Tag Archives: speech

The Mangling of American History

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The evolution of the historical profession in the United States in the last fifty years provides much reason for celebration.  It provides even more reason for unhappiness and dread.  Never before has the profession seemed so intellectually vibrant.  An unprecedented amount of scholarship and teaching is being devoted to regions outside of the traditional American concentration on itself and Europe. New subjects of enquiry — gender, race and ethnicity — have developed.  Never have historians been so influenced by the methodology and contributions of other disciplines, from anthropology to sociology.  

At the same time, never has the historical profession been so threatened.  Political correctness has both narrowed and distorted enquiry. Traditional fields demanding intellectual rigor, such as economic and intellectual history, are in decline.  Even worse, education about Western civilization and the Enlightenment, that font of American liberties, and the foundation of modern industrial, scientific and liberal world civilization, has come to be treated with increasing disdain at colleges and universities.  

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Those Mealy-Mouthed Statements from Our Cairo Embassy

Near
the beginning of Bruce Bawer’s strong new book, The Victims’ Revolution, he talks about the anti-American attitudes
that are nearly mandatory on campuses today and how they radiate throughout our
culture. Those attitudes, inculcated by so many professors, range from
apologetic and guilt-ridden to outright contemptuous and reflexively supportive
of our enemies. The incredibly abject comments from U.S. officials on the
murder of the US ambassador to Libya and the assaults on our embassies in Libya
and Egypt are fairly mild, but still stunning, examples of these attitudes in
action.

What
did the US Embassy in Cairo have to say about the murder of four Americans by
mob violence? It tweeted “U.S. Embassy condemns religious incitement,”
referring to the homemade and obscure anti-Muhammad movie the mob thought
was worth killing for. Nineteen minutes later the embassy thoughtfully added
that it condemns the attack of the mob as well, perhaps because it dawned
on them that self-hatred wasn’t playing well at home. Those early tweets were
deleted, but the official statement from Cairo was just as bad: “We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the
universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
     

These
same attitudes infected the mainstream media as well. The New York Times buried the mob violence and killings at the bottom of Page 4, not
mentioning that an ambassador was killed and assuring any readers who got that
far that anti-American feelings are confined to “pockets” in the Middle east.
On the First Page, however, was a big story that Mitt Romney was not opposed to
the Vietnam war as a college student in 1966. Likewise, o
n Morning Joe the all-lefties panels focused exclusively on Mitt
Romney’s statement, the point of which I 
couldn’t quite figure out from the indignant discussion. Romney’s campaign said: “It’s
disgraceful that the Obama Administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks
on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the
attacks.” I’m not sure Romney should have jumped in at that point. However, the
statement is clearly sensible and accurate, particularly since the Obama
statement was almost as mealy-mouthed as those from the tragically inept
embassy in
Cairo.

Aki Peritz, a former U.S. intelligence analyst,
had the best comment: “Upon reflection, a future press release might
state, ‘We condemn the morons who overran part of our Embassy earlier today.”
Yes, whatever their hurt feelings are.

 

Harvard Won’t Stop Pushing ‘Community Values’

After pushing freshmen
to “pledge” to official Harvard values last
year, this year the college is training students that there is One Right
Ethical Way to Live Here at Harvard. 
“We did not have
[freshmen] sign pledges,” Dean of Freshmen Thomas A. Dingman told 
The
Harvard Crimson
 for a Sept. 7 article, “but we pushed
every bit as hard on how important it was to consider their growth on all
fronts.” Dingman described as having “potential for insensitivity”
situations, such as a wealthy roommate purchasing a large TV that other
roommates cannot afford to chip in for. 
So, Harvard College
thinks it must protect freshmen from the hurt feelings of having a wealthy
roommate. There’s a cruel world ahead, but at least Harvard can be their mom for four
more years.

Every academic
community lives by moral values. In the United States, these values often
include proscriptions against plagiarismfalsifying datacheating on exams, and revealing private information.
Harvard still has trouble with each of these values sometimes.

Although everything
should be up for debate at a university, academic morals are rarely (yet occasionally) up for debate
in the United States because few people argue that such practices are morally
acceptable. 
But many universities
go much farther and apply great pressure upon students to adopt specific
positions on much more controversial values. Even such oft-lauded ideals as
“tolerance” and “diversity” should be open to serious debate and not pushed as
official university values. 
Yet, the Crimson adds:
“Proctors [RAs] were provided with a list of goals for their
students, including honoring diversity, recognizing the value of honesty, and
being aware of unhealthy competition.”

Dingman still doesn’t
quite get it. Last year when Harvard pushed students to pledge to particular non-academic
moral values, such as the idea that kindness was “on a par” with intellectual
attainment, 
it was the opposite of respecting freedom of conscience. This year, it’s still
backwards. It’s antithetical to the values of a great university to tell freshmen on the first day that they don’t need to study moral reasoning since Harvard College already knows what is right and
will show the way to goodness. I
t’s backwards to
teach freshmen an official line on morality rather than to help them inquire about what is just. It’s 
also mistaken to put proctors in the position of teaching justice, moral reasoning,
sociology, cultural analysis, and the other subjects that students can learn
with much greater sophistication and open-ended investigation from world-class
teachers and researchers.

“Student life”
professionals might feel good that they are important than
professors because professors fail to teach and preach virtue. But
this desire to preach merely proves how far from the professoriate these
professionals are. Too many residence life folks think their job is to
inculcate specific virtues, but professors — the good ones, at least — present evidence in ways that permit students to think for themselves and draw
their own conclusions. That’s a far cry from the new policy of imposing
Harvard’s own values of “diversity” and “tolerance” on
students.

_________________________________________

Adam Kissel is a 1994
graduate of Harvard College.

Unexpected Common Sense Erupts in Academe

The case of Julio Pino, the Kent State professor who shouted “death to Israel” at an address by an Israeli diplomat, has received a good deal of attention. In a rare, if commendable, instance of administrative courage, Kent State president Lester Lefton issued a statement condemning Pino’s behavior as “reprehensible, and an embarrassment to our university.” Lefton also noted that “we hope that our faculty will always model how best to combine passion for one’s position with respect for those with whom we disagree. Calling for the destruction of the state from which our guest comes (as do some of our students, faculty and community members) is a grotesque failure to model these values.”

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A Second Commencement Speech for the Greens

Students who disagree with their commencement speaker’s point-of-view have often engaged in traditional forms of protest–turning their backs to the speaker, walking out of the ceremony, or even chanting during the speech.  But students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute took a different tack this year.  Upon hearing the news that Rex Tillerson, Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, would be addressing students on graduation day, a group of outraged students began organizing an “alternate commencement ceremony.”  Claiming that Tillerson and ExxonMobil do not reflect WPI’s values of “environmental preservation” and “social equity,” WPI’s Students for a Just and Sustainable Future pressured the administration to feature a second commencement speech by a greener speaker–and they won.

Richard Heinberg, senior-fellow-in-residence of the Post Carbon Institute, gave a counterpoint address from the main stage following the official commencement ceremony.  Though he claimed that he was not out to “demonize” ExxonMobil, Heinberg highlighted what he referred to as the company’s “disinformation campaign.”  A short selection from his speech follows:
A 2007 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists described how ExxonMobil adopted the tobacco industry’s disinformation tactics, and funded some of the same organizations that led campaigns against tobacco regulation in the 1980s–but this time to cloud public understanding of climate-change science and delay action on the issue. According to the report, between 1998 and 2005 ExxonMobil funneled almost $16 million to a network of 43 advocacy organizations that misrepresented peer-reviewed scientific findings about global-warming science. Exxon raised doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence, attempted to portray its opposition to action as a positive quest for “sound science” rather than business self-interest, and used its access to the Bush administration to block federal policies and shape government communications on global warming. All of this is well-documented.
And it worked. Over the course of the past few years one of our nation’s two main political parties has made climate change denial a litmus test for its candidates, which means that climate legislation is effectively unachievable in this country for the foreseeable future. This is a big victory for ExxonMobil. Its paltry $16 million investment will likely translate to many times that amount in unregulated profits. But it is a disaster for democracy, for the Earth, and for your generation.
Had Tillerson given a commencement speech focusing on the virtues of oil and fossil fuels, or the company’s view on climate change, there may have been a justification for the Heinberg’s comments.  But Tillerson’s speech – though not completely free of political messaging (he referred to “creative financial schemes” and their role in jeopardizing people’s personal finances and the future) – focused more on the role of scientists and engineers than oil production and environmental sustainability.  He told students to always respect the integrity of the scientific process, to put down their blackberries for at least part of the day, and also stated that he hoped colleges would train more scientists and engineers.  Hardly a speech that warranted the barrage of criticisms from the “counterpoint” address.

Will Graduate Work in Literary Studies Have to Cut Back or Shut Down?

The National Science Foundation has just issued an Info Brief on trends in the awarding of doctorates in different fields for the year 2009. (See here) The report contains data going back to 2009 and breaks the numbers down by Science, Engineering, and “Non-science and engineering,” the latter including Education, Health, Humanities, and Professional Fields. For all fields, doctorates jumped from 41,098 in 1999 to 49,562 in 2009, the vast majority of the increase falling to science (20,601 to 25,836) and engineering (5,330 to 7,634). The “non-sciences and engineering” gained only 925 doctorates, most of that gain due to professional fields (2,172 to 2,800).
The humanities at large, in fact, went down, dropping from 5,036 doctorates in 1999 to 4,667 doctorates in 2009. History went up slightly (960 to 989), but foreign languages slid from 626 doctorates in 1999 to 602 in 2009, while “Letters” (which includes English, Classics, Folklore, Comparative Literature, and Speech) dropped from 1,516 to 1,414. That makes for a four percent decline for foreign languages and a seven percent decline for English et al.
How is that possible, though, given that, according to the U.S. Department of Education, the total enrollment of students in degree-granting institutions rose from 14.8 million in 1999 to 18.2 million (estimated) in 2008, a gain of 23 percent? With more students going to college, one would expect more graduates proceeding into PhD programs.
There is another odd trend in place. More undergraduates should mean that colleges and universities would hire more teachers, but here, too, the number of slots for recent PhDs runs in the opposite direction. Each year the Modern Language Association publishes its Job Information List, which provides the fullest listing of openings in the field. Recent doctorates look for tenure-track assistant professor positions in the Job List and apply to those that match their specialty.
For each of the last five years, around 1,400 fresh Letters PhDs and 600 fresh foreign language PhDs have completed school and sought a regular position. In the Letters fields of English and American language and literature, the output averages in the mid-900s. What has the job market looked like to them?
Hyper-competitive. According to the MLA’s “Midyear Report on the 2009-10 MLA Job Information List” (here), from 2005 to 2008 the number of tenure-track assistant professor positions in foreign language ranged from 231 to 267, while assistant profs posts in English ranged from 299 to 474. (English reached a high of 606 in 2000, foreign languages a high of 396 in 2001.)

Continue reading Will Graduate Work in Literary Studies Have to Cut Back or Shut Down?

Banks Are Bad Things—Don’t We All Know That?

It’s retro-Sixties season at Syracuse University, as students hold protests and firm up plans to hold even more protests against the university’s plan to have James Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co, speak at commencement on May 16. “Chase, “Chase, Chase, go away, don’t come back any day!” Syracuse students chanted at a “Take Back Commencement” rally on April 16–that is, when they weren’t chanting, “Jamie Dimon’s got to go!” As the Huffington Post reported, the 100 students at the demonstration also “held signs, played the tuba, banged pots, pans, plastic jugs, danced to anti-Dimon songs and chanted anti-JPMorgan slogans.”
The reason for the anti-Dimon fervor, which includes a petition signed by nearly 900 Syracuse students and alumni asking the university to rescind his invitation to speak? Well, it seems that JPMorgan Chase is a bank, and we all know that banks are Bad Things. Didn’t banks play a role in the sub-prime mortgage meltdown of 2008 that generated the current recession? As Ashley Owen, a Syracuse senior who was one of the petition signers told the Wall Street Journal: “He’s a figurehead of an industry that has failed the American people in a lots of ways.”
The irony of which most of the Syracuse protesters seem unaware is that “figurehead” is about all the ammunition they’ve got in their battle to have Dimon dis-invited on graduation day. In fact, JPMorgan Chase was the only large Wall Street financial institution to weather the current financial crisis relatively unscathed, posting profits throughout every federal quarter including a $3.3 billion profit for the first quarter of this year. Under Dimon’s leadership JPMorgan started selling off its sub-prime portfolio—mortgages, credit cards, auto loans, and home equity loans involving high-risk borrowers—as early as the fall of 2006, when few other institutions (think Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, washed out to sea in the sub-prime tsunami) worried about a growing percentage of delinquencies in the loans underlying the financial instruments they traded.

Continue reading Banks Are Bad Things—Don’t We All Know That?

Death by Suicide: The End of English Departments and Literacy

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“Who are you kidding?” I wanted to get up and ask the English professor who was giving a talk at the South Atlantic Modern Language Association convention in November. He was analyzing a graphic novel, the spaces between panels, the line widths of the panels, the lettering inside the “speech bubbles.”

Maybe he was trying to keep his job in a field that by job postings indicates increasing irrelevance. Students are leaving English departments in droves. “This is a profession that is losing its will to live,” proclaimed William Deresiewicz, former English professor himself, in 2008 in the pages of the Nation, no less.

It’s been a death by slow suicide. The reference to “spaces” coming from the podium was the same kind of self-abusive parsing, I had seen applied by deconstructionists in the 1990s when I was a graduate student. The depressed patient, failing to see any worth in his work, had leveled the greatest works to “texts.” Reading between the lines of “text” has evolved into reading the gaps between panels: “Lots of stuff happens in that silent space,” said the professor.

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Two Speeches at Harvard

Harvard president Drew Faust spoke at the ROTC commissioning ceremony, a controversial act on a campus where hostility to all things military is entrenched orthodoxy. The question hanging in the air was: will she tarnish a celebratory moment by taking the opportunity to denounce “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” or perhaps irritate the anti-military crowd by not mentioning the issue of gays in the service at all? Answer: neither. She finessed the issue with a deft bit of rhetoric: “The freedoms we enjoy depend vitally on the service you and your forebears have undertaken on our behalf. Indeed I wish there were more of you. I believe that every Harvard student should have the opportunity to serve in the military, as you do, and as those honored in the past have done.”

In comparison, Faust’s speech the next day to the Harvard Alumni Association, was defensive and a bit clunky. In deploring the chorus of politicians and critics who want the super-rich university to pay the equivalent of a hefty tax from its $34 billion endowment, Faust made the point that some of that money is restricted to certain causes, like the acquisition of meteorites and plants that reproduce by spores. This raises the question of how big a dent in the $34 billion is caused by the annual hunt for meteorites and exotic plants. Faust didn’t say. She did mention that a third of the university’s annual $3 billion operating budget is supplied from the endowment.

The implication was that raiding the endowment each year is necessary to meet annual costs. But Jim Manzi, entrepreneur, executive and blogger at The American Scene points out that Harvard makes money through investment returns on its General Investment Account, which currently includes about $6 billion of investible assets in operational accounts in addition to the $34 billion endowment, and that money doesn’t get reported as income. Last year that investment income came to more than $7 billion. Manzi writes: “Viewed purely in terms of economics, Harvard is really a $40 billion tax-free hedge fund with a very large marketing and PR arm called Harvard University that has the job of raising the investment capital and protecting the fund’s preferential tax treatment.” Look for the campaign to tax Harvard and other wealthy universities to gain momentum.

Universities: You’re Not Wanted Here, Or Maybe You Are

Inside Higher Ed today reports on yet another canceled college speech:

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who won the prize for his nonviolent opposition to South Africa’s apartheid regime, was deemed unworthy of appearing at St. Thomas because of comments he made criticizing Israel – comments the university says were “hurtful” to some Jewish people. Further, the university demoted the director of the program that invited Tutu after she wrote a letter to him and others complaining about the revocation of the invitation…

Will colleges ever get tired of this? Summers invited, then disinvited. Ahmadinejad invited, then disinvited, then invited again. Chemerinsky hired, fired, then re-hired. Gilchrist invited, interrupted, re-invited, disinvited. Tutu invited, disinvited. Who’s next to be slighted?

As if we needed any more proof of the essential spinelessness of university administrations. Trying to discern some larger principle in their policies is impossible, as they contort themselves to fit every changing wind.

I’d quote Michael Palin and ask “What do we mean by no, what do we mean by yes, what do we mean by no, no, no.” For Universities, not much.