Tag Archives: trigger warnings

Need a Commencement Speech? Try This One—It’s Free!

This is a generation that faces new challenges. You are not millennials, not Gen Xers, you are quite literally in a class by yourselves—the class of 2017. All around us we see changes we never expected, changes that demand acceptance—or “resistance.” There are economic and political alterations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East. They are accompanied by revolutions in communication, in science, in art. Thanks to the education you’ve received over the last four years, you’re well-equipped to handle these challenges. Good luck. Not that you’ll need it.

Oops. That was from a pre-millennial commencement speech. As you can see, it was a hit with school officials and alumni and the graduates could recite every word, even to this day.  Here’s this year’s speech:

I am a recognizable name. My achievements will be duplicated by few, if any, of you.

This is not a matter of arrogance or superiority. My IQ is no larger than yours, my background no more illustrious. It’s just that I had to make my own way in college and in life. Believe it or not, we had to read books that upset us. If you had to do that today, it would be called lit boot camp. Your courses outdid themselves with political correctness on steroids, identifying the emotional triggers in the classics and dismissing them as harmful and irrelevant. And who could blame them? Reading books without “trigger warnings ” might upset fragile sensibilities, never acknowledged by the unwary professors in my time.

When I attended this institution, we were exposed to a barrage  of philosphical, political and sociological ideas. Some were agreeable, some were challenging, some were repulsive. But they were all vital components of the undergraduate experience. In those vanished days we were so naïve. You, on the other hand, are well versed in White Privilege, Cultural Appropriation, and Safe Spaces.

In my time, there were no holes pre-cut in the knees and thighs of our jeans—we had to cut them open ourselves, with little guidance from elders, and there were no safe rooms. There were no unsubstantiated accusations of date rape, no charges of “fascism” from people whose parents were not even alive when the Third Reich was in the ascendant. (That Reich, by the way, found many early supporters in the German universities.) I can’t believe we missed out on all the fun you millennials were having.

In the day, my generation was thought of as the real game-changer. You know–teach-ins, speakouts, loud protests.  But these were modest indeed by your standards.  Maybe it started when you were invited to “Rate My Professors,” as if they were a new reality show.  When my generation invited people to speak, people of all shades in the spectrum of ideas came, addressing us with discretion and dignity. We returned the favor. If we challenged them it was with courtesy, and they departed without incident. Sound familiar? Of course not. During your college years, when those with unpopular ideas were invited to speak, vehement objections were heard—and the speakers were quickly “disinvited.” On the rare occasions when they did appear, they were intimidated or even injured.

Talk about fascism: Could Jason Riley, a black conservative and a star of the Wall St. Journal, be peacefully heard at colleges and universities? Nein.  Could Professor Charles Murray  be listened to quietly by people who hadn’t read  his books and had no idea what he wrote? Nein. Bestselling author Heather Mac Donald? Nein. Would provocateurs like Milo Yiannoppoulos  and Ann Coulter be tolerated?  Nein nein, nein.

And that’s looking at the glass as half full. Looking at as half empty notes that you have turned Amendment Number One into Enemy Number One. Look around you. Almost everyone speaks in the same tone, expresses the identical views. To violate this conformity is to invite outrage, ostracisim, violence. You have been called snowflakes. This is unfair to such flakes everywhere. For they have character—no two are alike.

Your college president knows this and will do nothing about it. He is busy with something else. Nobody knows what. College, once a place for the exchange of ideas, a spacious home for the liberal arts, has become at best a serious joke, at worst a national scandal. You’re not entirely to blame for your post high-chair tantrums; no one ever dared to say “no” to you. No one helped you get the hang of a  a pluralistic marketplace of ideas, least of all a timorous faculty ever fearful that they might say something that might lose them tenure.

I don’t envy you folks. Out there is a world full of people who do not look to authorities for a list of approved Halloween costumes or novels without any offensive  words.  You’ll have to make your own way among employees with different ideas, and among employers who don’t set aside safe spaces. For those of you wounded by opinions you haven’t even heard yet, good luck. You’ll need it.

 

Halloween Is Now a Beat for the Bias Police

On campus, the holiday is at least as much fun as a 4-hour trip to the dentist. Students involved in fraternities and sororities at Tufts University, where the First Amendment is apparently not widely known, were told to not wear anything that could offend or annoy others during Halloween celebrations – or risk getting investigated by campus police and being hit with “serious disciplinary sanctions.”

The University of Florida considered the possibility of mental and emotional impairment by costume and offered to counsel students “troubled” by incidents involving Halloween costumes. For example, the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s Bias Incident Team made sure that three women dressed as “Three Blind Mice” costumes that mocked the disabled last year did not do so again.

three-blind-mice

The University of Texas-Austin issued a grim 29-point guide to terrible mistakes in costuming, including unique or exotic themes. “A theme connected to our own communities are more likely to be respectful and fun for everyone (e.g. rather than a “jungle” theme, try a ‘Texas beach’ theme).

(More fun if the motif at a Texas party is just plain old Texas.)

Costumes Coded for Threat Levels

At the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, several signs around campus instructed students to avoid cultural appropriation when planning their Halloween costumes. The signs were posted in residence halls as part of an initiative led by the university’s diversity office, its Center for Women and Community, and its Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success.

One poster features a meter similar to the terrorism alert meter used by the federal government. Called the Simple Costume Racism Evaluation and Assessment Meter (or SCREAM), the poster displays five threat levels, all assigned a different color. Students worried about the possible threat level of their costumes were told to check with SCREAM in advance.

At Yale, where last Halloween’s great upheaval took place (Erica Christakis and her husband were shrieked at, threatened, cursed by a mob of students and in effect driven from the university because she had suggested that Yale men and women could make costume decisions with Administration guidance) the new head of Silliman, where the Christakis’s once were, held a Halloween party with a “spook team” and commemorated a fictional girl who supposedly had burned to death in the house.

Kishore Chundi ’20 said he appreciated the respect and sensitivity of the costumed actors. Organizers took precautions to ensure that attendees were comfortable. Santos stood at the entryway to the haunted house to warn attendees about the strobe lights inside and explain to students that they could leave at any point. “They made sure you could tap out at any time if it was too much to handle,” Chundi said.

Will Princeton Change Its Name?

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

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

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

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

princeton-man-out

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

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

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

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

And how about the sexist “Prince” in Princeton?

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

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

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

Wear that Batik Dress and You’re a Cultural Appropriator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Diversity Officers All Believe

Those of you who wonder what diversity officials do all day must listen to Sheree Marlowe, the new chief diversity officer at Clark University. During first-year orientation, a baffled and tense freshperson asked if she could sing along with a carful of other white people when a song containing the N-word filled the air. “No,” said Marlowe, who applies diversity ethics for groups off campus as well as on.

Marlowe had other nuggets of advice: don’t ask an Asian student for help with your homework and don’t ask a black student if he plays basketball because these acts evoke stereotypes of Asian intellectual competence and black athleticism. Also never use the term “you guys” when addressing a group, because it could imply you are leaving out women.

There’s more: Marlowe thinks careless statements such as, “Everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough” are not just micro-aggressions but also micro-invalidations because they suggest that race plays a minor role in life’s outcomes.

Related: The New Age of Orthodoxy Overtakes the Campus

This advice came in a New York Times article  yesterday by reporter Stephanie Saul, which added this concern about racism negatively affecting college attendance:

“Fresh on the minds of university officials are last year’s highly publicized episodes involving racist taunts at the University of Missouri in Columbia — which appear to have contributed to a precipitous decline in enrollment there this fall.”

This is an odd way of putting it, since we recall only two incidents of racist taunts (and one mysterious swastika) reported before the Mizzou protests, one from a passing car and thus probably not a good barometer of campus racial attitudes.

Most people think applications to the campus are down not because of the two or three incidents in or near a campus of 35,000 students, but because of the turbulent protests and the way they were handled — the abrupt resignation of the university president and chancellor, a hunger strike, the temporary paralysis of the campus and the now famous Melissa Click attempt to bar a photographer from covering events for the school paper.

Related: Finally, One Major Campus Condemns Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces

Reporter Saul adds a dark interpretation of resistance to the diversity tsunami: “Some graduates have curtailed donations and students have suggested that diversity training smacks of some sort of communist re-education program.

The backlash was exemplified recently in a widely publicized letter sent to incoming freshmen at the University of Chicago by the dean of students, John Ellison. The letter clearly rejected the need for “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces” for an adult student body that should be capable of hearing ideas and concepts contrary to their own.

A communist re-education program, quickly linked to the University of Chicago free-speech letter? Probably not. You would almost think that some reporters can’t resist adding their opinions to stories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, One Major Campus Condemns Trigger Warnings, Safe Spaces

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

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

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

Related: The New Age Of Orthodoxy Overtakes The Campus

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

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

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

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

Progressive Policing of Speech Moves Off Campus

“Hate speech is excluded from protection,” CNN anchor Chris Cuomo tweeted last year, echoing a dangerously common misconception. “Hate speech isn’t free speech,” people say, assuming they have a right not to hear whatever they consider hateful language and ideas. Government officials sometimes share this view: The Mayor of West Hollywood confirmed to Eugene Volokh that she would not issue a special events permit for a Donald Trump rally so long as he trafficked in hate, contrary to the “values and ideals” of the West Hollywood community

Related: A Champion of Free Speech Takes on the Muzzled Campus

But you don’t have to indulge in allegedly hateful speech to violate questionable local laws: In Washington D.C., an employer who fails to call a transgender employee by the employee’s preferred pronouns, including “ze,” “zir,” or “they,” may be liable for harassment, as Hans Bader explains. The New York City Commission on Human Rights has issued similar mandates, applying broadly to employers, landlords and businesses, meaning that customers and tenants, as well as employees, have a “human right” to regulate ordinary speech used in ordinary commercial transactions.

“(P)eople can basically force us — on pain of massive legal liability — to say what they want us to say, whether or not we want to endorse the political message associated with that term, and whether or not we think it’s a lie,” Volokh laments. “We have to use the person’s ‘preferred … pronoun and title,’ whatever those preferences might be. Some people could say they prefer ‘glugga’ just as well as saying ‘ze’.”

Progressive speech policing has moved off campus, in a trend as alarming as it is unsurprising. College and university speech codes conflating allegedly offensive speech and discriminatory conduct date back a quarter century. They partly reflect hostility toward unwelcome speech spawned by popular therapies of the 1980’s that equated verbal and physical abuse and by the feminist anti-porn movement, which equated pornography with rape and declared misogynist speech a civil rights violation.

Related: Title IX Tramples Free Speech and Fairness, So Now What?

By now, generations of students have been taught that unwelcome speech isn’t speech but discriminatory “verbal conduct;” these days, it’s even condemned as violence. (When I quoted the word “nigger” instead of referencing it by an initial during a panel on free speech while discussing Huck Finn, I was accused of committing an act of racial violence.) Who decides when speech is not speech but abusive or violent conduct? The offended listeners — if the listeners belong to disadvantaged groups. Their subjective reactions are the standard by which the right to speak is judged.

Again, this ideology dates back decades. So, the first wave of students to imbibe its lessons is entering middle age. Some have remained in academia, as faculty and administrators, partners in campus censorship. Others have assumed influential positions in the wider world, including the federal bureaucracy.

Under the direction of Catherine Llhamon, Amherst, ‘93, Yale Law, ‘96, the federal Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has continued conflating sexual harassment (including speech) and sexual misconduct, while depriving accused students of due process rights in campus disciplinary proceedings.

Related: Feminist Censored from Censorship Panel

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, led by Vanita Gutpa, Yale, ‘96, NYU Law, 2001, recently issued a remarkable order to the University of New Mexico (a public institution) requiring it to violate the First Amendment by investigating instances of “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including the proverbial, “verbal conduct,” as harassment whether or not they “cause a hostile environment or are quid pro quo.” As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) observes, the university is required to investigate “all speech of a sexual nature that someone subjectively finds unwelcome, even if that speech is protected by the First Amendment.”

Censors Coming from ACLU Staff

It’s worth noting that both Llhamon and Gupta are former ACLU staff attorneys. (Gupta, who has an impressive record on criminal justice reform, was Deputy Legal Director in the national office.) Whatever values they absorbed at the ACLU did not, it seems, include a firm commitment to free speech (or, in Llhamon’s case, due process). Indeed, one measure of censorship’s embrace by progressives outside academia is the national ACLU’s relative silence in the face of the free speech crisis on and off campus.

Some state affiliates remain pockets of free speech advocacy, and (following early missteps) the national office has mounted strong challenges to security state abuses. But as Harvey Silverglate sadly observes, “The national ACLU Board and Staff are nowhere to be seen in the increasingly difficult battle to protect First Amendment freedom of expression rights. This is especially so in areas where the ACLU, more and more, pursues a political or social agenda.”

That agenda, and the equation of allegedly hateful speech — as defined by aggrieved listeners — with discriminatory conduct practically sanctifies the heckler’s veto. And it too is gaining acceptance off campus. In a thoughtful exchange at reason.com, Black Lives Matter organizer DeRay McKesson argues that the heckler’s veto is an exercise in free speech, worthy of protection. In this

view, the loudest voices win, I guess. “They always do,” hecklers might respond.

The Limits of Heckling

I don’t share this vision of free speech, although I understand it. If you believe the dominant discourse in your community systematically ignores your values and concerns, you may consider shouting it down your only option. But free speech can’t merely mean the right to say what people don’t mind hearing. And heckling doesn’t always, or often, stop at shouting, especially when metaphors about the “violence of the word” are taken literally, thus rationalizing violence in response to words.

Right-wing provocateur Milos Yiannopoulos was not just shouted down but assaulted during an appearance at DePaul University. As reason.com observed, students justified their violent actions by declaring that Yiannoloupos “spreads hate and violence.”

In its most extreme and virulent form, the heckler’s veto devolves into an assassin’s veto, and even that has evoked some measure of understanding from grown-up elites, who should surely know better. When PEN bestowed its 2015 Freedom of Expression Courage Award on the surviving staff at Charlie Hedbo, hundreds of PEN members protested. After issuing relatively perfunctory condemnations of murder, over 200 eminent writers sharply criticized Charlie Hedbo for satirizing disadvantaged, vulnerable groups of people.

“To the section of the French population that is already marginalized, embattled, and victimized, a population that is shaped by the legacy of France’s various colonial enterprises, and that contains a large percentage of devout Muslims, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as being intended to cause further humiliation and suffering.”

Cartoonist Gary Trudeau joined in this excoriation of Charlie Hedbo’s murdered satirists: “By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died.”

These statements accusing Charlie Hedbo of verbal abuse and blaming it for the violent acts of an offended audience, read like excerpts from a college newspaper column justifying shout downs or assaults on a presumptively hateful speaker. They make clear that outside academia, some accomplished adults will join undergraduates in framing free speech as a potential source of oppression — a privilege or weapon used by the powerful to “silence” the relatively powerless.

Not surprisingly, corporate speech rights, on the increase, generate increasing concern. The political speech and associational rights of non-profit as well as business corporations are primary targets of progressive wrath (despite the fact that incorporated advocacy groups give voice to millions of ordinary people.) So are the rights of corporate “climate deniers” and associates. But, as the Charlie Hedbo protests showed, any individual or publication that speaks “offensively” from a perceived position of power is suspect.

Words are weapons, progressive censors argue, and they’re right, however inadvertently. Words are weapons; that’s why we protect them. Speech is the ideal weapon of non-violent political combat, most essential to the relatively powerless. Virtually every movement for social change has relied on politically weaponized speech, including today’s student protest and civil rights movements. Progressives might agree, if only elites would engage in some unilateral disarmament. “Power and prestige are elements that must be recognized in considering almost any form of discourse, including satire,” PEN’s Charlie Hedbo protesters insisted. “The inequities between the person holding the pen and the subject fixed on paper by that pen cannot, and must not, be ignored.”

Of course, progressives are not alone in supporting censorship. It is a non-partisan vice, evident today in across the aisle support for security state speech surveillance. The nation has also endured authoritarian assaults on dissent emanating primarily from the right, notably during 20th century red scares, which had particularly chilling effects in academia. Current conservative governors in Wisconsin and North Carolina have mounted controversial political attacks on state university systems, while the emerging Republican platform condemns pornography (whatever that is) as a “public menace” and calls for theocratic alignment of law with “God-given, natural rights” (as defined, I suppose, by Republicans.) I’ve focused on contemporary left wing censorship partly because it’s increasingly influential and partly because censorship is now embedded in the progressive ethos, as an essential weapon against inequality.

PEN’s protesters called for self-censorship, but demonizing speakers who fail to censor themselves effectively excuses and encourages their censorship by the state. (Gary Trudeau, for one, apparently approves of French laws criminalizing whatever authorities deem hate speech.) Students who protest offensive or presumptively traumatizing “verbal conduct” are indeed exercising their own speech rights, as they claim.

But in insisting that those rights require administrators to censor other people’s speech, they’re not exercising rights so much as seeking anti-democratic power. Progressive policymakers pledge allegiance to constitutional values and rights, while defining harassment broadly, according to the unpredictable, subjective reactions of any listeners labeled disadvantaged.

Old-fashioned liberals and civil libertarians do strongly contest this view of censorship as a civil right, but they seem a dwindling, aging minority — unlikely architects of the future. In providing constitutional protection to allegedly hateful speech, the U.S. is an outlier among Western nations. You have to wonder how long it will remain one.

The New Age of Orthodoxy Overtakes the Campus

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

Related: The slippery Use of Social Justice

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

Professor Hofstadter, meet Melissa Click.

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

Related: Liberals Who Drifted Toward the New Illiberalism

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

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

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

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

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

Inappropriate Sighing

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

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

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

Justice Only for the Left

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

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

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

The Trap of Global Citizenship

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

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

 

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

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

Watch Out For The Campus Bias Team

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

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

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

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

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

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

Invited Racist Banned at Williams– Was That Right?

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

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

Related: ‘Uncomfortable Talk’ Censored at Williams

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

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

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

Related: Princeton Takes a Stand on Free Speech

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

Dear Mr. Wood,

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

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

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

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

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

Related: What Universities Can Do for Free Speech in 2015

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

I hope this clarifies matters.

Yours,
Adam F. Falk

President and Professor
Williams College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Conversation with Jonathan Haidt

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN LEO: Have you gone into the reasons why?

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

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

JONATHAN HAIDT: Yes. That’s correct.

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

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

JOHN LEO: And why would they be hostile?

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

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

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

JOHN LEO:  It says what it stands for.

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

JOHN LEO: So you got a lot of attention.

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

JOHN LEO:  Everybody saw that.

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

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

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

JOHN LEO; How did they cut themselves off?

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

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

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

JOHN LEO: Are you a Democrat?

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

JOHN LEO: So you voted for Obama.

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

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

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

JOHN LEO: You have to say Latinx now.

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

JOHN LEO: No. Never.

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

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

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

JOHN LEO: This sounds like the Good Germans.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN LEO: What about libertarians?

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

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

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

JOHN LEO: What’s the theory?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JOHN LEO: Women’s schools are worse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Is Not a Day Care Center—It’s a University!

This past week, I actually had a student come forward after a university chapel service and complain because he felt “victimized” by a sermon on the topic of 1 Corinthians 13. It appears that this young scholar felt offended because a homily on love made him feel bad for not showing love! In his mind, the speaker was wrong for making him, and his peers, feel uncomfortable.

I’m not making this up. Our culture has actually taught our kids to be this self-absorbed and narcissistic! Any time their feelings are hurt, they are the victims! Anyone who dares challenge them and, thus, makes them “feel bad” about themselves, is a “hater,” a “bigot,” an “oppressor,” and a “victimizer.”

We Don’t Do Coddling Here

tI have a message for this young man and all others who care to listen. That feeling of discomfort you have after listening to a sermon is called a conscience! An altar call is supposed to make you feel bad! It is supposed to make you feel guilty! The goal of many a good sermon is to get you to confess your sins—not coddle you in your selfishness. The primary objective of the Church and the Christian faith is your confession, not your self-actualization!

So Here’s My Advice

If you want the chaplain to tell you you’re a victim rather than tell you that you need virtue, this may not be the university you’re looking for. If you want to complain about a sermon that makes you feel less than loving for not showing love, this might be the wrong place.

If you’re more interested in playing the “hater” card than you are in confessing your own hate; if you want to arrogantly lecture, rather than humbly learn; if you don’t want to feel guilt in your soul when you are guilty of sin; if you want to be enabled rather than confronted, there are many universities across the land (in Missouri and elsewhere) that will give you exactly what you want, but Oklahoma Wesleyan isn’t one of them.

Learn Things, Like How to Grow Up

At OKWU, we teach you to be selfless rather than self-centered. We are more interested in you practicing personal forgiveness than political revenge. We want you to model interpersonal reconciliation rather than foment personal conflict. We believe the content of your character is more important than the color of your skin. We don’t believe that you have been victimized every time you feel guilty and we don’t issue “trigger warnings” before altar calls.

Oklahoma Wesleyan is not a “safe place”, but rather, a place to learn: to learn that life isn’t about you, but about others; that the bad feeling you have while listening to a sermon is called guilt; that the way to address it is to repent of everything that’s wrong with you rather than blame others for everything that’s wrong with them. This is a place where you will quickly learn that you need to grow up!

This is not a day care. This is a university!


Dr. Piper is president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University.

North Korea Has Taken Over Academe

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

Don’t Mention the Slur

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

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

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

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

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

Placed on Leave, but Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

What the President of Yale Should Have Said

On November 10, following the campus thousand-member “March for Resilience” over racial insensitivity, Yale president, Peter Salovey and Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway emailed those of us in the Yale community. affirming “the importance we put on our community’s diversity, and the need to increase it, support it, and respect it.”

The email embraced “the right of every member of this community to engage in protest,” noted that “threats, coercion, and overtly disrespectful acts” are “unacceptable,” and praised the “affirming and effective forms of protest” in Monday’s march. This can best be read as a well-intentioned effort to assure students, faculty, and alumni that the University administration is on top of the problem.

Related: Snowflake Totalitarians at Yale  

But what, exactly, is the problem?  According to the email, the problem is how to “increase, support, and respect” Yale’s “diversity.”  Just before Halloween, Yale’s “intercultural affairs council” emailed students urging them to select their Halloween costumes with sensitivity to the feelings of minorities.  Those with a sense of humor will enjoy this earnest email. In response, Erica Christakis, who is associate “master” of Silliman, one of Yale’s residential colleges, emailed its students.  Combining common sense, respect for students’ maturity and moderation, she urged students to decide for themselves on appropriate costumes and if they found one offensive, either speak about it directly to the offender or ignore it.

This advice, ostensibly, is what unleashed the students’ fury as they vilified, traduced, and sought to intimidate the Christakis’s, Erica and her husband Nicholas, “master’ of Silliman, demanding their resignations. According to a Yale Daily News observer, “This man was surrounded outside his own home by dozens of students, who called him “f—king disgusting.” They jeered, in clearly implied threat, ‘We know where you live.’” Here are some other points that I wish the Salovey-Holloway email had made in the strongest possible terms.

1.  The fact that students complain of rampant racism on campus does not mean that it is true.  Yale — and virtually every other old institution – countenanced racism and even practiced it, but that period is long gone. Indeed, it is hard to think of an institution that tries harder than Yale does to make students of all backgrounds feel at home, an effort underwritten by a recent $50 million commitment to increase diversity there and by the support of four ethno-specific cultural houses. Much the same is true on other elite campuses. Yes, Yale calls its residential college leaders “masters” and, contrary to student protests, this title is entirely benign, not a vestige of slavery, as some seem to think.  (Whether Calhoun College should change its name in light of its eponym’s defense of slavery is a more serious question).  Historical context – how and why earlier generations saw the world as they did — is part of the moral reasoning process that a university teaches.  Condemning what now seems like obvious racism, while entirely appropriate, is the easiest part of such moral reasoning, requiring little insight.

Related: Voices of the Yale-Mizzou Eruptions

2.  The purpose of a great university like ours is not to make students feel comfortable in their views but to unsettle those views with fine teaching and scholarship.  Only then can students learn to confront uncomfortable data and ideas and make up their own minds.  Mature convictions must be earned through a lifetime of grappling with what is discomfiting and engaging in the kind of reading, listening, and arguing that is a privilege and duty of serious citizenship. A great university must defend itself for what it is and should be – a sanctuary for study and engagement – not a comfortable and comforting cocoon.  Students who come with a hypersensitive aversion to conflict and to intellectual diversity (as distinct from the easy, faux diversity of skin color and surname) are in the wrong place

3.  Students state (or shout) many grievances, often in the form of slogans.  Some are plausibly justified, others are gross exaggerations or simply false.  Some seek genuine dialogue; others seek power grabs and shakedowns meant to foreclose conversation.  The university community should demand to know the factual bases for those grievances, examine them on their merits, remedy them if warranted, and reject them if not.  Reflexive mea culpae may buy temporary peace and goodwill but only invite more extreme demands. As Yeats warned, passionate intensity can undermine both truth and civility.

4.  Mob psychology, whether created by students or others, is a kind of crypto-violent form of politics using shouts, threats, and lies as weapons.  Honeyed words and apologies cannot mollify it.  It thrives when it does not get its way, and failure simply confirms its grievances.  The hostility to reason negates the university’s very purpose. Salovey, an eminent psychologist, surely knows all this but has not said it. Among this psychology’s other tics, it fastens on stupid, hurtful comments by fools and bigots (perhaps not even members of the university community, ascribes these views to many others who in fact condemn them, impugns the university for tolerating racism, and excoriates those on the sidelines as equivocating enemies of the cause.  But every community has fools and bigots and must deal with them in its own way. Yale, a community of trained skeptics, eschews authoritarian solutions to questions of truth, relying instead on open, disciplined discourse to discredit error – even as we know that some of this discourse will itself be false.

5.  America’s diversity is one of its greatest gifts to the world, and institutions like Yale are right to seek and protect it. But how we define and implement diversity is crucial to its real value in campuses, workplaces, politics, and elsewhere.  Getting diversity management right is difficult; good intentions can easily backfire. Diversity in America: Keeping Government at a Safe Distance.

Racism, sexism and other odious isms obviously exist, and we should firmly reject them. But combating these isms is especially hard for a university.  They are ill-defined and based on subjective intent, so reasonable people disagree about whether they exist in almost any particular case.  For the same reason, an accused cannot disprove them. Because many attributes are distributed differently among different groups, and because generalizations are useful, indeed inescapable, it is often unclear – even to the Supreme Court — when a judgment is just a useful generalization or instead reflects invidious bigotry and hostility. This ensures lots of false positives and false negatives.  One who feels victimized by an ism resents being told that he is over-reacting and mistaken.  His hurt seems like proof enough of intentional harm.  On the other side, being falsely accused of an ism today is equally or more damaging socially than the hurt or indignity felt by the complainant.

Obsessive Ethnic Emphasis

6.  University officials like us bear some responsibility for the aggressive, obsessive ethnic emphasis practiced on our campus.  Through some mixture of cowardice, complaisance, and genuine conviction, we cater to the sensibilities of the most outspoken, politicized students by donning a kind of “kick me” sign. In this identity politics, students have strong incentives to dramatize their wounds as proof of the authenticity of a larger, more heroic social agenda — here, the extirpation of isms.

7.  The only way out of this gyre of recrimination and misunderstanding is to cultivate two qualities that are sorely lacking in diversity discourse on campus: candor and thicker skins.  On campus, candor should be the easiest virtue, but in fact there is remarkably little of it.  Few are willing to concede the deep tensions among diversity, liberty, and equality – and thus the costs to precious values of one position or another.  By thicker skins, I mean that we should cultivate a capacity for greater resilience, not greater delicacy.  As one commentator put it, the U.S. today has become “a world of endless slights.”  (Even that comment will elicit anger for suggesting that putative isms are merely slights).  This is corrosive in a society as diverse, interactive, plainspoken, casual, and freewheeling as ours.  It chills personal interactions by denying them the lubricating pleasure of spontaneity.

It discourages candid discussion or artistic expression on vital public issues. It enlists formal and informal sanctions in order to reduce what should be robust give-and-take. It invites us to open our wounds, magnify our fears, and parade our sensitivities, to imagine injuries and motivations that do not exist and to view others, without basis, as enemies.  It rewards cant, hyperbole, and reductive rhetoric while penalizing moderation and reason.  It encourages us to seek security in groups of people who look, think, or worship like us rather than to venture out in the more diverse public square where our common citizenship is forged.  It makes a mockery of rules that are brandished to penalize what is often just ignorance, boorishness, interpretive confusion, ill-considered speech, clumsy provocation, misjudgment, rough or poor humor and other unfortunate infelicities.

8. We do better to respond to such conduct with constructive engagement, forceful rebuke, pointed rebuttal, and mental shrugging of shoulders and biting of tongues.  It is unfair that the people who need the thickest skins are often those who already feel under siege. Two factors, however, can help palliate this unfairness, if not assuage their hurt and indignation.  The informal social norms condemning hateful attitudes and conduct are stronger today than ever before.  And the alternatives to developing thicker skins are all unappealing, unconstitutional, or unworkable.

9. Our administration pledges to be wiser in the future, though no less committed to lux et veritas. Let our students pledge to do the same.”

After Many Woeful Failures, the Colleges Avoid Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Snowflake Totalitarians at Yale

Last week, a real-life South Park episode somehow took place within the very prestigious confines of Yale University.

In the lead-up to Halloween, Yale Dean Burgwell Howard sent out an email requesting that students not engage in “cultural appropriation” when it comes to costume choice. That message prompted a very mild rebuke from the Associate Master of Silliman College Erica Christakis.

Can Students Be a Bit Obnoxious?

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Christakis took issue with the tone of Howard’s email that implied the school was trying to impose control over students’ choices and restrict free expression. She found that idea troublesome.

Additionally, she asked, “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition.”

Hundreds of students responded with a resounding, “There’s no room for that, you  bigot!” to Christakis’s question. This is where South Park-style absurdity enters the story.

 ‘Oh. My—Pain-Causing Costumes’

More than 740 Yalies and offended allies signed a letter that declared Christakis’s opinion somehow suppressed the viewpoints of minority students. Many of those same signatories refused an invitation by the associate master and her husband, Master of Silliman College Nicholas Christakis, to discuss the matter over a Sunday lunch.

On Thursday, 100 students confronted the husband and demanded a bended-knee apology from Mr. Christakis for supporting his wife’s views. The professor tried to apologize for any “pain” the email might’ve caused, but he stood by his support for free speech.

That didn’t suit his inquisitors, and they proceeded to engage in something that resembled an improvised show trial. Christakis was belittled for eliminating the pretense that his college was a “safe space” and was cursed at as students cheered on. When trying to speak, he was shouted down by his chief accuser, ensuring he never got a good chance to defend himself.

(RELATED: Yale Student Shrieks At Prof For Denying Her ‘Safe Space’)

Here’s the clip showing the worst part of the interrogation:

The mentality of these students was encapsulated in a Friday column for The Yale Herald. A female Sillimander excoriated the college master for “instigating more debate” and valuing free speech over making her home “less threatening.” Apparently, the safety of all minority students is put into jeopardy by questioning the wisdom of a school controlling costume choices.

The implication here was that free speech could be easily discarded when so many students were in “pain” over one milquetoast email.

Whiny Babies, Hurt Feelings

Over the last few years, a growing media theme — particularly within conservative media — is that college kids are slowly transforming into whiny babies who need constant coddling. The Yale incident proves that this well-covered meme is no exaggeration.

It’s one thing to disagree with the Mr. and Mrs. Christakis over the issue of restricting “culturally insensitive” Halloween costumes. It is quite another to act like that opinion threatens your safety.

The aggrieved Yale students who demanded the heads of the Silliman masters perfectly embodied the type of young adult detailed by Judith Shulevitz’s expose on safe spaces for The New York Times. According to Shulevitz, students no longer object to speech they disagree with on political or moral grounds — they simply say it jeopardizes their emotional well-being to have it aired and urge for its censorship to protect them from harm.

This safety argument has allowed these precious snowflake totalitarians to suppress speech on campus. Free speech means nothing to them when it comes at the price of exposing their fragile little minds to ideas they don’t like. Thanks to spineless administrators that rush to appease each and every need of designated minority groups, activists are able to get away with this inane rationale for censorship.

Get into Yale, Be a Victim

The funny thing about the Yale case is how it shows young people at one of the most prestigious universities in the world — with all the opportunities imaginable available to them — are able to think of themselves as victims of society. This is the creme of the meritocracy we’re talking about here, the ones who have reaped the rewards of America.

More importantly, these are the kids who could very occupy the highest halls of power someday.

And they think a nicely-worded email and Halloween costumes oppress them.

It’s disturbing that America’s best institutions are churning out individuals who have no desire to uphold free speech.

What’s worse is that these same kids could be the leaders of tomorrow. Imagine the insanity of watching a president demand the arrest of dissidents for violating his/her/xyr’s safe space. Or diplomacy conducted via hysterical sobbing over how minor faux pas made a diplomat feel marginalized.

Nincompoop Power

That’d be the world we live if we gave these nincompoops power. And it could very well happen if universities like Yale continue to coddle these students and give them what they want.

The man who videotaped the show trial of Christakis, FIRE president Greg Lukianoff, co-wrote a much discussed-article for The Atlantic about how the safe space mentality is literally damaging the brains of students.

If that’s true, then administrators coddling students is not only bad for free speech, it borders on abuse.

What happened at Yale last week should make everyone concerned about the gelding of free speech from campus. It’s not just about making sure different viewpoints get heard at colleges everywhere — it’s about the kind of future we want to have as a country.

While South Park may be an entertaining show, the prospect of its absurd storylines becoming daily life in America — all without the happy endings — is not a reality we want to have.

Reprinted with permission from The Daily Caller


 

Scott Greer as an associate editor at The Daily Caller

Donald Downs on the Return of Campus Censorship

The demand for equality that’s emerging on campuses today is primarily underpinned by two things: identity politics and a perception of individuals as suffering from trauma. Students have become attached to the particular trauma they identify with; they see it as a badge of honor and any perceived slight becomes a threat to their sense of who they are. So says Donald Downs, professor of political science, law and journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

More than a decade after the publication of his book, Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, Professor Downs is not confident about the state of academic freedom. “Things go in cycles,” he told me. “In the 1980s and 90s, censorship was driven by political correctness. There was some blowback and things got a little better.

“Now censorship is coming back as liberty and equality are increasingly pitched against each other. This time it’s students who, in the name of equality, are demanding a climate free from offense, waging a war against micro-aggressions and calling for trigger warnings. Students are leading the way in stifling intellectual dissent and academics don’t know how to handle this. Too often they just acquiesce.”

Downs initially supported speech codes at the University of Wisconsin, where he has been a professor since 1980. But watching his colleagues’ “lives and careers ruined by censorship’” changed his mind. In Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, published in 2004, he charted the attacks on free speech on campuses since the late 1980s, and the campaign he helped coordinate at Wisconsin to get speech codes overturned.

Downs notes that the speech codes had more to do with promoting sensitivity and diversity than with tackling prejudice. This broad-brush approach demanded a code to cover every eventuality and allowed policies to proliferate. The University of Michigan, he said, had 20 separate policies at one point, dealing with such things as climate, harassment, speech and diversity – “they were being made up as they went along.”

Although these codes were often written and implemented by administrators who had little understanding of the academic environment, Downs is clear that faculty cannot be let off the hook: “They let this situation happen.’ Liberal academics, often politically sympathetic to the issues covered, generally trusted administrators to implement policies appropriately. To criticize speech codes, Downs remarks, “was to make a statement that you were insensitive to racism or sexism and few were prepared to do this.”

“During most of the twentieth century, threats to academic freedom came from the political right, and from outside institutions of higher learning. The new attacks on free thought that arose in the later 1980s turned this pattern on its head: they have arisen from leftist sources inside the ivory tower.” The book also provides a salutary lesson in how free speech can be regained. Downs emphasizes throughout that “rights won through politics and legislation are more likely to change people’s thinking because majorities have to be convinced to agree.”

This article is reprinted with permission from Spiked, an online British journal of current affairs.

Quotes of the Day

“Can I touch you here?” (repeat 15 or 16 times).  California’s “Yes Means Yes” rule requires repeated authorizations for every step toward sexual intercourse. From the NY Times Oct. 15: “‘What does that mean – you have to say ‘yes’ every 10 minutes?’ asked one student. ‘Pretty much,’ replies the instructor…”

How to drag anti-black violence into a story about a white guy’s obnoxious behavior in a University of Connecticut cafeteria: “( Luke) Gatti’s tirade…has been shared across social media as a mere goof, as an exemplar of millennial entitlement, as an object lesson in how  a young  white man can display such belligerence and survive while a young black man may die for far less.” –The Chronicle of Higher Education. Oct. 16.

Opposing or limiting trigger warnings is “ableism.” American University’s  faculty resolution in favor of free speech “reflects  an ableist viewpoint as well as a clear misunderstanding of trauma  and mental health,” said the campus group Students Against Sexual Violence.”—The Chronicle of Higher Education, Oct. 16.

A radical anti-rape activist at Oxford University resigned several activist positions  after realizing that she had raped another female student  at a Black Students conference last spring. “I failed to properly establish consent before every act,” Annie Teriba wrote, attaching a trigger warning to her prose. One Oxford women;s group was unsympathetic,calling Teriba’s statement “rife with rape apologism.”—Progressives Today, Oct. 15

A Lame Defense of Trigger Warnings and Micro-Aggression Mania

Many American campuses are caught up in a great new utopian project – protecting students from speech, writings, images, or anything else that they might find upsetting. Because of the spreading mania for trigger warnings and “protecting” students from micro-aggressions, schools are moving away from their focus on education – which, after all, almost inevitably upsets some students by challenging their beliefs. As Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wrote in his superb book The State of the American Mind, students often enter college today with an expectation that what they’ll get is confirmation of their existing beliefs.

Unfortunately, some higher-education leaders are going along with those expectations, trying to make their schools into blissful oases where young people never have to deal with upsetting people or ideas.

In an op-ed published in the August 31, 2015 Los Angeles Times, Barry Glassner (president of Lewis and Clark College) and Morton Shapiro (president of Northwestern University) admonish us, “Baby Boomers, Don’t be so Quick to Mock Colleges on Trigger Warnings and ‘Micro-aggressions.’”

Because, say Glassner and Shapiro, college leaders have only good intentions and are merely trying to create safe, welcoming learning environments for all students. They acknowledge that there have been “easy targets” for critics, such as the protest at Oberlin College against allowing dissident feminist Christina Hoff Sommers speak on campus lest she offend some students who call her a “rape denier.”

But it would be wrong to throw out their “protect the students” baby with such bathwater since, they write, “Wholesale denouncements of young people’s concerns only hinder our efforts to do right by our students.”

Glassner and Shapiro proceed to tell us, “Many students have genuine concerns that deserve to be taken seriously,” which may well be true. It would be far better, however, to deal with such cases individually rather than throwing a wet blanket over free speech on campus.

Here’s the example the authors give. “One of us watched a brilliant young African American woman who had been highly engaged on campus and in her course work an ‘A’ student, recoil from her classes and her classmates after returning to her dormitory one afternoon. There she was confronted with racist slurs scrawled on posters she had put up….”

Does that case and similar ones that occasionally happen (and keep in mind that lots of them have turned out to be hoaxes) call for a school-wide assault on verbal slights (microaggressions)? I don’t think so, but if a school were to embark upon one, would it do any good? People who intend to inflict harm on others won’t be deterred from doing so just because the school tells them that they should be careful not to hurt other students’ feelings.

And trying to stop all of the inadvertent personal slights that we all encounter in daily living is an impossibility. As Megan McArdle observes in her piece, “How Grown-Ups Deal with ‘Microaggressions’” in any diverse group of people, “microagressions are unavoidable. A culture that tries to avoid them is setting itself up to tear itself apart.”

She goes on to explain that once we start down the path of policing microaggressions, we make “impossible demands on members of the ever-shrinking majority: to know everything about every possible victim group, to never inadvertently appropriate any part of any culture in ways a member doesn’t like, or misunderstand something, or make an innocent remark that reads differently to someone with a different experience. Which will, of course, only hasten the scramble for members of the majority to gain themselves some sort of victim status that can protect them from sanction.”

Thus, like nearly all well-intentioned liberal projects, the prevention of microaggressions does scant good, but opens up a Pandora’s Box of unintended consequences.

What about trigger warnings? Does that part of the Cocoon Trend fare better?

Glassner and Shapiro write that a student recovering from sexual abuse really could be traumatized by a class reading or discussion. No doubt, that is possible. Again, however, it would make far more sense for such a vulnerable student to bring her concerns to the professor’s attention rather than to institute a general policy requiring trigger warnings for every possible idea or image that might cause any student in class mental distress.

Glassner and Shapiro want to exonerate the students who push for a campus where they’re “safe” from hurtful words, writing, “Today’s college students would not be struggling to deal with sexual assault and racism from their childhoods and on our campuses had their parents and grandparents made the world as harmonious as we imagined we would.”

No, that’s not the problem at all. The world actually is much more harmonious than in the past, just not perfectly so. But while doing much to improve civilization, those older generations also sowed some bad ideas that have taken root among many young Americans. In particular, I’d point to the “progressive” notion that it’s the responsibility of “society” (government and institutions like colleges) to solve the individual’s problems for him. Progressives have been peddling that for more than a century. That’s what the Nanny State is all about.

It has led some students to believe that there’s virtue in claiming victim status so they can complain to authorities when someone acts in a way they dislike. And it has led others to realize that they can aggressively take advantage of that status to censor ideas they don’t agree with. The protests against speakers like Christina Hoff Sommers, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and others stem not from concerns that their words will cause psychological harm, but simply from the fact that they’re saying things that the students don’t want anyone to hear.

The silk of the supposedly protective cocoon is easily spun into a gag by those who think it’s proper to silence all who disagree with them.

Far from deserving praise for their efforts at protecting students with genuine concerns, college leaders like Glassner and Shapiro should be criticized for not seeing how they are encouraging bad habits among young Americans who, more than anything else, need to grow up.

‘My Students Scare Me’ – A Liberal Professor

I’m a professor at a midsize state school. I have been teaching college classes for nine years now. I have won (minor) teaching awards, studied pedagogy extensively, and almost always score highly on my student evaluations. I am not a world class teacher by any means, but I am conscientious; I attempt to put teaching ahead of research, and I take a healthy emotional stake in the well-being and growth of my students.

Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones. Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. The student-teacher dynamic has been re-envisioned along a line that’s simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher’s formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.

What it was like before

In early 2009, I was an adjunct, teaching a freshman-level writing course at a community college. Discussing infographics and data visualization, we watched a flash animation describing how Wall Street’s recklessness had destroyed the economy. The video stopped, and I asked whether the students thought it was effective. An older student raised his hand. “What about Fannie and Freddie?” he asked.

“Government kept giving homes to black people, to help out black people, white people didn’t get anything, and then they couldn’t pay for them. What about that?” I gave a quick response about how most experts would disagree with that assumption, that it was actually an oversimplification, and pretty dishonest, and isn’t it good that someone made the video we just watched to try to clear things up? And, hey, let’s talk about whether that was effective, okay?

If you don’t think it was, how could it have been? The rest of the discussion went on as usual. The next week, I got called into my director’s office. I was shown an email, sender name redacted, alleging that I “possessed communistical [sic] sympathies and refused to tell more than one side of the story.” The story in question wasn’t described, but I suspect it had do to with whether or not the economic collapse was caused by poor black people.

My director rolled her eyes. She knew the complaint was silly bullshit. I wrote up a short description of the past week’s class work, noting that we had looked at several examples of effective writing in various media and that I always made a good faith effort to include conservative narratives along with the liberal ones. Along with a carbon-copy form, my description was placed into a file that may or may not have existed. Then … nothing. It disappeared forever; no one cared about it beyond their contractual duties to document student concerns. I never heard another word of it again. That was the first, and so far only, formal complaint a student has ever filed against me.

Now boat rocking isn’t just dangerous — it’s suicidal.

This isn’t an accident: I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. (I also make sure all my remotely offensive or challenging opinions, such as this article, are expressed either anonymously or pseudonymously). Most of my colleagues who still have jobs have done the same. We’ve seen bad things happen to too many good teachers — adjuncts getting axed because their evaluations dipped below a 3.0, grad students being removed from classes after a single student complaint, and so on.

I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to “offensive” texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students’ ire and sealed his fate.  That was enough to get me to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik — and I wasn’t the only one who made adjustments, either.

I am frightened sometimes by the thought that a student would complain again like he did in 2009. Only this time it would be a student accusing me not of saying something too ideologically extreme — be it communism or racism or whatever — but of not being sensitive enough toward his feelings, of some simple act of indelicacy that’s considered tantamount to physical assault. As Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis writes, “Emotional discomfort is [now] regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated.”

Hurting a student’s feelings, even in the course of instruction that is absolutely appropriate and respectful, can now get a teacher into serious trouble. In 2009, the subject of my student’s complaint was my supposed ideology. I was communistical, the student felt, and everyone knows that communisticism is wrong. That was, at best, a debatable assertion. And as I was allowed to rebut it, the complaint was dismissed with prejudice.

I didn’t hesitate to reuse that same video in later semesters, and the student’s complaint had no impact on my performance evaluations.In 2015, such a complaint would not be delivered in such a fashion. Instead of focusing on the rightness or wrongness (or even acceptability) of the materials we reviewed in class, the complaint would center solely on how my teaching affected the student’s emotional state.

As I cannot speak to the emotions of my students, I could not mount a defense about the acceptability of my instruction. And if I responded in any way other than apologizing and changing the materials we reviewed in class, professional consequences would likely follow. I wrote about this fear on my blog, and while the response was mostly positive, some liberals called me paranoid, or expressed doubt about why any teacher would nix the particular texts I listed. I guarantee you that these people do not work in higher education, or if they do they are at least two decades removed from the job search.

The academic job market is brutal. Teachers who are not tenured or tenure-track faculty members have no right to due process before being dismissed, and there’s a mile-long line of applicants eager to take their place. And as writer and academic Freddie DeBoer writes, they don’t even have to be formally fired — they can just not get rehired. In this type of environment, boat-rocking isn’t just dangerous, it’s suicidal, and so teachers limit their lessons to things they know won’t upset anybody.

The real problem: a simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice

This shift in student-teacher dynamic placed many of the traditional goals of higher education — such as having students challenge their beliefs — off limits. While I used to pride myself on getting students to question themselves and engage with difficult concepts and texts, I now hesitate. What if this hurts my evaluations and I don’t get tenure? How many complaints will it take before chairs and administrators begin to worry that I’m not giving our customers — er, students, pardon me — the positive experience they’re paying for? Ten? Half a dozen? Two or three?

This phenomenon has been widely discussed as of late, mostly as a means of deriding political, economic, or cultural forces writers don’t much care for. Commentators on the left and right have recently criticized the sensitivity and paranoia of today’s college students. They worry about the stifling of free speech, the implementation of unenforceable conduct codes, and a general hostility against opinions and viewpoints that could cause students so much as a hint of discomfort.

IT’S NOT JUST THAT STUDENTS REFUSE TO COUNTENANCE UNCOMFORTABLE IDEAS — THEY REFUSE TO ENGAGE THEM, PERIOD.

I agree with some of these analyses more than others, but they all tend to be too simplistic. The current student-teacher dynamic has been shaped by a large confluence of factors, and perhaps the most important of these is the manner in which cultural studies and social justice writers have comported themselves in popular media. I have a great deal of respect for both of these fields, but their manifestations online, their desire to democratize complex fields of study by making them as digestible as a TGIF sitcom, has led to adoption of a totalizing, simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice.

The simplicity and absolutism of this conception has combined with the precarity of academic jobs to create higher ed’s current climate of fear, a heavily policed discourse of semantic sensitivity in which safety and comfort have become the ends and the means of the college experience.

This new understanding of social justice politics resembles what University of Pennsylvania political science professor Adolph Reed Jr. calls a politics of personal testimony, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed. Reed derides this sort of political approach as essentially being a non-politics, a discourse that “is focused much more on taxonomy than politics [which] emphasizes the names by which we should call some strains of inequality [ … ] over specifying the mechanisms that produce them or even the steps that can be taken to combat them.”

Under such a conception, people become more concerned with signaling goodness, usually through semantics and empty gestures, than with actually working to effect change. Herein lies the folly of oversimplified identity politics: while identity concerns obviously warrant analysis, focusing on them too exclusively draws our attention so far inward that none of our analyses can lead to action.

Rebecca Reilly Cooper, a political philosopher at the University of Warwick, worries about the effectiveness of a politics in which “particular experiences can never legitimately speak for anyone other than ourselves, and personal narrative and testimony are elevated to such a degree that there can be no objective standpoint from which to examine their veracity.” Personal experience and feelings aren’t just a salient touchstone of contemporary identity politics; they are the entirety of these politics. In such an environment, it’s no wonder that students are so prone to elevate minor slights to protestable offenses. (It’s also why seemingly piddling matters of cultural consumption warrant much more emotional outrage than concerns with larger material implications.

Compare the number of web articles surrounding the supposed problematic aspects of the newest Avengers movie with those complaining about, say, the piecemeal dismantling of abortion rights. The former outnumber the latter considerably, and their rhetoric is typically much more impassioned and inflated. I’d discuss this in my classes — if I weren’t too scared to talk about abortion.) The press for actionability, or even for comprehensive analyses that go beyond personal testimony, is hereby considered redundant, since all we need to do to fix the world’s problems is adjust the feelings attached to them and open up the floor for various identity groups to have their say.

All the old, enlightened means of discussion and analysis —from due process to scientific method — are dismissed as being blind to emotional concerns and therefore unfairly skewed toward the interest of straight white males. All that matters is that people are allowed to speak, that their narratives are accepted without question, and that the bad feelings go away. So it’s not just that students refuse to countenance uncomfortable ideas — they refuse to engage them, period.

Engagement is considered unnecessary, as the immediate, emotional reactions of students contain all the analysis and judgment that sensitive issues demand. As Judith Shulevitz wrote in the New York Times, these refusals can shut down discussion in genuinely contentious areas, such as when Oxford canceled an abortion debate. More often, they affect surprisingly minor matters, as when Hampshire College disinvited an Afrobeat band because their lineup had too many white people in it.

When feelings become more important than issues

At the very least, there’s debate to be had in these areas. Ideally, pro-choice students would be comfortable enough in the strength of their arguments to subject them to discussion, and a conversation about a band’s supposed cultural appropriation could take place alongside a performance. But these cancellations and disinvitations are framed in terms of feelings, not issues. The abortion debate was canceled because it would have imperiled the “welfare and safety of our students.”

The Afrofunk band’s presence would not have been “safe and healthy.” No one can rebut feelings, and so the only thing left to do is shut down the things that cause distress — no argument, no discussion, just hit the mute button and pretend eliminating discomfort is the same as effecting actual change. In a New York Magazine piece, Jonathan Chait described the chilling effect this type of discourse has upon classrooms. Chait’s piece generated seismic backlash, and while I disagree with much of his diagnosis, I have to admit he does a decent job of describing the symptoms.

He cites an anonymous professor who says, “she and her fellow faculty members are terrified of facing accusations of triggering trauma.” Internet liberals pooh-poohed this comment, likening the professor to one of Tom Friedman’s imaginary cab drivers.  But I’ve seen what’s being described here. I’ve lived it. It’s real, and it affects liberal, socially conscious teachers much more than conservative ones.

If we wish to remove this fear, and to adopt a politics that can lead to more substantial change, we need to adjust our discourse.  Ideally, we can have a conversation that is conscious of the role of identity issues and confident of the ideas that emanate from the people who embody those identities. It would call out and criticize unfair, arbitrary, or otherwise stifling discursive boundaries, but avoid falling into pettiness or nihilism. It wouldn’t be moderate, necessarily, but it would be deliberate. It would require effort.

In the start of his piece, Chait hypothetically asks if “the offensiveness of an idea [can] be determined objectively, or only by recourse to the identity of the person taking offense.” Here, he’s getting at the concerns addressed by Reed and Reilly-Cooper, the worry that we’ve turned our analysis so completely inward that our judgment of a person’s speech hinges more upon their identity signifiers than on their ideas.

A sensible response to Chait’s question would be that this is a false binary, and that ideas can and should be judged both by the strength of their logic and by the cultural weight afforded to their speaker’s identity. Chait appears to believe only the former, and that’s kind of ridiculous. Of course, someone’s social standing affects whether their ideas are considered offensive, or righteous, or even worth listening to. How can you think otherwise?

We destroy ourselves when identity becomes our sole focus

Feminists and anti-racists recognize that identity does matter. This is indisputable. If we subscribe to the belief that ideas can be judged within a vacuum, uninfluenced by the social weight of their proponents, we perpetuate a system in which arbitrary markers like race and gender influence the perceived correctness of ideas. We can’t overcome prejudice by pretending it doesn’t exist.

Focusing on identity allows us to interrogate the process through which white males have their opinions taken at face value, while women, people of color, and non-normatively gendered people struggle to have their voices heard. But we also destroy ourselves when identity becomes our sole focus. Consider a tweet I linked to (which has since been removed. See editor’s note below.), from a critic and artist, in which she writes: “When ppl go off on evo psych, its always some shady colonizer white man theory that ignores nonwhite human history. but ‘science’. Ok … Most ‘scientific thought’ as u know it isnt that scientific but shaped by white patriarchal bias of ppl who claimed authority on it.”

This critic is intelligent. Her voice is important. She realizes, correctly, that evolutionary psychology is flawed, and that science has often been misused to legitimize racist and sexist beliefs.  But why draw that out to questioning most “scientific thought”? Can’t we see how distancing that is to people who don’t already agree with us? And tactically, can’t we see how shortsighted it is to be skeptical of a respected manner of inquiry just because it’s associated with white males?

This sort of perspective is not confined to Twitter and the comments sections of liberal blogs. It was born in the more nihilistic corners of academic theory, and its manifestations on social media have severe real-world implications. In another instance, two female professors of library science publicly outed and shamed a male colleague they accused of being creepy at conferences, going so far as to openly celebrate the prospect of ruining his career.

I don’t doubt that some men are creepy at conferences — they are. And for all I know, this guy might be an A-level creep. But part of the female professors’ shtick was the strong insistence that harassment victims should never be asked for proof, that an enunciation of an accusation is all it should ever take to secure a guilty verdict. The identity of the victims overrides the identity of the harasser, and that’s all the proof they need.

This is terrifying. No one will ever accept that. And if that becomes a salient part of liberal politics, liberals are going to suffer tremendous electoral defeat. Debate and discussion would ideally temper this identity-based discourse, make it more usable and less scary to outsiders. Teachers and academics are the best candidates to foster this discussion, but most of us are too scared and economically disempowered to say anything.

Right now, there’s nothing much to do other than sit on our hands and wait for the ascension of conservative political backlash — hop into the echo chamber, pile invective upon the next person or company who says something vaguely insensitive, insulate ourselves further and further from any concerns that might resonate outside of our own little corner of Twitter. Update: After a discussion with a woman whose tweet was quoted in the story, the editors of this piece agreed that some of the conclusions drawn in the article misrepresented her tweet and the article was revised.

The woman requested anonymity because she said she was receiving death threats as a result of the story, so her name has been removed. Unfortunately, threats are a horrible reality for many women online and a topic we intend to report on further.

(This story, originally published at Vox Media on June 3, 2015, is reprinted with permission.)

Edward Schlosser is a college professor writing under a pseudonym. 

Read More at Vox:

‘Dignity,’ Another Legal Trojan Horse

“Dignity” has been taken out for another walk around the block.  In February 2014, I wrote an essay on Minding the Campus in which I commented on Attorney General Eric Holder’s speech to the Swedish Parliament, wherein he spoke of his nation’s commitment to the “dignity” of “every human being.”

Over the last couples of decades, “dignity” acquired a secondary meaning something like “the intrinsic integrity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and related sexual minority lifestyles.”  The word has become an assertion, first, of equality, as in ‘We all have human dignity and therefore a legitimate right to participate fully in society.’  But the word also asserts, rather aggressively, a moral authority to silence and to punish those who in some way endanger an individual’s experience of “dignity.”  Here the word drifts into the sphere of reasons why people need “safe spaces,” “trigger warnings,” and protection against “micro aggressions.”

The invocation of dignity, I wrote last year, has become an escalation in the rhetorical arms race.

It appears Jeffrey Rosen, the George Washington University law professor and ubiquitous liberal commenter on all things legal, has stumbled into agreement with me.  Writing in The Atlantic on “The Dangers of a Constitutional ‘Right to Dignity,’” Rosen considers what will follow if the Supreme Court “strikes down same-sex marriage bans […] on the grounds that they violate the dignity of gay couples.”

As I pointed out last year, “dignity” is an extra-Constitutional principle in the United States, and one with only a sketchy presence in case law.  If the high court finds a right to gay marriage on the basis of “dignity,” it will be conjuring a new fundamental principle into our legal system.  Justice Kennedy seems eager to do just that, and it rightly worries Rosen.  Rosen notes that the word has appeared in more than 900 Supreme Court decisions.   But that’s misleading.  “Dignity” isn’t to be found in the Declaration, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or anywhere really, until it was invoked in 1944 by Justice Frankfurter.  After Frankfurter’s opinion, it furtively hung around until our legal elites found themselves in need of rhetoric that would justify making up new law to support the overarching claims of sexual autonomy.  Rosen quotes the Kennedy’s opinion in the 1992 abortion case, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, where he invoked “choices central to personal dignity and autonomy,” as the ground of the “liberty” to abort.  Kennedy also invoked “dignity” in his 2003 Lawrence decision, sweeping away legal bans on homosexual behavior.

Rosen provides a phrase I had not seen before to describe the matters that Casey and Lawrence now put at the discretion of judges:  curing “dignitary harm.”  If “dignity” were to be further elevated as a principle (“Kennedy’s new synthesis of dignity with liberty and equality”) we will well and truly be launched into a voyage on the high seas of legal improvisation.  Rosen observes that in Kennedy’s mind the dignity that follows an individual’s efforts to gratify his sexual appetites (his “interest in dignity”) trumps “traditional moral values.”

What is to constrain “dignity” as the all-purpose demand that the state protect the sexual adventurer from any and all forms of social disapproval?  The court may yet find a limiting counter principle, but it hasn’t found one yet.  Protecting procreation and preserving “tradition” as such have been “ruled out of bounds.”

So why is Rosen, who is all in favor of gay marriage, worried about the direction of the Court?  He is worried that Constitutionalizing “dignity” would undermine First Amendment rights to free speech.  He also thinks that conservatives could discover their own ways to weaponize the concept, as when Justice Scalia found “a dignitary interest attached to the right to bear arms.”  And Rosen observes, correctly, that the concept is vague and ill-defined.  So vague that conservatives might use it to strike down “progressive legislation.”

Right about that.  If we get stuck with this as a Constitutional principle, I’m not going to waste time fighting it.  I will be lining up with those to express the profound injury to my dignity caused by campus leftists who say mean things about me and in sundry ways show disrespect for my ideas.  Maybe I can get a class action suit going with the other contributors of Minding the Campus who are similarly situated in “dignitary harm” from left-leaning faculty councils and progressive editorial pages.

In truth, I’d rather the Supreme Court back away from making an overriding principle of dignity, and I’m glad Rosen sees it as folly as well.  Rosen and I disagree on the reasons.  In my view, the core                  Constitutional principles of liberty and equality are ample and introducing a Kennedy amendment to our basic law by making “dignity” coordinate with liberty and equality would profoundly undermine our basic freedoms.  At a still deeper level, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a “right to dignity” that can legislated or promulgated by courts.  Not for lack of trying, of course.  The EU recognizes such a right, but the EU case also demonstrates that, as a legal right, human dignity is reduced to mere superficialities.

Actual human dignity exists, where it does exist, in the composure of the individual regardless of his circumstances.  It cannot be conferred by a legal decision or a law.  The attempt to confer it that way is doomed to failure but it won’t be a clean failure.  It will take the tablecloth, the glassware, and the soup down with it.

 

 

WHY MILLENNIALS CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH

Completing a college education, people have long presumed, shows that a young adult has not just mastered a particular subject but has broadened his or her intellect by exposure to many different disciplines, philosophies, and diverse approaches to both knowledge and life.

A successful college education replaces ignorance with insight, and insularity with confidence and engagement. With the escalating price and debt loads from tuition becoming a crippling fiscal burden to young adults, delivering on those values becomes more important than ever to their economic survival.

Unfortunately, most of our universities and colleges end up promoting ignorance, insularity, fear, and infantilism. Rather than seek out heterodox opinions, the faculties and student bodies of these schools attempt to insulate themselves from opponents through speech codes, demands for “trigger warnings,” demagoguery and shouting down of alternate views. Instead of education producing open minds, these institutions end up indoctrinating young adults on how best to keep their minds closed, limited to the boundaries of groupthink rather than freed to pursue truth.

Three incidents this week demonstrate the gap between education and indoctrination. Oberlin College in Ohio and Georgetown University in Washington DC both had groups invite Christina Hoff Sommers, a conservative critic of the current version of feminism, to speak on their campuses. Sommers, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, composes a weekly video blog called the Factual Feminist, and most of her work challenges both the assumptions and conclusions of “third-wave” feminism, especially as practiced on college campuses.

Much of what Sommers writes aims to counter the arguments that have become treated as unconditional truths, but which do not stand up to empirical tests. Those assumptions include the oft-cited  and roundly debunked claim that one in five women on American college have been or will be victims of sexual assault during their student careers, or that women only earn 78 cents on the dollar compared to men. Both of these continue to be promoted not just by campus activists but also by the White House, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

The Department of Justice’s own data actually suggests that colleges and universities are slightly safer than the US at large when it comes to sexual assault, and the rate of those attacks on campus is six for every 1,000 people, or 0.6 percent. Even if only one in five attacks get reported, then the rate would be 2.4 percent rather than 20 percent.

Needless to say, this pushback on popular feminist narratives hasn’t endeared Sommers to activists at these schools. In an environment with free and open dialogue – a college campus, say, which most Americans would have assumed qualified for the task – Sommers’ opponents would have offered a spirited debate on these topics and statistics.

They could also have invited their own speakers to campus to make their own arguments without any challenge to them. Instead, students at both schools encouraged their colleagues to declare themselves victims, provided shelter from opposing points of view on the basis of Sommers’ ideas being somehow “unsafe,” and made it clear that they’d prefer to see Sommers speak elsewhere.

At Oberlin, activists authored an essay in the student newspaper calling her a “rape denialist” and accusing her of encouraging violence against women.  At both colleges, protesters plastered “trigger warnings” around the campuses near the venues where Sommers spoke. At both campuses, students complained that having Sommers speak at their schools created an “unsafe” environment for them, which necessitated the establishment of “safe spaces” to deal with the discomfort of having their assumptions challenged.

Ironically, the point of feminism had once been that women didn’t need paternalistic protection from life provided to them by male-dominated institutions. Sommers herself noted the contradiction between feminism and “trigger warnings” in her most recent vlog entry prior to her appearances at Oberlin and Georgetown. Not only do they have “no basis in scientific fact,” Sommers explains, but they “convey the idea that women are helpless children, delicate little injured birds who can’t cope with clapping,” let alone any sort of debate or challenge.

Even the good news comes freighted with recognition of the scope of the issue. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) announced earlier this week that after almost a decade of engagement with George Mason University, the school had finally agreed to dump its speech codes in favor of unfettered free debate. “Freedom of speech and academic freedom are core values of a university’s mission,” said GMU Foundation Professor of Law Todd Zywicki. “I’m delighted that George Mason has joined the ranks of universities that have committed themselves to the full protection of free speech.”

Unfortunately, the ranks of universities aligning their policies to those core values remains very low indeed. GMU became only the 20th school to get a green light rating from FIRE, having been preceded by William & Mary and the University of Virginia – which Rolling Stone recently smeared in its publication of fabulism about rape culture on campuses.

FIRE has rated 437 colleges and universities in the US for their commitment to free speech on campus, spokesman Nico Perrino informed me in an e-mail. Over half of those earn a red light (where policies explicitly restrict speech), and another 39 percent get a yellow rating (policies which can be applied to restrict speech). Perrino said that FIRE is currently working with another 29 schools to support free speech fully, but even if they all converted tomorrow, it would still mean that only 11.2 percent of those rated campuses actually gives students the right to express themselves openly and have access to a broad range of opinion.

The tantrums thrown by students at Oberlin and Georgetown, and the endorsement of speech restraints and indoctrination by school administrators, remain the rule rather than the exception. That prompts the question: what value are these students actually gaining for their mortgaging of their financial futures?

Better yet, considering that student loans primarily get backed by taxpayers, what outcomes will we see from this investment in social and monetary capital? We are creating a generation of “delicate little injured birds” whose only developed skill involves curling up into a ball at the first sign of adverse experience. Perhaps we should invest in trade school education instead.