The High Cost of Free Speech

The University of Virginia prides itself on being “Mr. Jefferson’s university,” where unfettered free speech is both practiced and respected in the manner called for in his First Inaugural address when Mr. Jefferson (as locals still reverentially refer to him) fervently urged his fellow citizens to let misguided and even evil notions “stand undisturbed as monuments of the safety with which error of opinion may be tolerated where reason is left free to combat it.”

Jefferson may have had to contend with such unpleasantries as  the Alien and Sedition Acts, but at least he was spared having to confront the scourge of political correctness that in recent times has appeared even in his very own beloved “ academical village.”

One of the characteristics of political correctness is that it does not content itself with stamping out error. It also denounces truths and facts that it finds inconvenient, as a prominent UVa graduate and donor learned the hard way. As the Washington Post reported this week:

Four legendary investors gathered at the University of Virginia in late April to share their philosophies and strategies for success, personal fulfillment and philanthropy. All four were men, white and aging, and that prompted several audience members to submit questions wondering: Where are the women?  

Paul Tudor Jones II, a 1976 U-Va. graduate and billionaire Greenwich-based hedge fund manager, took a stab at answering. According to those who attended, Jones explained how traders must have extraordinary focus and commitment, working long hours and forgoing personal time. A lot of women opt out of such a high-intensity career, he said, especially once they have children.  

From the heated response you might think Jones had urged female business students and graduates to remain barefoot and pregnant. His comment, as the Chronicle of Higher Education put it, “upset alumni and faculty members,” but “upset” hardly captures the furor that ensued. The Post reports that Carl P. Zeithaml, dean of UVa’s McIntire School of Commerce where the panel took place, “said that he immediately received complaints from alumni and faculty members who were concerned and, in some cases, appalled by the substance and framing of Jones’s comments,” and he sent a long email to all students and staff trying to contain the damage, emphasizing “on behalf of the School” that “everyone, including women and underrepresented minorities, should enthusiastically and optimistically pursue the careers in which they have an interest and for which they have an aptitude” and not “be dissuaded by a few statistics.”

Jones apparently didn’t offer any statistics, presumably assuming that he was merely making an uncontroversial observation of the the facts of high pressure corporate life, but he certainly could have.

In her Fiscal Times column recently, for example, Liz Peek quoted Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that the number of women over 20 not in the labor pool has soared — “from 40 million in 2000 to nearly 49 million today.” The labor force participation rate of women today is down to 58.8 percent, compared to a rate for men of 72.5 percent. Of the women not working, Peek writes, the most problematic group “consists of highly educated women who drop out (or ‘opt-out’) when they have children.” Regarding a relevant subset of that group, Peek points to a recent article by Vanderbilt law professor Joni Hersch, who found that “the largest gap in labor market activity between graduates of elite institutions and less selective institutions is among MBAs, with married mothers who are graduates of elite institutions 30 percentage points less likely to be employed full-time than graduates of less selective institutions.”

McIntire is definitely an elite institution, as is UVa’s Darden School of Business. I wonder if anyone at either knows what percentage of female graduates remain in the labor force — and given the response to Paul Tudor Jones’s casual observation, if anyone would be willing to say.

John S. Rosenberg

John Rosenberg blogs at Discriminations.

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