The Last-Ditch Battle to Protect Racial Preferences in California

California voters made racial preferences illegal by passing Proposition 209 in 1996, but many university officials have ignored the law, especially at the state’s top law schools. Among such officials, it is a deeply ingrained belief that social justice demands measures to close statistical gaps between “underrepresented” groups (particularly blacks and Hispanics) and “overrepresented” groups (which means whites and Asians).

In law school admissions, that means accepting some applicants from favored groups who otherwise would be rejected, and therefore must attend a less prestigious law school or pursue some other career. It also means, of course, that some applicants with higher scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) and superior undergraduate records must be rejected to make room for them.

Related: UC Berkley and UCLA Law Schools: Scofflaws?

Whether it makes sense to admit law students at least partially because of their ancestry has long been a matter of dispute.  Even if you grant the premise that society would be better off if there were more blacks and Hispanics in the legal profession, do we achieve that goal by racial preferences in law school admissions? Economist Thomas Sowell, for one, has argued for decades that such preferences are counterproductive, but Sowell’s views are rejected by mainstream academics because he favors free markets and government minimalism.

Then in 2004, UCLA law professor Richard Sander published an article in Stanford Law Review, “A Systemic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools,” that could not be ignored because Sander was a liberal in good standing and his work appeared in a top-notch professional publication. Sander’s argument was that, based on the data he had been able to get from the Law School Admissions Council, affirmative action (i.e., racial preferences for certain minority groups) actually led to there being fewer lawyers from those groups.

The reason was that most of the preferred students were not academically competitive in the law schools to which they’d been admitted. They tended to drop out, rank low in their law school classes and passed the state bar exam at lower rates than did minority students who had attended less prestigious law schools. Sander wrote, “Most black law applicants end up at schools where they will struggle academically and fail at higher rates than they would in the absence of preferences.”

Sander had touched a raw nerve. Defenders of the affirmative action orthodoxy sprang to attack Sander’s research (e.g., this article by David Chambers and other law professors) and Sander quickly took them on here.

In 2012, Sander continued his apostasy by publishing a book (co-authored by Stuart Taylor, Jr.) entitled Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Supposed to Help and Why Universities Won’t Admit It. The book made a strong case against racial preferences, but Sander was still working on his argument. In particular, he wanted to see the law school and bar passage data held by the State Bar of California.

His request, however, was denied on the grounds that releasing such information could lead to invasions of privacy for individuals who had attempted law school and the bar but not succeeded. Sander replied that he did not want personal data and would accept the information with all personal identification redacted Still the bar refused.

Related: Why Was Professor Amy Wax Punished?

Why Was Professor Amy Wax Punished? So Sander went to court against the State Bar, filing suit in 2008. After extensive litigation, in 2013, the Supreme Court of California ruled in his favor in Sander v. State Bar of California. The court was persuaded that “the public has a legitimate interest in whether different groups of applicants, based on race, sex or ethnicity, perform differently on the bar examination.” Unfortunately, rather than ordering the State Bar simply to release the data to Sander, it chose to let the State Bar decide how to disclose the data while preserving the privacy of all individuals. The State Bar continued to drag things out, using dubious concerns over privacy to delay turning over the data.

At the same time, the State Bar chose to continue its fight to keep the effects of racial preferences hidden in another venue – the state legislature. The State Bar has a lot of clout in the legislature and in 2016 succeeded in getting it to pass a bill providing that the sort of information Sander was seeking “shall be confidential and shall not be disclosed pursuant to any state law.”

Based on that legislative change, the judge in the ongoing case, Mary Wiss, ruled in November 2016 that Sander was not entitled to the bar data, declaring that disclosure would violate state law and would be “an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Moreover, she maintained that the information sought by Sander would have “minimal or no value” – a claim contrary to the finding of the Supreme Court.

But that was not the end of the matter. In October 2017, the California Legislature again modified the law, changing the Business and Professions Code to make access to aggregate statistical data such as bar passage possible. The impetus for that change came from the state Supreme Court itself, which had expressed its view that the Bar needed to do more research into the question of falling pass rates on the exam. With that pressure, enough members of the legislature were persuaded to change the law so that research into bar passage would not be stymied.

With that roadblock removed, Sander has taken his case to the state court of appeals, seeking to overturn Judge Wiss and order the State Bar to comply.

In that regard, several amicus briefs have been filed.

Pacific Legal Foundation’s brief points out the obvious truth that “race-preference advocates criticize Professor Sander’s research for not having an appropriate data set, while at the same time they try at all costs to restrict his access to that data.” In other words, the State Bar has acted in bad faith, using every trick in the legal book to keep Sander (and the public) from seeing that racial preferences have adverse effects.

The Pacific Legal brief drives that point home further by noting that the trial court was laden with witnesses who said they feared “group stigmatization” if the law school and bar passage data were made public. Is that speculative result at all likely? No — minority lawyers who have passed the bar have nothing to fear from the finding that some of those who didn’t pass were harmed by being mismatched at law school.

Another amicus brief has been submitted by the National Association of Scholars. It counters the over-hyped privacy concerns of the State Bar. “Social science research of the kind proposed by Appellant Sander and the First Amendment Coalition,” it states, “represents standard, indeed commonplace practice furthering the public interest while employing established methodologies that minimize the risk to privacy.”

And, reflecting the California Supreme Court’s concern over law school admissions and bar passage rates, the brief says, “Struggling to maintain financial stability amid falling enrollments, many law schools, controversially, have dug far more deeply into applicant pools. Bar-pass rates declined, at least in part a result of desperate admission standards…. That link raises the ugly specter, no less real, of students being exploited for tuition money when law schools know that their application data portend significant disappointment. Further, with law schools simultaneously under pressure to enhance diversity and access to legal education, the risk of the afore-described exploitation is compounded by its discriminatory impact.”

With those developments, it seems likely that the State Bar has finally run out of time. Its stonewalling tactics bought it ten years to shield from scrutiny its social engineering scheme of admitting marginally qualified minority students.

Members of the California State Bar and officials at top law schools in the state no doubt believe that they’re doing something good – something to advance “social justice” – by (as they see it) helping students from “underrepresented groups” get into the best law schools. But they would be wise to heed the words of Thomas Sowell, who has written, “Before you can be a partisan of the poor, you must first be a partisan of the truth.” If they really want to help students from “underrepresented” racial groups, they should first find out if they are actually doing them harm.

The shame is that State Bar officials have worked so long and hard to prevent inquiry into the consequences of race preferences in law school admissions.

The Decline and Fall of Sociology

As totalitarian modes of rule continue to decline throughout the world, readers of Minding the Campus will recognize the insidious strain of totalitarianism that has emerged on many college campuses—one that is characterized by the bullying, and sometimes silencing of faculty and students who deviate even slightly from the prescribed progressive campus politics.

Most recently, after decades of distinguished service, Penn Law Professor Amy Wax, was removed from teaching first-year law students because she had the temerity to co-write an op-ed that critically questioned the liberal orthodoxy that “all cultures are created equal;” and then followed the op-ed with an interview in which she suggested that affirmative action in American law schools appears to have imposed unexpected costs on their intended beneficiaries.

A Long List of Special Agendas

There is data to support Professor Wax’s assertions, and not so long ago there were sociologists who were willing to step forward to provide it. Having developed into an ideology, instead of a study of ideology, sociology has become what the late sociologist Irving Louis Horowitz described as: “a gathering of individuals who have special agendas, from gay and lesbian rights to liberation theology.” In his 1994 book, The Decomposition of Sociology, Horowitz writes: “any notion of a common democratic culture has become suspect. Ideologists masked as sociologists attack the very notion of a universal scientific base as a dangerous form of bourgeois objectivism, or worse, as an imperialist pretention. High crime rates were seen only as an expression of capitalist disintegration, and criminal behavior became a covert expression of revolutionary action.”

Related: Why Was Professor Amy Wax Punished?

The study of deviant behavior, once one of the most important sub-disciplines within sociology, became “simply a term of moral opprobrium; all social norms were really bourgeois norms; opposition to such norms represented alternative lifestyles at the least and revolutionary consciousness at the most.” Horowitz recognized more than three decades ago that such a worldview denies an external world of commonly shared experience.

In one of the first sociology texts, Emile Durkheim warned that moral unity could be assured only if all members of a society were anchored to some common assumptions about the world around them. Durkheim knew that without these assumptions, a society was bound to degenerate and decay. The function of society is to constitute a regulative force, setting limits on individual actions—recognizing that deviance is an integral part of all societies because it affirms cultural norms and values. Durkheim realized that it is impossible for any society to be free of deviance—even a “society of saints” will have its sinners—and deviance will always be present in every society at about the same rate.

‘Demands for Correct Politics’

As sociology has become balkanized along political lines, driven by an expanding number of interest groups, Horowitz predicted the discipline itself would become a “series of demands for correct politics rather than a set of studies of social culture.” He was right. There are now 52 sections of the American Sociological Association (ASA), each one devoted to a particular subfield that has almost nothing in common with other subfields. Many have become advocacy groups like the sections on “Sex and Gender,” and a separate section on “Race, Gender and Class.” The section on “Economic Sociology,” has little in common with the one on “Marxist Sociology” and shares nothing with the section on “Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility.”

Related: Identity Politics and the New ‘Me’ Generation

There is often tension within and between the groups as boundaries are tightly drawn, and new sections continue to emerge to meet new demands. In contrast, the section on the “Sociology of Sexualities” is simply stated: “to encourage and enhance and foster research, teaching and other professional activities in the sociology of sexuality.” The section on “Sex and Gender” is devoted to research on “gendered and sexual relations,” and recently awarded their “best paper” designation to “Producing Desirable Bodies: Boundary Work in a Lesbian Niche Dating Site.” Sections rarely dissolve—although sections on Catholic or Christian Sociology or Jewish issues are nowhere to be found. Last year’s prize in the Sociology of Religion section was awarded to a paper entitled: “Christians under Covers: Evangelicals and Sexual Pleasure on the Internet.”

Just as Horowitz predicted, the rejection of a common culture with shared values has spread far beyond sociology, throughout all of the social sciences, and has even infected the Humanities. Within the current campus climate, it’s incorrect for Professor Wax to question the contributors to the culture of poverty that have emerged to keep people poor. In response, she has been publicly pilloried for her incorrect views as the public denouncements from the Law School dean and some of her colleagues call to mind the public shaming techniques used centuries ago in Colonial America, described so well in 1966 by the sociologist Kai Erikson in Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance. But, since the recipients of such public attacks are more likely to be those who have deviated from the progressive ideologies of their colleagues and campus culture, little attention is paid.

‘Making Sense of the Madness’

Irving Louis Horowitz paid attention. In fact, he often told his students—and those of us who were the grateful beneficiaries of his often harsh but always insightful editorial critiques of our work—that the real purpose of sociology was “to make some sense out of the madness.” For Horowitz, the real problem in sociology is that the discipline no longer looks at reality. Replacing the real world with a utopian future of classlessness and equality of outcome for all, sociology has abandoned scientism as an official ideology, moving away from valuing an open economic marketplace and a liberal pluralism to embrace socialism and social welfare models.

Related: The Purge of the Deviants May Go Too Far

Horowitz worried that in some ways, the campus had become fertile ground for the kinds of collectivist ideologies that gave rise to the oppressive practices of the last century. Some data—including data describing the unintended consequences of affirmative action, the culture of poverty, the outcomes for children raised by same-sex couples, or the possibility of post-abortion grief—are all off limits for serious social scientists who want to get tenure. This is not unlike the reality for sociologists living under Soviet communism where social information was kept from social scientists. Horowitz reminded us that: “Among the data that were not published in the Soviet Union were statistics on the distribution of crime, on the frequency of suicide, the level of consumption of alcohol and drugs, the condition of the environment in various cities and areas.” Today, despite being mandated by federal law, California refuses to release data on the demographics of abortion rates, claiming that compiling and disseminating abortion rates by race and ethnicity is too politically charged. Most recently, several states have announced lawsuits against the federal government for attempting to compile census data on the rates of undocumented immigration.

Castro and Franco—Two Tyrants

On March 26, 2012, the New York Times published Horowitz’s obituary with the headline: “Sociologist and Ideological Critic Dies at 82.” Horowitz would have been horrified to see himself described as an ideologue because he spent so many of the last years of his life fighting against the ideological thinking that he believed was destroying the discipline of sociology. But, many people did not understand this “man of the left” who came to the realization that those he called “left-wing fascists” and “professional savages” were subverting objective, empirical approaches to the social sciences. While some still think of him as a neo-conservative in the mold of Irving Kristol, even The New York Times had to admit that Horowitz “professed no political allegiance. In a 2007 article, he argued that Fidel Castro, the Cuban Communist leader, and Francisco Franco, the conservative leader of Spain, were equivalent tyrants.”

Horowitz understood that sociology only has a future to the extent that it helps in the betterment of the human condition. He believed that if it remained unrelated to human needs, its future would not be as a science, but as “part of the world of esoterica.” His predictions were correct as much sociology has retreated into a self-contained world with little connection to reality.

Still, Horowitz offers a way out. Claiming that the root of the problem in sociology was epistemological—the abandonment of reason—Horowitz believed that sociologists became hostage to dichotomies between value judgments and the facts of reality; between morality and technical progress; between artistic imagination and sociological inquiry; and between pure and applied research. He believed it is better to view sociologists as “sensitizing agents in moral discourse,” and he understood—like the founders of the discipline—that the ability to get beyond an assumption that sociology and morality are irrelevant to one another would be a significant step forward.

Why Was Professor Amy Wax Punished?

Nearly 10 years ago, Penn law professor Amy Wax wrote an excellent book, Race, Wrongs, and Remedies: Group Justice in the 21st Century. Last summer she co-authored a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed arguing that all cultures are not equal. It provoked a virtual implosion at Penn and beyond. Now she’s done it again, becoming a larger and stronger voice for sanity simply by stating facts that have caused large numbers of Penn law deans, colleagues, and students to erupt.

In a March 21 video interview with Brown University economist Glenn Loury, Wax stated that she didn’t think she’d ever seen black law students in the top of their class because they had been admitted with lower qualifications than their peers. This time, after the predictable response from progressive sources, Wax was “barred from teaching” her required first-year course. She replied in an incisive Wall Street Journal op-ed, and the controversy, with an emphasis on Penn’s cravenness, was ably summarized by Heather Mac Donald here.

It should no longer be surprising that progressives want to ban or silence views that make them uncomfortable, but it is nevertheless striking that in this case, Professor Wax’s offense consisted of nothing more than stating, in effect, that her personal observations confirmed the findings of Richard Sander’s and Stuart Taylor’s “magisterial” (from my review on Minding The Campus) Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It.

Two-thirds of Black Students in Bottom 15%

Sander’s empirical analyses, summarized here, found, for example, that “two-thirds of black [law] students end up in that bottom 15%” of their classes and that that “the median black student at all of the schools using substantial racial preferences had an LGPA that placed her within only the sixth percentile of the white students. In other words, 94 percent of whites were getting better grades than the median black. Conversely, only about 10 percent of all black students were making it into the top half of their classes.”

Incidentally, or perhaps not so incidentally, Sander’s initial publication of his findings, “Systematic Analysis of Affirmative Action in American Law Schools,” 57 Stanford Law Review 367 (2004), had first been submitted to the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. “Within a couple weeks, they got in touch with news that the piece had been accepted for publication,” Sander reported in Mismatch. “But a few days later a very embarrassed editor called back.  Word about the article had spread to the entire Law Review membership, and a battle had erupted over whether UPLR should be associated with something so controversial. The membership had eventually voted to rescind the offer.”

Law Review Refuses to Run Article

One suspects that the “battle that erupted” among the membership of the Penn law review may have been related to the fact that the UPLR had adopted an affirmative action appointment procedure. As described by The New York Times, “the key to the new system seems to be keeping secret newly established numerical goals, so that law students will not be able to determine who is an affirmative action appointment.”

Law School Dean Ted Ruger asserted that “the Law Review does not have a diversity mandate,” but, of course, that does not mean or even claim, it does not have an affirmative action selection procedure. In a similar fashion Dean Ruger has claimed that Wax’s statements are false, but he has not released any data to refute her. In any event, nothing seems to have improved at Penn law since its shameful treatment of Sander in 2004.

Although the spectacle of snowflake students, professors, and deans responding with shock and awe to controversial ideas is all too familiar, there are implications of this latest Wax contretemps that should raise troubling new concerns. Since Professor Wax’s offense is that her personal observations tended to confirm Professor Sander’s analysis, does it follow that Sander’s work should not be assigned to any class Penn students are required to take?

“Oh, no, that’s not the same!” Penn’s skittish deans and sensitive students might insist since work critical of Sander could also be assigned to assure “inclusiveness” etc. But in that case, wouldn’t a professor suggesting, implying, or — heaven forbid — stating that she agrees with Sander also make those objecting Penn students and their enablers feel uncomfortable and “unwelcome”?

The attack on Wax makes clear that the defense of racial preferences requires not only discrimination on the basis of race — that has long been clear — but protecting students from being exposed to unwelcome evidence and suppressing unpopular expression and, perhaps ultimately, even subversive thoughts.

Achilles and the Wyf of Bath Compete in Oklahoma

Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University, writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the course W.H. Auden launched at the University of Michigan in 1941. It’s 6,000 pages of the most powerful literature in the canon: The Divine Comedy in full, four works of Shakespeare, Pascal’s Pensées, Horace’s odes, Volpone, Racine, Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, Moby-Dick, The Brothers Karamazov, Faust, Baudelaire and Rimbaud, Kafka, Rilke, T.S. Eliot. Auden even included nine operas.

A year-long, team-taught version of Auden’s course, with some additions and subtractions, opened at the University of Oklahoma last fall, and all slots were filled within minutes. Visiting that class, Bauerlein found the students taking delight in the Western canon” and holding fast to themes of little currency in the research world: destiny, God and “the gods,” a meaningful life, authority.

He wrote in the Chronicle: “I advise the traditionalists to try the Oklahoma way. Design your Western-civ or Great Books course and ramp it up to Auden levels. Be frank about the reading challenge. Boast of the aged, uncontemporary nature of the materials.
Highlight the old-fashioned themes of greatness, heroism and villainy, love and betrayal, God and Truth, and say nothing against intersectionality and other currencies. Your antagonists are mediocrity, youth culture, presentism, and the disengagement of professors and students. You occupy a competitive terrain, and your brand is Achilles, Narcissus, the Wyf of Bath, Isolde, and Bigger. Let’s see what happens. Let the undergrads decide.”

How ‘White’ Western History Has Become an SNL Skit on Campus

In National Review this week, George Weigel writes a pointed commentary on another example of humanities professors undermining their own field. It’s a curious phenomenon, but one you often see. A scholar-teacher steps forward to condemn or distort the materials of his own field, or to rebuke past and present practitioners of it, not realizing the consequence of his actions. I just opened the Chronicle of Higher Education website and found an essay at the top of the Opinion section entitled, “The Whitesplaining of History Is Over.”

It’s written by a history professor at Stanford who begins by noting how the academy used to be “the exclusive playground of white men [who] produced the theories of race, gender and Western cultural superiority that underwrote imperialism abroad and inequality at home.” Fortunately, we are told, women and people of color are now correcting that vile record of white supremacy and changing the profession for the better.

Many conservatives might judge the Chronicle harshly for publishing an essay so packed with ressentiment and clichéd in its reasoning. Instead, however, we should thank the editors for revealing the presence of such bilious attitudes among the elite professorate. It helps explain why history enrollments are plummeting. Would you like to spend an entire semester at Stanford proselytized by this personality?

Weigel’s exhibit comes from College of the Holy Cross. There, he reports, the incoming chairman of religious studies wrote some years before this about how the Gospel of John presents the last days of Jesus:

Oddly, John defines Jesus’ masculinity with a body that is open to penetration. . . . Even more oddly, Jesus’ ability to face his “hour” is repeatedly associated with his acknowledging and communing with his Father (12.27–28; 14.12,28; 16.10, 17, 28; 17.1–25; 18.11), who is, as Jesus explicitly states, “with me” (16/32) throughout this process, which Jesus describes as one of giving birth (16.21–22). What I am suggesting is that, when Jesus’ body is being penetrated, his thoughts are on his Father. He is, in other words, imagining his passion experience as a (masochistic?) sexual relation with his own Father.

This is beyond parody. We would wonder about the mental state of the author if such readings weren’t so common. As Weigel notes, it is “exceptionally inane,” just another hack rehearsal of queer interpretation, one that says more about “the exegete and his imagination than about St. John and his intentions.” It has a high “yuck factor,” too, but that hasn’t stopped the author from enjoying considerable authority at his Catholic institution.

One thing we can be sure of when we read such things by the Stanford historian and the Holy cross theologian: they don’t give a thought to the impression they make on outsiders. Their colleagues may nod in approval, but the vast majority of Americans, including students who attend such schools, realize instantly that this is a teacher they shall avoid.

If you love history and learned it from popular historians such as Bruce Catton and Stephen Ambrose, you will learn from the Stanford prof that those figures were just a pack of “whitesplainers.” And your enjoyment of them is shameful. If you’re a devout Christian who regards the Last Supper as the first step in the “holy hush of ancient sacrifice” (to borrow a line from Wallace Stevens), the Holy Cross theologian’s speculations are sickening. One couldn’t imagine a mathematician “queering” topology in this way. An engineer can’t denounce the white men in his own field and profit from it. Progressives are, certainly, trying to introduce identity politics into STEM fields, of course, but the empirical element and analytical rigor are steady forces of resistance.

No doubt many humanities professors would praise these and similar figures as brave and edgy intellects, but that’s only comforting pretense. The truth is the opposite. A scholar who shows gratitude for traditionalist projects such as Great Books of the Western World is the one who risks his reputation among those who count—that is, among the people who will review him for hiring and promotion.

There is a greater sin than self-regard here, though. These fools don’t realize that you can’t knock your own field and be an advocate of it. As long as history and English and theology were secure in the undergraduate curriculum, with enrollments high and resources steady, one could play the adversarial game, treating your own field and colleagues with a hermeneutics of suspicion. But now that the Golden Age has passed, when Boomers poured onto campus and the humanities fields were a default major, the professors must think more about their image.

And there’s the problem. They don’t want to do it. To inspire students with the greatness of the materials of their field, they would have to believe in that greatness. They don’t. To allow students to savor literary and history and art would be to fall short of the critical thinking professors say is essential to humanistic study. These figures prefer guilt, or risqué irreverence, or demystification. They don’t realize how much of a downer they are. They have presided over the fields during their downfall, but they won’t look in the mirror and acknowledge their responsibility. Their shtick is set, and it’s worked for them for so long that they don’t see any reason to change.

The Battle Over Pronouns Coming to a College Near You

Last year, Jordan Peterson, a professor at the University of Toronto, made news when he refused to use the invented pronouns of the transgender movement as prescribed by Canadian law (see chart).

Pronouns these days are a new battleground, as recommendations admonish us all that the standard English pronouns, which traditionally distinguish she from he, him from her, are discriminatory and must now be reassigned or reinvented upon request.

Still, it’s worth asking: By changing nouns and pronouns, is one changing one’s sex? If I force you to refer to me as he when all anatomical and biological signs indicate I’m a she, have I thereby consolidated a new identity? Does saying it make it so? But then, if physical reality has no traction, why should a “woman” get outraged at the uninvited display of a “penis” in one setting (such as a late-night meeting in a hotel room), but not at precisely the same intrusion in another setting (say, a bathroom or shower room now accessible to all those who “identify as female”)?

Although the purpose of a common language is to enable people to communicate in agreed-upon ways, lately that accord has been breached at the most fundamental level. Why should the existence of a small number of people who decide they “identify” as another sex dictate the use of nouns and pronouns to the rest of the population? Because the real energy behind this seemingly minor adjustment to our language is something much greater: a desire to disguise a fundamental fact of mammal life: sexual dimorphism. This explains the demand that each person’s choice of pronoun must be respected by others (all 7.6 billion of us).

Obviously, the true target isn’t that vast majority of the population that has no difficulty with being referred to by words that correspond to their biological sex. But when sex is transformed into something “assigned at birth”—with the implication that this was a random or an ideologically tainted act—no one is allowed to be comfortable with being a mere he or she, despite clear biological evidence of maleness or femaleness. That’s why we now have terms such as cisgender, heteronormative, and transphobic.

An odd fantasy lies behind these demands: that changing one’s language means changing one’s reality. The material world, however, is intractable, unforgiving. Men who identify as women are no more likely to die of uterine cancer than women who identify as men will develop testicular cancer. Yet these days it’s become necessary to state the obvious. Identifying as female won’t make one menstruate (a term itself offensive since it contains within it the syllable “men,” particularly unfortunate in this context; etymology be damned). Even worse, languages that do not have gender-specific pronouns –such as Hungarian– have had no trouble manifesting traditional gender roles and even, gasp, patriarchal traditions nonetheless. Perhaps we should all switch to Hungarian anyway, on the slim chance that this will usher in a glorious future.

The new pronoun dispensations naturally depend upon a prior transformation in the use of nouns.  Professors should, therefore, avoid referring to students as man or woman (e.g. “the man sitting near the window”). To accommodate a few individuals, then, the rest of us must pretend that sexual dimorphism has been “theorized” out of existence through decades of insistence on the social construction of everything.

Critics, however, note that transsexuals often seem determined to reinvigorate sex and gender stereotypes. Those who think this is merely a “transphobic” observation might want to check out the entirely traditional exploitation of “feminine” sexuality evident in Bruce Jenner’s transformation into the glamorous Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair in 2015. Throughout the country, women pushing 70 probably wept with envy. And pronouns, uncaring, rapidly realigned themselves.

The effort to do away with conventional language norms in English is not new. Many creative writers have played with these ideas. The first such book I came across was the utopian romance Beatrice the Sixteenth, by “Irene Clyde”–who turned out to be the British jurist Thomas Baty, whose unofficial life’s work was dismantling gender roles while actually promoting “feminine” values. Published in 1909, the novel assiduously avoids any nouns or pronouns indicating gender, so that the reader has no way of identifying the sex of the characters. Numerous other writers, especially starting in the 1970s, have engaged in similar language games as they spun out their imagined societies. Marge Piercy’s 1976 utopian novel Woman on the Edge of Time, for example, uses “person” for he/she, and “per” for his/her. To this day creative writers continue in their quest for societies without gender.

In the real world, psychologist Barbara Greenberg (2018), who describes herself as “a huge fan of social inclusion,” recently argued that schools should prohibit students from forming “best friends.” Why? Because this practice leads to emotional distress: “The word ‘best’ encourages judgment and promotes exclusion.” Instead, parents should encourage their children to have a small group of close friends. Or, one might add, they could just send their kids to convents, which have a long history of attempting to suppress what were called “particular friendships.”

L.P. Hartley’s book, Facial Justice, published in 1960, features a fictitious newspaper called The Daily Leveller.  The “paper” argues that correcting grammar and spelling errors should be banned because it can lead to envy and bitterness. Particularly unacceptable is the tyranny of the Objective Case, because, “it wasn’t fair for a word to be governed by a verb or even a preposition. Words can only be free if they’re equal, and how can they be equal if they’re governed by other words?”

Perhaps the linguistic totalitarianism in Lou Tafler’s inventive novel Fair New World (1994) will soon set the standard. Tafler (the pseudonym of philosophy professor Lou Marinoff) takes the battle of the sexes to new extremes. He imagines three separate societies, two of which are dystopias: Bruteland inhabited by men, and Feminania by women. The third is an amusing utopian alternative called Melior.

In Feminania, the Femininnies have created a language called Fairspeak. The letter combinations (not merely morphemes) man and men, regardless of the context in which they occur, have been replaced by feminist-inspired alternatives: womb, womban, and womben. This produces terms such as wombdate, wombanacle, and dewomband.  Etymology counts for nothing, just as in the real-world preference for herstory, promoted by feminists starting decades ago.

Even gender-neutral endings are revised in Feminania: er and or are replaced by her, as in acther and disasther. Naturally, son becomes daughther, producing words such as pherdaughther,, pridaughther, readaughther, and just plain daughtherg (= song). Gent is replaced by lady, as in intellilady, dililady, and ladylewombanly.

In all sections of the book dealing with Feminania, then, the reader must slog through a soup of zany, multisyllabic terms such as wombanufacture, docuwombentary, wombagewombent, and comwombencewombent.  The author, however, has thoughtfully provided a glossary. In addition, for the 20th anniversary edition of Fair New World, in 2014, Professor Hardy Orbs of Amherst College contributed a foreword that, among other things, clearly explains the basic rules of Fairspeak.

All these fictional efforts reflect a strict, even obsessive, adherence to rules. And this makes it impossible to avoid noticing that the new pronoun policing, meant to facilitate breaking the rules of sexual dimorphism and encouraging self-selection of sexual identities, is paradoxically dictatorial. We must give up the gendered language that a few individuals find uncomfortable, for not being comfortable is now taken to be identical to experiencing discrimination.

In practice, however, comfort is hardly the issue, since transgender rights must supersede all others. To refuse to conform is dastardly – and it’s unclear what the consequences might be: Perhaps the language police will come calling. In Canada, they’re already in place.

In June 2017, Canada passed Bill C-16, which added the categories “gender identity or expression” to its Human Rights Act, thereby prohibiting discrimination directed against trans people. That’s on the federal level. Most Canadian provinces have made similar reforms to their codes, covering workplaces, schools, hospitals, etc.

It all sounds reasonable enough, until one considers the effect of these new statutes on free speech, as law professor Bruce Pardy explains. The Ontario Human Rights Commission, for example, declared that “refusing to refer to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity … will likely be discrimination when it takes place in a social area covered by the Code, including employment, housing, and services like education.”

The law’s defenders dismissed critics’ concerns as absurd and “transphobic.” Yet when one senator proposed an amendment to the bill clarifying that it was not intended to actually require particular language use, this was summarily rejected. The same article notes that the ostensible pursuit of human rights has turned into a zero-sum game, one that expands even further government’s intrusion into daily life. Until now, individuals never got to impose their particular noun and pronoun preferences on all others. “When speech is merely restricted, you can at least keep your thoughts to yourself. Compelled speech makes people say things with which they disagree,” Pardy observes. And that, of course, is the point: to force conformity to a new social agenda, rooted in identity politics.

What if one forgets? Will there be a punitive fine? Re-education? Perhaps harsher measures for repeat offenders? Canada is ahead of the U.S. in such legislation, though in fact, equal protection is patently not the aim. Earlier in 2017, for example, the Canadian parliament passed a (non-binding) motion condemning anti-Islamic rhetoric and behavior – in the guise of an anti-discrimination bill. When amendments were offered that would include other religions in the motion as well, they were rejected.

But in the United States, the First Amendment (a word with two “men” in it) thus far prevents the government from compelling speech. You can’t be forced to recite the pledge of allegiance, or to show respect when it is recited by others. Perhaps pronoun justice will supersede such old-fashioned notions of individual rights, not based on group affiliation.

Sexual harassment law and the numerous regulations that follow from it, policing of language, and other related obsessions seem to aim ultimately at denaturing sexual identity to the point that anyone can claim to be anything (thus far, still confined to the human realm), which entails the right to be addressed by the noun and pronoun of one’s choice. This may look to some like respect for individualism, but it is in fact group coercion. There’s no demand here for tolerance, only for obeisance. Not just: don’t interfere with my desires and preferences, but: you must support them and subordinate your own to them. Yet this diktat applies only to gender, not to race, as we see in the denunciations of those who “identify as” Black or Native American but really aren’t. In those cases, somehow, biology still matters.

As Humpty Dumpty says to Alice, “When I use a word… it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” But, objects Alice, the question is “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” Not so, Humpty Dumpty replies; the real question is “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Will Colleges Divest from The Gun Industry?

Bowing to pressure from MoveOn.org, Monsignor Franklyn M. Casale, the President of St. Thomas University in Miami, issued an ultimatum on March 13 to Anita Britt, his Chief Financial and Administrative Officer: choose between your work for this university or membership on the Board of American Outdoor Brands, the former Smith & Wesson Holding Company cited as the maker of the AR-15 that Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz used –you can’t do both. Britt chose the gunmaker.

It was an abrupt reversal for Monsignor Casale who as recently as March 9th issued a letter of support for Britt—stating that the university has a policy aligning with one adopted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “calling for reasonable approaches to gun violence.” Casale claimed that “American Outdoor Brands provides her the opportunity to participate in helping the company achieve its objectives of making our communities safer. Her role with the company does not conflict with her responsibilities here at St. Thomas. We look forward to her continued participation in our leadership.”

Across-the-Board Divestment

Four days later, in the wake of a well-publicized MoveOn petition that garnered nearly 300 signatures, Casale changed his mind and issued the ultimatum to Britt. Casale tried to explain his reversal to the Miami Herald: “After my statement of this past Friday, it has become clear that many of the sensible and reasonable solutions to this gun epidemic, which have been discussed previously, were becoming less and less clear.”

The MoveOn petition calling for Britt to step down was created by Praveen Kathpal, an Alexandria, Virginia resident who is a Vice President for an energy storage company. Kathpal also serves as Chair of the Board of Directors of the Energy Storage Association—an energy advocacy group. Claiming to have become an anti-gun advocate following the 2017 shooting at the Congressional a baseball practice at the YMCA ball field his son had attended, Kathpal sent an email to the Miami Herald warning “if individual influential people are urged to confront their place in America’s gun violence epidemic through societal pressure, they might make different choices.” Kathpal has also created a second MoveOn petition calling for the resignation of Smith and Wesson Board member Greg Gluchowski, a CEO for a Cincinnati company.

The St. Thomas reversal is just the latest attempt by MoveOn to control campus conversations on a long list of progressive causes including divesting from fossil fuels, increasing access to reproductive rights, expanding transgender rights, and most recently, gun control. Badgering board members is just the start. There are now calls for universities to divest from the gun industry.

Divestment campaigns at universities began in the 1970s when activists demanded divestment in South Africa because of its apartheid. Bloomberg reported that by 1988, 155 educational institutions had severed investment ties, pressured by protests at Harvard, Columbia, Michigan State and others. Aligning an institution’s money with its stated values is reasonable, especially when socially responsible investing might have positive impacts. But there are many gray areas.

More recently, divestment has focused on fossil fuels. A few years ago, the University of Dayton—a Catholic university in the middle of the rebounding coal and shale industry—announced its intention to become the first Catholic university in the country to divest coal and fossil fuels from its $670 million investment pool.

Although pressure for universities to divest from the gun industry has been unsuccessful in the past, it is likely to gain traction in the wake of the Parkland shooting. According to Bloomberg, the University of Notre Dame, with $11.8 billion under management, “adheres to guidelines from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which asks members to avoid companies that do harm.”

Notre Dame declined to say whether it holds firearms investments, citing a policy of not commenting on its investments. Bloomberg reports that some colleges and universities are prohibited from social activism. The University of Texas, with its $40 billion, is governed by a policy banning investments that would “advance social or political purposes.”

While some colleges, like Grinnell, have continued to honor agreements with donors who hold the highest positions at the National Rifle Association, it is likely that others will attempt to divest. Inside Higher Ed reports that “interest in divestment has spiked in recent weeks.” Some of the largest university money managers, like TIAA-Cref, have been targets of online petitions.

It is likely that the pressure St. Thomas University faced will be replicated elsewhere as anti-gun billionaires like George Soros will continue to bully colleges and universities with ties to the gun industry. Soros has a long history of this kind of bullying. In 1998, Soros funded an unsuccessful lawsuit against gun manufacturers. At the World Economic Forum in 2016, when Soros was asked by International Business Times whether he believed investors who support gun control should divest from firearms companies, he responded: “I’m very much against guns, and if it can be organized on a large enough scale, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.”

Still, his antipathy to guns has not prevented Soros from benefiting financially from the gun industry. Securities and Exchange Commission filings reviewed by the International Business Times demonstrated that Soros Fund Management was a top institutional shareholder in Vista Outdoors—one of the country’s top ammunition manufacturer, and Olin Corporation, which makes ammunition under the Winchester name.

The Soros Fund purchased a stake in Vista in early 2015 and held $11.4 million worth of shares in the company at the end of September 2015. Soros is not alone in this. While the American Federation of Teachers has backed gun control proposals, the pension savings of its members have been invested in the firearms industry, and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System owned $7 million worth of shares in Vista and Olin.

Whether the pressure to divest from the gun industry will succeed on additional college campuses remains to be seen. Northwestern University, Texas A & M University, the University of California system and the University of Michigan have already indicated that they do not have investments in firearm manufacturers. Others are likely to follow.

The Lack of Integrity at Penn

“The diversity imperative demands dissimulation and evasion,” Heather Mac Donald writes in City Journal about the public shaming by Penn Law School of Professor Amy Wax for pointing out hard truths about racial preferences. Many of us would put that assertion less politely and simply say that sustaining such preferences and cloaking their true costs requires a good deal of sustained lying. Mac Donald argues that the ubiquity of racial preferences must be suppressed in public discourse, “since they undercut the narrative that white racism is the driving force in American society.”

Read more about Amy Wax and academic freedom here:

Jordan Peterson Provokes the Angry SJWs

I didn’t really want Jordan Peterson to provide me with 12 Rules for Life. It was enough that Professor Peterson defied the transgender advocates at the University of Toronto who wanted him to adopt nonsense pronouns to address his students. It was heartening to see Professor Peterson stand his ground against that obnoxious guardian of PC verities, Britain’s Channel 4 political correspondent Cathy Newman. But I had no special interest in watching his YouTube lectures and podcasts or plunging into Professor Peterson’s 400-page how-to book (12 Rules) for those suffering the anomie of modern life.

Then along comes Pankaj Mishra in the New York Review of Books to explain the link between “Jordan Peterson & Fascist Mysticism,” and I see no real choice but to pay some attention to the slightly eccentric Canadian defender of English pronouns. Is he the emerging leader of a crypto-fascist cult? Someone leading youth down the path of dangerous lies and illusions? Or is he, as I had supposed, a well-spoken contrarian who has decided to take a personal stand against some of the self-destructive silliness of our age?

I won’t keep you in suspense. Peterson is pretty much who he appears to be to those who have not become unhinged by their hinge-destroying wokeness. That is, Peterson strives to be a gentleman, but one who has honed some sharp opinions about feminism, social justice warriors, and attempts to put progressive ideology in the center of domestic life. These things mark Peterson as an enemy to Pankaj Mishra, an Indian essayist and novelist, who has something of a side-specialty in penning diatribes against Western scholars who do not come up to his standards.

In 2011, Mishra attacked the British historian and Harvard professor Niall Ferguson for his book Civilization: The West and the Rest, accusing Ferguson of racism. Ferguson responded in strong words, quoted in The Guardian, describing Mishra’s critique as “a crude attempt at character assassination” that “mendaciously misrepresents my work but also strongly implies that I am a racist.” He called Mishra’s article “libelous and dishonest.”

Mishra likewise went after the distinguished British journalist Douglas Murray in a New York Times review of Murray’s book, The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam. He characterizes Murray’s book as “a handy digest of far-right clichés,” “fundamentally incoherent,” and marked by “retro claims of ethnic-religious community, and fears of contamination”—all without any attention to what Murray truly says. Mishra goes out of his way to continue his attack on Murray in his essay on Peterson, linking the two as members of the “far right sect” that idolizes Solzhenitsyn and deplores “the attraction of the young to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.” The “sect” appears to consist of everyone who has doubts about the left’s current conception of “egalitarianism.”

Mishra no doubt pleased his readership at the London Review of Books and The New York Times with his attempted take-downs of Ferguson and Murray, and I expect no less from the readers of the New York Review of Books in the case of Peterson. The left is perpetually hungry for figures it can demonize. It can gorge on its hatred of Trump but still feel an appetite to devour some other prey. Mishra’s article is an attempt to supply a recipe. Peterson is staked out mainly because he has become so popular, or, as Mishra puts it, Peterson’s “intellectual populism has risen with stunning velocity; and it is boosted, like the political populisms of our time, by predominantly male and frenzied followers.”

So, part of the problem with Peterson is that he attracts those frenzied deplorables. What does Peterson really have to offer in 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos?

No, Not Mysticism

Peterson is a clinical psychologist who has wide-ranging interests in mythology, literature, religion, and philosophy. When Mishra jabs at him for “mysticism,” he goes wide of the mark. Peterson is a rationalist attempting to find a core of meaning in the world’s diverse myths and religions. When Mishra doubles up with the charge of “fascist mysticism,” he is apparently extrapolating from Peterson’s adoption of Martin Heidegger’s use of the term Being (“with a capital B”). Heidegger was one of the 20th century’s most important philosophers, but he infamously threw in his lot with the Nazis, and he is not everyone’s bottle of schnapps. Not mine at any rate. Still, Being “with a capital B” is a long-established philosophical term, and Peterson provides a layman’s definition at the outset. “Being” is “the totality of human experience,” in contrast to objective reality. It is “what each of us experiences, subjectively, personally and individually, as well as what we each experience jointly with others.”

That’s as technical as Peterson ever gets, and it is neither mystical nor fascist. The rest of the book consists of happily phrased bits of advice (the “12 rules”) that are really occasions for discursive essays that weave together humor, science, and common sense. The literary tradition that Peterson belongs to is that of 18th century English essayists such as Addison and Steele in The Spectator and Samuel Johnson in The Rambler. Those writers could be framed as “intellectual populists” too since their goal was to uplift the growing middle class through palatable moral instruction. Different times call for different tones, but it would not be far from the mark to say that Jordan Peterson is the Joseph Addison of the 21st century.

No Slouching, Shoulders Back

Rule 1: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” I’ve heard this often enough from my gym trainer to wonder whether he should get a cut of Peterson’s royalties. But, no. Along with most people, I heard it through childhood. It is age-old wisdom. I know of no culture where children are taught, “Slouch when you stand, and hunch your shoulders.” So, Peterson starts on firm ground. His first rule isn’t just for desk-bound Americans or slouchy teenagers. It has common humanity written into it, or, if you will, Being.

But it is less the rule than the essay written around the rule that counts. In this case, Peterson begins by comparing the territoriality of lobsters and house wrens, thus establishing that the animals that are wired to defend themselves range from the ocean bottom to the air. We then learn a bit about the dire consequences to a lobster that loses its fight for its territory. (Its brain shrinks.) This leads to some comments on neurochemistry and an observation on the “unequal distribution” of “creative production. Most scientific papers are published by a handful of scientists. Only a relative few musicians produce most of the recorded music, etc. Once dominance is established, the winner usually prevails without a fight. All the victorious lobster needs do is “wiggle his antennae in a threatening manner.”

This takes us but a few pages into the world of Rule 1, but the reader by this point can foresee the destination. Standing up straight with your shoulders back is the way human beings signal confidence and mastery of the situation. We are men, not lobsters, but we are all part of a biological order that follows the same basic rules. “Walk tall and gaze forthrightly ahead,” says Peterson, and good things will happen. People will assume “you are competent and able.” You will be “less anxious.” “Your conversations will flow better.” And “you may choose to embrace Being, and work for its furtherance and improvement.” And after that, “you may be able to accept the terrible burden of the World [with a capital W] and find joy.”

The whole essay flows smoothly with Peterson’s lightly-worn erudition until it hits the curb at the very end with that joyful embrace of Being. Some readers no doubt will find it gives a little spring to their intellectual step—a sense that we have transcended the order of Crustacea and are now in the sad but ennobling predicament of humanity. I don’t mind so much Peterson’s efforts to elevate the prospect, but his stepping stool of Heidegger’s jargon is intrusive.

But does it make Peterson a fascist mystic? No, it makes him, like most scholars, someone who indulges some of his whims.

Hierarchies Found in Nature

In his explanation of why Peterson is so bad, Mishra touches on Peterson’s universalism. Peterson, he says, “insists that gender and class hierarchies are ordained by nature and validated by science.” This is a serious distortion of Peterson’s point. Peterson, it can be fairly said, argues that the principle of hierarchy can be found in nature and that humans are not at all exempt from that principle. But that is a very long way from saying that Peterson validates “gender and class hierarchies” in general. He does nothing of the kind.

Mishra speculates that “reactionary white men will surely be thrilled by Peterson’s loathing for ‘social justice warriors.’” And he proposes that “those embattled against political correctness on university campuses will heartily endorse Peterson’s claims” that whole academic disciplines are hostile to men. Well, now that you mention it Pankaj, the latter statement seems securely grounded in the facts. But isn’t it a bit odd to attack a book and an author by speculating on the sorts of readers the book may attract? For what it is worth, I suspect the core audience for 12 Rules for Life includes plenty of young women as well as young men, launched into adult life from colleges and universities that have given them no serious moral preparation at all—only a basketful of social justice slogans and anti-Western attitudes.

David Brooks extolled Peterson’s book in The New York Times but, like Mishra, takes the book as mainly directed to young men for whom it counsels, “discipline, courage and self-sacrifice.” Oddly, it is only young women reading it on the subway. Perhaps they are looking for those disciplined, courageous, and self-sacrificing young men, who are now so conspicuous by their rarity.

Peterson is stepping into that space with a non-sectarian message that respects the multicultural sensibilities of the young. He is for sure grounded in Western thought and literature but is ready at any moment to draw on non-Western cultures and traditions. This isn’t always to elevate those cultures. When he writes about Western homicide rates, he compares them to the !Kung bushmen, dubbed by anthropologists “the harmless people,” whose annual homicide rate is eight times that of the United States. Of course, the Kalahari !Kung are pretty peaceful compared to other primitive peoples.

At Least Don’t Lie

It seems a bit unfair to Peterson to divulge all twelve of his rules, though they are freely available on the Internet. Moreover, the rules themselves are not the heart of the book. What he builds around the rules is what counts. But for the flavor of the thing, here are a few of Peterson’s aperçus:

Rule 2. “Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.”

Rule 5. “Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them.”

Rule 8. “Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie.”

Rule 9. “Assume the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.”

They just don’t make fascist mystics the way they used to.

Either that or the vitriol of reviewers for progressive journals is reaching new concentrations. Essays such as Pankaj Mishra’s “Jordan Peterson & Fascist Mysticism” seem designed to give permission to liberals to sneer at writers whom they have never read. An Indian intellectual says that so-and-so is a racist, an ethno-nationalist, a fascist, a mystic. You are therefore on good ground to ignore so-and-so, and if his name comes up in conversation, you know exactly which epithet to apply.

Peterson, as far as I can see, deserves his popular success. He is a morally serious, highly literate writer who has important things to say. He says them rather well in an entertaining manner that doesn’t compromise either his clarity or his essential points. 12 Rules for Life isn’t faultless. Peterson sometimes wanders too far afield, and his forty-some mentions of Being is about 39 too many. But for readers trying to find their way through the “chaos” of contemporary North American cultural decline, these “rules” are a good place to begin. If you don’t like all of them, that’s fine. Peterson will at least make you think about why you don’t like them, and perhaps you will find your way to a better distillation of wisdom. But you probably won’t find a better Virgil to take you safely step by step through today’s Inferno.

Open Season on College Presidents As Faculty ‘Mobs’ Wield Power

The no-confidence season for college presidents got off to an early start this spring with a nay vote from the Michigan State faculty for the university’s interim president and the entire Board of Trustees in the wake of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. Starting with the angry rebellion against Harvard president Lawrence Summers in 2005, faculties have been increasingly willing to mobilize to bring down senior-level administrators. Summers was targeted after he suggested at an academic conference that innate male-female differences might possibly provide a partial explanation why mathematics and engineering faculties remain so heavily male.

While there was no evidence of discrimination in hiring, Harvard’s hastily formed Caucus for Gender Equality charged Summers with failing to hire enough female professors, and Summers retracted his suggestion and issued what The Atlantic’s Stuart Taylor, Jr. called a “groveling Soviet show trial style apology.” A short time later Summers resigned.

Sometimes faculty-led protests, what social scientists call “mobbings,” can have deadly consequences. In 2006, UC Santa Cruz chancellor Denise Denton leaped to her death from a 42-story San Francisco high rise in the wake of a well-orchestrated attack by the Santa Cruz faculty that included death threats, harassment, vandalism and a hostile media campaign. At the height of the protests, someone threw a large metal pole through a window in Denton’s home, shattering glass throughout her living room. The San Francisco Chronicle noted that Denton, who had received a doctorate in electrical engineering from MIT and won a prestigious national award for encouraging women and girls in science had “very high standards…she expected people to perform.”

Before it was applied to academia, the term “mobbing” was used almost exclusively in zoology, characterizing the behavior of small birds ganging up aggressively on a larger predator bird.” Emboldened by the Summers success, faculty at the New School mobilized in 2008 to remove their President, Bob Kerrey, a Vietnam war hero, winner of the Medal of Honor, and 2-term Senator (D-NE). Faculty complaints focused—as they nearly always do—on faculty perceptions of Kerry’s lack of commitment to shared governance. Professor Jim Miller, the public face of what New York Magazine called “the New School faculty’s discontents,” complained that Kerry never understood “what was special” about the New School. Miller believed that Kerrey “doesn’t get its special anarchy and founding moments. He just sees it as an economic puzzle to be solved.”

The faculty had a special contempt for Kerrey’s war service—leading the interviewer to write: it was hard not to look around and think: “These are the kinds of people who’ve given Kerrey grief from the moment he came home from Vietnam.” Although Kerrey survived for a short while after the faculty no-confidence vote, he told a New York Magazine interviewer: “I was sitting with my 7-year old with a bunch of screaming maniacs outside my building, thinking, who needs this?”

No-confidence votes are almost always about shared governance—usually focusing on how university funds are allocated to faculty-favored programs. Similar complaints emerged at Mount St. Mary’s in 2016 when the faculty voted “overwhelmingly” to ask President Simon Newman to resign. That vote drew national media attention when angry faculty members forwarded confidential emails to the campus newspaper. Newman, a Los Angeles private equity manager and strategic planner, was hired in 2014 amid serious budget concerns at Mount St. Mary’s. In 2013, Forbes ranked it one of the “least financially fit schools in America.” In the Forbes financial rankings of 927 colleges, Mount St. Mary’s was one of 107 colleges to receive the D grade—ranking 888th out of 927 in terms of the balance sheets and operational strength.

Newman was hired to help turn the ailing University around. A year later he found himself at the center of a faculty-led firestorm over some intemperate remarks he made about retention. According to media sources, Newman was talking privately with some faculty members about retention strategies when he jokingly said: “This is hard for you because you think of the students as cuddly bunnies, but sometimes you just have to drown the bunnies…put a Glock to their heads.” The faculty did not appreciate the joke.

But, the truth is that the intemperate remark was not the real cause of faculty anger. Rather, Newman was suggesting curricular changes to reduce the number of required philosophy and humanities courses in the Core. The Core is often “sacred ground” for humanities professors on Liberal Arts campuses like Mount St. Mary’s—a kind of “third rail” that administrators know can never be touched. It is not a coincidence that most “no-confidence votes” emerge from Arts and Sciences faculty.

Newman paid a high price for even suggesting that it would benefit students to have the flexibility to take more science and math courses by reducing—slightly—the required humanities courses. In an 87 to 3 vote on February 12, 2016, the faculty released an open letter saying, “we appeal to your generosity of spirit and ask that you resign your position for the good of our community by 9 am on February 15, 2016.”  The Board eventually demanded that Newman step down.

There is often a critical incident—like Newman’s bunny joke—that provide a rationale for the overt mobbing to begin. Researchers know that these incidents are just the “struck match…the kindling’s been stacking up for years, dry and brittle and some of it drenched in gasoline.” This is the real cause of the conflagration.Issues surrounding shared governance almost always precede the incident—and then, the rumors begin. At Mount St. Mary’s there were rumors that President Newman, a former private equity chief executive, was going to “dilute” the college’s Catholic identity.

Jesuit Universities have been especially hard hit as Fordham University, Creighton, and the University of St. Louis have all experienced “no-confidence” votes in their Presidents in the past few years. On April 7, 2017, faculty members at Fordham voted no confidence in the University’s President, the Rev. Joseph M. McShane in response to a recent salary and benefits package offered by university administrators.  The Jesuit Creighton University faculty issued a no-confidence vote in 2015 against the strategic plan that had been crafted under the former Creighton President, the Rev. Timothy R. Lannon, S. J.—claiming that it was drafted and enacted without allowing for thoughtful criticism and feedback from students, faculty and staff and tended to “import aims, goals, reward systems, and methods of social engineering suited more to corporate America than to an institution of higher education.”

According to media reports, St. Louis University’s Fr. Lawrence Biondi devoted 26 years to leading the Jesuit university to prominence—increasing both the number and the quality of the students, doubling the acreage of the school, and stabilizing a huge swath of the city, making the Grand Center arts district, and extending SLU’s influence throughout the city and the world.” St. Louis’s mayor Francis Slay called him “one of America’s greatest college presidents.” But it could not save him from a faculty mobbing action apparently focused on a tenure dispute and an unpopular academic vice president.

Of course, some of these no-confidence votes are the result of self-inflicted wounds. Last month, Beverlee J. McClure, the beleaguered former president of Adams State University drew national media attention because of allegations that she bullied faculty and retaliated against her critics—and wore an unfortunate “overweight plumber” costume to a faculty Halloween party.

In yet another offensive choice in a Halloween costume appears to have contributed to derailing the career of University of Louisville President James Ramsey when a 2015 photo surfaced showing Ramsey and his staff dressed as Mexican stereotypes with fake mustaches, sombreros, and maracas. While the costume was offensive to some, the critical incident brought attention to serious financial concerns. A 2017 audit revealed that the university suffered more than $100 million losses from mismanagement and excessive spending during his tenure. The Louisville Courier-Journal reported on July 14, 2017, that “the university is poised to go after (his) personal assets.”

An increasing number of college presidents are becoming swept up in the fallout from the #metoo movement. Bates Technical College President Ron Langrell was placed on paid administrative leave last month over allegations that he has been intimidating and demeaning employees, and that he engages in “unwanted hugging.” And, last March, University of Texas, San Antonio’s longtime President, Ricardo Romo, announced that he would retire after he was placed on administrative leave during an investigation of his “improper hugging” of faculty and staff members.

Last year, Briar Cliff University President Hamid Shirvani announced his resignation after only 14 months on the job. Citing a “combination of family, personal and professional considerations,” Briar Cliff’s Board dismissed local media reports that he was investigated for sexual harassment claiming that it “inaccurately and inappropriately cast a cloud over his leadership.” The Sioux City Journal reported that Shirvani lasted just 11 months as chancellor of the North Dakota University System and received a buyout of $925,000 over concerns about his management style and treatment of staff. In a prior presidency at California State University, Stanislaus received a “no confidence” vote in his leadership by 91 percent of the 264 professors on campus.

In October 2017, a total of 56 faculty members out of 120 full-time faculty at Assumption College voted “no confidence” in Assumption’s President Francesco Cesareo because of declining enrollments and layoffs since 2016. Last year, the Catholic University of St. Thomas in Houston voted “no confidence” in President Robert Ivany’s leadership after he sent an email to faculty members in philosophy and English advising them that their contracts had been delayed because the departments were “under review for potential reorganization and/or program elimination.”

Jeanine Stewart, professor of psychology at Washington and Lee University, thinks that the very design of academia fosters these kinds of counterproductive behaviors. She suggests that when large numbers of faculty members report to a single dean or provost, informal pecking orders emerge. She calls these virtual power structures “soft hierarchies” in contrast to the kind of hard hierarchies that you see on an organizational chart. It is within the highest tiers of the soft hierarchies that power is concentrated—often in the humanities. Summers, Newman, Kerrey and other victims of mobbing behavior likely never understood the power of a soft hierarchy. Their lack of understanding of the soft hierarchical power dynamic undermined their ability to work cooperatively with faculty leaders.

Faculty have been empowered by their successes, but their victories may have come at a cost higher than most schools can afford to bear as financial pressures have already begun to take a toll. An article published in Insidehighered.com titled, “The Culling of Higher Education Begins,” reveals that the number of colleges and universities eligible to award federal financial aid fell by 5.6% from 2016 to 2017—the fourth straight year of declines. No-confidence votes create instability and uncertainty for everyone, leading potential students and their parents to lose confidence also. Perhaps it is time to re-think what is becoming a self-defeating strategy.

The Media Slams Yale Student Verdict on Rape

Last week, a New Haven jury acquitted Yale student Saifullah Khan of rape. Coverage of the case provided only the latest reminder of the one-sided, often effectively misleading manner in which the mainstream media covers the issue of campus sexual assault.

Because criminal charges were filed against Khan, he was entitled to constitutional protections (the right to representation from a lawyer who could fully participate in the process, the requirement that the state turn over all exculpatory evidence in its possession) that students accused through the campus Title IX process lack. An explosive filing from Khan’s lawyers on the eve of the trial suggested that the Yale Police Department withheld exculpatory information from the prosecutors; that investigators made improper comments about Khan’s ethnicity; and that Yale Title IX officials might have improperly disclosed FERPA-protected information about Khan. (The latter issue, ironically, also was raised in the Jack Montague case, which took place about the same time as the Khan allegations.)

Saifullah Khan . Photo-Fire
Saifullah Khan . Photo-Fire

This framework, however, appeared nowhere in coverage of the verdict, neither in the campus press nor in the mainstream media, which instead displayed a thinly-concealed bias that the jury got things wrong. The New York Times set the tone for coverage. The paper ran a long article on the case before the start of trial, framed under a thesis that the number of campus allegations reported to police was “vanishingly small.” Times reporter Veronica Wang wrote, “The Department of Justice estimates that between 4 percent and 20 percent of female college students who are raped report the attack to law enforcement.”

The 20 percent figure actually comes from a DOJ study, conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. (It applies only to college students who say they’re raped, since, of course, non-reported allegations can’t be tested for accuracy.) But the “4 percent” study, though funded by the Justice Department, contains the following disclaimer: “Any opinions and conclusions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views of BJS and the U.S. Department of Justice.” It’s puzzling, therefore, that Wang would refer to the 4 percent figure as a DOJ “estimate[].”

Wang—now with a team of Times reporters—returned to New Haven for two long articles after the verdict. The first went through multiple edits, in a manner that seemed designed to conceal the reporters’ biases. The initial article, for instance, described an event that ended with a not-guilty verdict as one that featured a “victim” who had an experienced an “assault.” (After an outcry on Twitter, the Times added “alleged” to both descriptions, and changed another description of “victim” to “complainant.”) The initial article detailed the accuser’s “often tearful” testimony. (That description, too, got edited out.) The Times’ failure to acknowledge the stealth edits robs the reader of a chance to understand the context in which the article was written.

One odd factual assertion remained. “The state’s attorney’s office,” Wang and her colleagues wrote, “represented the complainant.” Does the New York Times really believe that the prosecutor represents the accuser, and not the people? Connecticut’s ethics guidelines, for instance, reveal the special obligations for prosecutors—obligations that wouldn’t apply if the prosecutor’s job was simply to “represent” the accuser.

The second post-verdict Times piece explored the differences between the definitions of consent in campus tribunals and in a court of law. (Wang did not mention that in a campus tribunal, Khan would have been denied the right to meaningful legal representation.) The Times quoted from a juror, Khan’s attorney—and multiple accusers’ rights advocates or sympathizers. Absent were the perspectives of FIRE, or FACE, or law professors who had expressed concern about due process.

This piece did quote from Vanessa Griogoriadis—author of a book hailing the guilt-presuming approach in current campus adjudication processes—who noted (seemingly approvingly) that campus tribunals, unlike courts, can return guilty findings for sexual behavior that’s “immoral but not criminal.” Meanwhile, the Yale Daily News paraphrased legal expert Katherine Baker: “Baker said the behavior Khan admitted to during the trial may not reflect the norms of respect and civility that most universities require of their students, even if his conduct was not criminal.”

Campus tribunals as morality police is the sort of thing that—as recently as a decade ago—would have been seen only on a small number of religious-right campuses. The idea that Yale is now little more than a left-wing version of BYU or Baylor is an unintentionally revealing commentary on the Puritanical strand behind the Title IX crusade.

Griogoriadis and Baker seemed like due process fanatics compared with Yale Daily News staff columnist Amelia Nierenberg who contended that despite the jury’s verdict, Khan was “not ‘not guilty.’” “Using legal standards of ‘not guilty,’” she fumed, “do not apply in a private community like Yale.” (Better to bow to the passions of the mob, it seems.) Her proposed standard: sex “outside the realm of appropriate” should equal expulsion. Nierenberg seemed particularly perturbed that the legal system, unlike Yale, doesn’t recognize the “affirmative consent” standard, which requires the accused student to prove that he obtained consent and thus shifts the burden of proof.

At least Nierenberg was writing an opinion column. How to explain a straight news Yale Daily News piece from Hailey Fuchs and two co-authors, which contained the following item: Yale student (and Khan rival in a Yale club) “Miller told the News she was concerned because she had heard in early 2014 — more than a year and a half before Khan was arrested on charges of sexual assault for the Halloween incident — that multiple female students had considered reporting Khan for sexual misconduct.”

Why a Penn Professor Was Vilified for Telling the Truth About Race

Professor Amy Wax at the University of Pennsylvania Law School is once again the target of students and faculty members who have ginned up a racial grievance against her. The issue is that she said something that is apparently true that her critics would rather remain unsaid. The immediate consequence is that Penn Law Dean Ted Ruger has stripped Wax of her teaching assignment in the mandatory First Year curriculum.

What Wax said, essentially, is that black graduate students at Penn Law do less well academically than other students.

Probably what lies behind Wax’s observation is that the Law School admits black students at a lower threshold of academic qualifications than it admits white and Asian students. That’s a guess, based on a lot of circumstantial evidence. The University of Pennsylvania is a private university and does not make available a racial breakdown of its admissions standards. Across the country, battles rage to get even public law schools to acknowledge the extent of the racial preferences they use to bolster the numbers of black enrollees.

Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor, Jr.’s book Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help and Why Universities Won’t Admit It (2012) remains the definitive statement of the problem. (The National Association of Scholars is not a bystander on this issue. We just filed an amicus brief in Sander v. State Bar, an appeal currently pending in California.)

To understand why Wax’s simple observation would occasion such heated attacks against her, we must keep in mind the furious effort of will by proponents of racial preferences to deny the realities of the situation.

Cadmus and Company

Racial preferences in college admission are dragon’s teeth.

In Greek mythology, when the hero Cadmus kills the dragon that guards Ares’ spring, he plants the creature’s teeth, and up spring ferocious and fully-armed warriors. This odd bit of agriculture isn’t a freak occurrence. The hero Jason also plants a set of dragon’s teeth and likewise harvests a bunch of ill-tempered warriors. Dragon’s teeth is a handy image for what happens when we think we solve one big problem—an unfriendly dragon—but end up creating a collection of even worse problems.

When we deny that racial preferences result in classes in which many of the black students are less qualified and less capable than other students, we are sowing dragon’s teeth. The teeth come back as social justice warriors.

The warriors may silence the messenger, but that can’t extinguish the truth. In 2005, The New York Times published the results of a study that appeared in The Stanford Law Review that concluded, “Affirmative action actually depresses the number of black lawyers, because many black students end up attending law schools that are too difficult for them, and perform badly…. Once at law school, the average black student gets lower grades than white students: 52 percent of black students are in the bottom 10th of their first-year law school classes, while only 8 percent are in the top half. And the grades of black students drop slightly in relative terms from the first year of law school to the third.”

Round One

Professor Amy Wax stirred up controversy last August when she co-authored a newspaper op-ed in which she praised “bourgeois values.” She meant things like hard work and getting married before having children.

Some Penn Law School students and faculty members at the time judged Wax’s thoughts to be racially hurtful and demanded that Wax be punished. They lost that round. Wax had done nothing beyond the scope of her academic freedom, and she held her ground.

Round Two

But her enemies are now back with a new plan to punish her—a plan that has been adopted in part by Dean Ruger.

In September, a few weeks after the famous “bourgeois values” op-ed article, Professor Wax mentioned in a lecture to first-year law students that she had never “seen a black student graduate in the top quarter of the [Penn Law School] class and rarely, rarely in the top half.”

Having discovered a video of this lecture, her critics drafted a petition addressed to Dean Ruger. The petitioners call Wax’s remarks “disparaging, false and deeply offensive claims.” They also assert that her broad statement (Wax mentioned no individuals) was a “clear violation” of “Penn Law’s anonymous grading policy.” And they called on Dean Ruger to “dispel the lies” in Wax’s statement; “Permanently remove Professor Wax from teaching 1Ls” (the mandatory first-year law course she has been teaching);             “Permanently remove Professor Wax’s appointments to the Clerkship Committee, and any other committees that involve leading and directing the law school”; and take all these actions “publicly.”

Dean Ruger accordingly declared publicly that Wax’s statements are false. He wrote:

It is imperative for me as dean to state that these claims are false: black students have graduated in the top of the class at Penn Law, and the Law Review does not have a diversity mandate. Rather, its editors are selected based on a competitive process. And contrary to any suggestion otherwise, black students at Penn Law are extremely successful, both inside and outside the classroom, in the job market, and in their careers.

On its face, Dean Ruger’s statement seems to mean that Professor Wax got it wrong. But we shouldn’t forget that this is lawyer language, and it has built into it some curiously slippery clauses. Dean Ruger doesn’t actually say that Wax’s claims are false. He just says that “it is imperative” that he says they are false. The imperative is that he has a bunch of angry students demanding that he say so, regardless of accuracy. By golly, Dean Ruger is a man who lives up the imperatives, which may not include telling the truth.

As of this writing, no one—not the dean, and not the petitioners—has come forward with any evidence that Professor Wax’s comment was inaccurate. It presumably wouldn’t be hard to check whether any black students had graduated in the top quarter of their Penn Law School classes. I don’t suppose Professor Wax to be error-proof. But if there are one or several such graduates to be found, where are they?

Dean Ruger gave the protesters two more of their demands: he took Wax’s first-year course away from her, and he conducted his actions in public by issuing them as a widely distributed “message.”

Frenzy

The accuracy of Wax’s observation has been challenged, but by means of indignation and sheer assertion, not evidence. If it happens that evidence of overlooked students in that top quarter does emerge, it is likely to be the sort of exception that proves the rule. Clearly, no substantial number of black students are in this quartile. If there were, Wax’s statement would be laughed at rather than made the gravamen of an accusation.

Up from the ground in which the dragon’s teeth of racial preferences were buried have sprung the armed warriors desperate to defend racial preferences. These warriors want Professor Wax silenced, ostracized, and exiled. They may seem to have achieved a good portion of what they wanted, but I wouldn’t count on that as a long-term victory for their cause, or as a moment for Dean Ruger to bask in their approbation.

Professor Wax, who serves on the board of the National Association of Scholars, knows how to defend herself. The spectacle of students and faculty-driven to a kind of frenzy by the mention of facts deemed unmentionable is not likely to redound to the reputation of Penn’s Law School.

The public at large will understand the main point: Admit lower quality applicants to an institution of higher education, and the individuals so admitted will, on the whole, perform more poorly than those who are admitted according to higher standards. It is a hard truth. We have imposed taboos in higher education against talking about it, but that doesn’t change the reality. The taboo merely fuels the rage of those who have invested themselves in keeping up the illusion.

Image: Hendrick Goltzius, Cadmus fighting the Dragon

No Free Speech on Four Canadian Campuses

Students at Canadian campuses have refused to allow three right-to-life clubs and one male-awareness group on the grounds that they don’t like what the clubs’ missions. The student union at the University of Toronto (Mississauga) refused to re-recognize the campus club “Students for Life” because of its “stance on abortion.” (It can’t be an anti-abortion club because it’s anti-abortion.)

“Speak for the Weak” was not recognized at Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology because allowing the club would violate “human rights” and constitute “systemic societal oppression.”

Ryerson University’s refused to allow a men’s awareness group that would have worked on homelessness, workplace injuries, men’s higher suicide rates, and their greater failure in schools. It currently has a female president and half its membership is female. But Ryerson’s student union said that the “Woman and Trans collective” was already working on these problems, and besides, men have “systemic privilege,” and a club devoted to men’s problems would make women feel “unsafe.”

Three of the would-be clubs took their case to Ontario Superior Court, which dismissed them all with unusually airy rhetoric saying there is “no entitlement to union club status, and official status has nothing to do with freedom to associate or freedom of expression.” But club status on campus allows participants in clubs a week to recruit new members, book meeting rooms for free, advertise events on campus, and host guest speakers.

Five Realities of Tribal Politics

Chattering classes throughout the world are talking about identity politics and with good reason. It is propelling the so-called populist movements, and the response to those movements, which are shaking the foundations of almost every society today. Whether a polity is democratic, authoritarian, or anarchic, it is awash with clamorous appeals to relatively narrow allegiances based on race, religion, class, social position, gender, ideology, party — and typically some combination of them.

In the United States, college campuses, where our future voters and leaders are seeded, are the breeding grounds for these sectarian dispositions. There, young people newly emancipated from their families’ supervision are free to define themselves afresh. There, they are pressured by peers and professors alike, as well as social media, to endorse the orthodoxy of the tribe.

The notion that there are but two sides on important questions – right versus wrong, tolerant versus bigoted, progressive versus conservative — is an unfortunate feature of this war of words. The real world, when they finally enter it, will discipline their minds in ways that their campus lives have not, but the residue of ideologies already implanted there may continue to shape them as voters and fellow citizens. So, here’s this professor’s effort to clarify the nature of identitarian rhetoric.

I offer five propositions that may confound partisans on all sides.

First, all politics is identity politics even though the identities that are emphasized constitute but a small part of who we really are. This is neither a new phenomenon – bitter, seemingly unbridgeable divisions have often occurred in American history — nor the exclusive or even predominant preserve of the left or the right. In any democracy, electoral politics means, among other things, dividing people up rather than uniting them, which is much harder. Getting elected entails “rubbing raw the sores of discontent” and “mobilizing bias” (as two analysts have put it).

All human societies are tribal. As Amy Chua argues in a new book, Political Tribes: Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations, we all seek warmth and solidarity from those who we think are like us in some important respects. But beyond a certain point, tribalism can be pathological. Half of Republicans and a third of Democrats say they would be upset if their child married a member of the other party, and these antipathies are steadily deepening. This growing polarization of the parties parallels clustering of partisans in states, localities, and even neighborhoods, and it is occurring within parties as well.

Second, the appeal to the traditional transcendent unifying norms are debatable – notably “American values” and “the American Dream” –are debatable; they no longer do the unifying work that they once did. This, even though almost all Americans, including the poor, enjoy a rising standard of living. In truth, these appeals beg fundamental questions of morality and complex policy on which Americans significantly differ, so it is not surprising that we cannot agree about value-laden and empirically contested issues like immigration, the government’s role in healthcare, the integrity of law enforcement, abortion, gun control, and many more.

Third, even the terms and categories that we use to think about and discuss identity issues are over-simplified — in some areas grotesquely so. Occupying center stage is the subject of race. Although science long ago showed it to be a meaningless, misleading concept, both sides deploy it aggressively and simplistically to conceal inconvenient truths. The right contends that race is only a battleground because activist groups like Black Lives Matter, campus protesters, and other “outside agitators” exploit it. Leftist groups divide society into whites, blacks, and other people of color even though a significant share of Americans carry other ancestries, and intermarriage among these groups has greatly increased. Campus activists deem whites to be categorically “privileged,” yet the vast majority of poor people are white or non-black, and over half of “Hispanics,” many of them poor, self-identify as white. Only about a third of black students at Harvard had four grandparents descended from slaves; the great majority were West Indian and African immigrants or their children. The good news is that far more young people socialize and marry inter-racially unlike their more restricted grandparents, who in any event are dying out.

Fourth, identity-talk makes no serious effort to engage with the teachings of social science. Yet, empirical facts, careful distinctions, and hard-eyed assessment of policy consequences could complicate the easy moralizing and aggressive guilt-mongering in which identitarians of all stripes wallow. For example, sociologist Orlando Patterson has shown that the life experiences of black men and black women are so different that to treat them as a single “community” is vastly, even tragically misguided. By the same token, “immigrants” are not a single category but rather a congeries of people with sharply different social, cultural, economic, and legal statuses – and hence identities. To speak of immigrants generically, as we all tend to do, obscures their differences and misleads our judgments about them.

Finally, identity-talk is almost always more certain of its own premises — and more ignorant or indifferent to those on the other side of the lines it draws — than it should be. Smugness in the face of contradiction is endemic. Cosmopolitan liberals, for example, feel beleaguered by what they take to be an oppressive conservative hinterland now controlling Washington and the country. (Here, the classic New Yorker cover lampooning this view comes to mind). Yet as others have observed, liberalism has actually won the culture war, which in the long run is far more consequential for how we think, live, and vote. Conservatives have their own grievances, intensified by their own blind spots. Their bitter attack on Obamacare (which borrowed from Republican ideas) despite their inability to propose a viable alternative while controlling the machinery of government is but one example; another is the ease with which evangelical Christians continue to support a president who flagrantly violates their most fundamental moral commitments.

Yes, we are tribal, and yes, our tribes are blinded by ignorance and self-righteousness. Perhaps this has always been true. But our politicians were simply better at both unifying the voters that they had just tactically divided, and the institutions fragmented by our Constitution. In the end, we must reduce the hold that our tribes have over us, and we must elect those who share this goal.

Another Incoherent Protest This Time by Law Students

Christina Hoff Sommers, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and member of the National Association of Scholars Board of Advisors, was the target of a disruptive protest, Monday, March 5, at the Lewis and Clark Law School. Sommers had been invited to speak by the Law School’s chapter of The Federalist Society.

Brutal man wearing usa flag cape posing in white smoke outdoors

In advance of the event, several activist groups called on the Federalist Society “to rescind” the invitation, announcing their intention to stage a protest if the event went ahead. The inflamed students seemed to believe that Sommers somehow qualified as a fascist. The manifesto, titled, “Refuse Fascism in All Its Forms” was signed “in solidarity” by:

  • National Lawyers Guild, Lewis & Clark Student Chapter
  • Minority Law Student Association
  • Women’s Law Caucus
  • Immigration Student Group
  • Jewish Law Society
  • OutLaw
  • Lewis & Clark Young Democratic Socialists of America
  • Black Law Student Association
  • Latino Law Society

The event, which can be viewed here, went ahead on schedule, as did the disruption, and was reported by Inside Higher Ed, National Review, The Federalist, American Greatness, and Campus Reform, among others. As the details are readily accessible, I’ll add only some observations.

Protests are seldom really about the object of the protest. They are about the protesters, who seek attention for their organizations, their causes, their ideologies, and themselves. And they are about achieving a certain kind of emotional release, bordering on frenzy. The scheduled talk by Christina Hoff Sommers merely provided an opportunity for the protesters to show-off. The protesters showed no interest in disputing her ideas or opinions, except to snatch phrases to fuel their own chants.

In this sense, the protest at Lewis & Clark Law School fits the pattern of recent campus protests which feature bizarre accusations, an astonishing ignorance of history, a fragmented attention span, and a mordantly amusing lack of self-awareness. As the protesters engaged in their act of open aggression aimed at silencing a speaker, they boasted of their opposition to aggression, while Sommers waited patiently and politely at the podium.

Protests at colleges and universities are also typically met with indulgence by the administrators in charge. Perhaps the sine qua non of this was the board of trustees meeting at Swarthmore College in May 2014. After the meeting was swarmed by protesters who commandeered the microphone, a non-protesting student pleaded with then-president Rebecca Chopp to intervene. Chopp rebuffed the student and stayed in her seat, letting the protest go on without any effort to restore order. Much the same happened, of course, at Middlebury College in March 2017, when President Laurie Patton, couldn’t find any reason to restore order at the near-riot against Charles Murray.

At Lewis & Clark, the presiding administrator was Janet Steverson, a law professor and dean of diversity and inclusion. Steverson’s intervention consisted of telling Sommers to abbreviate her remarks and go directly to a Q&A session. Afterward, Steverson told a reporter that students who blocked access to the event and interrupted Sommers would face “consequences,” though she couldn’t specify what the consequences would be. The consequences for the protesters at Middlebury were essentially make-believe. It will be interesting to see if Lewis & Clark Law School rouses itself to hold would-be lawyers to ordinary standards of law-abiding and civil behavior in a public setting.

Those of us who have been tracking these events don’t have the highest expectations for such accountability. We do, however, have the names of the organizations that participated in this debacle. It would be wise if, in the next few years, law firms and other organizations looking to hire new attorneys were to ask candidates who are Lewis & Clark graduates about their involvement in these bodies. The question would help screen for qualities of intelligence and character that might have some bearing on their future performance as lawyers. This being Portland, those qualities might be considered assets by some firms, especially those in the business of promoting anti-fascist agit-prop aimed at people who are deemed enemies of the revolution. Other firms, however, might want to continue the search.

The Real Fallout from High School Walkouts

On February 21, many high school students across the country staged a brief walkout from their classes to protest school shootings. Grieving students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Forest are also helping to organize even larger national student walkouts—hashtags #Enough and #NeverAgain— on March 14 and 24 to protest lenient gun laws. These actions are a mistake. Disruptive activism violates students’ freedom to learn, an essential ingredient of academic freedom.

The students at the Parkland high school who helped organize their own walkout and who have organized the coming national walkouts have been lionized in the media. David Hogg, Sara Imam, Cameron Kasky, and several other Parkland students have been featured in interviews on television and cited in news stories for their roles in calling on legislatures to adopt more stringent gun control measures and calling on fellow students across the country to walk out of class in protest.

Hogg, Imam, and the others may be perfectly sincere, but the story is a little more complicated than it first seemed. The students have received a great deal of help from a teachers’ union (it bussed the students to a protest in Tallahassee) and various progressive organizations, including the Women’s March and MoveOn.org. Conservative media responded with accounts such as David Hines’ “Why Did It Take Two Weeks to Discover Parkland Students’ Astroturfing?” and Charles Cooke’s “David Hogg Is Fair Game for Critics.”

In the meantime, college admissions offices across the country have been rushing out announcements that they will not penalize any students who walk out of their classes because of the protests. One such announcement came from Ken Anselment, dean of admissions and financial aid at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, who wrote:

For students who have been suspended or who face the threat of suspension, fear not: we at Lawrence University will not change your admission or scholarship decision in light of a suspension related to this kind of peaceful civil action.

Lawrence University is among hundreds of institutions that announced similar policies. Yale, for instance, declared:

Here at @Yale, we are proud to support all students for participating in peaceful walkouts for gun control or other causes, and we will not rescind admissions decisions for students who do so regardless of any school’s disciplinary policy.

Brown, Dartmouth, and MIT are in the same camp. By February 27, at least 117 colleges had said much the same thing, and by March 2, the figure had grown to about 250.

Typically, being suspended from school or significantly disciplined compromises a student’s acceptance at a college, but when it comes to protesting America’s gun laws, colleges and universities are in large numbers willing to make an exception.

The mass murder at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is abhorrent, and the students who witnessed it are surely traumatized. Whether stricter gun laws of other sorts of legislative actions are a wise response is a matter I will leave aside for now. All these—the shootings, the trauma, and the calls for new legislation—rightly overshadow the question of whether walking out of class is an appropriate response.

Colleges and universities, to say nothing of numerous editorial boards, are saying, in effect, ‘Yes, it is. Walking out of class is excellent testimony on behalf of a good cause.’ But they are wrong.

Walking out elevates a feeling of moral urgency above respect for education and the rights of fellow students. Walking out during regular school hours is meant to dramatize how deeply students are touched by the latest school massacre and how strongly they support legislative remedies. The walkouts, of course, won’t change the surrounding debate over Second Amendment rights. The students may hope to persuade elected officials to “do something” to stop the scourge of mass killings in schools. But what they are really doing is mistaking moral vanity for genuine “participation in democracy.”

Walking out of class to drive a political point emphatically subordinates education to the quest for power. To many students, the protests are righteous and perhaps cathartic. But underlying their experience of “making a difference” is the message that the pursuit of political ends justifies the sacrifice of educational priorities.

Walkouts are not costless. They elevate groupthink. Children are extraordinarily vulnerable to peer opinion, and if the prevailing view favors protest, millions will conform not because they care much about the cause but because not conforming will expose them to ridicule. The students who hold contrary views—and surely there are some—will be bullied and, in any case, denied their right to a day of regular public education.

School students who are passionate about supporting new gun legislation have every right to speak up. But they could do so on their own time, not during school hours.

Where did the idea of a school walkout come from? The tactic is far from new. In 1968, for example, student walkouts in Los Angeles were organized by social studies teacher Salvador Castro to protest bias against Chicano students. Justified as “civil disobedience” by progressive activists, such walkouts were relatively rare until about 2014, when they seemed to have emerged as a go-to response for all sorts of activists. Sometimes they are merely local events. In March 2014, 200 students in Massachusetts walked out of their classes to call for a “hard line against fossil fuel infrastructure.” In September 2014, students in Jefferson County, Colorado, a Denver suburb, repeatedly walked out of their classes to protest curricular changes approved by the local school board. In December 2014, after a grand jury decided not to indict a police officer in the death of Eric Garner, some high school students walked out in New York City.

But sometimes the walkouts are national. On November 14, 2016, after the election of President Trump, more than 2,000 students walked out of Washington, DC schools to protest. Similar walkouts were staged across the country. On February 7, 2017, Muslim high school students in New York staged a walkout in opposition to Trump’s travel ban—a cause which echoed in many other cities.

The effectiveness of such walkouts in drawing attention to a cause is not in doubt. They get lots of coverage. Disrupting one’s own education is sometimes depicted by activists as noble self-sacrifice, but typically the burden of the disruptions is also borne by those who have no part in the cause and may even strongly disagree with it. Does “civil disobedience” of this sort justify denying educational opportunity to fellow students, particularly when the protesters have non-disruptive alternatives?

A Shameless Title IX Bureaucrat Poses as a Champion of Due Process

During her nearly four years running Barack Obama’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), Catherine Lhamon was nothing if not consistent. She sought to use the power of her office—chiefly by threatening to withhold federal funds—to force colleges and universities to change their campus sexual assault policies. Every substantive change demanded by the Obama administration made it more likely an accused student would be found guilty.

So it’s been rather startling in recent days to see Lhamon claim that defending the fair treatment of accused students was a cardinal principle of her OCR tenure. On February 17, she tweeted, “The OCR I led insisted on a rigidly fair process for all parties involved in sexual violence investigations. Resolution agreements demonstrate that, notwithstanding baseless claims to the contrary. Fairness to all involved is essential to justice.”

Catherine Lhamon
Catherine Lhamon

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s comments that she agreed with some of the complaints about the unfairness of Title IX tribunals prompted Lhamon to tweet, “I agree. That’s one among many reasons why we need aggressive federal enforcement of law to ensure fair process to all parties.” As proof, she cited two (Wesley and Minot State) of the scores of resolution letters issued by OCR during her time in office, but no policy document from OCR.

We live in an era of political shamelessness. But Catherine Lhamon positioning herself as someone who demanded fair treatment of accused students is nonetheless remarkable.

Although it hardly should be necessary to do so, it’s worth reviewing Lhamon’s actual record to see the sparseness of any desire for fair adjudications. Her highest-profile policy document—2014 guidance—made clear that due process for the accused took a back seat to the Obama administration’s reinterpretation of Title IX. “Of course,” Lhamon warned, “a school should ensure that steps to accord any due process rights do not restrict or unnecessarily delay the protections provided by Title IX to the complainant.” She offered no explanation (then or later) as to why her interpretation of Title IX could trump the constitutional due process safeguards for students at public institutions.

Nor was there anything in Lhamon’s public comments as OCR head to leave an impression that she was, at heart, a covert campus civil libertarian. With strong support from accusers’ rights activists, Lhamon created what her successor dubbed a “list of shame,” publicizing the names of schools under OCR investigation (without revealing the details of the allegations) in an apparent effort to browbeat them into signing resolution letters with her. The most notorious of these letters required such institutions as SUNY and Southern Methodist to re-open investigations in cases where students already had been cleared.

Insisting That Whites Should ‘Step Back’

In November 2017, a Yale sophomore, Sohum Pal, wrote an op-ed for the student newspaper, the Yale Daily News, titled “White Students, Step Back.” It criticized Yale’s much-promoted “diversity” policies as “focused on a brand of assimilationist politics — the deeply misguided notion that students of color want to be wealthy, that we want to possess the social legitimacy and cultural capital of our white counterparts on terms dictated by white stakeholders.”

Instead of “reaching” out to minority students to ensure their participation in campus life—that’s a dubious “assimilationist model” that assumes “whiteness will always be centered” while “color is constantly peripheral,” Pal wrote—non-whites at Yale should be “seated at the head of the table… because we must dictate our own terms of engagement with white power structures.” In short, whites ought to get out of the way in order to facilitate “a liberation politics that would decenter whiteness.” He summed it up: “I don’t want opportunity: I want power.”

Earlier in 2017, while still a Yale freshman, Pal had described himself in a Yale-funded “Asian and Asian American oral history project” as “queer, disabled, and South Asian.” (Pal suffers from cerebral palsy, as he wrote in an essay for yet another Yale minority-student publication during the fall of his freshman year.) He said that at Yale, as at his high school in San Luis Obispo, California, he had received “microaggressions or actual aggressions everyday [sic].”

Perhaps so, but, his disability aside, Pal doesn’t seem to have suffered unduly. Although his family may not be “wealthy” (to lift a word from his Yale Daily News op-ed), it is undoubtedly quite comfortably off. His father, Nirupam Pal, is a professor of environmental engineering at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, with a number of outside consulting gigs, and his mother, Susmita Guptapal, is CEO of Infotech Telecom, a long-distance reseller serving immigrants calling relatives in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific (the 22-year-old company with around five employees pulls in about half a million dollars in revenue each year).

Both parents are immigrants from India but have lived in the U.S. since at least the early 1990s, and both hold advanced degrees from U.S. universities. In May 2016, right after her son was accepted at Yale, Guptapal wrote a letter to IndiaWest, a newspaper for Indian expats, stating that he had been accepted at Harvard and Princeton as well and that he had “received perfect scores in the SAT, all APs and subject tests.” And if Sohum Pal’s LinkedIn profile is any indication, he has been impressively ambitious career-wise during his first two years at Yale, churning through numerous internships and student-job stints related to social-justices causes.

Pal’s call for white people to “step back” so that minorities can be “seated at the head of the table,” while probably shocking to equality-minded readers outside the academy, is actually just part of a trend toward anathematizing whiteness and white people that is ubiquitous on college campuses—all in the name of advancing minority rights.

“Critical whiteness studies” has been a part of college curricula since the 1980s. Unlike black studies, developed during the late 1960s to give academic respectability to examining aspects of African-American culture such as music, literature, and folk traditions, whiteness studies typically pays little attention to actual aspects of historically white culture, whether it be Appalachian dulcimer tunes or Brooklyn-centric “stuff white people like” fads for farmers’ markets and exotic breeds of dogs.

Whiteness studies are instead entirely ideological. Their underlying thesis is that “whiteness” is no more than a social construct dating from the 17th and 18th centuries that has enabled one class of people of European descent to dominate, marginalize, enslave, and even terrorize and murder those it deems to have unacceptably darker skin. At the heart of whiteness studies is the notion that it’s simply illegitimate to be white.

“Decentering whiteness” isn’t a new idea invented by Sohum Pal but a 20-year-old idea invented by Jeff Hitchcock, executive director of the Center for the Study of White American Culture, who began a series of “National Conferences on Whiteness” during the late 1990s. “We must disrupt the historic process of assimilation to whiteness that still continues to this day, and begin a new historic process whereby those who are white begin to assimilate to a multiracial version of America,” Hitchcock wrote in 1998.

By 2003 The Washington Post had counted at least 30 colleges and universities across America teaching “whiteness studies,” or, as is often the case in order to demonstrate by capitalization the presumably arbitrary nature of the designation, “Whiteness studies.” A Stanford University course,“White Identity Politics,” offered during the fall of 2017, discussed the concept of “abolishing whiteness” altogether.

There has been a certain amount of political pushback, especially when taxpayer-funded public universities began offering undergraduate courses titled “The Problem of Whiteness,” as the University of Wisconsin-Madison did during the spring of 2017. That course, as its syllabus stated, aimed to explore how white people “consciously and unconsciously perpetuate institutional racism,” which “devastates communities of color.”

Residents of Wisconsin might have been forgiven for wondering who exactly was trying to “perpetuate institutional racism”—they or the professor who taught the course. But so far their voices seem to have been ignored. So it’s not surprising that a Yale sophomore who has led a comfortable and perhaps even privileged life but happens to be of Indian descent has felt free to sound off on the unbearable whiteness of whiteness.

The Mysterious Missing Funds at Georgetown

After a month of controversy, the mystery of the siphoned checks at Georgetown University is no closer to being solved. In late January, the campus became aware that three donors who sent money last fall to Love Saxa, the oddly named pro-life campus group that believes in traditional marriage, were getting receipts informing them that the funds had been deposited in the accounts of campus gay groups, not Love Saxa. Since two Georgetown gays had mounted an angry campaign to derecognize Love Saxa and have it booted off campus as a “hate group” for not supporting gay marriage, many wondered whether the diversion of the checks was part of that campaign.

Georgetown investigated Love Saxa for weeks and quizzed its officers for almost four hours before finally rejecting those calls and refusing to kick the group off campus for advocating views that mirror Catholic teaching on a Catholic campus. Many critics pointed out that Georgetown couldn’t let Love Saxa be labeled a hate group without inviting that label for itself. Kelly Marcum, a founder of Love Saxa, now the Government Affairs office coordinator at Family Research Council, said: “If Love Saxa is banned from defending the Christian vision of sexuality and marriage, how will the Jesuits of Georgetown be able to refrain from referring to their own Church as a “hate group”? How long before they will be called on to condemn the doctrinal tenets of Catholicism??

The group’s unusual name stems from Georgetown’s college chant “Hoya Saxa,” which translates as “what rocks.” Love Saxa means “love rocks.” The Alliance Defending Freedom, representing Love Saxa in this case, described how several donations from private individuals to Love Saxa were misappropriated “either [by] funneling those funds to different organizations or just losing them completely.” For example, in November 2017, an individual sent Love Saxa a check for $50, which the club’s president, Amelia Irvine, promptly deposited with Georgetown officials. But Love Saxa never received the funds, and the donor received a receipt from Georgetown showing that his donation had been credited to the LGBTQ Resource Center Reserve.

The following month, another donor contributed $100 to Love Saxa through a university phonathon. The receipt he received, however, showed that Georgetown directed his donation to the Saxatones, a musical group that partners with another LGBT advocacy organization, the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League of Washington, D.C. That same month, Irvine deposited another donor’s $250 check into Love Saxa’s account, but those funds didn’t show up either. The similarity of the names Love Saxa and Saxatones might have caused an innocent confusion about one check, but not the other two.

“Universities should encourage students to participate in the free marketplace of ideas, not favor some while financially exploiting others,” said ADF Senior Counsel Tyson Langhofer, director of the ADF Center for Academic Freedom. “We call upon Georgetown to investigate this breach of Love Saxa’s checking account and its donors’ trust, restore all funds that are unaccounted for, and hold all individuals involved responsible. If Georgetown or anyone at Georgetown has retaliated against Love Saxa by hijacking its donations and giving them to groups that oppose its mission and identity, then no student, alumnus, or donor can trust the university’s integrity.”

Georgetown restored the missing funds to Love Saxa three weeks ago but has shown no interest in finding out who misappropriated them or why. It did put out a bland and uninformative letter saying that last fall Love Saxa was a new group with “no valid path” for it to receive funds. But that doesn’t explain how the donations got to gay groups.

Identity Politics v. the New ‘Me Generation’

 “The single most important intellectual trend of our time is the popular rediscovery of human tribalism,” Jonathan Rauch wrote earlier this month in an influential op-ed in The Washington Post. Now the conversation on tribalism rolls on. In her new book, Political Tribes: Group Thinking and The Fate of Nations, Amy Chua of Yale Law School turns tribalism into an omnipresent transcendental force that purports to explain conflicts that are both domestic and global.

Writing in a decidedly deterministic vein, Chua contends that:

“Humans are tribal. We need to belong to groups. We crave bonds and attachments, which is why we love clubs, teams, fraternities, family.”

From this standpoint, virtually every association and group mutates into a variant of tribalism. Yet, there are groups, and there are groups and the motives that inspire people to join a tennis club should not be interpreted as a variant of those that lead people to become members of a social justice movement or the Ku Klux Klan. Nor is it particularly useful — as Chua does — to portray the ethnic conflict in Iraq with the explosion of identity politics inspired tensions on American campuses.

Chua’s account highlights the divisive and destructive consequences of the explosion of suspicion and mistrust between alt-right and alt-left and growing variety of identity groups in the US, and as it happens, most of the Anglo-American world. Yet, though outwardly the politicization of ethnicity and identity appears to bear all the hallmarks of a tribal struggle, its most distinctive features have little to do with the human “need to belong to groups.”

I identify as…

There is much more to contemporary identity politics today than the valorization of a group or a tribe. Arguably the emphasis on belonging to a distinct group is the least distinctive feature of identity politics today. Since the 19th century, identitarian movements boasted of the special and distinct cultural characteristic of their group identity. They continue to do so today.

However, identity politics in the current era has seen a fundamental shift in focus from the group to the individual. When a student protestor declares, I identify as…., the message is clearly a statement about that individual person. Typically, student protestors draw attention to their fragile identity and flaunt their sensitivity to feeling offended. They frequently adopt a therapeutic language, and most important of all, they constantly talk about themselves and their feelings. Often what seems to matter is not what you argue, but who you are. Take an article in the Columbia Spectator, the newspaper published by students at Columbia University. The article begins with the statement: “Let me begin by stating some crucial facts: I am queer, multiracial woman of color. I am survivor of sexual assault and suffer from multiple mental illnesses. I am a low-income, first-generation student.”

The ‘crucial facts’ pertaining to her identity serve to endow the writer of this article with moral authority. In this “it’s all about me” call for her identity to be respected; her actual arguments are secondary to her status as a multiple victim.  Moreover, the possession of a multiple victim-identity is far more important to her, than an affiliation to a single tribe.

The misguided slogan of the 1970s, “the personal is political,” has given way to the infantilized rhetoric of “it’s all about me.” The words “I” and “me” have become a central feature of the vocabulary of narcissistic protests that characterize the current era. Protestors chanting “Not in My name” or flaunting their #Metoo badge are making a statement about themselves.

There is something disturbingly immature about individual protestors signaling their virtues through posting selfies of themselves holding up a placard stating, “I am angry, and I demand respect.” The emphasis is not on drawing attention to misdeeds directed at the tribe but on hurt experienced by the individual. The refrain, “I am offended” is not the statement of a tribalist but of an atomized and self-absorbed individual.

In recent years, protest frequently serves as a medium for the affirmation of identity. As Italian sociologist Alberto Mellucci observed, “participation in collective action is seen to have no value for the individual unless it provides a direct response to personal needs.”

What we see on campuses today, is far more the politics of ‘it’s all about me’ than that of old-school tribalism. Of course, the current obsession with self-identity is frequently expressed through a group form. The statement, I identify as…… is followed by a predicate that relates to a particular group. Nevertheless, what really matters to the person making a statement is the “I.” This focus on the personal is echoed by both the alt-right and the alt-left. The hysterical exchanges between the two sides serve as testimony to the polarising potential of the personal is political.

One of the least noticed but most significant features of the current phase of identity politics is its tendency towards fragmentation and individuation. There is a growing tendency towards the proliferation of identity groups and also towards separatism. For example, on February 23, 2018, Stonewall, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights advocacy group announced that it had withdrawn from the established London Pride parade. Instead, it will support UK Black Pride because it feels that London Pride is not sufficiently “inclusive.” Outwardly, such disputes between different identity warriors have a tribalistic flavor. But what drives such conflicts is the ethos of “it’s all about me” or what Freud referred to as the narcissism of small differences.

In her book, Chua draws attention to the proliferation of identities. She notes the long list of more than 50 gender designations of Facebook and the Balkanisation of gender identities. Arguably, the dynamic driving the Balkanisation of gender identities is the individualistic impulse of owning your own brand. What drives this process is not the desire to share a sense of solidarity or belonging to a group but the craving to be different from others. Chua’s emphasis of the group and the tribe overlooks the prevailing counter-tendencies towards the consolidation of community — tribal or otherwise.

Given the culturally, racially and ethnically polarized atmosphere in America, it is understandable that observers have sought to interpret these developments through the frame of tribalism. Writing in this vein, Rauch echoes Chua when he argues that the popular rediscovery of tribalism is “the single most important intellectual trend of our time.”

Though, Rauch rightly draws attention to the “ever-narrowing group identities,” he does not reflect on the question of what drives this process of fragmentation. Hyper-atomization of campuses, as reflected through demands for all-black or all-gay dormitories and for other forms of self-ghettoization highlight the prevailing sensibility of “we can’t live with one another.”

The real problem facing western societies is not so much the flourishing of tribal identities by the corrosive power of atomization that expresses itself in the form of an identity group. The ever-narrowing group identities referred to here should be understood as a process that I describe as the “diminishing scale of loyalties.” As loyalty acquires a diminished focus, forms of solidarity that transcend the individual self lose their appeal. That is the predicament facing 21st-century society.

Yes, the Weird Campus Culture Pollutes the Whole Nation Now

Several correspondents send me links to “must read” articles every few days. High up on the list since February 9, has been Andrew Sullivan’s New York Magazine article, “We All Live on Campus Now.” Like most “must reads,” Sullivan’s article is a blazing reassertion of what most people already know. Its claim, as Pope defined “true wit” in his Essay on Criticism, is to present “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d.”

What Sullivan expresses so well is the diminution of the concept of the individual next to the Colossus of Identity Group. He gets there by puncturing the fantasy that the victim culture on campus begins to disappear as you make your way down main street and over to the business district.

We did already know this, didn’t we? When Google fired James Damore in 2017 for writing a memo in which he commented on psychological differences between men and women, we had a clue. When Mozilla fired its CEO Brendan Eich in 2014 for having once donated $1,000 to Proposition 8, we had an inkling. When Harvard ousted president Larry Summers way back in 2006 for making carefully hedged observations about the distribution across the sexes of Himalayan-level mathematical aptitude, we had a whisper.

Plainly we have all known for a very long time that the quips and cranks, and wanton wiles of political correctness had become the jollity of everyday life in America. Yesterday I interviewed a candidate for a position as an editor of my journal, and when I mentioned that we stick with “he” as the third-person generic pronoun, a look of barely veiled horror shrank across her face. By the time we got to my opposition to racial preferences, this poor mortal was ready to flee for her life.

Why? Because all right-thinking people know the new rules. The diversity of victimization is the only diversity that now matters in America. A few days back a reporter called me for comment on whether the new Hollywood blockbuster, The Black Panther, could rightly be faulted for not giving adequate attention to the doubling and tripling of victim statuses called “intersectionality.” Apparently, the filmmakers had cut some Lesbian love scenes that black activist and scriptwriter Ta-Nehisi Coates had added to the fantasy pic. Intersectionality is where all the injustices, phobias, and –isms come together in the great banquet of identity group suffering, something like the palace of the devils, Pandemonium, in Milton’s Paradise Lost.

The attentive reader cannot have failed to notice my various allusions to dead white male poets and living white male overachievers. They are here as my support group. My own cultural identity, which I’ve long understood to be that of an American who has an interest in history, literature, and ideas, has been yanked away by the edict of our Cultural Czars. In its stead, I find I find that I am to understand myself by the coordinates of race, sex, and privilege. (I refuse the word “gender.” It concedes the falsehood that sexual differences are entirely “socially constructed.”)

I don’t care for this new reductionism, and I find it hard to believe that many other people care for it either, except those who derive their livelihoods by striding the webs of identity group affiliation. To be sure, resentment and anger provide a certain source of gratification.

Sullivan observes how “the imperatives of an identity-based ‘social justice’ movement” are dragging America away from “liberal democracy.”  Sullivan should know, as he played his own part in attaching some of the chains to the tow truck. He may regret the zeal with which the next generation of activists continue the work of dismantling the foundations of family and civilized order. As for the “individual,” it is surprising how such a Gibraltar of a concept could crumble into postmodern dust in the space of a generation.

The readiness of students to discard academic freedom for “safe spaces” is a readiness to shrug off their individuality in favor of the supposed comforts of group identity. That this has been carried into popular culture and politics is undeniable. That we can watch it invade the precincts of business and commerce is astonishing. It is as though all the defensive forces have thrown down their weapons and fled.

“The whole concept of an individual who exists apart from group identity is slipping from the discourse,” writes Sullivan, and he is on the money. When he turns to President Trump as the arch-avatar of these sorry developments, however, I am not so sure. Trump, of course, is frequently chastised as having called forth the legions of white identity reactionaries, and his style is often crude, but it is also hard to think of him as anything but an unreformed individual. His bluster is the rodomontade of a self-made man. He mocks the conventions of identity politics, which can be mistaken as indulging those conventions.

But I wouldn’t insist on the point. Sullivan does excellent work surveying the cratered terrain where radical feminists, cultural Marxists, and social justice warriors of all sorts have lobbed their mortar shells and nearly obliterated all traces of civilized culture. Learning how to treat people as individuals again will take a long recuperation. As a misogynist writer once put it, this is our own Farewell to Arms.

Photo: The 5 Factions of DIVERGENT Thought Leaders – Leading Thought (Flickr)

This University Is Going to Pay Big Money for Ignoring a Student’s Rights

James Madison University, a public university in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, is probably not a school you would think of as one where rampaging ideology against male students would lead to a huge legal fight. But that’s what happened a few years ago. Now, a student who was wrongfully punished is on the verge of collecting almost $850,000 from the university.

The case is like many others ­— a “hookup” between college students that ended in anger, with the woman using the Obama-era sexual assault rules for revenge. The man (“John Doe”) met the woman (“Jane Roe”) in August 2014 when both were incoming students at JMU. They had sex one night and exchanged friendly communications for days. The two “hung out” together and had sex again the following week.

One evening thereafter, Roe went to Doe’s room carrying her pillow and blanket but was shocked to find another woman sitting on Doe’s bed. She left in a huff and a few days later filed charges against Doe for sexual misconduct. She claimed that at the time of their first encounter, she had been too intoxicated to consent to sex. Their hookup, therefore, amounted to rape. She wanted Doe punished.

In December, a JMU disciplinary panel heard the arguments, considered the evidence, and decided that Doe was not responsible for any wrongdoing.

That ought to have been the end of the matter, but Ms. Roe was not happy about the outcome, so she asked for another hearing. Rather than saying, “No, the case is closed,” JMU decided to put Doe through what would amount to illegal double jeopardy if this were a case before our criminal courts. It convened another panel, consisting of three professors who listened to new evidence Roe claimed was pertinent, while not permitting Doe to contest any of it.

Despite an abundance of evidence from the first hearing that Roe had not been intoxicated that first night, the second panel decided, in accordance with the Obama-era mantra of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), that “the accuser should be believed.” It summarily declared that Doe had violated JMU’s policy against sexual assault and ordered that he be suspended from the university for five years. He could then reapply, but only if he had undergone an “education/counseling program.”

Doe was not allowed to contest that decision.

Bear in mind that from 2011 to the end of the Obama administration, the OCR was putting heavy pressure on colleges to implement procedures meant to maximize the number of successful complaints of sexual harassment and assault. They were expected to use pro-accuser policies (such as not allowing the accused to challenge evidence and to employ the lowest possible standard of proof of guilt). This case gave JMU an opportunity to shine. Its punishment of Doe was just what the overlords in Washington, D.C. wanted to see.

What the university did not count on was a vigorous counter-attack by the maligned Mr. Doe, who was out of school and bore the stigma of a rapist.

He filed suit against JMU, arguing that it had failed to live up to its self-declared obligation to provide all students with fair and equitable procedures when accused of violating school regulations.

The case was heard by federal judge Elizabeth Dillon, who ruled in 2016 that the university had violated Doe’s rights.

Judge Dillon focused on the second stage of the disciplinary process, writing “There JMU subjected him to a second fact-finding trial but severely limited his ability to defend himself. Specifically, she found:

  • It did not give him sufficient notice of, or time to respond to, Roe’s new evidence.
  • It did not provide him with details about the unnamed girl whom Roe’s suitemate accused him of sexually assaulting—an accusation not raised before the hearing board but presented to the appeal board.
  • It did not allow him to contact Roe’s roommate, whom Roe and her suitemate accused of lying before the hearing panel.
  • It did not tell him the names of the appeal board’s members.
  • It did not give him prior notice of the appeal board’s meeting.
  • It did not permit him to attend the appeal board’s meeting.

Conversely, JMU bent over backward to accommodate Roe, such as granting her time extensions for submitting new evidence. Judge Dillon, therefore, refused to dismiss the procedural due process case against JMU in December of 2016, and the following April followed up with an order that Doe be reinstated, and his record as a sexual predator be expunged.

But that left the matter of legal costs unresolved. Judge Dillon turned that over to U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe who ruled on January 31, 2018, that JMU must pay over $849,000 in legal expenses Doe incurred.

Writing about the battle over costs in this piece, Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky and Sarah Williams state, “The same intransigence and refusal to recognize its wrongdoing that was evident in the original case has been present in the court fight over these legal costs. JMU rejected numerous attempts to settle the case despite its plain and obvious mishandling of the sexual-assault claim. Judge Hoppe points out that while JMU claimed Doe’s request was too high because Doe’s attorneys ‘overstaffed the case, were inefficient, and duplicated each other’s work,’ JMU did ‘not offer any specific support for this position.’”

There are two reasons why this case matters.

First, it shows that American courts still recognize that due process of law for every accused person is vitally important – even male college students accused of sexual assault.

Second, it provides a warning to those colleges and universities that have decided to stick with the Obama-era procedures that Judge Dillon (and many other legal scholars) are likely to overturn ad hoc university decisions in favor of the U.S. Constitution. Following Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ announcement that she was rescinding the OCR “guidance” that led colleges to abandon due process when it came to male students accused of sexual assault, a number of institutions declared, apparently out of a feeling of righteous resistance to Trump, that they would continue to abide by the old policies.

In this article by Ashe Schow, we read that Yale stated that it has “no plans to deviate from the Obama-era policies after alumni urged campus administrators to resist changes.” Similarly, Cal State-Northridge said that it would “not waver in our commitment to Title IX and its protections.”

Rhetoric like that sounds wonderful in “progressive” ears but being unfair to accused men does nothing to protect women on campus. What those policies accomplish is to encourage the abuse of disciplinary processes by students who want revenge against others who have scorned or angered them.

In a way, we should applaud any college that asserts its independence from Washington. The Department of Education shouldn’t dictate policies to them, on the handling of sexual assault cases or anything else. But schools that feel the need to keep using procedures that are stacked in favor of accusers should think about the possible costs of doing so. The bad publicity and high financial cost to James Madison University are, as educators like to say, a teachable moment.

A New Book Takes On 500 Years of Modern Liberalism

Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick J. Deneen, uses “liberalism” in the oldest, broadest sense of the term. Deneen’s sweeping, severe assessment of all that has gone wrong in our time attacks modernity’s entire package-deal: individuals possessing inalienable rights; representative, accountable governments that exist to secure those rights; the separation of church and state; the commitment to progress, prosperity, and self-determination.

Deneen, a University of Notre Dame political scientist, calls liberalism a “political philosophy conceived some 500 years ago,” a project set in motion by Machiavelli, Francis Bacon, and Thomas Hobbes before John Locke, James Madison, and John Stuart Mill elaborated and systematized it. Though launched with lofty aspirations to promote equity, pluralism, dignity, and liberty, it turns out that liberalism “generates titanic inequality, enforces uniformity and homogeneity, fosters material and spiritual degradation, and undermines freedom.” Liberalism failed because it succeeded, Deneen argues.

Its “inner logic” culminated in crippling contradictions becoming manifest. Communism and fascism, the “visibly authoritarian” ideologies liberalism vanquished, were “crueler,” but less “insidious.” Liberalism’s power to shape our expectations and standards is so great that only as humanity is “burdened by the miseries of its successes” do we begin to realize that “the vehicles of our liberation have become iron cages of our captivity.”

Our existence within those cages is harrowing and false. Democratic politics has become a “Potemkin drama meant to convey the appearance of popular consent for a figure who will exercise incomparable arbitrary powers over domestic policy, international arrangements, and, especially, warmaking.” Purportedly republican governance really consists of “commands and mandates of an executive whose office is achieved by massive influxes of lucre.”

Our economic lives, based on the assumption that “increased purchasing power of cheap goods will compensate for the absence of economic security and the division of the world into generational winners and losers,” are equally fraudulent. And equally malign: “few civilizations appear to have created such a massive apparatus to winnow those who will succeed from those who will fail.” Because of these forces, we are “increasingly separate, autonomous, nonrelational selves replete with rights and defined by our liberty, but insecure, powerless, afraid, and alone.”

That’s one assessment of life in the 21st century. Here’s another:

Many people around the world feel insecure and oppose the spreading of insecurity and war….

The people are protesting the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots and the rich and poor countries.

The people are disgusted with increasing corruption.

The people of many countries are angry about the attacks on their cultural foundations and the disintegration of families. They are equally dismayed with the fading of care and compassion….

Liberalism and Western style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the Liberal democratic systems.

The latter passage does not come from Why Liberalism Failed but appeared instead in an open letter sent to President George W. Bush in 2006 by Iran’s president, Mahmood Ahmadinejad. The striking similarity of the two jeremiads is, at the very least, awkward for Deneen. We know that Ahmadinejad belongs to a broad Islamic movement that, loathing and dreading Western liberalism, wants to extirpate the encroachments it has made in Muslim societies. He offers a critique and a remedy, blood-drenched but nevertheless clear.

There’s no evidence that Deneen favors an American counterpart to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, but also very little evidence about the solution he does endorse. Like most authors of books on politics and social conditions, Deneen is a loquacious pathologist but tongue-tied clinician. Why Liberalism Failed follows the template: half-a-dozen vigorous, detailed chapters that explicate and decry what’s broken, and assign blame for our dilemma, followed by a single concluding chapter—slender, tentative, vague, and unusable—on how to fix the problem.

Given the depths and urgency of the crisis he deplores, Deneen’s reticence about how to find our way out of it is particularly disappointing. At one point he suggests the difficulty of explaining what comes after liberalism is yet another thing to blame on liberalism since its hegemony over our discourse makes it hard to imagine and describe a post-liberal future. At another, he contends that the absence of standards defining that future is a virtue.

Since one of liberalism’s inherent defects is an excessive reliance on political theory, the remedy must be a firm reliance on political practice. More specifically, he endorses “communities of practice,” such as the Amish or those envisioned by Rod Dreher in The Benedict Option. In them, “people of goodwill” can “form distinctive countercultural communities” that create “new and viable cultures, economics grounded in virtuosity within households, and [a] civic polis life.”

Authors can be revealing without being forthcoming, however, and the suggestions Deneen gives about these communities of practice point to larger defects in his argument. His book relates a conversation he had while teaching at Princeton, about the Amish practice of giving young adults a year-long sabbatical from the austere communities where they grew up, so they can sample modern life before deciding whether to eschew it. “Some of my former colleagues took this as a sign that these young people were in fact not ‘choosing’ as free individuals,” he writes. “One said, ‘We will have to consider ways of freeing them.’”

Deneen treats this chilling Rousseauian remark as exposing liberalism’s malevolent essence. It is not one tenured radical, but all of liberalism, that denigrates “family, community, and tradition.” Deneen does not consider the alternative possibility that his colleague was not a representative liberal but a deficient one, severely lacking in the accommodating spirit of live-and-let-live that characterizes liberal societies at their best.

Elsewhere, Deneen anticipates demands for laws to prevent communities of practice from becoming “local autocracies or theocracies.” Such demands, he warns, “have always contributed to the extension of liberal hegemony,” leaving us “more subject to the expansion of both the state and market and less in control of our fate.” This dismissal does not refute a legitimate concern: the people who form distinctive countercultural communities will not necessarily be of goodwill. Nor will the results of their efforts always be “lighthouses and field hospitals” that guide us through the liberal storm and cure us of the liberal sickness. Sometimes they’ll produce Amish communities, but other times they’ll yield Jonestown, Branch Davidians, or the Church of Scientology.

The “most basic and distinctive aspect of liberalism,” Deneen argues, “is to base politics upon the idea of voluntarism—the unfettered and autonomous choice of individuals.” For the time being, while operating in “liberalism’s blighted cultural landscape,” the communities of practice will avail themselves of liberalism’s “choice-based philosophy.” They can invoke voluntarism to resist it, issuing a defiant “Don’t Tread on Me” to liberalism’s encroaching state, market, and “anti-culture.” After liberalism has collapsed under the weight of its contradictions, however, the voluntarist communities of practice might someday produce a “nonvoluntarist cultural landscape.” In it, presumably, individuals will no longer be burdened by the possibility and necessity of making so many choices, including whether to join or leave a community of practice.

These hints that Deneen is something of an anti-anti-theocrat lead us to Why Liberalism Failed’s most serious lacuna: how did a philosophy he portrays as monstrous and anthropologically absurd not only catch on but come to dominate political thought and practice for five centuries? He emphasizes the guile, malevolence, bad faith, and hidden agendas of liberalism’s architects, but doesn’t account for their astounding success in peddling what sounds like a solution in search of a problem.

By way of not explaining what we should do now, Deneen says that we can only go forward, not back to “an idyllic preliberal age” that “never existed.” But an age can be pretty good without being idyllic. Deneen says that none of liberalism’s ideals—liberty, equality, dignity, justice, and constitutionalism—were innovations. All of them were “of ancient pedigree,” carefully elaborated over centuries in classical and Christian philosophy.

Since liberalism brought nothing new to the table, the only reason for its success appears to be that people were fooled into thinking it would hasten the process of making political practice conform more closely to the standards laid out by pre-liberal political theory. Still, why humans made such a big bet on such a bad pony remains a mystery, as does their needing 500 years to start realizing the gamble hasn’t paid off.

One wouldn’t know from Why Liberalism Failed that the dawning of the liberal age coincided with the beginning of savage religious wars that devastated Europe. Over doctrinal differences, Protestants slaughtered Catholics, Catholics slaughtered Protestants, and Protestants slaughtered other Protestants. After two centuries of this madness, people were both exhausted and receptive to the idea that it was more urgent to end than to win the religious warfare.

The liberal philosophy took shape, largely in response to these traumas, and offered a way out of them. Politics would be about some things but not everything, and especially not about God and how to regard Him. Liberalism created a political space in which people would agree to disagree. When first put forward, his approach struck many people as a good idea and continues to appeal today.

Liberalism remains problematic for many reasons, one of them being the difficulty of drawing the boundaries between those things we must agree on, and those where agreement is unnecessary and seeking it dangerous. There are other challenges. Liberalism prevents religion from becoming a threat to civic peace by “privatizing” it, turning it into a kind of hobby. The resulting secularization of the public realm trivializes both public and private life, however, producing what Leo Strauss famously called the “joyless quest for joy.”

Furthermore, and as Deneen makes clear, liberalism draws upon civilizational inventories it does not replenish. Immanuel Kant was wrong: sensible devils cannot sustain a liberal society, no matter how shrewdly ambition is made to counteract ambition. The character of the citizenry is crucial, but the cultural contradiction of liberalism is that the experience of living in a liberal regime turns a great many of its citizens into people lacking the nobility, virtue, and discipline needed to defend and preserve that regime.

It may be, then, that such serious problems mean liberalism is inherently precarious at best and untenable at worst. Nevertheless, liberalism arose in response to the genuine problem of finding a way people of diverse creeds could live together peacefully. Getting rid of liberalism will not get rid of this necessity. Ahmadinejad’s solution is to banish the diversity liberalism presupposes, to hasten the process whereby “the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty and justice and the will of God will prevail over all things.”

Deneen’s solution, so far as he has one, sounds like solving diversity by increasing it through an archipelago of micro-polities, different from one another but each committed to its internally unifying vision of the good life. Neither solution sounds plausible or enticing. If, as Deneen contends, we got into our difficulties with liberalism and its attendant difficulties by not asking enough hard questions, there’s no reason to believe we’ll get out of those difficulties without asking hard questions about what comes next, questions for which Why Liberalism Failed offers no answers.

Exclusive: New Harvard Prez Nearly Won “Sheldon” Award

We note that Lawrence Bacow has been named the president of Harvard, succeeding Drew Gilpin Faust, who held the office for 11 years.

Mysteriously missing from the news coverage was the fact that Bacow was a 2007 finalist for the “Sheldon,” our coveted award for worst college president of the year. The award is a statuette that looks something like the Oscar, except the Oscar features a man with no face looking straight ahead, whereas the Sheldon shows a man with no spine looking the other way.

The award is named for the late Sheldon Hackney, the former president of the University of Pennsylvania and the Babe Ruth of modern Sheldonism.

As president of Tufts University, Lawrence Bacow looked the other way when a student-faculty committee put a conservative Tufts publication on trial and found it guilty for publishing two parodies. One was a mock Christmas carol making fun of affirmative action and the other was a satire of Tuft’s Islamic Awareness Week.

The committee accused the journal of causing “embarrassment, which we had thought was the entire purpose of satire. The committee ordered the publication not to run any unsigned articles in the future, a rule not applied to other campus publications. The committee also hinted that funding would be cut if other controversial articles were published.

The spineless Sheldon award. (Photo-Wikipedia)

FIRE wrote Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow to ask why a verdict declaring The Primary Source (TPSguilty of “harassment” and “creating a hostile environment” still stands―despite the fact that Bacow himself has openly admitted that such a punishment could not stand under the First Amendment.

“We explained to President Bacow (again) that the only way for Tufts University to shed the dishonor of being one of three schools named to FIRE’s Red Alert list―reserved for schools FIRE deems ‘the worst of the worst’ when it comes to protecting rights on campus―was by immediately dropping the guilty finding against TPS. As we wrote:

“As long as the harassment finding against The Primary Source remains, students at Tufts are in danger of being censored and sanctioned merely for expressing unpopular opinions on campus.”

Eventually, Bacow acknowledged freedom of speech by eliminating punishment for the student journalists and praised free expression but refused to overrule the guilty verdict, leading the Sheldon committee to conclude that Bacow’s commitment to free speech ‘’shuttles between tepid and imaginary.”.

A mutual friend invited Bacow and me to lunch, where Bacow once again reiterated his innocent but guilty position, a stance opposed by the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and several newspapers. It was, however, the only time a Sheldon candidate argued his case before the whole Sheldon committee (me).

Bacow lost the worst-president title that year to a superlative effort by Richard Brodhead, president of Duke.

Here is what Brodhead did to win: On hearing the first reports, he abruptly canceled the lacrosse season, suspended the players named in the case, and fired the lacrosse coach of 16 years, giving him less than a day to get out. All with no hearings.

This helped create the impression that the players were guilty. His long letter to the campus did the same thing. He didn’t say the boys were guilty, but he talked passionately about the coercion and assault of women, the legacy of racism, and privilege and inequality – all of which fed the anger aimed at the lacrosse team.

Brodhead did nothing to deter the tsunami whipped up against the players by some students and the Group of 88, an alliance of mostly radical race and gender professors. One of the 88, Houston Baker, answered a polite and worried letter from one of the lacrosse moms by calling her “the mother of a farm animal.” Again with no comment from Brodhead.

Without any comment from Brodhead, the protesters issued death threats, carried banners that said “castrate,” featured photos of lacrosse players on “Wanted” fliers, and banged pots outside the boys’ residences in the early morning hours to disturb their sleep. A word from the president about leaving the boys alone and guaranteeing them a fair trial would have been nice. An engineering professor at Duke said, “There never was a clear sense that the students were innocent until proven guilty.” The whole “scandal,”was, of course, a scam.

Despite their perpetrations, Brodhead won a glittering contract, and Bacow is president of Harvard.

The College Endowment Tax: A Good Idea, Sort of…

Starting next January, some 35 very wealthy private colleges and universities will start paying an annual 1.4 percent college endowment tax under the new tax reform law. That’s very few of the nation’s institutions of higher learning, and the tax will not apply to assets that directly contribute to an educational purpose. When you hear wisecracks such as “Harvard is a hedge fund with a university attached,” you are listening to one reason for the tax. Other reasons include resentment toward elite universities for allowing leftwing domination of modern faculties and rising campus disrespect for free speech and intellectual diversity.

Related: The Case for Taxing Endowments

The precedent to exempt colleges from taxation emerged during the colonial era when newly established colleges were subsidized, in part, by exempting them from property taxes. Given their mission to educate young men for civic leadership and the clergy, the employment of an infant industry policy to exempt colleges from taxation to encourage their growth and sustainability seemed reasonable. Colleges, however, are increasingly astray from the mission of creating and disseminating knowledge, which serves a useful social function that arguably merits subsidization. They are increasingly engaged in revenue-generating activities that resemble those pursued by taxpaying commercial enterprises.

This includes endowment investment portfolios at some universities that look like highfalutin hedge funds. The commercial interests of universities should be taxed in the same manner as taxpaying enterprises and individuals, not granted the special privilege. The endowment tax moves us closer to this ideal.

The endowment tax mainly applies to wealthy universities such as Harvard, MIT, Princeton, and Yale. These four institutions collectively control about a quarter of the $500 billion assets held by college endowment funds, providing them an unprecedented advantage in attracting top students and faculty. The tax may reduce endowment inequality and improve the competitiveness of higher education. Some donors may redirect their philanthropy from the wealthy institutions to less well-endowed ones where their gift will have a higher long-term impact because it will grow tax-free. This would improve the financial position of institutions benefiting from such reallocation of gifts, allowing them to invest in strategic areas to better compete for top students and faculty.

Finally, the endowment tax may send a symbolic message to colleges that the public is increasingly dissatisfied with their behavior. Lawmakers with the ability to subsidize colleges also have the option of taxing them. This could serve as an impetus for university leaders to control profligate spending, improve affordability, enhance learning, and promote intellectual diversity.

Will It Reduce Financial Aid?

Some college officials have suggested that the endowment tax will reduce access among talented low-income students because a portion of their endowments is earmarked for financial aid. Returns attributable to such funds may end up exempt as an argument could be made that scholarships directly contribute to an institution’s educational mission.

While the endowment tax will nonetheless result in a modest revenue loss for wealthy institutions, most of these schools have what economists refer to as highly inelastic demand curves. This means they could raise tuition without significantly reducing the number of qualified students willing and capable of paying sticker price. The loss in revenue from the endowment tax could be made up by charging full price payers more, without adversely impacting access to low-income students. Proponents of redistribution should favor this. But then again, affected colleges might respond by reducing the number of low-income students admitted or the aid packages offered to them.

The endowment tax of 1.4 percent is lower than the 2 percent rate imposed on net investment income of private foundations. Meanwhile, individual investment income is taxed at the marginal rate (up to 37 percent post-reform) and long-term capital gains up to a 20 percent tax rate, plus any state levies. The net investment income and capitals gains of corporations are taxed at the corporate rate (21 percent post-reform). Why should wealthy universities such as Harvard, whose $37 billion endowment exceeds the GDP of countries such as Bahrain and Latvia, pay a lower tax rate than a middle-class family or small business for performing the same economic activity?

In addition to the direct revenue loss from the endowment tax, the new policy will also impose indirect costs. The higher education community is likely to increase its lobbying efforts to try and shape the final details of the policy in their favor to minimize losses. The policy will likely be complex, imposing new compliance costs. Lobbying and regulatory compliance are costly and will divert resources from more productive uses.

A Small Tax Needn’t Stay Small

Though the new tax is small, we should learn from history. The Revenue Act of 1913 imposed a very modest 1 percent federal income tax but has evolved into the federal government’s largest revenue stream, propagating a Leviathan central government.

While the endowment tax is likely to have a modest impact, it is a slippery slope for further federal meddling in and politicization of higher education. Faced with a rapidly expanding national debt and unfunded liabilities, lawmakers may view universities resources, including their endowments, like a pot of gold at the end of an ivory tower. They may also increasingly use the power of the purse to coerce university conformity to whatever ideology is in vogue, further reducing intellectual diversity.

Federal intrusion into higher education has been a root cause of many of the issues fueling growing public resentment towards it. Calling upon the government to fix problems that it helped create may prove to be foolish and perpetuate them indefinitely. As Milton Friedman once said, “there is nothing so permanent as a temporary government program.” His wisdom suggests that we ought to move in the direction of reducing government involvement in higher education, not increasing it.