All posts by Peter Wood

Peter Wood is president of the National Association of Scholars and author of “Diversity: the Invention of a Concept.”

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.

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.”


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

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 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?

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)

The New Campus Anti-Americanism

I have a cabin in the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont. The woods– lovely, dark and deep–weren’t always woods. About 150 years ago the hills in central Vermont were stripped bare of trees and mostly turned over to sheep farms. The wool industry, however, soon moved west, and these days Vermont is completely re-forested. No matter how hard some people try to deforest a landscape, somehow it has a way of coming back.

American higher education may well have similar resilience. Looking at the current landscape, you might find that hard to believe. With only a few exceptions, our colleges and universities— public and private, large and small, blue state and red state—are deeply mired in ideological antagonism to traditional American values, and more broadly, the legacy of Western civilization.

They promote a kind of sheep-herding instead. Critics have accurately described many of the characteristics of this herding: its postmodern disdain for the pursuit of truth; its leveling of distinctions between high culture and popular entertainment; its embrace of “experiential learning” as co-equal with disciplined inquiry; its erasure of the line between strongly held opinions and established facts; its fragmentation of the curriculum; its happy embrace of micro-specialization; its championing of race-class-gender reductionism; its grade inflation and derisory academic standards; its bias against teachers and scholars who reject progressive orthodoxies or who simply fail to embrace them with sufficient ardor; its capital idea that higher education is properly a form of political indoctrination and always has been; and above all its comprehensive insistence on conformity to a handful of progressive doctrines including diversity, multiculturalism, social justice, and sustainability.

The items in this long list can be discussed individually, but of course, they all flow together. They are part of a single worldview, which for lack of a better term are Renascent Anti-Americanism (RAA). To say something is anti-American, of course, conjures up for many the era the 1940s and 1950s of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Senator Joseph McCarthy’s theatrics, branded by the left forever as the moral equivalent of the Salem witchcraft trials. Arthur Miller’s allegorical play, The Crucible, is the lens through which millions of American children over the generations have been taught to see the chilling specter of people accusing others of communist sympathies.

But of course, international communism directed by the Soviet Union was (unlike Salem’s witches) perfectly real, and Soviet agents had indeed penetrated very high levels of the American government. Alger Hiss, who was for decades the American left’s alleged martyr to anti-communist hysteria, turned out in fact to be a Soviet agent, as were many others in prominent positions. Anti-anti-communism has its day. It is time for something else, and something else I have in mind is the frank recognition that American higher education has crafted a new form of anti-Americanism.

This new anti-Americanism isn’t the Bolshevik menace crawling out its historical grave. The Soviet Union is gone, and despite the histrionics of The New York Times and CNN, Putin’s Russia has none of the reach of the old KGB. The new anti-Americanism resembles the old (classic) anti-Americanism in that many of its proponents find inspiration in Marx and Marxoid writers such as Gramsci. The new anti-Americanism has also placed a bet that international socialism will triumph over free markets, capitalism, or the mixed economies of the West.

Both classic and Renascent Anti-Americanism are utopian in character. The classic version saw a worldwide liberation of humanity from the trammels of class. RAA plays with this theme too when it invokes the hated “one percent,” but the utopian heart of RAA isn’t class. What it really detests is American culture.

More than classic anti-Americanism, RAA is a creature of higher education. Yes, old-style radicals were a feature of the American university since the waning years of the 19th century, and the House Un-American Activities Committee sought to bring their disloyalty to the United States to public attention. But universities back then merely provided refuge for a handful of subversives and not a very reliable one. Today, the people we once would have called subversives are the majority of the humanities and social science faculty members, most of the administrative staff, and probably the great majority of college presidents.

The latter frequently owe their positions to their adroitness in expressing loyalty to the creedal positions listed above, while also reassuring trustees that they could raise a lot of money and stay on the right side of the scientific and commercial operations on which the credibility and solvency of their institutions depends.

My thesis is that RAA is now settled fact for most American higher education. I could argue this thesis at length, but the pieces of it have been so well argued and amply illustrated by others that for the purpose of this article I am simply going to assume its accuracy. What I really want to address is the question of whether RAA is to be regarded as American higher education’s fixed position for now and decades to come, or whether, as I think, it is unstable and likely to collapse.

Appearances would have been against a visionary arborist in 1837, in Rutland County Vermont, predicting the return of the forest. Back then Rutland County was home to 180,984 sheep—there was a sheep census— and hardly any trees. Today Rutland has only a few sheep pastures, run mainly by hobbyists, and about 900 square miles of luxurious second-growth forest.

I’m not saying reforestation happens quickly. But it is hard to think that America will continue on its current educational trajectory. The educational establishment is convinced that the answer to its problems is, in effect, “more sheep.” If we can send every man, woman, and child to college and import enough international students from around the world, the hustle can continue—so goes the establishment line of thinking. But there are not enough sheep in the world to keep RAA going as the ruling ideology of American higher education.

My optimism about higher education’s recovery, of course, is based on my pessimism about the future of sheep-raising in the groves of academe. At the moment the higher education establishment, sheepherders extraordinaire, act as though things will go much as they have for the last fifty years. By “things” I mean the mass-production of haphazardly-educated but heavily indoctrinated graduates who have absorbed the core ideas that America is very bad and that multiculturalism is very good.

In 2016, when Donald Trump was campaigning for President, he caricatured higher education’s business model: “We’ll take $200,000 of your money; in exchange, we’ll train your children to hate our country….. We’ll make them unemployable by teaching them courses in Zombie studies, underwater basket weaving and, my favorite, tree climbing.”

Though the higher education establishment detests Trump with every wooly fiber of its being, the professional bureaucrats and administrative careerists increasingly recognize that Trump’s deflated view of colleges and universities resonates with many Americans.

Independent polls have converged on the finding that conservative and conservative-leaning independents are disaffected from higher education. First, a Pew Research Center survey in July poll showed 58 percent of Republicans saying that now view American higher education as having negative effects on the country. Then a Gallup poll in August offered the even more troubling picture that 67 percent of Republicans and Republican “leaders” had only some or very little “confidence on colleges and universities.” The figure for “all adults” regardless of political affiliation was 56 percent.

Last December’s session of the Higher Education Government Relations (HEGR) Conference, on the topic of “The Growing Partisan Divide on the Value of College,” featured a cross-section of higher education’s lobbyists—the people whose job it is to keep elected officials attentive to the needs and wants of colleges and universities. Their concern about the disaffection towards higher education of a broad swath of the voting public was palpable.

The question is whether that disaffection is merely a leaf in the breeze or part of a deeper shift in American attitudes. The polls, after all, might merely reflect the public’s unhappy reaction to the campus protests of the last few years. And the higher education establishment has all the defensive advantages of establishments: control over financial resources, personnel, and reputation, as well as fortified legal and regulatory positions. Universities seldom lose court battles, nor have they lost many battles for public opinion. They enjoy legions of loyal alumni who are predisposed to believe the best about their alma maters, and colleges and universities are adroit at turning attention away from their academic follies to spectacles on the football fields and basketball courts.

These are all good reasons for the higher education establishment to treat public disaffection as an annoying distraction that will in due time fade away.

Against that counsel of complacency is exactly what? I could give a complicated answer about disruptive technologies, education programs ill-matched to the economy, and student debt—among other factors. These are vulnerabilities that higher education establishment knows it must address if it wishes to maintain its privileged position in American society. But there is an even larger vulnerability that the higher education establishment adamantly refuses to address, namely its profound antagonism to traditional American values and culture: what I am calling Renascent Anti-Americanism. Disdaining the society on which it depends for everything—students, money, freedom—doesn’t seem like a good long-term trajectory.

The proponents of the new anti-Americanism fully understand this. They know American society as it has been and is still now (though in a weakened form) profoundly incompatible with a form of higher education that regards that society as racist, sexist, homophobic, and oppressive through and through. The leadership of our colleges, however, sees the solution as the transformation of American society into higher education’s own image. Once we Americans wake up, we will remodel ourselves in the image of the campus left. America will become, so to speak, Burlington, Vermont writ large. And if many Americans don’t like that transformation, too bad for them. Colleges and universities are raising up a generation that worships brute power and totalitarian social control and has no deep regard for individual freedoms or collective liberty.

That’s the dream, stated explicitly by some in higher education, but harbored by many more.

The current regime in higher education has many advantages in its efforts to maintain its position, but it has this one great disadvantage. Americans are growing more and more aware that their colleges and universities see themselves as the vanguard of a new social and political order forged in reactionary hatred of political, economic, and social freedom. That points to a future in which those colleges and universities will lose what they now think is permanently theirs: a sanctuary for the anti-American left. We will, in time, see the reforestation of that barren landscape, as Americans recapture their colleges or universities or build new ones. As in Rutland County, some hobby farms will remain, where gentlemen farmers can tend a few sheep with some well-trained border collies. Perhaps that will be Harvard’s future. The rest of us can look forward to the return of colleges and universities that prize debate, robust diversity of ideas, educational excellence, well-ordered curricula, and mindful attention to the ideals of our republic.

This article was adapted from Peter Wood’s remarks to the Family Research Council, December 5, 2017

Did the Right ‘Weaponize’ Free Speech?

Joan Scott, professor emerita in the School of Social Science at Princeton, has been arguing that the great threat on academic freedom comes not from the smothering blanket of political correctness or the violence-laced actions of left-wing protesters, but from the anti-intellectual right.

Scott’s interview in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “How the Right Weaponized Free Speech,” her article, “On Free Speech and Academic Freedom,” in the AAUP’s Journal of Academic Freedom; and her extended conversation with Bill Moyers “Academic Freedom in the Age of Trump,” and her upcoming AAUP chat on Facebook Live on January 26, “Faculty Under Attack,” all focus on the same theme. Stanley Kurtz replied to her Chronicle piece, which included a dramatically distorted account of the model legislation on academic freedom promoted by the Goldwater Institute. And I published a comment on Scott’s conversation with Moyers, in which she leveled some implausible accusations at conservatives.

No, Not Milo or Spencer

Scott is not such an eminence that her aggressive dismissal of conservative views is likely to sway many people. But her emeritus position at the Institute for Advanced Study gives her social standing above the ordinary crowd of progressives expressing their contempt for those who disagree. Scott is a feminist historian who came to prominence through books such as Gender and the Politics of History (1988); The Fantasy of Feminist History (2011); and Sex and Secularism (2017). She has a long and deep association with the AAUP, having served as chair of its Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Her interest in academic freedom is thus nothing new.

Professor Scott believes that academic freedom is under assault from an anti-intellectual right that hates academics because it fears “excellence, difference, and culture.” Conservatives have some sharp criticisms of the way universities are handling themselves these days, but none that I know of have expressed disapproval of “excellence,” hold “difference” in disapprobation, or quake on encountering “culture.” Indeed, conservatives are more often accused of elitism, precisely because they consider the pursuit of excellence the sine qua non of higher education. They uphold distinctions (“difference”) that the left prefers to flatten. And they are the standard bearers of traditional culture.

Scott’s Diffuse Anxiety

How could Scott have gone so wrong? There are, of course, anti-intellectual people everywhere in the political spectrum. If you choose to make some angry fool the emblem of all the views you disagree with, however, you will certainly miss the most important ideas espoused by the other side. Scott goes far wide of the mark when she invokes people such as Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos to characterize conservatives. She does better in invoking David Horowitz, but calling him someone “on the front lines of the anti-intellectual movement for years” is a smear. Horowitz is an agile thinker, a graceful writer, and a tireless defender of academic standards. He has been, to be sure, a pugnacious combatant in the culture wars as well, but “anti-intellectual?” Not hardly.

Scott singles out others by name as well for opprobrium: Betsy DeVos, Charles Murray, and Robert P. George among them. These three are exponents of very different ideas. Lumping them as part of a right-wing anti-intellectual movement suggests that Scott has allowed herself to be carried away by her partisanship. Something like that seems to have happened as well in her characterizations of the Goldwater model legislation that is being considered in several states. Scott seems to think the legislation would impose restrictions on what professors teach. As Kurtz pointed out in his rebuttal, the legislation does nothing of the kind. It calls for public universities to be “content neutral” when setting rules for public expression of views. There should be one set of rules that applies equally to all sides.

Scott’s excesses illuminate the self-understanding of the progressive professoriate, which needs to believe it faces a mad brute in order to fire up its martial vigor. The images she conjures, however, have no relation to the reality of America in 2018.

Academic freedom as Fig Leaf

In the America of 2017, left-wing mobs, some composed entirely of college students, used force to silence dissent. Progressive thugs have kept Milo Yiannopoulous from speaking at Berkeley, Charles Murray from speaking at Middlebury, Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna—and just this last October, Black Lives Matter prevented Claire Guthrie Gastañaga, executive director of the Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, from speaking at William and Mary. At Evergreen College in Washington state, left-wing students with sticks and baseball bats patrolled the campus with impunity.

The Evergreen case represents the extremist end (so far) of these extremities: mob rule pure and simple, condoned by a cowering college president. But progressive student-led shout-downs and disruptions occurred at more than two dozen colleges and universities last year. The few instances on record of disruptions by right-wing agitators, such as the attempt to shout down California Attorney General Xavier Becerra at Whittier College, were carried out by activists from outside the university.

The asymmetry of disruptions originating on the left and the right is not a matter of perception. It is a well-attested fact. Scott is engaged in a kind of revisionist history to assert otherwise.

College administrations and faculty have responded to this nationwide surge of violence at best with a slap on the wrist, and more frequently with statements that endorse the goals of the student mobs even as they officially disapprove of the means.

The administration and faculty presumably prefer the means promoted by Joan Scott: to use “academic freedom” as a fig leaf to peacefully exclude all dissenting views from campus. Student voices in the classroom; dissenting academics in articles and textbooks; dissenting would-be faculty up for hire or tenure; student organizations; students who escape a carefully delimited “free speech zone”; students who intrude into a “safe space”; students deemed by the voluntary thought police of a “Bias Response Team” to have said something offensive; invited speakers—all can be excluded by peaceful means, since academic freedom isn’t the same thing as freedom of speech.

But on this point, Scott’s argument draws on an important truth. Academic freedom and free speech are not the same things. Academic freedom is a self-created doctrine within higher education. What we usually mean by “free speech” are the expressive rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. In that sense, “academic freedom” is always up for grabs. It can be reinterpreted to suit any college or university that wants to go to the trouble of saying what it means now. So those who want to make of “academic freedom” a covenant to respect only politically correct opinions can indeed do so.

What Hillary Might Have Done

But, of course, there is a cost to Scott’s approach: it means forfeiting the respect of the general public to whom “academic freedom” connotes broad respect for differences of opinion, not revolutionary ardor for a single set of views.

America’s campuses have been turning into an ever-stricter archipelago of tyranny for a generation and more. The election of President Trump has served as an occasion for further demands to restrict freedom on campus—but there would have been something else if Clinton had been elected president. The only likely difference in that alternate history is that the Department of Education in a Clinton administration would have whole-heartedly supported the imposition of progressive conformity on campus.

Professor Scott feels that President Trump’s election brought her “diffuse anxiety; a sense of fear in response to an indeterminate threat; dread about what would come next, as day after day more draconian measures were announced.” Except for ideologues and the henchmen of the progressive left, every student, teacher, and administrator on campus has felt that way for decades. Professor Scott has spent her entire professional life in academia and never heard that anxious silence—or, I fear, considered how she has contributed to it.

That silence and that fear are what makes up the American university in 2018. The NAS will gladly continue to work with any ally to end that silence and that fear, and thereby to restore academic freedom. If Professor Scott truly wishes to defend academic freedom, she will join us.

Why Is a College of Criminal Justice Celebrating Art By Guantanamo Jihadists?

In the sunken lobby of John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Tenth Avenue in New York City, a somber Memorial Hall is dedicated to the “Bravery and Sacrifice” of “NYPD Heroes 9-11 and Beyond.”  Surrounded by photographs of the attack and the recovery, a twisted metal chunk of one of the Twin Towers rests on a circular black pedestal inscribed with the names of John Jay alumni killed in the attack.

Take the elevator to the sixth-floor offices of the college president, however, and the mood changes.  There you will find in “The President’s Gallery” a celebratory exhibit of art created by the friends and allies of the 9-11 terrorists.  The show, running to January 26, is titled “Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay.”  It is attracting quite a bit of attention.  While I was there I ran into a film crew from CBS arranging a tour with one of the curators, Erin Thompson.  A fellow exhibit attendee offered the CBS folks the perspective of—her words—“the mother of a victim of 9-11.”  Her son (or perhaps daughter) was one of the 648 employees of the Wall Street trading firm Cantor Fitzgerald, who were on the 101st to 105th floors of the North Tower that day.

No Repentance for Monstrous Acts

“Ode to the Sea” presents 31 paintings, three model boats, and one assemblage titled “The Hall of Enlightenment,” which combines a stopped clock and an open book.  The title of the exhibit is taken from the title of a poem by one of the inmates, Ibrahim al-Rubaish.  It begins:

O Sea, give me news of my loved ones.

Were it not for the chains of the faithless,
I would have dived into you.
And reached my beloved family, or perished in your arms.

Your beaches are sadness, captivity, pain, and injustice.
Your bitterness eats away at my patience.

Al-Rubaish was a senior leader of Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.  Captured in Pakistan, he was released from Guantánamo in 2006 and sent into custody to Saudi Arabia.  He escaped from the Saudis and went to Yemen where he resumed a leadership position in Al Qaida. He was killed in a drone strike in April 2015.

These are not details that a visitor to “Ode to the Sea” will see anywhere in the vicinity.

The paintings and the models in the show are unremarkable as art. They display no special skill or aesthetic sensibility.  That has not stopped Erin Thompson and her two fellow curators from attempting to squeeze whatever portentous meaning they can from the paintings.  For example, in reference to a painting of a glass vase, a bottle, and two cups, by Ahmed Rabbani (a member of Al Qaida who trained as a terrorist in Afghanistan), the curators observe in the exhibition notes, that the “empty vessels also serve as an oblique reference both to Rabbani’s absent family and to his acts of self-denial and resistance.”

Banal Landscapes as Propaganda

Indeed, the principal work of the curators is detecting allegories of pain and suffering in banal landscapes. Abdualmalik Abud’s painting of a city skyline across a river on which sailboats skim elicits the curators’ comment, “The work features an inviting skyline of buildings the color of sea and sky, but they are unreachable from the determined-seeming road in the foreground.”

All of the paintings but one are representational.  The exception is “Vertigo at Guantánamo,” by Ammar Al-Baluchi, who was a key lieutenant of Khalid Sheikh Muhammad in organizing the 9-11 attacks.  “Vertigo” consists of concentric rings of red, blue, and green dots, which the curators explain as his “effort to explain to his lawyers the vertigo he suffers after he sustained a traumatic brain injury during interrogation.”  When I was at this exhibit, Ms. Thompson was setting up “Vertigo” to use for the opening of her CBS interview.

Sometimes the curators have to work for these interpretations, but sometimes the prisoners offer a straight-up allegory.  The exhibit offers two images of the Titanic sailing along, no iceberg in sight, and Muhammad Ansi (an Al Qaeda operative who served on Osama bin Laden’s security detail) offers a painting of a child face down on a beach, his head in the surf.  The curators explain it is an image of Alan Kurdi, a refugee who drowned fleeing the war in Syria.

The American authorities at Guantánamo prohibited the prisoners from depicting violent scenes. The paintings are works that the prisoners’ lawyers obtained, but the Pentagon is now saying that such paintings belong to the U.S. Government.  Apparently, the U.S. military was caught by surprise at the efforts of the lawyers to turn seascapes and palm trees into propaganda.

The Guantánamo detainees, like prisoners everywhere, feel lonely and aggrieved.  The major theme of their artwork, not mentioned by the curators, is self-pity.  The curators do note that the paintings are “largely desolate,” Houses appear “uninhabited.”  Boats are “unmoored.” One boat is “coffin-like.” The sea “devours” a ship. The Statue of Liberty stands in the dark “presiding over a desert island” with no trace of New York City.  A lighthouse has had its warning beacon “extinguished.”

Why Would John Jay Do This?

What you won’t find in these paintings is any trace of repentance. These artworks are by terrorists and their accomplices who seem untouched by the monstrousness of their actions. They can wax sentimental about their own families and can draft images of hearts and flowers, but pity for the victims of their jihad is beyond their imagination—at least their visual imagination.

Perhaps that’s to be expected. They are, after all, warriors, and many of them pledged to fight on until they die, no matter what their lawyers say.  The greater puzzle is why John Jay College of Criminal Justice would provide a platform for these people to appeal to public sympathy for their plight.

Erin Thompson’s explanations, most recently in The New York Times, are the jejune rationalizations of someone whose fellow feeling for a prisoner has obliterated any larger horizons.  She writes:

Making art is a profoundly human urge. Viewing this art has allowed thousands of visitors at John Jay College and elsewhere a chance to see that its makers are human beings. These detainees have been treated in fundamentally dehumanizing ways, from torture to denial of fair trials, and their art reminds us that we cannot ignore their condition.

Most of us have never doubted that the detainees at Guantánamo are human beings. They just happen to be evil and dangerous human beings.  Their artwork testifies that they have the time to reflect on their situation, and having reflected, they see no need to alter their basic view of themselves or the world.  They are the victims. America is the enemy. Time is on their side.

I expect among those “thousands” of visitors at John Jay College who have made their way up past the 9-11 Memorial Hall to the sixth floor “Ode to the Sea” are some like the mother of the North Tower victim who feel a certain repugnance at this effort to treat the perpetrators of terror as hapless victims of American tyranny.  We aren’t the ones beheading journalists, burning people in cages, enslaving women, and bombing mosques. Learning that jihadists can paint empty seas, wrecks, and imminent disaster doesn’t make me feel any keener sympathy for their kind.

The question of why John Jay College would give such celebratory prominence to this exhibit, however, still troubles me.  The superficial answer is that John Jay College of Criminal Justice takes “justice” very seriously and is responding to the claims that the detainees at Guantánamo have been and still are being treated unjustly.

What’s superficial about that explanation is that many of the interned jihadists, once released, have gone straight back to jihad. According to the Director of National Intelligence, 111 of 532 prisoners released under President Bush were confirmed returning to the battlefield, and 74 others were suspected.  That’s more than a third.  The “injustice” of interning enemy combatants isn’t so clear.

Beyond progressive rhetoric about injustice lies the inexhaustible urge of the arts community to “transgress” and to discover something more “cutting edge” than last week’s effort to outrage bourgeois tastes.  “Ode to the Sea” is a typical academic venture in that hamster cage of ideology. What better way to rile people than to celebrate terrorist art at a college that educates students for careers in law enforcement?

The paintings of Muhammed Ansi and Abdualmalik Abud aren’t the only images of desolation on display at John Jay.  There is desolation of a different kind in the exhibit itself, which provides an apt image of American higher education’s growing disdain for the community it serves. John Jay, of course, is the college that recently fired an adjunct professor who participates in Antifa and who carelessly boasted that he likes teaching “future dead cops.”  Those words apparently went a little too far for the college president.  But expressing similar sentiments in watercolor merits elevation to the President’s Gallery.

What the Tax-Reform Law Could Do to Higher Education

Exceptional athletes are often called game changers, but the real game changers in sports are the committees that set the rules.  Changing the height of the pitcher’s mound changes the game.  So too with expenses in higher education.  The rules are changing. The House of Representatives has passed a tax reform bill that includes several provisions that the higher education establishment doesn’t like.  The Senate is working on its own version, which may include some of the same provisions and some others that are irksome to colleges and universities. The changes will matter.

The House plan reduces federal support for higher education via tax benefits to post-secondary students by $65 billion over the next ten years.  To put that into perspective, those tax benefits now amount to about $35 billion per year, so the cut is about 18.5 percent.

The consumer of higher education will definitely feel this.  The House bill eliminates a student loan interest deduction of $2,500, which is claimed by 12.4 million people, who will on average pay an additional $272 in taxes.

The Maelstrom

I’m among those whose eyes glaze over when an author starts sprinkling millions and billions and percentages into his paragraphs, like an overzealous waiter with a peppermill descending on an entrée.  The entrée, in this case, is the price of education—the price to parents and to students, but also to the nation as a whole. We are in deep educational trouble, much of which does not appear to be a matter of excessive tuitions or government programs. The erosion of intellectual standards, the rise of shout-downs and student-led censorship, the disappearance of regard for Constitutional rights and responsibilities are conspicuous evidence that something is amiss in our colleges and universities.  The price of education doesn’t all by itself explain this descent into the maelstrom, but it is a key factor that is often overlooked.  Let’s, for a change, consider it.

Why the Cuts Upset the Colleges

The House bill isn’t entirely about taking things off the table.  For example, the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) will remain.  AOTC offers a tax credit of up to $1,000 per year for four years of undergraduate education.  The House has apparently decided to reward the students who are too busy pursuing social justice crusades to attend class on a regular basis. The reward is extending AOTC to five years.  Of course, the new provision benefits hard-working but off-track students as well.

But mostly the House has aimed to cut and consolidate programs that use the tax code to lighten the burden to consumers of college expenses.  The legislation eliminates the Hope Scholarship (a $2,500 tax credit that was pumped up as part of the 2009 Stimulus).  And it takes away the Lifetime Learning Credit (which was a tax credit worth 20 percent of the first $10,000 of qualified education expenses.)

Don’t worry if these details don’t stick in your head.  You need to know them only in two circumstances: if you are trying to maximize your educational deductions (ideally with the help of an accountant) or if you are a college administrator who is calculating exactly how much you can squeeze out of tuition-paying parents.

Those administrators and the lobbyists they employ are the central opposition to these tax reforms.  From the standpoint of the family trying to meet educational expenses, the tax credits themselves are almost entirely smoke and mirrors.  The money the consumer supposedly saves has been taken into account already by the colleges and universities, which have set their tuition and fees accordingly.  To the families who are struggling to pay the bills, the federal tax credits must feel like relief, but that’s an illusion akin to drinking ocean water to quench your thirst.

Two Tricks

Tuitions have soared for the last thirty years primarily because colleges and universities have found ways to trick more and more people into borrowing more and more money to pay for their services.  College education hasn’t gotten better as the expenses soared. By most reckonings, the quality of a college education has deteriorated during that time. To sell a worse product at a higher price requires colleges and universities to play some sharp angles.

One of those angles is to convince parents that a “good education” is the key to lifetime success for their children. So, pay up or doom your children to second-rate lives.  For sure, the evidence is strong for the existence of a “lifetime premium” in earnings for having a college degree, though the size of the premium is much disputed, and the calculations seldom reckon with the students who go into debt for college and don’t graduate.  The lifetime earning conceit, however, is a powerful incentive for families to overspend on college education.  Removing some of the tax-credit grease that lubricates this rationale could slow the rate at which some families send their sons and daughters off to expensive colleges that have low “returns on investment.”

The other principal way that colleges and universities entice people to enroll at high prices for questionable academic programs is by dazzling families with “scholarship” (discounted tuition) and flashy explanations of how the costs can be covered by an array of federal loans and tax credits.  The House bill certainly won’t bring an end to Las Vegas-style flashing lights and upbeat tempos with jackpots every minute, but it will curtail some of it.  Taking $65 billion off the table is a start.

Congress has still more provisions in the works.  The House bill eliminates a provision which treats employer-paid tuition assistance of up to $5,250 as non-taxable income to the employee.

And in a blow to the super-wealthy colleges and universities, the House bill puts a 1.4 percent tax on the investment income of private colleges that have more than 500 students and assets of more than $100,000 per students,  This would apply to 140 colleges and produce $3 billion in new federal revenue over ten years.


Most of the provisions in the House bill that I have mentioned primarily affect undergraduate students, but one other provision primarily hits graduate students.  It calls for taxing tuition waivers, which comprise a substantial portion of the financial aid that graduate students receive.  Some 145,000 graduate students and about 27,000 undergraduates receive such waivers—the undergraduates typically for serving as resident assistants.

Though this provision of the tax reform touches a small fraction of the number of students affected by the other provisions, it has aroused disproportionate fury within the world of higher education. That’s because it potentially disrupts the indentured-labor system through which universities cover a substantial portion of their instructional costs.  The graduate students who receive tuition remission are typically expected to serve as teaching assistants or in similar roles for which they receive no direct compensation.  It is an interesting arrangement, given that the university with one hand sets the rate of tuition, and with the other hand makes the tuition vanish, and the graduate student in gratitude for this generosity works for free.

Congress can spoil this magic act, however, by declaring that the tuition waivers are actual taxable income to the recipients.  That presumably will force universities to pay the graduate students more in the form of actual dollars so that they can pay their taxes.  And because this would increase the cost of graduate students to universities, it might well result in shrinking the number of graduate students who are admitted.  And that, in turn, would put pressure on the employment of faculty members who primarily teach graduate students.

In other words, taxing graduate tuition remission is a tender spot in the economics of American higher education.  The immediate brunt of the change would fall on the graduate students who would see a large increase in their taxes.  The Chronicle of Higher Education offered several illustrations, including this:

“At the Stony Brook University, in the SUNY system, teaching assistants earn a little more than $19,000 in stipends and have tuition waivers of nearly $11,000, according to information prepared by the dean of the graduate school. In this case, the student’s taxes would increase from less than $900 to nearly $2,200, the dean calculated. The increase is far greater for nonresident students, whose tuition waivers are worth more than $22,000, making it appear, for tax purposes, that their annual pay more than doubled.”

Of course, the students’ annual pay, in this case, wouldn’t actually double.  Rather, the portion sheltered behind the label “tuition remission” would simply be recognized as the income it, in fact, is.  I have some sympathy, however, for the graduate students who struggle with small stipends, large academic workloads, demanding advisors, and not much time to earn extra income on the side.

The small number of undergraduate students who benefit from tuition remission may not be quite so sympathetic.  “Resident assistants” tend to be frontline enforcers of political correctness on campus.   They often serve as snitches for Bias Emergency Response Teams and similar parts of the apparatus that sustains the suppression of intellectual freedom.  The University of Oregon, for example, awards tuition remission packaged as “Diversity Excellence Scholarships” for “sharing their varied cultural perspectives” to “enhance the education of all UO students and the excellence of the University.”  Congress probably didn’t spend much time thinking this through, but the proposal to tax tuition remission may well cut away one of the many props that colleges and universities use to maintain progressive ideological conformity among students.

Old Man River

All of this comes at a time when American higher education is shouldering some other financial problems.  In the last decade, for example, colleges and universities have found a windfall by expanding the number of international students they enroll.  Over 1.08 million foreign students enroll, or about five percent of the total enrollment; they bring with them an estimated $39 billion per year in revenue.  Generally, these students pay full tuition and are eligible for none of the gimmicks that shield many Americans from the official “price.”  By windfall, I refer to the near doubling of foreign students (an 85 percent increase) since 2006.  But suddenly the wind has slowed down.  In fall 2017, seven percent fewer international students enrolled in U.S. institutions. The decline has hit some universities much harder than others.  The University of Central Missouri, for example, has seen a one-year drop in international students from 3,638 to 944.

That’s but one indicator that higher education is at the edge of a financial precipice.  Various observers from Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy Program at the liberal New America Foundation, to Clayton Christensen at Harvard Business School have declared that American higher education is due for a massive “disruption,” brought about partly because of the rapid development of new technology.  Christensen now says that half of American colleges will be bankrupt in the next ten to fifteen years.

I am not ready to go all-in on the idea that online education will be the grim reaper of our over-priced and under-performing colleges and universities, but I do think the basic financial model of our higher education sector is profoundly flawed and therefore vulnerable.  The symbol of the moment is the giant pool at Louisiana State University, the “Lazy River” that allows students to drift in inner tubes along a 546-foot course that spells out “LSU.”  As the Chronicle of Higher Education pointed out, the Lazy River is part of an $85 million renovation to LSU’s recreation center, while the LSU library is literally falling apart.

American higher education, in general, embarked on its own Lazy River a few decades ago.  Congress’s decision to start cutting the subsidies is what happens at the end of the river.

Harvey Weinstein and Higher Ed

Harvey Weinstein—priapic, smug, and richly honored—has been losing his degrees. The University of Buffalo is rescinding his 2000 honorary degree. Harvard is revoking his Du Bois Medal, awarded in 2014 for his contributions to black culture. France is rescinding his Legion of Honor. These take-backs come despite Mr. Weinstein’s long record of standing up for progressive causes. Back in 2009, as he petitioned on behalf of a convicted rapist, Weinstein explained to the Los Angeles Times, “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion.”

After the New York Times and the New Yorker began to document Weinstein’s sordid career as a sexual harasser who frequently purchased the silence of his victims, his reputation collapsed, and with it his value to the institutions that honored him. Weinstein’s fall, of course, also ignited “Me too” accusations against Weinstein and many others.

Related: Occidental and the ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria

The Weinstein-inspired spotlight on male sexual predators in the entertainment industry abruptly changes the narrative. Until the Weinstein story broke on October 5, most of the concern about sexual harassment focused on campus “rape culture.” Indeed, as recently as mid-September, feminist critics were battling over a review in the New York Times Book Review that disputed some of the assertions in Vanessa Grigoriadis’ book, Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus. The reviewer, Michelle Goldberg, quibbled with Grigoriadis over details. They agreed that college campuses are in the midst of an epidemic of sexual assault and rape. Other observers, such as Christina Hoff Sommers, strongly dispute the widely reported claims that 1 in 5 college women are sexually assaulted, or even 1 in 4, according to a 2015 New York Times story.

Motel California

The high numbers generally result from surveys with trick questions and tendentious ways of interpreting the answers as well as “rape culture” propaganda that primes students to see their experiences through a distorting lens. But never mind that right now. The intriguing development of the last month is the discovery that there really is something like a “rape culture” to be found in one precinct of American society—not on the college campus, but in the movie industry.

And it may extend well past the movie industry. If the New York Times is to be relied on, sexual harassment also flourishes 378.4 miles from Hollywood in the California legislature.

There are, to be sure, many instances in which sexual harassment and assault do occur on campus. It could hardly be otherwise, and the cases that do emerge tend to get a great deal of attention. The dean of the University of California Law School, Sujit Choudhry, resigned in Spring 2016 after being accused of sexual harassment. He was plainly guilty of giving his assistant “kisses to the cheeks, bear hugs and repeatedly rubbing her shoulders and arms.” This was not wise, though by most accounts his touching was not intended to be sexual. Later in the year, a University of Southern California Medical School dean, Rohit Varma, resigned after the revelation that fifteen years earlier the university had reached “a financial settlement with a female researcher who accused him of sexual harassment.”

A little searching will turn up dozens of such stories over the years. But they seem to point to something other than a “rape culture.” Dean Choudhry and Dean Varma don’t even come close to the starting line of Harvey Weinstein’s reckless career. Higher education just isn’t a place where adult men who grab, harass, or assault can expect a free pass.

Me Too? No.

My own experience over the last forty-some years in higher education colors my views. I’ve known of a fair number of extra-marital affairs among faculty members, some of them involving students, but students who were consenting. Some of these resulted in the break-up of marriages and a few in the professors marrying their new love interest. By some of the current expansive definitions, these are instances of “harassment,” but they aren’t really. They are instances of men and women giving into mutual temptation.

But worse things do happen. I saw one case close up in the 1990s. A male professor lured an undergraduate student to a hotel restaurant where he drugged her and attempted to get her into a room. The university held a formal investigation. The accused professor had his own lawyer. But he was fired in short order. Had he done the same thing to other students? We never found out, but we did turn up evidence of other kinds of misbehavior, and once he was fired, the professor fled the country.

Attempted rape was one thing. We had other cases of faculty members going off other sexual deep ends: a peeping tom, a professor who used a toilet stall for gay assignations with students, and professors who stashed pornography on their university computers. Generally, the university came down hard on faculty members who paid the wrong kinds of attention to their students.

Students of course prey on each other far more than faculty members or deans prey on students. The hook-up culture and the readiness of many college students to drink to excess are parts of a recipe for sexual misadventures. Campus sexual assault outside that context appears to be rare.

Related: The Washington Post Joins the Rape Culture Crusade

Why then have feminists focused on the college campus as the center of “rape culture?” Because the term and the ideology that lies behind the term are tools of recruitment. The goal is to convince young women that they are in constant peril; that the college or university has little interest in protecting them; and that their “safety” lies in joining the larger effort to dismantle “patriarchy.”

What radical feminism offers young women on campus in exchange for their intellectual and personal independence is a sense of shared victimization and the sharp pleasures of resentment. These are based on nothing much. Feminist theory generally repels critical examination and has no use for facts that contradict its just-so stories.

Most but not all women who are initially attracted to the misandry of radical feminism in college eventually drift away from it. The theory is deeply at odds with actual human experience, including our deep need for life partners who complement us sexually and emotionally. A doctrine grounded in fear and promoting an ethic of shrill accusation isn’t very conducive to a good life.

Nor is marinating students in a make-believe world of sexual harassment good preparation for the day, if it comes, in which a young woman encounters a man who does harass or attempt to assault her. Harvey Weinstein and his ilk are out there. Theories of patriarchy, take-back-the-night marches, and pussy hats won’t stop them. Harvey Weinstein, after all, was a self-proclaimed “liberal feminist” accepted as such by the feminist establishment.

Disrupting Campus Speakers Is Not Just A Free-Speech Problem

From kneeling football players to campus shout-downs to professors and a president Tweeting out malignancies, America now has a new problem.

Taken out of its Christian context, to witness is to make an emphatic assertion to someone else who doesn’t share your view that your view is right. That assertion, moreover, doesn’t aim to persuade by reasoning, logic, or evidence, or even by quiet confidence. It is, rather, an assertion of will that draws on a sense of external power.

The shouters-down of Charles Murray or Heather Mac Donald were, for sure,  invoking a different external power that might best be called “Social Justice.”  To them, Social Justice authorizes shout-downs, mob actions, and beatings as acts of piety that display “not the wisdom of men” but the power of the movement.

Will to Power

I introduce this idea as a new way to think about the breakdown in free expression in our society. We usually talk about that breakdown as a crisis of free speech: a matter of Constitutional rights and the sudden loss of respect for letting the other guy have his say. That’s true as far as it goes. Both ordinary civility and the special decorum we used to expect in public events have taken some hard knocks.

But every violation of free speech and every departure from civility is also an expression of a kind of piety. Superficially these outbursts are expressions of animus against “fascists,” “white supremacists,” and the like.

Those labels are so misapplied as to be nothing more than incantations in which a revulsive name is fixed on a designated target.  “Hey hey, ho ho, Charles Murray has got to go,” has no substance except as witness. By repeating it in unison, a crowd expresses its will-to-power.

The Rudeness of the Right

On college campuses, the rudeness has appeared mostly among members of the progressive left who have lately adopted tactics such as shouting down speakers they don’t like, invading classrooms, and barging uninvited into private meetings. But rudeness is bipartisan. And to make the phenomenon of political witnessing clear, it helps to consider examples of conservatives doing it. For example, populist supporters of President Trump recently attempted to shout down a talk by the California Attorney General, a Democrat, at Whittier College.

The “You lie!” moment of nearly a decade ago stands as the outburst that defined the American political right’s temptation with rowdiness. “You lie!” is what Joe Wilson (R—SC) yelled out during a September 9, 2009, address by President Obama to a joint session of Congress. Wilson, as it happened, apologized and was rebuked by the House, but he left a benchmark. Such things aren’t forgotten. As recently as April 2017, Wilson was assailed by angry Democrats at a town hall in his home state, chanting in derision, “You Lie.”

Wilson’s outburst, which came during the early days of the Tea Party movement, pointed in a confrontational direction that, as it happened, the Tea Party movement did not take. Rowdiness, rudeness, and confrontation proved alien to the spirit of those protesters. But their suppression by the IRS and other instruments of President Obama’s government boomeranged. The campaign rallies for Donald Trump were much more boisterous and the rhetoric more bloody-minded. “You lie!” seems tame in comparison to what followed.

The Weirdness of the Left

The rudeness of the right has become an object of contemplation for many on the left. Contemplation at least for some intellectual doyens. More often voices of protest on the right are simply denounced as racist, white supremacist, or neo-Nazi, or attributed to the crudity of “populism.” But it is important to pay attention to liberal and leftist thinkers when they try to go beyond this.

Bill Moyers, a reliable register of orthodox progressive opinion, has just published a conversation with Joan Scott, a historian and gender theorist, and professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In “Academic Freedom in the Age of Trump,” Moyers and Scott see the problem entirely through the lens of “attacks on the Academy” from right-wing conservatives, a group outnumbered in the Northeast by 28 to 1, where presidents, policies, and primetime television news comes from.  In Scott’s view, these conservatives are in the grips of an anti-intellectual “bloodlust.” It is aimed at “supposed tenured ‘radicals’” and is meant to undermine “free thought” and “critical thinking.”

Scott occasionally argues points that are important and valid. Like her, I have long argued that free speech and academic freedom are profoundly different. Scott quotes Stanley Fish:

“Freedom of speech is not an academic value. Accuracy of speech is an academic value; completeness of speech is an academic value; relevance of speech is an academic value. Each of these is directly related to the goal of academic inquiry: getting a matter of fact right.”

Fish’s term, “accuracy of speech,” is his work-around for the straightforward word “truth.” Fish is a kind of post-modernist (he says “pragmatist’) who rejects the concept of truth, but we can meet him (and Scott) on the close-by summit of “accuracy.”

The Saga of Mattress Girl

The shout-downs, speech codes, bullying of conservative students, efforts to intimidate faculty members who defy the edicts of political correctness, are all breakdowns in civility. The governing principles of intellectual exchange collapse as the rancor rises. But these events are also eruptions of ego. They display a particular kind of self-assertion that merges the individual into a collective will. This isn’t always immediately apparent. Mattress Girl, Emma Sulkowicz, lugging her mattress around the Columbia University campus for a year to protest how the university handled her rape accusation against a fellow student would seem outwardly to be engaged in a completely individualized spectacle—and one that didn’t touch the freedom of anyone else’s expressive rights.

But in fact, Mattress Girl’s spectacle depended entirely on the active collaboration of the Columbia University community, which implicitly and often explicitly supported her vilification of the student she accused of rape, Paul Nungesser. The student newspaper and fellow students made Sulkowicz’s campaign into a collaborative enterprise aimed at shaming Nungesser, who in the end was exonerated and who successfully sued the university for its treatment of him.

So, the individual act of witness may look like a personal statement, but it rides like a surfboard on a wave of collective resentment. The many egos of the protesters join in a chorus of derision and deviation from this group will is harshly punished. But as in other romantic movements, behind this collective conformity lurks a great deal of individual torment.

Clouds Above, Rocks Below

Moyers and Scott provide a genteel version of this kind of witness. They write with the assurance that their attacks on conservatives will meet the smiling approval of their in-group because, after all, they are testifying to the validity of a set of beliefs. They do so in a thoughtful, discursive manner that is not intended to outrage anyone or draw special attention to themselves. As someone who is not part of their intended audience, I do find some of their confident assertions false to the point of outrageousness, but my outrage is stilled by the realization that Moyers and Scott are denizens of an imaginary place, a cloud continent, remote from the actual world.

The students, on the other hand, pose a problem that deserves very serious attention. They are doing their part—consciously and deliberately—to destroy a civilization. Ultimately, they won’t succeed. Civilization has resources beyond their understanding. But in the short term, as in a generation or two, they will do a lot of damage.

Reedies Against Racism

Consider Reed College where a slow-motion protest under the name Reedies Against Racism is waging war on the college’s core humanities course, Humanities 110, “Greece and the Ancient Mediterranean.” The students seem to have gained the upper hand in their attack on Reed’s only required freshman course. Classes have been canceled; a day-long boycott was launched; a Black Lives Matter group presented the president of the college with a list of demands, and President John Kroger capitulated to many of them. The humanities course in question has been a cornerstone of a Reed education since 1943 and is the successor to a requirement that goes back to the college’s founding in 1908. The problem, in the eyes of Reedies Against Racism, is that a course on Ancient Greece is by definition a course on Western civilization. It is thus ethnocentric and “racist.”

I don’t know whether the course at Reed will survive, but the will to oppose the protesters seems weak. The Reed alumni magazine quoted one of the student critics:

Hum 110 should include a history of the Western canon as racist and anti-black; Hum 110 lecturers should restructure delivery and analysis of content, in an understanding that the texts are not familiar with everyone and their backgrounds. Or made non-mandatory given options of other Hum courses with books outside of the Western canon.

Options for “compromise” like this amount to an evisceration of the course in favor of contemporary identity politics and grievance theatre. The alumni magazine, however, frames the debate entirely according to the protesters’ premises:

The protest has ignited a respectful but passionate campus debate over the scope and structure of the course and whether it represents a vision of intellectual life in which all students feel included. At a deeper level, the debate is about race, power, culture, and the nature of education itself.

The debate is really about whether Reed students will learn something about the deep history of western civilization or instead be immersed in something else.

Reed College, of course, has a well-earned reputation for its leftist leanings. Remarkably, Humanities 110 survived the general purge of Western Civilization courses in American higher education. A few years ago, the National Association of Scholars published a study, The Vanishing West, which tracked the dismantling of this course at elite colleges and universities from 1963 to 2010. At the beginning of that range, a two-semester Western Civilization requirement was almost universally required, and it provided the backbone of general education. By 2010, they were all gone, except for fragments here and there.

The Reedies Against Racism movement is about ending a very old legacy—not the legacy of racism, but the legacy of learning how Western civilization invented itself. When I say the iconoclastic movement on campus today will do a lot of damage, this is the damage I expect: loss of historical depth, subordination of knowledge of the past to the political preoccupations of the present; and the ever-inflating assertions of group grievance and grievance-based personal identity. Who has the courage to tell the Reedies Against Racism that their complaint is trivial and that they should get over themselves? I suspect it won’t be President Kroger.

Saying Rude Things

Students protesting to prevent Charles Murray from speaking, or Heather Mac Donald, do plenty of damage. But students organizing to silence Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides may well be the greater threat. Their efforts, extending back to the culture wars of the 1980s, have already stripped American higher education of much of its coherence as well as its ability to teach students about the hard-won nature of our freedom. That ignorance is part of what licenses today’s eruptions of protest against “privilege,” racism, and the like. The targets of the protest are not wholly imaginary, but they are wrongly imagined. The protesters often say they are fighting “structures of oppression” when they are really witnessing against their own exile and confusion.

Attempts to silence speakers or forestall speech are the most conspicuous part of the crisis in free speech, but they are not the heart of the matter. Every effort to talk over someone else (“You lie!”) is also an effort to say something in its own right. It is the saying of rude, outrageous, and provocative things that is the essence of the crisis.

As a culture, we are accustoming ourselves to interruption. We’ve invented justifications for this: an ethic of interruption. The interruptions are more than just shouting down or talking over. They are also the interruptions of civility and thought that could be achieved all on one’s own with a Tweet or some act of solitary protest. The intention in such cases is to interrupt and arrest the flow of things. To demand attention to oneself by means of peculiar pronouncements is part of the new cultural warfare.

Protecting Academic Freedom Through All the Campus Smoke

Once many years ago I spoke to an Army recruiter who tried to convince me that I would learn many valuable skills in the military, including how to jump from helicopters. I was puzzled. How exactly was learning to jump from a helicopter a valuable skill? He explained that I could then qualify for a career as a flame jumper fighting wildfires.

I passed up that career in favor of the far more practical training in social anthropology. But sometimes it seems I still ended up in the business of jumping into burning terrain. Attempting to make sense of the claims and counterclaims in the debates over free speech strikes me as something like smokejumping. The destination is often obscure, the heat is intense, and the goal keeps changing.

I have good friends in Santa Rosa and don’t mean my metaphor to diminish the awful reality of the devastating California fires. But the image has some purpose. Here, there, and then suddenly over there on a distant ridge, the wildfires burst to life. So too the assaults on intellectual freedom.

I have been working on a larger project in which I attempt to reframe many of the current controversies about free speech by looking at the psychological and anthropological aspects of verbal defiance and transgression. As part of that project, I have been looking over recent examples and attempting to draw distinctions between what we should, perhaps with gritted teeth, accept as provocative speech that still must be tolerated, and speech that “crosses the line” into what should not be tolerated. Not everyone will agree with the lines I’ve drawn. It is easiest, of course, to draw fire from those who profess a doctrine of “no lines.” But as an anthropologist, I know that “no lines” is a fiction. All societies have them. The real questions are Where are they drawn? Who draws them? How are they maintained?

Heckling Democrats at Whittier

On October 5, Whittier College in California hosted an event titled, “A Conversation with the Attorney General,” which was intended to be an hour-long Q & A session with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The event, open to the public, had been organized by Ian Calderon, a Democrat and majority leader of the California State Assembly. Becerra has been in the news for his public opposition to President Trump’s positions on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which deals with the legal standing of the approximately 800,000 individuals in the United States who arrived here illegally as children.

The Q & A session took an unexpected turn. About a dozen pro-Trump hecklers showed up and attempted to shout down Becerra and the other speakers. They didn’t succeed in derailing the event, but they impeded it. This is apparently not the first time that pro-Trump protesters have disrupted events put on by elected officials, but it is, as far as I know, the first time it has happened as part of an organized campus event. A key figure and possibly the organizer of the Whittier protest is Arthur Schaper, who has publicly boasted of his role in disrupting other public events involving Democratic speakers. FIRE, which reported the Whittier incident, quotes Schaper as saying:

“I am prepared to be an uncivil civilian, and I don’t care who’s offended. Civility, accommodation, and playing nice with Republican and Democratically elected officials is over. … Making America great again is not about placating and pleasing everyone, but standing up for what is right, even if it means disrupting a few tea parties.”

Stanley Kurtz, writing at National Review Online, responded to the FIRE report and the accompanying video of the protest with distress. Kurtz noted that many have warned that the “leftist campus disruptors” were endangering their own rights by creating a precedent that right-wing activists could copy. That’s exactly what happened at Whittier on October 5. A small consolation is that the protesters included few if any students. This was a mob of partisans from off campus. That doesn’t absolve the college for its failure to maintain order, but it means that the eventuality of heckling from both political extremes among students hasn’t yet materialized.

Lest there be any ambiguity about this, the National Association of Scholars strongly condemns the shout-down of Attorney General Becerra at Whittier College. The actions of Mr. Schaper and others in his group are an assault on academic freedom, the integrity of higher education, and the civility on which our republic depends.

Diatribe at Drexel

On the morning of October 2, Drexel University professor of political science George Ciccariello-Maher offered in a series of tweets his explanation for the mass shootings in Las Vegas on October 1. According to Ciccariello-Maher, the underlying cause was “the narrative of white victimization” and “Trumpism.” “White people and men are told that they are entitled to everything,” the professor wrote. “This is what happens when they don’t get what they want.”

Police have still not determined the motive of the Las Vegas shooter, but there is no evidence of any sort that substantiates Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s assertions about a link to Trump or to white identitarianism. Public reaction to his Tweets was swift and full of condemnation. On October 9, Drexel University put Ciccariello-Maher on paid administrative leave. The New York Daily News reported Drexel’s explanation:

“Due to a growing number of threats directed at Professor George Ciccariello-Maher, and increased concerns about both his safety and the safety of Drexel’s community, after careful consideration, the University has decided to place Professor Ciccariello-Maher on administrative leave,” the university said in a statement.”

The AAUP declared this a “unilateral suspension” and said it was “at odds with normative academic procedures.” Theodore Kupfer, writing in National Review, headlined an account of the affair, “No, George Ciccariello-Maher Doesn’t Believe in Academic Freedom. But He Still Deserves It.” Kupfer describes Ciccariello-Maher as “the angry white man with a violent fantasy,” to wit, armed communist revolution everywhere. But, says Kupfer, “he is not a criminal. And the Drexel administrators have made a mistake.” He says Ciccariello-Maher’s words are “obnoxious, easily refuted and deserving of mockery,” but not of suspension.

Again, lest there be any ambiguity about the National Association of Scholars’ position, it is the same in spirit as Mr. Kupfer’s. Drexel University shamed itself by appointing and eventually tenuring someone of Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s low quality of mind and ideological zealotry. But appoint and tenure him it did, and that has the consequence of protecting him from adverse administrative actions based on the content of his views. Drexel University’s claim to have suspended him to protect his safety and that of the campus is transparently a pretext.

The National Association of Scholars does not uphold an absolute version of “free speech” or “academic freedom.” Neither exists as a free-floating right. We value free speech as an instrument to promote political debate and good republican government. We value academic freedom as indispensable to the pursuit of truth within the academy. Both concepts can be and often are abused by those who disavow political debate according to civilized norms and the pursuit of truth as the organizing purpose of the university. On the evidence, Ciccariello-Maher is among the abusers, but that doesn’t absolve the university of its obligation to live up to its own commitments.

What, then, can a university do about professors or students who radically undercut the spirit of academic freedom while claiming its protection? (The spirit of academic freedom is the pursuit of truth or the gaining of new knowledge. Acts that are intended to distract, mislead, or purvey un-truths are outside that spirit.) Ciccariello-Maher’s intemperate accusations in an essay in The Washington Post, “Conservatives Are the Real Campus Thought Police Squashing Academic Freedom” provide an extended example of this malicious use of speech. The university is not, however, without resources to deal fairly with those in the academic community who intentionally undermine the principles of respect for truth, civility, and what might be called scholarly temperance.

What might those resources be? Criticism. Judicious distancing. In extreme cases, a university may choose to buy a faculty member out of his contract. If a faculty member persistently misuses university resources, his access can be curtailed. No rule or law says that a university must assist a faculty member in spreading falsehoods.

Professors Targeted by Progressives

The National Association of Scholars is, of course, better known for defending academics who have come under attack for promoting ideas that run against the grain of the domineering campus left. We have recently, for example, defended Dennis Gouws, a professor of English at Springfield College, whose research and teaching interests on “men in literature” have brought down the wrath of his college’s feminists, including his department chair and his provost. We have defended Amy Wax, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, who along with Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego School of Law, published an op-ed in which they extolled mid-twentieth century America for upholding the value of marriage, hard work, obeying the law, patriotism, neighborliness, civic-mindedness, charity, clean language, steering clear of addictive substances, and respect for authority. Professor Wax was excoriated by many of her fellow law professors at Penn and by her dean. And we defended Bruce Gilley, professor of political science at Portland State University, after his publication of an essay, “The Case for Colonialism,” unleashed an international torrent of abuse against him, including death threats.

We will continue to defend individuals against such abuses, and not all those individuals are or will be “conservatives.” In general, we are drawn to cases where faculty members have made legitimate use of their academic freedom to pursue substantive research on important topics but who have met with ferocious attacks as a result. Gouws, Wax, and Gilley didn’t land in hot water because of outrageous tweets. They presented reasoned arguments and defended those arguments with genuine scholarship. My use of the word “legitimate” here will no doubt bring libertarians up short. What could possibly be illegitimate when it comes to speech? I part ways with libertarians on this. There may be no illegitimate speech in the public square, but higher education is and always has been about the search for truth, and speech that impedes that search—such as scientific papers based on fraudulent data—is illegitimate. Illegitimacy can and does take other forms as well. Using academic freedom as a tool of political propaganda is illegitimate.

Tweeting Murderous Thoughts

The behavior of Ciccariello-Maher is but one example of a new kind of abuse of academic freedom. After James T. Hodgkinson shot and wounded a Republican congressman at a baseball field in Arlington, Virginia, Trinity University professor Johnny Eric Williams adopted the hashtag #LetThemFuckingDie. It was a reference to anonymous blogger’s call on emergency medical personnel to leave white victims of shootings to bleed to death. Professor Williams expanded his opinion with other vitriolic and racist declarations. Trinity College briefly suspended him but followed that with a ringing declaration that he had acted within the bounds of academic freedom. My colleague Dion Pierre and I wrote about the Williams case offering our assessment that Williams’ call for negligent homicide really did cross the line. Our verdict: not a protected case of academic freedom.

On August 23, Michael Isaacson, an adjunct member of the faculty of the department of criminal justice at John Jay College, tweeted “Some of y’all might think it sucks being an anti-fascist teacher at John Jay College but I think it’s a privilege to teach future dead cops.” National media, including Tucker Carlson on Fox News, picked up the story, as did the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. Under pressure, John Jay College suspended Isaacson, but the president of John Jay, Karol Mason, justified the suspension as a response to “threats” to the faculty and concern for the “safety” of students.

David Gordon, a CUNY professor, speaking on behalf the National Association of Scholars’ New York Affiliate, posted to the NAS website a statement criticizing the basis of President Mason’s decision. Gordon and his colleagues wrote that Isaacson “had acted in a disrespectful and unprofessional way,” but that Mason’s rationale for suspending him created a precedent for suspending any professor who became “the center of controversy.”

These three cases— Ciccariello-Maher, Williams, and Isaacson—are by no means isolated. They are just examples of the growing phenomenon of faculty radicals across a spectrum of issues who tweet or employ some other social media to pronounce views that they hope will shock and offend. If their statements grab the attention of critics, they may be in for a season of abusive emails, and if the provocation is strong enough, they may face temporary suspension or firing. They can almost always, however, count on the AAUP and some other organizations such as FIRE to defend their pronouncements as legitimate exercises of academic freedom.

I have been willing to engage these matters on a case-by-case basis, but I am always looking for the principles that govern all of them. “Extra-mural utterance,” as the AAUP named it in its foundational 1915 Statement of Principles, has plainly become one of the most vexed areas within the realm of “academic freedom.” What people have a First Amendment right to say is not the same as what they have a privilege to say within the community of scholars. The AAUP itself has long lost this distinction, and it sees no need to ground the exercise of academic freedom as conditioned on the pursuit of truth. Partly that is because the AAUP has politicized itself, but it is also because so many of its members have absorbed postmodernist doubts about whether there is such a thing “truth,” or at least a truth that can be disentangled from the welter of subjectivities and opinions that make up so much of human experience. So we are left to wander. The extra-mural utterance is where we wander into the outrages of Ciccariello-Maher, Williams, and Isaacson, and the paradox that those who purposely subvert the ideals of intellectual freedom are also those who often most eager to claim the protections offered by those ideals.

Marcuse without Marcusians

In speaking of shout-downs and other forms of mob censorship, we are used to observers describing these as part of a crisis in free speech. Americans have plainly grown less tolerant of the expression of views they dislike. We indeed have an epidemic of college students who are ready to suppress opinions they disagree with and even facts that are in discord with their favored views. And while college campuses are the center of this epidemic, it has now spread to other milieu.

Observers have explained this hostility to free speech in various ways. Among those explanations is the view that we have a generation so coddled in its upbringing that it feels “unsafe” when it hears a view it disagrees with. Other branches of explanation emphasize the intensification of political and cultural polarization; the rise of Black Lives Matter as a radical rejection of some of the deep premises of our liberal republic; the prevalence of identity politics; and the porousness of American education to the ideas and attitudes of those who are profoundly hostile to our traditions of civil exchange in the public space.

All of these explanations have merit, and most of them have become familiar as cultural commentators continue to wrestle with the problem of college students, who should know better, mobilizing to prevent invited speakers from having their say. The problem doesn’t stop, however, with shout-downs, speech codes, bias-reporting systems, and the wide assortment of formal and informal techniques aimed at ensuring conformity to prevailing progressive opinions. It doesn’t stop there because, first, it has spread to other cultural domains: Facebook, the National Football League, and the mainstream media, among them. And it doesn’t stop there, second, because the New Censoriousness has been ready for some time to jump the divide between the political left and right, as it did at Whittier College.

The left has championed the tactic of suppressing the free speech of those it classifies as enemies, and it has developed a small set of concepts that provide a rationalization. “Free speech,” according to those who bother to explain themselves, is an illusion promoted by the “privileged” few who have to power to enforce their opinions on everyone else. Genuine free speech, according to this view, is the freedom of oppressed minorities to dissent, and genuine dissent includes the right to impede the ability of the privileged few to speak at all. The concept of “hate speech” is added to this critique of “privilege,” because the views of the privileged are said to express deep hatred of the despised minorities. Whatever meager regard still might be granted to “free speech” in the traditional sense, the principle of uninterrupted expression cannot be permitted to extend to allowing the expression of “hate.” Such speech is psychologically damaging to the vulnerable minorities it is directed against, who experience “hate speech” as “violence.” And such speech also subtly reinforces the unjust power structure of the United States by reinforcing “white supremacy,” “patriarchy,” and other forms of unjust privilege.

Most of this ideology was laid out by Herbert Marcuse and his acolytes in the 1960s but left to ripen like a very old vintage whiskey for a couple of generations. The radical fringe of the American political scene never forgot the Marcusian idea that “real tolerance” consists of silencing those you disagree with and imposing your own revolutionary creed on everyone else. This is the “liberation” offered by Marcuse that simmers at the bottom of much of today’s anti-free speech rhetoric, although plainly the vast majority of students who have imbibed this poison have no idea where it came from or what totalitarian purposes it is meant to serve.

The Marcusian “theory” of why free speech should be suppressed is repugnant. At bottom, it is just another attempt to recruit unwary individuals to the murderous vision of the Soviet system of mass murder and rule by an ersatz revolutionary clique. The Twentieth Century provided as much evidence of the horror of Marxist utopianism as we should ever need. But, of course, the proponents of such views always contrive to find a difference between what happened the last time (or the two hundred times before that) and what will happen next time. Without such wishful thinking, Venezuela would still be one of Latin America’s most prosperous nations, rather than a place where ordinary people are barbecuing their pet cats to stay alive.

To mentioning the Marxist premises of the current anti-free speech movement is, of course, to invite a certain kind of derision. While some campus radicals are avowedly Marxists, most are not, and more importantly, the Marxist premises of the anti-free-speechers are generally invisible to their champions. They think this is all new. Their naiveté was on display in 2016 when Bernie Sanders was winning campus support for his candidacy for president. There seemed no glimmer of understanding of the regimes which Senator Sanders admires and from which he still draws inspiration.

Repugnance as a Starting point

The view that prevails among today’s radicalized faculty members and students is not a hard-core Marxist formulation but a tissue of glib rationalizations about “privilege” and “power.” The great text of the moment isn’t The Communist Manifesto but Ta Nahisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Coates is in fact even more of a materialist than Marx. He believes the United States exists as a conspiracy to control “black bodies,” and he means this with utter literalness: bodies as physical objects.

To express repugnance towards such views is plainly not an argument, as such. A good argument, however, might find its orientation in repugnance. Repugnance at the beheading of the innocent and the use of rape as a tool of terror might be good starting points to find compelling arguments against radical Islamist doctrines that justify such things. Likewise, repugnance at mob action against speakers on campus might be a good starting point for why we need arguments that favor traditional liberal tolerance for the expression of unpopular views.

Having led up to the need for such an argument, however, I will leave off for now. Others, of course, have already developed such arguments, including the framers of the U.S. Constitution and philosophers such as John Stuart Mill. The real work lies in defending their ideas against the various assaults of postmodernism, radical feminism, and other ideologies that aim to undermine the foundations of our liberal republic.

The troubling events at Whittier College show that the principles of free expression have abusers across the political spectrum. Some of those abuses may be of the sort we need to tolerate in light of a greater good, but we must always remain ready to see the difference between merely scabrous language and actual incitements to violence. Those differences won’t necessarily be self-apparent. One thing that links the misbehavior at Whittier and all the other colleges and universities I have written about here is the fecklessness of the academic administrators, who either do not know how to control crowds or how to respond to individual faculty members who make irresponsible use of their academic freedoms. We need better administrators, not least ones who have some sense not to appoint to their faculties in the first place individuals who have no respect for the guiding principles of their institutions.

David Horowitz: Battlefield Notes from a War Gone Unnoticed

I have been reading essays by David Horowitz for nearly fifty years, starting when he became an editor of the radical new-left magazine, Ramparts, in 1968, and I was a high school student prepping for debates about the Vietnam war. David famously moved beyond his red diaper origins, his Marxist enthusiasms, and his admiration of Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party. In time he became a self-professed conservative. The “Second Thoughts” conference he co-hosted in Washington, DC in 1987 came at a crucial moment for me.

Though I had long since lost any respect for the academic left, and I was strongly anti-communist, I had trouble recognizing the deeper character of my own political views. The forthright stand that David took alongside other formerly radical intellectuals opened my eyes. They made conservative thought thinkable for me: a plausible way to ground my sympathies in a living tradition.

Related: The Roots of Our New Civil War

My debt to David Horowitz came home vividly to me in reading his new volume of collected essays—volume eight in a series collectively titled “The Black Book of the American Left.” This volume, The Left in the University, bears the hefty burden of gathering his significant writings on American higher education, 1993 to 2010. A fair number of the 53 essays collected here, I’d read before. Reading them afresh and as part of a whole, however, is to see them in a more valedictory light.

Horowitz—I’ll retreat to the patronym from this point on—has plainly failed at that part of his intellectual project represented by this book. He has not arrested the radical left’s takeover of the university, let alone restored the ideal of a university that teaches “how to think, not what to think.” The diversity of ideas and outlooks that he has tirelessly promoted as the sine qua non of higher education is less in evidence today than it was when he started. Repression of conservative ideas and highhanded treatment of the people who voice those ideas has grown steadily worse. The dismal situation brought by the triumph of the progressive left on college campuses has darkened still further as a new generation of even more radicalized identitarian groups has emerged.

Related: The Long Plight of the Right on Campus

It is not that Horowitz is unaware that he has fought a losing battle. He understands that keenly, and a fair number of his essays ponder that fact. The reader may wonder why, with this failure so evident, Horowitz continues to fight. Surely, he has the motive to collect these essays other than simply documenting twenty-some years of futile campaigning on behalf of a lost cause? Horowitz has seldom lacked for constructive ideas to reform the university. Much of the book consists of his efforts to advance “The Academic Bill of Rights” and other measures that would have improved the situation. The book even ends with a “Plan for University Reform,” accompanied by the plaintiff note, “Written in 2010, before the AAUP eviscerated Penn State’s academic freedom policy.”

Horowitz never holds out hope that his proposals will at some later point leap back to life, as a smoldering coal might with a fresh breeze return to flame. To the contrary, his introduction includes a disavowal of the possibility: I publish it [that last essay] now because I have given up any hope that universities can institute such a reform. The faculty opposition is too devious and too strong, and even more importantly there is no conservative will to see such reforms enacted.”

Why No Greater Success?

What then? Why read this record of failure? One answer is that we can reject the author’s own judgment. Yes, his specific proposals failed, but Horowitz has done heroic work in building a conservative movement that will, I expect, one day prevail in re-establishing a form of higher education centered on the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. There are those of us who look to his work not just with admiration but for practical help in building this movement. The recent Pew poll that found 58 percent of Republicans saying that contemporary higher education has a negative effect on the country is testimony to the existence of this movement and to Horowitz’s actual legacy.

It may be fair to ask why Horowitz didn’t have greater success in the short term. The reasons may be many, but I will mention two. First, Horowitz framed his fight largely as a matter of combatting the Marxist premises of his opponents. He was surely right about those premises, and his collected articles are a gold mine of instances he which he calls out named individuals for their allegiance to the discredited ideas of that revolutionary. The trouble with this framing is that it flies over the heads of most ordinary Americans. To say that a professor is an acolyte of Stalin or an apologist for tyranny in some far-away place registers with only a fringe of Americans who take such things seriously. Who cares if some Ivy League English professor thinks that bourgeois American society is to be scorned and that Lenin or Mao was right? Maybe we should care—and indeed I care—but I also recognize that this point seems meaningless to most Americans who see themselves as “conservative.”

A Thunderbolt in 1983

The oldest essay in the book is a version of a speech Horowitz gave to the Modern Language Association in December 1993. It was a thunderbolt then, and it remains an astonishing tour de force. Horowitz calls out the MLA for “its assault on literature and its abandonment of the educational task,” and for “its burial of the literary subject under a mountain of feminist, Marxist, deconstructionist Kitsch.” He invokes the “empty files of ideological poseurs like [MLA presidents] Catherine Stimpson and Houston Baker to measure its descent into intellectual mediocrity and political attitudinizing.”

But back then, Horowitz was an optimist. His MLA address ends with the observation that “the demonization of American culture” was part of the “lowest ebb” of the American university in its 300- year history. Looking back at 1993 from the high Sahara-scape of academe in 2017, we know that that ebb tide didn’t turn. Its “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” (as Matthew Arnold might put it) is now so withdrawn as to be barely audible. But perhaps that is what it took for Americans to begin to wonder whether higher education devoted to crackpot utopianism and un-freedom is really what we want from our colleges and universities.

He Frightened Many People

Horowitz’s anti-Marxist combativeness was one reason his movement stalled. It hit home against the radicals but not with the parents. The other reason his movement stalled, I suspect, is that he is characteristically a warrior and that he frightened many a good soul who might easily have been won over by someone with a lighter touch. Higher education is a context where students and parents want to believe the best. The best about the character and intelligence of the students. The best about the faculty, the campus, the teams. The best about what will come after college. The fierceness of Horowitz’s attacks frightened many who preferred the wish-fulfillment of the colleges and universities. A Jeremiah among critics of higher education, Horowitz’s voice was indispensable, but it was not destined to win large numbers of converts.

I cannot end even a short review of one of Horowitz’s book without acknowledging the quality of his writing. He is a superb essayist who excels at telling compelling stories without deviating a jot from the larger compelling ideas he is arguing. The Left in the University is valued as a preciously detailed account of how the radicals have despoiled American higher education, but it is also a collection of superbly written and argued accounts from the battlefield. Horowitz’s book might be thought of as war correspondence from a war most Americans didn’t realize was being fought.

The Article that Made 16,000 Ideologues Go Wild

Portland State University scholar Bruce Gilley drew a lot of attention with his August 29 article on Minding the Campus, “Why I’m leaving the Political Science Association.” A week or so later, he provoked an even greater controversy by telling readers of the Third World Quarterly what they don’t want to hear.

The Case for Colonialism” was by ordinary academic standards a straightforward opinion essay: well-reasoned, well-informed, and cognizant of conflicting views. It had passed peer review and the judgment of the journal’s editor.  A contemporary scholar arguing the case in favor of a positive judgment of the history of Western colonialism, however, was clearly venturing into territory that carried the risk of adverse reaction among his peers.  It wasn’t long before that reaction arrived.

Bruce Gilley happens to be the head of the National Association of Scholars’ Oregon affiliate. I know him through that connection and have seen him take strong stands in defense of academic and intellectual freedom on several previous occasions.

The Onslaught

Professor Gilley’s cordiality, however, proved of little avail in the weeks that followed the publication of “The Case for Colonialism.”  Both the article and the author came under ferocious attack. Soon the journal that published the article also came under attack.  Opponents:

  • Demanded that the journal retract the article.
  • Insisted Bruce Gilley apologize for writing it.
  • Circulated a petition, drafted by Jenny Heijun Wills (associate professor of English and Director of the Critical Race Network, University of Winnipeg) and signed by 6,884 others, which begins, “We insist that you, Third World Quarterly, retract and apologize for the publication of Professor Bruce Gilley’s appalling article…”
  • Circulated another petition, drafted by Maxine Horne (a dancer who has a master’s degree in project management from the University of Salford in the U.K.) which garnered 10,693 signatures.
  • Attacked Gilley ad hominem, in the words of Farhana Sultana (associate professor of Geography & Research Director for Environmental Conflicts and Collaborations, Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University) claiming the article promotes “white supremacy,” purveys “shoddy scholarship,” is based on “racist or violent ideologies,” and caricaturing Gilley for publishing “drivel.” Sultana also co-signed Horne’s petition.
  • Wished for Princeton University to revoke Gilley’s Ph.D.

Fifteen members of the 34-member editorial board of Third World Quarterly resigned in protest of its publication of Gilley’s article.

A Limp Reaction from Academia

The publisher Taylor and Francis responded to the furor by issuing a document where it recounted step by step the review of Gilley’s article before it was accepted for publication.  The accusation that the article was not peer-reviewed or properly vetted by qualified scholars proved to be without foundation.

The Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Portland State University, Margaret Everett, responding to calls from recent graduates that Gilley be fired, issued a bland statement declaring, “Academic freedom is critical to the open debate and free exchange of knowledge and argument. Because of Portland State University’s commitment to academic freedom, we acknowledge the right of all our faculty to explore scholarship and to speak, write and publish a variety of viewpoints and conclusions. The university also respects the rights of others to express counterviews and to engage in vigorous and constructive debate about the faculty’s work.” The retiring president of the university, Wim Wiewel, likewise declared that “The bedrock principles embedded in our educational mission as a public university are to value robust debate of ideas and to protect academic freedom,” but took no action to defend Gilley from the personal and professional attacks. Those attacks included death threats.

The temporizing defense of Professor Gilley as the rhetoric and threats escalated, apparently left Professor Gilley to decide that the better part of valor was to withdraw the article and mouth the apology that his critics demanded.  He did so under what he calls the “onslaught,” but now regrets it. He is back in the fight.

The Cork

I’m not eager to turn dissenting professors into martyrs. I understand the considerable pressures that can be brought to bear on nonconformists in academe, including those like Professor Gilley who have tenure.  But there is nothing in the article either in its substance or its tone that warranted its withdrawal. Professor Gilley retracted it in the hope of quieting a destructive tempest.  It didn’t.

It wasn’t enough for the “critics”—though calling them critics is to cheapen the term. What has emerged is a clique of radicals who are ready to resort to violence to silence views they don’t like.  The editor of Third World Quarterly, Shahid Qadir, who stood by his judgment of the value of Gilley’s article, has been met with death threats from Indian nationalists.  After Gilley “withdrew” it, the publisher left it available in electronic form. That infuriates those who would like the article to disappear entirely.

Because of the controversy, “The Case for Colonialism” has surely garnered far more readers than anything else that Third World Quarterly has ever published, and far more readers than it would have absent the controversy.  We need not lament that Professor Gilley’s views on the merits of colonialism will be buried in obscurity.  The problem lies elsewhere.

It lies in the successful deployment of professional opprobrium and actual threats of murder to kill the article. That success was ultimately aimed at ensuring that other scholars who dissent from the contemporary orthodoxy of anti-colonialism will keep their mouths shut. It is further aimed at ensuring that generations of students will see no whisper of dissent from this orthodoxy in the published literature, and hear no hint of it from their instructors.

The desire of the anti-colonialist faction to reach beyond Gilley to intimidate other scholars who might pick up his thread is a backhanded acknowledgment of Gilley’s credibility and the force of his argument.  Numerous scholars in the field are saying things to the effect that recognition of the positive effects of colonialism is long overdue. Such accolades are circulating widely but not—or not yet—openly.  The anti-colonialist faction knows this and is desperate to keep the cork in the bottle.

Feckless College Presidents

One way the cork is kept in place is by intimidating college and university authorities. If the dean, provost, and presidents were living up to their responsibilities, they would be opening misconduct investigations in instances where faculty members have sought to intimidate, threaten, or censor views they disagree with.  If academic freedom is to mean anything at all, it has to be enforced. We are in a period where college authorities frequently do nothing in the face of shout-downs of invited speakers and actual campus riots.  Mizzou, Yale, Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, and Evergreen stand out in the public eye as the exemplars of such nonfeasance on the part of college presidents.

The whip of public scorn was enough to convince the presidents of Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, and Evergreen to take token actions against a handful of the student rioters—and no action at all against the faculty members who instigated them. But the general picture remains that college authorities do as little as they possibly can to maintain public order on campus when that order is threatened or violated by progressive activists.

And they do even less when it comes to faculty activists who engage in behavior wholly at odds with academic freedom. More often than not, college presidents offer a false equivalence between the right of a faculty member to say something “controversial” and the spurious “right” of other faculty members to threaten and intimidate that person.  There is no such right.  In the context of higher education, disagreement must be grounded in arguments and evidence, not in menace.

The framing of these issues as matters of “controversy” is itself misleading.  Academic freedom exists to give knowledgeable individuals scope to pursue the truth. It is not a license to pursue controversy for its own sake. Professor Gilley’s arguments about colonialism are presented entirely in the framework of promoting “human flourishing” and respecting “the consent of the colonized.”  His essay says something unexpected—that, in some circumstances, Western colonialism was good and might still be considered a viable choice—but Gilley’s aim is morally serious and ought not to be trivialized as merely seeking after controversy.

Thus the Gilley affair is yet another reminder of the hollowness of the university’s leaders. Confronted with a straightforward example of academic thuggery, they stand perplexed, unwilling to draw a meaningful line anywhere between legitimate expression of ideas and mob rule.


Will the publisher Taylor and Francis give in to the threat that the editor of Third World Quarterly will be murdered if Gilley’s article is not made to disappear?  At this writing, we don’t know.  I’ll assume that the publisher will summon the courage to stand its ground.

But the academics who made such a threat deserve our outrage, and so too the numerous academics who did not themselves make the threat but who escalated the rhetoric and the abuse to the point where the threat was but a small step further in the direction of academic thuggery.

But outrage at the follies in higher education is a devalued currency these days.  Professor Gilley, in fact, has found many who support his right to publish his views, regardless of whether they agree with his points.  Notably, Noam Chomsky has come to his defense.  Many others see the sense of Gilley’s main arguments:  that Western colonialism eventuated in better conditions in many parts of the world and that anti-colonial ideology in many cases ruined newly independent nations.  The record of health, education, and welfare in the Third World testifies to these theses to anyone who is not constrained by radical anti-Western beliefs to ignore the facts.

No one denies that colonialism sometimes had dire costs, including the sense of humiliation that often was inflicted on the colonized.  The colonizers themselves paid a stiff price as well, not least in their unearned sense of superiority.  Yet there is plainly a strong argument to be made that, on balance, the legacy of colonialism has been positive.  Agree or disagree with that view; it ought to be well within the compass of ideas that can be debated in academic journals and on campus.

What then ought to be the path forward for those who truly support academic and intellectual freedom—and who want to do more than mouth the piety that these are “critical” to the university?

The answer isn’t a single action but a single determination.  The Gilley affair is, of course, only one of many instances in the last few years in which the progressive left has shown its willingness to bully, to censor, and sometimes physically attack those it designates as its enemies. College presidents and trustees must cease to pretend that this is a matter of competing forms of free speech.  The freedom of one side to be vilified and the freedom of the other side to launch outrageous personal attacks are not moral equivalents.  No university can long survive this kind of intellectual dissipation, no matter how eagerly it masks itself as protection of the weak and marginal.  It has become its own form of tyranny, and the public will not long stand for it.

Public universities such as Portland State have vulnerabilities in the form of state and federal funding as well as enrollment. In time, politicians and the public will act in default of campus authorities who do not act. And perhaps we should not forget the names of those thousands who signed the petitions.  It might be a good exercise for deans and provosts who have received from academic search committee recommendations to appoint candidates for academic positions to match those names against the list of signatories. Signing such petitions, after all, is a public declaration of hostility to the very principles that the university say are “bedrock.” A candidate’s name on such a petition at least raises a question of whether such a person is to be relied on to uphold the standards of a free intellectual community.

What can be done?  At the minimum, Portland State University should call on Taylor and Francis to keep the article and defend the editor, Shahid Qadir.

Charlottesville—One Poison, Two Bottles

Alt-Right, Alt-Left, “both sides,” white supremacists, Antifa, CEO resignations:  America is having a moment. Tempers are flaring, and statues are falling. President Trump and the press are in an angry stand-off.

The death of a young woman, Heather Heyer,  in the midst of protests and counter-protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the injuries to 19 others at the hands of a driver who used his car to plow other cars into a crowd, reminded some of us of another shocking burst of violence: the May 4, 1970 Kent State shootings, when members of the National Guard opened fire on unarmed students, killing four. Protests against the Vietnam War, some of them violent, were a familiar part of the news during those years, but the wanton killing of protesters was new, and it changed things.

I don’t know that Heather Heyer’s death, apparently at the hands of a 20-year-old neo-Nazi, James Alex Fields, Jr., will have the long reverberations of Kent State, but the mainstream press is trying very hard to give the whole Charlottesville debacle that kind of watershed significance.

From the Cooper Union to Charlottesville

I’d like to pull back a little and consider some of the pieces, especially those that connect to higher education. The higher education connection isn’t incidental. Colleges and universities have often been the stages for those who seek to make large declarations about America, and especially about race.  Think of Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech in February 1860, in which he laid out his opposition to slavery as consonant with the ideals of the Founding Fathers.

The ghost of Lincoln is surely somewhere in the background of the Charlottesville riot. Richard Spencer and his white supremacist friends held their “Unite the Right” rally at Lee Park, on Saturday, August 12, ostensibly to protest the planned relocation of the large statue of Robert E. Lee. The struggle over slavery that led to the secession of eleven states, including Virginia, April 17, 1861, led to Lee’s fateful decision to turn down Lincoln’s offer of command of the Union Army in favor of serving the Confederacy. History has given Lee a generally kind assessment despite that decision. The esteem in which he is held by many who have no sympathy with the Southern cause rests on the way he met defeat. He spared the United States from what could have been decades of further hostility by counseling his supporters to lay down their arms.

What does a nation do with a figure of great historical importance who lent his weight to a bad cause? We are still, all these years later, wrestling with that question. It deserves a patient and thoughtful answer, but it has become entangled with demagoguery on both the right and the left.

The statue of Lee in Charlottesville was first seized as a symbol by the identitarian left, who made it an emblem of racial oppression. Spencer and his Alt-Right supporters then charged in, happy to endorse the conceit that Lee should stand for white privilege. The planned “Unite the Right” rally was meant to inflame the left and to summon counter-protesters. Violence was expected and welcomed on both sides—though to say that now invites the silly accusation that the term grants “moral equivalence.” No, it just registers the reality: both sides in this confrontation believe violence is a legitimate tool in pursuing their political ends.


On Friday night the Alt-Right protesters staged a torch-lit march on campus from the steps of the Rotunda across Thomas Jefferson’s “Academical Village,” the very center of the university. UVA president Teresa Sullivan understood the connections and put out a statement through the university’s newsletter, UVA Today, “In Aftermath of Violence, Sullivan Reflects On Challenging Weekend.”

In part, Sullivan said: “The University is about freedom of speech, but free speech is not the same as violence. We strongly condemn this kind of abhorrent and intimidating behavior whose purpose is only to create fear and cause divisions in the community.”

Indeed, free speech is not the same as violence, and my colleagues and I at the National Association of Scholars applaud the spirit of Sullivan’s statement.

How Higher Ed Contributed

The provocations of the Alt-Right protesters and the tragic consequences of their Saturday rally, however, cannot be wholly isolated from the stream of events in American higher education in the last few years. The Alt-Right didn’t spring out of thin air. Moreover, the use of mass intimidation wasn’t unknown on college campuses—including UVA. The deterioration of the ideal of free speech has been accelerating, and the feebleness of college authorities, when confronted with outrageous tactics by protesters, is now practically established as standard operating procedure.

UVA didn’t invite this compound catastrophe, but it wasn’t entirely an innocent on-looker either.

Charlottesville’s City Council voted 3-2 in February to move the equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee from the city’s central square. The Council’s vote followed a report last year from a Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces. Voices of the UVA community played a significant part in the acrimonious debate over the statue. For example, the Richmond Times-Dispatch quoted UVA Religious Studies professor Jalane Schmidt, comparing President Trump’s refugee policy to defenders of the Lee statue as evidence of an “empathy gap.” The monument, in Schmidt’s view, “enshrined” in Charlottesville “leading white citizens’ contempt for black humanity.”

Schmidt’s opinions in this matter voice what has become a very familiar line of historical interpretation, one shared with a fair number of people in the UVA community. But for the sake of clarity, I’ll stick with Schmidt’s views in particular. Was putting a statue of Robert E. Lee in a public park really an act of “contempt for black humanity?” I suspect that an examination of the records of Charlottesville from 1919 to 1924 would not offer much evidence that a public display of “contempt” was part of the motive. A commodities trader named Paul McIntire commissioned the statue in 1917 from sculptor Henry Shrady, who died before finishing it. The job was completed by Leo Lentelli. McIntire purchased the site for Lee Park and donated the monument to both the City of Charlottesville and the University of Virginia.

History Lesson

Shrady was picked for the commission after America’s most eminent sculptor, Daniel Chester French, declined it but recommended Shrady, who was completing the massive monument to Grant in Washington, D.C. and had previously executed the equestrian statue of George Washington in Brooklyn.  Shrady’s successor on the Lee statue, Leo Lentelli, was born in Italy in 1879 and immigrated to the U.S. in 1903. Lentelli had numerous other public commissions including decorations for the San Francisco Public Library, the Sixteenth Street Bridge in Pittsburgh, and the Steinway Piano Building in New York City. He is best known for “The Savior with Sixteen Angels” at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York.

All these are details I’ve culled from a 1997 application to the National Register of Historic Places to register the Lee monument. It makes for interesting reading, not least because twenty years ago the thought that the Lee monument was an instrument of racial oppression seemed completely absent from anyone’s mind. Shrady, a native of New York who spent 19 years creating a monument honoring Ulysses S. Grant, and Lentelli, a twentieth-century immigrant from Italy who liked to sculpt angels, seem unlikely to have harbored nostalgia for the antebellum South or animus against “black humanity.”

Paul McIntire, the philanthropist who started out as a coffee trader, was a lover of art and music who lavished gifts on the University of Virginia, which he had attended for a single semester. He endowed a chair in fine arts and contributed the funds to create a Department of Music and Department of Art.  These acts, of course, do not preclude his being a closet racist who wanted a statue of Robert E. Lee to cast a shadow of contempt over the black residents of Charlottesville—but it is hard to see any evidence of that. When Professor Jalene Schmidt leveled that accusation against Charlottesville’s “leading white citizens,” she must have been thinking of someone else. Or was she making a wild surmise based on nothing but the projection of today’s intensified racial resentments onto the past?

Racial Reductionism

It is a tricky question to ask because those with a mind to do so can easily read into it a denial of the legal regime of racial discrimination of the Jim Crow South and the broader culture of racism. Recognizing the history of American racism without succumbing to the temptation to read racism into the fabric of everything seems to be a challenge for many Americans today. It is especially a challenge for many academics who are drawn to a kind of racial reductionism.

Who are these racial reductionists? Some of them are the self-styled denizens of the Alt-Right. And some are supporters of Black Lives Matter and kindred groups. For an extreme racial reductionist, think of Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose best-selling book, Between the World and Me, is a primer in how to blame white racism for anything and everything that a black American might find dissatisfying in life.

In Charlottesville last Saturday, we saw the collision of partisans of these two forms of reductionism.  There may well have been individuals among the protesters who held more complicated and historically nuanced views of America, but they were not driving the Alt-Right provocateurs or the counter-protesters, both of whom were in the grip of their oppositional manias. Racial reductionists are not necessarily violent and not necessarily apologists for violence. But both sides clearly have attracted thuggish followers. Antifa protesters carrying baseball bats and two-by-fours are not showing up to celebrate the legacy of Gandhi.

The Alt-Right is, to be sure, a pernicious reactionary movement. It has a tiny national following—perhaps not much more than a few thousand. Only a few hundred showed up in Charlottesville. But the movement has achieved massive news coverage by its theatrics and the eagerness of the media to play it up as a supposed reflection of President Trump’s base of support. The counter-protesters are also a pernicious reactionary movement who have seized a poisonous sideshow as somehow exemplifying part of the American mainstream.

The Poison Is Spreading

The Wall Street Journal has commendably called out the “deeper ailment” as “The Poison of Identity Politics.”

That poison is spreading. Spencer’s group plans rallies at Texas A&M and the University of Florida. But the leftist version of the poison has entered the bloodstream of American higher education and is to be found almost everywhere. Mark Lilla’s recent Wall Street Journal op-ed “The Liberal Crack-Up” is an excellent historical account of how the Democratic Party trapped itself in obsessions over grievance-based accounts of personal identity. What was lost, says Lilla, was “the hard and unglamorous task of persuading people very different from themselves to join a common effort.”

Protesting and counter-protesting are seldom tactics aimed at “persuading” anyone. They are aimed at displaying to a larger audience of supposed on-lookers the power of the protesters. It is the power to bring excited people together to shout and to act in unison, to threaten violence, and at times to commit it. The campus left has been very busy at enacting these kinds of theatrics over the last several years at Mizzou, Yale, Berkeley, Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, and Evergreen, to mention only the most prominent examples.

Which brings me back to the University of Virginia, which was a pioneer of sorts in the invention of the insta-riot as a form of political communication. On November 20, 2014, not long after Rolling Stone published its false story about a rape at the UVA Phi Kappa Psi fraternity house, five masked women and two men vandalized the building. This followed vociferous protests culminating in a “Take Back the Party: End Rape Now” rally, which drew hundreds of participants. President Sullivan then suspended all the fraternities until January 9, 2015. An imaginary crime elevated to an ardent belief turned UVA into a place where the victim mythology triumphed over any concern for the truth.

Surely that wasn’t lost on Richard Spencer when he went in search of a venue that would be susceptible to his provocations.

Jefferson’s University

Thus it may be worth taking a further look at what Sullivan said after this weekend’s tragic turn of events: “The University is about freedom of speech, but free speech is not the same as violence. We strongly condemn this kind of abhorrent and intimidating behavior whose purpose is only to create fear and cause divisions in the community.”

“The University is about freedom of speech” might sound right on first hearing, but it is not how Jefferson would have put it. Freedom of speech is a means to an end, but not the purpose of the university.  What is? Jefferson explains:

To form the statesmen, legislators and judges, on whom public prosperity and individual happiness are so much to depend; To expound the principles and structure of government, …and a sound spirit of legislation, which…shall leave us free to do whatever does not violate the equal rights of another; to harmonize and promote the interests of agriculture, manufactures and commerce…; to develop the reasoning faculties of our youth, enlarge their minds, cultivate their morals, and instill into them the precepts of virtue and order; to enlighten them with mathematical and physical sciences, which advance the arts and administer to the health, the subsistence and comforts of human life; and, generally, to form them to habits of reflection and correct action, rendering them examples of virtue to others and of happiness within themselves. These are the objects of that higher grade of education, the benefits and blessings of which the Legislature now propose to provide for the good and ornament of their country.

To accomplish these goals, freedom of speech is an important tool. Those who pick up the tool only to employ it as a club to beat others are, however, outside the bounds of the “academical” community.  Sullivan hasn’t been an especially good steward of that principle. Her condemning the Alt-Right for “abhorrent and intimidating behavior whose purpose is only to create fear and cause divisions in the community” is all to the good. But it would be helpful if she showed some glimmer of understanding that these nasty (and sometimes murderous) extremists are the mirror image of other nasty (and often violent) extremists on the other side.

A university is properly a place where there is no place for those who disdain the rule of law, the dictates of civility, and the need for peaceful argument. Inviting identity politics to take root and then complaining that the vine is bearing its predictable fruit is a failure of presidential leadership. And that’s true of all kinds of presidents.

Yes, Campus Indoctrination is Real

Robert Maranto and Mathew Woessner are not alone.  They are two political scientists who assure us that leftist domination of the faculty does not mean that college students are coming away from their campuses indoctrinated in progressive ideology.  Maranto and Woessner’s latest version of this argument was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education as “Why Conservative Fears of Campus Indoctrination Are Overblown.

Their basic point is that students are “not ideologically pliable.”  Their evidence for that comes from survey research that show “relatively minor” shifts in student political attitudes over four years, with “the typical student” becoming “slightly more progressive on social issues while becoming slightly more conservative on economic issues.”

I don’t doubt the integrity of their research or that of other social scientists who have gone looking for measurable evidence of such changes in student attitudes.  In fact, for several decades social scientists have been looking at this question and for the most part coming up with answers similar to that of Maranto and Woessner.

But they, like many others, are profoundly mistaken. Their conclusions follow their research, but that research inevitably focuses on certain kinds of data, which unfortunately do not get to the heart of the problem.

In their Chronicle article, Maranto and Woessner reference The Still Divided Academy, a book published in 2011, which includes an analysis of “Students’ Political Values” based on the 1999 North American Academic Study Survey (NAASS).  That eighteen-year-old data means something, but does it mean that today’s college students are barely touched by the forces of campus indoctrination?

Related: How a University Moved from Diversity to Indoctrination

In the 1999 survey, 45 percent of college students said they did not believe homosexuality is “an acceptable lifestyle.”  The survey did, however, pick up a shift of seven percentage points in favor of acceptance of homosexuality by the senior year:  a shift the authors interpreted as the students moving towards the views of their professors and administrators.  The NAASS study has not been repeated, but we do have the annual survey conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI)at UCLA, which includes some relevant data. The HERI survey of college freshmen in 2015, for example, found 81.1 percent of freshmen at all baccalaureate institutions endorsed gay marriage.

That dramatic shift, from 45 percent opposed to homosexuality “as a lifestyle” to more than 80 percent favoring gay marriage, tells us nothing about whether colleges indoctrinate students.  These were freshmen surveyed in 2015—mostly innocent about their professors’ attitudes.  But the shift testifies to the need for caution in relying on 1999 figures to decipher today’s trends.  It also testifies to the astonishingly rapid transformation of American youth during this period.

We don’t have very good grounds for thinking that college students today respond to the social and political cues of campus life in the way they did a generation ago.  In fact, the opposite.  The most recent HERI data from fall 2016 found “the fall 2016 entering cohort —  of first-time, full-time college students — has the distinction of being the most polarized in the 51-year history of the Freshman Survey.”  The year before, the HERI surveyors found that a third of the freshmen (33.5 percent) self-identified as liberal or “far left”—the highest percentage since 1973, the height of the Watergate scandal.

Related: Indoctrination in Writing Class

Anyone who has taught freshmen knows that their self-labeling is not necessarily the best indication of their political orientation.  The 2015 HERI data yielded some other clues about the leftward orientation of these freshmen.  A record 8.5 percent of these students said there was a very good chance they would participate in “student protests while in college,” i.e. they were ready to protest before they could possibly have any cause to do so.

HERI also found a record number (74.6 percent) of freshmen who said that “helping others in difficulty” was very important or essential to them.  An orientation towards helping others sounds very good in the abstract, but that figure might also signal the degree to which activism aimed at advancing progressive ideas of “social justice” had become a baseline social attitude for late Millennials entering college.

The HERI data is full of other material that suggests that today’s entering college students bring with them dramatically different attitudes than the freshmen of yesteryear.  Anyone interested in the sociology of college students will find it eye-opening.  But HERI doesn’t resolve the question of whether or how much four years of college education changes students’ political and social attitudes.

That question has actually been a research topic for many years, perhaps best codified by Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini in a series of massive volumes, How College Affects Students.  I have relied on Ernest T. Pascarella and Patrick T. Terenzini’s Volume 2:  A Third Decade of Research, published in 2005, but there is 2016 edition with new editors, How College Affects Students: 21st Century Evidence that Higher Education Works, Volume 3.  Pascarella and Terenzini, synthesizing the work of numerous other scholars, reach some interesting conclusions for students in the 1990s:

  • “Freshmen-to-senior year shifts in political identification were associated with the peer and faculty environments of the institutions attended.”
  • The shifts “were more than mere reflections of changes occurring in the larger society.”
  • The shifts were not simply “artifacts” of the attitudes students brought with them to college, and they couldn’t be explained as part of “normal, maturational processes.”

Related: An Update on the Mess at Bowdoin

As often happens when social science researchers roll up their sleeves and dig deep into a problem, these researchers discovered the obvious.  Of course, “peer and faculty environments” shape students.  If anyone continues to doubt that, I recommend What Does Bowdoin Teach?  How A Contemporary Liberal Arts College Shapes Students (2013), the top-to-bottom ethnography that my colleague Michael Toscano and I wrote about the “peer and faculty environment” at one of the nation’s top-rated liberal arts colleges.

What that study showed more than anything is that Bowdoin’s left-wing bias was all pervasive.  It wasn’t conveyed just by a few dozen hard-core leftist faculty members, though they did their part. It was embedded in the curriculum as a whole, residence life, extra-curricular activities, pronouncements from the college president, self-declared college crises, invited speakers, student awards, and more.  And just as important, that bias was made to seem normal by the absence or near absence of alternative views.  It doesn’t feel like “bias” if you are surrounded with people who all agree. The courses not offered, the professors not appointed, the speakers not invited, the student clubs that are not formed:  the nots are the real key to campus bias, especially because they are usually invisible to the students.

At one Bowdoin event, a student stood up and half-in-resentment, half-in-perplexity, challenged me:  “We have everything we could possibly want at Bowdoin.  What’s missing?”  He had absolutely no clue as to what ideas and opinions existed outside the “Bowdoin bubble.”

In such an environment, even those who call themselves dissenters tend to absorb the premises of the prevailing view.  They will quibble about details and typically fail to realize how much they have conformed to the campus Zeitgeist. At Bowdoin, we found “conservative” students who were wholly taken in by the premises of multiculturalism and diversity and perfectly supportive of efforts to muzzle free speech.

Rendering Much of the World Invisible

This is where Maranto and Woessner go most wrong.  “Indoctrination”—if that is the right word—is not mainly about the domination of academic fields by leftist professors.  That happens, and it is part of the problem.  But the larger problem is a campus culture that renders much of the world invisible.

That is not to say the college students today are blankly unaware that a great many Americans hold views at odds with their own.  They know Donald Trump was elected President and that many millions of Americans voted for him.  And progressive ideology provides a whole gallery of stock villains with which to picture the oppressors and those who are not yet “woke.”  The Alt-Right, the cis-gendered privileged, the one-percenters, and so on are the cartoons that take the place of any need to understand conservative ideas.

This doesn’t make every college student an incipient leftist.  Probably the most common political orientation among college students is a soft libertarianism that tolerates anything that doesn’t get in the way of the student’s preferred social activities.  These students have no fondness for the hard left radicals with their Bias Response Teams, Title IX tribunals, protests, and occupations, but neither do they have much interest in putting up a fight. The soft libertarians seldom give a thought about the longer-term consequences of the left’s initiatives, and they are entirely satisfied with the consumerist curriculum they have been offered.

To my way of thinking, this libertarian silent majority on campus has created the condition in which a radicalized minority can exert its tyranny. College administrators don’t worry about the leave-me-alone crowd.  But they are ever eager to placate Mattress Girl, Black Lives Matter, and the students who want to run Charles Murray into the Vermont forest.

So, pace Maranto and Woessner, no, conservative fears of campus indoctrination are not overblown. Sometimes conservatives over-simplify their case by focusing too much on the wild declarations of extremist professors or the exclusion of conservative faculty members.  But taken all in all, contemporary American higher education does indoctrinate students in progressive ideology.  And it does it so well that most of the graduates don’t even realize it.

Colleges Are Drawing the Contempt They So Richly Deserve

I am heartened by the news (from Pew that 58% of GOP voters disrespect our colleges). It has taken a lot to break through the complacency of these voters. Of course, the real credit for this turnaround goes to those students at Middlebury and their counterparts at dozens of other colleges and universities.

It goes to Melissa Click, the professor who was caught on video saying, “I need some muscle over here!” to expel a student reporter from a protest at the University of Missouri in November 2015. And it goes to college presidents such as Hiram Chodosh, at Claremont McKenna; Peter Salovey, at Yale; and Laurie Patton, at Middlebury whose fecklessness in the face of students’ outrageous violations of the norms of the academic community has shaken public confidence in higher education’s basic ability to provide an environment where ideas can be freely debated.

The Pew question demands a gestalt answer, and the gestalt answer for me is that American higher education, taken all in all, has put itself in opposition to America’s best principles, its most admirable aspirations, its open-mindedness, and its capacity to create a generation of worthy civic and political leaders. That opposition has public consequences, the most important of which is the malformation of students who mistake their anger for clear thinking and who have developed contempt for their country and their countrymen.

Anger and contempt will, of course, be met with anger and contempt, and what colleges and universities have provided is a radical intensification of our partisan divide.

All of this could and should be said without references to the 2016 election. But when higher education moved decisively to support Bernie Sanders and later made itself central to the anti-Trump “Resistance,” its abandonment of impartiality became patent. The real question is, why do only 58 percent of Republican voters believe higher education negatively affects the country? I know the answer: The other 42 percent are not yet paying attention.”

The parallel question about Democrats matters at least as much. Why are only 28 percent of Democrats in the Pew poll worried about higher education’s effect on the future of the country? Shortsightedness. It might be energizing to believe that the university is wholly on your political side, but the danger of raising a generation steeped in the politics of resentment, power for its own sake, and loathing of intellectual disagreement ought to alarm liberals. This can come to no good end.

Excerpted with permission from The National Association of Scholars

Angry Students Turn on Another Progressive Prof at Evergreen

Evergreen State College Biology professor Bret Weinstein is surprised. Indignant. Alarmed.

Weinstein is the new Allison Stanger—the progressive Middlebury professor still suffering a concussion from the attack by the masked anti-Charles Murray rioters on March 2. Weinstein is also the new Laura Kipnis, the progressive Northwestern professor hauled up on Title IX charges in 2015 by her university after she published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which she criticized the “sexual paranoia” of some of her fellow campus feminists.

Kipnis now faces a “Jane Doe” lawsuit from a former Northwestern student Kipnis called “Nola Hartley” in her book, Unwanted Advances.   Weinstein also has some kinship with Jordan Peterson, the social democratic professor at the University of Toronto who has been mobbed by protesters for his objections to proposed legislation that would require faculty members to use “non-binary pronouns” such as “zhe” and “zir.”

Weinstein, Stanger, Kipnis, and Peterson are all left-of-center faculty members who are—or were—at peace with the progressive agenda whipping through higher education like a wind-driven prairie fire in a drought.  And they all found themselves suddenly on the wrong side of the flames.

Year of the Shout-Down

Judging by his op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Professor Weinstein remains puissantly in favor of Evergreen College’s progressive approach to higher education and its octopus embrace of diversity, racial grievance, and victim identity.  He is no backslider from the core doctrines of contemporary academe as advanced by the last generation of leftist ideologues. He just hasn’t kept up. He’s aware of the new positions, which have evolved from the old ones, but he somehow cannot get himself to march to the new music.

The essence of the Weinstein story is that he was perfectly good with Evergreen’s “Day of Absence,” when “students and faculty of color” left campus for a day to remind those left behind how much the community as a whole was enriched by their everyday presence.  But this year Evergreen flipped the theatrics and asked the white students, staff, and faculty to make themselves scarce. Weinstein objected, and then met his classes as usual on the day in question, April 12. Nothing happened.  But someone was keeping track, and on May 23, some fifty students invaded his class, yelling obscenities, calling Weinstein a racist, and demanding that he resign. He now lives under a threat of violence from these students, and Evergreen’s president, George Bridges, has allegedly told the campus police to “stand down.”  Weinstein is left to fend for himself.

That last detail would seem hard to believe except that it so closely matches what has happened on other campuses. Stanley Kurtz has put together a nice compendium of “The Year of the Shout-Down,” and more than a few of the incidents involve college authorities simply deciding not to enforce their institution’s own rules against disruptions.  Middlebury president Laurie Patton “vowed” accountability to the disruptors, but then handed out wrist slaps of a leniency similar to a mandatory application Oil of Olay hand cream.

Patton and the other presidents who stand by and do nothing are not just appeasers of the student mobs; they are diffident admirers. They dare not say outright that the raw authenticity of black students tearing the place up with the connivance of white “allies” gladdens their progressive hearts. They know the alumni wouldn’t like that.  But these presidents will do all in their considerable power to protect their cohort of mischievous social justice warriors.  Those mobs threatening conservative speakers and insufficiently enthusiastic progressive professors are a badge of honor for the college presidents whose greatest fear is that they will be left out of the Great Historical Moment.

White Racism—Is It Relentless?

Perhaps the biggest question for those outside the academy is: What is that Great Historical Moment?  It is probably best grasped as Ferguson, though it could as easily be named Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter, or even the Obama Era.  It is the moment defined in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, in which the fading residue of institutionalized racial discrimination is amped up to a belief that white hatred of blacks pervades every aspect of American society, and nothing short of a revolution will end it.

The less actual evidence there is of racial animosity coming from whites, the more important it is to conjure its insidious presence, and the more urgent it is to teach the coming generation of black Americans to ground their lives in victimhood, resentment, and robust resistance to surrounding society.  This apotheosis of resentment, of course, is not limited to blacks.  Any collection of people willing to band together into an identity group based on a history of victimization can do the same thing.  Women, Hispanics, Native Americans, illegal immigrants, and sexual minorities of all sorts can adapt both the logic and the techniques of revolutionary existential despair.  But black Americans define this territory; the others merely emulate.

The Great Historical Moment comes with the realization that this movement must discard all the old forms of civility that governed society in general and the university in particular.  Willingness to listen to arguments on the other side is a sign of weakness.  Toleration of dissent from the views being asserted today only vitiates the solidarity of the movement.  Deference to the individuality of people in all their diversity dilutes the purity of the group’s will to power.

Professor Weinstein is blind to most of this.  He persists in thinking that he is engaged in a defense of liberal or even progressive principles.  In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, he sees himself as a critic of President Bridges’ campaign to substitute the principle of “equity” for the formerly reigning shibboleth, “diversity.”  The “equity agenda” at Evergreen ramps up the demand for hiring people on the basis of race rather than ability or accomplishment.  The diversity agenda, of course, did the same thing, but lightly disguised the proceedings with an appeal to the good will of all involved.  “Equity” removed the velvet wrapper from the iron fist.  And Weinstein sees this as finding support among the campus postmodernists.

Here Comes the Equity Agenda

He is not wrong about the postmodern element.  He is speaking of those academics who can no longer credit the idea that there are foundational truths, and who instead see the world is little more than fragments of attention spent on a perpetual struggle for power and privilege.  These folks, holding forth in the humanities, have no basis on which to stand against an organized grievance group.  Unable to oppose it, they either accede to it or adopt it as their own.

Jonathan Haidt has drawn some plausible conclusions from the Weinstein affair, coming on top of other such descents.  Haidt observes that the rules appear to be: (1) “Never object to a diversity policy publicly”; (2) “Do not assume that being politically progressive will protect you”; (3) “If a mob comes for you, there is a good chance that the president of your university will side with the mob and validate its narrative”; and (4) “If a mob comes for you, the great majority of its members will be non-violent, [but] you must assume that one or more of its members is willing to use violence against you.”

Alas, these are sound points.  But they probably do not go quite far enough.  What I have called the Great Historical Moment is a delusion that lives in the heads of a great many faculty members, college presidents, and even some trustees.  It has found fertile ground in the minds of a generation of students who have been marinated for their entire education in progressive ideology and who have but the thinnest comprehension of human nature, civilization, the rule of law, and American history.  They have a rage to destroy, and only utopian fantasies to put in place of what they would tear down.

Like all utopian movements, this one will also fail.  The great Historical Moment is a figment of their collective imagination.  But the failure is bound to be costly, not only to the students themselves but also to the institutions that have fostered it.

Evergreen College was a somewhat silly experiment when it was started in 1967.  It belongs to a small category of “alternative” colleges opened in that era, including Hampshire (1970) and Prescott (1966), which replaced traditional curriculum with a surfeit of progressive novelties. What the Weinstein affair really teaches is that the experiment has run its course.  But it may take a few years for Evergreen to realize that.

Some New and Narrow Versions of Academic Freedom

The right to breathe is not generally understood as the right to choke others.  The right to move freely is not widely understood as the right to slip into your neighbor’s house in the middle of the night unannounced.  The right to listen to Neil Diamond’s greatest hits is not universally interpreted as the right to make other people listen to “Sweet Caroline.”

And yet these days more than a few people have decided that “academic freedom” guarantees your right to silence other people who are attempting to express views you disagree with.

This sounds like a joke, but it has been put forward in earnest by many student protesters in the last few years.  I first heard the “I’m-exercising-my-academic-freedom-to-shut-you-up” rationale in connection with the Black Lives Matter protesters who invaded the Berry-Baker Library at Dartmouth in November 2015.  But it has since become the common currency of lawless protesters, whether at Berkeley, Middlebury, or Claremont-McKenna.

Perhaps the open letter from Pomona College students to President David Oxtoby demanding that he “take action against the Claremont Independent editorial staff for its continual perpetuation of hate speech, anti-Blackness, and intimidation toward students of marginalized backgrounds,” is the perfection of this conceit.  The Pomona students decided that “free speech” has become “a toll appropriated by hegemonic institutions.”

Campus Life Not Like a Baseball Game

Actually, on that last point, they are right.  Colleges and universities are “hegemonic institutions.”  I don’t know if those students understand their own catchphrases, but translated into plain English, this simply means that colleges impose broad control over their community of faculty members and students.  They have rules above and beyond the rules of the surrounding society.  If you go to a baseball game, you are free to boo the other team and scream at the umpire if you think he made a bad call.  On campus—at least in principle—you must listen quietly when someone argues a point you disagree with, and if the moderator in a debate makes what you think is a bad call, your only legitimate option is to explain why you think it is wrong.

Those rules are part of what we mean by “academic freedom.”  Clearly, academic freedom is not the natural way people behave towards each other.  It is an artificial thing, a “social construct,” as we say these days.  And because it is artificial, it only works in special circumstances where people agree to forego their right to boo the other team, shout imprecations at the umpire, or move beyond words to the kind of hard buffets that put professors of political science in the hospital.

Three cheers for institutional hegemony, without which no would have academic freedom.  “Good times never seemed so good,” Sweet Caroline.

But how is it that good old Hegemony U has found itself so incompetent in upholding its most basic rules of the road?   Observers have offered some pretty persuasive answers to why Middlebury President Laurie Patton has been so feckless; why UC Berkley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks displayed the steadfastness of a saloon door; and why Claremont McKenna President Hiram Chodosh has risen to the occasion with the moral dignity of a fidget spinner.

The answers include the continuing descent into postmodern insouciance, where no encompassing principle presides; the swarming animosities of identity politics, which have stung all the beekeepers into submission; and the progressive left’s willingness to kick away the ladder of free speech by which it climbed to dominance, lest anyone else try that ascent.

Up for Grabs for a Century

I have one small addendum to that list of explanations for why our defenders of academic freedom went out to lunch and never came back.  I suspect that some of them got confused by the menu.  “Academic freedom,” an artificial thing, a “social construct,” isn’t amenable to scientific precision.  It isn’t Mars or Jupiter, sitting in the heavens as a definite planet.  It is more like Pluto or one those other trans-Neptunian objects with strange names, such as the dwarf planet Haumea:  detectable but not settled into any plain definition.

Because “academic freedom” isn’t any one, definite thing, it has been up for grabs for over a century.  The grabbing began in 1915, when the newly formed American Association of University Professors offered its “Statement of Principles,” that in twenty-some pages of stately syntax and high-minded declaration laid out a commanding vision of the intellectual rights of America’s university faculty.  The 1915 AAUP statement didn’t settle anything.  For the next 25 years, the AAUP and college presidents went on wrangling, with numerous summits and unsatisfactory attempts to reach

For the next 25 years, the AAUP and college presidents went on wrangling, with numerous summits and unsatisfactory attempts to reach an agreement.  In 1940, they did, at last, reach an agreement of sorts and issued a much shorter and—in many ways—less satisfactory statement.  The 1940 AAUP Statement remains in force at the vast majority of American colleges and universities as their basic position on academic freedom.  But having discovered the fluidity of the idea, the academic world could not stop with just two statements.

There are in fact now many thousands of statements, interpretations, codicils, redactions, and expostulations about academic freedom.  The World Catalog lists nearly 100,000 books on the topic.  “Look at the night and it don’t seem so lonely,” Sweet Caroline.

My colleague David Randall and I have undertaken the task of providing a little bit of order to this chaos.  We have just posted a chart that offers an easy comparison of what we take to be the top ten authoritative treatments of academic freedom.  It gives the reader the opportunity to see at a glance which definitions are rooted in the pursuit of truth, which ones connect tenure, and which ones call for sanctions against violators, and so on through 25 categories.  It is a work in progress if we are still allowed to talk about progress in the post-modern anti-hegemonic hegemony.

I offer this in part as a service to Presidents Paton and Chodosh and Chancellor Dirks. They can now pick the definition that best lends itself to doing nothing while their students riot, or imposing “sanctions” on violators that have the permanence of a Snapchat message.  “Charting Academic Freedom: 102 Years of Debate” may also, however, prove to be of some value to others who have found little clarity in the swirl of conflicting claims about academic freedom.

Explore, and find the most compelling definition and sing in your best imitation of Neil Diamond, “How can I hurt when I’m holding you,” Sweet Caroline.  Well, you can and will, but you will still be better off knowing that some definitions of academic freedom are a lot better than others, at least if you care about creating a civilized place for learning.

Printed with permission from the National Association of Scholars

The Dangerous Rise of ‘The New Civics’

The following are excerpts from a report released January 10 by the National Association of Scholars (NAS) on MAKING CITIZENS: HOW AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES TEACH CIVICS. The full report includes case studies at the University of Colorado (Boulder), Colorado State University, University of Northern Colorado and the University of Wyoming.                                                                                   

National Findings: Traditional civic literacy is in deep decay in America. The New Civics, a movement devoted to progressive activism, has taken over civics education. “Service-learning” and “civic engagement” are the most common labels this movement uses, but it also calls itself global civics, deliberative democracy, and intercultural learning. The New Civics movement is national, and it extends far beyond the universities. The New Civics redefines “civic activity” as “progressive activism.” The New Civics redefines “civic activity” as channeling government funds toward progressive nonprofits. The New Civics has worked to divert government funds to progressive causes since its founding in the 1960s.

The New Civics redefines “volunteerism” as labor for progressive organizations and administration of the welfare state. The new measures to require “civic engagement” will make this volunteerism compulsory.  The New Civics replaces traditional liberal arts education with vocational training for community activists. The New Civics shifts authority within the university from the faculty to administrators, especially in offices of civic engagement, diversity, and sustainability, as well as among student affairs professionals. The New Civics also shifts the emphasis of a university education from curricula, drafted by faculty, to “co-curricular activities,” run by non-academic administrators. The New Civics movement aims to take over the entire university. The New Civics advocates want to make “civic engagement” part of every class, every tenure decision, and every extracurricular activity.

By Peter Wood, NAS President

What is most new about the New Civics is that while it claims the name of civics, it is really a form of anti-civics. Civics in the traditional American sense meant learning about how our republic governs itself.

The New Civics has very little to say about most of these matters. It focuses overwhelmingly on turning students into “activists.” Its largest preoccupation is getting students to engage in coordinated social action. Sometimes this involves political protest, but most commonly it involves volunteering for projects that promote progressive causes. Whatever one might think of these activities in their own right, they are a considerable distance away from what Americans used to mean by the word “civics.”

In issuing this report, the National Association of Scholars joins the growing number of critics who believe that some version of traditional civics needs to be restored to American education. This is a non-partisan concern. For America to function as a self-governing republic, Americans must possess a basic understanding of their government. That was one of the original purposes of public education and it has been the lodestar of higher education in our nation from the beginning.

The New Civics has diverted us from this basic obligation.

While many observers have expressed alarm about the disappearance of traditional civics education, very few have noticed that a primary cause of this disappearance has been the rise of the New Civics. This new mode of “civic” training is actively hostile to traditional civics, which it regards as a system of instruction that fosters loyalty to ideas and practices that are fundamentally unjust. The New Civics, claiming the mantle of the “social justice” movement, aims to sweep aside those old ideas and practices and replace them with something better.

Complications: New Civics has appropriated the name of an older subject, but not the content of that subject or its basic orientation to the world. Instead of trying to prepare students for adult participation in the self-governance of the nation, the New Civics tries to prepare students to become social and political activists who are grounded in broad antagonism towards America’s founding principles and its republican ethos.

But a casual observer of New Civics programs might well miss both the activist orientation and the antagonism. That’s for two reasons. First, the New Civics includes a great deal that is superficially wholesome. Second, the advocates of New Civics have adopted a camouflage vocabulary consisting of pleasant-sounding and often traditional terms. Taking these in turn:

Superficial wholesomeness. When New Civics advocates urge college students to volunteer to assist the elderly, to help the poor, to clean up litter, or to assist at pet shelters, the activities themselves really are wholesome. Why call this superficial? The elderly, the poor, the environment, and abandoned pets—to mention only a few of the good objects of student volunteering—truly do benefit from these efforts. The volunteering itself is not necessarily superficial or misguided. But, again, context matters. In the context of New Civics, student volunteering is not just calling on students to exercise their altruistic muscles. It is, rather, a way of drawing students into a system that combines some questionable beliefs with long-term commitments.

These seemingly innocent forms of volunteering, as organized by the patrons of New Civics, are considerably less “voluntary” than they often appear—especially since more and more colleges are turning such “volunteer” work into a graduation requirement. Some students even call them “voluntyranny,” given the heavy hand of the organizers in coercing students to participate. They submerge the individual into a collectivity. They ripen the students for more aggressive forms of community organization. And often they turn the students themselves into fledgling community organizers.

Camouflage vocabulary. The world of New Civics is rife with familiar words used in non-familiar ways. Democracy and civic engagement in New Civic-speak do not mean what they mean in ordinary English.

A Dictionary of Deception. This is exemplified in a catchphrase used by Syracuse University’s civic program: “Citizen isn’t just something you are. Citizen is something you do.” The idea is that students aren’t getting a full education just by reading books, listening to lectures, writing papers, speaking in class, debating with each other, and participating in the social life of the college community. They must also “learn by doing.” Another phrase for this is that students should “apply their academic learning” or “practice” it in the real world. “Active” always means “active in progressive political campaigns.”

The “aware” student is up to date with the progressive party line and knows the current list of oppressions that need to be righted. The “aware” student knows the true meaning of words: “academic freedom,” for example, is really “a hegemonic discourse that perpetuates the structural inequalities of white male power.” “Awareness” requires politically correct purchases and social interactions—reusable water bottles, fair-trade coffee, a diffident approach to pronouns—but it does not require active participation in a campaign of political advocacy.

Civic Learning: “Civic learning” is learning how to be properly civically engaged; civic learning, in other words, teaches students the content of progressives’ political beliefs, how to propagandize for them, and the means by which to enforce them on other people via the administrative state. New Civics advocates are trying to make progressive propaganda required for college students by calling “civic learning” an “essential learning outcome.” Civic learning is supposed to become “pervasive”—inescapable political education.

Loyalty to and Enthusiastic Participation In A Social Justice Cause: “Commitment” is an enthusiastic form of being “active.” It signals a student’s readiness to make a career as a progressive advocate in a “community organization,” university administration, or the government. It also signals to progressives entrusted to hire new personnel that a student is a trustworthy employee.

Tactics to Increase the Power of the Radical Left, Following the Strictures of Saul Alinsky: “Community organization” as a process refers to the Machiavellian tactics used by radical Saul Alinsky to forward radical leftist goals. New Civics advocates use community organization tactics against the university itself, as they try to seize control of its administration and budget; they also train students to act as community organizers in the outside world. “Community organization” as a noun refers to a group founded by Alinskyite progressives, with Alinskyite aims. Community organization signifies the most intelligent and dangerous component of the progressive coalition.

Consensus, a Loudly Shouted Progressive Opinion, Verified by Denying Disbelievers the Chance to Speak: Consensus means that everyone agrees. Progressives achieve the illusion of consensus by shouting their opinions, asserting that anyone who disagrees with them is evil, and preventing opponents from speaking—sometimes by denying them administrative permission to speak on a campus, sometimes literally by shouting them down

Critique, Dismantling Belief in the Traditions of Western Civilization and American Culture: To be critical, or to engage in critique, is to attack an established belief on the grounds that it is self-evidently a hypocritical prejudice established by the powerful to reinforce their rule, and believed by poor dupes clinging to their false consciousness. “Critical thought” sees through the deceptive appearance of freedom, justice, and happiness in American life and reveals the underlying structures of oppression—sexism, racism, class dominance, and so on. “Critique” works to dismantle these oppressive structures. “Critical thought” and “critique” is also meant to reinforce the ruling progressive prejudices of the universities; it is never to take these prejudices as their object.

Deliberative Democracy, Thoughtful, Rational Discussion of Political Issues That Ends Up With Progressive Conclusions: Deliberative democracy is a concept that political theorists have drawn from Jürgen Habermas’ theory of communicative rationality. While formally about the procedures of democratic decision-making, it aligns with the idea of a transcendental, quasi-Marxist Truth, toward which rational decision-making inevitably leads. New Civics advocates in Rhetoric/Communications and Political Science departments frequently use “deliberative democracy” classes and centers as a way to forward progressive goals.

Progressive Policies Achieved by Arbitrary Rule And/Or The Threat Of Violence: New Civics advocates use “democracy” to mean “radical social and economic goals, corresponding to beliefs that range from John Dewey to Karl Marx.” They also use “democratic” to mean “disassembling all forms of law and procedure, whether in government, the university administration, or the classroom.” A democratic political decision overrides the law to achieve a progressive political goal; a democratic student rally intimidates a university administration into providing more money for a campus New Civics organization; a democratic class replaces a professor’s informed discussion with a student’s incoherent exposition of his unfounded opinion. A democracy in power issues arbitrary edicts to enforce progressive dogma and calls it freedom.

Lectures by Progressive Activists, Intended to Harangue Dissidents Into Silence: In “dialogue,” or “conversation,” students are supposed to listen carefully to a grievance speaker, usually a professional activist, and if possible echo what the speaker has to say. The dialogue is never between individuals, but between representatives of a race, a religion, a nationality, and so on. The structure of dialogue thus dehumanizes all participants by making them nothing more than mouthpieces for a group “identity.”

Diversity, Propaganda and Hiring Quotas in Favor of the Progressive Grievance Coalition: The Supreme Court used “diversity” as a rationale for sustaining the legality of quotas for racial minorities in higher education admissions, first in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978) and then in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003). New Civics advocates use “democracy” to mean “radical social and economic goals, corresponding to beliefs that range from John Dewey to Karl Marx.”

Disaffection from American Citizenship in Favor of a Notional Membership in a Non-Existent Global State: “Global citizenship” is a way to combine civic engagement, study abroad, and disaffection from primary loyalty to and love of America. A global citizen favors progressive policies at home and abroad and is in favor of constraining the exercise of American power in the interest of American citizens. A global citizen is a contradiction in terms since he is loyal to a hypothetical abstraction, and not to an actual cives—a particular state with a particular history. A global citizen seeks to impose rule by an international bureaucratic elite upon the American government, and the beliefs of an international alliance of progressive nongovernmental organization upon the American people.

Putatively Non-Hierarchical Progressive Community Organizations: The “grassroots” have democratic authenticity—they’re not professional politicians claiming to speak for the people, and they aren’t made to conform to any sort of hierarchical authority. Real grassroots— citizens coming together to lobby legislators—is intrinsic to the American political system, but when progressives claim to speak for the grassroots, and they mean a drive funded by George Soros and organized by paid activists.  These activists declare that “consensus” has been reached by “the people” outside the formal structures of representative democracy. Since “consensus” is achieved by shouting down moderates, compromisers, and gentle souls, genuine progressive grassroots organizations make unaccountable ideological fanaticism the source of decision-making. See Black Lives Matter.

Interdependence: “Interdependence” universalizes the language of needs and rights, and therefore justifies the expansion of the progressive state to extend to every aspect of life.

The Idea That Every Component of the Progressive Left Must Support All Other Components of the Progressive Left: “Intersectionality” is a way to align progressives’ competing narratives of oppression and victimhood by making every purported victim of oppression support every other purported victim of oppression.

Pervasiveness, Making New Civics Inescapable at the University: The New Civics seeks to insert progressive advocacy into every aspect of higher education, inside and outside the college. A Crucible Moment summons higher education institutions to make civic learning “pervasive” rather than “peripheral.” “Pervasiveness” justifies the extension of progressive propaganda and advocacy by student affairs staff and other academic bureaucrats into residential life and “co-curricular activities”—everything students do voluntarily outside of class. It also justifies the insertion of progressive advocacy into every class, as well as making progressive activism a hiring and tenure requirement for faculty and staff.

“Pervasiveness” justifies the extension of progressive propaganda and advocacy by student affairs staff and other academic bureaucrats into residential life and “co-curricular activities”—everything students do voluntarily outside of class.

Service-Learning, Free Student Labor for Progressive Organizations: “Service-learning” was invented in the 1960s by radicals as a way to use university resources to forward radical political goals. It aims to propagandize students (“raise their consciousness”), to use their labor and tuition money to support progressive organizations, and to train them for careers as progressive activists. It draws on educational theories from John Dewey, Paulo Freire, and Mao’s China. Since the 1980s, “service-learning” has used the name “civic engagement” to provide a “civic” rationale for progressive political advocacy. Civic engagement, global learning, and so on, all are forms of service-learning.

Social Justice, Progressive Policies Justified by the Putative Sufferings of Designated Victim Groups: Social justice aims to redress putative wrongs suffered by designated victim groups. Unlike real justice, which seeks to deliver individuals the rights guaranteed to them by written law or established custom, social justice aims to provide arbitrary goods to collectivities of people defined by equally arbitrary identities. Social justice uses the language of law and justice to justify state redistribution of jobs and property to whomever progressives think deserve them

Service-learning aims to propagandize students (“raise their consciousness”), to use their labor and tuition money to support progressive organizations, and to train them for careers as progressive activists.

“Reciprocal” is a sign that progressive organizations have seized control of university funds.

21st Century Skills, Digital Media Skills Used to Forward the Progressive Agenda: The ability to use social media and graphic design for progressive propaganda and organization. The emphasis on “skills” generally argues that universities don’t need to teach any body of knowledge; the particular emphasis on “twenty-first-century skills” further argues that universities don’t need to teach anything discovered before the year 2000. Recent college graduates use “twenty-first-century skills” as an argument that they should be employed despite knowing nothing and having no work experience.

These definitions we have sketched voice our distrust of the New Civics movement. Its declarations about its aims and its avowals about its methods can seldom be taken at face value. This isn’t a minor point. Civics in a well-governed republic has to be grounded on clear speaking and transparency. A movement that goes to elaborate lengths to present a false front to the public is not properly civics at all, no matter what it calls itself.

We began this study in the hope of finding out how far the New Civics had succeeded in becoming part of American colleges and universities. We came to a mixed answer. New Civics is present to some degree at almost all colleges and universities, but it is much more fully developed and institutionalized at some than it is at others. In our study, the University of Colorado at Boulder stands as our example of a university where New Civics has become dominant. But even at universities where New Civics has not attained such prominence, it is a force to be reckoned with.

A movement that goes to elaborate lengths to present a false front to the public is not properly civics at all, no matter what it calls itself.

The word “civics” suggests that students will learn about the structures and functions of government in a classroom. Some do, but a major finding of our study is that there has been a shift of gravity within universities. New Civics finds its most congenial campus home in the offices devoted to student activities, such as the dean or vice president for students, the office of residence life, and the centers for service-learning. Nearly every campus also has some faculty advocates for New Civics, but the movement did not grow out of the interests and wishes of mainstream faculty members. A partial exception to this is schools of education, where many faculty members are fond of New Civics conceits.

The positioning of New Civics in student services has a variety of implications.

First, it means the initiative is directly under the control of central administration, which can appoint staff and allocate budget without worrying about faculty opinion or “shared governance.” Programs like this can become signature initiatives for college presidents, and few within the university, including boards of trustees, have any independent basis to examine whatever claims a college president makes on behalf of New Civics programs. In a word, such programs are unaccountable.

Second, the positioning of New Civics as parallel to the college’s actual curriculum frees advocates to make extravagant claims about its contributions to students’ general education. New Civics is full of hyperbole about what it accomplishes, and even so, it vaunts itself as deserving an even larger role in “transforming” students. Its goal is to be everywhere, in all the classes, and in that sense to subordinate the teaching faculty to the staff who run the student services programs.

Third, the New Civics placement in student services tends to blur the line between academic and extra-curricular. New Civics advocates may hold adjunct appointments on the faculty. Frequently they push for academic credit for various forms of student volunteering. In general, they treat the extra-curricular as “co-curricular,” which is rhetorical inflation.

New Civics is about seizing power in society, and the place nearest at hand is the university itself. New Civics mandarins are ambitious, and what starts in student services doesn’t stay there.

Let’s Rein in the Lawless Office for Civil Rights

John Fund, writing in the National Review last week, drew attention to the vote in Congress last year to increase by seven percent the $100 million budget of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in the Department of Education. Fund is especially critical of the Republican Congressmen whose vote seemed to reflect bizarre indifference to OCR’s role in creating a destructive regime of progressive ideology. Lacking statutory authority for many of its actions, OCR resorted to extras-procedural maneuvers such as “Dear Colleague” letters that superficially offer only “advice,” but are in reality backed by a hard threat of withdrawing federal funding from schools and colleges that do not obey.

OCR is notorious for its decisions in the last few years to lower the standard of evidence needed to convict individuals accused of sexual assault; to expand dramatically the definition of sexual harassment; to eviscerate due process for the accused; to transfer to Title IX coordinators vast new powers; to collapse the functions of investigator, counselor to both complainant and accused, judge, jury, and enforcer into a single extra-legal office; and to invent the new category of transgendered rights in a novel extension of Title IX of the Higher Education Act.

The National Association of Scholars has repeatedly called for OCR to desist from this crypto-regulatory assault, or, failing such a change in course on the part of OCR, we have called for Congress and presidential candidates to take the lead by announcing their intention to rein in or even abolish the rogue agency. Our statements include “How the Next President Can Fix Higher Education,” “The Office for Civil Rights Overreaches on Transgender Mandate,” and “The Feds Make a Mess of Sex and Gender.”

We join John Fund in deploring the decision of Congress to reward OCR’s egregious behavior with even more funding. Last year’s seven percent increase is not the end of the story. Fund cites Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) as one of 22 senators who proposed in May 2016 increasing OCR’s budget by 28 percent. That idea collapsed when OCR invented out of thin air its new “Dear Colleague” standard for transgendered bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers, but even after that Republican senators have supported a three percent increase in OCR’s budget.

Congress operates in mysterious ways. We might charitably guess that conservative legislators have struck some deal with their progressive colleagues to the effect that the spigot for OCR will continue to flow provided some project favored by conservatives is also funded. NAS is not close enough to the corridors of power to form a close guess as to why leaders elected to protect individual rights and liberties and the rule of law would be willing to cast crucial votes in favor of a lawless regime of identity-group authoritarianism.

NAS has an additional interest in these developments. As Fund points out, Gail Heriot along with Peter Kirsanow wrote a long letter to the chairmen of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, Thad Cochran and Hal Rogers. The letter drew attention to OCR’s misbehavior and called on Congress not to increase OCR’s budget. Heriot and Kirsanow serve on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, and Heriot is also a member of the board of directors of the National Association of Scholars.

Not only did the appropriation committees fail to heed the Heriot-Kirsanow counsel, but the Senate took the gratuitous step of adding to its budget report a small measure slapping them down by directing them not to send any more letters on U.S. Civil Rights Commission letterhead.

We at the National Association of Scholars deeply regret the decisions by Congress to enable the continuing mischief by OCR. There have been numerous expressions of outrage by members of the public and by institutions at OCR’s power grabs and poor judgment. We believe that outrage is warranted and that members of both parties in Congress should act to curtail OCR’s self-granted license to issue rules that lack any legitimate basis in law. We also deplore the Senate’s treatment of Gail Heriot and Peter Kirsanow who, more than any other Civil Rights Commissioners, have paid fair-minded attention to a new swarm of abuses stemming from OCR’s aggressive political agenda.  Their rights should be restored in the next legislative action on these matters—which we hope will also include a substantial decrease in funding for OCR.

Reprinted from the National Association of Scholars

AAUP Meeting Unanimously Backs Melissa Click—But Why?

Since its founding by progressive academics 101 years ago, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has had little affection for the governing authorities of colleges and universities.  Of course, when college presidents, trustees, and boards of regents bow in submission to its edicts, the AAUP will spare a few words of non-condemnation for the penitents.  But for the most part, the AAUP pursues its vision of higher education as best governed by the collective will of the faculty, by which it means the progressive faculty.

Related: AAUP Takes a Sharp Left Turn

The deep roots of this hostility to non-faculty governance are nicely documented in Hans-Joerg Tiede’s recent book, University Reform: The Founding of the American Association of University Professors.  Tiede is an AAUP man through and through, and sees nothing amiss in the organization’s long war for faculty domination of colleges and universities.  That war grew out of an earlier time when the non-faculty governing authorities had nearly unbridled control of their institutions, and faculty members served pretty much at the whim of plutocrats, clergy members, or other figures whose commitment to open intellectual inquiry was often dubious.

As Tiede puts it, “Since the beginning of higher education in the United States, institutional governance has ultimately been based on the lay governing board, which in a strictly legal sense, is the university.”

That “strictly legal sense” hasn’t changed despite 101 years of organized pushback by the AAUP and other bodies that aimed to transfer effective power to faculty members.  In Tiede’s account, this battle to overcome “the wanton power that presidents and trustees possessed” faltered early on.  The founders of the AAUP in this Game of Thrones hoped to secure all the power for the faculty, but a decisive early intervention by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching resulted in college presidents grabbing the scepter from the trustees. Faculty were left with the flyswatter of complaints about academic freedom, job security, and professionalization.

That’s a pretty fair summary of where things have stood for the last century:  strong college presidents dominate the boards of trustees and regents who, on paper—but often only on paper—hold the power to govern their institutions.  Faculty members have in some cases unionized to present a counterforce to the dominant presidents, but even where they are not unionized, faculty members typically range themselves as an independent third voice under the doctrine of “shared governance.”  This doctrine is often given a semblance of authority though formal agreements, but those agreements have also, time and again, proven to be a weak bulwark against college and university administrations.

The AAUP bellyaches about this, but the weakness of the faculty isn’t just an AAUP talking point.  Other observers have said much the same thing.  In The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters (2011) Benjamin Ginsberg inveighed against what he saw as a “surrender” by the faculty to “rampant administrative blight.” Ginsberg, a highly regarded professor of political science at Johns Hopkins, didn’t seem to view the AAUP as a very effective antidote to this blight.  He cited a 2009 AAUP conference on academic freedom and shared governance as the equivalent of a Geneva Convention in which the participants hoped the treaty would protect them from “water boarding.”  These days the AAUP is investing a lot of effort into organizing adjunct faculty members, hoping against hope to stem the further dilution of faculty power.

Then there is Melissa Click: the unavoidable Melissa Click.

The AAUP membership at its recent annual meeting in Washington DC, voted unanimously to “censure” the University of Missouri at Columbia for—what else?—the decision by its Board of Curators to fire Melissa Click.

The story of Click’s outrageous behavior wasn’t lost on the participants.  He call for “some muscle over here” to eject student photojournalist, Tim Tai, from a November 9 Black Lives Matter protest, and her screaming profanities at police officers trying to clear protesters from a public street at a homecoming parade, gave plenty of evidence that she had overstepped her authority as a faculty member. That Click was a hard-core ideologue who had nothing of value to teach Mizzou students didn’t enter into the University’s rationale for firing her, though it ought to raise serious questions about “university governance” that she was ever hired in the first place.   Click’s scholarship and teaching involves studies of Lady Gaga and Fifty Shades of Grey.

Knowing all this, the AAUP members (I repeat) unanimously voted to censure the University of Missouri on the grounds that the university had denied Click “academic due process.”  Specifically, the AAUP believes that Click should have had the benefit of a faculty hearing, and a year’s salary or a year’s notice.

Related: The AAUP’s Ludicrous Declaration

Let me allow that Mizzou’s Board of Curators might have made some technical mistakes in its firing. One would have to go deep within the wreckage of Mizzou’s governance to see what foolish agreements were signed, what abridgements of governing authority were authorized, and what reckless precedents had been created before one could say with any confidence that the Mizzou Board of Curators acted in a way that didn’t expose them to AAUP’s patented petulance.

But let’s keep in mind that the AAUP’s membership has shown no such urgency in many other situations in which “due process” is in jeopardy.  At the same meeting in which the censure of Mizzou passed, the AAUP officially adopted its report, The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX, which I previously reviewed.  This document faults the Office for Civil Rights as well as many colleges and universities for imperiling “due process rights and shared governance.”  The peril in the case of OCR’s systematic attack on the presumption of innocence, evidentiary standards, sloppy definitions, and more is many orders of magnitude greater than any inkblots left on Mizzou’s dishonorable discharge of Melissa Click.

But the AAUP has yet to find anyone to censure over abuses of Title IX.

Trustees ‘Come from Different Worlds’

So why the urgency on Click?  The Chronicle of Higher Education answers by quoting Howard J. Bunsis, chairman of the AAUP’s Collective Bargaining Congress.  Bunsis explains. “The attacks are not going to stop.”  It seems boards of trustees “come from different worlds than we do.”

Bunsis means that as a bad thing.  Imagine: Members of boards of trustees come from a world where college professors are expected to uphold freedom of thought and freedom of expression; where faculty members express some modicum of respect for the rule of law and police officers who are doing their jobs; where persuasion is valued over force; where civility is integral to the exchange of ideas.  Perhaps they even come from a world where people possess actual competence in the fields in which they are employed; where “activism” cannot be substituted for scholarship; and where people gain employment in higher education to teach students worthwhile subjects.  But if that were the case, it might well be that Bunsis’ worries are well placed.  Melissa Click is unlikely to be the only Mizzou faculty member hired to engage trivial research and feckless teaching.  As The Federalist headlined the story of her firing, “Melissa Click: One Bad Professor Fired, Thousands to Go.”

So in that sense, the AAUP vote makes perfect sense.  But it also reveals the AAUP as a body acting in the spirit of trade unionism to protect its members no matter how incompetent or reprehensible.

The AAUP was in a censorious mood at its convention.  It aimed its peashooter not only at Mizzou, but also at the Iowa Board of Regents and the College of Saint Rose in New York, and it leveled a “sanction” against Union County College in New Jersey.  The Board of Regents at the University of Iowa hired a new president without adequately involving the faculty.  Saint Rose, faced with financial exigencies, laid off 23 professors.  Union County College likewise failed to consult faculty members on various matters.

Lapdogs of College Presidents

Let’s remind ourselves of Professor Tiede’s observation:  “the lay governing board…in a strictly legal sense is the university.”  The governing boards of the great majority of our colleges and universities have for a long time acted as lapdogs of college presidents.  Every once in a while a board rouses itself form its usual torpor and attempts to exercise some portion of its legal rights.  These steps may be awkward because college and university governing boards are used to the supine position and walking is, at first, a novel experience.  But we should encourage the exercise.  If they at first knock over a lamp or break a vase, it is a small price to be paid for the prospect that, with a little practice, they will begin to walk upright and hit a steady stride.

I know a good many individual trustees who are ready and able to do this, but they are conjoined to boards that have been padded out with friends of the college president, sports boosters, and sentimentalists who have no real idea of what happens in the classrooms of the institutions they are supposed to oversee.  When these independent trustees show some sign of wanting to exercise their authority, bad things happen. In 2008, at Dartmouth, the president successfully launched a board-packing plan, akin to FDR’s court-packing plan.

When the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors in 2012 tried to dismiss its egregious president Teresa Sullivan, she successfully mounted a campaign to be reinstated.  Sullivan went on to preside over (and foster) the campus hysteria that followed Rolling Stone’s confabulated account of a rape at a campus fraternity.  In 2014, when Regent Wallace Hall at the University of Texas at Austin started asking hard questions about the operations of the university, he was brought up on charges by the Texas House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations for “misconduct, incompetency in the performance of official duties, or behavior unbefitting” a holder of state office.

A Resurgence of Trustees? Not Really

So challenge a college president’s domination of “governance” is plainly no easy task.  The law almost always invests authority in the trustees, but the power is firmly in the hands of the president.  Stories about the resurgence of trustee authority need to be taken with a grain of salt.  But exceptional events can change that. The catastrophic meltdown of administrative authority at Mizzou was one such instance in which the board was, in effect, forced to step in and exercise its genuine authority.  When boards do that, they ought to expect that the AAUP and faculty activists will be incensed.  And then they should do it some more.

I say this not because I have such high confidence in our current boards of college trustees, but because I have such low confidence in our current college presidents and college faculties.  The presidencies are held in overwhelmingly numbers by careerists who are deeply indebted to the campus grievance marshals and the dynamics of identity-group politics.  The faculties are dominated by progressive activists who have intimidated their colleagues into silence. Fear of being labeled a racist, sexist, homophobe, or a conservative keeps nearly everyone in line.  The result of all this is that “shared governance” has become a code word for the hard left’s dominion in American higher education.  A 101 years ago, the problem may have been “the wanton power” of presidents and trustees.  Today it is the wanton power of the faculty activists.

The New Age of Orthodoxy Overtakes the Campus

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

Related: The slippery Use of Social Justice

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

Professor Hofstadter, meet Melissa Click.

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

Related: Liberals Who Drifted Toward the New Illiberalism

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

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

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

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

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

Inappropriate Sighing

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

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

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

Justice Only for the Left

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

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

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

The Trap of Global Citizenship

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

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


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

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

Liberals Who Drifted Toward the New Illiberalism

Liberal. Progressive.  Liberal progressive.  Progressive liberal.  Radical.  Social democrat.  Democratic socialist.  Occupiers.  Social justice warriors.

What do we call today’s leaders of the political left?  Where do they stand in the eye of history?  Answering these questions resembles sometimes trying to grab an eel with your bare hand.  Most likely it will slip away, but it may bite as well.

Related: The Strange World of Social Justice Warriors

Kim Holmes, a historian who served as assistant secretary Closing of Liberal Mindof state under Colin Powell, has undertaken an ungloved eel-hunt in The Closing of the Liberal Mind (Encounter, 2016).  It is not an entirely thankless task in that there are those of us who will thank him.  (Thank you, Dr. Holmes.)  But a book such as this will win no friends in places such as The New York Times or The Chronicle of Higher Education, which are among those who insist that today’s leftist priorities are the plain extension of the same principles that animated the leftist priorities of past generations of liberal activists.  Holmes opposes that narrative.

Holmes’ thesis is that “progressive liberals” are not “really liberals,” but are “postmodern leftists.”  The eel is touched.  What, in turn, is a “postmodern leftist”?  The postmodern part, says Holmes, is the belief that “ethics are completely and utterly relative” and human knowledge is whatever people say it is.  (Truth, fantasy, error, and lies flow together in the endless stream of consciousness.)  The “leftist” half of “postmodern leftist,” in Holmes’ unpacking, is “radical egalitarianism” along with “sexual and identity politics and radical multiculturalism.”

Related: The Power of Buzzwords like ‘Dispositions’ and ‘Social Justice’

This is certainly a serviceable definition.  One could—and Holmes does from time to time—annex other pieces of the left’s core agenda.  Let’s not forget sustainability and radical environmentalism, or the apocalyptic element in the left’s agenda; or transnationalism (turning us all into “citizens of the world”); or radical feminism’s war on marriage and the family; or the numerous importations from Marxism.  How much of the “postmodern leftism” is the legacy of Barack Obama, and how much was Barack Obama just the cork floating on the wave of postmodern leftism?  Holmes starts with the easier clarification that the two go together.  Postmodern leftism is “the predominant worldview of Barack Obama’s Democratic Party.”  That seems to me an objective truth of the sort postmodern eels squirm away from.  Holmes sets himself the task of holding on tight.

Two Closings: Bloom and Holmes

The Closing of the Liberal Mind echoes Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, but while Bloom put his primary emphasis on the university as the door-closer, Holmes sees a whole army of door-slammers at work as much in the media and politics as on campus.  But as this is Minding the Campus, I will attend to just the academic portion of his argument.

Holmes’ point of departure is the 18th century Enlightenment, which he divides into the “moderate” Enlightenment (Locke, Montesquieu, Adam Smith, the American Revolution) and the “radical” Enlightenment (Spinoza, Bayle, Diderot, Rousseau, the Reign of Terror, socialism, communism, and postmodern ideas of egalitarianism.)  This is an important distinction that is familiar to readers of intellectual history but Holmes presents it lucidly for readers who aren’t.  The line from Spinoza’s 17th century materialism to today’s academic ascendency of leftist utopians passes through the New Left of the 1960s.

A large part of the story Holmes tells is how the New Left revived the radical egalitarianism of the radical Enlightenment and gave it a new home on the college campus, where it shortly found its postmodernist component in the likes of French theorists such as Derrida, Lyotard, and Foucault.  It also found its anti-liberal lodestars in Frankfurt School Marxists such as Marcuse and Adorno.  The cast of relevant characters is large, but Holmes is excellent in pinning them to their places in the story of how old-style American liberalism, with its emphasis on liberty and individual rights, transformed to the new-style postmodern leftism, with its emphasis on conformity, control, and group identity.

As an analyst of the contemporary university, Holmes’ great strength is, perhaps paradoxically, his decision not to lean too heavily on campus developments themselves.  For example, his explanation of the rise of multiculturalism puts as much emphasis on the residue of the “legal realist” movement of the 1920s, which attacked the ideal of legal neutrality and the notion of “general principles,” in favor of a view of law as essentially arbitrary.

As Holmes sees it, legal realism was the nihilistic blade that cleared the ground for feminists and other radical identity theorists to turn the law into a tool of their political agenda.  Without the radical multiculturalist legal theorists who moved into this vacuum, “there would be no talk of ‘hate speech’ or ‘hate crimes’” and “no expansive judicial interpretations of Title IX to force universities to act like courts in rape cases.”

The drift from liberalism towards illiberalism, Holmes says, is partially explained by the emergence of a new ruling class distinguished by “cultural habits.” He refers to David Brooks’ term for Baby Boomers who grow rich but persist in thinking of themselves as cultural outsiders, “bourgeois bohemians,” and he updates Brooks with Charles Murray’s characterization of the “cognitive elite” who dominate the professions.

These folks “think alike” and “live in the same kind of places, eat and dress alike, watch the same movies, read the same blogs and news sites, and listen to the same radio programs (All Things Considered, not The Rush Limbaugh Show.)” And they attend America’s elite universities. “The result is a high correlation between elite education and wealth. Murray observes that 31 percent of Wesleyan University graduates, for example, live in what he calls ‘Superzips’—the wealthiest zip codes in America based on median family income and education—and 65 percent live in zip codes at the 80th percentile or higher.”

This aristocracy plainly sees itself as superior to everyone else and Holmes says it is “ruthless” in maintaining its position. But members of this elite also “fashion themselves as hip advocates of equality.” The paradox has grown old.  Tom Wolfe’s depiction in Radical Chic of Leonard Bernstein’s posturing to a leader of the Black Panthers as angry about his own wealth and privilege goes back to 1970.  I pick up today’s New York Times to read in the letters a declaration from someone who says, “I, too, am a white male and work every day to overcome how I was raised, to recognize that I am not entitled to superior rights because I was born a white male of European heritage.” The moral vanity of people who say this sort of thing is the real enunciation of their elite standing.  Instilling that vanity is the principal work of elite colleges, which teach this exquisite form of self-regard far more effectively than they teach the heritage of Western civilization or the substance of any particular subject.

The subtitle of Holmes’ book is “How Groupthink and Intolerance Define the Left.”  Because the motherlode of groupthink and intolerance is the contemporary American university, Holmes has bright and shining examples by the truckload of such academic devilment.  Many of these are familiar, e.g. the Rolling Stone University of Virginia rape hoax and Marquette University’s effort to unseat tenured professor John McAdams. But even the familiar stories of academic groupthink and intolerance gain from Holmes’ careful contextualization.

The Closing of the Liberal Mind is a synthesis that comes along at the just the right political moment.  As we ponder the shift in American culture that has made avowed socialist Bernie Sanders the most popular presidential candidate among college students and that has kept Hillary Clinton afloat on a platform of feminist exceptionalism, we are in need of some sober thinking about the decline of the old liberal tradition.  Postmodern leftism is a threat not just to higher education but to our Constitutional republic.  It may not be the only threat, but it is one that deserves focused, historically informed, and intellectually precise attention.  Holmes has reached into the basket of eels and given us that.

The Feds Make a Mess of Sex and Gender

The never-resting Office for Civil Rights (OCR) U.S. Department of Education and the equally insomnolent Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department have just issued their latest “Dear Colleague” letter advising the stewards of the nation’s schools of their newest responsibility.

The “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students” consists of five pages of text, three pages of footnotes, and a notice on “language assistance” in the event that non-English speakers are puzzled by the newly enunciated need to avoid discrimination against transgendered and gender-transitioning youth.

The number of such youth is, by all accounts, vanishingly small, but they loom large in current public policy deliberations.  Most notably, they have become hostages in the battle between the Obama administration and the state of North Carolina.  As has been widely reported and discussed, the Tar Heel State has ruled that individuals should use public restrooms corresponding to their sex at birth.

This has raised questions of post-modern epistemology.  As a matter of science, the sex of all humans is fixed at birth and is unchangeable.  That sex is present in the chromosomes of every cell in the individual’s body.  Even the most radical surgical, hormonal, and cosmetic interventions are powerless to change it.

But what is true of sex need not be true of the elastic concept of “gender,” which has been thrust on American culture as the all-purpose substitute for sex.  As it happens, my discipline, anthropology, bears some responsibility for this.  Way back in the 1930s, even before “gender” became the catchphrase, Margaret Mead was preaching the idea that cultures exhibit dramatic differences in the ways they define the proper temperaments of men and women.  Masculinity and femininity are, as we have learned to say with due solemnity, “culturally constructed.”  The men of the Tchambuli tribe in New Guinea, said Mead, are prissy and feminine by our standards; the women, all-business and managerial.

No need to elaborate.  For many decades, social science along with legions of Tchambuli-like American feminists have run with the idea that gender is “socially constructed.”  And what one Tchambuli can construct, another can deconstruct, and yet another reconstruct.  It took us a while to get all the way to the destination that people should feel free to make up their own genders, but at long last the Office for Civil Rights has set us straight.  Though that is probably not the right word.

But, as I said, we face epistemological complications.  The civil rights theory of transgender rights posits that “gender identity” is an inherent fact in the individual, which is to say that it sounds a lot more like what we used to call the individual’s sex.  If so, it is not “culturally constructed,” but somehow given in the nature of the individual.  In which case, it isn’t “gender” at all, and cannot be the basis for gender discrimination.

But let’s not quibble. Intellectual coherence isn’t what we require of federal agencies devoted to progressive social justice.  Progress is what we expect.  The “Dear Colleague” letter begins with a statement of seeming fact:

Schools across the country strive to create and sustain inclusive, supportive, safe, and nondiscriminatory communities for all students.

It is “parents, teachers, principals, and school superintendents” who are concerned about “civil rights protections for transgender students.” OCR is simply providing the answers that are needed in these troubled times.

It is small measure of how badly these answers are needed that I passed through 22 years of formal education and more than 25 in college and university teaching without knowingly encountering a single transgendered student.  I realize this now to my shame.  How many students did I address by cis-gendered pronouns while thoughtlessly assuming that their apparent sex matched their inner gender identities?

Well, perhaps none, but still it is possible.  It happens.  A faculty member at a large public university wrote to me this week on exactly this matter.  He incorrectly used the pronoun “he” in reference to a Japanese author whose “gender identity” he didn’t know.  A transgendered student in the class promptly filed a complaint with the university, which has summoned the faculty member to meet with the dean to ensure that such a transgression is not repeated.  The faculty member has so far not made his travail public, perhaps out of the hope of saving his university the ignominy of appearing on an OCR blacklist for its overly lenient handling of the case.

What the OCR letter provides, of course, is an astonishing annexation of new power to the federal government.  Humanity is capable of all sorts of twists and turns when it comes to sexual appetites and personal identities.  Societies attempt to impose some order on this, and Margaret Mead was not wrong in observing that the ordering ideas vary from place to place.  The social norms that prevail at 400 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20202, where the tribe of OCRians reside, for example, differ from the social norms in North Carolina and most other civilized places.

We need to make allowance for these differences lest we fall into a pattern of inadvertent discrimination.

By OCR’s account “Compliance with Title IX” requires that as a condition of receiving federal funds, schools “not exclude, separate, deny benefits to, or otherwise treat differently on the basis of sex any person in its educational programs or activities.”  When North Carolina boldly put itself in complete compliance with this law by insisting that “sex” means sex, it ran afoul of the OCR conception that “sex” means self-invented “gender identity.”  To that end, schools are supposed to provide transgendered students access to the “sex-segregated restrooms and locker rooms,” of their own choice.

OCR’s advice on athletics is a bit more complicated.  Schools can still differentiate among students on the basis of (real) biological sex provided they do not “rely on overly broad generalizations or stereotypes,” or act on “others’ discomfort with transgender students.”

I was briefly under the impression that “discomfort” was an index of oppression, and where discomfort exists, surely OCR regulatory assuagement must follow.  But no, the discomfort of transgendered students faced with normative expectations of sexual identity is a crisis.  The discomfort of the “cis-gendered” is just their tough luck.

I can’t unravel this mystery here, though I note that many commentators are giving it their best effort. The only thing clear to me is that OCR has reached such an apotheosis, that it now has the power to overrule nature and command our very chromosomes to obey its dictates.  We’ll see how that works out.