Tag Archives: NYU

NYU Professor Sides with “Snowflakes” Against Free Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did ‘Deplorable’ Prof Unmask Extreme PC Culture at NYU?

NYU has been in tumult over far-right tweeting by a self-declared “deplorable” professor who revealed himself last week as Michael Rectenwald, assistant clinical professor of liberal studies. Yesterday he made another revelation in a Washington Post op-ed: his alt-right burst of opinions was a pose, a “thought experiment” intended to provoke an authoritarian reaction at NYU. He was placed on paid leave, but his saga took yet another turn when NYU said the leave was purely voluntary.

In his op-ed, Rectenwald wrote, “I’m not a conservative, or an alt-righter. I find Donald Trump repugnant. But over the last couple of weeks, I’ve become a campus pariah to some (and a hero, perhaps, to a few) in my nontenured NYU faculty job, thanks to the humorless, Social Justice Warrior-brand of campus culture run amok and a misunderstanding about a Twitter account. Enmeshed in a conspiracy — thinly disguised as sympathy — of my colleagues’ design, I’ve lost my academic freedom and I potentially stand to lose my appointment.”

Rectenwald excoriated “the predictable, censorious responses of so-called progressives, self-appointed thought police at NYU and elsewhere who have, in the name of maintaining a culture of civility on campus, policed their little corner of the Twittersphere.”

His op-ed listed a few PC excesses: the suggestion at some colleges that students report to authorities on inappropriate Halloween costumes, and the disaster last year at Yale where a house master was as abused and threatened over a mild Halloween-costume suggestion by his wife (an assistant housemaster) while four Yale deans looked on and said nothing.

Though his opinion of Trump is low, he wrote, “The whole episode makes me reluctantly agree with Trump’s assertion that political correctness “has transformed our institutions of higher education from ones that fostered spirited debate to a place of extreme censorship.”

The Daily Caller reported that NYU insisted his sudden departure on paid leave was purely voluntary. “It was not demanded by the University and is unconnected to his social media postings,” says chief spokesman John Beckham. “He requested the leave, and we look forward to having him back when he is ready. His leave has absolutely nothing to do with his Twitter account or his opinions on issues of the day.”

The editorial Board of Washington Square News, an independent NYU paper, said Rectenwald’s version of events “was quickly proven to be false when NYU released a copy of the email correspondence between Rectenwald and Liberal Studies Dean Fred Schwarzbach. The conversation revealed that his previous comments were inaccurate and that university officials had never forced him to take a leave of absence. … NYU officials have stated that they are ending his self-imposed leave and expect him to return to classes immediately.”

The Beast That Ate The Village

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As the 2012-13 academic year gets under way, more than
40,000 students from all 50 states and 130 foreign countries are attending the
graduate and undergraduate schools of New York University.  Some of these young scholars will undoubtedly
ride to school in upscale cars or limos: a year at NYU with room and board
costs almost $70,000, a handsome sum that contributes handsomely to the
university’s $2.25 billion in annual revenue.  
Computer printouts in hand, some of the newcomers will follow NYU’s
online directions and drive down Fifth Avenue to the university’s lair in a formerly
scenic area of Greenwich Village, one of Manhattan’s oldest and most historic
neighborhoods. “Fifth Avenue ends at the Washington Square campus,” NYU’s
directions helpfully conclude.

A few students may note that Fifth Avenue does not, in
fact, terminate at the NYU campus, but at Washington Square, a public
park.  However, those who fail to notice
this minor detail can be forgiven for assuming that Washington Square belongs
to NYU.  After years of watching this
celebrated park and nearby blocks treated like Monopoly properties by a private
corporation cloaked in scholarly robes, more than a few residents of Greenwich
Village also mistakenly believe that Washington Square belongs to NYU.  And if the university’s land grab continues, some day it might.

Continue reading The Beast That Ate The Village

NYU Targeted over Gay Marriage

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Cross-Posted from Open Market

New York
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn wants to kick
Chick-fil-A
out of New York because its CEO, Dan Cathy, opposes gay
marriage. Accordingly, she informed
the head of New York University (which leases space to the one Chick-fil-A
restaurant in New York City) that “Chick-fil-A is not welcome in New York City
as long as the company’s president continues to uphold and promote his
discriminatory views […] I urge you to sever your relationship with the
Chick-fil-A establishment that exists on your campus.” 

My guess is
that the university will regard this letter more as an unstated threat than as
a mere statement of the Speaker’s opinion, since universities, vulnerable as
they are to ad hoc
government regulations and ordinances, are obligated to cultivate municipal
officials’ goodwill. As a rule, business owners are subject
to
municipal predation 
that can drive them out of business, and are thus forced them to ingratiate
themselves with city officials. Universities can end up with an enrollment
cap
or lose lucrative
eminent domain
prerogatives if they annoy municipal higher-ups. 

Continue reading NYU Targeted over Gay Marriage

A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

Weissberg essay.jpegAs one who has spent
nearly four decades in the academy, let me confirm what outsiders often
suspect: the left has almost a complete headlock on the publication of serious
(peer reviewed) research in journals and scholarly books. It is not that
heretical ideas are forever buried. They can be expressed in popular magazines,
op-eds and, think tank publications and especially, on blogs. Nevertheless, and
this is critical, these off-campus writings do not count for tenure or
promotion. A successful academic career at a top school requires publishing in
disciplinary outlets and with scant exception these outlets filter out those
who reject the PC orthodoxies.

Continue reading A Modest Proposal to Promote Intellectual Diversity

Should Police Monitor Muslim Student Groups?

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Universities have been expressing concern and even outrage over Associated Press reports that the New York Police Department spent six months in 2006-2007 keeping tabs on Muslim Student Associations at 16 colleges in the northeast, including Columbia, Yale, Rutgers and NYU.

Some university presidents and spokesmen complained that the NYPD’s surveillance activities, conducted without clear evidence of criminal activity, could have a chilling effect on the rights of free speech and association on their campuses.

Richard Levin, president of Yale, said, “I am writing to state, in the strongest possible terms, that police surveillance based on religion, nationality, or peacefully expressed political opinions is antithetical to the values of Yale, the academic community, and the United States.”

But senior police officials say that the university spokesmen, including Levin, did not contact the department to hear its explanation of what law enforcement had done, and not done to keep New York and the surrounding area safe.

Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, and his top spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, have repeatedly asserted that the department’s surveillance does not infringe on civil rights and liberties. The NYPD’s counter-terrorism program has also been adamantly defended by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Senator Charles Schumer, City Council Member Peter F. Vallone Jr., City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and other traditional champions of free speech and civil liberties.

In an emailed statement, Browne called the criticism “knee-jerk reactions with little understanding of what actually transpired or why.” Browne gave the A.P. twelve specific cases of serious activities associated with the Muslim student groups, along with the not-so-secret observation that “some of the most dangerous Western Al Qaeda linked/inspired terrorists since 9/11 were radicalized and/or recruited at universities in Muslim Student Associations.” But the A.P. gave these cases and the NYPD’s account of its program short shrift.

Observing the Handschu Guidelines

In a speech Saturday at Fordham University, Commissioner Kelly said that the department’s initiative and the reports it produced were both legal and appropriate. He said all were in accordance with the so-called Handschu Guidelines, a set of rules developed–in settlement of a Black Panther suit in the 1970s–to protect people engaged in political protest.

And yes, Kelly added, the guidelines authorize police to “visit any place and attend any event that is open to the public” and “to conduct online search activity and to access online sites and forums on the same terms…as members of the public.” The NYPD was also authorized to “prepare general reports and assessments…for purposes of strategic or operational planning.”

A Federal judge had loosened the guidelines in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks at the department’s request. The guidelines, Kelly said, begin with a general principle: “In its effort to anticipate or prevent unlawful activity, including terrorist acts,” they state, “the NYPD must, at times, initiate investigations in advance of unlawful conduct.”

In an apparent swipe not only at the A.P., but also at the university presidents and spokesmen who have parroted the press agency’s allegations about the NYPD’s counter-terrorism investigations without bothering to verify the accuracy of their charges, Kelly said, “anyone who intimates that it is unlawful for the Police Department to search online, visit public places, or map neighborhoods has either not read, misunderstood, or intentionally obfuscated the meaning of the Handschu Guidelines.”

A “broad base of knowledge” was critically important to his department’s ability to investigate terrorism, he said. So police had attempted to determine “how individuals seeking to do harm might communicate or conceal themselves. Where might they go to find resources or evade the law? Establishing this kind of geographically-based knowledge saves precious time in stopping fast-moving plots,” Kelly said.

While “the vast majority” of Muslim student associations and their members turned out to the law-abiding, he said, the department had found “too many cases in which such groups were exploited. Some of the most violent terrorists we’ve encountered were radicalized or recruited at universities.”

Founded by Members of the Muslim Brotherhood

It also helps to know a little about the history of the Muslim Student Associations themselves and why terrorists would see them as natural recruiting grounds. According to Steven Emerson, who has tracked radical Islamist groups for years, the MSA was founded in the U.S. in 1963 by members of the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, which recently won a resounding victory in Egypt’s post-revolution parliamentary elections, has long sought to create a global Islamic state governed by “sharia,” or Islamic law. While the group itself now claims to have renounced violence and embraced spreading Islam through democratic means, it has historically had a secret component operated with little or no transparency. And Muslim Brotherhood splinter groups, such as the far more militant Islamic Group and Islamic Jihad have boasted about their violent exploits, such as the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Another spin-off, Hamas, the militant Palestinian Islamists who now rule Gaza, rejects Egypt’s peace treaties with Israel and remains on the U.S. terrorist list.

The department’s six-month review of MSAs of the tri-state area, Kelly said, uncovered some activity that appeared to be anything but benign. For example, in November of 2006, detectives learned that Siraj Wahaj, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, had spoken to students at the MSA of the University of Buffalo, apparently in search of recruits. In November, 2006, detectives learned that Jessie Curtis Morton, then a leader of the Islamic Thinkers Society whom it had been watching for some time, given his advocacy of violence, had spoken and tried to recruit followers at Stony Brook University. His own web site, Kelly said, had posted articles from “Inspire,” the on-line magazine published by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which included articles such as “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom.” Morton’s own website became a platform for “murderous ideology and a meeting place for various violent actors.”

A graduate of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, Morton recently pled guilty to “using his position as a leader of Revolution Muslim Internet sites to conspire to solicit murder.” Specifically, Morton admitted encouraging others to kill the writers of South Park after they had depicted Mohammad dressed in a bear suit. Morton also urged violence against an artist who organized “Everybody Draw Mohammad Day” in reaction to the threats.

In April of 2007, detectives learned that Yousuf Khattab, Morton’s co-founder of Revolution Muslim, had also spoken at Brooklyn College’s Islamic Society, apparently trolling for recruits. Over the years, Kelly said, ten people who had been arrested on terrorism charges had been in contact with Revolution Muslim. Among them are Mohamed Alessa and Carlos Almonte, two New Jersey-based Muslims, whom the NYPD, working with the FBI and New Jersey law enforcement agencies, stopped at JFK en route to join Al Shabaab, the terrorist organization, in Somalia in 2010.

Kelly denied that his department had infiltrated MSAs throughout the Northeast as the A.P. has reported. When the 2006-2007 review had uncovered such potentially criminal or dangerous terrorism-related conduct, he said, the NYPD had opened a preliminary inquiry, or launched formal investigations, again, in accordance with the Handschu guidelines. Such investigations were regularly reviewed by department lawyers and discontinued unless the investigation reasonably indicated that an unlawful act had been, was being or would likely be committed, the police said. The NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence was required to issue written authorization whenever undercover officers or confidential informants have been used in such terrorism inquiries, the NYPD asserts.

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Some of the department’s concerns about some individuals associated with MSAs have clearly been borne out, Kelly and Brown have said. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Christmas bomber recruited by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) who tried to blow up a Detroit bound jet in 2009 wearing explosive-lined underwear, had been the head of the Muslim Student Association at the University College of London. Anwar Al-Awlaki, the radical American Muslim cleric of Yemeni descent and former head of AQAP who was linked to a dozen far-flung plots and was killed by an American drone last year, was president of the MSA at Colorado State University in the mid-1990’s. Adam Gadahn, Al Qaeda’s English-language spokesman, was an active MSA member at the University of Southern California. Ramy Zamzam, prior to his conviction in Pakistan last year for attempting to join the Taliban and kill American troops, was president of the MSA’s Washington D.C. council. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who had plotted against New York City landmarks, was a member of the MSA at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The list goes on.

Consider the case of Adis (aka, Mohammad) Medunjanin, whose terrorism trial is scheduled to begin in New York in early April. Medunjanin’s name may not ring any terrorism bells, but he stands accused of being a co-conspirator of a far more infamous would-be suicide bomber–Najibullah Zazi, the 27-year-old Afghan-American who has already pled guilty to planning suicide bombings in New York’s subway stations in September, 2009. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called the plot against New York’s transit system which was blessed by Al Qaeda “one of the most serious terrorist threats to our nation since September 11th, 2001.”

“We Love Death”, Said the Former Wide Receiver

Medunjanin, who was arrested in January, 2010, was one of two of Zazi’s high school classmates in Flushing, Queens. According to government affidavits and documents filed by the government in the case, which include his own statements to the FBI, he traveled with Zazito Pakistan in 2008, where Qaeda recruited the three of them for the suicide “martyrdom” attack in New York. A Bosnian immigrant who came to America in 1994, he was naturalized in 2002, lived and worked in Flushing and played running back and wide receiver for his high school football team. At Queens College, he graduated with a major in economics in June, 2009. Working as a security guard for Stellar Management at the time of his arrest, Medunjanin led the FBI on a high-speed chase through Queens, during which he invoked the name of Allah in a 911 emergency call, telling a 911 dispatcher “We love death more than you love life,” the refrain he had learned from al-Qaeda trainers who were inspiring recruits like him to kill and commit suicide. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, receiving military-style training from al-Qaeda, conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, and providing material support to al-Qaida. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

In his recently published book on Islamist terrorist plots against the west, “The Al Qaeda Factor,” Mitchell D. Silber, the NYPD’s director of intelligence analysis, says that all too little is known about how Zazi, Medunjanin, and a third high-school friend and alleged co-conspirator, Zarein Ahmedzay, were radicalized. But Silber concludes that it wasn’t until Medunjanin got to Queens College that he became obviously religious, began growing a beard, and spending more time in a mosque and with Zazi.

‘So Religious’ He Was ‘Intimidating’

Medunjanin was known at Queens College as a “respected figure” in the Muslim Student Association, and a frequent visitor to its prayer room, where he worshiped “two or three times a week.” One associate said that while he was “highly regarded for his knowledge of Islam,” many considered him “so religious” as to be “intimidating.”

The NYPD’s interest in how Muslim students like Medunjanin were radicalized dates back to foiled and successful terrorism plots in Britain. In March, 2004, British authorities disrupted an Al Qaeda plot in the U.K. to kill as many people as possible and cause unprecedented disruption. The terrorists in the cell had already gotten about 1,300 pounds of ammonium nitrate fertilizer that could be used to make bombs and had considered potential targets — a shopping mall, nightclub, the 4,200 mile network of underground, high-pressure gas pipelines across the country, a football stadium, the British Parliament, and a 12-page list of synagogues. Four of the seven conspirators were either university students, drop-outs, or graduates. At least one of them was an active member of Brunel University’s Islamic Society.

Though that plot was foiled, Britain was unlucky the next time. In July, 2005, coordinated bomb blasts ripped through London’s public transport system during the morning rush hour, killing 52 commuters and injuring 700. One of the suicide bombers was a recent graduate of Leeds Metropolitan University; another was a recent Leeds drop-out, and a third was a student at Thomas Danby College in Leeds.

In August of 2006, British and American authorities foiled another Al-Qaeda conspiracy to detonate liquid explosives aboard nine transatlantic flights from the U.K. to the U.S. and Canada. The plotters intended to detonate liquid explosives over the Atlantic Ocean. Four of the nine core plotters were either current university students, drop-outs or graduates from London Metropolitan University, City University, Brunel University, and Middlesex University. One was the former president of London Metropolitan University’s Islamic Society.

As early as 2005, terrorism literature was highlighting the danger of university campuses as a venue for Islamist radicalization and jihadi recruitment.

Dr. Quintan Wiktorowicz, President Barack Obama’s Senior Director for Global Engagement and charged with countering violent extremism on the National Security Council, published a book that year, “Radical Islam Rising.” The book highlighted the importance of the college campus as a radicalization and recruiting ground based on his interviews with hundreds of British militants. “This [young university students] is the dominant recruitment pool for al-Muhajiroun,” he warned.

The NYPD quickly sensed that the trend was not limited to Britain. Two New Yorkers arrested in connection with the 2004 plot, Mohammed Junaid Babar and Syed Fahad Hashmi, both of whom pled guilty to Al Qaeda-related terrorism offences, had been radicalized to militant Islam through their involvement in university-based activities in the New York branch of al-Muhajiroun. This group, as well as Babar and Hashmi, actively recruited at Brooklyn College and Queens College MSA’s.

Concerned about such radicalization trends and Al Qaeda’s targeting of colleges and universities as recruiting grounds, which the NYPD highlighted in a 2007 report on the growing threat of “homegrown” Islamist threat taking root in the country, Commissioner Kelly wanted to understand more fully what was occurring at local universities through an open source search initiative. Beginning in November of 2006, the NYPD’s intelligence division spent six months conducting internet searches and other reviews of publicly available websites for universities and colleges in and around New York City to determine if radicalization and recruitment were occurring on university campuses, and if so, to what extent. Based on these reviews, NYPD officials say, intelligence analysts cataloged what they found in 23 bi-weekly reports. Specifically, they searched for speakers, conferences and events at MSAs that might support terrorism or provide a recruiting venue among potentially vulnerable students for such known extremist Islamist groups as al-Muhajiroun, the Islamic Thinkers Society, and Revolution Muslim. To ensure that nothing was missed, “more rather than less information” was cataloged, one NYPD official said.

NYPD officials said that most of the speakers, conferences and events held at MSA’s in the tri-state area were “non-threatening in nature.”As a result, the review ended in May, 2007. Police say that none of the information contained in the weekly reports was entered into any law enforcement databases.

The university spokesmen who criticized the NYPD seem to have accepted the A.P.’s assertions about the nature of the NYPD’s monitoring on faith. None of them ventured to explain why they had not contacted the police for comment before speaking out.

Joseph A. Brennan, the Associate Vice President for University Communications at the University of Buffalo, had previously stated that the university had not been contacted by the NYPD prior to the monitoring and “did not provide any information to the NYPD.” If asked for such cooperation, the statement added, the university “would not voluntarily cooperate with such a request.”

“The university had no reason to doubt the accuracy of the Associated Press report,” vice president Brennan said in an email, when asked why it had assumed that the press account was accurate.

Nor did New York University attempt to verify the accuracy of the A.P. account before stating that it “stands in fellowship with its Muslim students in expressing our community’s concerns over these activities.” John H. Beckman, a university spokesman, also declined to say what NYU would do if the police sought its cooperation in a terrorism case. The university, he said, would not comment on a “hypothetical.”

Columbia president Lee C. Bollinger reiterated his university’s criticism. “While we appreciate the daunting responsibility of keeping New York safe, law enforcement officials should not be conducting such surveillance of a particular group of students or citizens without any cause to suspect criminal conduct,” the statement said. Through a spokesman, he, too, declined to discuss what Columbia would do if asked for cooperation with a police terrorism investigation. Columbia, the spokesman said, “does not answer hypothetical questions about security matters.”

The Odd Cold-War Center at NYU

rosenbergs.jpgMany universities have set up centers to examine the history of the Cold War. The Wilson Center for Scholars in Washington D. C., for example, created an offshoot called The Cold War International History Project. That institute has over the years hosted many conferences, with panels of scholars representing all points of view. Two years ago, I was an active participant in a two days session at the CWIHP about Soviet espionage, that was based on the new book Spies: The Rise and Fall of the KGB in America.
The sponsors were fully aware of contending views on the issue of the role of Soviet espionage in America during the Cold War and carried out the meeting with great fairness. Compare that with the Tamiment Center at New York University, which cares little for fairness, academic rigor or diversity of views. Its inaugural event four years ago, “Alger Hiss and History,” left no mystery about its agenda. As I wrote in the New Republic, the conference

was intended to resurrect Old Left myths about the innocence of those accused during the so-called Red Scare in the 1950’s, and in particular, to re-open the case to prove Alger Hiss’ innocence. The only reason Hiss was indicted, their announcement made clear, was to “discredit the New Deal, legitimate the Red Scare, and set the stage of Joseph McCarthy.” Mark Kramer, who heads a similar Cold War center at Harvard, commented that the meeting “consists of diehard supporters of Hiss whose attempts to explain away all the new available evidence are thoroughly unconvincing.”

Continue reading The Odd Cold-War Center at NYU

NYU’s Perilous Adventure in Abu Dhabi

New York University will open its vaunted campus in Abu Dhabi this fall, and so far it does seem to be the best campus that money can buy—Gulf oil money, that is. The story of the NYU-Abu Dhabi linkup, the brainchild of John Sexton, NYU’s strategically ebullient and relentlessly donor-courting and expansion-minded president, is a story of many paradoxes. The greatest paradox of all is that this first step toward creating what Sexton calls a “global network university” of NYU campuses all over the world is being entirely bankrolled by the government of oil-rich Abu Dhabi, which is a good thing for NYU because the university’s $2.2 billion endowment (shrunken by nearly one-third in the recent financial crisis) is by far the smallest of any private U.S. university with the world-class ambitions that Sexton claims for NYU.
In fact, because NYU enrolls more than 50,000 at its various schools, its endowment works out to about a mere $50,000 per student, according to figures calculated in a recent Business Week article. (Harvard’s $26 billion endowment, by contrast, amounts to $1.3 million per student, while Yale has $1.4 million per student and Princeton $1.7 million). The Abu Dhabi campus is a feat of Sextonian sleight-of-hand in which other people’s petrodollars pay for what NYU hopes will be a boost in academic prestige without spending a cent of its own scarce money. NYU was happy to publicize Abu Dhabi’s initial contribution of $50 million to the joint venture—a down payment on which NYU insisted as a condition of lending its name to the new university—but now neither the university nor the Gulf city-state will reveal how many more millions Abu Dhabi has sunk into the venture, but it must be plenty. Abu Dhabi has not only committed itself to a glitzy brand-new campus for NYU on Saadiyat Island about 500 yards offshore, but is bankrolling some of NYU’s expansion in New York.
Back home at NYU’s flagship campus at Washington Square, students complain about stingy financial aid packages that often leave them heavily in loan debt and more heavily reliant on poorly paid part-time faculty than any of the top-tier universities with which NYU hopes to compete. NYU’s efforts to grow its campus in New York—by acquiring Greenwich Village real estate and demolishing what’s there—have made enemies out of many of its neighbors, especially when NYU pulled down the historic Provincetown Playhouse, which it owned, in order to construct a new law school building (it did save some of the playhouse’s facade and replaced the theater). The Abu Dhabi campus has also sparked protests among NYU professors over government policies in Abu Dhabi and other United Arab Emirates states that discriminate against gays (homosexual acts are crimes in the Emirates), Israelis (none of the Emirates has formal diplomatic relations with Israel and all frequently deny entry to citizens of the Jewish state), and the foreign guest-workers who form 80 percent of the Emirates’ 4.5 million population but have little practical recourse against employers who confiscate their passports, house them in squalid camps, charge huge fees for their job, and pay them less than promised.

Continue reading NYU’s Perilous Adventure in Abu Dhabi

NYU’s ”Union” Activism Re-Emerges

The New York Times recently brought news that that the union and faculty activists determined to establish a graduate student union at NYU have renewed their crusade. I use the phrase “union and faculty activists” deliberately, since it’s hard to imagine that any of the graduate students actually involved in the original controversy remain at NYU, unless they have experienced writers’ block in the production of their dissertations.
The matter appeared to be settled in 2004, when the NLRB understandably ruled that graduate students are primarily just that—students, not workers. The reaction on the NYU campus and among faculty and professional allies was fierce. Graduate student activists then serving as teaching assistants decided to penalize their own undergraduate students for the NLRB decision, going on strike and refusing to submit grades. In perhaps the most bizarre expression of support for the strikers’ cause, the AAUP declared that NYU’s refusal to recognize the union constituted a violation of both academic freedom and the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights(!).
When NYU president John Sexton reasonably decided to hire for the spring 2006 semester only those graduate students who would commit to actually teaching their classes—rather than going on strike on NYU’s dime—a group of around 200 NYU professors calling themselves “Faculty Democracy” protested the “undemocratic” requirement. The signatories even threatened to withhold grades in their courses. In the end, except for a handful of malcontents, the situation returned to normal, and the strike fizzled.

Continue reading NYU’s ”Union” Activism Re-Emerges

Betraying Your Students 101

One of the more heroic acts in the recent annals of American higher education came from NYU president John Sexton, who stood up to the faculty radicals within his midst and (thus far successfully) fought creation of a graduate student “union” on his campus. There are lots of reasons why academic unionization is problematic, but the concept of graduate student unionization is ridiculous. That the movement is often promoted as a fight against the “corporate agenda” in higher education is even stranger, since the idea that graduate students are “laborers” who need to “unionize” reflects a vision of the academy that should repel anyone opposed to the “corporatization” of higher education.

The dangers of graduate student “unionization” are currently on full display at the University of Illinois. Betraying the undergraduates that they teach, Illinois graduate students went out on strike Monday, demanding that the university guarantee tuition waivers for out-of-state students. In a statement that offers a sense of how much the “union” activists value the students they teach, Kerry Pimblott, lead negotiator for the graduate student “union,” proclaimed, “We control this campus; we decide if they have instruction on this campus.”

Why should Illinois taxpayers accommodate the strikers’ demands? Amber Cooper, a leader of the University of Michigan’s graduate student union who joined the strikers, offered an articulate rationale: the university’s position was “freaking ridiculous.”

Any good Ph.D. program will offer tuition waivers—they’re the only way to recruit talented graduate students. But the Illinois administration, for perfectly understandable reasons, has proved reluctant to place what amounts to an academic decision into a contract. Moreover, if the current economic downturn continues, Illinois, like all public universities, will come under increasing pressure to cut costs and raise additional revenue. There’s no particular reason why automatic tuition waivers should be exempt from consideration in such a budget crisis.

Meanwhile, the strikers don’t appear to be experiencing any particular hardship. The Illinois provost sent out a mass e-mail indicating that no current graduate student would see his or her tuition waiver adjusted. And though they walked out on their students, it appears as if the graduate students will not see their stipends reduced for the time they spend on the picket line instead of the classroom.

Undergraduates—as so often is the case on campus political matters—offered the most sensible response. Senior Alisha Janssen, astutely noted, “It’s not really fair that we have to pay for an education, and they are complaining about getting paid for getting an education.” And James Liu told the Chicago Tribune, “It’s not that hard to cross a picket line. I don’t feel guilty about it. I don’t feel like I should sacrifice my credit because this is between the grad students and the university.”

Liu and Janssen, of course, are correct. While the Illinois administration appears ready to cave to the “union” extremists, the university should do more to look after the undergraduates it teaches, and do less to accommodate the demands of graduate student activists.

Not Your Grandparents’ AAUP

AAUP president Cary Nelson recently e-mailed his membership about an important new venture for the academic union. Proclaiming “this is not your grandparents’ AAUP,” Nelson celebrated the work of the “Department of Organizing and Services,” which had discovered “a faculty band from Ohio performing original songs about the ironies of current academic life.”
Perhaps Nelson should spend less time thinking about new songs and focus more on the central task of “your grandparents’ AAUP”—upholding the principle of academic freedom. In two recent, high-profile controversies, the self-described “tenured radical” has seemed intent on transforming the AAUP from an organization devoted to promoting academic freedom into a battering ram to perpetuate the groupthink that dominates so many quarters of the contemporary academy.
The first episode occurred in July, after NYU extended a visiting professorship in human rights law to Thio Li-ann, a professor at the National University of Singapore. The appointment generated understandable controversy after revelations that Li-ann, while a member of the Singapore parliament (a body not known for its commitment to human rights in any event), had wanted to continue criminalizing gay sex acts, on the grounds that “diversity is not license for perversity.” Li-ann eventually decided not to come to NYU, using as an excuse the poor enrollment of her courses.
As the controversy brewed, Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik drew from Nelson a highly unusual conception of academic freedom:

Nelson also said that in a tenure decision, he would judge a candidate—however offensive his or her views on unrelated subjects—only on a question of whether the person’s scholarship and teaching in his or her discipline met appropriate standards. But in a hiring decision (whether for a visiting or permanent position), he said, it is appropriate to consider other factors, and . . . professors can appropriately ask prior to appointments, [Nelson] said, whether hiring someone whose views on certain subjects are “poisonous” could limit “the department’s ability to do its business.”

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It Was Just Blather

In the Critical Theory Archives at UC-Irvine, deep in a file of the Stanley Fish Papers, is a statement on Duke University letterhead by Fish when he was Executive Director of Duke University Press. The statement isn’t dated, but we can assign it to the year 1996, appearing as it does in response to the infamous Sokal Hoax.
Probably most Minding the Campus readers recall the episode. Alan Sokal, a physicist at NYU, objected to theoretical and postmodern critiques of science coming out of the humanities (“science studies”), and he wanted to test the actual scientific and mathematical knowledge of the critics. He submitted a paper to the editors of Social Text with the title “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” and he filled it with tendentious assertions such as:

The content and methodology of postmodern science thus provide powerful intellectual support for the progressive political project, understood in its broadest sense: the transgressing of boundaries, the breaking down of barriers, the radical democratization of all aspects of social, economic, political, and cultural life.

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How To Finesse A Student Occupation

What kind of mark does NYU deserve for its handling of its student occupation? Let’s give the university a “B-plus” or even an “A” for a performance marred only by a poor end game—immediately reinstating the suspended perpetrators of the sandbox revolution, thus letting them claim that they had won. (“We did it”, said the Take Back NYU web site. “You made our cry heard around the world and it worked!!”)
The University of Rochester deserves a “D-minus” for caving in last month to an SDS sit-in only nine hours after it started. The university did not yield to the occupiers’ major demand—divestment in Israel—but it promised economic and humanitarian aid, including scholarships for Gaza students. Universities and colleges would do well to plan ahead for more anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian occupations by the hard left. More than 20 student occupations have been mounted in Britain and sponsors want to inspire similar actions across the pond.
In preparing for such occupations, American administrations should take a look at a model response from the 1960s, possibly the only “A-plus” in the student occupatrion sweepstakes. It took place at the University of Chicago, drew little publicity at the time and is recalled by few today. The Chicago Maroon, the university newspaper, wrote recently that “awareness of this story is mostly limited to its eyewitnesses” and is “nearly absent from the collective memories passed down to each new generation of students.”
The central figure in the story is the late Edward Levi, president of the university, later to be the attorney general (under President Ford) who cleaned up the justice department after the Watergate mess. He faced a far more serious threat than NYU did last month. NYU had a handful of comic protesters, who explained that they wanted to “consense” (they meant form a consensus), screamed about brutality without being touched, and bitterly accused the employees who evicted them of drinking “corporate water.” Then there was the demand that NYU reconsider the lifting of its ban on selling Coca Cola. The administration disarmed protesters by offering food, even vegetarian options. It’s always hard to hate oppressors who care about the vegan menu. In contrast, the Chicago protesters were sophisticated and experienced. Some were members of Students for a Democratic Society and many went on to join the terrorist Weather Underground.
Levi had taken office at a tense time, only a few months after the upheaval at the 1968 Democratic national convention. On January 30th, more than 400 students took over the administration building, the third occupation of a campus building in four years. Vietnam and anger at “the system” were obvious issues. So was resentment that students played no role in university governance. But the excuse for the takeover was the sociology department’s decision not to rehire Marlene Dixon, an eccentric Marxist and radical feminist who had drawn attention by chanting “Work, study, get ahead, kill!” to students during Levi’s inaugural procession.
Despite heavy pressure to call in police, Levi refused to do so. No police meant no photos of abused students and therefore no dramatic storyline. “The whole thing builds to the police raid,” said classics professor James Redfield, decribing the ideal conditions for a successful student takeover. “That’s the big scene and when that doesn’t happen, they don’t quite know what to do.”
Levi refused to capitulate or negotiate. Students generally supported the administration. Faculty was split, and on the seventh day, Milton Friedman held a press conference vehemently opposing amnesty. Left alone for 16 days, the protesters grew weary and left the building. After the 1966 sit-in, a faculty body had recommended “appropriate disciplinary action, not excluding expulsion” if another takeover occurred. That’s what happened in 1969. Levi called 165 students in for hearings, suspended 81 and expelled 42. Students who convincingly expressed remorse got off the hook. In statements afterward, Levi talked about the integrity and civility of the university, its mission to pursue truth and the need to resist coercion. He said, “There are values to be maintained. We are not bought and sold and transformed by that kind of pressure.”
During the takeover, a bomb threat was called in and someone threw a typewriter during a confrontation among students. During an SDS-sponsored rally against the disciplinary committee, student kicked in the door of Levi’s house. But the tumult that burst forth on other campuses subsided at the University of Chicago. This success in Chicago in the 60s and NYU today should lead other colleges and universities to take note. The low key, no-police, no-negotiation strategy works.

NYU Is Safe Again

New York University students, or at least a few dozen of them, have just set several records for student occupations of a campus building: fewest occupiers, shortest occupation (3 days) , least support among the student body and longest list of demands. Surely the strange litany of demands had much to so with the adventure’s quick collapse. The protesters wanted public disclosure of NYU’s endowment and operating budget, a student on the university board of trustees collective bargaining for TAs and student workers, tuition kept at or below the rate of inflation, access to the library for the general public, and priority for student groups in building owned or leased by NYU. After his list, the demands got showier: 13 scholarships for Gaza students, extra NYU supplies sent to rebuild Gaza University, amnesty for all occupiers and—perhaps to guard against the possibility that the occupation would be taken seriously– a serious reconsideration of the lifting of the campus ban against Coca-Cola. Nothing about a longed-for reduction of salt in cafeteria French fries, however.

Noam Chomsky, clearly dodging the Coca-Cola issue, put out a statement supporting the protesters’ call for “universities to end their participation in the brutal oppression of Palestinians.” The New York Daily News published an editorial making fun of the occupiers as weeneies and wusses, and mocked their slogan, “Take Back the University.” Who took the university, the News asked. “Was it the Klingons?” Two NYU alumni set up a web site, “Fake Back NYU” explaining that the protesters may seem laughable, “largely because they speak a language of knee-jerk-faux-liberal-college-speak.” The Washington Square News said it had interviewed thirty NYU students and not one of them fully supported the list of demands. Maybe the occupiers, 18 of them now under suspension, just got their timing wrong. Takeovers and non-negotiable demands seem to work better in the spring and fall, when the weather is better.

Talk For Credit

If your plans for next semester were ucertain, here’s a surefire plan: NYU’s new one-credit “Intergroup Dialogues” which are “designed to foster communication among racial groups at NYU.”
The sessions are to be gerrymandered, of course, according to the Washington Square News:

To ensure balance, a 14-student section addressing racial issues would have seven white students, seven students of color and two facilitators — one white student and one student of color. Hall said the setup encourages frank discussion in a safe environment.

Or four Asians, four blacks, four whites, and four Hispanics? Or one Afro-Caribbean black, one East African, one African-American, one Inuit, one Uighur…

NYU’s Middle East Problem

This past winter, Andy Ram and Jonathan Erlich, a men’s doubles team who captured the 2008 Australian Open championship, announced plans to enter the ATP tournament in Dubai. Normally, tennis players’ schedules aren’t big news. But Ram and Erlich are citizens of Israel, and the government of the United Arab Emirates prohibits holders of Israeli passports from entering the country. (Indeed, a UAE visa page can’t even bring itself to concede that the country’s name is legitimate: “Nationals of ‘Israel’ may not enter the UAE.”) At the last minute, despite ATP rules that should have guaranteed both their entrance into the tournament and their safety while in Dubai, the duo withdrew – acting under pressure, it was widely believed, from the ATP tour and the UAE government.
Given the contemporary academy’s professed celebration of “tolerance” and “diversity,” at first blush it might seem inconceivable that a major research university would establish a co-equal branch of its institution in a country that discriminates on the basis of national identity. Yet NYU is planning to do just that. A university press release described “NYU Abu Dhabi,” which will open in 2010, as “a major step in the evolution of NYU as a ‘global network university.”

The university, which the Abu Dhabi government will fund, “will be a residential research university built with academic quality and practices consistent with the prevailing standards at NYU’s Washington Square campus, including adherence to its standards of academic freedom. The development of all the programs at the Abu Dhabi campus will be overseen by the New York-based faculty and senior administrators.” And graduates will receive the same NYU degrees given to students who attend the university in Manhattan.

NYU Abu Dhabi is the handiwork of NYU president James Sexton, who sees the new university as a step ahead in globalization. It’s also a step ahead for NYU’s finances. The Abu Dhabi government has already given a $50 million “down payment” for the institution, with promises of more money to come – including assistance for NYU’s endowment, which lags well behind that of Harvard, Yale, or Princeton.

In an interview with New York, Sexton came across as at best a naif and at worst an academic version of George W. Bush peering into Vladimir Putin’s soul. The NYU president recalled an instant “electric” connection in which “the crown prince told me that he felt it in my handshake, in my eyes, in my aura at that first meeting… I knew right then and there that we had found our partner.”

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