Tag Archives: racism

Pundit Wages War on Campus Correctness, 2001

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invited Racist Banned at Williams– Was That Right?

When President Adam Falk of Williams College wrote to the campus community on February 18, to say that he was disinviting John Derbyshire, he didn’t offer much explanation.  Derbyshire, who had been invited by students as part of a program called “Uncomfortable Conversations,” was supposed to talk about immigration. Falk said that Derbyshire had “crossed the line” and was guilty of “hate speech.”

The line was apparently written in magic ink that only President Falk could see. The “hate speech” was presumably there to be found if one went looking.  Of course, Derbyshire is semi-famous for having written an essay that advises the children of white parents to avoid black people.  The essay got him fired from the National Review in 2012.  He went on to publish other ill-judged racial provocations in out-of-the-way places.

Related: ‘Uncomfortable Talk’ Censored at Williams

“Hate speech” is one of those phrases that often says more about the person using it than the person who is accused of uttering it.  It might bring to mind crude epithets; perhaps it conjures bullying or incitements to violence; or again, it might bring to mind slander or libel aimed at destroying someone’s reputation. For some, the term is also a way of deprecating opinions they strongly disagree with or even statements of fact that, however much they rest on good evidence, contradict the beliefs of the speaker.  For example, pointing out the 18-year absence of global warming as measured by satellite readings is, in some eyes, “hate speech.”  So is noticing the dramatic disparities between blacks and whites in commission of violent crimes.

To label what someone says as “hate speech” is, of course, to judge that person’s motives.  It is also an attempt to put the content of what the person says outside the bounds of further consideration.  It is a tool, as social psychologist Jonathan Haidt might put it, that helps a moral community police its boundaries.  To label someone a purveyor of hate speech is to write him out the deliberations of all right-thinking people.

Is Derbyshire a purveyor of “hate speech”?  That depends on what President Falk meant by it. I wanted to know, so I asked him.  He wrote back and told me, and with his permission, I quote his answer.  He stipulated that I quote it in its entirety, so I will in deference to the spirit of the times, offer a trigger warning:

Related: Princeton Takes a Stand on Free Speech

Are we narrowed down the audience to the insensitive louts who can bear up? Good.  Here goes:

Dear Mr. Wood,

While I am not interested in an extended dialog with the National Association of Scholars regarding matters at Williams College, I am prepared to give a brief response to your question about John Derbyshire’s canceled appearance here. To that end, please see his opinion piece “The Talk: Non-Black Version.” This article was considered so racist by the National Review (no bastion of left-wing orthodoxy, I assure you) that upon its publication the editors severed their association with Derbyshire and refused him further access to their pages. Typical of its content is the following excerpt, in the form of advice to “nonblack” children:/

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.
(10b) Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.
(10c) If planning a trip to a beach or amusement park at some date, find out whether it is likely to be swamped with blacks on that date (neglect of that one got me the closest I have ever gotten to death by gunshot).
(10d) Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.
(10e) If you are at some public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.
(10f) Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.
(10g) Before voting for a black politician, scrutinize his/her character much more carefully than you would a white.
(10h) Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress, e.g., on the highway.
(10i) If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.

As for Derbyshire’s views on white supremacy, I would point you to the following passage that appeared on the website VDare:

Leaving aside the intended malice, I actually think ‘White Supremacist’ is not bad semantically. White supremacy, in the sense of a society in which key decisions are made by white Europeans, is one of the better arrangements History has come up with. There have of course been some blots on the record, but I don’t see how it can be denied that net-net, white Europeans have made a better job of running fair and stable societies than has any other group.

Frankly, this is the kind of material I would expect to see distributed by organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan.

Related: What Universities Can Do for Free Speech in 2015

Derbyshire’s rhetoric, as typified in these passages, isn’t the explication of provocative, challenging or contrary ideas. To speak to what I’m sure is a particular concern of the National Association of Scholars, his work on race isn’t remotely scholarly. Derbyshire simply provokes. His racist bile would have added nothing to the complicated and challenging conversations occurring every day on our campus, across a wide range of ideologies and experiences. No educational purpose of any kind would have been served by his appearance at Williams.

I hope this clarifies matters.

Yours,
Adam F. Falk

President and Professor
Williams College

Full disclosure: I met Derbyshire once in a social setting, but I don’t know him well and have not read any of his books on mathematics or other subjects.  What I do know of him is that he is a man who seems almost to have courted opprobrium.  Those of his writings about race that I have seen make me think of someone absorbed in the pleasure of seeing how close to the edge of the cliff he can stand without falling over.  But he seems to have no real animus towards blacks.  I would describe his writings as misanthropic and heedless.  They are objectively racist, as he clearly believes that races are biologically real and that the differences matter in all sorts of ways.  But if a distinction can be drawn between racist writing and “hate speech,” Derbyshire’s writing might provide the occasion to draw it.  It seems motivated by fear, not hate, and it counsels withdrawal rather than aggression.

I can well imagine that those distinctions wouldn’t satisfy President Falk, but they are important if we want to understand why students invited Derbyshire in the first place.  He is plainly not someone who hurls epithets; bullies people; torments opponents; incites violence; or libels individuals. He just says awful things and tries to defend them as reasonable judgments.

Yik Yak– Latest Target of Anti-Free-Speech Left

And many people understand that.  In 2010 the Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA) of the University of Pennsylvania Law School invited Derbyshire to speak on the question, “Should the government play a role in eliminating racial disparities in education and employment?” In his speech Derbyshire stated explicitly his belief “that racial disparities in education and employment have their origin in biological differences between the human races.” The BLSA did not think a line had been crossed: they gave Derbyshire a respectful hearing.

The same could and should have occurred at Williams College.  It didn’t because President Falk was too eager to draw his line.  In the end, he didn’t draw it well.  All we know at this point is that when a speaker appears to President Falk to have engaged in “hannnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnte speech,” he is unwelcome at the college.

In “A Guide to Disinvitation,” I’ve tried to disentangle the justifications for free expression from the exceptions.  The essential points: Intellectual freedom is part of the foundation of higher education because it is a precondition of the pursuit of knowledge.  Unless we are willing to hear and consider views contrary to our own, we are on the path to settled orthodoxies and mere doctrines, not the path to intellectual growth, increased understanding, or critical thought.  Free speech is not the be-all and end-all of higher education.  It exists for a purpose:  to enable learning.

And President Falk is right that there is “a line” or a whole set of lines.  He just didn’t find any of them.  Freedom of speech requires civility; commitment to seeking the truth; and recognition of the differences between the course syllabus (which is not ordinarily open for debate) and the speaker on a public platform (who is). Exceptional circumstances might indeed arise where a speaker should be disinvited.  Think of the emissary of a foreign power that is at war with the United States; a terrorist; a wanted criminal; someone about to expose national secrets.  But there no legitimate exceptions based on dislike of the speaker’s opinions no matter how wrong-headed we think those opinions are.

Colleges should lean over backwards to accommodate invited speakers.  Such individuals have a special and limited relation to the college community, which has an obligation to protect them and foster their opportunity to present their views.  We have known this for a very long time, though it seems every generation has to learn it anew.  It isn’t too late, President Falk.  You could be among those to illuminate this principle for today’s generation.  Just re-invite that man and explain why.

‘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.

Summer Reading for Freshmen: Unchallenging, Mediocre

“Beach Books 2014-2016,” released yesterday by the National Association of Scholars (NAS), is a study of mostly summer reading assigned by colleges and universities to their incoming freshman.

NAS reports:

Our study of common readings during the academic years 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 covers 377 assignments at 366 colleges and universities for the first year and 361 assignments at 350 colleges and universities for the second year. Our data includes common readings for every college and university we could find—including readings for honor colleges, but not for sub-units of the university such as departments of education. We included books assigned as summer readings, whether to freshmen or to all students.

Although in the past we did not include books tied to readings assigned in a core curriculum, this year we have included Columbia University’s assignment of an English translation of the first six books of Homer’s The Iliad to its incoming undergraduate class, since it is specifically designated as a summer reading.68 Columbia’s decision does make The Iliad the common reading for its incoming class, and this wonderful effect should not be removed from our charts simply because it is not formally labeled as a Common Reading. We hope that Columbia’s choice will prove a model to its peers.

Download the report (pdf): Beach Books 2014-2016: What Do Colleges and Universities Want Students to Read Outside Class?

The findings, in brief, follow.

College common reading programs are:

Meant to Build Community. Colleges see their common readings more as exercises in community-building than as means to prepare students for academic life.

Civically Engaged: Common readings are overwhelmingly chosen to foster civic engagement; they scarcely mention the complementary and equally valuable virtues of the disengaged life of the mind. They give no sense of why or how college differs from the world outside, and why those differences are valuable.

Recent: More than half of common reading assignments (58% in 2014, 60% in 2015) were published between 2010 and the present. Only 12 assignments out of 738 (1.6%) were published before 1900, and another 5 (0.7%) between 1900 and 1945.

Nonfiction: 71% of assignments in 2014 and 75% of assignments in 2015 were memoirs, biographies, essays, and other non-fiction.

Dominated by mediocre new books: Most common readings are recent, trendy, and intellectually unchallenging.

A Narrow, Predictable Genre: The common reading genre is parochial, contemporary, commercial, optimistic, juvenile, and obsessed with suffering.

Almost No Classics: Only a scattering of colleges assigned works that could be considered classics. With few exceptions, the hundreds of common reading programs across the country ignored books of lasting merit.

No Modern Classics: Even in confining themselves to living authors, common reading programs neglect some of the best ones, such as Martin Amis, Wendell Berry, J. M. Coetzee, Annie Dillard, Alice Munro, V. S. Naipaul, Philip Roth, Wole Soyinka, and Tom Wolfe.

Author Speaking: In 2014, 53% of colleges with common reading programs hosted personal appearances by the authors, and in 2015, 54% of colleges with common reading programs had author appearances.

Nothing Foreign: Classics in translation were nearly absent—and so was anything modern in translation. Even common readings about foreigners generally were written in English, not translated from a foreign language.

Predominantly Progressive. The assigned books frequently emphasize progressive political themes—illegal immigrants contribute positively to America, the natural environment must be saved immediately—and almost never possess subject matter disfavored by progressives.

The desire to appeal to incoming students who have rarely if ever read an adult book on their own also leads selection committees to choose low-grade “accessible” works. Common reading programs aim to familiarize new students with how college students think, read, discuss, and write. They are meant to establish academic standards—and to establish a sense of community among students, both with other students and with the faculty. How well they do either of these things is open to question. Common reading programs are also meant to inculcate institutional identity and institutional goals—under which cover progressive tenets such as diversity and sustainability often creep in.

Books are selected to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, both to satisfy the varieties of student taste and disciplinary interest and so as to get as broad an institutional “buy-in” as possible from the administration and the faculty. The basic rationale, however, is that if students can be brought to care enough about a book to read it, and even think it’s interesting enough to talk about with their friends, they might also care enough about college to make a real go at their education.

Common reading programs state their goals with words that make a leftward skew in the book selections just about a sure thing. Keywords telegraph the content of those goals: all save academic expectations are the euphemistic jargon of the left.

For instance, Salem State University (Massachusetts) desires “thoughtful discussion of ideas”; in 2015, it chose Joshua Davis’ soft sell for amnestying illegal immigrants, Spare Parts: Four Undocumented Teenagers, One Ugly Robot, and the Battle for the American Dream (2014).  These basic programmatic goals have been elaborated by a constellation of other words and phrases that largely partakes of progressive jargon as well: active citizenship, awareness, biodiversity, civic engagement, community service, critical thinking, diversity, engaged, equity, ethics, inclusion, injustice, intercultural understanding, local talent, meaningful, multiple disciplinary application, perspectives, powerful, readability, relevant, responsibility, sensitivity, shared experience, social justice, social responsibility, timely, and tolerance.

(Critical thinking, ethics, and tolerance are not monopolies of any political party, and they should be part of a college education. What we note and critique here is the use of this hijacked vocabulary to forward progressive political projects.)

These programmatic keywords reinforce other skews. The calls for civic engagement, community service, relevance, and responsibility filter out books concerned with the disinterested life of the mind. The demand for a reading that is about something in the world leads to endless memoirs and works of popular nonfiction concerned with life beyond the college walls. Even a memoir such as Liz Murray’s Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard, whose point is the value of going to college, is entirely about the struggle to get to Harvard, and not the character of her life once she has arrived.

Common reading choices continue to reflect the issues of the day. The sharp rise of selections on African American themes in 2015-16 coincides with the Ferguson protests and the ensuing Black Lives Matter campaign; and it is doubtful that, absent Ferguson, Augustana College (Illinois), Hampshire College (Massachusetts), and Norfolk State University (Virginia) all would have decided in 2015 to assign James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time.

The campaign to amnesty illegal immigrants likewise has produced a sharp uptick of books on themes of immigration, particularly illegal immigration. The popularity of Sonia Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with His Mother (6 selections in 201415 and 5 in 2015-16) evidently derives from this campaign. The rise of the transgender movement, with its insistence on contingent sexuality, probably inspired a faint echo in Bluffton University’s (Ohio) choice of Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It, a 1991 novel on a woman who falls in love with a cyborg.

The common readings are homogeneous and bland. The desire to appeal to incoming students who have rarely if ever read an adult book on their own also leads selection committees to choose low-grade “accessible” works that are presumed to appeal to “book virgins.” Since common reading programs are generally either voluntary or mandatory without an enforcement mechanism, such “book virgins” have to be wooed with simple, unchallenging works.

A significant number of books are chosen by the academy’s diversity offices. The sustainability programs are not yet institutional sponsors of common readings, but their influence can be seen in the uptick of sustainability themes for common reading programs. The University

of Tennessee’s student-led fossil fuel divestment campaign began in January 2013,9 but surged in popularity after incoming students read the 201314 common reading, Bill McKibben’s Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, and heard McKibben speak on campus.10

Wes Moore’s The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates (2010) is by far the most frequently assigned book of the last two years, with 17 assignments in 2014-15 and 16 in 2015-16. This is a memoir of the contrasting fates of two Wes Moores— both born African American and poor in Baltimore, one grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House Fellow, and business leader, while the other ended up a convicted murderer serving a life sentence.

The most common college selections were in these categories: civil rights/racism/slavery, crime and punishment, drugs and poverty, family dysfunction and immigration.

‘White Only’ and ‘Black Only’

A bizarre incident happened last week at University of Buffalo. Someone posted signs reading “White Only” or “Black Only” at the entrance to bathrooms and above drinking fountains around campus. Students were shocked and outraged, USA Today and other outlets reported. Police were called in to remove the signs and investigate.

The Black Student Union called a meeting to discuss the incident, in the course of which the affair crossed over into a wonderland. As the members deplored the signs and the racist legacy they invoked, a black graduate student rose and admitted that she placed the signs herself. It was a performance art project, she said, created to fulfill an assignment for a course, “Installation in Urban Spaces.”

Attendees got angry and walked out. Some started crying.

The student has followed up with a long letter to the Buffalo student newspaper that only aggravates the situation. After describing the course assignment, she switches abruptly to herself. “I am in pain,” she says. She studies art at Buffalo precisely to express her suffering and to advance the process of “healing.” Her “symptoms” (she uses the term) include self-hate, trauma, and “an unbearable and deafening indignation.”

The cause is white racism, inflicted upon her for years. Snide jokes, the n-word, and ubiquitous white privilege have taken their toll and produced a “frightening” reality she and others of her race must endure. The system “threatens, traumatizes, brutalizes, stunts, and literally kills non-white people every day in the United States.”

She apologizes for “the extreme trauma, fear, and actual hurt and pain these signs brought about.” To recall Jim Crow was no doubt distressing for students on their way to class that morning. But the student has no regrets: “I do not apologize for what I did. Once again, this is my art practice.” Suffering must be allowed its moment. Without expression, suffering simmers inside forever. Furthermore, “hurt was necessary to call us to action.”

The statement goes on for 2,170 words. As you can see, it is chock full of erratic, overheated identity-politics contentions that provide ample fodder for satire, ridicule, denunciation, and head shaking.

But it’s the kind of episode conservative and libertarian critics of the university should avoid. However misguided this student may be, and however much we might want to say that she misunderstands herself and U.S. history, there is no point in making judgments. No doubt, students on campus are talking non-stop about the incident, and any corrective to the student’s actions should be left to her peers, not to us.

It’s not just because we shouldn’t go after such an easy target, or because we shouldn’t wade into race issues that are already a dismay and an embarrassment for Buffalo students and teachers and administrators.

Rather, it is because the best way of dealing with them is to follow the university’s own course and pull back, letting it wear out in a process of “dialogue.” Here is the statement the administration issued in response to the whole affair.

The University at Buffalo is a community that strongly values inclusiveness and diversity. Faculty, staff and students from all backgrounds and cultures challenge and inspire each other to explore, discover and expand their world view.

We are committed to ensuring that the University at Buffalo is welcoming and supportive of all members of our community. On a daily basis, our faculty and students explore sensitive and difficult topics in an environment that values freedom of expression, and this week’s student art project is generating considerable dialogue.

The university is encouraging our community to discuss how we negotiate the boundaries of academic freedom in a safe and inclusive environment that values freedom of expression and further builds a culture of inclusion.   

The University at Buffalo stands strong in our commitment to ensuring that such discourse occurs in a safe, inclusive and intellectually open environment.

The idiom is familiar, and it serves a managerial function. When an affair like this happens, campus staff drowns it in bureaucratic words—“welcoming and supportive,” “inclusiveness and diversity,” “culture of inclusion,” “save and inclusive environment.” As the hack clichés pile up, your eyes glass over . . . and that’s precisely the point! The words don’t mean anything and they’re not supposed to mean anything. The point is to blunt and soften, deflect and delay, smile and nod, sympathize and support.

They are wise to do so. There is nothing to gain from going after this student for posting hate speech, summoning a police investigation, and bringing heaps of bad publicity down upon the school. She has freedom of expression and campus identity politics on her side. Better to reiterate the prevailing truisms and get back to work.

There is a lesson here for conservative and libertarian critics of the academy. Don’t waste time with single episodes unless or until they rise to a level of significant immorality or illegality. No sensible person needs to be guided through this affair, just as no informed person needs to be told that some nutty things happen on campus these days. Let us save our critique for the actions that deserve it.

The Duke lacrosse is an obvious qualifier, and K. C. Johnson’s blog and book (with Stuart Taylor) were gold standard models of how to proceed. Cases like this one isn’t.

The Severely Biased New Prof at Boston University

Fresh off completing her doctorate at the University of Michigan, Saida Grundy has landed a job on Boston University’s faculty – Assistant Professor of Sociology and African-American Studies. What can B.U. students anticipate from her?

Editors at the site SoCawledge dug into Grundy’s thinking and found a lot of tweets that resemble those of Steven Salaita in their nastiness. Whereas the object of Salaita’s animosity is anyone who defends Israel, in Grundy’s case it is the white race.

Among her tweets is this one: dear white people: u are all ben Affleck. Those euphemisms for ur ancestors like “farmers” & “pioneers” means owned humans & killed natives

No doubt Professor Grundy knows that no white person now living either owned humans or killed natives, and that the great majority of whites in the past did neither of those actions.  Still, she appears to harbor a deep animosity toward whites anyway.

Another: every MLK week I commit myself to not spending a dime in white-owned busineses. and every year I find it nearly impossible.

But the Reverend King had nothing against white-owned businesses. Why does Grundy feel the desire to discriminate against them?

Read through the tweets and you’ll see a young woman who has been brought up with (or perhaps schooled to have) animosity boiling within her. She illustrates very well the problem that former BU professor and now NAS president Peter Wood calls “bee in the mouth anger.” (I strongly recommend his book on that.)

What will her classes be like? It’s hard to believe that they will be “safe places” for white students, especially men.

After her tweets were made public, the university knew it was in a mess.

BU’s president, Robert Brown had to say something and came up with this attempt at straddling the fence: “At Boston University we acknowledge Dr. Grundy’s right to hold and express her opinions. At the same time, we fully appreciate why many have reacted to her statements. Boston University does not condone racism or bigotry in any form….We are disappointed and concerned by statements that reduce individuals to stereotypes….” (You can read Brown’s entire statement and more about the raging controversy here.)

At least Brown recognizes the racism, bigotry, and stereotyping that is such a big part of Grundy’s view of America. Many educators have rushed to her defense, claiming that people outside of higher education have misunderstood her and vastly overreacted. That’s the tenor of this Inside Higher Ed piece. The problem, according to author Colleen Flaherty is that “what professors write, think, or talk about doesn’t necessarily always translate to a wider audience…Ideas that are relatively uncontroversial among colleagues might elicit outrage from the public.”

Elaborating on that notion, VCU sociology professor Tressie McMillan Cottom said, “A lot can go wrong when you use ‘inside’ language ‘outside’ because we rely so much on social ties and context to make meaning of words.”

So we are apparently to believe that the only problem here is that Grundy made the mistake of letting the general public know what she thinks about race in language that revealed her evident biases.  If she had just kept her angry stereotyping within what Cottom usefully calls the higher education “bubble,” those ill-educated outsiders wouldn’t be upset over words they can’t comprehend out of their “context.”

The truth is that by using “outside” language on Twitter, Grundy allowed the whole world a clear view of the way her classes are apt to go. Academic writing is usually impenetrable (even to other academics), but you can’t hide anything in the tiny thought compressions of a tweet. If Grundy had used Twitter only for mundane personal stuff and reserved her vitriol for classrooms filled almost entirely with students inclined to nod in agreement, nobody would know what bile her students were steeping in.

Finally, Grundy herself says that she regrets having stated things “indelicately.” What that means is that she regrets having used clear “outside” language that revealed her biases instead of the cloudy language of academe that would have kept them hidden.

Racism and the Controversy at Wesleyan

Wesleyan University’s affirmative action bake sale, staged by two students on October 26th, has generated more sputtering controversy than most, largely because one professor, Claire Potter, intemperately called the event racist. Late yesterday, Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, published a remarkable discussion of the controversy and the uses of the word “racist,” a term that unfailingly emerges whenever a student bake sale, with different cookie prices for different racial groups, defies campus orthodoxy by satirizing college admissions based on race. This afternoon, Ward Connerly, the nation’s principal activist fighting race and gender preferences, will speak on the Wesleyan campus in Middletown, Connecticut.

California’s Most Anti-Semitic College

Anti-Semitic incidents are common at the University of California at Irvine, and the Muslim Student Union is the major perpetrator. Although not all the antisemitic events at UCI, detailed recently by Kenneth Marcus in Commentary magazine, can be traced to the MSU, those that can include physical and verbal harassment of Jewish students, posters of the Star of David dripping with blood, inversion of Holocaust imagery in which Jews are the new Nazis, and sponsorship of public speakers who accuse Jews of not being able to exist equally with other human beings, as well as accusations that Jews deliberately kill non-Jewish children for nefarious purposes.

For years, the UCI administration has ignored or condoned those activities. But the administration, finally, has sanctioned the MSU for an anti-Israel (not anti-Semitic) incident in which the union on February 8, 2010 continually disrupted a speech by Michael Oren, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States.

Ambassador Oren had been invited to speak by the School of Law, Department of Political Science, Center for the Study of Democracy, seven student groups, and community co-sponsors. The MSU, in an organized campaign, planned beforehand, as revealed by emails and minutes of an MSU meeting anonymously sent to the university administration, deliberately disrupted the lecture. There were more than ten interruptions in which MSU members screamed slogans such as “propagating murder is not an expression of free speech” “killer” and “how many Palestinians did you kill?” As they did, other students shouted and clapped.

As the disruptions occurred, the Dean of Political Science and the Chancellor pleaded with the audience to be polite and courteous . They expressed shame and embarrassment for the university. They threatened the disrupters with arrest, disciplinary procedures, and suspension and dismissal from the university. To no avail. After the disrupters finished, a large group of student supporters stood up and marched out, where they continued to shout slogans, such as “Anti-Israel, Anti-baby-killing.”

Eleven students, 8 from UCI, including the President and Vice President of the MSU, and 3 from UC Riverside, who had stood up, shouted out, and been removed by the campus police were arrested and cited for disturbing a public event.

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What African-American Studies Could Be

While this year has become best known as the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock, it was also forty years ago that the first African-American Studies department was established, at San Francisco State University.
Forty-one fall semesters later, there are hundreds of such departments. Has what they teach evolved with the march of time? What should the mission of a truly modern African-American Studies department be?
The answer common in such departments is that the principal mission is to teach students about the eternal power of racism past and present. Certainly it should be part of a liberal arts education to learn that racism is more than face-to-face abuse, and that social inequality is endemic to American society. However, too often the curriculum of African-American Studies departments gives the impression that racism and disadvantage are the most important things to note and study about being black.

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Uh-Oh—Optimism

The annual conference of the National Association of Scholars in Washington opened today on a rare note of optimism. Abigail Thernstrom, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and vice-chair of the US Commission on Civil Rights said the election of Barack Obama was a historic turning point that will undermine the “racism is everywhere” mantra of the academic left—but not right away. She said, “winds of change are blowing through the intellectual world. No hurricane but a breeze. With Obama having run as an incidental black candidate and the long-overdue emergence of some maverick black authors, we are witnessing what might be called the incredible shrinking of Jesse Jackson and his allies.”
Thernstrom cited Richard Thompson Ford, professor of law at Stanford, who tilts in favor of integration over racial solidarity. In his book The Race Card, Ford deplores “self-serving individuals, rabble rousers, and political hacks who use accusations of racism… to advance their own ends.” Thernstrom also mentioned Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy who describes in his book Sellout: The Politics Of Racial Betrayal, a racially changed America-one in which Barack Obama could “choose” to call himself black. Kennedy, Thernstrom said, sees himself as part of the racial “team” while advocating a conception of racial citizenship in which racial identity is always a choice. Thernstrom said the Universities are not on the forefront of change and may be the last to get the message, but “the younger generation is coming of age in a racially altered world and eventually the politics of higher education will surely reflect that reality. Time is on our side.”
Also in the opening session Greg Lukianoff, President of FIRE prononced himself unruffled by the prospect of defending free speech on campus in an age of Democratic ascendency. The courts, including Democratic judges, have been resolute in defending free speech at public universities and colleges. Besides, he said “after all, the Republicans did nothing in eight years to promote free speech on campus.”

The Worst Campus Codeword

The academic left is fond of buzzwords that sound harmless but function in a highly ideological way. Many schools of education and social work require students to have a good “disposition.” In practice this means that conservatives need not apply, as highly publicized attempts to penalize right-wing students at Brooklyn College and Washington State University revealed. “Social justice” is an even more useful codeword. Who can oppose it? But some schools made the mistake of spelling out that it means advocacy for causes of the left, including support for gay marriage and adoption, also opposition to “institutional racism,” heterosexism, classism and ableism. Students at Teachers College, Columbia, are required to acknowledge that belief in “merit, social mobility and individual responsibility” often produce and perpetuate social inequalities. Even in its mildest form “social justice” puts schools in a position of judging the acceptability of students’ political and social opinions.

Now the left is organizing around its most powerful codeword yet: sustainability. Dozens of universities now have sustainability programs. Arizona State is bulking up its curriculum and seems to be emerging as the strongest sustainability campus. UCLA has a housing floor devoted to sustainability. The American College Personnel Association (ACPA) has a sustainability task force and has joined eight other education associations to form a sustainability consortium. Pushed by the cultural left, UNESCO has declared the United Nation’s Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2014, featuring the now ubiquitous symbol of the sustainability movement – three overlapping circles representing environmental, economic and social reform (i.e., ecology is only a third of what the movement is about).

Only recently have the goals and institutionalization of the movement become clear. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability is Higher Education (AASHE) says it “defines sustainability is an inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods and a better world for all generations.” When the residential life program at the University of Delaware – possibly the most appalling indoctrination program ever to appear on an American campus – was presented, Res Life director Kathleen Kerr packaged it as a sustainability program. Since suspended, possibly only temporarily, the program discussed mandatory sessions for students as “treatments” and insisted that whites acknowledge their role as racists. It also required students to achieve certain competencies including “students will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society.” At a conference, Kerr explained “the social justice aspects of sustainability education,” referring to “environmental racism,” “domestic partnerships” and “gender equity.”

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Angela Davis, Civil Rights Pioneer?

Angela Davis is busy this year with Martin Luther King day commemorations. On Jan. 17 she gave a lecture “dealing with racism in today’s world” as part of the University of South Alabama’s 2008 Martin Luther King Jr. observations. She’s appearing at Brown to deliver its 12th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Lecture on February 7th. Her talk is titled “Recognizing Racism in the Era of Neo-Liberalism.” She keeps busy on the circuit. Angela Davis has delivered official lectures for Martin Luther King Day at UNC Greensboro, Duke, The University of Florida, The University of Oregon, and numerous other academic institutions.

UNC-Greensboro’s billing of her lecture in 2004 was fairly typical “The significance of Angela Davis to Martin Luther King’s legacy is the fact that she challenged and continues to challenge social inequality in our society” stated Audrey Daniel, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs. MLK commemorations routinely involve encomiums to social justice and other left causes (from speakers such as Mary Frances Berry and Nikki Giovanni), but it’s still something of a surprise to find just how many colleges that think the tradition of American civil rights is best commented upon by a Lenin Prize recipient. It might seem curious, in the broader world, to celebrate the violent permutation of the civil rights struggle that Davis represents – the journey from “I have a dream” to “I have a shotgun” – but countless universities appear to have never had the thought.

Columbia Hunger Striker Yields To Lure of Food, Imperialism, Racism…

Alas, one of the intrepid Columbia hunger strikers has given in. How will they ever force Columbia to stop expanding, increase resources for minority centers, require more ethnic study courses, and make January sunnier with such lazy tactics. Especially now that a gourmand opposition group has mobilized – “Why We Act, Why We Eat,” whose mission is to “eat against a group that seems not to care for the well-being of its students or itself.”

All is not lost though. Several students continue the herculean fight and, in proof that no student idea is so foolish to fail to draw faculty enthusiasts, a professor has joined the strikers. The Sun reports:

On Thursday, a professor of Political Science at Barnard, Dennis Dalton, joined the strike. Mr. Dalton, 69, who studies Gandhi, said he would continue to teach classes while subsisting on orange juice and water, according to the student newspaper, the Columbia Spectator. “I want the core curriculum supplemented by writings on Gandhi, King, Malcolm X,” he said.

And you thought the hunger strike couldn’t become more ridiculous. I’d suggest the nutritive benefits of solar healing for the intrepid strikers. The practice promises “that after 9 months, one can eventually win a victory over hunger” simply by subsisting on the sun. If only the strikers had found out earlier. Their set of demands is sufficiently incoherent that they could easily additionally demand that the dining halls be replaced with a nutritive sun observatory. No one would bat an eye.

The Hidden Impact Of Political Correctness

It’s easy to think of Universities as a circus for wacky professors; their semi-monthly comparisons of Bush to Hitler or indictments of inherent American racism are hard to miss. Universities’ deviations from traditional education are far more serious than a few zany radicals, though. Something far more significant overshadows this ranting, namely how PC invisibly sanitizes instruction to avoid “offending” certain easy-to-anger students. This is the dog that does not bark – “safe lecturing” to use the STD vocabulary – and seldom recognized since it concerns what is not taught, and as such deprives students of a genuine education.

Let me offer some observations from my 35-year academic career but these undoubtedly apply more generally. Some facts. First, today’s students, especially in lecture courses, display rather desultory academic habits. Many arrive late, leave early, doze off, regularly skip classes, eat, drink or listen to iPods, gossip and otherwise ignore the dispensed pearls of wisdom. Even stellar teachers cast pearls. Dreary test results confirm that lectures are disregarded and assignments go unread. Sad to say, many African-American students who should be expending extra efforts to surmount academic deficiencies are particularly guilty though expressing this plain-to-see reality is verboten.

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