Tag Archives: tolerance

Let’s Reject This Endorsement of Free Speech on Campus

Today in the Wall Street Journal, an op-ed by Michael Bloomberg and Charles Koch explains “Why Free Speech Matters on Campus.”

Many conservatives might jump to endorse this article as a welcome indictment of liberal censorship and bias by two powerful campus donors. But that would be a mistake.  Look more closely at what Bloomberg and Koch are saying.  

Whether in economics, morality, politics or any other realm of study, progress has always depended upon human beings having the courage to challenge prevailing traditions and beliefs.

Got that?  Prevailing traditions and beliefs are a hindrance to progress. They are the obstacles to overcome. We must stand up to them, and that means saying things people are going to find uncomfortable. Bloomberg and Koch say nothing about education as the focusing of young minds on religious, political, and artistic traditions.  Nothing about how you cannot “challenge prevailing traditions and beliefs” intelligently until you have studied those things.  No, it’s all about innovation and reform and progress.

Bloomberg and Koch’s examples show how misguided is the approach.

Many ideas that the majority of Americans now hold dear–including that all people should have equal rights, women deserve the right to vote, and gays and lesbians should be free to marry whom they choose–were once unpopular minority views that many found offensive.

This is the standard justification, and it’s a misleading one.  It overlooks a giant contrary category: things that came along and were hailed as forms of progress but sooner or later exposed as terrible mistakes.  Some instances: early-20th-century eugenics, open classrooms in secondary education, the destruction of Penn Station . .

Bloomberg and Koch compound their blindness to the dangers of progress in the very next sentence.

They are now widely accepted because people were free to engage in a robust dialogue with their fellow citizens.

To claim that the same-sex marriage controversy has been settled through a “robust dialogue” is to rewrite history.  Has any conflict in recent times been less civil and open than this one? 

The progressives on this issue have used tactics of shaming, demonization, intimidation, and litigation, not those of debate.  There is no tolerance for differing opinions, which Bloomberg and Koch hail as a proper effect of liberal education.  They believe in a society in which “individuals need not fear reprisal, harassment or intimidation for airing controversial opinions.”  We don’t have one right now, not on this issue.

The problem in Bloomberg and Koch’s declaration is a discursive one.  They praise progress, in the process setting the status quo as a roadblock to it.  But what, then, about people who believe in the status quo?  And what if the conflict turns upon deeply held beliefs, perhaps religious ones, that won’t be managed and accommodated so smoothly by a marketplace of ideas. 

Let’s face it: some commitments run deeper than that.  Moral positions can be visceral.  Bloomberg and Koch think that “open minds and rational discourse” may proceed if we only show more tolerance. 

But to Bloomberg and Koch tolerance is simply a pathway to shedding principles important millions of students.

At Duke, “Intolerance” Can Cost You Tenure

Befitting its vision as one of the nation’s great universities, Duke declares that it grants tenure only to the best. Tenure at Duke, according to the university’s official policy, “should be reserved for those who have clearly demonstrated through their performance as scholars and teachers that their work has been widely perceived among their peers as outstanding,” with “good teaching and university service” expected but not in and of themselves sufficient.

Duke lists no other criteria for tenure. Until now.

Last week, the anti-campus free speech movement migrated from Yale, Missouri, and Amherst to Duke. This is, of course, a university with a record of indifference to student civil liberties: in the lacrosse case, dozens of faculty members unequivocally declared that something “happened” to false accuser Crystal Mangum; and after the collapse of this case to which they had attached their public reputations, dozens signed a statement affirming they’d never apologize. (They didn’t; instead, Duke spent millions in settlements and legal fees to, in part, shield the faculty from liability.)

In response to Yale/Missouri/Amherst-like student protests, Duke President Richard Brodhead joined, at a campus forum, the new dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences at Duke University, Valerie Ashby. (Ashby started at Duke this past July.) Brodhead, to his credit, openly opposed censorship, and cautioned that suppressing speech could eventually justify the silencing of the student protesters. At the same time, he neutralized this commitment by suggesting that Duke could institute a policy addressing “hate speech” (whose parameters remained undefined) modeled on the school’s due process-unfriendly sexual assault policy.

In the event, Brodhead didn’t have the last word on this issue. After he made his statement against censorship, Dean Ashby jumped in. She revealed a previously non-public university policy, announcing that untenured faculty is subjected to continuous evaluation for a university-approved level of tolerance. A video of Ashby’s remarks is here. Her key line: “You can’t be a great scholar and be intolerant. You have to go.” Chillingly, the assembled audience then burst into applause.

Nothing in Duke’s written tenure policy suggests that a “great” scholar’s failing to fulfill a definition of “tolerance” offered by Brodhead and Ashby constitutes grounds for denying tenure. Indeed, Ashby’s emotional concluding line—“you have to go”—suggests that the dean considers it possible to immediately dismiss those untenured professors who fail her tolerance test.

The academy’s recent debates about “tolerance” revolve around questions of race and gender. While Duke has now made clear that the “intolerant” can be fired, in her public statement, Ashby provided no clarity as to what specific views constitute dismissible offenses. For instance, would a junior professor who publicly opposed racial preferences be deemed “intolerant,” especially given Brodhead’s earlier criticism of tenured Duke professors whose research raised questions about the effects of racial preferences? Would a junior professor who urged the university to change course and provide due process to students accused of sexual assault be deemed “intolerant,” and thus worthy of dismissal under the new standards? If the Ashby principles had existed during the lacrosse case, could they have been used to terminate untenured Duke professors who criticized the Group of 88?

I asked two Duke spokespersons whether this new tenure evaluation policy had been provided in written form to untenured faculty; neither spokesperson replied. (Duke’s website contains no indication of a written policy, and Ashby defined the new standard only as “this is what’s tolerable here, this is what’s not,” without providing any degree of specificity.) At the very least, then since Duke’s new “tolerance” criterion remains appears to be wholly arbitrary, any junior professor who wants to stay employed needs to self-censor.

To date, Duke seems to be the only elite university that has abandoned all pretense that excellent scholarship, teaching, and service is sufficient for tenure, and held instead that these accomplishments can be trumped by a “tolerance” test imposed by the senior administration. Will other universities follow course?

Tenured Incognizance

A small controversy surfaced
last week at University of Central Florida when a psychology professor sent an email
to all his students to berate some of them for “religious bigotry.” 

According to the professor’s letter, some Christian students in class
that evening claimed that their faith is “the most valid religion,” thereby
“demonstrating to the rest of the class what religious arrogance and bigotry
looks like.” When the professor asked students to imagine how Muslims,
Hindus, Buddhists, and “non-believers” experience that
affirmation, a student stood and urged others “not to participate”–to the
professor a grossly arrogant and disrespectful act.

A university should abhor such “censorship” and
“anti-intellectualism,” the professor concluded. Students go there to be
challenged, to encounter ideas contrary to “cherished beliefs,” to become
“critical, independent thinkers.”

Very well. We don’t know exactly what happened in that class,
but the lengthy email contains nothing to surprise anyone who has spent
time on campus and doesn’t share the orthodox secular
left-liberalism. On the professor’s part, we have:

  • The customary
    condescension–“We’re adults.  We’re at a university.”
  • The inability to
    respect class boundaries–“There is no topic that is ‘off-limits’ for us to
    address in class, even if only remotely related to the course topic.
  • The elevation of
    mainstream beliefs into an oppressive hegemony–“the tyranny of the masses” (the
    dominant group, that is, which in this case, are Christians).
  • And finally, the
    interpretation of conviction as intolerance–“Bigots–radical bigots or religious
    bigots–never question their prejudices and bigotry.  They are convinced
    their beliefs are correct.”

Of course, every believer believes his or her religion is the most
valid one, and to say that doing so victimizes others is to raise sensitivities
to paranoid levels. Indeed, no belief can be held if it isn’t regarded as
correct.

But it is a waste of time to make such points. For professors
such as this one, the inconsistencies and contradictions run so deep that there
is little hope of dispelling them. His cultural relativism is
absolute. He calls for mutual respect, yet inserts sarcasms about
students. Etcetera. 

His incognizance is more significant than his ideology. It
poses a stiffer challenge to conservatives and libertarians than his liberalism
does, and so does his attitude. Instead of taking the Christian students’
assertion as a position to explore, he denounces it. Instead of ponder
the “not-participate” ejaculation as a comment upon him, he turns it onto the
student alone.

This is a hardened condition, and it won’t soften. It has
tenure and (spurious) academic freedom behind it, so why change, especially
when the majority of colleagues reinforce it? No wonder the many
and valid criticisms of the ideology of the professors have produced so little
real reform. They don’t touch attitudes and self-images, things academics
guard more closely than their ideas.

Harvard’s Level of Tolerance–Lower Than You Think

We missed this unusual column when it appeared in the Harvard Crimson two weeks ago, but it’s worthy of comment even at this late date. It begins with Olympia Snow’s complaint that the Senate is not a place “that ensures all voices are heard and considered,” then moves swiftly to argue that Harvard isn’t such a place either. Student columnist Derek J. Bekebrede points out that posters from the Harvard Republican Club, Harvard Right to Life and True Love Revolution have been torn down recently and not for the first time: “The vast majority of all three groups’ posters are consistently torn down within hours of being put up. HRL’s “Cemetery of the Unborn” display outside of the Science Center was even vandalized in 2008. One instance of missing posters could possibly be explained by other, non-malicious factors, but multiple years of vandalism against Harvard’s three main conservative groups cannot.”

Continue reading Harvard’s Level of Tolerance–Lower Than You Think

Holy Toledo! Who Needs Free Speech?

Consider the following two cases:

• Crystal Smith, VP for Human Resources at a small historically black state college in the deep South, was fired for her published letter in the local newspaper praising affirmative action and condemning Ward Connerly as a bigoted Uncle Tom because of his opposition to race preferences. In dismissing her lawsuit claiming her dismissal violated her First Amendment rights, the judge accepted the college’s argument that Ms. Smith’s outspoken defense of racial preferences violated the schools equal opportunity policy. Her public opposition to color-blindness, the judge agreed, would make it difficult for the college to attract white students and faculty, who would feel unwelcome.

Continue reading Holy Toledo! Who Needs Free Speech?

NYU’s Middle East Problem

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

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

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

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

Continue reading NYU’s Middle East Problem

American Campuses In The Mid-East: Not For Everyone.

U.S. universities pride themselves on their tolerance – religious, ethnic, gender-based, sexual orientation-based, whatever. But when it comes to lucrative consulting fees for partnering with universities in Mideastern countries where none of the above categories of toleration seems to exist, the campus open-mindedness apparently evaporates, and a strange variety of mulitculturalism takes over. Case in point: the California Polytechnic Institute, a highly regarded state-funded university in San Luis Obpispo, Calif., that prides itself on its 21-year-old Women’s Engineering Program, designed to encourage female students to enter an overwhelmingly male-dominated field.
All well and good – except that Cal Poly is in the process of negotiating a $6 million consulting deal in which its faculty would develop an engineering program at Jubail University in Saudi Arabia. Since the Saudi government forbids co-education, the program would be male-only, at least at the beginning. Later maybe, women might also be able to study engineering at Jubail, but only if the campus hires an all-female faculty to teach them, for Saudi law also prohibits academic instruction of students by members of the opposite sex. Jubail currently enrolls women students, but in separate classes taught by female professors.

This sort of compromise, in which colleges seem willing to abandon vaunted principles of equality in exchange for lucrative partnerships with Mideast institutions, is surprisingly common on U.S campuses. The University of California at Berkeley, for example, is currently in confidential negotiations with another Saudi university, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (known by the acronym Kaust), in which UC-Berkeley professors would collaborate on research projects and help King Abdullah hire faculty for its mechanical engineering program. Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin are in the process of negotiating similar arrangements with Kaust to consult in engineering departments – deals that total a reported $25 million for each. Kaust also has partnerships with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and an array of foreign universities. Although the yet-to-open Kaust, set up with a $10 billion endowment and aiming to turn itself into a world-class research facility, has said that it will not be subject to the usual Saudi sex restrictions, it remains unclear whether and how women will participate. Even more ominously, the New York Times has reported that no Israelis would be allowed to join the Kaust faculty – a prohibition that probably applies to Jubail as well.

Continue reading American Campuses In The Mid-East: Not For Everyone.

Second Place – Bloom Essay Competition

“The Hungry Student: Reopening After The Closing of the American Mind”

At the end of the introduction to Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind, Bloom mentions that only Socrates knew that he was ignorant, albeit “after a lifetime of unceasing labor.” Bloom observes at the time of his writing that every high school student knows he is ignorant. Like the psychology professor Bloom describes in his introduction, the goal of many a professor is to rid students of prejudice so that they can know that they do not know, so that like Socrates, they can be open-minded. But as Bloom finds, harkening back to Plato’s Republic, the professor’s endeavor to rid students of prejudice enervates the very imagination that projects images onto the cave wall. That is, the professor’s endeavor actively dissembles civilization and burns its parts so that they may never be reassembled into a whole. And students are somehow more like Socrates as a result? At issue in Bloom’s essay is the end to which education, particularly higher education is directed. Does opening minds, as liberal learning through reading Great Books, involve some taste, as remote as it may be, of a love or eros of wisdom? Where does such liberal learning cease? And has it? Bloom finds that while the endeavor of American higher education has sought to open minds, it is directed toward ends which do the opposite. Perhaps Bloom is correct. But after Closing, perhaps there is some conscious attempt among a select few to rekindle the eros that characterizes liberal learning in the university.

Cosmopolitanism, tolerance, specialization, and devouring nature’s fruits. These are the ends to which the modern university would appear to be directed. My own university places a premium on these self-described virtues. But it does so having uttered the language of its Jesuit heritage: ‘educating the whole person.’ Presumably the university attempts to implant in its students the theoretical and practical knowledge which together are crucial to love of truth and passion to live a good life, as the elementary reader of Aristotle knows and Bloom is quick to note. Nevertheless, in practice, these classical ideals, which surface in Closing, today often materialize as something less than the liberal learning that Bloom describes. That is, while students are required to study literature, theology, philosophy, and perhaps even political philosophy, much less is made of reading great old books than of learning critical methods for denigrating the thought of “dead old white men” or conceptualizing them as products of history. Few are those courses that engage in sincere dialogues with the great old writers who perhaps are esteemed enough to be regarded as lovers of wisdom. While American students are fortunate to have some attempt at liberal learning, gone are the days when Alexandre Kojeve could read his students’ term papers and see that they refer to Aristotle as ‘Mr. Aristotle’ as though he were a contemporary engaging in living discussion on matters of truth, right, and beauty.

Replacing ‘Mr. Aristotle’ is too often a mode of education that intends to ‘educate the whole person’ as a citizen not of any particular city but of a soulless world. And in order to graduate from such education, one must be void of all prejudices. One must be simply a material animal without any activity of soul that exhibits excellence. As in Plato’s Republic, the civilization that resides in the cave and the philosophic endeavor to ascend from the cave are usually not the ends of most cities today. That is, rather than cultivating one’s soul within one’s own city, as is the original meaning of culture, citizens abandon their cities for a more cosmopolitan place, the world. Culture is no longer an activity of cultivation within cities but a source of understanding without prejudice. In Max Weber’s thought, which Bloom in light of his teacher traces to the root of most modern social science endeavor, the student cannot make a truth claim as to the value of one culture or mode of cultivating one’s soul over another. The end of the professor is to foster not love of truth but love of toleration. Toleration in this light precedes truth. In opening the student to a cosmopolitan world, the university then closes the student from any interest in truth.

There are students at almost all American universities who dedicate their time to more inward pursuits than this brash cosmopolitanism, which Bloom sees as replacing dialogues with the great writings of human history. These are often the students who not only embrace the division of labor in Western thought, but do so without any desire for a vision, misguided or not, of the whole. And if they seek some vision of the whole, it is usually not a vision at all but a taste of nature’s fruits. These students, in their course of study, do not seek to be graced by nature’s grace in tasting nature’s fruits. Rather they seek to conquer nature and to devour it. For them, my own university is currently constructing two new buildings to occupy the physical center of campus, a business school and a science research center. Indeed, the economics of the household, which characterizes the pursuit of the businessman, occupies sizeable space in Book I of Aristotle’s Ethics and thereafter in much of the Western canon. And science as natural philosophy teaches any student a great deal about his nature as a human being. But both these pursuits in their current states are instrumental to overly specialized utilitarian ends at best. They are hardly concerned with the meaning of human nature. Much of the research that will take place in the new science center on campus will not seek some knowledge of the whole aware of the “sanctity of human nature.” Rather, it will seek to conquer human nature and nature more broadly. That these buildings should occupy the physical center of campus reflects a withdrawal from the dialogue for love of wisdom and passion for the good life in place of some utilitarian ends. It is still true today that the physicist gains nothing but mild “spiritual uplift” from reading Shakespeare and seeks nothing more too often.

Cosmopolitanism and the tolerance it requires redirect the student’s interest in truth. Specialization marked by a desire to devour nature’s fruits through conquering nature limits the student’s ability to make even an attempt at grasping knowledge of the whole. As a student, I fear that if the university does not look back to an earlier pursuit, one interested in cultivating virtuous citizens and teachers, then our society more broadly will be susceptible to the danger that Bloom evokes from Tocqueville – a society’s enslavement to public opinion or passions. Our universities still lack the philosophic experience that Bloom sees as the lifeline to philosophic endeavor more broadly. If we as students cannot distinguish the laws that killed Socrates from laws that enable his survival, philosophy is doomed. And if philosophy is doomed in our society, we find ourselves living in nihilism. The university as the bastion of liberal learning can be the preserve of philosophy. The university can be the place where we the citizens and students bring ourselves from the cave that our ancestors dug beneath the original cave. To do this, we must read things which much of our core curriculum has abandoned in place of things cosmopolitan or things specialized for the sake of instrumental knowledge. We must ask those ultimate questions in the academy, and not limit ourselves to learning techniques in glorified trade schools. Our professors must let students know about classic philosophers. With all these needs facing our starving universities, Bloom leaves us with a choice: embrace a rebirth of liberal learning or fall deeper into the cave.

Despite the replacement of cosmopolitanism and tolerance for citizenship and truth in most curricula, and despite the new epicenter of the college campus in the instrumental sciences, the neo-Gothic towers of the old campus have not yet been demolished. Like the pseudo-Gothic spires of the University of Chicago, which Bloom describes as his first discovery of life, or the life dedicated to contemplation, these Gothic towers still reflect the contemplative life in the university. And while few and far between, courses are available for the student to read the writings of great thinkers and engage in a living dialogue about truth, beauty, and right. Academic forums for students that seek to revitalize liberal learning are sprouting up across the country. But these forums are still in their infancy. Perhaps a few students with the help of a few professors at leading universities will start to seek those ultimate questions from education. Perhaps those students and professors will call for a reopening of the American mind in true liberal learning. For love of truth, beauty, and right, the last bastions, a few professors and a scant offering of courses, I the hungry student feed on the only food I find nourishing. And I hope. I hope that the American moment in world history, “the one for which we shall forever be judged,” as Bloom describes, is a success. A reopening of the American mind.