Tag Archives: free speech

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.

A Lame Defense of Trigger Warnings and Micro-Aggression Mania

Many American campuses are caught up in a great new utopian project – protecting students from speech, writings, images, or anything else that they might find upsetting. Because of the spreading mania for trigger warnings and “protecting” students from micro-aggressions, schools are moving away from their focus on education – which, after all, almost inevitably upsets some students by challenging their beliefs. As Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote in his superb book The State of the American Mind, students often enter college today with an expectation that what they’ll get is confirmation of their existing beliefs.

Unfortunately, some higher-education leaders are going along with those expectations, trying to make their schools into blissful oases where young people never have to deal with upsetting people or ideas.

In an op-ed published in the August 31, 2015 Los Angeles Times, Barry Glassner (president of Lewis and Clark College) and Morton Shapiro (president of Northwestern University) admonish us, “Baby Boomers, Don’t be so Quick to Mock Colleges on Trigger Warnings and ‘Micro-aggressions.’”

Because, say Glassner and Shapiro, college leaders have only good intentions and are merely trying to create safe, welcoming learning environments for all students. They acknowledge that there have been “easy targets” for critics, such as the protest at Oberlin College against allowing dissident feminist Christina Hoff Sommers speak on campus lest she offend some students who call her a “rape denier.”

But it would be wrong to throw out their “protect the students” baby with such bathwater since, they write, “Wholesale denouncements of young people’s concerns only hinder our efforts to do right by our students.”

Glassner and Shapiro proceed to tell us, “Many students have genuine concerns that deserve to be taken seriously,” which may well be true. It would be far better, however, to deal with such cases individually rather than throwing a wet blanket over free speech on campus.

Here’s the example the authors give. “One of us watched a brilliant young African American woman who had been highly engaged on campus and in her course work an ‘A’ student, recoil from her classes and her classmates after returning to her dormitory one afternoon. There she was confronted with racist slurs scrawled on posters she had put up….”

Does that case and similar ones that occasionally happen (and keep in mind that lots of them have turned out to be hoaxes) call for a school-wide assault on verbal slights (microaggressions)? I don’t think so, but if a school were to embark upon one, would it do any good? People who intend to inflict harm on others won’t be deterred from doing so just because the school tells them that they should be careful not to hurt other students’ feelings.

And trying to stop all of the inadvertent personal slights that we all encounter in daily living is an impossibility. As Megan McArdle observes in her piece, “How Grown-Ups Deal with ‘Microaggressions’” in any diverse group of people, “microagressions are unavoidable. A culture that tries to avoid them is setting itself up to tear itself apart.”

She goes on to explain that once we start down the path of policing microaggressions, we make “impossible demands on members of the ever-shrinking majority: to know everything about every possible victim group, to never inadvertently appropriate any part of any culture in ways a member doesn’t like, or misunderstand something, or make an innocent remark that reads differently to someone with a different experience. Which will, of course, only hasten the scramble for members of the majority to gain themselves some sort of victim status that can protect them from sanction.”

Thus, like nearly all well-intentioned liberal projects, the prevention of microaggressions does scant good, but opens up a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences.

What about trigger warnings? Does that part of the Cocoon Trend fare better?

Glassner and Shapiro write that a student recovering from sexual abuse really could be traumatized by a class reading or discussion. No doubt, that is possible. Again, however, it would make far more sense for such a vulnerable student to bring her concerns to the professor’s attention rather than to institute a general policy requiring trigger warnings for every possible idea or image that might cause any student in class mental distress.

Glassner and Shapiro want to exonerate the students who push for a campus where they’re “safe” from hurtful words, writing, “Today’s college students would not be struggling to deal with sexual assault and racism from their childhoods and on our campuses had their parents and grandparents made the world as harmonious as we imagined we would.”

No, that’s not the problem at all. The world actually is much more harmonious than in the past, just not perfectly so. But while doing much to improve civilization, those older generations also sowed some bad ideas that have taken root among many young Americans. In particular, I’d point to the “progressive” notion that it’s the responsibility of “society” (government and institutions like colleges) to solve the individual’s problems for him. Progressives have been peddling that for more than a century. That’s what the Nanny State is all about.

It has led some students to believe that there’s virtue in claiming victim status so they can complain to authorities when someone acts in a way they dislike. And it has led others to realize that they can aggressively take advantage of that status to censor ideas they don’t agree with. The protests against speakers like Christina Hoff Sommers, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and others stem not from concerns that their words will cause psychological harm, but simply from the fact that they’re saying things that the students don’t want anyone to hear.

The silk of the supposedly protective cocoon is easily spun into a gag by those who think it’s proper to silence all who disagree with them.

Far from deserving praise for their efforts at protecting students with genuine concerns, college leaders like Glassner and Shapiro should be criticized for not seeing how they are encouraging bad habits among young Americans who, more than anything else, need to grow up.

DIVESTERS: NO FREE SPEECH FOR OPPONENTS

Student activists pressing universities to divest from fossil fuels are of two minds about free speech. They want it for themselves, but don’t seem keen on allowing it for opponents. The divestment movement didn’t invent free-speech hypocrisy, but divestment activists offer a range of old and new reasons as to why opposing views should not be tolerated.

The debate is over

The divestment movement claims to like debate. It is convinced that anyone with an open mind can’t help but agree that divesting is a good thing to do. “Colleges would already be divesting if it were just about the arguments, because there are plenty out there.” says full-time campaigner Jess Grady-Benson, leader of an ardent student divestment campaign at Pitzer College in California.

Bill McKibben, founder of the activist group 350.org and the international divestment movement, declared at a recent rally, “We won the argument. “Twenty years ago we lost the fight and that’s because the fight was never about data.” If, in your own mind, you have won the substantive argument, but your opponent continues to persuade the audience to his side, what can you do? Declare the debate to be over? Yank the microphone away from the moderator? Refuse to share a platform with anyone who so wrongheadedly persists in thinking the debate is not over?

These might sound like exaggerated metaphors, but they are actual examples of what divestarians have done in the past. The commandeering of the microphone, for example, took place when a group of divestment activists, calling themselves Mountain Justice, took over a debate on divestment with Swarthmore College’s board of trustees. The rowdy group then went on a 90-minute screed about the need for ‘radical emancipatory action’ and cancelled the question-and-answer section where students and faculty could weigh in. When two students in the audience dared to ask if the meeting could be returned to order, divestment activists clapped them down in unison and told them to leave.

Delaying by debating

The divestment movement is sometimes in favor of debate, but in the same breath it spurns debate as a delaying tactic. Dialogue, it says, is enemy territory occupied by the fossil-fuel industry – debate is the industry’s way to buy time. Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard historian of science, has convinced activists that the fossil-fuel industry has tainted scientific literature, political processes and the media. Anyone who advocates dialogue is immediately suspect.

Swarthmore activist Kate Aronoff verbalized the movement’s free-speech angst in a post called “f— your constructive dialogue.” She criticized her liberal friends who were mimicking conservatives in ‘deploying identical arguments in defense of tolerant civil discourse’. She found the dialogue suffocating and wanted sheer ‘conflict.’ Declaring debate to be over and deciding that there was no ground for debate in the first place is contradictory, but it all leads to the same conclusion – only the divestarians have a moral claim to free speech. Dissenters are either fools or knaves, and it would be a waste of precious time to give them the opportunity to speak. That time is better spent in preventing them from speaking.

Smear your opponents

McKibben says the divestment movement’s censorious tactics do the whole world a favor by cutting through political posturing and getting back to the facts. Fossil-fuel companies have ‘bought’ the politicians and the media, apparently, and the divestment campaign exposes the sound bite half-truths they are paid to say. But the divestment movement has itself honed the art of slanting messages and demonizing opponents. Indeed, demonization is its entire purpose.

McKibben says that divestment’s aim is to ‘revoke the social license’ of the fossil-fuel industry and turn companies into ‘pariahs’. Anyone who happens to oppose divestment is up for being labelled a pariah, too. Boards of trustees who vote against divestment learn this immediately – they are accused of climate-change denialoligarchical behavior and, in almost every case, money grubbing. Most US colleges promote sustainability and nearly 700 American colleges have taken pledges to go carbon neutral. Nevertheless, if they don’t rush to divest entirely, they still get painted as pawns of the fossil-fuel industry.

Polarizing opinion

The divestment movement insists it is taking steps towards political healing. Once corporations quit buying the political system, it says, the people will make the “right” decision about climate change. “Left to our own devices, citizens might decide to regulate carbon’, says McKibben, but right now we ‘aren’t left to our own devices” – you know, because of the Koch brothers, the US Chamber of Commerce and the Republican Party peppering us with propaganda. Divestment campaigns intentionally make political divides worse.

They want to sidestep real debates about energy policy and carbon taxes and boil them into simple yeas and nays on divestment. Campaigns at HarvardMiddlebury CollegeTufts University and more, asked dissenters to get ‘on the right side of history’. According to divestarians, those who disagree with them are not only factually and morally incorrect, but also historically illiterate.

Isolating opposition

This polarization goes deep. Divestment activists may well open an abbey soon – they don’t mingle with the non-believers. Innumerable activists have refused to speak to me and others because we oppose divestment. Harvard psychologist James Recht, active in Harvard’s divestment campaign and the nationwide American Faculty/Staff Divestment Network, filled me in on the new speech codes within the divestment movement. ‘We expect our peers to be forthright about their attitudes and their political views. If someone agrees with me, we tend to talk openly about our interests. And if someone disagrees…’ He trailed off. The divestment movement’s motto might well be this: free speech for me, but not for thee.

Of course, none of this would matter if the opposition to the divestment movement was hypothetical – if the debate really was over, or the opponents were merely stooges. But, in fact, the opposition is robust, thoughtful and well-armed with cogent arguments and compelling evidence – a situation that suggests the divestarians’ aversion to debate is based on something other than principle. Selling off oil stocks in the name of eco-purity does not in fact help the environment. Someone else will simply buy up those divested stocks. What’s more, divestment costs money and those stocks are valuable. And campaigning sucks student time away from studying and channels it into emotionally addictive but pointless activism. It scapegoats an industry, but lets consumers off the hook. Divestment, however, is today’s fastest-growing student movement.

Beginning at a handful of small colleges in 2011, the drive to persuade colleges to divest is now an organized presence on more than 500 campuses. Thirty-seven universities, including Oxford, Stanford and Georgetown, have acceded to the pressure by divesting or promising to do so in the future. The breadth of the movement shows that climate demagoguery is a force to be reckoned with. It has done virtually nothing to clean up pollution, but has gone far in scrubbing the free exchange of ideas from the academic environment.

This article originally appeared on Free Speech Now!

‘My Students Scare Me’ – A Liberal Professor

I’m a professor at a midsize state school. I have been teaching college classes for nine years now. I have won (minor) teaching awards, studied pedagogy extensively, and almost always score highly on my student evaluations. I am not a world class teacher by any means, but I am conscientious; I attempt to put teaching ahead of research, and I take a healthy emotional stake in the well-being and growth of my students.

Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones. Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. The student-teacher dynamic has been re-envisioned along a line that’s simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher’s formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.

What it was like before

In early 2009, I was an adjunct, teaching a freshman-level writing course at a community college. Discussing infographics and data visualization, we watched a flash animation describing how Wall Street’s recklessness had destroyed the economy. The video stopped, and I asked whether the students thought it was effective. An older student raised his hand. “What about Fannie and Freddie?” he asked.

“Government kept giving homes to black people, to help out black people, white people didn’t get anything, and then they couldn’t pay for them. What about that?” I gave a quick response about how most experts would disagree with that assumption, that it was actually an oversimplification, and pretty dishonest, and isn’t it good that someone made the video we just watched to try to clear things up? And, hey, let’s talk about whether that was effective, okay?

If you don’t think it was, how could it have been? The rest of the discussion went on as usual. The next week, I got called into my director’s office. I was shown an email, sender name redacted, alleging that I “possessed communistical [sic] sympathies and refused to tell more than one side of the story.” The story in question wasn’t described, but I suspect it had do to with whether or not the economic collapse was caused by poor black people.

My director rolled her eyes. She knew the complaint was silly bullshit. I wrote up a short description of the past week’s class work, noting that we had looked at several examples of effective writing in various media and that I always made a good faith effort to include conservative narratives along with the liberal ones. Along with a carbon-copy form, my description was placed into a file that may or may not have existed. Then … nothing. It disappeared forever; no one cared about it beyond their contractual duties to document student concerns. I never heard another word of it again. That was the first, and so far only, formal complaint a student has ever filed against me.

Now boat rocking isn’t just dangerous — it’s suicidal.

This isn’t an accident: I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. (I also make sure all my remotely offensive or challenging opinions, such as this article, are expressed either anonymously or pseudonymously). Most of my colleagues who still have jobs have done the same. We’ve seen bad things happen to too many good teachers — adjuncts getting axed because their evaluations dipped below a 3.0, grad students being removed from classes after a single student complaint, and so on.

I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to “offensive” texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students’ ire and sealed his fate.  That was enough to get me to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik — and I wasn’t the only one who made adjustments, either.

I am frightened sometimes by the thought that a student would complain again like he did in 2009. Only this time it would be a student accusing me not of saying something too ideologically extreme — be it communism or racism or whatever — but of not being sensitive enough toward his feelings, of some simple act of indelicacy that’s considered tantamount to physical assault. As Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis writes, “Emotional discomfort is [now] regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated.”

Hurting a student’s feelings, even in the course of instruction that is absolutely appropriate and respectful, can now get a teacher into serious trouble. In 2009, the subject of my student’s complaint was my supposed ideology. I was communistical, the student felt, and everyone knows that communisticism is wrong. That was, at best, a debatable assertion. And as I was allowed to rebut it, the complaint was dismissed with prejudice.

I didn’t hesitate to reuse that same video in later semesters, and the student’s complaint had no impact on my performance evaluations.In 2015, such a complaint would not be delivered in such a fashion. Instead of focusing on the rightness or wrongness (or even acceptability) of the materials we reviewed in class, the complaint would center solely on how my teaching affected the student’s emotional state.

As I cannot speak to the emotions of my students, I could not mount a defense about the acceptability of my instruction. And if I responded in any way other than apologizing and changing the materials we reviewed in class, professional consequences would likely follow. I wrote about this fear on my blog, and while the response was mostly positive, some liberals called me paranoid, or expressed doubt about why any teacher would nix the particular texts I listed. I guarantee you that these people do not work in higher education, or if they do they are at least two decades removed from the job search.

The academic job market is brutal. Teachers who are not tenured or tenure-track faculty members have no right to due process before being dismissed, and there’s a mile-long line of applicants eager to take their place. And as writer and academic Freddie DeBoer writes, they don’t even have to be formally fired — they can just not get rehired. In this type of environment, boat-rocking isn’t just dangerous, it’s suicidal, and so teachers limit their lessons to things they know won’t upset anybody.

The real problem: a simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice

This shift in student-teacher dynamic placed many of the traditional goals of higher education — such as having students challenge their beliefs — off limits. While I used to pride myself on getting students to question themselves and engage with difficult concepts and texts, I now hesitate. What if this hurts my evaluations and I don’t get tenure? How many complaints will it take before chairs and administrators begin to worry that I’m not giving our customers — er, students, pardon me — the positive experience they’re paying for? Ten? Half a dozen? Two or three?

This phenomenon has been widely discussed as of late, mostly as a means of deriding political, economic, or cultural forces writers don’t much care for. Commentators on the left and right have recently criticized the sensitivity and paranoia of today’s college students. They worry about the stifling of free speech, the implementation of unenforceable conduct codes, and a general hostility against opinions and viewpoints that could cause students so much as a hint of discomfort.

IT’S NOT JUST THAT STUDENTS REFUSE TO COUNTENANCE UNCOMFORTABLE IDEAS — THEY REFUSE TO ENGAGE THEM, PERIOD.

I agree with some of these analyses more than others, but they all tend to be too simplistic. The current student-teacher dynamic has been shaped by a large confluence of factors, and perhaps the most important of these is the manner in which cultural studies and social justice writers have comported themselves in popular media. I have a great deal of respect for both of these fields, but their manifestations online, their desire to democratize complex fields of study by making them as digestible as a TGIF sitcom, has led to adoption of a totalizing, simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice.

The simplicity and absolutism of this conception has combined with the precarity of academic jobs to create higher ed’s current climate of fear, a heavily policed discourse of semantic sensitivity in which safety and comfort have become the ends and the means of the college experience.

This new understanding of social justice politics resembles what University of Pennsylvania political science professor Adolph Reed Jr. calls a politics of personal testimony, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed. Reed derides this sort of political approach as essentially being a non-politics, a discourse that “is focused much more on taxonomy than politics [which] emphasizes the names by which we should call some strains of inequality [ … ] over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them.”

Under such a conception, people become more concerned with signaling goodness, usually through semantics and empty gestures, than with actually working to effect change. Herein lies the folly of oversimplified identity politics: while identity concerns obviously warrant analysis, focusing on them too exclusively draws our attention so far inward that none of our analyses can lead to action.

Rebecca Reilly Cooper, a political philosopher at the University of Warwick, worries about the effectiveness of a politics in which “particular experiences can never legitimately speak for anyone other than ourselves, and personal narrative and testimony are elevated to such a degree that there can be no objective standpoint from which to examine their veracity.” Personal experience and feelings aren’t just a salient touchstone of contemporary identity politics; they are the entirety of these politics. In such an environment, it’s no wonder that students are so prone to elevate minor slights to protestable offenses. (It’s also why seemingly piddling matters of cultural consumption warrant much more emotional outrage than concerns with larger material implications.

Compare the number of web articles surrounding the supposed problematic aspects of the newest Avengers movie with those complaining about, say, the piecemeal dismantling of abortion rights. The former outnumber the latter considerably, and their rhetoric is typically much more impassioned and inflated. I’d discuss this in my classes — if I weren’t too scared to talk about abortion.) The press for actionability, or even for comprehensive analyses that go beyond personal testimony, is hereby considered redundant, since all we need to do to fix the world’s problems is adjust the feelings attached to them and open up the floor for various identity groups to have their say.

All the old, enlightened means of discussion and analysis —from due process to scientific method — are dismissed as being blind to emotional concerns and therefore unfairly skewed toward the interest of straight white males. All that matters is that people are allowed to speak, that their narratives are accepted without question, and that the bad feelings go away. So it’s not just that students refuse to countenance uncomfortable ideas — they refuse to engage them, period.

Engagement is considered unnecessary, as the immediate, emotional reactions of students contain all the analysis and judgment that sensitive issues demand. As Judith Shulevitz wrote in the New York Times, these refusals can shut down discussion in genuinely contentious areas, such as when Oxford canceled an abortion debate. More often, they affect surprisingly minor matters, as when Hampshire College disinvited an Afrobeat band because their lineup had too many white people in it.

When feelings become more important than issues

At the very least, there’s debate to be had in these areas. Ideally, pro-choice students would be comfortable enough in the strength of their arguments to subject them to discussion, and a conversation about a band’s supposed cultural appropriation could take place alongside a performance. But these cancellations and disinvitations are framed in terms of feelings, not issues. The abortion debate was canceled because it would have imperiled the “welfare and safety of our students.”

The Afrofunk band’s presence would not have been “safe and healthy.” No one can rebut feelings, and so the only thing left to do is shut down the things that cause distress — no argument, no discussion, just hit the mute button and pretend eliminating discomfort is the same as effecting actual change. In a New York Magazine piece, Jonathan Chait described the chilling effect this type of discourse has upon classrooms. Chait’s piece generated seismic backlash, and while I disagree with much of his diagnosis, I have to admit he does a decent job of describing the symptoms.

He cites an anonymous professor who says, “she and her fellow faculty members are terrified of facing accusations of triggering trauma.” Internet liberals pooh-poohed this comment, likening the professor to one of Tom Friedman’s imaginary cab drivers.  But I’ve seen what’s being described here. I’ve lived it. It’s real, and it affects liberal, socially conscious teachers much more than conservative ones.

If we wish to remove this fear, and to adopt a politics that can lead to more substantial change, we need to adjust our discourse.  Ideally, we can have a conversation that is conscious of the role of identity issues and confident of the ideas that emanate from the people who embody those identities. It would call out and criticize unfair, arbitrary, or otherwise stifling discursive boundaries, but avoid falling into pettiness or nihilism. It wouldn’t be moderate, necessarily, but it would be deliberate. It would require effort.

In the start of his piece, Chait hypothetically asks if “the offensiveness of an idea [can] be determined objectively, or only by recourse to the identity of the person taking offense.” Here, he’s getting at the concerns addressed by Reed and Reilly-Cooper, the worry that we’ve turned our analysis so completely inward that our judgment of a person’s speech hinges more upon their identity signifiers than on their ideas.

A sensible response to Chait’s question would be that this is a false binary, and that ideas can and should be judged both by the strength of their logic and by the cultural weight afforded to their speaker’s identity. Chait appears to believe only the former, and that’s kind of ridiculous. Of course, someone’s social standing affects whether their ideas are considered offensive, or righteous, or even worth listening to. How can you think otherwise?

We destroy ourselves when identity becomes our sole focus

Feminists and anti-racists recognize that identity does matter. This is indisputable. If we subscribe to the belief that ideas can be judged within a vacuum, uninfluenced by the social weight of their proponents, we perpetuate a system in which arbitrary markers like race and gender influence the perceived correctness of ideas. We can’t overcome prejudice by pretending it doesn’t exist.

Focusing on identity allows us to interrogate the process through which white males have their opinions taken at face value, while women, people of color, and non-normatively gendered people struggle to have their voices heard. But we also destroy ourselves when identity becomes our sole focus. Consider a tweet I linked to (which has since been removed. See editor’s note below.), from a critic and artist, in which she writes: “When ppl go off on evo psych, its always some shady colonizer white man theory that ignores nonwhite human history. but ‘science’. Ok … Most ‘scientific thought’ as u know it isnt that scientific but shaped by white patriarchal bias of ppl who claimed authority on it.”

This critic is intelligent. Her voice is important. She realizes, correctly, that evolutionary psychology is flawed, and that science has often been misused to legitimize racist and sexist beliefs.  But why draw that out to questioning most “scientific thought”? Can’t we see how distancing that is to people who don’t already agree with us? And tactically, can’t we see how shortsighted it is to be skeptical of a respected manner of inquiry just because it’s associated with white males?

This sort of perspective is not confined to Twitter and the comments sections of liberal blogs. It was born in the more nihilistic corners of academic theory, and its manifestations on social media have severe real-world implications. In another instance, two female professors of library science publicly outed and shamed a male colleague they accused of being creepy at conferences, going so far as to openly celebrate the prospect of ruining his career.

I don’t doubt that some men are creepy at conferences — they are. And for all I know, this guy might be an A-level creep. But part of the female professors’ shtick was the strong insistence that harassment victims should never be asked for proof, that an enunciation of an accusation is all it should ever take to secure a guilty verdict. The identity of the victims overrides the identity of the harasser, and that’s all the proof they need.

This is terrifying. No one will ever accept that. And if that becomes a salient part of liberal politics, liberals are going to suffer tremendous electoral defeat. Debate and discussion would ideally temper this identity-based discourse, make it more usable and less scary to outsiders. Teachers and academics are the best candidates to foster this discussion, but most of us are too scared and economically disempowered to say anything.

Right now, there’s nothing much to do other than sit on our hands and wait for the ascension of conservative political backlash — hop into the echo chamber, pile invective upon the next person or company who says something vaguely insensitive, insulate ourselves further and further from any concerns that might resonate outside of our own little corner of Twitter. Update: After a discussion with a woman whose tweet was quoted in the story, the editors of this piece agreed that some of the conclusions drawn in the article misrepresented her tweet and the article was revised.

The woman requested anonymity because she said she was receiving death threats as a result of the story, so her name has been removed. Unfortunately, threats are a horrible reality for many women online and a topic we intend to report on further.

(This story, originally published at Vox Media on June 3, 2015, is reprinted with permission.)

Edward Schlosser is a college professor writing under a pseudonym. 

Read More at Vox:

Tenure, Kipnis and the PC University

Some coincidences are less coincidental than others are. Northwestern University recently investigated professor Laura Kipnis, regarding complaints that an essay of hers had violated students’ legal rights. Meanwhile, a committee of the Wisconsin state legislature voted to let the University of Wisconsin choose, as a matter of policy, whether its professors would enjoy the protections of tenure, removing that guarantee from state law, where it has been established for many years.

At no point do the two sagas intersect. The universities are in different states. One is private; the other is public. No actor in either story has even a walk-on part in the other.

The Public’s Rising Contempt

There’s a connection, however. Northwestern’s bizarre, egregious treatment of Kipnis strengthens the case against the credentials-industrial complex that MTC and other critics have been making for years: zealots, frauds, and cowards are turning the citadels of academic freedom into indoctrination camps.

The Kipnis story didn’t cause, but strongly reinforces, growing popular contempt for higher education and its denizens, whose vast self-regard rests on academic ideals they do so much more to flout than uphold. That contempt, in turn, makes it possible, even irresistible, for politicians to curtail prerogatives that serve academics’ private interests but no longer advance the public interest in ways voters can discern or believe.

The Wisconsin professors defending tenure are saying all the right things. (Despite being a little hysterical: tenure protects academics throughout the country without being enshrined in state law. Wisconsin has been the exception.) “Work in higher education, and in education more generally, depends upon the ability to have critical conversations,” said one. “I can’t stay where I can’t speak,” another declares. “And believe me, I cannot speak without tenure.”

Noble Words, Ignoble Deeds

The president of Northwestern University, Morton Schapiro, also says the right things. “Freedom of speech doesn’t amount to much unless it is tested,” hewrotein March. “And if the First Amendment doesn’t matter on college campuses, where self-expression is so deeply valued, why expect it to matter elsewhere?”

Despite the noble words, the deeds have been contemptible. In February, Kipnis published an essay, “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It argued that restrictive university codes of sexual conduct amounted to “feminism hijacked by melodrama” about “helpless victims and powerful predators.”

Evidence justifying her lament that students “were being encouraged to regard themselves as … exquisitely sensitive creatures” came within days. Campus protesters denounced the Kipnis article, which one found “terrifying.” A public letteraccused her of “spit[ting] in the face of survivors of rape and sexual assault everywhere.” A petition, claiming that the essay had “caused tremendous hurt,” called on Northwestern to issue “a swift, official condemnation of the sentiments expressed by Professor Kipnis in her inflammatory article and we demand that in the future, this sort of response comes automatically.”

Northwestern did not officially condemn the article. It did, however, open an investigation after two graduate students formally complained that Kipnis had violated Title IX, the 1972 legislation prohibiting colleges from discriminating based on sex. In a follow-up Chronicle essay, Kipnis reported learning—eventually; the outside lawyers investigating her case did not reveal the charges against her until after she had asked repeatedly over several days—that one student alleged her article had had “a ‘chilling effect’ on students’ ability to report sexual misconduct.” The other, mentioned in passing and not by name in the first essay in connection with a sexual misconduct claim already filed, asserted that Kipnis had retaliated against her and created a “hostile environment,” compounding the initial act of gender-based discrimination, and thereby committing a new one. The charges were based on the essay and a single tweet by Kipnis.

A Clown-Show Inquisition

Denunciations of what Kipnis called her “Title IX Inquisition” were ferocious. Liberal blogger Josh Marshall denounced the “Kipnis clown show.” (Having earned a Ph.D., Marshall is familiar with circus life.) Geoffrey Stone, a University of Chicago law professor, argued that since the case against Kipnis was “ludicrous on its face,” Northwestern should have “dismiss[ed] it as quickly and decisively as possible.”

The university’s official position was that its only option was to pursue a case against Kipnis. “Northwestern University is firmly committed both to academic freedom and to free speech,” it said in a statement, “but it is also required to investigate and respond to allegations made by complainants that particular actions or statements might violate Title IX.” (Emphasis added.) The U.S. Department of Education’s determination to make Title IX a vehicle for policing campus sexual behavior is indeed a big part of the problem, but doesn’t sustain the claim that universities have no choice but to run kangaroo courts. When federal policies are unpopular on campus, like sending military recruiters during the days of don’t-ask-don’t tell, the universities’ posture is righteous disdain, not meek acquiescence.

Treating Her Fairly 

After Northwestern determined there was no basis for pursuing the Title IX case against Kipnis, one particularly obtuse blogger (a philosophy professor at another university) argued that the investigation she had been “demonizing” turned out to have treated her fairly. This assessment ignores the obvious fact that undergoing the investigative process was a punishment. Despite its president’s platitudes about valuing self-expression, Northwestern’s risk-averse faculty members will inevitably self-censor rather than increase their exposure to such investigations.

The fact that Kipnis has tenure belies Wisconsin professors’ claims about the impossibility of speaking freely without it. Tenure, as understood by one of the country’s most prestigious universities, is no longer a sufficient condition for exercising freedom of speech with confidence there’ll be no professional drawbacks.

But l’affaire Kipnis shows, strangely, that neither is tenure a necessary condition for free speech. In the midst of the controversy, a Northwestern graduate student wrote a Huffington Post article claiming the university was treating Kipnis too leniently, not too harshly. Its preposterous argument about how the school’s “hostile environment” had made it impossible for students to “flourish” led Josh Marshall to suspect it was a parody: an attempt, like the Alan Sokal hoax, to write something so idiotic that readers would quickly realize that even academics aren’t that crazy.

More importantly, as Kipnis argued, the fact of the Huffington Post article demolished its thesis. “If a graduate student can publicly blast her own university’s president, mock his ideas, and fear no repercussions, then clearly the retaliatory power that university employment confers on anyone—from professors to presidents—is nil.”

The First of Many?

What is, then, both necessary and sufficient to speak your mind in the modern academy without risking career turmoil is to affirm, rather than question, the reigning, strengthening political-identity orthodoxies. That reality mocks the pieties about tenure’s societal benefits, created when professors have the confidence to express their ideas boldly and pursue their work freely. And that reality reduces academic tenure to a job-protection racket sustained by tax and tuition payments from people who will never have guaranteed lifetime employment. Until academic life and governance is re-principled, the Wisconsin vote against tenure is likely to be the first of many.

Campus Censors—Here’s How to Fight Them

This article originally appeared on Minding the Campus April 21, 2013.

It’s no longer a matter of much debate that America’s college campuses are not the beacons of free and open discussion in a democratic society that they were intended to be. In its 14 years of existence, our organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has documented hundreds of cases of gross abuses of students’ and faculty members’ fundamental rights. More than sixty percent of America’s largest and most prestigious colleges have speech codes that are either unconstitutional (at public universities) or directly contradict promises of free speech (at private universities).

The two authors of this piece come from very different political and personal perspectives. One is a liberal and an atheist (Lukianoff), the other a conservative evangelical Christian (Shibley). We are also FIRE’s president and senior vice president, respectively. But our combined decades of work at FIRE have convinced us that the groupthink and the pressure to conform, be silent, or talk solely to those with whom you already agree that is fostered by the culture and rules of the modern campus is destructive to students, our educational system, and our society as a whole. One of us wrote a book about it.

So what can people who recognize the importance of free speech on campus do about it? There are a number of possible measures that might be taken. FIRE is already doing some of them; others would require new large-scale and ambitious initiatives. Some are cultural. Some are political or legal. None are the silver bullet that a lot of us might like, and some have tradeoffs that might make them less desirable. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Feds Can Mandate Protections

Margaret Hagen, a professor at Boston University, recently proposed in National Review that Congress should use the power of the purse to force campuses to respect free speech. This would be a statutory effort that would tie the receipt of government funding to enacting policies and practices that respect free speech, much as colleges that receive government funding must provide access to military recruiters. Given our college funding system, this would apply to nearly every college in America, public or private, since “federal funding” includes not just direct subsidies (received mostly by state schools) but also research grants as well as student funds like Pell grants and Stafford loans. Virtually every college in the U.S. gets federal funding from at least one of these sources—indeed, FIRE knows of only three American colleges that don’t: Hillsdale College, Grove City College, and the College of the Ozarks. There are probably more, but not many.

The advantage of this plan is that with the stroke of a pen, Congress and the President could make every college in America sit up and take notice. Lawyers would be hired to ensure compliance and rewrite speech-restrictive policies that suddenly look a lot more expensive. Students would know that no matter where they go to school, they would be taking their rights with them. Vague genuflections towards free speech would suddenly have real meaning. A greater diversity of views expressed on campus would be almost guaranteed.

But there are philosophical problems with this approach. First, it would undoubtedly represent further government intervention in college administration. For those who believe that less government is better, this might be a hard sell. The counterargument to this is that colleges who did not want to be “burdened” with free speech would remain free to give up claims to government funding. While this is true in principle, and is obviously possible, there is a reason why so few colleges attempt to survive without any federally backed loans or support.

Second, this type of legislation could lead to unjustified complacency about rights on college campuses. After all, public colleges are already required to follow the Constitution and yet most don’t. Putting federal funding at risk would certainly give them greater incentive to do so, and give private colleges actual incentive to do so, but enforcement would rely on federal bureaucrats being willing to actually cut funding to schools that fail to comply. This might be politically impossible at big schools like Ohio State or prestigious schools like Harvard. Colleges are likely to know this and may be willing to take that gamble. Colleges are in a similar situation with regard to compliance with the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA (a deeply flawed law, but that is for another article). Noncompliance is unlawful and can be punished through the loss of federal funds, but this has literally never happened in the 39 years since its enactment, despite many abuses.

Third, religious schools or explicitly ideological schools would lose the ability they now have to regulate expression in keeping with their missions. FIRE recognizes the right of private schools to put other values above free speech as long as they are transparent about the rules before students enroll. Few actually do—out of the more than 400 schools FIRE rates, only nine explicitly place other values above free speech, and two of them are military academies. But a free, pluralistic society should allow the ability to establish and join private organizations that have their own set of values that may not agree with the mainstream. Imposing First Amendment standards on all institutions via legislation may be the quickest of all fixes, but it comes with some significant drawbacks.

No Harassment by Harassment Rules

Since the 1980s, the most common form of campus speech codes has been wildly overbroad or vague harassment codes. Poorly written or purposely broad harassment policies can silence huge swaths of protected speech. For example, Auburn University at Montgomery bans “jokes” about protected characteristics, as well as “making judgments,” managing to ban both Chris Rock and Sandra Day O’Connor from campus with a single policy.

Speaking of O’Connor, the Supreme Court has actually provided the solution to this problem, if only schools would listen. It comes from Justice O’Connor’s majority decision in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999), in which the Supreme Court set out a standard for peer-on-peer harassment in the educational setting that protects free speech while preventing real discriminatory harassment. Under the Davis standard, behavior becomes punishable when it is (1) unwelcome, (2) discriminatory, (3) on the basis of gender or another protected class, such as race, (4) directed at an individual, and (5) “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience, that the victim-students are effectively denied equal access to an institution’s resources and opportunities.”

The Davis standard is a definition that is serious and that correctly confines harassment to seriously discriminatory patterns of behavior. Such a specific definition is nothing like the countless campus codes that prohibit “inappropriate,” “demeaning,” or merely “offensive” speech. Adopting Davis would send a strong message that “harassment” can no longer be treated as code for a student’s or administrator’s supposed “right not to be offended.”

Colleges could adopt the Davis standard on their own, or the standard could be written into federal or state legislation. Since all schools receiving federal funding are already bound by Titles VI and IX to have rules against racial and sexual harassment, adding this standard to law would not result in further federal entanglement. Indeed, it would add much needed clarity to federal requirements that confuse nearly everyone involved. It is crucial, however, that the law state that the definition of harassment should be understood as “no more and no less than” the Davis standard, and that the Davis standard definition be the only acceptable definition of harassment in the educational context. Without such language, campuses would simply go back to their current practice of having an arguably constitutional definition of harassment in one part of their code coupled with comically unconstitutional definitions of harassment elsewhere.

The Power of Litigation

Public colleges and universities that maintain unconstitutional speech codes are, of course, breaking the law. Yet at least 61.6% of the public colleges rated by FIRE have speech codes that we deem to be blatantly unconstitutional. FIRE’s Speech Code Litigation Project helps students file lawsuits against such unconstitutional speech codes, usually at the rate of about one per year. The project has a 100% success rate, aided by the “target-rich” environment and our expertise in constitutional law. FIRE has also repeatedly provided college administrators with “actual notice” about their unlawful codes through massive certified mailings, making liability for maintaining those codes easier to establish.

Our efforts to highlight speech codes with our annual Spotlight reports and targeted litigation have helped. Five years ago, 75% of schools had speech codes that violate First Amendment principles. This year, it was only 62%. We’ve spent 14 years working to roll back speech codes while avoiding truly widespread litigation. Yet with more resources targeted towards litigation, there’s no doubt that this number could be driven lower as schools realize the risks of maintaining speech codes that are frankly indefensible in a court of law.

Campus speech codes and unclear federal policies currently give campus administrators an excuse to overreact to speech. Indeed, university attorneys have some basis for believing that it may be safer, from a liability standpoint, to overreact. This kind of legal ambiguity—which can leave administrators wondering if they can be sued for not violating the Constitution—sends the problem of politically correct administrators into overdrive. Litigation on a large scale may be the only way to rebalance this perverse incentive structure by creating a real and substantial risk to colleges that currently find it safer and easier to censor first and ask questions later.

Act for Disclosure Legislation

Knowledge is power, which makes disclosure rules a popular form of providing transparency in many sectors of our economy. Lawyers, stockbrokers, accountants, and many others are used to disclosing pertinent information in the course of business. But there’s no rule that says universities must disclose whether they protect students’ fundamental rights, despite the fact that they are treated like autonomous city-states with little oversight or accountability in this area. Congress could add a provision to federal law that would require public colleges to annually certify that they have reviewed their policies and that they comply with the First Amendment. The legislation would also require private institutions to declare whether they offer their students free speech rights equivalent to those enjoyed by students on public campuses. These submissions would be posted in a searchable online database, so the information would be publicly available.

While the law would not have to involve penalizing universities for not protecting speech (although public universities would court disastrous lawsuits if they admitted they didn’t follow the First Amendment), they would have to carefully consider their answers. Even private universities that aren’t bound by the Constitution would likely find it difficult to tell students and faculty members that they don’t have anything like full First Amendment rights, since the vast majority of institutions do pay at least lip service to free speech. Promising free speech in your glossy materials while burying the bad news under hundreds of pages of bureaucrat-speak is one thing. Telling the feds and public “no, we don’t care about First Amendment principles” is entirely another.

Carrots for Good Colleges

FIRE has ensured that administrators who refuse to address speech problems on their campuses face possible legal action, expenses, the loss of qualified immunity, and negative publicity. However, simple negative reinforcement is not enough. Colleges must also have “carrots”—positive incentives for reform—to go along with the metaphorical sticks. FIRE works hard to provide positive publicity for those schools that do cooperate and reform their policies. Schools that earn a “green light” rating from FIRE, such as recent examples Eastern Kentucky University, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State, receive public praise, a reward that encourages other schools to follow suit. FIRE has also begun publishing an annual list of the best schools for freedom of speech in The Huffington Post.

Perhaps most valuable, though, is FIRE’s willingness to work with universities to avoid the circumstances that lead to bad publicity. FIRE attends multiple college administrator conferences every year to let them know what the law says about free speech and to make sure they know that FIRE is ready to collaborate with colleges in crafting policies that meet their needs without compromising essential freedoms. Rather than pay tens of thousands of dollars to “risk management” consultants who are more concerned with avoiding liability than they are with the Constitution, colleges can work with FIRE—for free, of course—to devise policies that have the greatest protection possible: a basis in reason and principle.

There is a huge opportunity here for other organizations to help, as well. The higher ed sector is vast, and schools are hungry for ways to distinguish themselves. Those who care about liberty on campus—including other nonprofits, journalists, politicians, and private citizens—should not stint on their praise for institutions that do the right thing, and should award carrots of their own.

Change  the Culture

FIRE and our allies have been fighting the culture of censorship on campus for decades—and we win our battles over and over again. But progress is slow and resistance is high. So it’s essential to talk about ways to try to spark a meaningful cultural transformation that will push back against the tide of illiberal behavior on campus. In order to truly promote the right to free speech and dissent on campus, we must act on more than a case-by-case basis and look for systematic solutions.

First, K-12 civics education fails to provide students the foundation in the First Amendment and the overall principles of a free society that they need to understand their rights once they get to college. While students know that America protects freedom of speech, and they care about that, most can’t articulate the underlying principles or explain why freedom of speech, dissent, thought experimentation, and devil’s advocacy are important. And colleges are hardly helping students learn these valuable lessons. FIRE and others have been working on this problem, and we are increasingly aiming at reaching high school students before they arrive on campus and providing them with tools they need to defend their liberties and advocate for change. For instance, FIRE’s “Freedom in Academia” high school essay contest has elicited over 13,000 submissions since it first began and continues to grow. This year, we’re also partnering with the Bill of Rights Institute to develop a curriculum package for high school seniors with a FIRE video and a step-by-step lesson plan.

Another small-scale idea that could have a big impact on campus would be a “boot camp” program for American high schoolers. These boot camps would be small-group events for college-bound high school students interested in learning more about their rights and the democratic ideal of free expression. Beginning in large cities such as New York and Philadelphia, advocates could host sessions focusing on the challenges on campus and how students can fight back against censorship and attempts to clamp down on free and independent thought. Armed with the knowledge and tools necessary not only to advocate for the First Amendment, but to understand the importance of meaty, meaningful debate, these students will arrive on campus ready to defend their rights and the rights of their fellow students. While the K-12 sector is so large that it dwarfs even higher ed, not every student must be fully educated on the First Amendment. Even a single student with knowledge of free speech and the power of dissent has the potential to make a difference on campus, since in FIRE’s experience, it often takes only one student who won’t be silenced to shake up an otherwise complacent university.

Alumni also offer a powerful but difficult-to-mobilize constituency. Over the last decade, we’ve seen that legal pressure and public attention can have a huge impact on campus. That pressure is all the more difficult to resist when it comes from alumni. After all, few colleges or universities will risk losing millions in alumni support that they could retain by reforming their policies or reversing rights violations. Money talks, and if we can educate alumni on just how serious censorship is at their alma mater, their voices will be heard loud and clear by administrators.

Finally, and most broadly, we must seek ways to overcome the “echo chamber” effect that is prevalent in academia and increasingly in our society at large. This is not something that Congress or lawyers can fix: the change must necessarily be cultural. But if a way can be found to promote the idea that truly educated people seek out discussions with smart people with whom they disagree, it could go a long way to overcoming groupthink both on and off campus.

Too often, people succumb to the temptation to dismiss their political and cultural opponents as ignorant or stupid. And there are many ignorant and/or stupid people out there in all walks of life. If you’re looking for one to take on in order to make yourself feel better about your beliefs, you’ll find one. But nearly every idea in American discourse that is not utterly fringe has hundreds or thousands of advocates who are perfectly capable of making solid cases for their beliefs. The fact is, if you can’t find a person who is capable of making rational arguments on behalf of the Tea Party or Occupy Wall Street, you didn’t really try, especially in the age of the Internet.

But you might not get this impression on a college campus. As Penn professor Diana C. Mutz discussed in her 2006 book Hearing the Other Side, the more education you have, the less likely you are to have exposure to people with different points of view. This is asking for (and delivering) massive problems of “confirmation bias” that spill over into society at large. One might hope that colleges would be aware of this problem and would be working overtime to correct it; it is, after all, their job to ensure their students are being trained to use the tools of reason and critical thinking. But there’s little indication that this is the case on the scale necessary to make a difference.

That’s why promoting a cultural norm that advocates seeking out those people and testing one’s beliefs would advance dialogue more than we can now imagine is possible. Debate series like Intelligence Squared, websites like Bloggingheads.tv, and others are doing great work towards this goal off campus, and similar programs exist on campus as well. But this shouldn’t be just an optional program on campuses—it should be a core goal of the university. Failing that, teaching students that debate is actually fun as opposed to fraught with the risk of offense, that seeking out opposing viewpoints is what smart people do, that too much agreement may not mean that you are right but that you are caught in a self-affirming clique, and that thought experimentation leads to better ideas could do a lot to help students poke their heads out of the echo chambers campus censorship helps create.

“Safety” is a much abused term on campus, often invoked lightly to refer to a generalized right for students to feel emotionally unchallenged. That kind of “safety” is a more appropriate goal for K-8 education, and even there it has likely already been taken too far—eighth graders understand a whole lot about disagreement. But there is a kind of safety for which advocates of reform in higher education must press: campuses need to be places where it is safe to disagree at a fundamental level, safe to question and even satirize the university’s sacred cows, safe to question the conventional wisdom, and safe even to be wrong, to provoke, and (gasp) to joke. While there has been much talk in the last decade that higher education is moving on to some next level, little progress can be made within the existing models as long as students and faculty can and do still get in trouble for merely stating opinions that administrators dislike.

College Students Now–the Good and the Bad

First, the good news:  My undergraduate students here at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, are quite literate, contrary to all the bad press and fears. Every week I give them a 20-minute writing assignment in class, the sole preparation for which is having done the week’s homework.  Turns out they write pretty well; arguably, in some cases, better than with at-home papers, which may cause them more stress.  This despite the fact that whenever I enter the room at the beginning of class, most of them are on their iPhones or otherwise engaged with electronic devices.

Now the bad news: For about the past week I’ve been taking note of the announcements that come to me via email from the university.  These relate predominantly to events in my particular areas of interest : Latin American studies;  languages and literatures; women’s studies – now renamed, like most such programs throughout the country,  Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies, which at least makes their focus clear, in case anyone was wondering.  But I also receive occasional emails about  university-wide special events, as well as Five-College events (since UMass Amherst is part of the Five College Consortium), though these latter are often related to the above fields.

Below is a listing of the typical items that appeared in my email in the past week or so –representative of the majority of announcements I receive week after week.

  1. The Chancellor of UMass Amherst announces that the newly-created post of Assistant Provost for Diversity has been filled.
  2. The Center for Latin America, Caribbean and Latino Studies announces a conference later this month on the “Intersection of Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Nation in Colombia, Brazil and Cuba.”  (I received seven separate announcements of this event over the past couple of days)
  3. A Five College Multicultural Theater Conference is taking place, which will address issues of representation, diversity and inclusion in multicultural theater today.
  4. The Five College Women’s Studies Research Center announces a faculty seminar and public talk on Race and Science, offered by a visiting professor of English.
  5. The Center for Public Policy and Administration in conjunction with the Interdisciplinary Studies Institute and a few other departments at UMass are sponsoring a panel discussion by experts from the non-Western Muslim world about the line between free speech and hate speech.  The event is called “Charlie Hebdo Attacks: Is Your Free Speech My Hate Speech?”
  6. The CLACLS (see # 2 above) is sponsoring a lecture and workshop on “The Politics of Cultura [sic] in a Minority Latino/a [sic] Community: What We Can Learn from Public Pedagogies of Food, Fun, and Fiestas,” as part of their year-long series “Re-imagining Latin@[sic] Studies in Higher Education.”
  7.  A talk by a feminist and reproductive rights activist,  called “Abortion in our hands: Clandestine Abortion Doulas’s Network in Argentina” – sponsored by WGSS, CLACLS, Social Thought and Political Economy (these at UMass), and the Third World Studies Program at Hampshire College
  8. The Center for Teaching & Faculty Development announces two remaining events in its Diversity & Teaching Series:  “Teaching Difference: A Faculty Panel,” and “Strategies to Engage And Sustain the Diverse Classroom”
  9. Finally – surprise! — Charles Krauthammer will be giving a talk here in about ten days, sponsored by the UMass College Republicans.

What rarely crosses my path are announcements designed to actually help students with their academic work as final exams/papers approach, or to appeal to their imagination and intellect in areas not related to the overarching agenda of “social justice” and “diversity.”  There are, however, many end-of- semester events designed for one or another identity group.  I’ve been noticing that these don’t clarify if they’re open to the public, or only to the particular identities being celebrated.

As for the actual work going on in many humanities courses, despite my pleasure in noting that many of my students can write decently, I also know that our academic standards have declined in terms of what is expected and demanded of our students (a problem that begins well before they arrive at the university, as evidenced by the striking fragility of their general level of knowledge).  Do literature courses these days assign students eight or so novels to read over the semester, as we certainly used to do?  My own experience is that students do watch films (an ever greater part of our curricula), yes, but are less likely to do assigned readings, though these rarely amount to more than perhaps a few dozen pages per week.

The university provides us with an online resource, Moodle, on which we can place assignments, readings, create discussion groups, post grades, and so on. It also allows faculty to see which students are actually accessing the assigned materials. Of course, we can’t tell how much time they actually spend on the materials, only the date and time that they have clicked on them.  I tell my students that their professors can do this, so that they can be aware of the far greater surveillance they may be subjected to, compared to the past. Despite this, some of them choose to skip much of the material for my course.  If I assign several short readings, some students will only bother with one or two of them. This is how I know they at least initially access and perhaps actually watch films. The difference between their activities reports on readings versus on films is marked.

The faculty groans and moans about the ever-decreasing level of work we can realistically expect of our students; it’s a persistent theme, but we more or less conform.  It seems impossible not to.   I can’t comment on what’s going on in non-humanities courses, where I do not have first-hand experience.

Furthermore, it is a fact that at UMass our semesters have become shorter and shorter (right now we’re at 13 weeks of actual instruction per semester).  And – another sign of the times — many General Education courses have been converted from three to four credits, without a proportional increase in classroom time.  Obviously, the result is fewer courses per college career, though the pretense is that these 4-credit courses are more intense and demanding.  When, a few years ago, I was on a Faculty Senate sub-committee discussing what we should require of professors seeking to make this change, I inquired:  “Why don’t we just demand that our students actually do the work we already assign?” That comment didn’t carry the day.

Still, my sketch of the current scene in my part of the university should in no way be taken as chiming in with the common complaint that we fail to prepare students for employment.  I actually believe an undergraduate liberal arts education is valuable in and of itself, and that the university’s main function is not to be a job-training school.  But if – despite the efforts of individual professors — we don’t even offer a genuinely high quality education, one that goes beyond the current shibboleths for which students actually don’t need to go to college, what can be said to justify our existence?  If we’re instead focused on rhetoric displays related to ersatz politics and the university’s supposed commitment to right the world’s wrongs, well, then, we’re not even doing the job we can reasonably be expected to do, and for which students are paying exorbitantly high prices.  Not to mention that of course we cannot even agree on how to go about improving the world, any more than do politicians who devote their full attention to this!  Instead, pathetically, the university routinely engages in verbal magic –still obsessed with identity politics as indicated by the ceaseless emphasis on terms such as diversity, inclusion, and outreach.

What does all this signify if not a depressing loss of confidence that education is itself of value and doesn’t need transmogrification into something else? No wonder so many students seem to want above all to get through college with as little effort as possible, rather than taking advantage of the extraordinary riches that ought to be available at any university.


 

WHY MILLENNIALS CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH

Completing a college education, people have long presumed, shows that a young adult has not just mastered a particular subject but has broadened his or her intellect by exposure to many different disciplines, philosophies, and diverse approaches to both knowledge and life.

A successful college education replaces ignorance with insight, and insularity with confidence and engagement. With the escalating price and debt loads from tuition becoming a crippling fiscal burden to young adults, delivering on those values becomes more important than ever to their economic survival.

Unfortunately, most of our universities and colleges end up promoting ignorance, insularity, fear, and infantilism. Rather than seek out heterodox opinions, the faculties and student bodies of these schools attempt to insulate themselves from opponents through speech codes, demands for “trigger warnings,” demagoguery and shouting down of alternate views. Instead of education producing open minds, these institutions end up indoctrinating young adults on how best to keep their minds closed, limited to the boundaries of groupthink rather than freed to pursue truth.

Three incidents this week demonstrate the gap between education and indoctrination. Oberlin College in Ohio and Georgetown University in Washington DC both had groups invite Christina Hoff Sommers, a conservative critic of the current version of feminism, to speak on their campuses. Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, composes a weekly video blog called the Factual Feminist, and most of her work challenges both the assumptions and conclusions of “third-wave” feminism, especially as practiced on college campuses.

Much of what Sommers writes aims to counter the arguments that have become treated as unconditional truths, but which do not stand up to empirical tests. Those assumptions include the oft-cited  and roundly debunked claim that one in five women on American college have been or will be victims of sexual assault during their student careers, or that women only earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men. Both of these continue to be promoted not just by campus activists but also by the White House, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The Department of Justice’s own data actually suggests that colleges and universities are slightly safer than the US at large when it comes to sexual assault, and the rate of those attacks on campus is six for every 1,000 people, or 0.6 percent. Even if only one in five attacks get reported, then the rate would be 2.4 percent rather than 20 percent.

Needless to say, this pushback on popular feminist narratives hasn’t endeared Sommers to activists at these schools. In an environment with free and open dialogue – a college campus, say, which most Americans would have assumed qualified for the task – Sommers’ opponents would have offered a spirited debate on these topics and statistics.

They could also have invited their own speakers to campus to make their own arguments without any challenge to them. Instead, students at both schools encouraged their colleagues to declare themselves victims, provided shelter from opposing points of view on the basis of Sommers’ ideas being somehow “unsafe,” and made it clear that they’d prefer to see Sommers speak elsewhere.

At Oberlin, activists authored an essay in the student newspaper calling her a “rape denialist” and accusing her of encouraging violence against women.  At both colleges, protesters plastered “trigger warnings” around the campuses near the venues where Sommers spoke. At both campuses, students complained that having Sommers speak at their schools created an “unsafe” environment for them, which necessitated the establishment of “safe spaces” to deal with the discomfort of having their assumptions challenged.

Ironically, the point of feminism had once been that women didn’t need paternalistic protection from life provided to them by male-dominated institutions. Sommers herself noted the contradiction between feminism and “trigger warnings” in her most recent vlog entry prior to her appearances at Oberlin and Georgetown. Not only do they have “no basis in scientific fact,” Sommers explains, but they “convey the idea that women are helpless children, delicate little injured birds who can’t cope with clapping,” let alone any sort of debate or challenge.

Even the good news comes freighted with recognition of the scope of the issue. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) announced earlier this week that after almost a decade of engagement with George Mason University, the school had finally agreed to dump its speech codes in favor of unfettered free debate. “Freedom of speech and academic freedom are core values of a university’s mission,” said GMU Foundation Professor of Law Todd Zywicki. “I’m delighted that George Mason has joined the ranks of universities that have committed themselves to the full protection of free speech.”

Unfortunately, the ranks of universities aligning their policies to those core values remains very low indeed. GMU became only the 20th school to get a green light rating from FIRE, having been preceded by William & Mary and the University of Virginia – which Rolling Stone recently smeared in its publication of fabulism about rape culture on campuses.

FIRE has rated 437 colleges and universities in the US for their commitment to free speech on campus, spokesman Nico Perrino informed me in an e-mail. Over half of those earn a red light (where policies explicitly restrict speech), and another 39 percent get a yellow rating (policies which can be applied to restrict speech). Perrino said that FIRE is currently working with another 29 schools to support free speech fully, but even if they all converted tomorrow, it would still mean that only 11.2 percent of those rated campuses actually gives students the right to express themselves openly and have access to a broad range of opinion.

The tantrums thrown by students at Oberlin and Georgetown, and the endorsement of speech restraints and indoctrination by school administrators, remain the rule rather than the exception. That prompts the question: what value are these students actually gaining for their mortgaging of their financial futures?

Better yet, considering that student loans primarily get backed by taxpayers, what outcomes will we see from this investment in social and monetary capital? We are creating a generation of “delicate little injured birds” whose only developed skill involves curling up into a ball at the first sign of adverse experience. Perhaps we should invest in trade school education instead.

THE DARK SIDE OF THE CALL FOR CIVILITY

Civility is a watchword on campuses these days–partly because it is an admirable characteristic, partly because the word is always useful as an apparently benign cover for censorship.

From my work defending student and faculty speech for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, I know that many faculty members already recognize civility as a velvet glove concealing an iron fist. It would be hard not to; trade publications like The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed regularly feature stories of professors facing negative consequences for expression deemed too strident.

Firing Tenured Professor

Inside Higher Ed reported that Professor Victoria McCard of the University of North Georgia was suspended, banished from campus, and faces termination proceedings for allegedly being insufficiently polite to a visiting lecturer, whom she challenged during a public presentation. Professor McCard has been charged under the university’s employee handbook, which allows for punishment for “discourteous” behavior. That the University of North Georgia apparently sees fit to fire a tenured professor for being rude in public should worry faculty members everywhere.

Of course, that assumes that faculty members weren’t already worried about the consequences of being judged “uncivil” by their employers. To feel this chill, one need not share the views of Professors David Guth, placed on administrative leave by the University of Kansas for tweets critical of the National Rifle Association, or Steven Salaita, who infamously lost a position he had been offered following the focus on his tweets criticizing Israel. Rather, professors need only possess viewpoints that differ from those of their peers or supervisors.

Seeking to justify the revocation of Salaita’s offer, University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise argued that tenured professors shoulder “a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility.” Accordingly, per Chancellor Wise, “personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them” were therefore forbidden. But if professors may be subject to discipline for “abusing viewpoints,” and if “demeaning” an idea breaks with Chancellor Wise’s notion of civility,” then liberal scholarship—pitting ideas against each other in an ongoing search for truth—is impossible.

Students, too, are routinely punished for speech deemed to be uncivil. Examples abound, involving core protected expression like political protest and speech as fleeting and commonplace as muttered profanity.

‘Actions of Incivility’

San Francisco State University students Leigh Wolf and Trent Downes faced charges for “actions of incivility” and a five-month-long institutional investigation following their participation in a College Republicans “anti-terrorism rally.” During the rally, Wolf and Downes stepped on butcher paper that had been painted to resemble the Hamas and Hezbollah flags.

A formal complaint filed by a student nearly two weeks later charged that the two had “very evidently walked over and trekked over a banner with Arabic script . . . [that] represented the word ‘Allah.’” Wolf and Downes were investigated for violating school policy, which stated that students must be “civil to one another and to others in the campus community.” After a lengthy review, the students were cleared; after they filed a First Amendment lawsuit shortly thereafter, a federal magistrate judge issued an injunction preventing the California State University system from enforcing the policy.

On the other end of the spectrum, after receiving a poor grade on an Oral Communications assignment, Isaac Rosenbloom, a student at Mississippi’s Hinds Community College, told another student after class that the mark was going to “f–k up [his] entire GPA.” After his professor overheard his remark, Rosenbloom was found guilty of “flagrant disrespect” and involuntarily withdrawn from the class. (School policy prohibited “vulgarity.”) The forced withdrawal caused the 29-year-old father of two to lose his financial aid, effectively ending his studies. Two unsuccessful appeals followed. Only after FIRE secured legal representation for Rosenbloom did the college rescind the findings.

These are just two examples of discipline for impolite expression. FIRE’s case archives include many more: the student expelled from university housing for offending a rival college’s hockey coach via questions for a journalism assignment; the student forbidden from walking at graduation after a “negative social media exchange” in which he encouraged other students to attend a campus discussion on an institution’s flawed response to a tornado; and the student charged with “disorderly conduct” for sending the school’s parking services an email complaining about the lack of parking spaces for scooters. Recent headlines provide still further examples, as university presidents ignore the First Amendment and abandon due process in a rush to punish controversial orcrude speech.

For a nation exhausted by daily partisan brawling and incentivized offense, calls for civility evoke a vague nostalgia for the genial tranquility that surely reigned before “social media” turned us into trolls. (No matter that the good old days didn’t actually exist, at least not quite like that.) On campus, this powerful yearning for “civility” is already being manipulated to justify censorship of speech that campus administrators would rather not hear—and we should all be concerned about the consequences.


Will Creeley is Vice President of Legal and Public Advocacy at FIRE.