bringing “campus disciplinary proceedings against” such “individuals”; blocking or “geo-fencing of anonymous social media applications that are used to . . . harass students”; and “barring the use of campus wi-fi to view or post to these applications.” Thus, it seeks to ban entire applications from campus based on the speech of some of their users, and to keep students from even seeing what is posted on them, keeping them in the dark about their content.  (The Supreme Court has described such blanket bans as being as foolish and harmful as “burning the house to roast the pig,” in its 1997 decision striking down a ban on indecent internet speech.)

But there is no “internet” exception to free speech about racial or sexual issues (or a blanket “hostile environment” exception, for that matter). That’s why the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit based on a “hostile environment” that it assumed was created by a white professor’s anti-immigration emails. In that decision, Rodriguez v. Maricopa Community College (2010), it relied on the First Amendment to quash a racial harassment suit against the professor for sending those emails, which a college’s Hispanic faculty claimed created a hostile work environment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and 42 U.S.C 1983.

Some of the letter’s demands are probably too extreme to be endorsed by the Office for Civil Rights.  But in the past, it has sometimes shown a disregard for the First Amendment and limits on its statutory jurisdiction.  As I noted earlier in The Wall Street Journal, “the Education Department, where I used to work,” is

“pressuring colleges to adopt unconstitutional speech codes in the name of fighting sexual harassment. It has disregarded many court rulings in doing so.

“For example, the Education Department has wrongly ordered schools to regulate off-campus speech and conduct. That contributed to the harassment charges against Prof. Laura Kipnis, who was accused over a politically incorrect essay she wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education and statements she made on Twitter. Court rulings like Roe v. Saint Louis University (2014) reject Title IX claims over off-campus conduct, but the Education Department ignores them. It also ignores court rulings like Klein v. Smith (1986) emphasizing that the First Amendment usually bars public schools from restricting off-campus speech. For example, the Education Department told schools to regulate comments ‘on the Internet’ in an October 2010 letter. In 2014, it demanded that Harvard regulate off-campus conduct more.”

The Office for Civil Rights should nevertheless keep in mind that it — and individual OCR officials — can be sued for enforcing the civil-rights laws in a way that violate the First Amendment. OCR’s demands under the civil-rights laws were once held to have violated the First Amendment in Knights of the Ku Klux Klan v. East Baton Rouge Parish School Board (1978). A chapter of the Klan had sought to meet together during non-school hours in an empty classroom, the way other groups were permitted to do by the school district. But it was barred from doing so by the school district, acting under pressure from the Office for Civil Rights, which argued that its presence would be illegal racial discrimination. A federal appeals court ruled that the school district and OCR had violated the Klan’s free-speech rights, which could not be overridden by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act or OCR’s requirements.

Similarly, another federal appeals court ruled that individual federal civil-rights officials could be sued for restricting speech in White v. Lee (2000).  That ruling emphasized that speech can’t be punished just because it incites illegal discrimination. It also ruled that federal officials could be sued for threatening citizens with civil fines for speaking out against a minority housing project, even if the speech persuaded a city to delay a housing project that would house members of a protected minority group. That decision also indicated that the restrictions on speech found in workplace racial or sexual harassment rules cannot be applied to society generally under non-workplace discrimination laws.

Cornell’s Not Even Hiding Its Bias Anymore

A few highlights from the online site of Cornell University’s conservative student newspaper, the Cornell Review:

  • At her inauguration as Cornell’s new president, Elizabeth Garrett said, “We must heed the call to be radical and progressive.” Later she issued apparently contradictory statements on free speech, calling herself “an avid supporter of freedom of speech” at a press event in New York.Later, she said, “Speech can be regulated. Speech has to be regulated in the narrowest possible way to serve a compelling state interest.”
  • At a rally against “rape culture,” student Bailey Dineen said that the institutions promoting “rape culture”–Cornell, the Justice System, and the “white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist, cisheteropatriarchy”–must be destroyed.” The rally was sponsored by several groups,including Direct Action to Stop Heterosexism (DASH) and the Kinky Club of Cornell.
  • Though 96 percent of Cornell facultypolitical donations from 2011 to 2014 went to Democrats, government professor Andrew Little was quoted as saying that hiring a few Republicans would compromise the quality of Cornell’s faculty. “Placing more emphasis on diversity of political beliefs when hiring [would] almost certainly require sacrificing on general quality or other dimensions of diversity.”
  • Another government professor, Richard Bensel, said, “Our job is not to mold the minds of young students — they’ll go out into the world and do that for themselves…. Cornell does not have to be a banquet that offers every viewpoint.” He added that recent Republican debates have illustrated the deviation of “mainstream conservatives” from views that are widely accepted by intellectuals at reputable universities.

Donald Downs on the Return of Campus Censorship

The demand for equality that’s emerging on campuses today is primarily underpinned by two things: identity politics and a perception of individuals as suffering from trauma. Students have become attached to the particular trauma they identify with; they see it as a badge of honor and any perceived slight becomes a threat to their sense of who they are. So says Donald Downs, professor of political science, law and journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

More than a decade after the publication of his book, Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, Professor Downs is not confident about the state of academic freedom. “Things go in cycles,” he told me. “In the 1980s and 90s, censorship was driven by political correctness. There was some blowback and things got a little better.

“Now censorship is coming back as liberty and equality are increasingly pitched against each other. This time it’s students who, in the name of equality, are demanding a climate free from offense, waging a war against micro-aggressions and calling for trigger warnings. Students are leading the way in stifling intellectual dissent and academics don’t know how to handle this. Too often they just acquiesce.”

Downs initially supported speech codes at the University of Wisconsin, where he has been a professor since 1980. But watching his colleagues’ “lives and careers ruined by censorship’” changed his mind. In Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, published in 2004, he charted the attacks on free speech on campuses since the late 1980s, and the campaign he helped coordinate at Wisconsin to get speech codes overturned.

Downs notes that the speech codes had more to do with promoting sensitivity and diversity than with tackling prejudice. This broad-brush approach demanded a code to cover every eventuality and allowed policies to proliferate. The University of Michigan, he said, had 20 separate policies at one point, dealing with such things as climate, harassment, speech and diversity – “they were being made up as they went along.”

Although these codes were often written and implemented by administrators who had little understanding of the academic environment, Downs is clear that faculty cannot be let off the hook: “They let this situation happen.’ Liberal academics, often politically sympathetic to the issues covered, generally trusted administrators to implement policies appropriately. To criticize speech codes, Downs remarks, “was to make a statement that you were insensitive to racism or sexism and few were prepared to do this.”

“During most of the twentieth century, threats to academic freedom came from the political right, and from outside institutions of higher learning. The new attacks on free thought that arose in the later 1980s turned this pattern on its head: they have arisen from leftist sources inside the ivory tower.” The book also provides a salutary lesson in how free speech can be regained. Downs emphasizes throughout that “rights won through politics and legislation are more likely to change people’s thinking because majorities have to be convinced to agree.”

This article is reprinted with permission from Spiked, an online British journal of current affairs.

‘Yes, the Kids Are Intolerant’

Excerpts from a blog on the new site, Heterodox Academy

The overall levels of tolerance in society do fluctuate. People are more willing to restrict political rights to their foes during times of war or international threat. Yet, while the baseline for tolerance fluctuates over time, it has always been the case, until recently, that younger people were the most tolerant. This relationship between age and tolerance is what led Stouffer and others to conclude that our society would grow more tolerant over time. The fact that this trend has now reversed has significant implications. If it continues, we will grow less and less tolerant over time.

My late colleague, Stanley Rothman, makes a compelling and thorough case for the lasting impact of the New Left on American values in his last book, The End of the Experiment. Marcuse is widely regarded by political theorists as the most influential philosopher of the Frankfurt School.

But one doesn’t have to read Rothman’s book to understand that young people are now articulating a New Left philosophy about free speech and academic freedom. Students repeatedly ban speakers who offend their sensibilities while framing their objections in Marcuse’s terms. For example, in an op-ed in the Harvard Crimson last year, a student argues for “academic justice” to replace academic freedom. In this view, universities have a social responsibility to be intolerant towards those who would promote racism, sexism and homophobia.

James Gibson (1992), arguably the leading scholar on tolerance, concludes that intolerance creates a culture of conformity that makes all people more hesitant to exercise political liberties. So this is the irony of speech codes. When we teach students to silence racists, they also silence Muslims, atheists, and anyone who makes other people uncomfortable. Intolerance creates a general prohibition on controversial expression.

My research finds that the younger generation perceives a tension between social justice and free speech that previous generations did not.

Those under 40 who have a social justice orientation are generally more intolerant than those who do not. Again, this relationship is not present for those over 40. Those over 40 tend to articulate classical liberal philosophies, which emphasize the right to expression, even for our political foes. Ludwig von Mises argued that liberalism “demands toleration for doctrines and opinions that it deems detrimental and ruinous to society” since “only tolerance can create and preserve the condition of social peace.”

Perhaps there are other forces that explain these generational gaps in attitudes towards free expression. What is clear, however, is that older generation behaves as if they are influenced by classical liberalism and younger generations are behaving as if they were influenced by the New Left.

Yes, the kids are intolerant. That is, they are intolerant if we define tolerance as researchers have for the past six decades, as a measure of willingness to extend basic democratic rights to those one finds most objectionable.