Tag Archives: safe spaces

The Campus Left Discovers Free Speech

The data are beginning to bear out the popular theory that free speech on campus is in steady decline.

A study commissioned by the William F. Buckley Center at Yale found that 51% of college students favor speech codes to regulate speech for both faculty and students. Relatedly, a Pew poll found that a full 40% of American millennials feel that the government should be able to take measures preventing speech that is offensive to minority groups.

It is against this backdrop that pockets of the left have found a reason to fight for free speech—to resist conservative efforts to ban “whiteness,” and “white privilege” studies and other classes likely to produce group resentment. An example is the now-dead HB 2120, a bill by two Arizona Republicans calling for the prohibition of any curricular activities that promote resentment of particular groups, or in any way “advocate solidarity or isolation based on ethnicity, race, religion, gender, or social class.” The catalysts were events like the University of Arizona’s annual “privilege walk” and a course called “Whiteness and Race Theory.” The bill, in essence, sought to rein in those courses and campus events that use diversity as a cudgel in today’s culture wars.

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

What seems to distinguish it from other recent reform efforts being undertaken by a handful of states is its active identification of unscrupulous, if not outright discriminatory, academic programming. Advocating group solidarity or isolation could conceivably be said to violate standards of inclusive excellence or cross-cultural dialogue, two mainstays of the progressive administration of higher education. Within that rhetorical framework is the rationale for many state legislators who feel that such concepts militate against free and open discourse by marginalizing certain viewpoints and establishing protected classes of students.

The states that have modeled their reforms on statements like the University of Chicago’s Stone Report and the draft legislation proposed by the Goldwater Institute have, quite rightly, identified speech as a negative liberty, not to be infringed upon by arbitrary and exasperatingly fluid terms of discourse. Thus, these legislative efforts have taken aim at such things as “safe spaces,” speaker dis-invitations, and active, repeated disruptions of those exercising the right of speech. The reasons are clear. As Tennessee’s Student Free Speech Protection Act plainly states, “In recent years, state institutions of higher education have abdicated their responsibility to uphold free speech principles.”

However, Arizona’s HB 2120 seems to be ironically somewhat congenial to a culture in which students are deterred from taking political chances or saying virtually anything that could be construed as a personal affront or an inducement to emotional discomfort. Despite its placement athwart the identity studies paradigm, the bill could still be said to validate a commitment to the creation of a safe and inclusive learning environment. Such thinking is not wholly irregular. It simply applies the idea that speech which targets individuals for their membership in a particular identity group is divisive and thereby subject to regulation.

Related: How Soft Censorship Works at College

What connects the two competing legislative tasks is an acknowledgment that the rancor and division on campuses can be perpetuated rather than mitigated by diversity regimes that are sustained by narratives of victimization. Likewise, they both presuppose a correlation between the campus’s multicultural ethos and the student’s manufactured right to be protected from certain forms of speech. The logic of this fundamental freedom has been inverted and exploited, and the notion that First Amendment protections can be circumscribed for identitarian reasons has become intuitive.

And so, HB 2120 might, in fact, be interpreted as taking aim more broadly at institutionalized political activism. As such, it has its detractors, many of whom have unfurled the banner of free speech. Criticisms of Arizona’s bill, not unpredictably, are consistent with those of speech protection acts elsewhere, and they are not necessarily wrong. They are just late and unevenly applied.

Consider, for example, the AAUP’s Academe Blog, which, while opposing the Goldwater Institute’s model, expresses concern that “it uses legislation rather than persuasion to accomplish its goals.” Similarly, its response to Tennessee’s bill claims an attack on free speech and complains that the legislation “imposes bizarre and burdensome regulations that administrators will struggle to understand and implement.” While the AAUP has been fairly consistent in its skepticism of federal and state intervention into the affairs of higher education, a more overtly partisan campus constituency might make the false distinction between the legislative efforts in question and things like Title IX-related “Dear Colleague” letters.

Related: Donald Downs on the Return of Campus Censorship

Thus, the responses to HB 2120 are instructive. While local and somewhat obscure, the bill has garnered the attention of some students and faculty who are aghast at the prospect of any challenges to their role as arbiters of protected speech.

An opinion piece in the Daily Wildcat, the University of Arizona’s student newspaper, is titled “HB2120: The Next Step in Ending Education as we Know it.”

Indeed, education as we have come to know it is a social justice crusade, interested as much in promoting a left-wing, globalist counter-culture as it is discovering truth through inquiry. That this model might be imperiled by such legislation is surely something that more than a few observers could live with, for better or for worse.

Nevertheless, the inscription of censorship within this curricular model seems lost on those inured to its orthodoxies. A columnist for the State Press at Arizona State University argues without irony that the bill targets both “diversity and individuality.” That view is reinforced by LaDawn Haglund, associate professor of Justice and Social Inquiry at ASU, who claims the bill “ignore[s] the very foundation of American society.”

The outrage is not confined, however, to the state of Arizona. A columnist for the Indiana Daily Student finds the bill “sickening” and urges readers to “come together as a nation and realize that freedoms of speech and expression trump anyone’s feelings.” That theme was echoed on my campus, where the student newspaper devoted two editorials to the topic. One wrote that “There should never be a reason to silence other individuals to push a political agenda,” while another, also relating symptoms of physical illness, complained that “we are being strangled by more rules and regulation that are simply unnecessary.”

Amen to all that. If the idea of speech deregulation catches on, perhaps we can add to the list “free speech zones” as well as those codes discouraging the utterance of such verbal haymakers as “ugly,” “you guys,” “illegal alien,” and, you guessed it, “political correctness.”

Unfortunately, students take many cues from the social justice reprogramming they are now vigorously defending. Lee Bebout, an English professor at Arizona State who teaches a course on whiteness, is afraid of “nonexperts” making decisions over what can and cannot be taught on today’s campus.

The criticism is a fair one, but when it comes to the type of courses targeted by HB 2120, we are all experts. Critical race theory suffuses nearly all of the disciplines within the humanities and, most nefariously, general education classes that can be taught as anything, by anyone. Given the ideological makeup of today’s professoriate, one need not wonder why those courses tend to be more James Baldwin than James Burnham.

The grave threat to free speech did not begin with HB 2120 or sundry speech protection acts. The Berkeley riots are just the most recent illustration, but that behavior is enabled by a culture that safeguards against many forms of speech that administrators are all too eager to label “hateful.” It is a baldly political move, and the theory of inclusiveness has been weaponized to cleanse campuses of politically unorthodox thought.

Examples are not hard to find, but interested students might look to Title IX inquisitions against Northwestern feminist professor Laura Kipnis or of Kentucky journalism professor Buck Ryan, who was disciplined for singing “California Girls” in front of female students on a trip abroad. Bias Response Teams have materialized as a way to enforce administrative speech codes, and conservative student organizations can be bullied and harassed while merely attempting to conduct their business.

It would seem that in the case of HB 2120 and similar bills materializing elsewhere, what students have found most frightening is not that speech can be constrained, but that it might not always be constrained by their progressive ideological handlers.

On the campus, free speech is selective, and it is afforded proportionately to students on the basis of their level of grievance. Peter Wood, in The Architecture of Intellectual Freedom, refers to this phenomenon as compensatory privilege, and it would seem that in the age of Trump, Diversicrats are digging in their heels.

I am in no position to comment on the merits of legislation aimed at restricting university curricula. As a matter of principle, I am generally opposed to it. It is not, after all, a partisan issue. Both Joe Cohn of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and Katherine Timpf at National Review have argued cogently against HB 2120 for the damage it would do to academic freedom. This places reasonably concerned parties in good company.

However, anyone experiencing end-of-days deliria over the bill might do well to consider how it is that we arrived at this point. The multicultural program demands obeisance to its dogmas, even at the expense of thought and, yes, free speech. It has led to the still-isolated legislative efforts that students are now so threatened by, even as they sit idly in the face of vandalism, hate-crime hoaxes, and mindless hysteria.

The suppression of speech on college campuses is very real, it is menacing, and it continues unabated. To those just joining the chorus against its excesses, welcome to the club.

You Will Attend Purdue’s ‘Safe Zone’ Training Session

On January 18, the academic leadership of Purdue University received a letter from Mark Smith, dean of the graduate school. It said:

On behalf of the Diversity Leadership Team, I’d like to invite you to attend a special safe zone training session …  arranged exclusively for deans, associate deans, and department heads.

This, you must understand, was not an invitation but a disguised summons. Diversity enthusiasts like Smith stress on our overwhelmingly liberal campuses that faculties need lots of training amid non-minorities to protect gays, women and ethnic and racial minorities. 

We hope all (or at least most) of our faculty will become safe zone certified in the near future, which would be a quantum leap for our campus on the diversity metric scale.  Many thanks in advance for your support and participation.

What does safe zone certification mean? It sounds ominous, and it is.

Related: How a University Moved from Diversity to Indoctrination

Safe Spaces are of course designated places on campus where identity groups and their allies cluster to avoid supposed stereotyping, marginalization, and persecution. LGBT Safe Zone certification goes much farther, involving indoctrination sessions, where correct principles are announced, not debated, semi-coerced faculty pledges to act as “allies,” then displaying rainbow badges on office doors or in classrooms to signal support.

Are identity groups at Purdue in such peril that high campus officials need to sign a contract and be formally designated, after three hours of training in diversity principles, as safe zone certified? There’s very little real discrimination left on campus of the kind that LGBT activists want to quell; except for the rare kook, pretty much everyone opposes the kind of intolerance and homophobia presented as threats. Even sympathetic faculties think such diversity training sessions are a silly waste of time. Yet they are also career essentials.

This veiled coercion should offend liberals – but doesn’t. It should terrify anyone unwilling to profess full allegiance and faith to the diversity catechism.

What’s disconcerting, or should be, Purdue is one of the saner colleges and universities around, with a big STEM element, and run by the able president, Mitch Daniels. We are not talking about Wesleyan or Bard. Purdue is a land-grant university in the state that gave the nation Dan Quayle and Mike Pence. It’s a long way from Vermont or the Left Coast. And what’s going on at Purdue is also going on — often far more aggressively — at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide. With American Federation of Teachers endorsement, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is pushing safe zones in middle- and high-schools nationwide.

Purdue explains in its promotional flyer that “the purpose of the Safe Zone program is to challenge homophobia, transphobia, cisgenderism, and heterosexism by encouraging welcoming and inclusive environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer or Questioning, Asexual, and Ally.” using language almost identical to hundreds of other programs. (Intersex and Asexual are recent Purdue additions.) As the flyer puts it,

Upon completion of the workshop, attendees can choose to become a Safe Zone member by completing a contract expressing their commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion.

A loyalty oath to the diversity movement is being sought here. The parallels to the McCarthy era loyalty oaths are striking. There’s more:

Additionally, Safe Zone members display a placard in a visible location such as a door to an office or residence hall that identifies them [and] dedicated safe spaces on campus for LGBTQ people to connect with allies in the community.

At schools nationwide, then, a placard or rainbow-colored sticker appears on an office door so the kids will know a professor’s office or classroom office is a “safe zone” occupied by an “ally.” Whole hallways in august universities are now so decorated. Don’t these badges stigmatize non-stickered faculty?

Moreover, when a graduate dean writes such a letter to fellow deans and department heads across this 38,000- student university, who signs ups and who doesn’t will be noted, however obliquely. Who gets Safe Zone certified, that too: who obeys and who does not, who answers the call. When Smith calls the advent of safe zones a quantum leap for our campus on the diversity metric scale, he signals to deans and department heads that diversity is the right and proper metric, the sacred creed of the modern university. Put up your rainbow sticker or suffer the consequences.

The word ally utterly misses the mark of education. It re-purposes college life and degrades it. Safe Zones encourage instructors whose expertise is in literature or social science to dive into private spheres that might best be left to other authorities such as family, or if need be, psychologists. Instructors have a task to perform: cerebral, ethical and aesthetic. As allies, they turn into life coaches or voyeurs.

Laity assumes that after the good laugh, higher education will get a grip. But the summonses and the autos-da-fé are destined to go on. The campus Diversity Machine operates with religious zeal, and it hates heretics. Federal regulations, state and federal money, tuition payments and student loans, and prevailing moral sentiments are its batteries.

The outlay and opportunity cost are vast. The debasing process to get your rainbow sticker requires personnel, offices, training sessions, facilities, and centers. This apparatus not only crowds out academic learning. It mixes a large number of single-interest ideologues with serious scholars, leading to institutional confusion and turmoil.

Don’t forget that Purdue is a public institution. Safe Zone indoctrination sessions, ally contracts, and rainbow stickers are your government at work. But federal safe-space directives to public and private colleges and universities alike try to make sure that no one is left behind. Legislatures and taxpayers, tuitions and endowments, bear the burden. So do society and culture.

Harmless College Jokes Punished at Mandatory Civility Seminar

At a Virginia college, inspirational slogans were recently posted in a residence hall to buoy the spirits of students cramming for exams. Resisting the inspiration, some students posted satirical  responses. “You are what you think you are, aim high!” drew the reply “You appear to be suffering from delusions of adequacy.” Another encouraging slogan, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” drew the non-inspirational answer, “Yeah, but you miss 99% of the ones you do.”

Harmless, right?  No! A residential life officer was not amused and sent this message to all residents: “This is not a joke…. This is not ok. Our community is meant to be one of encouragement and acceptance and the posting of materials against this goes directly against what we are called to stand for. This is home, no one should be insulted or fear insults within the domain of their own house, apartment or residence hall. If you feel attacked by any of these notes, please know that I am here to listen and support you.”

The RA asked students to inform on the irreverent counter-posters, and scheduled a dorm-wide meeting, with attendance mandatory, to discuss “civility.” Underlining the gravity of the allegedly humorous prank, the RA continued: “I would like to remind you of the power of words. You do not know the affect your words may have on someone else. Words that mean nothing to you may trigger an emotional response to someone, you do not know everyone’s backstory. Because of this, I encourage each of you to think carefully before you speak.

“Tensions are high due to elections, and exams are around the corner; we all need to be at our peak performance to succeed. Take care of each other, don’t say anything that can hurt someone, regardless of whether you think it is funny. A person finding offense at your joke or statement is not their fault, it is not a result of them needing to change or of them being weak. The change needs to happen in your words.”

The mandatory civility session was set for “after the break,” apparently a reference to the Thanksgiving break, though the RA seems to have avoided the term as too religious. The student who sent all this information said the dorm was ready to organize a “secret Santa” gift-giving, but would call it a “secret snowflake“ instead since “Santa” seems to evoke the overly religious term, ”Christmas.”

How Colleges and Universities Foster “Hate Culture”

Many of my colleagues and students are responding to the results of the 2016 presidential election with fear, disappointment, and disbelief. For some, Trump’s victory and the social unrest that followed dramatically changed their perceptions of Americans, democracy, and human nature. They are mourning the loss of a progressive dream.

Although I share my colleagues’ and students’ concerns that the current political climate has emboldened people who say and do hateful things to others, I am in no way surprised by the election outcome or its aftermath. These events are entirely predictable and much of what we do in higher education has contributed to them. Despite our best efforts to the contrary, institutions of higher education have helped to foster what some people have referred to as “hate culture.”

Academics frequently identify conditions that lead to negative behavior. For example, in order to address sexual violence on campus, sociologists and others identify the forces behind “rape culture,” including the objectification of women in the media and glorification of “hyper-masculinity.”  Similarly, my colleagues who study terrorism identify socio-political conditions, such as unemployment, as contributing factors. At the same time, we seem unwilling to examine the culture and psychology behind hate crimes, as if this would be excusing the behavior or “blaming the victim.” Yet, we cannot merely stomp out hate through coercion, punishment, and social shaming. If we want to prevent or reduce group conflict, we have to identify the social conditions that create it. I argue that an honest assessment of group behavior reveals that academics often contribute to the problem by amplifying social identities.

According to Henri Tajfel and John Turner’s (1979) social identity theory, one’s self-esteem is tied to the status of the groups to which one belongs. People elevate the status of their own groups by comparing them to lower status groups. The salience of these social identities is malleable and researchers have found that they can actively manipulate the strength of people’s social identities by priming them to think about their group memberships or by introducing threat from another group. In higher education, we consistently prime social identity.  Strong social identities lead to intensified group conflict, as defense of one’s own group is achieved through degradation of other groups.

On college campuses, political dialog is driven by a commitment to identity politics — activism in support of movements that are organized to promote the status of people based on categories such as gender, race, religion, or sexual preference. Social movements are not always defined according to these groups. For example, Marxist movements defined conflict by class, thereby bringing together people of various racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. Social movements can also be driven by ideology or shared values, such as the environmental movement.

This isn’t to say that colleges should not educate students on the history of discrimination against women, blacks, or other groups. Students should be educated on how laws, social norms, and values shape the distribution of power in society. They should study the psychology of discrimination, prejudice, and bias. Yet, academics often pursue social and political goals, choosing sides between groups in a conflict.  For example, The American Studies Association has declared a boycott on Israeli universities as a show of opposition for Israel’s actions in Palestine.

Fostering strong social identities is a recipe for group conflict. Colleges prime social identities in a number of ways. For example, we strengthen social identity when we sort students into housing options by race or ethnicity, rather than shared interests; when we spend more time talking about group differences than about our common humanity; and when we create “safe spaces” to protect some groups of people from others.  All students should have ‘spaces’ where they are safe and comfortable, surrounded by people they trust. The rest of us have this safe space.  We call it “home.”  The problem comes when we assign these spaces based solely on social identity.  It’s the equivalent of moving into segregated neighborhoods. This makes us feel more comfortable at home, but it has negative consequences for our interactions with others.

Colleges and universities encourage students to think primarily in terms of social identity. To make matters worse, we then encourage conflict between groups by framing debates as false dichotomies. The current uproar over free speech on campus is a great example. Free speech is not inherently pro-egalitarian or anti-egalitarian. The Civil Rights Movement relied heavily on the protection of free speech and freedom of the press to spread its message in the face of institutionalized opposition.

Free speech often protects minority voices. Yet, colleges and universities have established speech codes on campus, aimed at protecting vulnerable minority groups from words or phrases that might offend. This sends students the message that one group’s rights are gained at the expense of another group. Free speech is now frequently framed as something that protects racists, sexists, and other “deplorables.”

Arguing in favor of free speech threatens to paint one into this group or, at the very least, suggests that one is insensitive to the needs of minorities. The assumption that silencing offensive ideas reduces hostility against vulnerable groups is deeply flawed. Research shows that the classical liberal approach is more useful – we confront harmful ideas by exposing them to truth.  At the very least, grappling with uncomfortable ideas is more fitting to an institution whose purpose is education.  Silencing ideas is more suited to an institution whose primary purpose is scoring points in the culture wars.

Finally, we add fuel to this fire because we tend to favor some voices and perspectives over others. We do this when we are too quick to label ideas as “racist,” “sexist,” or “homophobic,” merely because they do not conform to the most progressive ideals; people who favor greater enforcement of immigration laws are “racists,” as is anyone who admits to voting for Trump. The search for microaggressions contributes to this sense that anything that offends protected groups is off limits, even if no harm is intended. Students are actively encouraged to recognize and report microaggressions.

In other words, we encourage them to approach others with suspicion and distrust, rather than goodwill and generosity. Even ambiguous words and behaviors may be reported to overzealous “bias response teams.” Merely the accusation that one has said something racist, sexist, or offensive can do irreparable damage to one’s reputation.  The effect of this is that some students are afraid to have open, meaningful conversations with faculty or peers about sensitive topics. This impedes our efforts to promote cross-cultural understanding.  And when people believe they are denied legitimate voice in the system, they are more likely to engage in hostile, antisocial behavior.

Well-meaning liberal academics have helped to create our current predicament by promoting a toxic political environment that unnecessarily triggers group conflict. We encourage “hate culture” by creating an environment in which: (1) power and conflict is defined primarily in terms of social identities, such that social identity is frequently primed and becomes more salient than shared values or ideologies; (2) power is defined as a zero-sum game, creating false dichotomies between winners and losers, or victims and perpetrators, which are defined by social identity; (3) the opinions and experiences of members of some groups are awarded less value than those of others, contributing to feelings that one has little voice.

These are the conditions that would seem to create group conflict and cause people to act out aggressively against members of other groups.  I think it is clear that these conditions are rampant on college campuses. In the name of promoting social justice, we are instead promoting group conflict.

I Could Have Been Fired Without Ever Knowing Why—But I Had Tenure

I learned about the charges brought against me only after the findings were reached. My departmental chair called me into her office and at the direction of the college administration told me what I had to do to remedy the apparently awful situation I had known nothing about. I had to change my syllabus.

I teach geology at Brooklyn College, part of the City University of New York (CUNY). And luckily I have tenure, an important protection in case of Kafka-like trials at a PC college. What had I done wrong? See for yourself. Here is the offending phrase from the grading portion of my syllabus: “Class deportment, effort etc……. 10% (applied only to select students when appropriate).”

Can you spot the alleged offense? I bet not. For reasons that escape me too, that phrase was perceived as a prelude to sexual harassment. And the phrase was so clearly problematic to the administration that they directed me to change it.

Related: How Students Intimidate Professors and Stymie Learning

As it turns out, my syllabus almost crossed another invisible line of acceptability in the politically correct world at Brooklyn College. Here’s the problematic part:

“This classroom is an ‘unsafe space’ for those uncomfortable with viewpoints with which they may disagree: all constitutionally protected speech is welcome.” I had been using warning triangles sardonically instead of ordinary quote marks when referring to foolish PC terms. All my department chair would say is, “The triangles are the problem.” I never found out what made the triangles a problem. They were ready to act on a problem without saying what the problem was.

My guess is that some administrator thought the warning triangles were reminiscent of the pink triangles that the Nazis made gays wear. I wonder how long the administrators deliberated before deciding that the clip art street signs I’d included in my syllabus weren’t Nazi symbols.

Nothing in Writing

I think it’s fair to conclude that the phrases at issue in my syllabus were neither sexually harassing nor anti-gay. Would anyone not deeply versed in PC culture conjure up the alleged offenses in my syllabus?  Indeed, of all the excesses of the language police I’ve heard about, I can’t think of a more tortured interpretation of words.

Charges involving sexual harassment and anti-gay bias are serious matters that mandate thorough investigation. But because the charges are so serious, they also mandate due process for the accused. That this investigation was concluded, and a course of action recommended without my knowledge and without my having an opportunity for input, fails to meet that standard.

I thought it wise, given the possible damage to my reputation, that I learn what procedures had been used in my case and what records exist. So I started digging, first asking my chair to tell me which department had initially contacted her.

As a result of that inquiry, the college’s Director of Diversity Investigations and Title IX Enforcement —yes, Brooklyn College really has a Director of Diversity Investigations— emailed me and offered to meet. Given the seriousness of the charges, I declined that offer because I wanted all my communications with the administration to be documented.

In a series of emails, I asked the director to provide me with a copy of the complaint with names redacted, the names of the offices involved in the matter, a description of the procedures, and a description of all actions that were recommended as a result of the findings, among other things.

In response, the director claimed that there had been no charges filed against me and that his office had not investigated my syllabus. He again offered to meet in order to “clear up some apparent misconceptions and miscommunications.”

I certainly was confused at this point. If no charge had been filed, why was I directed to change my syllabus? If his office hadn’t investigated the issue, why did he contact me? If his office wasn’t involved, which office was?

To clear things up, I asked my chair for further explanation. What she told me made me realize why the director was so reluctant to put anything in writing or to share pertinent documents: despite his denial, it was the director’s office that had told her to have me change the phrasing in my syllabus.

Confronting the Director

When I confronted the director with my newly discovered information, he immediately shut down communications, saying, “My office considers the matter to be closed.”

I know that my case pales in comparison to others because the charges I faced were bizarre enough to be easily rebutted. But in seeking answers from the college administration over this issue, I revealed the college’s system for investigating charges of sex bias and sexual harassment to be thoroughly dysfunctional.

If the procedures used against me are typical, an accused person at Brooklyn College is 1) denied due process during the investigation and adjudication and 2) denied any documentation of the complaint, procedures, and findings after the fact.

It is also particularly troubling that the administrator in charge of the investigation of my syllabus became the gatekeeper regarding inquiries about the investigation. Who, then, would hold that administrator accountable for improprieties in investigations?

Brooklyn College is now on notice: the college’s system for investigating charges of sex bias and sexual harassment fails to meet requisite standards for due process, transparency, and accountability and needs to be fixed.

Will Princeton Change Its Name?

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

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

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

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

princeton-man-out

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

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

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

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

And how about the sexist “Prince” in Princeton?

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

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

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

Wear that Batik Dress and You’re a Cultural Appropriator

 What follows are excerpts from the keynote speech on “Fiction and Identity Politics” delivered September 8 at the Brisbane Writers Festival in Australia by Lionel Shriver.

Let’s start with a tempest-in-a-teacup at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Earlier this year, two students, both members of student government, threw a tequila-themed birthday party for a friend. The hosts provided attendees with miniature sombreros, which—the horror— numerous partygoers wore.

When photos of the party circulated on social media, campus-wide outrage ensued. Administrators sent multiple emails to the “culprits” threatening an investigation into an “act of ethnic stereotyping.” Partygoers were placed on “social probation,” while the two hosts were ejected from their dorm and later impeached. Bowdoin’s student newspaper decried the attendees’ lack of “basic empathy.”

The student government issued a “statement of solidarity” with “all the students who were injured and affected by the incident,” and demanded that administrators “create a safe space for those students who have been or feel specifically targeted.” The tequila party, the statement specified, was just the sort of occasion that “creates an environment where students of color, particularly Latino, and especially Mexican, feel unsafe.” In sum, the party-favor hats constituted – wait for it – “cultural appropriation.”

Curiously, across my country Mexican restaurants, often owned and run by Mexicans, are festooned with sombreros – if perhaps not for long.

But what does this have to do with writing fiction? The moral of the sombrero scandals is clear: you’re not supposed to try on other people’s hats. Yet that’s what we’re paid to do, isn’t it? Step into other people’s shoes, and try on their hats.

Yet were their authors honoring the new rules against helping yourself to what doesn’t belong to you, we would not have Malcolm Lowry’s Under the Volcano. We wouldn’t have most of Graham Greene’s novels, many of which are set in what for the author were foreign countries, and which therefore have Real Foreigners in them, who speak and act like foreigners, too.

In his masterwork English Passengers, Matthew Kneale would have restrained himself from including chapters written in an Aboriginal’s voice – though these are some of the richest, most compelling passages in that novel. If Dalton Trumbo had been scared off of describing being trapped in a body with no arms, legs, or face because he was not personally disabled – because he had not been through a World War I maiming himself and therefore had no right to “appropriate” the isolation of a paraplegic – we wouldn’t have the haunting 1938 classic, Johnny Got His Gun.

Though the book is nonfiction, it’s worth noting that we also wouldn’t have 1961’s Black Like Me, for which John Howard Griffin committed the now unpardonable sin of “blackface.” Having his skin darkened – Michael Jackson in reverse – Griffin found out what it was like to live as a black man in the segregated American South. He’d be excoriated today, yet that book made a powerful social impact at the time.

The author of Who Owns Culture? Appropriation and Authenticity in American Law, Susan Scafidi, a law professor at Fordham University who for the record is white, defines cultural appropriation as “taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc.”

What strikes me about that definition is that “without permission” bit. How are we fiction writers to seek “permission,” to use a character from another race or culture, or to employ the vernacular of a group to which we don’t belong? Do we set up a stand on the corner and approach passers-by with a clipboard, getting signatures that grant limited rights to employ an Indonesian character in Chapter Twelve, the way political volunteers get a candidate on the ballot?

I am hopeful that the concept of “cultural appropriation” is a passing fad: people with different backgrounds rubbing up against each other and exchanging ideas and practices is self-evidently one of the most productive, fascinating aspects of modern urban life.

But this latest and little absurd no-no is part of a larger climate of super-sensitivity, giving rise to proliferating prohibitions supposedly in the interest of social justice that constrain fiction writers and prospectively makes our work impossible.

So far, the majority of these farcical cases of “appropriation” have concentrated on fashion, dance, and music: At the American Music Awards 2013, Katy Perry got it in the neck for dressing like a geisha. According to the Arab-American writer Randa Jarrar, for someone like me to practice belly dancing is “white appropriation of Eastern dance,” while according to the Daily Beast Iggy Azalea committed “cultural crimes” by imitating African rap and speaking in a “blaccent.”

The felony of cultural sticky fingers even extends to exercise: at the University of Ottawa in Canada, a yoga teacher was shamed into suspending her class, “because yoga originally comes from India.” She offered to re-title the course, “Mindful Stretching.”

Seriously, we have people questioning whether it’s appropriate for white people to eat pad Thai. Turnabout, then: I guess that means that as a native of North Carolina, I can ban the Thais from eating barbecue. (I bet they’d swap.)

Writing fiction is a disrespectful vocation by its nature – prying, voyeuristic, kleptomaniacal, and presumptuous. And that is fiction writing at its best. When Truman Capote wrote from the perspective of condemned murderers from a lower economic class than his own, he had some gall. But writing fiction takes gall.

As for the culture police’s obsession with “authenticity,” fiction is inherently inauthentic. It’s fake. It’s self-confessedly fake; that is the nature of the form, which is about people who don’t exist and events that didn’t happen. The name of the game is not whether your novel honors reality; it’s all about what you can get away with.

My most recent novel The Mandibles was taken to task by one reviewer for addressing an America that is “straight and white”. It happens that this is a multigenerational family saga – about a white family. I wasn’t instinctively inclined to insert a transvestite or bisexual, with issues that might distract from my central subject matter of apocalyptic economics. Yet the implication of this criticism is that we novelists need to plug in representatives of a variety of groups in our cast of characters, as if filling out the entering class of freshmen at a university with strict diversity requirements.

You do indeed see just this brand of tokenism in television. There was a point in the latter 1990s at which suddenly every sitcom and drama in sight had to have a gay or lesbian character or couple. That was good news as a voucher of the success of the gay rights movement, but it still grew a bit tiresome: look at us, our show is so hip, one of the characters is homosexual!

We’re now going through the same fashionable exercise in relation to the transgender characters in series like Transparent and Orange is the New Black.

Fine. But I still would like to reserve the right as a novelist to use only the characters that pertain to my story.

Besides: which is it to be? We have to tend our own gardens, and only write about ourselves or people just like us because we mustn’t pilfer others’ experience, or we have to people our cast like an I’d like to teach the world to sing Coca-Cola advert?

For it can be dangerous these days to go the diversity route. Especially since there seems to be a consensus on the notion that San Francisco reviewer put forward that “special care should be taken with a story that’s not implicitly yours to tell.”

Thus in the world of identity politics, fiction writers better be careful. If we do choose to import representatives of protected groups, special rules apply. If a character happens to be black, they have to be treated with kid gloves, and never be placed in scenes that, taken out of context, might seem disrespectful. But that’s no way to write. The burden is too great, the self-examination paralyzing. The natural result of that kind of criticism in the Post is that next time I don’t use any black characters, lest they do or say anything that is short of perfectly admirable and lovely.

Why, it’s largely in order to keep from losing my fictional mojo that I stay off Facebook and Twitter, which could surely install an instinctive self-censorship out of fear of attack. Ten years ago, I gave the opening address of this same festival, in which I maintained that fiction writers have a vested interest in protecting everyone’s right to offend others – because if hurting someone else’s feelings even inadvertently is sufficient justification for muzzling, there will always be someone out there who is miffed by what you say, and freedom of speech is dead. With the rise of identity politics, which privileges a subjective sense of injury as actionable basis for prosecution, that is a battle that in the decade since I last spoke in Brisbane we’ve been losing.

Worse: the left’s embrace of gotcha hypersensitivity inevitably invites backlash. Donald Trump appeals to people who have had it up to their eyeballs with being told what they can and cannot say. Pushing back against a mainstream culture of speak-no-evil suppression, they lash out in defiance, and then what they say is pretty appalling.

We should be seeking to push beyond the constraining categories into which we have been arbitrarily dropped by birth.

Writing during the day and reading when I go to bed at night, I find it an enormous relief to escape the confines of my own head. Even if novels and short stories only do so by creating an illusion, fiction helps to fell the exasperating barriers between us, and for a short while allows us to behold the astonishing reality of other people. We fiction writers have to preserve the right to wear many hats – including sombreros.

Lionel Shriver is an American journalist and author who is resident in the United Kingdom. Her novels include We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Mandibles.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, One Major Campus Condemns Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces

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

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

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

Related: The New Age Of Orthodoxy Overtakes The Campus

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

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

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

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

AAUP Meeting Unanimously Backs Melissa Click—But Why?

Since its founding by progressive academics 101 years ago, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has had little affection for the governing authorities of colleges and universities.  Of course, when college presidents, trustees, and boards of regents bow in submission to its edicts, the AAUP will spare a few words of non-condemnation for the penitents.  But for the most part, the AAUP pursues its vision of higher education as best governed by the collective will of the faculty, by which it means the progressive faculty.

Related: AAUP Takes a Sharp Left Turn

The deep roots of this hostility to non-faculty governance are nicely documented in Hans-Joerg Tiede’s recent book, University Reform: The Founding of the American Association of University Professors.  Tiede is an AAUP man through and through, and sees nothing amiss in the organization’s long war for faculty domination of colleges and universities.  That war grew out of an earlier time when the non-faculty governing authorities had nearly unbridled control of their institutions, and faculty members served pretty much at the whim of plutocrats, clergy members, or other figures whose commitment to open intellectual inquiry was often dubious.

As Tiede puts it, “Since the beginning of higher education in the United States, institutional governance has ultimately been based on the lay governing board, which in a strictly legal sense, is the university.”

That “strictly legal sense” hasn’t changed despite 101 years of organized pushback by the AAUP and other bodies that aimed to transfer effective power to faculty members.  In Tiede’s account, this battle to overcome “the wanton power that presidents and trustees possessed” faltered early on.  The founders of the AAUP in this Game of Thrones hoped to secure all the power for the faculty, but a decisive early intervention by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching resulted in college presidents grabbing the scepter from the trustees. Faculty were left with the flyswatter of complaints about academic freedom, job security, and professionalization.

That’s a pretty fair summary of where things have stood for the last century:  strong college presidents dominate the boards of trustees and regents who, on paper—but often only on paper—hold the power to govern their institutions.  Faculty members have in some cases unionized to present a counterforce to the dominant presidents, but even where they are not unionized, faculty members typically range themselves as an independent third voice under the doctrine of “shared governance.”  This doctrine is often given a semblance of authority though formal agreements, but those agreements have also, time and again, proven to be a weak bulwark against college and university administrations.

The AAUP bellyaches about this, but the weakness of the faculty isn’t just an AAUP talking point.  Other observers have said much the same thing.  In The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (2011) Benjamin Ginsberg inveighed against what he saw as a “surrender” by the faculty to “rampant administrative blight.” Ginsberg, a highly regarded professor of political science at Johns Hopkins, didn’t seem to view the AAUP as a very effective antidote to this blight.  He cited a 2009 AAUP conference on academic freedom and shared governance as the equivalent of a Geneva Convention in which the participants hoped the treaty would protect them from “water boarding.”  These days the AAUP is investing a lot of effort into organizing adjunct faculty members, hoping against hope to stem the further dilution of faculty power.

Then there is Melissa Click: the unavoidable Melissa Click.

The AAUP membership at its recent annual meeting in Washington DC, voted unanimously to “censure” the University of Missouri at Columbia for—what else?—the decision by its Board of Curators to fire Melissa Click.

The story of Click’s outrageous behavior wasn’t lost on the participants.  He call for “some muscle over here” to eject student photojournalist, Tim Tai, from a November 9 Black Lives Matter protest, and her screaming profanities at police officers trying to clear protesters from a public street at a homecoming parade, gave plenty of evidence that she had overstepped her authority as a faculty member. That Click was a hard-core ideologue who had nothing of value to teach Mizzou students didn’t enter into the University’s rationale for firing her, though it ought to raise serious questions about “university governance” that she was ever hired in the first place.   Click’s scholarship and teaching involves studies of Lady Gaga and Fifty Shades of Grey.

Knowing all this, the AAUP members (I repeat) unanimously voted to censure the University of Missouri on the grounds that the university had denied Click “academic due process.”  Specifically, the AAUP believes that Click should have had the benefit of a faculty hearing, and a year’s salary or a year’s notice.

Related: The AAUP’s Ludicrous Declaration

Let me allow that Mizzou’s Board of Curators might have made some technical mistakes in its firing. One would have to go deep within the wreckage of Mizzou’s governance to see what foolish agreements were signed, what abridgements of governing authority were authorized, and what reckless precedents had been created before one could say with any confidence that the Mizzou Board of Curators acted in a way that didn’t expose them to AAUP’s patented petulance.

But let’s keep in mind that the AAUP’s membership has shown no such urgency in many other situations in which “due process” is in jeopardy.  At the same meeting in which the censure of Mizzou passed, the AAUP officially adopted its report, The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX, which I previously reviewed.  This document faults the Office for Civil Rights as well as many colleges and universities for imperiling “due process rights and shared governance.”  The peril in the case of OCR’s systematic attack on the presumption of innocence, evidentiary standards, sloppy definitions, and more is many orders of magnitude greater than any inkblots left on Mizzou’s dishonorable discharge of Melissa Click.

But the AAUP has yet to find anyone to censure over abuses of Title IX.

Trustees ‘Come from Different Worlds’

So why the urgency on Click?  The Chronicle of Higher Education answers by quoting Howard J. Bunsis, chairman of the AAUP’s Collective Bargaining Congress.  Bunsis explains. “The attacks are not going to stop.”  It seems boards of trustees “come from different worlds than we do.”

Bunsis means that as a bad thing.  Imagine: Members of boards of trustees come from a world where college professors are expected to uphold freedom of thought and freedom of expression; where faculty members express some modicum of respect for the rule of law and police officers who are doing their jobs; where persuasion is valued over force; where civility is integral to the exchange of ideas.  Perhaps they even come from a world where people possess actual competence in the fields in which they are employed; where “activism” cannot be substituted for scholarship; and where people gain employment in higher education to teach students worthwhile subjects.  But if that were the case, it might well be that Bunsis’ worries are well placed.  Melissa Click is unlikely to be the only Mizzou faculty member hired to engage trivial research and feckless teaching.  As The Federalist headlined the story of her firing, “Melissa Click: One Bad Professor Fired, Thousands to Go.”

So in that sense, the AAUP vote makes perfect sense.  But it also reveals the AAUP as a body acting in the spirit of trade unionism to protect its members no matter how incompetent or reprehensible.

The AAUP was in a censorious mood at its convention.  It aimed its peashooter not only at Mizzou, but also at the Iowa Board of Regents and the College of Saint Rose in New York, and it leveled a “sanction” against Union County College in New Jersey.  The Board of Regents at the University of Iowa hired a new president without adequately involving the faculty.  Saint Rose, faced with financial exigencies, laid off 23 professors.  Union County College likewise failed to consult faculty members on various matters.

Lapdogs of College Presidents

Let’s remind ourselves of Professor Tiede’s observation:  “the lay governing board…in a strictly legal sense is the university.”  The governing boards of the great majority of our colleges and universities have for a long time acted as lapdogs of college presidents.  Every once in a while a board rouses itself form its usual torpor and attempts to exercise some portion of its legal rights.  These steps may be awkward because college and university governing boards are used to the supine position and walking is, at first, a novel experience.  But we should encourage the exercise.  If they at first knock over a lamp or break a vase, it is a small price to be paid for the prospect that, with a little practice, they will begin to walk upright and hit a steady stride.

I know a good many individual trustees who are ready and able to do this, but they are conjoined to boards that have been padded out with friends of the college president, sports boosters, and sentimentalists who have no real idea of what happens in the classrooms of the institutions they are supposed to oversee.  When these independent trustees show some sign of wanting to exercise their authority, bad things happen. In 2008, at Dartmouth, the president successfully launched a board-packing plan, akin to FDR’s court-packing plan.

When the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors in 2012 tried to dismiss its egregious president Teresa Sullivan, she successfully mounted a campaign to be reinstated.  Sullivan went on to preside over (and foster) the campus hysteria that followed Rolling Stone’s confabulated account of a rape at a campus fraternity.  In 2014, when Regent Wallace Hall at the University of Texas at Austin started asking hard questions about the operations of the university, he was brought up on charges by the Texas House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations for “misconduct, incompetency in the performance of official duties, or behavior unbefitting” a holder of state office.

A Resurgence of Trustees? Not Really

So challenge a college president’s domination of “governance” is plainly no easy task.  The law almost always invests authority in the trustees, but the power is firmly in the hands of the president.  Stories about the resurgence of trustee authority need to be taken with a grain of salt.  But exceptional events can change that. The catastrophic meltdown of administrative authority at Mizzou was one such instance in which the board was, in effect, forced to step in and exercise its genuine authority.  When boards do that, they ought to expect that the AAUP and faculty activists will be incensed.  And then they should do it some more.

I say this not because I have such high confidence in our current boards of college trustees, but because I have such low confidence in our current college presidents and college faculties.  The presidencies are held in overwhelmingly numbers by careerists who are deeply indebted to the campus grievance marshals and the dynamics of identity-group politics.  The faculties are dominated by progressive activists who have intimidated their colleagues into silence. Fear of being labeled a racist, sexist, homophobe, or a conservative keeps nearly everyone in line.  The result of all this is that “shared governance” has become a code word for the hard left’s dominion in American higher education.  A 101 years ago, the problem may have been “the wanton power” of presidents and trustees.  Today it is the wanton power of the faculty activists.

The New Age of Orthodoxy Overtakes the Campus

The great threat to academic freedom today arises not from plutocrats determined to weed from the campus garden any sprouts of pro-unionism; nor from censorious divines on the hunt for misinterpretations of the Sermon on the Mount; nor yet from defenders of the flag who suspect disloyal thoughts among the cosmopolitan professoriate.  Those were demons of another age.  Perhaps in honor of the great liberal scholar who dedicated much of his life to fighting those demons, we can call it the Age of Hofstadter.  Columbia University historian Richard Hofstadter published Academic Freedom in the Age of the College in 1955—a masterly work on the sectarian squabbles that bedeviled American colleges through the 19th century.

Related: The slippery Use of Social Justice

Hofstadter famously championed progressive causes and idealized university education right up until the point in spring 1968 when student thugs occupied and trashed the president’s office at Columbia and made a point of defecating on his desk.  In Hofstadter’s 1968 Columbia commencement address he enunciated once again his vision of the university as “committed to certain basic values of freedom, rationality, inquiry, [and] discussion.”  He insisted that the university is “a citadel of intellectual individualism” and stands for “the most benign side of our society.”

Professor Hofstadter, meet Melissa Click.

The Age of Hofstadter has clearly passed. What we have now is the age of cry bullies, trigger warnings, safe spaces, Black Lives Matter, dis-invitations, and all the other cogs and gears that make up the tyrannical machinery of “social justice” on campus.  Professor Melissa Click’s call last year at a University of Missouri Black Lives Matter protest for “some muscle” to eject a student reporter from the event was no worse than some of the other things that radicalized professors and students did on campuses across the country, but it was caught perfectly on video and can stand as metonym for the moment.  The Age of Click.

Related: Liberals Who Drifted Toward the New Illiberalism

In the Age of Click, academic freedom is mainly at risk from academicians.  This is hardly news.  It has been amply documented at Minding the Campus.  But how do we explain how Hofstadter’s beloved university, founded on freedom and rationality and “a citadel of intellectual individualism,” flipped into a bastion of proud ignorance and our society’s greatest engine of aggressive intolerance?  What caused our most “benign institution” to become its opposite?

British education writer Joanna Williams is the latest to attempt an explanation.

Her new book, Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity, joins a handful of others, including Kim Holmes’ The Closing of the Liberal Mind (2016), Michael Walsh’s The Devil’s Pleasure Palace (2015), and Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind (2012), as an autopsy of the old liberal university. It’s an indictment of the new progressive campus and a call for some kind of resurrection.  Holmes, Walsh, and Haidt are American observers.

Williams, the Education Editor of the UK journal Spiked, brings an off-shore perspective to a shared problem.  This difference alone makes her book of serious interest to American readers, who will be struck by the divergent forms of protest and controversy surrounding what look like the same set of underlying principles.  What does the debate on academic freedom look like in a social order that has no equivalent of America’s First Amendment?

Williams commences where no American writer would: with legislation pushed by the government to “prevent students from being ‘radicalized’ into joining extremist groups.” The UK “Prevent” strategy has no exact equivalent in the U.S., although the Patriot Act opened up some minor pathways to government monitoring of American colleges and universities.  Does anyone recall the hubbub among librarians in 2006 when the reauthorization of the Patriot Act allowed that the federal government might want to know which books potential terrorists were borrowing? They went into a frenzy about something far more mild than what had become standard practice in Britannia.  In any case, American campuses have not become significant conduits of recruitment for Muslim terrorists.  Thus, the basic framing of the debate over academic freedom in the U.K. and the U.S. differs.

Inappropriate Sighing

But in other respects, our countries act in parallel ways, even down to the level of bureaucrats magnifying petty sleights to take down people they disagree with.  We learn, for example, of Warwick University English professor Thomas Docherty, famous for criticizing British higher education policy, who was suspended from his position for nine months.  The official reason for his punishment, of course, was not the substance of his criticisms.  Rather, he was “insubordinate” as evidenced by his use of sarcasm and “inappropriate sighing in job interviews.”

“Inappropriate sighing” seems like something from a Monty Python skit, but there must be a cultural equivalent somewhere in America.  One possibility:  Marquette University professor John McAdams.  He faces an effort by his institution to strip him of tenure because he published the name of a graduate student who had peremptorily refused to let a student in her ethics class bring up his criticisms of gay marriage.  As in England, the pretext is process, but the real cause is dissent from progressive orthodoxy.

British activists took the lead in developing the practice of “no-platforming.”  We know that practice mainly in the form of dis-invitations, based on the idea that proponents of certain views should be prevented from speaking on campus.  Williams cites feminist “critical” lawyers as among the pioneers of this stratagem.  A group of such lawyers at the University of Kent, for example, published in 2013 a petition calling on the London School of Economics to no-platform two writers, Helen Reece and Barbara Hewson, who had expressed doubts about the prevalence of “rape myths.”  Reece and Hewson had been invited by LSE to be part of a public “debate.”  Excluding people from a debate because you disagree with their views is an odd conceit, but odder still is that the practice has rapidly gained credibility on both sides of the Atlantic as morally valid.

Justice Only for the Left

Williams holds that academic freedom lies at “the heart of the university” and is “integral to the collective enterprise to critique and advance knowledge.”  She is, in other words, a time traveler from the Age of Hofstadter. Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity sets out to dismantle the now pervasive left-wing conceit that academic freedom is “an elitist principle” that deserves either to be re-defined in the name of “justice” as a right to be reserved exclusively to the left itself, or banished altogether.  Williams counters these political claims with the argument that “knowledge should be evaluated solely on the basis of intellectual merit.” In this light, censorship of controversial ideas is never justified.

Williams is not engaged in an idealization of the academic past.  For her, there was no “Golden Age,” but she is alert to the particular dangers right now.  In a chapter on “Conformity in the Academy,” she takes up the implications of treating students as consumers to be “flattered and appeased rather than challenged.”  This is surely a key element in the emergence of “snowflake” students, who demand that the university cater to their psychological fragility.  Williams also nails the sorry feedback loop between self-censorship by scholars and the peer-review system that rewards those who “merely confirm that which has gone before.”  The chapter is of particular value, however, in Williams’ lucid account of what happens when “knowledge” is severed from the pursuit of truth.

The effort to make knowledge into a construct of its own apart from whether it is true is not just a giddy conceit of the post-modernists.  It is also the stock-in-trade of supposedly practical people interested in data, information, skills, and “human capital.”  Utilitarianism has limited interest in what is true; what matters is whether something works. As Williams notes, this blurs knowledge with skill to the disadvantage of knowledge.  Knowledge is reduced to instrumental knowledge.  The post-modern left, the social justice crowd, and the utilitarian right find common ground in pushing the pursuit of truth to the margins.  The result is a university where “many academics feel more comfortable concerning themselves with nurturing students’ employability skills or personal values,” than they do in helping students come to a true knowledge of the subjects they study.

The Trap of Global Citizenship

Williams’ strictures on this provide a new way to look at higher education’s strange new emphasis on the imaginary category of “global citizenship.”  As she points out, the term doesn’t stand for “any particular knowledge about the world,” but rather “changes in students’ attitudes” mostly in the form of rejection of “national identity.” Global citizenship “connects private feeling and qualities such as care, empathy and awareness, with the global issues of the day.”  It thus “places whole areas of knowledge beyond debate.”  The “homogeneity of political views” on campus is thus driven as much by efforts to manipulate the psychological vulnerabilities of students as it is by the effort of faculty members to steer away from the hard task of attempting to sort truth from opinion.

Williams herself doesn’t flinch in that effort.  Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity is a short (198 page) book written in lively English and rich with examples, but it is thick with thought-provoking arguments on exactly how the “benign institution” of the university somersaulted to the frequently malign institution we have today.  She finds some of impetus in what happened in the academic disciplines, and more of it in the pernicious influence of academic feminism.  These are compellingly presented, but American readers will note that Williams has next to nothing to say about “diversity,” race, and multiculturalism as the anvils on which academic freedom in our universities has frequently been crushed.

 

The absence of these topics from a book about enforced conformity on campus is arresting, and serves perhaps as testimony to the “exceptional” character of America’s descent into leftist intolerance.  Our campuses share with Britain and the rest of the English-speaking world an invasive new hatred of intellectual freedom.  But we have added to it our own homebrew of racial grievance and identity politics.  Britain certainly has experienced the woeful side of multiculturalism as well, but Williams treats it as secondary thread.  For us, in the Age of Click, it is primary.

Britain’s example shows that the intolerance endangering academic freedom is not tied to a particular grievance, but has become a force in its own right.

Should Colleges Coddle the Whiners?

Our recent campus upheavals, focusing at times on offensive speech, have provoked a worry: are colleges infantilizing their students? Last March, the journalist and cultural critic Judith Shulevitz raised this concern in a tour de force of an op-ed, in which she argued that protecting students from offensive speech, except in the most extreme cases, is a species of educational malpractice: “People ought to go to college to sharpen their wits and broaden their field of vision. Shield them from unfamiliar ideas, and they’ll never learn the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it. They’ll be unprepared for the social and intellectual headwinds that will hit them as soon as they step off the campuses whose climates they have so carefully controlled.”  This argument has since taken off.

It has taken off, in part, because it is a good argument. To take one of Shulevitz’s own examples, students invite the charge that they are infantilizing themselves when they construct a “safe space” that contains “cookies, coloring books, Play-doh, calming music, pillows, blankets, and a video of frolicking puppies,” particularly when this safe space is to protect them from being “bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.”

Related: MIZZOU WIPES OUT RESPECT AND EXCELLENCE

I don’t want to dissent from Shulevitz and others who have made related arguments, but I do think that the debate between those who wish to protect students from offensive speech and those who want to expose them to it is incomplete.

John Stuart Mill, one of the foremost champions of freedom of discussion had no illusions concerning its benefits. “I acknowledge,” he says in On Liberty, that the tendency of all opinions to become sectarian is not cured by the freest discussion but heightened and exacerbated thereby.” Mill thinks that free discussion will tend to heighten partisanship, as those whose dear and cherished beliefs are challenged by their intellectual and political enemies cling to those beliefs all the more fiercely. For Mill, this drawback is made right by the benefits that accrue to people who are observing the quarrel: “It is not on the impassioned partisan, it is on the calmer and more disinterested bystander, that this collision of opinions works its salutary effect.”

I think that Mill is right and that although the trade-off he describes is plausible in public discussions, it would be a peculiar model to follow in a college setting. Clearly our job is not only to, so to speak, toughen up our students, though that couldn’t hurt, but to educate our students to benefit, as Mill’s “calmer and more disinterested bystander” does, from the free exchange of ideas. That many of our students at present are not in a position to do so is no reflection on their childishness. Anyone who has paid a moment’s attention to “adult” political discourse will have noticed that getting angry, alleging bad faith, taking umbrage, and even demanding censorship, are standard. This is not new, though I don’t deny that our therapeutic response to it is somewhat new. As Hamilton says in Federalist #1 of “cases of great national discussion,” in which people’s interests and passions are deeply implicated, “a torrent of angry and malignant passions will be let loose.”

Related: TWO LAWMAKERS VOTE NO TOSAFE CAMPUS ACT

Insofar as such discussions work their way onto college campuses, there is no reason to think that simply throwing our students into so polluted a sea in the hopes of hardening them, will result in an education. For that reason, I think it is singularly unimaginative to try to resolve the problem of a too liberal academy by inviting, though of course people are welcome to invite whomever they want, conservative controversialists like Milo Yiannopoulos to our campuses. Instead, we need to think much more than we presently do about teaching our students how to benefit from the arguments they hear.

John Locke, in Some Thoughts on Education distinguishes between the “art and formality of disputing,” which tends to turn a student into “an insignificant wrangler, opinionated in discourse, and priding himself in contradicting others,” and the art of reasoning. I am not sure whether our present focus on “critical thinking,” even when it somehow gets through to our students, does enough to distinguish between wrangling and reasoning, or between philosophy and sophistry. But I am confident that a “Crossfire” approach to campus discussion is not going to help our students make such distinctions.

To throw our students into such an atmosphere and invite them to deliberate may avoid the danger of infantilizing them but it also demands more of our students than we demand of adults. Indeed, in some ways the university oscillates between treating students too much as adults and treating them too much as children.

In a Slate column, Eric Posner, a professor of law at the University of Chicago, inadvertently illustrates the problem. On the one hand, he argues that today’s students are like children and consequently need protection. In the midst of an exaggerated argument in favor of this proposition, he says at least one sensible thing, namely that professors know that students need an education, which is why classrooms are not typically free for alls, in which students go at each other, hammer and tongs. But then he says that colleges should give in to student demands for protection because “that’s what most students want.” So which is it? Are we supposed to treat students like children, in need of protection, or like adult sovereign consumers?

Related: ELIMINATING FREE THOUGHTS IN THE NAME OF FALSE SAFETY

The answer, as I suspect most teachers grasp, is that college-aged students are neither children, to be protected from scary ideas nor adults, who either, in Posner’s way of viewing things, should have what they want or, in Shulevitz’s (to judge from the op-ed alone), should be thrown into the water and told to swim. They are neither children nor adults, and what we owe them is an education.

The education I have in mind makes no sacrifices with respect to inquiry into the questions that divide us. Instead, it puts the aim of conversation inside and outside the classroom, at the center of education, and thereby demands that our approach to conversation be tailored to that aim. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates admonishes Thrasymachus, who cares only about whether he has won or lost the argument, in these terms: the argument is not about just any question but about how one should live.”

How do people who genuinely think they can make progress in important matters act in conversation? Among other things, they practice the courage that enables them to continue an inquiry in the face of threats to their cherished beliefs, and the moderation that enables them to hear others out and to look for what use can be made of their arguments, rather than for how their arguments can be dismissed. But what every educator who has reflected on his or her experience knows is that such virtues do not come naturally to people. All our attentiveness as teachers may barely be sufficient to cultivate them in our students.

Watch Out For The Campus Bias Team

Some 100 American colleges encourage their students to report offensive occurrences of non-criminal bias on campus.

Writing in The Washington Post, Catherine Rampell tells us that the University of Oregon’s “bias report team” counted 85 incidents in the past year. including these:

  • A poster featuring a “triggering image” displaying “body size” bias.
  • Sexually explicit doodles on Post-its.
  • Too little coverage of transgender students in the newspaper.
  • A professor joking that a nontraditional student was “too old to answer a question about current events.”

One student “reported that a tutor consistently ignores him,” and tagged the incident as “Bias Type: Age, Ethnicity, Gender, Race.” Students have also asked administrators to regulate speech in other ways.

The University of Minnesota’s recently introduced free-speech code, for example, has been opposed by students who want the school to guarantee “special opportunities for those who are not well-spoken.”

Rampell writes, “I applaud students who want to create a diverse, welcoming atmosphere on campus. I admire their drive to make the world around them a better, more inclusive place. What puzzles me, though, is this instinct to appeal to administrators to adjudicate any conflict. Rather than confronting, debating and trying to persuade those whose words or actions offend them, students demand that a paternalistic figure step in and punish offenders.”

Yale Tries to Dodge New Protests

Last fall, Peter Salovey, president of Yale, badly botched the student protests that broke out over the insignificant issue of proper campus Halloween costume. Now he has made a few decisions in hopes of avoiding another round of protests.

First, he announced that the “masters” of Yale’s twelve residential colleges will now be known as “heads of college,” a leaden term, but one Yalies can’t confuse with “masters” as in ‘slave masters.” Heaving this ancient academic title overboard was meant to distract potential protesters from decision number 2: keeping the name of notorious defender of slavery John C. Calhoun on one on of the colleges.

Related: What the President of Yale Should Have Said

Salovey says, “Removing Calhoun’s name obscures the legacy of slavery rather than addressing it.” Really? Probably not, or we would see a demand for names of more slavers to be enshrined at Yale so that slavery could be addressed more fully. Salovey explains that an “interactive history project” will examine Yale’s past, starting with Calhoun, “elucidating two aspects of our campus’s history about which we can be proud, but also those that we find troubling.”

Got that? In addition, two new residential houses will be named for Benjamin Franklin and Ann Pauline Murray, a black feminist and civil rights activist who graduated from Yale in 1965. Salovey mentions that Franklin was a slaveholder as well as an abolitionist, thus reminding Yalies that if they want to remove all slavers from campus recognition, it will now have to include a campaign against Franklin.

Mizzou Wipes Out Respect and Excellence

The University of Missouri has eliminated Respect and Excellence.  I have to write this in a hurry because it won’t be long before others will seize on this gift.  Respect and Excellence are the names for two residence halls at the University.  They are being closed because the University suddenly finds that its enrollments are plummeting.  Two other dorms were closed already in light of the crisis.

Let’s bask in the irony for a moment or two longer.  The University of Missouri arrived at this juncture by cravenly submitting to the demands of activists and the threats of football players who decided to abet the activists.  On November 9, System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned rather than face down those threats.

Respect—respect for the abiding values of higher education, respect for civic disagreement, respect for intellectual freedom—went on an unpaid leave of absence from the University of Missouri that day.  As for Excellence, it wasn’t all that clear that the University of Missouri was a congenial place for Excellence before November 9.  But on receiving the news that Demands were moving in, Excellence cancelled her lease and moved out.

Rumors are that she transferred to the Oklahoma Wesleyan University or possibly Ohio State.

Mizzou map

 

UConn’s Civil Rights Failure

Criticism, including mine, greeted the University of Connecticut’s plan to build a new dorm to house its 40 black student males. That pressure caused the “black dorm” to be revised: it would be “open” to non-blacks who identify with the “African-American male experience”. Stubbornly college officials held fast to the idea that blacks would be assigned to separate spaces in the dorm in order to create a “living community” for black male students, to “help” one another and create a “living community” that would elevate a low black graduation rate.

But why is it  acceptable for a public–government-funded–university to start classifying, stereotyping and differently treating its undergraduates on the sole basis of their skin color? Didn’t the nation as far back as the unanimous 1954 US Supreme Court Brown decision ban as odious and unconstitutional practices, as suspect and baseless, classifications based on a student’s race?

Today, however, when it comes to black students, governmental bodies still fall back reflexively to the impulse for racial separatism. That’s bad enough when militant black students, full of rage, demand separate facilities and “safe spaces” on campus. It’s worse news when the colleges, like the University of Connecticut, surrender to such demands to buy campus peace. Worse, when public college officials on their own initiate separate dormitory spaces based on skin color–as a supposed benefit for their black students–that’s Orwellian double talk, reprehensible racial paternalism and outright condescension.

Such separatism is, also, on its face ostensibly illegal and unconstitutional.

Shockingly, the UConn trustees and Governor of Connecticut have been silent accessories to racial tripe. They have obliged college officials who want to set up on its Storrs campus separate spaces–corridors or floors–for black males in a dorm. Not unexpectedly, UConn is witholding its records that will expose its racial steering and demarcations for the dormitory housing. They have clammed up, and hid from public inspection the identity of the “private” educational foundation that is funding the dorm, and they’ve scrubbed, through redactions, the identities of college officials who have signed off on it.

This is what happens when officials evade the law and banter in double talk. They actually intend to cluster in sections or on floors the black men. And to justify their race-based actions they seek to bamboozle black men and others on campus into seeing this separatist scheming as an “educational” benefit for the black males–arguing that because black men’s graduation rates are lower as a group than their peers of other “races”, black males at UConn are “at risk.”

And there’s the rub. 

Seeing  black male students not as individuals but as racial entities, as stereotypes, as “different” from their peers of all other colors, is a 21st century repeal of civil rights laws that firmly declared an end to all that. So, where are the strong voices on civil rights to oppose this obfuscation of higher education’s once inviolable principles of equal opportunity, access, and equality of treatment? UConn isn’t alone but it’s unique in its pretensions that it’s doing blacks a favor by backtracking and ignoring state and federal laws that prohibit differential treatment solely because of a person’s skin color. That’s so wrong.  It’s time for the sane voices to speak up in disgust.

A Conversation with Jonathan Haidt

On January 11, John Leo, editor of “Minding the Campus,” interviewed social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, one of the editors of the five-month-old site, “Heterodox Academy,” and perhaps the most prominent academic pushing hard for more intellectual diversity on our campuses. Haidt, 52, who specializes in the psychology of morality and the moral emotions, is Professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business and author, most recently, of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012).  

JOHN LEO: You set off a national conversation in San Antonio five years ago by asking psychologists at an academic convention to raise their hands to show whether they self-identified as conservatives or liberals.

JONATHAN HAIDT: I was invited by the president of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology to give a talk on the future of Social Psychology. As I was finishing writing The Righteous Mind, I was getting more and more concerned about how moral communities bind themselves together in ways that block open-minded thinking. I began to see the social sciences as tribal moral communities, becoming ever more committed to social justice, and ever less hospitable to dissenting views. I wanted to know if there was any political diversity in social psychology. So I asked for a show of hands. I knew it would be very lopsided. But I had no idea how much so. Roughly 80% of the thousand or so in the room self-identified as “liberal or left of center,” 2% (I counted exactly 20 hands) identified as “centrist or moderate,” 1% (12 hands) identified as libertarian, and, rounding to the nearest integer, zero percent (3 hands) identified as “conservative.”

JOHN LEO: You and your colleagues at your new site, Heterodox Academy, have made a lot of progress in alerting people to the problem that the campuses are pretty much bastions of the left. What kind of research did that prompt?

JONATHAN HAIDT: There have been a few studies since my talk to measure the degree of ideological diversity. My request for a show of hands was partly a rhetorical trick. We know that there were people in the audience who didn’t dare or didn’t want to raise their hands. Two social psychologists – Yoel Inbar and Joris Lammers short did a more formal survey. And they found that while there is some diversity if you look at economic conservatism, there’s none if you look at views on social issues. But all that matters is the social. That’s where all the persecution happens. They found just 3-5 percent said they were right of center on social issues. .

JOHN LEO: Have you gone into the reasons why?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Oh, yes. After the talk, I was contacted by a few social psychologists who were interested in the topic. None of them is actually conservative.  We looked into a bunch of the reasons. And the biggest single reason is probably self-selection. We know that liberals and conservatives have slightly different personalities on average. We know that people with a left-leaning brain are attracted to the arts, to foreign travel, to variety and diversity. So we acknowledge that if there was no discrimination at all, the field would still lean left. And that’s perfectly fine with us.  We don’t give a damn about exact proportional representation. What we care about is institutionalized disconfirmation – that is, when someone says something, other people should be out there saying, “Is that really true? Let me try to disprove it.” That is now much less likely to happen if the thing said is politically pleasing to the left.

JOHN LEO: But what about the argument that things are really tough for conservatives in academe now? After they get through college, they have to find a mentor in graduate school, keep swimming upstream and try to get hired somewhere by a department head who’s looking for another leftist. And conservatives can run into cruel and aggressive people in academe.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. That’s correct.

JOHN LEO: To many of us, it looks like a monoculture.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. It is certainly a monoculture. The academic world in the humanities is a monoculture. The academic world in the social sciences is a monoculture – except in economics, which is the only social science that has some real diversity. Anthropology and sociology are the worst — those fields seem to be really hostile and rejecting toward people who aren’t devoted to social justice.

JOHN LEO: And why would they be hostile?

JONATHAN HAIDT: You have to look at the degree to which a field has a culture of activism.  Anthropology is a very activist field. They fight for the rights of oppressed people, as they see it. My field, social psychology, has some activism in it, but it’s not the dominant strain. Most of us, we really are thinking all day long about what control condition wasn’t run. My field really is oriented towards research. Now a lot of us are doing research on racism and prejudice. It’s the biggest single area of the field. But I’ve never felt that social psychology is first and foremost about changing the world, rather than understanding it. So my field is certainly still fixable. I think that if we can just get some more viewpoint diversity in it, it will solve the bias problem.

JOHN LEO: Oh, that shows up on your site, “Heterodox Academy.” It’s had a big impact in the small time you’ve been open. Why is that, and how did you do it?

JONATHAN HAIDT: We started the site back when we knew that our big review paper would be coming out. Five of my colleagues and I worked to write this review paper, beginning after my talk in 2011. It took us a while to get it published. Paul Bloom at Yale was the editor at Behavioral and Brain Sciences. He thought that it was an important paper. So we knew that it was coming out in September. And we thought, we don’t just want a little bit of attention and then it’ll go away. We want to keep up the pressure.  And, along the way, we were contacted by people in other fields — a grad student in Sociology, Chris Martin, who now runs the blog, a professor of law at Georgetown, Nick Rosenkranz – both these guys had written about the absence of diversity in their own fields. And one day last summer, I was having lunch with Nick here in New York. And we thought why don’t we get people together who are concerned about this and make a site? And Nick thought of the name, “Heterodox Academy.”  I loved it. I thought it was just perfect

JOHN LEO:  It says what it stands for.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. We had no idea that the universities were about to commit suicide. We had no idea that they were going to blow up just a few weeks after we launched the site. So we launched in September. I wrote a post about our big review paper in social psychology. And we got a lot of attention the first week or two. Then it died down. And then we get the Missouri fiasco, the Yale fiasco, the Amherst fiasco, the Brown fiasco. You get place after place where protesters are making demands of college presidents, and college presidents roll over and give in.

JOHN LEO: So you got a lot of attention.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Since Halloween, especially. Look, I graduated from Yale in ’85.  Yale is very devoted to social justice. It’s very devoted to affirmative action.  Now no place is perfect. But it’s probably among the best places in the country. And to have protesters saying it’s such a thoroughly racist place that it needs a total reformation – they call the protest group ”Next Yale”– they demand “Next Yale”!

JOHN LEO:  Everybody saw that.

JONATHAN HAIDT: And these were not requests. This was not a discussion. This was framed as an ultimatum given to the president – and they gave him I think six days to respond, or else. And I am just so horrified that the president of Yale, Peter Salovey, responded by the deadline.  And when he responded, he did not say, on the one hand, the protesters have good points; on the other hand, we also need to guarantee free speech; and, by the way, it’s not appropriate to scream obscenities at professors.

JOHN LEO: Or the threat to one professor: “We know where you live”?

JONATHAN HAIDT: I didn’t even know about that. The president was supposed to be the grown-up in the room. He was supposed to show some wisdom, some balance, and some strength. And so we’ve seen, basically what can really only be called Maoist moral bullying – am we saw it very clearly at Claremont McKenna. The video is really chilling–the students surrounding this nice woman who was trying to help them, and reducing her to tears.  As we’ve seen more and more of this, I’ve begun calling it, “the Yale problem,” referring to the way that left-leaning institutions are now cut off from any moral vocabulary that they could use to resist the forces of illiberalism. As far as I’m concerned, “Next Yale” can go find its own “Next Alumni.” I don’t plan to give to Yale ever again, unless it reverses course.

JOHN LEO; How did they cut themselves off?

JONATHAN HAIDT: They’re so devoted to social justice, and they have accepted the rule that you can never, ever blame victims, so if a group of victims makes demands, you cannot argue back. You must accept the demands.

JOHN LEO: Michael Kinsley once referred sardonically to one unhappy student as “another oppressed black from Harvard.”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Did you see that website, The Demands.org? Lots of people know how ill-conceived the demands are and what would happen if our universities all set out at the same time to reach 10 or 15 percent black faculty.

JOHN LEO: Are you a Democrat?

JONATHAN HAIDT: No, not anymore. Now I’m non-partisan. I was a Democrat my whole life, and I got into political psychology because I really disliked George W. Bush.  And I thought the Democrats kept blowing it. I mean, in 2000, 2004, they blew it. And I really wanted to help the Democrats.

JOHN LEO: So you voted for Obama.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Twice. I no longer consider myself a Democrat today. But let me be clear that I am absolutely horrified by today’s Republican Party – both in the presidential primaries and in Congress. If they nominate Trump or Cruz, I’ll vote for the Democrat, whoever it is.

JOHN LEO: To get back to the lopsided faculties – -what are the chances of cracking anthropology or sociology?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Anthro is completely lost. I mean, it’s really militant activists. They’ve taken the first step towards censoring Israel. They’re not going to have anything to do with Israeli scholars any more. So it’s now – it’s the seventh victim group. For many years now, there have been six sacred groups. You know, the big three are African-Americans, women and LGBT. That’s where most of the action is. Then there are three other groups: Latinos, Native Americans….

JOHN LEO: You have to say Latinx now.

JONATHAN HAIDT: I do not intend to say that. Latinos, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. So those are the six that have been there for a while. But now we have a seventh–Muslims. Something like 70 or 75 percent of America is now in a protected group. This is a disaster for social science because social science is really hard to begin with. And now you have to try to explain social problems without saying anything that casts any blame on any member of a protected group. And not just moral blame, but causal blame. None of these groups can have done anything that led to their victimization or marginalization.

JOHN LEO: No. Never.

JONATHAN HAIDT: There used to be this old game show when I was a kid, called “Beat the Clock.”  And you had to throw three oranges through a basketball hoop.  Okay, that doesn’t look so hard. But now you have to do it blindfolded. Oh, now you have to do it on a skateboard.  And with your right hand behind your back. Okay. Now go ahead and do it. And that’s what social science is becoming.

JOHN LEO: Well, but there’s always a possibility of truth and accuracy. I mean, why is the professoriate so…

JONATHAN HAIDT: Spineless? Nowadays, a mob can coalesce out of nowhere. And so we’re more afraid of our students than we are of our peers. It is still possible for professors to say what they think over lunch; in private conversations they can talk. But the list of things we can say in the classroom is growing shorter and shorter.

JOHN LEO: This sounds like the Good Germans.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. Exactly. It is. It’s really scary that values other than truth have become sacred.  And what I keep trying to say – this comes right out of my book The Righteous Mind – is that you can’t have two sacred values.  Because what do you do when they conflict?  And in the academy now, if truth conflicts with social justice, truth gets thrown under the bus.

JOHN LEO: Talk about The Righteous Mind a bit.  How did you develop this system of three moral foundations among liberals, versus six or eight for conservatives?

JONATHAN HAIDT In graduate school, I was very interested both in evolutionary psychology, which seemed obviously true, that we evolved and our brains evolved; and in cultural psychology, which seemed obviously true – that morality varies across cultures. One of my advisors was Alan Fiske, an anthropologist. And my post-doc advisor was Richard Shweder, another anthropologist. And they both had developed accounts of exactly how morality varies. And they were both brilliant accounts, but they didn’t quite square with each other. And so I, I tried to step back and build up a case from evolutionary thinking – what are likely to be the taste buds of the moral sense?  Things like reciprocity, hierarchy, group loyalty. So the theory grew out of ideas from Richard Shweder, in particular, and then it’s been developed with my colleagues at YourMorals.org.

JOHN LEO: When conservatives read this, they’re going to say, gee, we have more moral foundations than they do. Is there an advantage in having more?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Well, it certainly isn’t a game where more is necessarily better.  One of my conservative friends argues that having one moral foundation is dangerous, because you’re much more likely to develop a kind of a mania about it. And, since the Halloween eruption at Yale, I now think much more that he’s right. That if you make anything sacred and, in this case, if you make care for the vulnerable your sacred value, and that becomes more important than anything else, you’re liable to trample all the other values.  So I do think there’s a danger to having a one-foundation morality

JOHN LEO: So how did you assemble the team you have at “Heterodox Academy”?

JONATHAN HAIDT: It started with lunch—myself and Nick Rosenkranz. And then I right away emailed an introduction of Nick to the various other people I’d come across, especially my five co-authors on the BBS paper. And that was the core. And then we just talked about, like, okay; who’s in political science? Well, there’s, you know, some guys who were just writing a book about the experience of conservatives in the academy. Let’s invite them. So we just used our network of people we know. We’re up to about 25 people now. We don’t actually know how many conservatives are in the group. We know it’s less than half.

JOHN LEO: What about libertarians?

JONATHAN HAIDT: I think we’ll have more libertarians. When you find diversity in the academy, it tends to be libertarians. You rarely find social conservatives. And so I’m thinking of doing a survey of our members. Because I think we ought to know. Paul Krugman recently referred to our site and described us as “outraged conservatives.” I looked back through all the essays we published and failed to find outrage. Krugman just assumed outrage because we think there should be more diversity in the academy.

JOHN LEO: What happens to the academy now? You used the word ”die.” Is it dead or dying? Most academics think it’s just aflutter. They seem to have no idea that something important happened at Yale.

JONATHAN HAIDT: The big thing that really worries me – the reason why I think things are going to get much, much worse – is that one of the causal factors here is the change in child-rearing that happened in America in the 1980s. With the rise in crime, amplified by the rise of cable TV, we saw much more protective, fearful parenting. Children since the 1980s have been raised very differently–protected as fragile. The key psychological idea, which should be mentioned in everything written about this, is Nassim Taleb’s concept of anti-fragility.

JOHN LEO: What’s the theory?

JONATHAN HAIDT: That children are anti-fragile. Bone is anti-fragile. If you treat it gently, it will get brittle and break. Bone actually needs to get banged around to toughen up. And so do children. I’m not saying they need to be spanked or beaten, but they need to have a lot of unsupervised time, to get in over their heads and get themselves out. And that greatly decreased in the 1980s. Anxiety, fragility and psychological weakness have skyrocketed in the last 15-20 years. So, I think millennials come to college with much thinner skins. And therefore, until that changes, I think we’re going to keep seeing these demands to never hear anything offensive.

JOHN LEO Like micro-aggression, trigger warnings, safe spaces and different forms of censorship for anything that bothers them?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes, that’s right. Even much of the gender gap in STEM fields appears to result from differences of enjoyment-–boys and girls are not very different on ability, but they’re hugely different in what they enjoy doing. Anyone who has a son and a daughter knows that. But if you even just try to say this, it will be regarded as so hurtful, so offensive. You can get in big trouble for it. And that’s what actually showed up in the article I have online where I gave a talk at a school on the West Coast, and a student was insisting that there’s such massive institutional sexism, and she pointed to the STEM fields as evidence of sexism….

JOHN LEO:  Is this the talk you gave at a high school you called “Centerville”?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes, “Centerville High.” That’s right. That’s exactly what this was about.

JOHN LEO: Where the girl stood up after your talk and said, “So you think rape is OK?”

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes, that’s right. It’s this Marcusian rhetorical trick. You don’t engage the person’s arguments. You say things that discredit them as a racist or a sexist.

JOHN LEO: How do they learn that? The young don’t read Herbert Marcuse.

JONATHAN HAIDT: I don’t know whether they get it from one another in junior high school or whether they’re learning it in diversity training classes. I don’t know whether they’re modeling it from their professors. I do believe it’s in place by the time they arrive in college. And colleges are teaching this. Now, some colleges are much, much worse than others. We know from various things we’ve read and posted on our site, that liberal arts colleges – especially the women’s schools – are by far the worst.

JOHN LEO: Women’s schools are worse?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Nobody should send their child to a women’s school any more.  And that’s especially true if you’re progressive. The last thing you want is for your progressive daughter to be raised in this bullying monoculture, and to become a self-righteous bully herself.

JOHN LEO: Well, that’s one of the things I learned from your site. I kept debating with friends whether the closed mind, all the PC and the yen for censorship were there before they arrive at freshman orientation. But I hadn’t see it written about until Heterodox Academy came along.

JONATHAN HAIDT: I wouldn’t say the game is over by the time they reach college.  I would just say, they’re, they’re already enculturated.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t change.  Kids are very malleable.  Kids are anti-fragile.  I would say there’s some research suggesting that by the time you’re thirty, your frontal cortex is set.  So after thirty, I don’t think you can change.  But at eighteen, I think you still can.  So my hope is that universities will be forced to declare their sacred value. I hope we can split them off into different kinds of institutions–you know, Brown and Amherst can devote themselves to social justice. Chicago is my main hope. The University of Chicago might be able to devote itself to truth. They already have this fantastic statement on free speech, making very clear that it is not the job of the university to take sides in any of these matters. The university simply provides a platform.

JOHN LEO: Yes, that’s just one university though.

JONATHAN HAIDT: But that’s fine. As long as you have an alternate model, then other universities can copy it. But more importantly is this – here’s the one reason for hope – almost all Americans are disgusted by what’s happened to the universities.

JOHN LEO: You mean the micro-aggression, the trigger warnings and the censorship?

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yeah. The craziness on campus. Almost everybody says, you know, shut up, grow up, stop complaining. And this is even true for people on the left.  And so, there’s a gigantic market of parents who don’t want to send their kids to Yale and Brown and Amherst, and they want to send them someplace where they won’t be coddled.  And so my hope is that if there are some prestigious alternatives where their kids actually could learn how to survive hearing things they don’t like, and that market forces will lead a stampede to less coddling schools.

JOHN LEO: But what about the craving for elite credentials, no matter how bad the school really is. A lot of parents will send their kids anywhere, to the mouth of hell, if they can get a Yale degree.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yeah. Well, look, Chicago’s pretty darn good. Chicago’s a very prestigious school. I don’t know what Ivy could join them. …

JOHN LEO: Well, Columbia still has the Great Books course.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Columbia is very PC. Columbia’s not, going to be it. So, another reason for hope is that more and more progressive professors and presidents are being attacked. And each time they’re attacked, they usually feel quite bitter. And at some point we’re going to get a college president who has been attacked in this way who sticks his or her neck out and says, enough is enough; I’m standing up to this. I also hope and expect that alumni will begin resisting. That’s something we’re going to do at “Heterodox Academy.” We’re going to try to organize alumni and trustees.

Because the presidents can’t stand up to the protesters unless there is extraordinary pressure on them from the other side.

JOHN LEO: After the Duke fiasco, I made a point of looking into the alumni reaction. Resistance at Duke fizzled out very quickly. Stuart Taylor, Jr., co-author of Until Proven Innocent, the classic study of the Duke disaster, predicted that Brodhead would never get another term as president of Duke, or any other college. Not so. Despite the mess he made of things, they gave him a big, new contract. The forces upholding dereliction and folly are very strong.

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yeah. Duke was one outrageous case. This, “The Yale Problem,” is a much more existential threat to the whole system. It’s very hard to organize alumni for collective action. But if there’s a widespread sense of revulsion out there, then I think it might be more possible. You asked, how has “Heterodox Academy” been able to be so successful so quickly? And the basic answer is, we’re pushing on open doors. Most people are horrified by what’s going on.  And when we ask people to join or support us, they say, yes. If we can find an easy way to organize alumni and get them to put their donations in escrow, or otherwise stop giving to schools that don’t commit to free speech and free inquiry, we may begin to see schools move away from illiberalism and return to their traditional role as institutions organized to pursue truth.

The University as Nursery

One of the implications of the shift of pressure against free speech from left-wing faculty and administrators to undergraduates is that the ideological framework of liberal bias doesn’t quite apply.  Yes, we have language of “racism” and “sexism,” along with demands that relics of US history that fail the PC test be torn down.  But the political thrust doesn’t gibe with talk about safe spaces and microaggressions.  That’s an idiom of therapy, not politics (even while it is used as a tool of power).

One prominent critic of higher education discerned the difference at work way back in May 1992 in a commentary in TLS.  The title was “The Nursery-School Campus,” and the author was Camille Paglia.  Here is the relevant passage:

By the early 1970s, American universities had become top-heavy with full-time administrators who took to speaking of the campus as a “community,” which faculty soon discovered was governed by invisible codes of acceptable speech, opinions, and behavior. . . . Many of the students, neglected by their prosperous, professional parents, are pathetically grateful for these attentions. Such coddling has led, in my view, to the outrageous speech codes, which are designed to shield students from the realities of life.  The campus is now not an arena of ideas but a nursery school where adulthood can be postponed. Faculty who are committed to the great principle of free speech are therefore at war with paternalistic administrators in league with misguided parents. 

Paglia gets right at what stands out in the protests today: not the political content, but the childish demands.  Grownups listen to them march, chant and think that it all looks more like a tantrum than a revolution.

This is not a trivial point, or a dismissive one.  We should take the brattiness seriously, but see it as a result we have created, not a starting point to which we should respond.  Paglia locates the evolution in the hiring back in the 1970s of higher-Ed administrators who had no teaching duties and no academic research background—in other words, bureaucrats.  They were hired to manage the swelling population of Baby Boomers flooding the colleges and requiring more and more investment in the overall college experience (and less focus on coursework).

Hence the emphasis on “community.”  It’s a word nearly all my colleagues, even the most liberal ones, wouldn’t use to describe their classrooms. But administrators loved it, especially those most invested in attracting and keeping female and minority students.  The term sounds warm and welcoming, especially, the administrators assumed, to youths whose parents never went to college and who might feel out of place.  The message was simple: “We shall take care of you—we care about you.”

But the old story of paternalistic dreams played out once again.  To create utopia, the social engineers had to order and regulate the conduct of the inhabitants.  The “codes” arrived, the underside of community organizing.  I’ve seen it happen repeatedly.  The people most fired with goodness and concern are the first to act—and overreact—against disrupters.  It’s not enough to maintain liberal principles of free speech and freedom of association and rights of conscience.  Those are formal rules that don’t have any positive content.  They don’t tell people what the True and the Good are.  They allow people the space to form their own conceptions of the True and the Good.  With that freedom, unless everyone arrives at the same ones, the community foundations crack and tumble.

When the campus engineers say, “We need to build a stronger sense of community,” then, what they really mean is, “We need to suppress the dissenters in the room, across the campus, throughout the discipline.”  People who oppose affirmative action, revere the classics, vote Republican, oppose abortion . . . they spoil the local culture. They make others feel bad.  How smooth and positive might our school and our department be if they were gone.

You see how the bureaucracy prospers in this set-up, whether it fails in its aims or achieves them.  To create a community in academia, you need a lot more than professors. You also need a legion of counselors, diversity officers, and various “campus life” personnel.  And when the inevitable frictions arise, such as disputes over admissions policies and student-faculty relations, you need more administrators, including lawyers to draft new speech and conduct codes. And when THOSE cause more collisions between a student religious group and anti-discrimination policies, then you need more officers to handle infractions and . . . . That’s how bureaucracy works: the more it stumbles, the bigger it gets.  And it justifies itself in the right and proper name of “community,” which is to say, student well-being.

As long as those efforts were confined to administrators, “community-building” practices were usually contained to passive-aggressive forms of advocacy and policing.  Officials generally knew not to step over the line into outright censorship or harassment.  They knew that bad publicity and upright alumni and donors wouldn’t like it.

But now that the safe-and-secure, racism-free, sexism-free, homophobia-free community-building vision has been adopted by the undergraduates, those constraints are gone.  Sophomores don’t care about bad press. They don’t listen to donors and alumni. They can demand and occupy and march all they want, and nobody will tell them “Stop!” They have lots of time on their hands—after all, they study only 14 hours a week—and they have solid peer pressure backing them up, which means a lot more to them than the authority of the faculty and president and deans.  We are, indeed, in the nursery-school campus. The difference is that the day-care providers don’t know how to say “No.”

Caving in to Bullies

Not all Yale students agree with the tactics employed by the bullies. Freshman Connor Wood said, “The acceptance or rejection of coercive tactics is a choice that will literally decide the fate of our democracy. Our republic will not survive without a culture of robust public debate. And the far more immediate threat is to academia: how can we expect to learn when people are afraid to speak out?”

Related: What the President of Yale Should Have Said

Nevertheless, it appears that the loudest voices are indeed influencing President Salovey. He has given in to protesters by:

  • Announcing a new center for the study of race, ethnicity, and social identity
  • Creating four new faculty positions to study “unrepresented and under-represented communities”
  • Launching “a five-year series of conferences on issues of race, gender, inequality, and inclusion”
  • Spending $50 million over the next five years to enhance faculty diversity
  • Doubling the budgets of cultural centers (Western culture not included)
  • Increasing financial aid for low-income students

In addition, President Salovey volunteered, along with other members of the faculty and administration, to “receive training on recognizing and combating racism and other forms of discrimination.”

With an endowment of $24 billion, these expenses are a proverbial drop in the bucket for Yale. But it doesn’t mean that the administration should cave.

Isaac Cohen, a Yale senior, wrote in the student newspaper, “Our administrators, who ought to act with prudence and foresight, appear helpless in the face of these indictments. Consider President Salovey’s email to the Yale community this week. Without any fight or pushback — indeed, with no thought as to burdens versus benefits — he capitulated in most respects to the demands of a small faction of theatrically aggrieved students.”

This is an excerpt from “Student Bullies at Yale,” which was published originally at CAPX

A Targeted Teacher at Yale Quits

The problem of political correctness at Yale has comes up again because it let a good scholar quit teaching under heavy pressure from students over a very mild email she wrote about Halloween costumes at Yale.

The email said she thought that an official campus group really shouldn’t be telling students what costumes to avoid. PC people have been labeling the wearing of various costumes as “cultural appropriation”– for instance, only a pirate should be wearing a pirate’s costume. Nicholas Christakis and his wife, Erika Christakis, a lecturer in psychology and early childhood development at Yale’s Child Study Center, emerged as targets of black students and other “marginalized” students and their allies. Her message lamented what she called an increasingly censorial and prohibitory climate at American universities.”

A group of angry students confronted Nicholas Christakis, master of Silliman College, one of the residential Yale houses. A few of the students cursed him out and seemed to threaten him (“We know where you live”) because he and his wife, the associate master of Silliman, had failed to provide them proper comfort and a safe space.

Peter Salovey, president of Yale, and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, the highest-ranking black official at Yale, both issued notably cold and feeble responses to Christakis’ decision to quit teaching at the university.

The Yale Daily News reported:

Among the demands made by Next Yale, a fledgling campus activist group that addresses issues of race on campus was the removal of Nicholas and Erika Christakis from the positions of master and associate master of Silliman College, respectively. The demands, presented to University President Peter Salovey at his home at around midnight on Nov. 12, do not mention the Christakies’ roles as Yale educators.

On Nov. 17, Salovey and Holloway wrote that they “fully support” the Christakises’ mastership in a joint email to Silliman students.

Two open letters published last months by various professors — one supporting student concerns about racism and marginalization, and another standing in solidarity with the Christakises — gave voice to multiple sides of a heated debate over free speech, sensitivity and racism on Yale’s campus. The first letter was signed by several hundred faculty members, including the Christakises. The second, authored by physics professor Douglas Stone and signed by 69 faculty members, said those who have mounted a campaign against Erika Christakis have reduced the “educational variety” for all Yale undergraduates.

“As faculty colleagues we wish to express our strong support of the right of Erika and Nicholas Christakis to free speech and freedom of intellectual expression,” the letter stated.

In past years, hundreds of students shopped each of Erika Christakis’ classes, Stone said, adding that she planned to teach additional seminar sections this year to handle the demand. He added that attacks, not just on Christakis’ email, but on her character and integrity as well, have led to her decision not to teach. Stone said he encouraged Christakis to reconsider her decision to stop teaching after a “cooling off period.”

Although Stone said he welcomes criticism by students and faculty as part of a respectful dialogue, he said he thought the response to Christakis’ letter unfairly characterized her words as racist.

“It goes without saying that faculty using racial epithets or harassing speech … should not be tolerated or defended in any way,” Stone said. “I don’t think that is at issue in the current situation.”

Limp Administrators Let the Angry Few Take Over

The tumultuous, racially charged demonstrations that rocked American campuses this fall show few signs of abating. In fact, they’re spreading across the country because student activists have been emboldened by their “successes.”

For example, at the University of Missouri, the president and chancellor resigned amid protests (even the football team threatened to go on strike) regarding allegations of racism on campus and the administration’s refusal to address them. In response, the UM system announced the creation of a Chief Diversity, Inclusion and Equity Officer and various diversity initiatives.

Related: What Yale’s President Should Have Said

Common threads running throughout the campus upheavals include attacks on principles of free speech and a willingness on the part of school officials to mollify students and cede control to leftist protesters. Given higher education’s track record, however, both developments are unsurprising.

Universities have long preached the gospel of social justice through politicized degree programs, coursework, and university policies. For years, there has been a proliferation of gender, black, and gay studies programs and a host of other partisan “studies” fields. Meanwhile, universities have ramped up multiculturalism “training” for students, professors, and administrators.

And they’ve long treated students as customers to be appeased at all costs to keep the money flowing. The mindset born of the combination of political correctness and consumerism has brought about policies that attempt to “protect” students’ emotional well-being—usually at the expense of scholarly debate and the open exchange of ideas. Schools have disinvited campus speakers who offend the sensibilities of left-leaning students. They’ve given credence to illiberal concepts such as “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces.”

A Lame Defense of Trigger Warnings 

The initial end result has been the debasement of campus discourse, increased cultural and racial division, and diminished academic standards. But we are witnessing an even more disturbing trend: much of academia is being turned on its head, with the least knowledgeable and least mature members of the academic community assuming command based on their emotions.

Protests started by individual campus events and by events outside academia have coalesced into a powerful national movement. Actual authorities cravenly submit to their demands, and one is tempted to think of such historical anti-intellectual movements as the Cultural Revolution in China under Mao-tse-tung or the Italian monk Savonarola’s “bonfires of the vanities.” 

Related: Our North Korean Campuses 

Under the banners of “racial equality” and “solidarity,” some of the protesters—who have aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement and other non-academic liberal causes—have shunned civil debate entirely. At Dartmouth College, protesters stormed a library, shouting racial epithets at white students trying to study.

At Yale University, a student screamed at a school official whose wife (also a Yale employee) had had the temerity to suggest that administrators should not regulate “offensive” Halloween costumes worn by students. Others have vandalized campus statues and monuments tied to historical figures with controversial pasts or racist legacies.

More problematic than these and related incidents, however, has been universities’ timid responses. Out of fear of public shaming and protest, school officials have caved to this new movement’s politically correct thought police. As mentioned above, some have resigned, and others have promised to spend millions on diversity and racial sensitivity programs.

The Mess at UNC

Some administrators seem so fearful of this movement that they have joined with it preemptively. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in response to the events on the campus, in Missouri, and elsewhere, Chancellor Carol Folt recently announced the creation of a new high-level administrative position aimed in part at improving race relations on campus. And on November 19 the school hosted a “Town Hall on Race and Inclusion” which embodied much of what’s wrong about higher education’s tendency to conciliate students.

Roughly 1,400 people—including Folt, the university’s board of trustees, hundreds of professors and administrators, and students—packed the school’s performing arts center. High above the stage, the university’s motto, Lux libertas (Light and Liberty), was displayed—a message that starkly contrasted with the event’s eventual tenor of groupthink and hostility to dissent.

Folt gave the opening remarks, telling the crowd, “[Nothing] matters more to me [than] having these conversations and trying to…make people in our community feel safe, feel welcome.” She then introduced Clarence Page, a liberal syndicated columnist, who was supposed to moderate the event. Instead, he weakly lost control to students who defied the event’s rules at every turn

‘It’s Our University’

Before Page could give his introduction, a group of roughly 40 students stormed down one of the aisles, chanting “Whose university? Our university!” One student held a sign that read “F— Whiteness.” Another, “UNC Admin Supports Violent Hate Speech.”

The group’s leader grabbed a nearby microphone and brusquely told the crowd, “We are going to read these demands out and you are gonna sit here and listen because we have things that we need to say and problems that need to be fixed.” This was followed by cheers and finger-snapping. Then came the demands, which members of the group took turns reading.

Mandatory Programming, Please

Among other things, students are calling for “mandatory programming [that] teaches the historical racial violence of this University and town….” They also demand “more aggressive recruitment of Black faculty and faculty of color” and an end to the use of the SAT and ACT in admissions decisions, as those standardized tests, according to protesters, “disproportionately benefit” wealthy white students. “Gone are the days where we ask for what is past due to us: we are here to take what is ours. Tear it down, or we shut you down,” concludes the document.

Only once did the moderator speak up and tell the protesters, who took roughly 30 minutes to read such demands, that other students in attendance deserved a chance to speak, too. And even after the protesters left, he allowed students to exceed the pre-determined two-minute speaking limit. Chancellor Folt, nor any of the faculty and administrators in attendance, addressed such insolence. Two students expressed objection to the protesters’ tactics and to the other student-commenters. Muffled sneers percolated through the crowd after those objections were made.

Diversity Brainwashing

Chancellor Folt provided closing remarks. “We couldn’t have heard more strongly that we need training,” she said, possibly referring to “racial equity training,” which one male student suggested should be mandatory for university employees. (“A lot of black people have spoken and have different views, but we all agree on one thing: systemic racism exists. If you don’t understand that it exists, you won’t get it,” he had said.)

That student, a freshman, said he had learned all about “systemic racism” at a diversity training workshop sponsored by UNC-Chapel Hill’s Office of Diversity and Multicultural Affairs. Each year, taxpayers devote hundreds of thousands of dollars to that office, which seems more focused on indoctrinating students into political activism than objectively educating students or creating a positive campus climate.

At any rate, perspective is important. Twenty-nine thousand undergraduate and graduate students attend UNC-Chapel Hill; the truculent protesters at the town hall event represent a very small fraction of that total. And while some agree with those protesters and their tactics, many others do not. There are signs that students at Chapel Hill and other universities want administrators to restore civility and reopen the marketplace of ideas on campus.

Furthermore, the vitriol toward other groups expressed by the protestors clearly shows that justice for all is not their goal, but that they seek vengeance and advantage.

Letting the Few Take Over

So it’s time for university leaders to stop allowing a small minority of militant activists to control university policies and campus dialogue. Rather than kowtow to the fringe and waste resources on diversity initiatives and cultural reeducation programs, which have abysmal track records, Chapel Hill and other universities should use recent events as a broader learning lesson.

In the coming months, instead of fear, university leaders should show “solidarity” around the First Amendment, intellectual vitality, and real diversity—viewpoint diversity, which is sorely lacking on many campuses. They can remind students that coercion and the stifling of opposing views—no matter how offensive they may be—hurts one’s cause and social progress itself. The Black Lives Matter movement and other movements in the broader culture are free to behave as they wish; on college campuses, however, higher standards must be maintained and cherished.

In the end, this is a struggle to restore the spirit of higher education. The UNC protestors asked one very important question—“Whose university?” It’s time for administrators, particularly at public universities, to think long and hard about that. Unfortunately, for many, it seems too difficult a task. After all, they created the university according to their beliefs, and the protesters are their intellectual progeny.  

Reprinted from the John William Pope Center for Educational Policy. Jesse Saffron has been with the Pope Center since 2013.

North Korea Has Taken Over Academe

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

Don’t Mention the Slur

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

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

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

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

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

Placed on Leave, but Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

After Many Woeful Failures, the Colleges Avoid Change

The students at Mizzou and Yale caught in twin episodes of contrived campus racial hysteria have been described as narcissists and self-indulgent brats catered to by their parents who told them how special they were and expecting the same judgment from college. Handed what they understand as the attitudinal keys to the kingdom, they’re enraged when challenged.

The two highlights are probably 1) the would-be Maoist Missouri media studies professor calling for “the muscle” to shut down coverage of a protest by a young journalist invoking the First Amendment and 2) the Yale student shrieking “who the fuck hired you” at a professor so foolish as to suggest that the subject of culturally appropriate Halloween costumes for Yale’s overgrown brats was in part a matter of free speech. Like President Obama insisting he “can’t wait” for Congress before overriding the Constitution to impose himself through executive authority, “the snowflake totalitarians” insist that its fears need to be propitiated forthwith. Fortunately, both incidents were caught on camera and have gone viral on YouTube.

These young people in America’s increasingly hierarchical society expect to be obeyed. Treated as important customers by their colleges, their faculty and staff assume the customer is always right. What makes their effluvia different from those of the 1960s student protesters is that the context has changed. Then as now, students, short on experience, are often unable to distinguish between considered political perspectives and their emotion-laden ideologies.

But in the 1960s the faculty still had a few conservatives and a fair number of old-line liberals scarred by McCarthyism and firmly wedded to freedom of speech. But 45 years later academic self-selection has produced faculties and over-staffed administrations that devolve from protestors of 1970.  The student protestors are an expression of what academia has been producing over these past decades.

In recent years, academia has done so much to discredit itself that we might have expected calls for reform to be ringing from the halls of Congress. “Federal spending,” notes The Journal, “on loans and grants, on an inflation-adjusted basis, has jumped more than 50% over the past decade to $134 billion last year, and total federal student-loan debt has hit $1.2 trillion.”

On the presidential campaign trail, Hillary Clinton has spoken for new and better subsidies and perhaps even some student debt forgiveness at a time when the national debt has doubled in the past seven years. On the GOP side, Marco Rubio referred in passing, during Tuesday’s Republican debate, to delivering commodified higher education more efficiently. And to be sure, former Indiana Governor and now Purdue University president Mitch Daniels has talked on unbundling the services purportedly provided by higher education so that they can be delivered more efficiently. There are proposals for Contractor model in which “The core business function of the contractor-college would be assembly and quality control rather than running an institution and hiring faculty or holding classes.”

But given the endless scandals and massive failures, there’s been strikingly little political outcry. That’s in part because the average lawmaker has twelve institution of higher learning in his or her district. These institutions are often in close touch with local elected officials who are well aware of how many jobs the colleges account for. Nationally, counting only the four-year operations, colleges are the sixth largest industry in America. They employ 3.6 million people, more than one of every 40 workers in the U.S.

“Higher” education has become a very big business and its size and economic influence has been expressed in its political clout. “Colleges and universities,” explained The Journal, “have become one of the most effective lobbying forces in Washington, employing more lobbyists last year than any other industries except drug manufacturing and technology.” Last year colleges and universities deployed more than a thousand lobbyists at a cost of 73 million dollars. The upshot is that from George Bush the first to Barack Obama’s attempts to rank schools based on supposed outcomes, every effort at accountability has been beaten back.

In the event that reform comes to academia, it will be borne on the wings of competition. On the matter of free speech, the University of Chicago has recently distinguished itself with a strong embrace of traditional notions of free speech. Other colleges like Hillsdale in Michigan, which takes no federal money has made a name for itself by teaching about the genius of the Founding Fathers. If academia is to dig itself out of the hole it’s put itself in to, it will be because many more colleges decide to opt out of the suicidal spiral all too visible at Missouri and Yale.