Tag Archives: social justice

Universities Torn Between Truth Seeking and Social Justice

A lengthy article by Jonathan Haidt dealing with the growing conflict over the proper goal or end of the academy ran here in full on October 23.  It was neither an original article of ours nor a reprint published with permission. It should have run–and appears now–as an excerpt referring readers back to its original site, Heterodox  Academy. We regret the error.—Editor

Aristotle often evaluated a thing with respect to its “telos” – its purpose, end, or goal. The telos of a knife is to cut. The telos of a physician is health or healing. What is the telos of university?

The most obvious answer is “truth” –- the word appears on so many university crests. harvard-crestBut increasingly, many of America’s top universities are embracing social justice as their telos, or as a second and equal telos. But can any institution or profession have two teloses (or teloi)? What happens if they conflict?

As a social psychologist who studies morality, I have watched these two teloses come into conflict increasingly often during my 30 years in the academy. The conflicts seemed manageable in the 1990s. But the intensity of conflict has grown since then, at the same time as the political diversity of the professoriate was plummeting, and at the same time as American cross-partisan hostility was rising. I believe the conflict reached its boiling point in the fall of 2015 when student protesters at 80 universities demanded that their universities make much greater and more explicit commitments to social justice, often including mandatory courses and training for everyone in social justice perspectives and content.

Now that many university presidents have agreed to implement many of the demands, I believe that the conflict between truth and social justice is likely to become unmanageable.  Universities will have to choose, and be explicit about their choice so that potential students and faculty recruits can make an informed choice. Universities that try to honor both will face increasing incoherence and internal conflict.

 

Liberals Who Drifted Toward the New Illiberalism

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

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

Related: The Strange World of Social Justice Warriors

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

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

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

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

Two Closings: Bloom and Holmes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Helped Shove My College Downhill

Not long ago, I wrote a piece for City Journal about my alma mater entitled, unsubtly: How My Friends and I Wrecked Pomona College. I saw it as a very belated mea culpa, for it detailed the malicious glee with which, back in the Sixties, we student radicals forced well-meaning, weak-willed administrators to abandon the standards, both behavioral and academic, that had sustained Pomona since its founding; leading, inevitably, all these years later, to an institution depressingly in the grip of all-encompassing PC.

Related: A College Guide to Viewpoint Diversity

In fact, the article was prompted by events in Claremont (Pomona is one of five schools in the so-called Claremont consortium) just this past fall, as other campuses from Missouri to New Haven were experiencing their own paroxysms of madness. Claremont’s crisis, (in the comic bouffe fashion common to such affairs), was touched off by a do-good progressive; in this case, a Claremont-McKenna administrator who sent a sympathetic but ineptly worded email to a Hispanic student; and whose resignation in disgrace prompted the Social Justice Warriors at the other schools to in turn start howling about racism and present their presidents with the inevitable lists of non-negotiable demands. Pomona’s cry bully contingent demanded, among other things, the hiring of full-time counselors “specially trained in queer and trans mental health issues” and a department of disability studies.

I don’t know how people felt reading it, but I can assure you it was a depressing piece to write, noting, as it did, some of the key markers in the school’s ever more avid embrace of leftist dogma since my own sorry day. A curriculum that once guaranteed the school’s graduates a broad overview of the Western culture and philosophical tradition slowly gave way to one top heavy with departments of group grievance and entitlement.

Related: Another Illegal Diversity Scheme at Michigan

In 2004 — long before ‘safe spaces’ were a fixation on campuses nationwide, — students in Claremont were so fragile that a visiting professor’s claim that her car had been smeared with racist and anti-Semitic graffiti sent the campuses into a frenzy of grief and panic, with classes suspended for a day of reflection and protest.  Indeed, even after the revelation that the supposed “terrorist act” was a fraud perpetrated by the professor herself, Pomona’s president seized upon the prevailing hysteria to declare the school would redouble its efforts against “racism, homophobia and religious intolerance.”

Today. as elsewhere, free speech and thought are increasingly under threat, with the banal, all-too-familiar pieties on race, gender, sexual preference and environmentalism having taken on the status of baseline assumptions. Leftist dogma is so entrenched (and so enforced via a mix of school policy, social convention and activist faculty) that to challenge it constitutes an act of moral courage.  Not for nothing were the heroes of my piece the intrepid students who write and publish the conservative student paper, The Claremont Independent, who risk not just social pariah status, but retribution at the hands of their professors.

In any case, by the end, I figured I’d pretty much hit all the low points. But no.

Recently there appeared the following headline in Inside Higher Ed: Diversity as a Tenure Requirement.

Related: When Diversity Dictates Lower Quality Hires

“Pomona College’s faculty has voted to change the criteria for tenure to specifically require candidates to be ‘attentive to diversity in the student body,’” it begins. “While many colleges and universities encourage faculty members to support diversity efforts, and a few have encouraged tenure candidates to reference such work, Pomona’s requirement may go farther in that it applies to all who come up for tenure…(t)he Pomona policy outlining the preparation of a tenure portfolio by a candidate says that the faculty members should ‘specifically address their efforts to create and maintain an inclusive classroom.

This may include describing classroom practices used to encourage the participation of a diverse student body, or to cultivate an awareness of differing backgrounds, focuses, and needs among the student body and broader community. Techniques such as communities of learning and community partnerships are relevant here, as are the inclusion of scholarly and other works emerging from the perspectives of underrepresented groups, or any other classroom practices that support inclusivity and diversity.’”

There they are, the magic words, (and the dead giveaway): inclusivity and diversity.

In the piece, Ashley Thorne of the National Association of Scholars (NAS), identifies this policy for exactly what it is: an ideological litmus test for Pomona’s faculty hires. Indeed, notwithstanding the school’s laser fixation on diversity and inclusion, the report never makes so much as a nod toward the need for ideological diversity.

It is hardly, as we also learn, that this particular bit of noxious leftist mischief on the part of Pomona’s faculty, which overwhelmingly endorsed it, was initiated in concert with activist students, who had presented the faculty with a petition demanding tenure criteria that would meet “the needs of a diverse student body.” As admiringly observed one of their faculty allies, an associate professor of psychology and Africana studies, these students were after more than mere tinkering, they wanted serious “structural change.”

Is any of this surprising? Of course not. It is entirely of a piece with all the rest. In fact, though I didn’t get into the tenure question in my article, I did discuss it with one of my sources, someone with deep and long standing ties to the school, who told me that activist professors, especially those in the various grievance studies department, made a practice of attending the classes of up-for-tenure colleagues, monitoring them for ideological reliability. “The word for it,” he said, “is Stalinist.”

Like many campuses, Pomona is headed in an ominous direction, sacrificing learning for grievance and now linking tenure to ideology. How long will non-ideologues want to go to this kind of school?

State-Funded Law School Goes Partisan

By Luke Milligan

Since 1846 the law school at the University of Louisville has provided nonpartisan space for individuals to teach, discuss, and research matters of law and public policy.  Despite the thousands of partisans who’ve walked its halls, the law school as an institution has remained nonpartisan, preserving its neutrality, and refusing to embrace an ideological or political identity.

Unfortunately, this long run of institutional neutrality seems headed for an abrupt end.  Promotional materials for the law school now proclaim its institutional commitment to “progressive values” and “social justice.”  Incoming students and faculty are told that, when it comes to the big issues of the day, the law school takes the “progressive” side.

‘The Compassionate Law School’

The plan, in short, is to give the state-funded law school an “ideological brand.”  (The Interim dean says it will help fundraising and student recruitment.)  In 2014, the law faculty voted — over strong objection — to commit the institution to “social justice.”  Now we’re at it again, seeking to brand ourselves “the nation’s first compassionate law school.”

These branding projects are misguided.  For starters, the chosen brands are divisive, alienating about half the people in the country.  While terms like “social justice” and “compassionate” might seem “inclusive” to you, tens of millions of Americans disagree.  People hear these terms in a legal or political context and think “liberal orthodoxy.”  (Quick:  what’s the “social justice” and “compassionate” position on same-sex marriage, immigration, health care, affirmative action, gun control, securities regulation, equal protection, due process, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, Bernie Sanders, Rand Paul?

Even those who benefit from our divisive brands (e.g., “progressive” faculty and students) can appreciate the costs to higher education.  Universities function as a marketplace of ideas, where conventional ideas are tested, year in and year out, against unconventional ones.  Ideological brands like “social justice” and “compassionate” obstruct this critical process.  They do so by formally prioritizing liberal orthodoxy in an array of university matters (including research, hiring, and student scholarships).

‘Social Justice Credentials’

Readily characterized as “uncompassionate” by progressives, libertarian and conservative viewpoints are bound to be boxed out.  Don’t be surprised when departments add their thirtieth liberal professor instead of their first libertarian, or when applicants with “social justice credentials” win scholarships over high-achieving conservatives.  Brands like “social justice” and “compassionate” promise to sap higher education of its vitality and usefulness, leaving universities little more than salons of ideological self-congratulation.

We’re already experiencing the fallout at the law school.  In the name of “social justice” and “compassion,” students were instructed on Day 1 of law school to rise and make public declarations regarding their race, religion, and sexual orientation.  Under the Interim dean’s gaze, new students came out as gay, the devoutly religious were told to cheer for atheism, and evangelicals were called on to applaud the LGBT community.

State-sponsored “comp0assion” and “social justice” left students wondering if they’d need to sacrifice personal privacy, political values, and deeply held religious convictions in order to succeed at law school.

Student Groups Lurch Left

Naturally, the student organizations have lurched leftward.  The Student Bar Association shrugged off student complaints about the “social justice” brand as the “best proof yethat students need more social justice.”  (This calls to mind George Will’s quip that it’s “theoretically impossible for people in the ‘Party of Compassion’ to behave badly because good behavior is whatever they do.”)  Another student organization gravely announced that “ideological and political diversity” adds “insult to [their] injuries.”

As you’d imagine, classroom discussions have grown one-sided.  In Criminal Procedure it’s nearly impossible to find students to defend federalism, standing limits, or qualified immunity.  In Criminal Law, last year, not one student was willing to argue in support of criminalizing drugs.  Students find it hard to square these arguments with the law school’s institutional commitment to “social justice” and “progressive values.”

Well-Meaning, with No Understanding

Louis Brandeis warned us that “the greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”  Brandeis was not a perfect man (he was conspicuously quiet on race issues), but he was one of America’s greatest advocates of political and ideological diversity.

By working to slap divisive and partisan labels on our state-funded law school, we betray Brandeis’s vision for public universities, revealing ourselves as men and women “of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

There is a good reason why only three universities in the entire country (Spalding University, Central Connecticut State University, and Western Connecticut State University) have designated themselves “compassionate” institutions.  The University of Louisville should follow 99.9 percent of America’s universities and resist the “feel good” lure of these ideological brands.  State-funded universities should remain nonpartisan.

This commentary, published January 13 by the  Louisville Courier-Journal, is reprinted here with permission.


Luke Milligan is a Professor of Law at the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law

National Dream University—a Scam that Fell Through

The University of California (UC) has put the kibosh on plans to set up National Dream University, a low-cost, low-admissions-standards college where illegal immigrants were to be trained in activism on behalf of…illegal immigrants. National Dream U. was supposed to be a collaboration between UCLA’s Center for Labor Research and Education and the union-subsidized National Labor College in Maryland. A combination of embarrassing publicity and scrutiny by Republican state assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a member of the state appropriations committee that approves funding for the UC system, preceded UC President Mark Yudof’s announcement on Sept. 13 that National Dream U. would be shutting its doors even before they opened.

Yudof’s statement declared that the agreement between its labor research center and the National Labor College "was negotiated without the necessary approvals from UCLA’s academic and administrative leadership." Yudof  did not rule out future attempts by the center to collaborate with the National Labor College, but its statement did say that "any agreements would require a comprehensive academic and financial plan that has approval from appropriate parties.

National Dream U. had plans to offer an 18-credit-hour certificate program, mostly online, in immigrant rights and advocacy, with most of the courses to be taught by UCLA professors. Tuition would total nearly $5,000 less than the $7,218 that California residents pay for 18 credit hours, and the 2.5 grade-point-average for admissions would be well below the 3.7-plus average that 70 percent of entering freshman at the highly competitive UCLA possess. Furthermore, National Dream U., unlike UCLA, had an ideological litmus test for admission: "a commitment to immigrant/labor rights and social justice."

The Huffington Post reported (incorrectly, it turned out) that credits earned at National Dream U. could be automatically transferred to UCLA proper—although UCLA would still have been free to accept the credits if it wished. Then Donnelly leapt into the controversy, pointing out that "this is not the way to expend the precious limited resources, which should be available to California citizens rather than illegal aliens, no matter how deserving they may seem," as he told Fox News. Still, National Dream U. may not be dead yet. According to Fox News, Kent Wong, director of UCLA’s labor research center, recently told an audience of young activists, "[Y]ou will go onto become lawyers and teachers and doctors and members of the U.S. Senate to replace those old white men."

Quarantining the PC Pathology

ant.jpgLet’s face it, our noble efforts to detoxify today’s PC-infected university have largely failed and the future looks bleak. This is not to say that the problem is incurable–though it is–but it calls for a solution different from the current approach.  Here’s how.

Begin by recognizing that all our proposed cures impose heavy burdens on foes. For example, demanding an ideologically balanced faculty means fewer positions for PC zealots to fill. Asking them to abandon anti-Americanism requires revising lectures and reading assignment, no small task for those working 24/7 for social justice. And the assignment may be beyond their intellectual abilities. Why should tenured radicals surrender life-time employment to prevent professorial abuses? In a nutshell, our side insists on painful reform from within, all of which have zero benefits to the PC crowd. Victory requires measures that appear as net benefits, not bitter medicine.

My solution arrived one day in a casual conversation with a fellow political scientist. He recounted that when his university initially proposed a separate Department of Women’s Studies, the faculty objected.  Resistance was futile, however, and the separate department came to pass. There was, however, a silver lining in the defeat–with all the department’s strident feminists exported to an autonomous homeland, intellectual life suddenly improved dramatically. No more silly quarrels about inserting gender into international relations, no more struggles over subtly-hidden, invisible sexism and so on. Civility and reason reigned.

Continue reading Quarantining the PC Pathology

More Ed-School “Social Justice” Studies

The Boston Globe brings news of “discord” at the Harvard Education School. The issue, incredibly, involves claims by graduate students and some faculty members that the institution is insufficiently committed to a left-wing educational agenda.

Over the last few years, three “social justice” professors left the Graduate School of Education, including the husband-wife duo of Marcelo and Carola Suarez-Orozco. (She explores such only-in-academia topics as “the role of the ‘social mirror’ in identity formation” and “the gendered experiences of immigrant youth.”) In an example of the operation of free market capitalism that their scholarship would seem to condemn, the Suarez-Orozcos left Harvard for NYU.

This background contributed to the protests that erupted after the school denied tenure to Mark Warren. Warren describes himself as “a sociologist concerned with the revitalization of American democratic and community life,” who studies “efforts to strengthen institutions that anchor inner-city communities–churches, schools, and other community-based organizations–and to build broad-based alliances among these institutions and across race and social class.” His latest book is Fire in the Heart: How White Activists Embrace Racial Justice,which purports to “show white Americans can develop a commitment to racial justice, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because they embrace the cause as their own.”

The GSE grants tenure to around 20 percent of its junior faculty, a rather high percentage for any Harvard entity. So Warren’s chances were never particularly good. And neither the Globe article nor any other reporting I’ve seen on the case alleges procedural or other forms of impropriety in the tenure decision.

Nonetheless, a group of graduate students penned an open letter implying that Warren deserved tenure simply because of the agenda associated with his scholarship. Meredith Mira, a fifth-year doctoral student, termed the decision “incredibly demoralizing,” and complained, “Without this knowledge, we aren’t adequately prepared to go out and lead education reform.” Warren himself implied that the subject of his scholarship alone should have justified tenure. He told the Globe, “The work I do on community organizing has an essential contribution to make to addressing the problems facing our public education system and I am disappointed to see that it does not have a place at Harvard.”

Dean Kathleen McCartney could have responded to such protests by noting the obvious–“social justice” is an empty term, whose precise meaning depends on the political beliefs of the faculty member. Warren’s definition of “racial justice,” for instance, clearly does not include those who (quite reasonably) define “racial justice” as ensuring that all American citizens are treated equally under the law and by government entities, regardless of the color of their skin or their ethnic background. And the “social justice” championed by graduate students such as Mira clearly would not include figures who define “social justice” as upholding Biblical fundamentalism by denying gay and lesbian couples the opportunity to adopt children.

In short, by embracing the promotion of “social justice” as a legitimate goal of public education, left-wing extremists like those at the Harvard Education School provide a cover for right-wing extremists like the Texas Board of Education to impose their own view of “social justice” on public school students.

But McCartney didn’t communicate that message. Instead, she bent over backwards to appease the protesters. In an open letter, she promised that the school’s curriculum would remain “directly relevant to issues of equity, diversity, and social justice.” McCartney additionally informed the Globe that social justice studies “is an area we need to strengthen.”

The dean’s handling of this affair unintentionally revealed the continued irrelevance of education schools, which remain committed to using jargon to impose the professors’ one-sided political views on the nation’s public educational system.

Social Justice Art and Liberal Democracy

imagesCAFBEVA41.JPGMichelle Kamhi is the co-editor of the online arts review Aristos, and a mild-mannered, well-spoken New Yorker with a love of art and intellectual integrity. She is also the cause of a heated controversy that has broken out in the world of art education. The source of this conflict is an op-ed Kamhi wrote in the Wall Street Journal last June entitled “The Political Assault on Art Education.” Presenting a condensed version of a longer piece she had written in Aristos in April (“The Hijacking of Art Education”), Kamhi took aim at a movement that merits heightened public scrutiny and discussion: “social justice art,” a branch of the broader “visual culture” movement in art education. By thrusting this issue onto the stage, Kamhi has provided us with information about a disturbing trend in art education, and with an opportunity to hold a needed public discussion about education and the arts in a democratic society.
Art education is part of the educational mission regarding the young, which unavoidably entails making normative (and perhaps political) choices about the types of citizens we want to shape. But because liberal democracies are dedicated first and foremost to individual freedom and conscience (Lincoln said we are “consecrated” in liberty), state power and politics are limited. This means that art education in a liberal democracy will eschew the politicization of art, freeing the individual student to learn art for its own sake in a manner that cannot be reduced to politics and the state. This model of art education differs from the art education espoused by such thinkers as Plato and Rousseau, and various activists whose vision of art education is political, not aesthetic and individual. The “social justice” art movement points us decidedly in the direction of Rousseau than James Madison.
Just what is social justice art? In terms of definition and purpose, it is art in the service of such socially “progressive” causes as identity politics (“recognition”); greater equality through redistribution of resources; the environment; and critiques of the present social, economic, and political arrangements in the United States. The movement is propelled by a partnership between “art activists” and education school faculty, and it draws its inspiration from such sources as “critical theory” and the pedagogical theories of Paulo Freire. Freire’s classic book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, was written to address the severe repression of peasants in Brazil in the 1960s. Applying Freire’s logic to the United States, education activists have come up with such concoctions as “Radical Math,” which incorporates radical politics into, of all things, mathematics. (See Sol Stern’s “The Propaganda in Our Ed Schools”: http://www.mindingthecampus.com/originals/2010/10/the_propaganda_in_our_ed_schoo.html ) The list of potential subjects for radicalization is vast; so enter art education.

Continue reading Social Justice Art and Liberal Democracy

What Happened at Berkeley in November

4123344197_3c3696375a.jpgWe now have a long and fascinating report by the campus police review board on last fall’s disruptive protests at the University of California, Berkeley.
The 128-page document, entitled “November 20, 2009: Review,
Reflection, and Recommendations,”
released in mid-June, is the product of months of yeoman work garnering volumes of evidence. It chronicles and evaluates responses to the events sparked by resentment over tuition increases and cutbacks in the wake of California’s financial debacle.
Berkeley deserves credit for thoroughly investigating the situation. And the report is worth reading for many reasons, one of which is because it casts light on a dilemma that Berkeley and many other schools have been unable to resolve since the famous Berkeley “Free Speech Movement” of 1964 launched decades of illegal student protest: how to balance students’ passions for social justice (and sometimes other motives) with the rule of law.

Continue reading What Happened at Berkeley in November

Teach Social Justice–Or Else

A frequent allegation against efforts to inculcate “dispositions” in student-teachers is that they are fuzzy and un-quantifiable. Especially in a high-accountability climate, the rise of “disposition” outcomes is particularly hard to sustain.
Here’s a study in The New Educator that answers the objection. Authored by educators at Boston College, it appears under the title “Learning to Teach for Social Justice: Measuring Change in the Beliefs of Teacher Candidates.” The breakthrough in the article is a questionnaire designed to be administered to students upon entering a teacher-training program, leaving the program, and one year past the program (after the respondents have spent a year in a classroom of their own). The results, say the authors, allow people drafting ed school curricula to determine how effective they are in planting social justice attitudes in their students.
Here are some of the questions, to which respondents answer on a range of “Strongly Disagree” to “Strongly Agree.”

Continue reading Teach Social Justice–Or Else

Remarkable Fact Of The Day

At the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, students can minor in social and economic justice without taking a single economics course.—Reported by E. Frank Stephenson on the Division of Labor blog.

Arne Duncan’s Balancing Act

Last year, I supported Barack Obama in part because of his seeming desire to move beyond the Mondale/Dukakis/Clinton era-identity politics—a philosophy that has had devastating effects on higher education. For those hoping that a President Obama would abandon the failed policies of the past, however, the administration’s early months offered little of the promise that Obama’s campaign had provided.
Particularly problematic, of course, was the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor, who few (if any) prominent commentators deemed the most qualified candidate of the people on the shortlist for the nomination. Sotomayor’s “wise Latina” remark, which reflected the conventional wisdom in most ethnic studies departments or diversity compliance offices, suggested that—even without the New Haven case—her Supreme Court jurisprudence will be heavily tilted in favor of upholding racial preferences in education. That such a figure was the first Supreme Court nominee selected by Obama contradicted much of the rhetoric from his campaign.
This week’s Time seems to bring news that, on one front at least, the Obama administration will make a break from the failed policies of the past. Last week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan visited Columbia Teachers College—seemingly the only institution still utilizing the since-abandoned NCATE policy of assessing each prospective teacher’s disposition to promote social justice. Duncan was blunt: “By almost any standard, many if not most of the nation’s 1,450 schools, colleges and departments of education are doing a mediocre job of preparing teachers for the realities of the 21st century classroom.”
Duncan called for increased use of accountability, imitating a Louisiana model, according to Time, “in which student test scores in grades 4-9 are traced back to their teachers, who are in turn traced back to their place of training, whether it be an ed school or an alternative certification program like Teach for America.” (I strongly suspect that Teach for America would fare well in such a comparison.)
This all sounds like a good plan. But Duncan’s words are difficult to reconcile with his remarks about Teachers College itself, as reported by the Columbia Spectator. The Education Secretary opened with praise for TC, contending that his indictment of education schools as a whole didn’t apply to Columbia’s ideologically top-heavy program. And, he added later, TC had set an example through (according to the Spectator) “its focus on hands-on training and research.”
At the time of his selection, Duncan was widely viewed as a compromise choice for his position. The education establishment wanted Stanford Education professor Linda Darling-Hammond. Reformers pushed New York City Public Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Duncan’s remarks at TC—calling for genuine reform while praising an institution whose policies constitute a chief obstacle to that reform—suggest that he’s still trying to perform a balancing act between advocates of change and defenders of the status quo.

The Slippery Use Of ”Social Justice”

For educational reformers, the struggle can sometimes be frustrating, in that even successes—such as getting policies that attack academic freedom repealed—generally leave in place the people who designed and implemented those policies in the first place. But, at the very least, such efforts can force ideologues to abandon easy tools for enforcing their orthodoxy.
Take, for instance, the controversy over “dispositions theory.” In 2002, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) issued new guidelines requiring education departments that listed social justice as a goal to “include some measure of a candidate’s commitment to social justice” when evaluating the “dispositions” of their students.
As soon became clear, the new criteria provided a back door to ensuring ideological conformity among education students. At Brooklyn, Washington State, and Alaska-Fairbanks—all public institutions, covered by the First Amendment—students were punished for voicing opinions on political issues that went against the stands of the one-sided Education faculty. After work from FIRE and ACTA exposed NCATE’s wrongdoing, and amidst strong congressional pressure, NCATE backed down, and ungraciously agreed to abandon its requirement. “Critics incorrectly alleged,” scowled the organization’s then-president, “that NCATE has a ‘social justice’ requirement. It does not. NCATE ‘requirements’ are spelled out in the Standards themselves where the phrase ‘social justice’ does not appear. To most Americans, the phrase ‘social justice’ is positive and connotes values associated with the Judeo-Christian tradition. To critics of the phrase, it is negative and connotes a dangerous if unspecfied [sic] social and political ideological agenda of indoctrination.”

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Campus Madness, Part 346

– A leader of Michigan State’s student government could be suspended for emailing a critique of changes in campus policies to faculty members and asking for their views. Kara Spencer wrote an analysis of the university’s proposed changes in the academic calendar and freshman orientation and emailed it to 391 members of the faculty. As a result, she was called to a disciplinary hearing and charged with sending unauthorized “spam” to faculty members. She was told that her message was “considered a disruption of the activities of the person receiving the email.” The results of the hearing are expected next week.
– The University of Ottawa “social justice agency” refused to fund a speech sponsored by the campus Hillel Society on grounds that Hillel has a “relationship to apartheid Israel.” The agency, the University of Ottawa Public Research Interest Group, added that “Zionist ideology does not fit within OPIRG’s mandate of human rights, social justice.” The speech had nothing to do with Israel. It was given by Israel Sariri, head of a Ugandan group working on sustainable development projects. He talked about schools that feed and educate 500 Jewish, Muslim and Christian children in Africa. This is the second strange recent decision at an Ontario university. A week ago, the students’ association at Carleton University voted to drop cystic fibrosis as the beneficiary of its annual fundraiser because the disease is not multicultural enough—most of its victims are white males. Stricken by second thoughts and bad publicity, the association reversed its decision.

Your Next Job?

Bob Weissberg brought our attention to this job opening, at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Italics mine:

The Department of Community Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz, invites applications for a full-time tenured scholar focused on the theory and practice of social movements, civil society institutions and/or the third sector within neoliberalism.

We are especially interested in candidates who conduct research in one or more of the following areas: the relationship between social movements and their institutionalization in non-profit organizations; non-institutionalized social movements and new non-statist formations; the role and effects of the third sector as they are linked to the creation of new political subjectivities; the role of NGOs in poverty alleviation and development work, domestically and transnationally; the construction of third sector presences and social mobilizations through new digital platforms; discourses of community as deployed in social justice work; notions of civic engagement as they articulate with communities of color in the U.S. and/or racial formations in a transnational or post-colonial context. In this last regard, our recruitment participates in current attempts to move this scholarly field beyond associations with established notions of citizenship and civic engagement and their attendant homogeneous constituencies.
Community Studies is entering its 40th year as an interdisciplinary department in the social sciences with innovative undergraduate and graduate curricula focused on social justice. The undergraduate program combines analytical course work and full time field study with social justice movement and advocacy organizations. The graduate program offers a master’s degree in social documentation in a curriculum combining social science analysis with documentary practice in a variety of representational genres.

“Full time field study” that’s”focused on social justice.” Anyone want to be an activist?

Should Universities Be In The Social Justice Business?

Brandeis University is now officially committed to social justice. The university’s “Diversity Statement” says that the university considers social justice central to its mission. Is this controversial? Absolutely, says George Mason law professor David Bernstein, blogging at the Volokh Conspiracy. Universities shouldn’t be in the social justice business, according to Bernstein, a Brandeis alum who thinks the formal commitment is an attempt to attract donations from left-liberal alumni and other like-minded sources.

Citing a brochure used in a class to stress the important of social justice, Bernstein says, “At best this is just p.r. talk and has no effect on academic freedom in the university, and is merely embarrassing. At worst, Brandeis in fact institutionally favors certain ideological views over others, has no claim to be a university devoted to the pursuit of truth regardless of ideological implications.”

But isn’t justice an obvious goal for people of good will across the political spectrum? In theory, yes. In practice, “social justice,” sometimes used synonymously with “social action,” is a campus buzzword that refers rather clearly to the agenda of the left. Bernstein quotes a Brandeis administrator hoping that the university will turn out operators of “socially responsible” businesses and politicians who “head progressive national governments.”

“Social justice” bureaucrats make an effort to keep the language neutral, but commitment to the left shines through. The term often refers to plans for government-sponsored redistribution of income. Other social goals include more anti-discrimination laws, environmentalism, resistance to “oppression” and support for gay marriage and adoption. Columbia Teachers College, perhaps the most vehemently ideological of the “social justice” schools, says education is a “political act” and educators “must recognize ways in which taken-for-granted notions regarding the legitimacy of the social order are flawed.”

The policy makes clear that any would-be teachers who believe in merit and individual responsibility would be better off not showing up at Teachers College: “social inequalities are often produced and perpetuated through systematic discrimination and justified by societal ideology of merit, social mobility and individual responsibility.”

So Bernstein is probably wrong to see the Brandeis commitment to social justice as an attempt to attract financing from the left. More likely it is simply another example of the spread of a partisan codeword and the ideological pressure behind it.

What Does ‘Sustainability’ Have to Do With Student Loans?

The student loan crisis – or near crisis; narrowly-averted crisis ; or postponed crisis – no one is sure – comes co-incidentally at a moment when many colleges and universities are once again repackaging their basic programs. The new buzzword, as John Leo has pointed out is “sustainability.” I also recently tried my hand at unpacking this polyvalent idea. “Sustainability” sounds to the uninitiated as though it is about environmentalism, but it is much more. As I wrote in Inside Higher Education, many of the advocates of “sustainability” see it as an encompassing concept. It includes science, economics, and the social structure. And for many in the movement, the focus on social order is the basis for far-reaching attempts to advance “social justice” policies.

I doubt this development has come into focus for many parents or people outside the campus. The campus left learned with its promotion of the concept of “diversity” the advantages of packaging hard-core ideology in bland, feel-good terminology. Sustainability is another venture in this direction. No one can really be against sustainability (definition 1) – prudent use of resources with the needs of future generations in mind. But while most of us hear the word in that sense, campus ideologues are busy rearranging the curriculum and student life around “sustainability” (definition 2) – a condition that arises when capitalism and hierarchy are abolished; individuals are made to see themselves as “citizens of the world;” and a new order materializes on the basis of eco-friendliness, social justice, and new forms of economic distribution.

Sustainability (2) is an amalgam of environmental extremism, shards of Marxism, romantic utopianism, and identity group politics. It doesn’t have a significant political following in America outside college campuses, and in that sense it is a fringe movement. But on campus it’s everywhere. Hundreds of campuses now have sustainability officers, courses that promote the ideology, and most ominously, “co-curricular” programs run through student life and residence halls that attempt to “educate” students about their mistaken “worldviews” and bring them aboard this new ideological ark.

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The Worst Campus Codeword

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

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

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

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Ed School Politics – Still A Problem

Beware the words “social justice” and “dispositions” when used by schools of education and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). These apparently harmless terms lay the groundwork for politicizing the training of teachers and giving the ed schools an excuse to eliminate conservatives from their programs. The news this week is that NCATE is backing down a bit from its use of “dispositions” and “social justice” while denying the political use of these words and calling its new policy a “clarification.”

“Dispositions” refers to the correct mindset that would-be teachers must have. “Social justice” is the most controversial of the dispositions sought. In its benign sense, “social justice” means a sense of fairness, honesty and a belief that all children can learn. In its politicized sense, it can refer to endorsement of affirmative action and a formal (often written) endorsement of policies favored by the political and cultural left.

“NCATE never required a ‘social justice’ disposition”, NCATE said on its web site. True, but the statement is a slippery one. In fact, the group had ruled that education departments could “include some measure of a candidate’s commitment to social justice” – in effect ruling that public school teachers could be evaluated on their perceptions of what social justice requires. So the ed schools, basically a liberal monoculture, could rule that a student flunked “social justice” by displaying a negative view of multicultural theory and other policies of the left. At Washington State University, where the college of education tried to expel a conservative student for flunking “dispositions,” the dean was asked whether Justice Antonin Scalia could pass a dispositions test at her school. “I don’t know how to answer that,” she replied.

As NCATE tells it, “the term ‘social justice,’ though well understood by NCATE’s institutions, was widely and wildy misinterpreted by commentators not familiar with the working of NCATE.” The group now defines professional dispositions as “professional attitudes, values and beliefs demonstrated through both verbal and non-verbal behaviors. The two professional dispositions that NCATE expects institutions to assess are fairness and the belief that all students can learn. Based on their missions and conceptual framework, professional education units can identify, define and operationalize additional professional dispositions.”

This is a mild improvement. Still, one wonders about those “non-verbal behaviors” and how they will be judged. The word “fairness” remains a linguistic sinkhole and the phrase “additional professional dispositions” keeps the door open for more politicization. NCATE’s “clarification” doesn’t clarify much.

Creating Activists At Ed School

In 1997, the National Association of Social Work (NASW) altered its ethics code, ruling that all social workers must promote social justice “from local to global level.” This call for mandatory advocacy raised the question: what kind of political action did the highly liberal field of social work have in mind? The answer wasn’t long in coming. The Council on Social Work Education, the national accreditor of social work education programs, says candidates must fight “oppression,” and sees American society as pervaded by the “global interconnections of oppression.” Now aspiring social workers must commit themselves, usually in writing, to a culturally left agenda, often including diversity programs, state-sponsored redistribution of income, and a readiness to combat heterosexism, ableism, and classism.

This was all too much for the National Association of Scholars. The NAS has just released a six-month study of social work education, examining the ten largest programs at public universities for which information was available. The report, “The Scandal of Social Work,” says these programs “have lost sight of the difference between instruction and indoctrination to a scandalous extent. They have, for the most part, adopted an official ideological line, closing off debate on many questions that serious students of public policy would admit to be open to the play of contending viewpoints.”

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