Category Archives: Essays

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)

A New Book Takes On 500 Years of Modern Liberalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The people are disgusted with increasing corruption.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: The Case for Taxing Endowments

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

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

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

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

Will It Reduce Financial Aid?

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

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

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

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

A Small Tax Needn’t Stay Small

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

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

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

What Professors Ought to Tell Students

We professors should transmit to our students three simple but ancient truths: (1) in many important matters in our fields, the ignorance of experts vastly exceeds our knowledge. (2) Much of what we think we know is hard to verify and may well be wrong. (3) We, and the materials that we will assign and discuss with students are their best route to learning.

Our vastly increased understanding of our world and universe over the centuries is wondrous, but it is mostly in the hard sciences and mathematics. Progress in the social sciences, which examine how we feel, behave, and interact with one another, is spotty and will probably always remain so due to the elusive complexities of causation, psychology, will, and the methodological impediments to rigorously studying and analyzing these issues. The humanities greatly enrich our lives, of course, but they mostly deepen the mysteries of life rather than dispel them.

Uncertainties Are Our Companions

Wise teachers, of course, already know this. They communicate it to their students in hopes of arousing their curiosity (at the risk of encouraging a lazy, mindless nihilism). I suspect, however, that many other professors are so eager to thrust their views on their students in a show of brilliance, self-confidence, and subject-matter expertise that they forego this wisdom and the intellectual and personal humility that should go with it. After all, they have earned doctorates, worked hard to master their fields of expertise, and gained faculty positions at fine institutions which in effect certify their own intellectual excellence. Why be humble and confess much ignorance, especially to students who probably don’t know any better?

We podium pundits should not merely acknowledge the considerable uncertainty that surrounds our fields; we should emphasize it from the very first class. Why? First and foremost, it is true — and teachers are obliged to speak the truth both to power and to ignorance. Only if students appreciate the uncertainties in what they are studying can they apply important distinctions. There is what we “know” to be true (or false) with a high degree of confidence, though always subject to refutation. There is what is provisionally true (or false) but not yet firmly established as such. There is what is plausibly true in the limited sense that respectable arguments can be made on various sides of the question. And there is a matter for pure (though hopefully informed) speculation – an invitation to new theories, methodologies, and evidence.  Students need to understand and apply these gradations of knowledge in their fields of study.

Holmes’s Famous Dissent

But professors should emphasize our ignorance about important questions for another reason. The students who join elite campuses (where I have mainly taught) come with surprisingly firm, entrenched political identities and views. Their premature certainties exist even though – or more probably, because — few of them have much experience of life and its myriad complexities. Not surprisingly, they know little of the diverse values, perspectives, and methodologies with which serious thinkers in their fields of study have grappled with these conundra, and of the weak analytical and evidentiary foundations of many of our firmest commitments. Justice Holmes put this point well in a famous dissent almost a century ago, one that presciently captures a major source of conflict on today’s campuses:

      “Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power, and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally…sweep away all opposition.… But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas….”

Students’ striking political and intellectual smugness is both predictable and understandable. In this, they ape the certitudes of so many of their elders. Our liberal culture demands little critical thinking from young people and tends to applaud their idealistic bien pensant views. After all, the main reason they came to campus in the first place was to supplant their ignorance and inexperience. (There are also less lofty reasons, of course). But their greenness only heightens professors’ duty to pierce students’ ideological armor and challenge their preconceptions immediately and constantly.

Most professors would surely acknowledge this duty; the notion of robust debate that challenges preconceptions, including our own, is a hoary academic mantra. The vast majority of faculty on elite campuses espouse political liberalism that they think their years of scholarly work have only confirmed and deepened. For them, and for the small cadre of conservative professors, intellectual humility and self-abnegation are neither congenial nor easy.

All the more reason, then, for faculty to commit ourselves to these academic values and to recruit more young professors with intellectually diverse views – as reflected in their normative commitments, disciplinary methodologies, and empirical interests, not their partisan preferences. This commitment will enrich our students’ lives on campus and beyond.

Why College for All Is A Big Mistake

More and more Americans are going on to post–high school education, encouraged to do so by both governments and nonprofit organizations. According to the U.S. Department of Education, for example, “In today’s world, college is not a luxury that only some Americans can afford to enjoy; it is an economic, civic, and personal necessity for all Americans.”

One of many nonprofit organizations that convey the same message is the Lumina Foundation. Its mission is to expand post-secondary educational attainment, with a goal of having 60 percent of Americans hold a college degree, certificate, or other “high-quality postsecondary credential” by the year 2025. Its “Stronger Nation” initiative, as the foundation declares on its website, “is all about the evidence of that learning—quantifying it, tracking it, pinpointing the places where it is and isn’t happening. . .  Lumina is also working with state policy leaders across the nation to set attainment goals and develop and implement strong state plans to reach them. So far, 26 states have set rigorous and challenging attainment goals—15 in the last year alone. Most of these states are taking concrete steps—such as implementing outcomes-based funding, improving developmental education, and making higher education more affordable—to increase attainment and reach their goals.”

The Lumina Foundation is steeped in metrics and proselytizes on its behalf: its website proclaims, “As an organization focused on results, Lumina Foundation uses a set of national metrics to guide our work, measure our impact and monitor the nation’s progress toward Goal 2025.”

The Lumina Foundation’s mission comports with a widely shared conviction about the role of higher education in American society: the belief that ever more people should go on to college, and that doing so increases not only their own lifetime earnings but also creates national economic growth.

More Winners Mean Less Value in Winning

That article of faith, and the performance targets to which it gives rise, may simply be mistaken. As Alison Wolf, an educational economist at the University of London, has pointed out, it is true that those who have a B.A. tend to earn more on average than those without one. Thus, on the individual level, the quest for a B.A. degree may make economic sense. But on the national level, the idea that more university graduates means higher productivity is a fallacy.

One reason for that is that to a large extent education is a positional good—at least when it comes to the job market. For potential employers, degrees act as signals: they serve as a shorthand that allows employers to rank initial applicants for a job. Having completed high school signals a certain, modest level of intellectual competence as well as personality traits such as persistence. Finishing college is a signal of a somewhat higher level of each of these.

Once It Signaled Superiority

In a society where a small minority successfully completes college, having a B.A. signals a certain measure of superiority. But the higher the percentage of people with a B.A., the lower its value as a sorting device. What happens is that jobs that once required only a high school diploma now require a B.A.

That is not because the jobs have become more cognitively demanding or require a higher level of skill, but because employers can afford to choose from among the many applicants who hold a B.A. while excluding the rest. The result is both to depress the wages of those who lack a college degree, and to place many college graduates in jobs that don’t actually make use of the substance of their college education.4 That leads to a positional arms race: as word spreads that a college diploma is the entry ticket to even modest jobs, more and more people seek degrees.

Thus, there are private incentives for increasing numbers of people to try to obtain a college degree. Meanwhile, governments and private organizations set performance measures aimed at raising college attendance and graduation.

Higher Metrics Through Lower Standards

But the fact that more Americans are entering college does not mean that they are prepared to do so, or that all Americans are capable of actually earning a meaningful college degree.

In fact, there is no indication that more students are leaving high school prepared for college-level work.  One measure of college preparedness is the performance of students on achievement tests, such as the SAT and the ACT, which are used to predict likely success in college (they are, in part, aptitude tests).

For the most part, these tests are taken only by high school students who have some hope of going on to higher education, though in an effort to boost student achievement, some states have taken to mandating that ever more students take such tests. (Probably a case of misplaced causation. Students who took the tests tended to have higher levels of achievement. So, it was mistakenly reasoned, by getting more students to take the test, levels of achievement would be raised. The flaw is that better-performing students were more likely to take the test in the first place. That is, policymakers mistook cause for effect.)

The ACT tests four subject areas: English, math, reading, and science. The company that develops the ACT has developed benchmarks of scores that indicate that the test taker has a “strong readiness for college course work.” Of those who took the ACT test most recently, a third did not meet the benchmark in any of the four categories, and only 38 percent met the benchmarks in at least three of the four areas. In short, most of those who aspire to go on to college do not have the demonstrated ability to do so.

The results are predictable—though few want to acknowledge them. Since more students enter community colleges and four-year colleges inadequately prepared, a large portion require remedial courses. These are courses (now euphemistically rechristened “developmental” courses) that cover what the student ought to have learned in high school. A third of students who enter community colleges are placed in developmental reading classes, and more than 59 percent are placed in developmental mathematics courses. Students who are inadequately prepared for college also make additional demands on the institutions they attend, thus raising the costs of a college education: the growth on campuses of centers of “educational excellence” is a euphemistic response to the need for more extracurricular help in writing and other skills for students inadequately prepared for university-level work.

Graduation Rates Count

Colleges, both public and private, are measured and rewarded based in part on their graduation rates, which are one of the criteria by which colleges are ranked, and in some cases, remunerated. (Recall the Lumina Foundation’s encouragement of state governments to engage in “outcomes-based funding.”) What then happens is that outcomes follow funding. By allowing more students to pass, a college transparently demonstrates its accountability through its excellent metric of performance. What is not so transparent is the lowered standards demanded for graduation.

More courses are offered with requirements that are easily fulfilled. There is pressure on professors—sometimes overt, sometimes tacit—to be generous in awarding grades. An ever-larger portion of the teaching faculty comprises adjunct instructors—and an adjunct who fails a substantial portion of her class (even if their performance merits it) is less likely to have her contract renewed.

Thus, more students are entering colleges and universities. A consequence of students entering college without the ability to do college-level work is the ever-larger number of students who enroll but do not complete their degrees—a widespread and growing phenomenon that has substantial costs for the students who do so, in tuition, living expenses, and earnings foregone. High dropout rates seem to indicate that too many students are attempting college, not too few. And those who do obtain degrees find that a generic B.A. is of diminishing economic value because it signals less and less to potential employers about real ability and achievement.

Recognizing this, prospective college students and their parents seek admission not just to any college, but to a highly ranked one. And that, in turn, has led to the arms race of college rankings, a topic to which we will return.

An Air of Unreality

Lowering the standards for obtaining a B.A. means that using the percentage of those who attain a college degree as an indicator of “human capital” becomes a deceptive unit of measurement for public policy analysis. Economists can evaluate only what they can measure, and what they can measure needs to be standardized. Thus, economists who work on “human capital” and its contribution to economic growth (and who almost always conclude that what the economy needs is more college graduates) often use college graduation rates as their measure of “human capital” attainment, ignoring the fact that not all B.A.’s are the same, and that some may not reflect much ability or achievement.

This lends a certain air of unreality to the explorations of what one might call the unworldly economists, who combine hard measures of statistical validity with weak interest in the validity of the units of measurement.

One assumption that lies behind the effort to boost levels of college enrollment and completion is that increases in average educational attainment somehow translate into higher levels of national economic growth. But some distinguished economists on both sides of the Atlantic—Alison Wolf in England, and Daron Acemoglu and David Autor in the United States—have concluded that that is no longer the case, if it ever was.

In an age in which technology is replacing many tasks previously performed by those with low to moderate levels of human capital, national economic growth based on innovation and technological progress depends not so much on the average level of educational attainment as on the attainment of those at the top of the distribution of knowledge, ability, and skill. In recent decades, the percentage of the population with a college degree has gone up, while the rate of economic growth has declined. And though the gap between the earnings of those with and those without a college diploma remains substantial, the falling rate of earnings for college graduates seems to indicate that the economy already has an oversupply of graduates.

By contrast, there is a shortage of workers in the skilled trades, such as plumbers, carpenters, and electricians— occupations in which training occurs through apprenticeship rather than through college education—who often earn more than those with four-year degrees.

To be sure, public policy ought to aim at more than economic growth, and there is more to a college education than its effect on earning capacity. But for now, it is worth underscoring that the metric goal of ever more college graduates is dubious even by the economistic criteria by which higher education is often measured.

This is an excerpt from Jerry Z. Muller’s new book, The Tyranny of Metrics, published by Princeton University Press. Jerry Z.  Muller is a professor of history at the Catholic University of America in Washington and the author of many books, including The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Modern European Thought.

Is Half of College Education Wasted?

Trigger Warning: If you fancy yourself smart enough to understand complex social science, Bryan Caplan’s book, The Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money, may lower your self-esteem. This is a serious, “academic” effort, six-years-in-the-making, and while Caplan, an economist at George Mason University and the Cato Institute, can be witty, this is not the breezy rant so common among today’s alarmist books on education.

The gist of Professor Caplan’s case is that there is way too much education, students waste hundreds of hours and millions of government-supplied dollars learning material that adds nothing of productive value or personal enrichment. Yes, high schools and colleges may occasionally produce a genius who invents Microsoft Word, but such accomplishments are exceedingly rare and cannot justify society’s massive investment in schooling. Learning history, for example, is only valuable for future history teachers, and how many history courses enrollees will pursue that vocation? Nor does the college experience broaden student cultural horizons. Most students, Caplan claims, are bored by “high culture” and even those who ace English Literature quickly forget everything.

Is It Just ‘Signaling?

Wastefulness understood, why do millions embrace the “more education” and “college-for-all” mantras? Is everybody delusional regarding the alleged financial payoff of a high school diploma or a college BA? Caplan explains this oddity with the concept of “signaling.” That is, a student’s educational record tells a potential employer a great deal about a person’s intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity, so students will invest prodigious (or minimal) effort to demonstrate worthiness largely independent of what is substantively acquired in the classroom.

Thus, a young man who completes a four-year degree at MIT in three years signals a potential employer that he is a great catch even if the acquired learning is, for the most part, vocationally irrelevant. Conversely, an equally talented youngster unable to graduate from a community college will not even be invited to a job interview. Who wants to hire somebody—no matter how smart–who lacks industry and perseverance? Employers cannot determine exactly what you learned, but they will happily pay a premium for those surviving the ordeal necessary to get the degree.

Caplan hardly argues that schooling is generally wasteful; only some of it, undoubtedly at least a third, he says, maybe even 50% or higher. Even the low side estimate of a third signifies an enormous squandering of personal time and government money.

Might this troubling calculation counsel that students should shun college, learn marketable skills elsewhere and invest saved tuition in the stock market? Hardly. The inherent nature of signaling dictates following the mob—not attending college only works if millions likewise share this disinclination to get a BA given that employers will judge your lack of a sheepskin as proof of unworthiness, regardless of your smarts and industry. The parallel is the futility of standing during a concert to see better; a strategy instantly defeated when everybody else stands.

Fluff Courses Make Sense

Going one step further, since employers only look at the credential as proof of worthiness, it is rational for an MIT student to enroll in as many fluff courses as possible from easy grading professors since employers cannot tell the difference and, to some extent, don’t care. The MIT degree itself suffices.

To make his case scientifically, Caplan marshals massive quantities of evidence and is totally unafraid of offering personal judgments. For example, he personally classifies both high school and college courses into three categories: high usefulness, medium usefulness, and low usefulness. High school subjects deemed highly useful are English and mathematics (further sub-divided so Algebra I is highly useful” while Geometry is of low usefulness”); low usefulness includes foreign languages and the social studies.

College courses are similarly classified—highly useful are engineering, health professionals, and agricultural majors. Wasted learning, predictably, is fine arts, psychology, journalism and the Liberal Arts more generally. All and all, judged by the distribution of college majors in 2008-9, 40.5% of college students are squandering their time and money, at least according to Professor Caplan’s judgment.

It gets worse: this learning, however modest, evaporates with age. When adults are quizzed about reading, math, history, civics, science and foreign languages, Americans can recall almost nothing despite years of exposure When 18,000 randomly selected American adults in 2003 were quizzed about reading, math, history, civics, science and foreign languages, they recalled almost nothing despite many of these subjects having been covered multiple times. Ample data also suggest that among today’s college students less and less time is devoted to learning so what ultimately remains in the brain will drop yet further. No wonder employers frequently complain about the difficulty of hiring good help!

No Gateway to High Culture

Nor does schooling instill an appetite for high culture, a love of “the best and the brightest. The market says that this endeavor is largely pointless—only a tiny portion of adults pursue “high culture” so schools are trying to satisfy minuscule future demands. If Caplan is right, returning to a cheap, bare-bones education that largely ends at 8th grade would not be a national catastrophe.

The bulk of The Case Against Education is spent disentangling the countless factors that contribute to the economic success that, at least partially rival the signaling explanation. This can get tedious and, alas, often relies on incomplete data and the intricacies of specific analytical techniques. It is conceivable, for example, that attending Harvard may be a low-yield learning experience, but it might help you to meet fellow students and alums able to offer you prestigious, well-paying jobs. Likewise, that Harvard graduates may get rich may have less to do with classroom learning than a person’s innate intelligence. Or, as some radical egalitarians insist, rich kids have the inside track to Harvard and join the elite thanks to their family’s pre-existing fortune. Nevertheless, the signaling explanation holds up rather well against rivals.

What does Caplan counsel after all the slash and burn analysis? His advice seems sensible: more and better vocational instruction, everything from classroom training to apprenticeships. In concrete terms, America employs roughly 900,000 carpenters but only 3,800 historians, so why not teach more carpentry than history? The Professor even puts in a word or two for child labor—better than boring fifteen-year-olds with how to diagram a sentence. Alas, that the government (and some private firms) already offers dozens of under-utilized vocational training programs receives scant attention.

The Case Against Education is a tour de force of modern economic analysis, but it skips over the payoff of “wasted” educational spending for society more generally. Even academically marginal schools with half-awake students can generate genuine value, for example, invigorating rustbelt towns hanging on for dear life. Hundreds—perhaps thousands– of these third-tier schools and their party-animal enrollees exist, and this “wastefulness” might be the most effective way to deliver the socially desirable economic uplift.

All Those Unemployed Professors

Similarly, what would Caplan do with all the unemployed professors (and armies of adjuncts and administrators) who would have taught such “useless” subjects as history, psychology, foreign languages? Easy to visualize thousands of unemployed Marxist Ph.D.’s scheming to elect a Bernie Sanders who promises college “for everybody.” In the grand scheme of things, it may be preferable to having all the Ph.D.’s “gainfully employed,” albeit pointlessly, versus working part-time in Starbucks. Keep in mind how much better the planet would be if the young Karl Marx had been able to secure a professorial appointment at the University of Jena.

So, if you have the Sitzfleisch and relish complex, clever and occasionally counter-intuitive, long-winded arguments, this is a great book. Even if you cannot fathom a word, carry it around and impress your friends with your erudition. As Oscar Wilde said, only shallow people do not judge by appearances, and Professor Caplan probably agrees though he would call it signaling.

Sexual Abuse Gets a Free Pass on Campus

Amid the tidal wave of sexual abuse allegations against powerful individuals in politics, sports, the media, the entertainment industry, and in academia, one stands out because it has not inspired the kind of collective outrage that the others have. Ithaca College’s new President, Shirley M. Collado, was accused—and convicted—of sexually abusing a female patient in 2001 while working as a psychologist at the Psychiatric Institute of Washington.

According to court records, and an article in a recent issue of The Ithacan by the student newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Aidan Quigley, President Collado pleaded nolo contendere to sexual abuse in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. She also admitted to living with the female patient in her home after the patient was discharged from the psychiatric hospital. Collado, who was 28 years old at the time, accepted the conviction and received a 30-day suspended sentence, 18 months of supervised probation, and 80 hours of community service at a site that the court-mandated “should not directly involve vulnerable people.”

Seven Colleges Let It Go

For the past 17 years, Collado has held teaching and administrative positions in higher education, working with students at New York University, Georgetown, George Mason University, The New School, Middlebury College, Lafayette College, and most recently at Rutgers University, where she was executive vice-chancellor and chief operating officer at the Newark campus. She has also served as Executive Vice-President of the Posse Foundation, a non-profit organization that enables low-income minority students to attend college.

Ithaca College hired Collado last year, and according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, she revealed the “claims” against her in a campus interview shortly after she was hired as president in February 2017.   A Chronicle article, “How a Nagging Detail Plays Out in a Presidential Search,” explained that the search was “closed,” meaning that the campus community was not aware of the candidates prior to hiring Collado. The daughter of immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Collado was the perfect candidate for the search committee after the former president abruptly resigned because of racial unrest on campus last year over allegations of racial injustice.

Collado served as the dean and Chief Diversity Officer at Middlebury College and also served as the co-chair of a national group called the Liberal Arts Diversity Officers. Collado told The New York Times on June 7, 2017, “I don’t have to be the chief diversity officer to be doing chief-diversity-officer work.” A Dream Candidate

Ithaca board member and chair of the Search Committee, James W. Nolan Jr. told The New York Times last June that the college was looking for a leader who would “encourage people to be talking, to be heard, that would really seem to be looking to bring the community together.” As the first person of color to lead the beleaguered college, Collado must have seemed like a dream candidate.”

In a published statement to the campus, Collado maintained her innocence and said she had made the “no-contest” plea on the basis of legal advice. She added that her decision to plead no contest occurred shortly after her husband’s suicide. She said that “she fought the claims for a while, but did not have the resources, social capital or wherewithal to keep going.” One of the members of the search committee told a reporter at The Chronicle that the search committee had “spoken with Collado about the case before she was hired. After deliberating, the committee decided the case was a singular incident and not a pattern of behavior.”

Indeed, there have been many such allegations of sexual abuse against powerful people—and powerless students and employees—in the past year that involved a “singular incident,” but few have received the kind of understanding and mercy that Collado has received. Collado has told The Chronicle that she was grateful for the support received on campus and adds that four bouquets of flowers from supportive members of the community arrived in her office last week. But Collado was allowed to enter her nolo contendere plea to a comparatively mild charge—placing one hand on a clothed breast of the patient. But the patient said there was more sex involved.

A Brave Student Editor

In contrast, Aidan Quigley, the beleaguered editor-in-chief of The Ithacan who broke the story after receiving a packet of court materials in the mail on the 2001 case from an anonymous sender, seems to be receiving few campus accolades for his courageous reporting. Letters to the editor of The Ithacan, from some Ithaca faculty members, took a harsh position against the student editor. Professor Nick Kowalczyk called Quigley’s story “shoddy reporting at best…. That this story broke quickly on Fox News and within 18 hours was commented upon no less than 922 right-wing trolls, whose comments are rife with misogyny and bigotry and white fragility suggests exactly where the sender of the anonymous package hoped for the story to land.”

Ignoring the 2001 court documents, including the witness statements, Kowalczyk simply assumes Collado’s innocence. Likewise, Harriet Malinowitz, an Ithaca lecturer in Women’s and Gender Studies wrote, “As a part-time faculty and as LGBTQ faculty, I have had my views explicitly sought by her and discussed with the kind of reflectiveness and care one usually only dreams of from a higher ed administrator. I think that she is a gem. …I am sure she is suffering greatly right now, and I hope others will join me in extending her massive outpourings of support.”

In a radio interview for WRFI, Quigley was asked if it was “fair” of him to put Collado through “double jeopardy in this way?” Claiming that since Collado had gone through court, was convicted and had a sentence, the interviewer suggested that she had already been punished enough.

Lost in all of this is the psychiatric patient who claimed in court documents to have been sexually abused by Collado. There has been no #metoo moment for her. This is unfortunate for two reasons: Students are learning that some people are part of a protected class and will be forgiven for their transgressions because of their racial identity. And victims of sexual abuse may be wary about naming abusers from a protected group. We have been told that we need to believe the victims. But as this case demonstrates, the alleged offenders’ and enablers’ excuses exhibit similar themes—claiming that “it was a singular incident” or “she is a gem,” do little to help her victim.

In response to all of this, Collado has begun to assume victim status herself now—claiming that it was “unsettling” to receive the anonymous attack on her. She has said that she felt “targeted” by the negative attention and told The Chronicle“I’ve shared things that I think most presidents don’t get up and share about who they are.” But the disturbed patient involved said Collado had sex with her repeatedly, once in a threesome with a male. And Collado picked a very vulnerable victim who had already been sexually abused as a child and again as an adult by a doctor convicted of the crime. In an age of “me too,” how much should a college overlook in a search for a diversity-minded president?

Photo: by Eugene Kukulka

Jordan Peterson and the Lobsters

Not many academics use lobsters as a stepping stone to fame, but Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson just did. Last week, he was being questioned by a British journalist named Cathy Newman in what may have been one of the most maladroit interviews in the entire history of journalism. Every time Peterson made a point, Newman would aggressively mangle what he said, and throw it back at Peterson as an indignant accusation. (Here, Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic smartly analyzes this bizarre interview.)

At one Newman says, “Let me get this straight. You’re saying that we should organize our societies along the lines of the lobsters?” Peterson hadn’t suggested that we all should grow claws, live on the ocean floor or consult crustacean tradition on political organization. Peterson denied a popular leftist idea that hierarchical structures are sociological constructs of the Western patriarchy.

Here’s what Peterson said: “That is so untrue that it’s almost unbelievable. I use the lobster as an example: We diverged from lobsters’ evolutionary history about 350 million years ago. And lobsters exist in hierarchies. They have a nervous system attuned to the hierarchy. And that nervous system runs on serotonin just like ours. The nervous system of the lobster and the human being is so similar that anti-depressants work on lobsters. And it’s part of my attempt to demonstrate that the idea of hierarchy has absolutely nothing to do with sociocultural construction, which it doesn’t.”

The Lobsters Live On

A long and laudatory article on Peterson’s rebellion against PC and the leftist cast of higher education ran in the Guardian with a photo of Peterson in a jacket and tie holding a lobster in each hand. Another photo has Peterson sitting on a pile of books with a black cat in front. Floating by are a chair, a skateboard, a book, and two lobsters.

Peterson came to heavy attention in Canada and the U.S. last year when he refused to use the made-up pronouns of the transgender movement in his classes, though his employer (the University of Toronto) and his province(Ontario) insisted that he must.

Since his pronoun rebellion, Peterson has been increasingly visible on YouTube videos and has had attention from other intellectuals. In fact, he is now being regarded as one of the more significant campaigners against the domination of the campuses by the left. And his work in psychology has drawn a good deal of attention. Camille Paglia estimates him to be “the most important Canadian thinker since Marshall McLuhan.”

Tim Lott reported in the Guardian:

“He believes most university humanities courses should be defunded because they have been ‘corrupted by neo-Marxist postmodernists’ – particularly women’s studies and black studies. This has led him to be branded a member of the alt-right – although his support for socialized healthcare, redistribution of wealth towards the poorest and the decriminalization of drugs suggests this is far from the whole story. He defines himself as a ‘classic British liberal.’ But he also says – when challenged for being a reactionary – that ‘being reactionary is the new radicalism.’

Peterson has largely been in the news for his blazing, outspoken opposition to much of the far-left political agenda, which he characterizes as totalitarian, intolerant and a growing threat to the primacy of the individual – which is his core value and, he asserts, the foundation of western culture.”

He has also taken on Google, reporting that it blocked one of his YouTube videos in 28 countries as extreme.

Peterson combines a good sense of humor with a dark view that life is a catastrophe and the aim of life is not to be happy. HHHHe is a gifted and entertaining teacher whose videos have been watched more than 35 million times, and he is a passionate individualist: “Your group identity is not your cardinal feature. That’s the great discovery of the west. That’s why the west is right. And I mean that unconditionally. The west is the only place in the world that has ever figured out that the individual is sovereign. And that’s an impossible thing to figure out. It’s amazing that we managed it. And it’s the key to everything that we’ve ever done right.”

He is also willing to use apparently frivolous chapter headings in his most recent book, Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos

Peterson’s 12 rules

Rule 1 Stand up straight with your shoulders back

Rule 2 Treat yourself like you would someone you are responsible for helping

Rule 3 Make friends with people who want the best for you

Rule 4 Compare yourself with who you were yesterday, not with who someone else is today

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

Rule 6 Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

Rule 7 Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

Rule 8 Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie

Rule 9 Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

Rule 10 Be precise in your speech

Rule 11 Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.

Rule 12 Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

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

The Surprising Strength of the Millennials

Millennials, perhaps our most insulted generation, have taken quite a heavy beating, both in the media and parts of academia. They are “the snowflake generation,” (fragile and overprotected)’ the dumbest generation” (Mark Bauerlein) the “most narcissistic generation” of all time (Jean Twenge in her book Generation Me), “lazy” and “entitled” (in a Time cover story), and “the trophy generation” for all those participation medals (Ron Alsop in his book The Trophy Kids Grow Up). Alsop warns that after graduation, Millennials are “job-hoppers” who are never content in their careers unless they are constantly cajoled, pampered, and promoted.

Much of this is just untrue. Having taught undergraduates for more than thirty years, I am weary of experts who claim to understand more about our students than those of us in the classrooms. In fact, like many of my colleagues, I believe that the current cohort of students is the most respectful, the most hardworking, the most loyal, the most confident, and the most engaged cohort we have ever encountered in the classroom. But there is one caveat: today’s students seem more anxious than ever.

Related: Why Millennials Are So Fragile

We are often told that Millennial students have grown up in a world that is “fundamentally different from that of previous generations.” Of course, and that can be said of every generation. Generation X — those born after 1965 — arrived on campus in the late 80s and 90s, bringing with them a sense of independence and resilience that we had not seen before. Unlike the Baby Boomers, Generation Xers were more likely to come from what we then called “broken families” as the American divorce rate peaked in the early 1980s. Most of their mothers entered the workforce during their childhood years and many of them became part of the first “daycare generation.”

Others became what began to be called “latchkey kids” because they came home from school to empty houses. Most of them learned to be independent at an early age, but some felt abandoned. In the classroom, they were slightly more cynical about social institutions including the government, the family, and the Church. They were skeptical and a bit more difficult to please than the Millennial generation that succeeded it. But, they were a joy to teach because Generation X politics were less polarized, and the gender culture wars had not yet begun.

Indeed, for those of us who are searching for ways to best serve our students, it is helpful to move beyond anecdotal musings, and instead, look closely at longitudinal sociological survey data collected from college students themselves. The UCLA Higher Education Institute (HERI) provides valuable insights into the beliefs, values, goals, and opinions of today’s first-year students in their most recent publication of The American Freshman: National Norms.

Based on responses from 137,456 full time, first-year students at 184 U. S. colleges and universities, the HERI study concludes that “political polarization on campuses is the most extreme it has been in the study’s 51-year history.” The student respondents to the 2016 survey were born in the late 1990s and came of age in the aftermath of 9/11. In some ways, they have been shaped by that pivotal event, just as the Boomers were shaped by the Vietnam War and the sexual revolution. It has all had an effect. The Chronicle of Higher Education concludes that “Today’s college freshmen are more likely to participate in a student-led protest than each of the nearly five decades of classes that preceded them. That includes the college freshmen of the late 1960s and early 70s, an era storied for its on-campus political activism.

Unlike previous cohorts, only 42.3 percent of first-year students in the 2016 survey characterized their political orientation as “middle of the road”—the lowest figure since the survey began in 1966. Meanwhile, 35.5 percent considered themselves liberal or far left, and 22.2 percent said that they are conservative or far right. The report also revealed the survey’s largest ever gender gap in terms of political leanings. An all-time high 41.1 percent of women identified themselves as “liberal” or “far left,” compared with 28.9 percent of men.

Beyond politics, the current cohort is much more consumed with making money than any previous generation. When asked about their life goals, 82% of the respondents replied that “being very well off financially” was “very important” or “essential.” This is compared with only 47 % of the 1975 cohort of respondents who believed that “being very well off financially” was “very important” or “essential.”

A far more pragmatic generation, only 47% of the current cohort views “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” as “very important” or “essential” in 2016. This is compared with 68% of the 1975 cohort of respondents who believed that it was “very important” or “essential” to “develop a meaningful philosophy of life.” Still, 75% of the current cohort believes “helping others who are in difficulty” as “very important” or “essential” as compared with only 68% of respondents in 1975, and only 63% of Gen X respondents in 1995.

Related: Teaching Millennials Not to Think Stupid

Only 56% of the 1975 respondents to the survey believed that “raising a family” was a “very important” or “essential” life goal. The importance of family is much clearer for the current cohort: 72% of Millennials claim that “raising a family” is a “very important” or “essential” life goal. More than any previous generation studied in The Freshman Survey, Millennials value family life and want to replicate that with their own families in the future.

But, despite their conventional and civic-minded attitudes, organized religion continues to decline in importance for the current cohort. This was the first year that students were given the option in the HERI survey to select agnostic or atheist as religious affiliations and nearly 30% of incoming freshmen indicated that they were agnostic, atheist or had no religious affiliation.

For the past three decades, the longitudinal survey asked incoming freshmen to report how many hours per week they spend doing a variety of activities. As social media grew in popularity, HERI introduced a new item in 2007 about students’ use of online social networks. From 2007 through 2015, about 25% of students consistently reported spending six or more hours per week on social media. But, in 2016, the proportion of students using social media for at least six hours per week jumped to 40.9%, nearly 14 percentage points higher than the previous high of 27.2% reached in both 2011 and 2014.

Nearly half of all female respondents spent at least six hours per week using online social networks, compared with only about a third of male students (33.6%); and there are dramatic differences by sexual orientation. While 40% of heterosexual students spent at least six hours per week engaging with online social networks, 51.4% of those students who identify as gay, and 49% of those who identify as lesbian, spent at least six hours per week. Fifty-five percent of those students who identify as queer spent at least six hours per week on social media.

Finding Meaning in Life

Anxiety is a major concern for the current cohort. This was the first year that the HERI survey measured how frequently respondents felt anxious in the past year, and more than one-third (34.5%) of incoming first-time, full-time college students indicated that they “frequently felt anxious.” In this area, some of the stereotypes are confirmed. Tightly scheduled as children, with more hours of homework and fewer hours of free time than any of the previous generations, the current cohort feels pressured to succeed. They worry about disappointing their parents, their teachers, and their peers. A 2016 survey of more than 500 University Counseling Center Directors revealed that for the seventh year in a row, anxiety has been the most predominant concern among the current cohort of college students.

Anxiety overtook depression as the number one concern on college campuses in 2009. This year, 51% of students who visited a counseling center presented with concerns about anxiety, followed by depression (41.2%), relationship concerns (34.4%), suicidal ideation (20.5%), self-injury (14.2%), and alcohol abuse (9.5%). On average, 26.5% of students seeking services take psychotropic medications.

Sociologist, Frank Furedi has suggested that the emotional fragility expressed by so many undergraduates is the outcome of the prevailing ethos of socialization that infantilizes them. He believes that the socialization of young people has become reliant on therapeutic techniques that encourage them to “interpret existential problems as psychological ones.” Furedi points out that “they often find it difficult to acquire the habit of independence and make the transition into forms of behavior associated with the exercise of autonomy.”  He concludes that “there has been a perceptible shift from instilling values to the provision of validation.”

Colleges and universities would do well to encourage independence. But with 35% of incoming freshmen indicating that they “frequently feel anxious,” and an ever-expanding psychological campus counseling industry, colleges cannot even consider removing these supports. The contributors to anxiety require complex solutions that address the issues identified in the 2016 HERI study: the time spent on social media, the declines in religious affiliation, and the apparent inability of the current cohort to find meaning in their lives.

Emile Durkheim identified the result of declines in religious affiliation as leading to a lack of meaning in one’s life which in turn, can lead to a state of anomie, a kind of normlessness. Without the social capital that religious affiliation or membership in meaningful social groups—beyond online social media—once provided, anxiety often precedes loneliness and despair. Encouraging more community building (beyond identity politics), increasing the availability of meaningful religious experiences on campus, and providing opportunities for students to explore the need to find meaning in life, would be a start.

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.

The Devious Plot Against the Universities

Conservative rationalist Karl Popper wrote in The Open Society and Its Enemies that “unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance.” In a society that tolerates intolerant forces, these forces will eventually take advantage of the situation and bring about the downfall of the entire society.

The philosophical foundation of this belief can trace its roots to Plato’s ideas of the republic or Machiavelli’s paradox of ruling by love or fear. A practical example of this in action is jihadists taking advantage of human rights laws.  Nothing should be absolute and without reasonable boundaries, not even freedom.

How to End Enlightenment Thinking

There are three observable, identifiable ways in which this latest fad of intersectionality is taking advantage of and destroying the rational enlightenment roots of Western academia from within. The approaches are, namely, infiltration, subversion, and coercion.

On the face of it, infiltration at first sounds conspiratorial and even counterintuitive. There is, of course, no grand conspiracy or a cabal with a smoke-filled headquarters in the Swiss Alps led by a bald, one-eyed man stroking a cat. The roots of this recent phenomenon, however, can be traced back to Central Europe. At the height of the Cold War, Western Marxists foresaw that the opportunity for an armed socialist revolution was bleak. Gramscian Eurocommunists like Marcuse and Dutschke developed what is now known as the long march through the institutions, wherein every building block of society, from professions, business, and academia to the armed forces, needed to be infiltrated by agents of change from within.

Trojan Horse Pedagogy

In modern times, the rise of interdisciplinary research aided by intersectional, feminist, and social justice pedagogy, has followed this same template. For example, in a 2016 paper in the feminist journal Hypatia, a pedagogical priority was designed by which women’s studies departments could train students to infiltrate disciplines as “symbolic ‘viruses’ that infect, unsettle, and disrupt traditional and entrenched fields.” Likewise, in another case, two Canadian professors designed what they themselves claim to be “Trojan horse” pedagogy, where social justice themes and ideas are included as interdisciplinary research for unassuming students.

Similarly, middle school teachers are teaching social justice while teaching math. In another instance, a feminist academic wants to destroy the “traditional lens” of looking at “white-hetero-patriarchal” science by revisionism through a feminist lensHundreds of well-documented similar instances can be found littered across the Internet.

Subversion, as the second approach, requires interdisciplinary research to dilute the core expertise of any subject, thereby giving an equal platform and standing to unscientific, dogmatic, and ideological literature alongside established scientific methods. An example would be one of Cordelia Fine or Angela Saini’s polemics now being accepted as established peer-reviewed science.

The Groupthink of Transgender Pronouns

Retweets in academic fields are not where it ends, however. The promotion of transgenderism as settled science and arbitrary pronouns like them/theirs being used in schools and universities are further examples of subversion. In every Western university (including where I research), the casual usage of made up pronouns is being promoted by a small minority of academics and students. One risks being marked as a bigot if one chooses to question or debate such arbitrary policies. Every university has Marxist and feminist reading groups and departments that essentially control events, doctoral training modules that include methods that prefer non-positivist research, and journal publications wherein the chances of one being censored are higher if he or she dares to question groupthink.

The third approach involves coercion, or simply the tyranny of the minority. A handful of students, instigated by a handful of academics, especially from intersectional disciplines and Marxist-feminist-post-colonial and gender studies backgrounds and departments, now attempt to dictate what can or cannot be taught, discussed, or even debated at a university. The cases of deplatforming and shouting down Richard Dawkins, Christina Hoff Sommers, Ben Shapiro, and Charles Murray are already evident, as are well-documented incidents at Berkeley and Mizzou. The recent threats to Third World Quarterly for publishing something that went against the hitherto received wisdom of post-colonial literature is yet another example.

The “decolonize” madness currently found at elite Western centers of excellence, such as CambridgeOxford, and Yale, are still more case studies of coercion, more often than not led by students and ideologues posing as professors. In one act of censorship, a group of university professors came together to cancel a play that was critical of intersectionality, identity politics, and Black Lives Matter, arguing that it was done for the emotional well-being of their students. Similarly, an essay in Heritage by a Boise State University professor that questioned the intellectual history of the meaning of gender was shut down by university officials after an outcry that the article represented “the root of genocide”. Two simple patterns of this coercion emerge. First, no argumentation or debate is deemed permissible, and second, there are always a handful of academics who are instigating.

White Men Not allowed to Speak

Recently, British journalist Toby Young had his article deleted from the Teach First website after he questioned what is realistically achievable for schools in reducing achievement gaps. The censorship suggested that even mentioning well-established psychometric research is now a transgression and liable to be silenced as it might be uncomfortable for certain ideologies. My fellow Quillette and Telegraph columnist, Charlie Peters, recently highlighted an incident where a straightforward debate in a class was considered invalid because the opinion was uttered by a Caucasian male. This is not uncommon or simply a British university problem.

On the contrary, race and gender now form the only basis of validation determining whether or not many ideas or speakers are considered worthy. Similarly, in the Soviet Union, one’s ideas would be judged depending on which social and economic strata one was born into. In the same way, a hierarchy is slowly forming at universities. Recently, a tweet of a U-Penn tutor about the tactic of progressive stacking caused a great deal of furor. She made a tactical error in tweeting it, but it gave the rest of us a glimpse into the discriminatory teaching practices that go on in certain sections of academia, including admissions.

 

Of course, the silent majority of university students, professors, and taxpayers who fund these courses are not as ideologically invested as their radical colleagues. But the silent majority is also usually irrelevant, as the history of humanity illustrates. In the Soviet Union, the majority of the Russian civilians were not Stalinists nor were most of the Chinese civilians hardcore Maoist Red guards. Today in the West, intersectional departments are acting as commissars who are attempting to set the terms of the debate. They are increasingly framing opposition to their ideas as violence against their personhood. In select institutions, gullible administrators are adding fuel to the fire by actually paying students to monitor each other for micro-aggressions and other markers of ideological impurity. Rudi Dutschke would be proud.

As Victor Davis Hanson and Roger Scruton pointed out in their books, the first casualty of radicalism is classical education. In India, where I come from, it was moderate liberals as well as imperial conservatives who wanted the British Raj to establish science colleges to promote Renaissance values in order to counter the dogma of medieval religions. Today in the West, classical education is under threat by intersectional and quasi-Marxist disciplines such as post-colonialism and gender studies which are trying to change the rules of debate by stifling viewpoints, hijacking disciplines, and peddling pseudoscientific gibberish. As Popper’s paradox predicts, the infiltration, subversion and coercion of Western academics are now occurring because the tolerance of liberal academia has enabled intolerance to flourish.

This article, originally published in Quillette, is published here with permission.

Popping the Higher Education Bubble

Nearly a decade ago, my then colleague Andrew Gillen suggested that one could say that higher education was in a bit of a “bubble”: over-exuberant “investors” in human capital, better known as students, were potentially misallocating their resources, becoming increasingly underemployed after graduation, leading to adverse financial consequences. In the private sector, bubbles, like those in the housing or stock markets, usually lead to “crashes” and sharp falls in prices along with diminished volumes of activity. In higher education, massive government subsidies mute the decline in volume (enrollment) and prevent big price (tuition fee) crashes, but some sort of correction is nonetheless observable.

Lots of signs show the bursting of the bubble is underway. Enrollments are down, lower today than six years ago –a first decline of that duration in modern peacetime American history (including the Great Depression). Tuition increases are moderating and a few colleges are even starting to cut published tuition fees (sticker prices). Even some prestigious schools such as Oberlin College are having financial problems because their freshman class is smaller than anticipated. Student loan delinquency is high and rising, remarkable since the economy has been having the best performance in years, with real output growing at over a three percent annual rate and the unemployment rate at a very low 4.1 percent.

Related: Let’s Scuttle the University as Hotel

Even more ominous is a clear decline in public support for colleges. This is critical because higher education depends on governments, directly through grants or indirectly through the student financial assistance programs, for a large portion of their financial support. If higher education loses political appeal, declining public financial subsidies will quickly follow. Three surveys in 2017 show many are skeptical of higher education’s contribution. For example, a Pew Research Center survey showed 36 percent of Americans believed higher education had a “negative effect on the way things are going in this country.” A strong majority (58 percent) of Republicans had that opinion, which is no doubt one reason why a number of provisions in the recent Republican-led tax reform bill adversely impact on universities.

There are even potentially some legal clouds on the horizon. Universities are populated by lots of attractive young persons, so the possibility of sexual harassment lawsuits is certainly high. To cite an example, at my own school, Ohio University, an English professor recently lost his job (after a good deal of legal maneuvering), and the university faces potential meaningful damages in civil proceedings brought by female graduate students who allege they were sexually harassed and that university officials did nothing to stop it. Prominent faculty at other schools (for example, Columbia) are facing accusations of misconduct.  Also, as evidence mounts that football head injuries have significant long-run adverse effects on human cognitive function, the potential of expensive lawsuits against universities rises dramatically.

Enrollment demand is not likely to surge soon, in large part because of a demographic reality: a stagnant population in the 18 to 24 age group, along with a longer-term problem of general declining population growth. Moreover, increased visa restrictions and the growing reputation of universities elsewhere are stifling the long-term increase in the enrollment of foreign-born students.

Universities are inadequately preparing for the bursting bubble, for good reason. To be successful and maintain popularity and job security, university presidents typically need to please their campus constituencies – powerful administrators, superstar faculty, wealthy alumni, students, even popular football coaches. The way they do this is to raise a lot of money and use the funds to bribe the various constituencies by giving them what they want – higher salaries, lower teaching loads, better parking, new facilities, etc. Many schools have increased their debt loads to finance some of this, and added to already oversized staffs (especially in the administrative area), raising costs and making university finances more precarious. Thus university presidents often seem oblivious to political reality –the world outside the Ivory Tower.

A Nightmare Future of Higher Education

It is the role of university governing boards to correct excesses, to deal with precarious finances, and to bring a real world business-minded perspective to the Ivory Tower. Yet, many of them fall down on the job. They are wined and dined by the administration, thereby weakening their inclination to question and criticize.  They rubber stamp administrative wishes and are often ignorant of what is really happening on campus: they only look at the information the administration provides, often providing unrealistically rosy scenarios of campus life. They sometimes contribute to public criticism of universities by giving senior staff large salary increases.

To be sure, there are exceptions, and the bubble is bursting unevenly across academia. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, for example, could close their doors to new students and operate with billion-dollar budgets forever doing absolutely nothing of importance, given the size of their endowments. Purdue’s president Mitch Daniels is bucking many conventional trends, for example, freezing tuition fees for six years, making the institution more affordable to students and popular with the general public. Berea College and the College of the Ozarks effectively are free, using endowments to lower costs rather than engage in spending extravagance. Hillsdale College’s decision decades ago to not take any form of federal aid is looking like a good one –the school seems to be prospering.

The solution? A bit of Schumpeterian creative destruction might help. The number of colleges closing or merging is inching up, and nothing challenges universities to change their modus operandi like the possibility of going out of business. The age of boom and expansion that characterized mid-twentieth century higher education is over. Will higher education’s problems be temporary, or will there be a slow decline like that of ancient Rome or Venice in the late Middle Ages? Stay tuned.

Colleges’ Double Standards: Taking Soros’ Money, Rejecting Koch’s

Continuing its attack on what it calls the “politically tinged” philanthropy of the Charles Koch Foundation, The Chronicle of Higher Education followed-up last year’s essay entitled, “How Right Wing Billionaires Infiltrated Higher Education,” with last month’s “Think You Know What Type of College Would Accept Charles Koch Foundation Money? Think Again.”

Left-wing billionaires like George Soros have been influencing higher education for decades, but The Chronicle focuses on faculty resistance to Charles Koch Foundation money, saying it has “borne fruit.” Citing Ralph Wilson, one of the founders of UnKoch My Campus (UKMC), The Chronicle reported that Koch “ended the year adding only 44 first-time campuses, falling below the average gain of the previous five years for the second straight time. And with 69 campuses dropping off Koch’s list in 2016, it was also the second straight year in which the foundation lost more campuses than it added.” Wilson added that “the more that faculty know about Koch’s contracts and strategy, the more they are trying to resist its influence.”

‘The Resistance’ Fights Koch

Koch spokesperson Trice Jacobsen cautioned against making too much of the foundation’s list of 2016 grant recipients, telling a Chronicle reporter that “shifts in the calendar year giving are part of the natural academic giving cycle. Last year, the Charles Koch Foundation awarded $50 million in grants to 249 colleges—a 49 percent increase over 2015 when the Foundation distributed $34 million in grants.

Still, it has become more difficult for university administrators to negotiate grants and contracts with the Foundation as progressive faculty and a growing number of students have become part of “the resistance movement” to keep conservative donors like Charles Koch from providing funds for faculty research and student scholarships. When Catholic University of America accepted a $1 million grant in 2013 to help the school’s goal of advancing the study and practice of principled entrepreneurship,” a group of 50 progressive Catholic educators signed a letter suggesting that the Koch brothers advance policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues from economic justice to environmental stewardship.” And, in 2015, when Catholic University received another $1.7 million to expand the Business school’s study and practice of principled entrepreneurship, the National Catholic Reporter reminded readers that Pope Francis had blamed growing economic inequality on the kinds of ideologies promoted by Charles and David Koch.

Focus on George Mason

Most of the criticism from UnKoch My Campus has focused on George Mason University, the recipient of more funding from the Charles Koch Foundation than any other school. In 2013, the Foundation donated more than $14.4 million to George Mason University—on top of the tens of millions in Koch dollars that the University and its affiliated research centers have collectively received in recent years. The Koch-funded Mercatus Center at George Mason is described by PublicIntegrity.org as the “largest collection of free market faculty” at any university in the world. Carrie Canko, Vice President for the Mercatus Center, told a reporter for Public Integrity that the Mercatus Center is a “stand-alone non-profit.” George Mason University provides no direct funding for the Center, but George Mason University and its students receive millions of dollars in annual financial benefit from the Mercatus Center.

No Focus on Tom Steyer

As UnKoch My Campus stages protests, demands meetings with administrators and launches chapters at George Mason University and other institutions, no one seems concerned that progressive donors have spent decades shaping higher education. When Democratic mega-donor Tom Steyer gave more than $40 million to the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford University—whose aim is to influence energy policy, The Chronicle of Higher Education did not publish an excited article, “How Left Wing Billionaires Infiltrated Higher Education.” And, no one has begun an UnSoros My Campus group to protest the fact that George Soros has given much more money for left-wing causes on college campuses throughout the country than Koch has for right-wing ones.

Promoting his own political agenda, Soros gave a grant to MIT to provide support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Bard College, a tiny liberal arts school in New York state is the recipient of a $60 million multiyear commitment from Soros. The Soros money is intended to fund Bard College’s “Center for Civic Engagement”—a broadly defined Center designed to promote the progressive causes that Soros endorses.

When Georgetown University received $100,000 from Soros to host Guatemala’s former Attorney General as a Visiting Scholar at the school’s Institute for Women, Peace, and Security, none of the progressive Catholic organizations complained. And, when Fordham University received a $400,000 grant from Soros to study the role of money in the democratic process, the National Catholic Reporter was unconcerned—even though Soros has long championed anti-Catholic initiatives-including expanding access to abortion—throughout the world.

Money for Catholic Colleges to Attack Catholic Values

In some cases, progressive foundations give money to Catholic colleges to intentionally help faculty attack Catholic teachings on life issues, marriage, and sexuality. For example, the James Irvine Foundation funded the University of San Diego’s “Rainbow Visibility Project” with the goal of “raising the collective awareness of the university community LGBTQ culture and history.” Fairfield University received a $100,000 grant from the Arcus Foundation to “hold and disseminate information from a series of forums in order to expand the current discussion on homosexuality within Roman Catholicism to include the diverse opinions of progressive Catholic thought leaders and theologians.”

The protests against the Charles Koch Foundation have had an impact. After accepting thousands of dollars in Koch grant money, the University of Dayton caved in to pressure from progressive critics. An op-ed published in the university’s student newspaper by Jay Riestenberg, a member of the alumni, and a research analyst at the progressive organization, Common Cause (a campaign reform advocacy group) claimed that accepting Koch funding “is in clear violation of the institution’s Catholic Marianist values.” It seems that University of Dayton administrators agreed and announced that “The University of Dayton no longer accepts Koch cash, and it will not in the future—despite the efforts of Koch-backed organizations.”

The faculty at the University of Dayton are barred from opportunities to receive Koch funding for their research. Much of this research is investigating areas that are important to faithful Catholics—alleviating poverty and addressing racial inequality in prison sentencing. There is a promising new Koch research initiative on the over-incarceration movement in this country that has resulted in racial inequality in prison sentencing. Providing research support in order to collect data to shape policy on the inequality that has resulted from the application of mandatory minimum sentencing is surely in keeping with Marianist values—but faculty at the University of Dayton have been forbidden from even applying for such grants because progressive professors and alumni don’t like conservative donors like the Koch brothers.

The dominance of left-leaning faculty and administrators on all campuses—including most Catholic campuses—has had the effect of silencing diverse voices, and denying the academic freedom of anyone who disagrees with the prevailing progressive ideology. The Charles Koch Foundation offers hope to those who want to pursue research on alternatives to the over-incarceration of our citizens, or the value of free markets and limited government. But, in a clear violation of academic freedom, many of our colleagues are blocked from even applying for such support.

Taxing the Campus Plutocrats

One provision in the new tax legislation is going to give scores of colleges and universities a lot of heartburn –the 21 percent federal excise tax on compensation of employees making $1 million a year or more. The idea of extra taxes on supersized salaries is not new: private corporations have paid excise taxes on direct salary payments exceeding $1 million annually to top executives for years, although they have found ways to evade much of the tax by turning most compensation into performance-based bonuses.

The public believes that enterprises receiving special tax treatment and even public subsidies should concentrate on serving the good of the general public by offering affordable schooling along with some socially beneficial research. They should not be able to use those special privileges to make large payments to top employees. The excise tax is a way of letting our not-very-astute higher education leadership realize that the government, representing the people, is angry with the way they have been treating top employees like private business plutocrats.

Money at the Top

Over the past decade, even as colleges complained about real reductions in state government appropriations, stagnant growth in federal research monies, and other perceived affronts, salary increases have accelerated for those at the top of the academic heap –college presidents and, especially, what salary data suggest are the most important people in academia, those coaching young adults in how to throw and otherwise manipulate footballs and basketballs.

In 39 of 50 states, the most highly paid employee of a nonprofit organization was a college football or basketball coach. Nick Saban, football coach at the University of Alabama, makes an extraordinary $11.1132 annually, which starting next year will result in the Crimson Tide receiving a federal tax bill exceeding $2 million. The best-paid basketball coach, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, earns more than $7 million a year. In 2015, well over 50 football coaches made over $2 million annually, and now there are assistant coaches (“offensive and defensive coordinators”) whose salaries will force their university to pay federal excise taxes. A rough guess is that without downward salary adjustments, American universities will have to fork over perhaps $50 million annually in taxes just to cover the uber-pay of these sports gurus.

College Presidents Doing Well

But there are a few other persons in higher education who make as much as the likes of Nick Saban, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer, or Kentucky’s John Calipari (all making over $6 million annually): endowment managers who run the endowments at rich schools like Harvard and Yale. There were reports of payments reaching into the tens of millions annually, although stun by alumni criticism, recent Harvard endowment managers have made “only” $6 to 8 million annually. Harvard’s Narv Narvekar currently makes “only” $6 million, while Yale’s legendary investment wiz David Swensen has made $4 or $5 million annually in recent years.

University president salaries have soared in recent years. In 2008, there were only nine private-school presidents (and no public-school ones) making over $1 million annually; by 2015, there were 58 (and also eight public-school ones). Topping the list was Nathan Hatch at Wake Forest at $4 million); making over $3 million a year were James Wagner (Emory), C.L “Max” Nikias (University of Southern California), and Amy Gutmann (University of Pennsylvania).

Gutmann exemplifies the collegiate salary explosion. In 2008 and 2009, her salary was slightly under $1 million a year, or a bit more counting some deferred compensation payments. By 2015, she made $3.086 million, implying double-digit annual salary increases over a prolonged period. For all private school presidents, in 2015, salaries rose 9 percent, quadruple the rate of inflation and dramatically more than salaries of others, both in universities and the broader economy. Although the Chronicle of Higher Education listed the Savannah College of Arts and Design (SCAD) president Paula Wallace’s 2015 salary as “only” $1,901,841, Georgia newspaper reports indicate she actually made around $9.6 million in both 2014 and 2015 –in a school with a budget of only about $350 million.

Call the Profits ‘Surplus’

Jim Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan, once told me he made $175,000 a year in his last year as president, 1995-96. The current president makes about four times that, implying average annual salary increases over nearly a generation of well over four percent –after accounting for inflation. As tuition fees soar, universities have used some of the surplus (better known as “profits” among competitive corporations) to enrich the people with clout in universities. They have abused the public trust, and the privileges granted them. Their arrogance, contempt for the public mood, and sheer greed are one reason public support for universities is waning. Universities are starting to lose their privileges, as evidenced by things like excise taxes on huge endowments and supersized salaries.

For some time, universities and their senior employees have been wards of the state. Thus they heavily favor progressive politicians who want big government with the attendant high subsidies for universities. They mostly give their financial contributions to liberal Democrats and condemn conservative Republican candidates and ideas. Congress, controlled by the Republicans, are sick of it and are sending universities a message. Already reeling from falling enrollments and declining public confidence, universities can ill afford to antagonize the elected representatives of the people further.

Professor-Student Sex—Just a Problem of Dirty Old Men?

A drearily familiar depiction of lecherous professors and innocent students appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education December 7, unsubtly titled “Dirty Old Men on the Faculty.” It lacks all nuance and context and resolutely ignores the reality that college students – who are adults, not children — often pursue their professors.

Fortunately, more illuminating tales of professor-student relationships are available in the realm of imaginative literature. Few are as biting as Francine Prose’s novel Blue Angel, which brilliantly dissects one such relationship in its full complexity.

Campus Sex—a Valuable Commodity

Prose tells the story not only of a professor’s downfall thanks to an ambitious and manipulative student but also of the vindictiveness and self-righteousness of faculty members and administrators, the jealousies of other students (and colleagues), and the pitchfork-and-torches atmosphere that invariably develops when charges of sexual misconduct become a valuable currency. She thereby exposes an ugly little secret: that behind the anti-harassment campaign’s high-minded claims of concerns for equity and justice often lie far meaner and more personal motives.

Blue Angel is even more relevant today than when it was first published nearly twenty years ago. It is a good reminder of how untrue it is that only now can aggrieved women speak out. Prose demonstrates that the politically correct script of professorial power and student powerlessness is a pathetically thin distortion that negates the texture of human life while producing little but propaganda tracts railing against “the patriarchy” and its hapless victims. In the hands of a spirited and talented writer, the resources of fictional narrative – its potential for shifting points of view, for negotiating jumps in time and space, for interior monologues and musings, startling imagery and evocative turns of phrase – can at least attempt to convey the dense inner life and events that define human existence, in the academy and out of it.

Like other such books, Blue Angel takes for granted a reality so simple and obvious that it has somehow escaped the notice of many social critics. People meet each other, and that is how relationships begin. Many of these encounters take place in schools and workplaces, where people spend most of their waking hours. Given these circumstances, it is likely that many of the ensuing interactions will be tainted by one or another kind of “asymmetry” —a term now filled with moral opprobrium. In addition, as identity politics grow and new categories emerge, ever more fertile grounds for complaints are created.

Obsession with Power

What makes the concept of asymmetrical relationships resonate so negatively in the minds of those who would dictate personal interactions is, of course, the obsession with power. Asymmetrical relations are bad—so this line of thinking goes–because no romantic or sexual intimacy should exist where one person has power over another. Such “power differentials” are inherently evil to those for whom a simplistic and unattainable conception of “equality” has become the sole standard of justifiable social relations.

This narrow viewpoint ignores the obvious fact that the “power” people act out in their relationships is of many and varied types, and that one person’s predominance in one sphere is often matched by the other’s in another sphere. A moment’s reflection also reveals that the usual critique of asymmetrical relations relies on a stunted and feeble definition that is stacked — and of course is meant to be – against men. True, same-sex relationships throw a kink into this model, as they do into sexual harassment law and regulations generally, but they are vastly outnumbered by the annoying continuation of heterosexuality.

Blue Angel is a darkly comic story of a weary 47-year-old writing professor and the ambitious 19-year-old student who causes his downfall. In a witty and at times melancholy third-person narrative confined strictly to the point of view of the protagonist, Ted Swenson, Francine Prose exposes the smelly little orthodoxies (as Orwell put it, in quite another context) of the contemporary academic scene.

Is All Teaching Erotic?

Ted Swenson, a writer-in-residence at Euston College in northern Vermont, has been married for twenty-one years and is still in love with his wife, Sherrie, and capable of, as she puts it, “leering” at her.  At his college’s obligatory yearly meeting to review the sexual harassment policy, Swenson has heretical thoughts:

“What if someone rose to say what so many of them are thinking, that there’s something erotic about the act of teaching, all that information streaming back and forth like some bodily fluid. Doesn’t Genesis trace sex to that first bite of the apple, not the fruit from just any tree, but the Tree of Knowledge?”

Devoted to his wife and daughter, Swenson acknowledges that “teacher-student attraction is an occupational hazard” and has therefore avoided entanglements with his students, though over the years several have made overtures to him. And he’s well aware, too, of a case at the State University (where his daughter Ruby studies), involving a professor who, while showing a classical Greek sculpture of a female nude, had commented “Yum.” Accusing him of “leering,” his students charged that he’d made them uncomfortable, which led to the professor’s suspension without pay.

Swenson is wary of a similar climate at his own college, and of the increasing power of the “Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance,” waiting to pounce on any male word or gesture. He is suspicious, as well, of a colleague who is head of the Alliance and is also the English Department’s “expert in the feminist misreading of literature.” For reasons he can’t fathom (but guesses is a “testosterone allergy”), she seems to want him dead.

How, then, after so many years of sound judgment, does it happen that Swenson takes on the role of Professor Rath to his student’s Lola Lola (as in the classic film The Blue Angel, from which the novel takes its title)? Prose’s autopsy of Swenson’s fall is bracing, funny and sly and politically incorrect at every turn, right up until the end when Swenson realizes that the movie he should have been watching was not The Blue Angel but All About Eve.

Can a talent for writing be a seducer? In the case of Ted Swenson, decades of teaching “creative writing” to mediocre students (whose stories, often involving bestiality, we get to sample), along with ten frustrating years of never quite getting around to working on his long-awaited third novel,  have left him fatally vulnerable to talent.

Angela Argo is far from the best looking or most interesting student in Swenson’s class. In fact, she has sat for weeks squirming and sighing instead of speaking, calling attention to herself primarily by means of her abundant face piercing, the orange and green streaks in her hair, and the black leather motorcycle jacket with theme-related accouterments that covers her skinny body.

But poor Swenson has few defenses against the spark of talent that Angela reveals to him after she seeks a meeting in his office. And his first reaction to her work is the very thing that today gets professors in trouble: differential treatment. Wanting to protect her talent from the ritual hazing that his class has turned into as students savage one another’s writing week after week, he agrees to read and comment on Angela’s work in private. Thus begins the special relationship—initiated by Angela at each successive stage–that will eventually cost him his reputation, his job, and his marriage.

Woven into this realistic tale of a contemporary campus liaison is a sympathetic portrait of the plight of writing teachers and of writers, especially those stuck in a dry season that can last a decade. The novel perfectly captures Swenson’s enraptured response, generous and tender, to the discovery of Angela’s talent. At the same time, Swenson is alert to the students’ ambiguous attitude toward him: “He’s the teacher, they’re the students: a distinction they like to blur, then make again, as needed.” But this sensibility and foreknowledge won’t save him from gravitating toward the genuinely talented. And as Angela feeds him chapter after chapter of her novel, Swenson falls into the very mistake he constantly warns his students against — taking the story as autobiography. Thus, he begins to imagine that he himself is the teacher Angela’s protagonist is enamored of and that her first-person narrative is really a confession, made to him privately, of her troubled life.

It doesn’t help matters that a colleague who teaches poetry tells him about the graphic sexual poems Angela is writing for that class. Soon the sexual content of Angela’s writing and her intense anticipation of Swenson’s reactions week by week lead him to sexual fantasies about her. When she says that she thinks all the time about his reactions to her writing, what he hears is that “she thinks about him all the time.”

So they lurch from one encounter to the next, each less clear than the last. Everything in their relationship initially revolves around her writing—her eagerness for his reaction; her computer’s collapse, which leads her to ask him to take her shopping for a new one, and in turn leads to his presence in her dorm room whose door (he finds out later) she’d locked as soon as they had entered.

Francine Prose explores Swenson’s seduction and betrayal without presenting him as a total innocent, merely foolish. As a man in mid-life, he is aware of his mortality and the appeal of glowing youth all around him. “Age and death—the unfairness of it, the daily humiliation of watching your power vanish just when you figure out how to use it.” But Angela’s transformation after their brief escapade is rapid: she begins demanding more of his attention to her writing, berating him when he doesn’t provide it quickly enough. “What happened to the worshipful student who hung on his every word,” Swenson wonders. “Now that’s she’s let Swenson sleep with her she doesn’t respect him anymore.”

Prose shows the reversal of all the traditional rules and values, as Angela quickly moves in for what turns out to be her real goal: getting him to show her novel to his agent. But still, Swenson argues with himself about her motives: “Does Angela—did she ever—have a crush on him, or is she just using him for his professional connections? Is Angela blackmailing him, or simply asking a favor? What does a favor mean when you have the power to wreck someone’s life?”

By coincidence, a woman colleague also wants the same favor: “This is really too much. Two women in twenty minutes cozying up to Swenson as a way of getting next to his editor.” And to make matters worse, he must face the open resentment of his other students when he, with complete sincerity, praises Angela’s writing in class.

Angela’s fury when she learns that Swenson hadn’t fought for her book with his agent finally makes her clarify her behavior: “The only reason I let you fuck me was so you would help me get this novel to someone who could do something—.” And next thing he knows, she’s charged him with sexual harassment, taken a tape of this last conversation to the dean, and is threatening to sue the college. The dean immediately urges Swenson to resign. Reviewing his own responsibility, Swenson reflects: “He knew about the power differential between teacher and student. But this wasn’t about power. This was about desire. Mutual seduction, let’s say that at least. He’s too embarrassed to let himself think, This was about love.”

Barred from his classroom, dangerously indifferent to his school’s biased sexual harassment proceedings ( not a “court of law”), Swenson insists on a hearing instead of resigning quietly.

When he tells his wife, in a restaurant, about the trouble he’s in, she blames him entirely and informs him that Angela spent half her time at the school’s medical clinic (where Sherrie is a nurse), ostensibly because she’s suicidal-–but actually, Swenson realizes, because Angela was pumping the staff for details about his life to work into her novel.

“The couple sitting beside them seems to have gotten up and left. At some point when he and Sherrie were at once so engrossed and distracted, the lovers must have retreated into their cocoon of protection and light and grace, of chosenness, of being singled out and granted the singular blessing of being allowed to live in a world in which what’s happening to Sherrie and Swenson will never happen to them.”

As the Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance demonstrates against him, and Swenson rents the film The Blue Angel (a film he knows Angela, too, has seen), he finally realizes that “there’s no chance of winning, of proving his innocence”). “The night before the hearing, he lies in bed composing and revising speeches about what he thought he was doing, about his respect for Angela’s novel, about the erotics of teaching. And the dangers of starting to see one’s student as a real person.”

Still, he is totally unprepared for the actual hearing, during which he is confronted by six colleagues, one of them the head of the Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance. As agreed upon (but not by him), witnesses are called, but no cross-examination of them is permitted, since this “is not, after all, a trial.” So much for due process.

When Angela arrives, parents in tow, at the hearing, Swenson notes her changed appearance. Her hair is now a “shiny, authentic-looking auburn….  And how bizarrely she’s dressed—bizarre, that is, for Angela. Neat khakis, a red velour sweater, ordinary college-girl ’good’ clothes. For all he knows, the piercing and the black leather were always the costume, and this is the real Angela, restored to her true self. For all he knows. He doesn’t know. All right. He gets that now.”

In a particularly compelling scene, Swenson, after deluding himself for so long, having somehow managed to avoid noting that Angela’s real interest was in promoting her writing, not in him, finds at his “trial” that he would rather play the “sullen guilty lecher” that his colleagues think he is, would rather confirm their “image of him as the predatory harasser” than admit “to the truer story of obsession and degradation, the humiliating real-life update of The Blue Angel.

Colleagues and students come forth to testify. A brave student from Swenson’s writing class, initially showing far more discernment than his elders, tries to argue: “I can’t see what the big deal is. Shit happens. People get attracted to other people. It’s not that big a deal.”  But Swenson notes the change that comes over the student as he realizes that what Swenson is charged with is having extorted sex from Angela in return for showing her work to his editor in New York.

The student’s face reveals his perception of unfairness warring with his sense of loyalty to his teacher: “Swenson wants to tell him that the real unfairness involves the distribution of talent and has nothing to do with whatever happened between him and Angela Argo.”  Bravely, the student tries to stick to his principles: “But nothing has prepared him to resist the seduction of having the dean of his college calling him a writer and a half-dozen faculty members hanging on his every word. How can he disappoint them? How can he not offer up any scrap of information he can recall.”

Francine Prose gets the details just right: the banality and venality of academic vindictiveness and piety unleashed; the stereotypical assumptions about professorial misconduct; the prurient eagerness to find sexual wrongdoing; the unavoidable Schadenfreude as colleagues and students get to revisit old grievances and slights, and the sheer cynicism of faculty and administrators claiming to be acting out of concern for students’ welfare.

When Claris, the class beauty, testifies that Swenson took no inappropriate actions toward her, Swenson can see that no one believes her. Or they think that he’s insane. “How pathetic. What is wrong with him? He never even entertained a sexual thought about Claris and spent months mooning over Angela Argo? How abject, how ridiculous. He isn’t a normal male.”

Another student testifies that they all knew something was going on because their writing was criticized, while Angela’s was not. No one is interested in discussing the other possible reasons for admiring a student’s work. “Swenson’s learned his lesson. He’ll never criticize another student. Not that he’ll get a chance.”

Finally, Angela is to speak—if she feels “strong enough to address the committee.” “As she moves [toward the table], Swenson thinks he can still see sharp angles of sullen punkhood poking through the fuzzy eiderdown of that Jane College getup.” Following the familiar ritual, Angela is praised for her courage in coming forward and spared the ordeal of listening to the tape she had orchestrated to make it sound as if Swenson had indeed persuaded her to trade sex for showing her book to his agent. “On her face is that combustive chemistry of wild irritation and boredom so familiar from those early classes, but now it’s become a martyr’s transfixed gaze of piety and damage, lit by the flames of the holy war she’s waging against the evils of male oppression and sexual harassment.”

Throughout Angela’s distortions and deceptions, Swenson tries to keep “his grip on the truth—on his version of the story. A grip on recent history. On reality.”  The committee, he sees, is ready to believe the worst because he asked to see more of a student’s writing. Yet, he admits to himself, her testimony isn’t entirely false: “Well, there is something sexy about reading someone’s work: an intimate communication takes place. Still, you can read . . . Gertrude Stein and it doesn’t mean you find her attractive …. Once more, the committee’s version of him—the scheming dirty old man—seems less degrading than the truth.”

Francine Prose avoids turning her story into a postmodern narrative in which we can never hope to learn the truth, at least as far as the sexual relationship is concerned. Earlier episodes have shown us what took place, and we recognize Angela’s lies in her testimony before the committee, in her insistence that the sexual initiatives were Swenson’s. The narrative, however, offers a rather different perspective on where the harm really resides: “How pornographic and perverted this is, a grown woman—a professor—torturing a female student into describing a sexual experience to a faculty committee, not to mention her parents. Swenson could have slept with Angela on the Founders Chapel altar, and it would have seemed healthy and respectable compared to this orgy of filth. Meanwhile, he has to keep it in mind that Angela started all this. Angela chose to be here.”

Only at her father’s urging that she shares her “good news” does Angela admit to the assembled group that Swenson’s editor, in fact, wants to publish her novel. Swenson thinks: “Len Currie is publishing Angela’s novel. So what is this hearing about? Angela should be kissing Swenson’s feet instead of ruining his life. As she must have decided to do when she still believed that Swenson, her white knight, had failed to get her manuscript published. If that’s when she decided. Who knows what she did, and why?”

On cue, Angela describes the lingering effects of the whole wretched experience, her nightmares, her distress. As her testimony draws to a close, the head of the Faculty-Student Women’s Alliance once more congratulates Angela and commiserates with her: “Angela, let me say again that we know how tough it was for you to come in and say what you did. But if women are ever going to receive an equal education, these problems have to be addressed and dealt with, so that we can protect and empower ourselves.”

“Sure,” Angela says. “You’re welcome. Whatever.”

When it is finally Swenson’s turn to speak, he knows that what he should do is apologize; but of the many things he is sorry for, breaking the college’s rules about professor-student relationships is not one of them. Instead,  “He is extremely sorry for having spent twenty years of his one and only life, twenty years he will never get back, among people he can’t talk to, men and women to whom he can’t even tell the simple truth.”

And then, in a predictable last-minute sneak-attack, Swenson’s daughter’s boyfriend reports to the committee that Ruby told him her father had sexually abused her when she was a child. Swenson watches his colleagues’ reactions: “They have taken off their masks. Jonathan Edwards, Cotton Mather, Torquemada. Swenson’s crime involves sex, so the death penalty can be invoked. No evidence is inadmissible. They’re hauling out the entire arsenal for this mortal combat with the forces of evil and sin.”

Thus, at novel’s end, Angela’s career is starting and Swenson’s career—along with his marriage–is ending. Sounding somewhat like one of Philip Roth’s heroes, Swenson finally recognizes the mystery of femaleness and acknowledges that he can never fathom Angela’s motives. Only she will ever know the truth. As he hears the campus bells tolling, he wonders why they’re ringing now, at 5:25 p.m.

“Then, gradually, it dawns on him. It’s the Women’s Alliance, announcing their triumph over another male oppressor, one small step along the path toward a glorious future. He’s glad to be out of that future and headed into his own.”

In 1952, Mary McCarthy published The Groves of Academe, a satire of academic politics set in a small, progressive liberal arts college. In it, an arrogant and obnoxious literature instructor cleverly combats the college president’s decision (for budgetary reasons) not to renew his contract. By manipulating students and colleagues and insinuating that he is a Communist being persecuted for his political beliefs, the instructor manages both to preserve his job and to cause the college president’s downfall. Like Francine Prose’s novel nearly half a century later, Mary McCarthy exposes the hypocrisies, ambiguities, and pretensions of college life, mired in the orthodoxies of its time–in that instance the liberal academy’s fierce resistance to Joseph McCarthy’s anticommunist campaign.

Too bad Ted Swenson couldn’t figure out a comparable strategy for dealing with the dogmas of our time by turning the tables on his accusers.

Much of the above first appeared, in slightly different form, in Sexuality & Culture 6:2 (Spring 2002), and was reprinted in Daphne Patai, What Price Utopia? Essays on Ideological Policing, Feminism, and Academic Affairs (2008). Image from The Human Stain, a Miramax movie produced by Bob and Harvey Weinstein.

The Case for Taxing College Endowments

Republicans inserted many provisions in their House and Senate tax reform bills that have inflamed the higher education establishment, including a proposed excise tax on endowments exceeding $250,000 per student at private schools. Although only about 70 schools are affected that collectively enroll under 10 percent of the students attending four-year American universities, from some rhetoric of university leaders you would think that the very foundation of American higher education has been dramatically impaired.

Now Universities Have Detractors

There are two good reasons why the endowment tax makes sense to some politicians. First, public attitudes toward universities have distinctly soured in recent years. What the public perceives as outrageous student behavior, feckless university leadership, and excessive tuition fees has combined with a growing hostility by Republican lawmakers angered over the large political donations and public criticism that academics have made attempting to oust them from office. Lawmakers are growing tired of feeding the mouths that bite them. Revenues raised by taxing colleges can modestly help fund other tax reductions that lawmakers want to make, which are probably economically beneficial to the well over 90 percent of the population living outside the Ivory Towers of Academia.

Second, our econometric examination of college endowments suggests a large portion of endowment income is dissipated in relatively unproductive fashions, financing a growing army of relatively well-paid university administrators and giving influential faculty low teaching loads and high salaries. We estimate that roughly only about 15 cents out of each additional dollar of endowment income goes to lower net tuition fees (published tuition fees—sticker prices– are much higher at highly endowed schools, but those schools also give more scholarship aid). When a newly endowed scholarship is created, schools typically either reduce their student aid support from other funds or raise sticker prices to capture some of the newly funded endowment resources for other purposes.

Academic Gated Communities

The late Henry Manne once suggested that so-called “not-for-profit” universities actually are “owned” in reality, if not legally, by powerful faculty and administrators. These schools generate financial surpluses that, while not legally profits, are viewed by powerful university constituencies that consider themselves the true “owners” of the university as the equivalent of profits, a large portion of which are then distributed as “dividends.”

A healthy portion of these dividends are used to provide higher salaries or other perks such as hiring lots of new administrative assistants such as more assistant deans, “sustainability coordinators” or “diversity officers” to perform irksome jobs or meet politically correct objectives such as fighting global warming or achieving the optimal skin colorization of the students and faculty. As endowments rise, so do full professor salaries and the numbers of professors serving a given number of students. To a considerable extent, endowments are a successful rent-seeking scam of the power brokers within universities

At public universities, subsidies are provided by state governments that usually are less than $1,000 a student but are occasionally higher. The five highest state appropriation levels per student among the 13 public Big Ten universities range between $10,000 and $15,000, equal to the amount that would be provided by an endowment of $250,000 per student where the annual spending rate is four to six percent of the endowment principal. Thus, the GOP excise tax on endowments takes effect only at institutions where endowment spending is generally well above the public subsidies provided at state universities.

At Princeton, the endowment per student far exceeds $2 million, providing probably at least $100,000 in university spending per student. Despite these extraordinary resources, the school still has published tuition and fees for next year of $66,510 –and, if the Princeton website is to be believed, 40 percent of students pay the full price. Why should governments subsidize gifts to increase even further the extraordinary amount of spending that goes on at academic gated communities like Princeton?

Moreover, the proposed endowment tax is actually relatively modest. Suppose a school with a $10 billion endowment (about the size of that at Northwestern or Columbia universities) had a pretty good year, making $1 billion from dividends, interest, rents, and unrealized capital gains. As I understand the proposed legislation, it would pay less than $15 million in federal excise taxes.

We usually subsidize universities because they have what economists call “positive externalities” –good spillover effects that benefit all of society. But campus riots and other campus pathologies can lead to negative externalities –bad societal spillover effects. The GOP excise tax proposal reminds me of an email written me in 2002 by Milton Friedman, in which he suggested “a full analysis…might lead you to conclude that higher education should be taxed to offset its negative externalities.”

Alerting Clueless Administrators

An endowment tax would typically raise only a few hundred million dollars annually. Why bother? It likely will not dramatically alter behavior. Still, the proposal has considerable symbolic and informational value. It does send a warning to politically relatively clueless college administrators that their special privileges as institutions should not be taken for granted, and, indeed, are under intense scrutiny.

The call for an endowment tax also receives some modest support from the fact that very large endowments have sometimes eschewed the conventional belief that these investments should be made conservatively, emphasizing publicly traded stocks and bonds. The traditional view is that investments supporting public institutions should emphasize risk minimization more than wealth maximization. Exotic hedge fund investments in the Cayman Islands and the annual payment of tens of millions of dollars to endowment managers strike many as inappropriate for universities or at least something that should not be subsidized through special tax preferences.

An excise tax on large endowments is unlikely to alter collegiate investment behavior dramatically, nor is it going to be a large revenue raiser at the proposed rate. However, neither is it likely to do much harm and it has some positive symbolic value.

Gender Tyranny at Swedish Universities

It started with an October 29 blog entry by Erik Ringmar, a 56-year-old political scientist at Lund University in Sweden. Ringmar had a problem. At Lund, he explained, it’s strongly recommended that 40% of the readings for every course be written by women. There’s a certain flexibility, but if your reading list contains no women at all, your chance of approval is near zero.

Ringmar had wanted to teach a course on “the rise of right-wing ideas, and eventually fascism, at the turn of the twentieth century.” Ringmar is a man of the left. He wanted to teach about a phenomenon he deplores and considers relevant to life in Europe today. (He’s one of many European intellectuals who has convinced themselves that the major reactionary threat to Europe today isn’t Islam but resurgent European-style fascism.)

In Search of Female Fascists

Ringmar wanted his students to read original texts by fascists themselves. The problem was that during the period in question, there were virtually no female fascist writers of consequence. Ringmar did manage to find one woman who, with a bit of a stretch, could be included on the course list, but that was it.

It wasn’t enough. His department head told him so. Accordingly, Ringmar expanded his course topic to include anarchists as well as fascists. Fortunately for his purposes, there’d been plenty of female anarchist authors back in the day. With this change, Ringmar’s course plan was approved – but just barely, and only on the condition that he also adds Judith Butler.

Judith Butler, of course, was not a pre-World War I fascist or anarchist. Born in 1956, she’s a founder of Queer Studies and a propagator of the notion that gender is a social construction. By conventional standards, there was no sensible rationale for putting Butler on Ringmar’s reading list. But Ringmar agreed.

Even with Butler on his list, however, he got in trouble. His course started a week before he posted his blog entry, and on the very first day, some of his students started asking him about women. The questions had no relevance to the material. Two days later, some of his students complained about him to his department head. He later learned why these things were happening: student leaders on campus had targeted him for harassment, not only because of his “insufficient focus on gender” but also because of his suspicious interest in “old reactionaries.”

Ringmar could have fought back. Instead, he threw in the towel: he’s “decided not to give the course again. I don’t want to be bullied by students and I don’t want weird rumors to spread about me.” Shame. The bullies won – and without much of a fight, either.

Here Comes Gender Mainstreaming

But the public discussion of gender ideology on Swedish campuses was only beginning. Ringmar’s blog entry was noticed by the Swedish media. This was a surprise: Swedish journalists usually ignore challenges to political correctness. But a couple of them paid attention. On November 14, Ivar Arpi, an editor at Svenska Dagbladet, published a long pro-Ringmar essay. He also explained, by way of background, that last year the Swedish government ordered universities to put together plans for “gender mainstreaming” under the direction of the National Secretariat for Gender Research.

What’s “gender mainstreaming”? Its Wikipedia page defines it as “the public policy concept of assessing the different implications for women and men of any planned policy action.” In Swedish universities, it seems to mean turning the notion of gender as a social construct from a questionable hypothesis into an unquestioned orthodoxy.

In his essay on Ringmar, Arpi quoted a statement in which the Secretariat’s deputy director, Fredrik Bondestam, depicted himself and his colleagues as struggling against a “privileged elite” of Swedes who refuse to face up to “their own structural violence,” of which women, among others, are the helpless victims. In reality, Bondestam is himself part of that privileged (and, in fact, extremely pro-feminist) elite, which loves to talk about the “structural violence” purportedly ingrained in Swedish society as a way of avoiding the real-life Islamic violence – much of it directed at women, Muslim and otherwise – that increasingly dominates Swedish life.

When the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten picked up the Ringmar story on November 10, the most illuminating parts of its article were the quotes from Ringmar’s boss, Jakob Gustavsson. The quotes revealed just what Ringmar is up against: Gustavsson came off as the ultimate good soldier, so thoroughly a creature of his institution that he’s become blind and deaf to basic matters of principle.

For example, here was Gustavsson’s defense of Lund’s 40% gender guideline: “After ten years, this is the first time that the guideline…has been viewed as controversial.” Asked if this guideline conflicted with the idea of academic freedom, he replied that the “equality plan has been decided upon by the board, which is a collegial organization.” In other words, the plan had been “voted for by Erik’s colleagues. For ten years, the great majority has been in agreement that this is right.”

Indeed. And what else could matter in a country run by cozy establishment consensus?

A Witch Hunt for Gender Warriors?

So deep-rooted has the tyranny of gender ideology become in the Swedish academy that when Ringmar (and Arpi) posed a challenge to it – however modest – some of its more prominent champions screamed bloody murder. In a passionate November 18 op-ed in the Swedish daily Aftonbladet, five professors from four of the country’s major universities cast themselves as victims of a witch hunt. Their account of the situation was a total reversal of the facts. Presenting the truth claims of gender ideology as self-evident – and as obviously virtuous – they charged that gender ideology was under “threat” from “unscientific” critics.

So it goes. But it won’t last for long. While the feminist bullies on Sweden’s campuses are busy enforcing their quotas, their country is being overrun by a religion with its own centuries-old – and brutally patriarchal – “gender guidelines.” Instead of imposing a 40% quota for females on reading lists, they command women to lead lives of utter obedience and permit men to beat, rape and even kill those who don’t obey. When it comes to gender, this is the danger Swedes should be dealing with. But an honest discussion of this peril is utterly off-limits in the Swedish academy. Instead, the gender warriors are counting names in syllabi.

Photo: Tomb Raider

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.

‘We Made This (Harassment) Law Up From the Beginning and Now We’ve Won’

“The sexual harassment racket is over,” Peggy Noonan excitedly declared in the Wall Street Journal last week. No longer need we be stumped by conundrums based on “he said/she said.” Instead, Noonan rejoices that “now predators are on notice.” Overlooked in the celebration, however, is that the presumption of innocence—long problematic in sexual harassment charges– is going even further down the tubes.

Despite Peggy Noonan’s current views, he said/she said situations are notoriously difficult to disentangle, especially when much time has elapsed between the event and its reporting. Abandoning the presumption of innocence because women “must be believed” is a dangerous step, but sufficiently commonplace these days that it’s not surprising to see some of those accused grovel, apologize publicly even while claiming to have intended no harm, declare their readiness to undergo sensitivity and harassment training, enter rehab or counseling, and otherwise attempt to redeem themselves via excuses intermingled with abject mea culpas.

The Blurring of ‘Sexual Assault’

To make matters worse, the ever-expanding allegations against prominent men display the indiscriminate current use of the term “sexual assault.” This is a rhetorical move designed to efface distinctions between highly disparate acts, and it follows on the well-established tradition in the sexual harassment literature of including everything “unwanted,” from a look or “elevator eyes,” to a leer, a phrase, a joke, an invitation, a touch, a grab, and even rape.

In fact, sexual assault and rape have both been against the law since long before sexual harassment emerged as a legal category in the 1970s. Whereas Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act had prohibited discrimination in employment because of sex, race, color, religion, and national origin, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 extended the prohibition also to schools that receive federal funds. Over the years, however, the view that any sexual behavior and expression could themselves be a form of harassment won out.

Thus, we arrived at the real feminist victory. No longer was quid pro quo harassment (sexual extortion) necessary. In Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986), the U.S. Supreme Court, accepted EEOC guidelines that created the category of “hostile environment” harassment even without economic harm to the plaintiff.  Radical feminist Catharine MacKinnon (who finds it hard to distinguish rape from sexual intercourse) famously declared on that occasion: “We made this law up from the beginning, and now we’ve won.”

Even before Obama’s Department of Education sent a letter of “guidance” to universities in 2011, urging a loosening of the standards of evidence for sexual “misconduct” – itself a fiendishly vague term– such that simply a “preponderance of evidence” (i.e., more than 50 %) should be considered sufficient to sustain an allegation, sexual harassment charges had become a major vehicle for the denial of due process on campus. And that’s because in workplaces and schools, as opposed to courts of law, the mere possibility of costly institutional liability and the threat of loss of federal funding naturally prompted institutions to engage in defensive behavior. Public opinion, with its tendency toward over-reaction, hardly helps. When Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, in September 2017, rescinded Obama’s 2011 “guidance” directive to schools, to restore due process, many media headlines referred to “sexual assault” (rather than “misconduct”) as the issue, perhaps as part of their strategy to pretend the Trump administration was attempting to facilitate rape.

Harassment Charges Usually Mean “No Due Process’

The legal philosopher Mane Hajdin explained (and protested) the way sexual harassment law has evolved by pointing to the two levels at which it functions: At the upper level of the formal legal system, where “harassment” requires verbal or physical conduct that is persistent, pervasive, and severe, traditional legal protections for the accused function. But at the lower,  level of schools and workplaces, we find a sub-legal system that regularly suspends the routine legal protections most Americans assume will govern when an accusation is made.

In my 1998 book Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism, I documented numerous cases of grave injustices, of schools unwilling to distinguish between trivial or even false accusations and serious offenses for which there was substantial evidence, of professors instantly barred from campus as soon as an allegation was made, of job loss over words students found offensive or teaching they disapproved of. And in the twenty years since I wrote that book, the situation has only worsened, as schools encourage complaints in the belief that more complaints indicate their policies are working.

To make sexual harassment charges stick, alleged victims (hyperbolically called “survivors”) naturally have to claim extreme harm. This further muddies the already unpopular distinction between trivial or invented episodes, persistent and pervasive harassment, and actual assault. Anyone can learn the script, and, within academe, offices and officers have proliferated to encourage charges and pursue them. Often the same office first helps the accusers formulate (and even escalate) charges and then proceeds to investigate those charges. The pretense that “women don’t lie” is piously intoned, as if women were not simply humans with complicated motives, just like men.

Quid pro quo harassment, as it turns out, is rare. But that still leaves lots of room for charges of a hostile environment, easy to allege and hard to prove. The triggers of complaints are varied and unoriginal: students angry at a professor’s views or upset over a grade; colleagues resentful of one another; plain old jealousy; power struggles of one sort of another, even attempts by newer employees to displace their bosses–all these can and do find expression through allegations of harassment, and all have been used also by women against women, though men are the primary targets.

Duke and UVA: Two Major Injustices

Even Jane Gallop, a professor accused of sexual harassment by another woman, complained in her 1997 book: “most people take an accusation for a finding of guilt. Simply to be accused of a sexual crime is to be forever stigmatized.” If this is true for a famous feminist such as Gallop, imagine how it functions for a mere man. But we don’t need to imagine; we know. Consider, for example, the immediate assumptions of guilt in the Duke lacrosse case (2006), where 88 Duke professors signed a letter supporting the “victim” (who turned out to be lying) before any investigation had occurred; or the entirely fictitious University of Virginia case (2014) made notorious by Rolling Stone.

Most allegations don’t even attract this kind of publicity, as universities are eager to quietly settle them by punishing the alleged harasser and paying off the self-described victim. The usual identity politics involving race and class (not only sex) of course also play a part in assumptions of guilt or innocence, but the feminist paradigm that has gained the most traction is that “sexual harassment” is something men do to women, period.

When the accused do fight back, the costs to them are very high, since campus officers are devoted principally to protecting the institution–not to seeking an impartial investigation.

And even when the accused do sue or otherwise win out, public opinion often fails to take note. Consider “mattress girl” – the Columbia University student still making a name for herself via a rape charge against a former boyfriend, although he was not only exonerated; Columbia settled the gender bias suit he brought against it. And shortly after the alleged rape, “mattress girl” responded to a birthday email from the alleged rapist with the message, “I love you, Paul. Where are you?!?!?!?!”

Several decades of feminism have enormously strengthened women’s positions in American society. It has also led to the acceptance of certain myths that have surely not helped women deal with the real world. One of the most pernicious is Susan Brownmiller’s assertion, in her best-selling 1975 book Against Our Will, that rape is about “power,” not about “sex.” This unsubstantiated orthodoxy is now held to apply as well to acts of sexual harassment, even trivial ones. Thus, distinctions between expressions (unseemly or not) of sexual interest and actual sexual assault are effaced.

Heteronormativity Is Imposed by Men?

Who has an interest in refusing to draw distinctions? It turns out that well-known feminists have for decades insisted that heterosexuality itself is a socially constructed mechanism by which all men control all women. In this view, there is nothing “natural” about it. Rather, “heteronormativity” is imposed on women by men. From this, it follows that sexual harassment must be about power, not sex, as are all other manifestations of male (hetero)sexuality. Women’s apparent participation in this system is explained in many ways – as coerced, indoctrinated from birth by imposed gender roles, involving a kind of societal Stockholm syndrome, reflecting women’s inability to name their pain and instead construe it as pleasure, and so on.

This is what I have called heterophobia and it has become ever more prevalent as male/female bimorphism and complementarity have been relentlessly attacked and categories of sexual “identity” have proliferated. This is reflected, as well, in the name change of academic departments driven by feminism. They used to be called “Women’s Studies”- and were devoted to promoting and studying women. Today most of them have renamed themselves “Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies,” or some variation thereof, for indeed that is their untiring focus.

From the perspective of these new dogmas, then, refusing to draw distinctions between types of sexual “harassment” is not an innocent mistake. Rather, it’s the logical consequence of the analysis of heterosexuality put forth over many decades now and widely reflected in popular thinking.

To see women as men’s easy victims is, however, to deny them agency and dignity in the name of saving them from both men and themselves. It also presumes that women cannot change, cannot learn to defend themselves or use common sense in their interactions with men. Instead, it is men alone who must change.

Yet surely it makes much more sense to suppose that men who make sexual overtures are probably interested in sex. To admit this, however, returns us to questions of sexual nature and sexual difference, and that is not a discussion encouraged these days. Yes, men may use the power of their positions to try to achieve their sexual aims, just as they no doubt use whatever other advantages they have – money, connections, charm.

Women, too, of course, pursue their aims using whatever means are available to them, including their sexuality, but it seems that getting sex is not high on their list of priorities. Perhaps sex is more of an end in itself for men, and a means to an end for women. This might help explain the differing agendas at play when women are apparently ready to go to some important man’s hotel room for a “meeting.”  Not that this is a peculiarly American phenomenon: One of Tariq Ramadan’s accusers by her own account went to his hotel room at 3 a.m. for a meeting.

There is much evidence, as well, of men’s greater responsiveness to visual sexual stimuli, a detail often ignored in the current debates. Feminism has changed the rules of the game so that today women are to enjoy the freedom to flaunt their sexuality as much as they like. Indeed, it seems that nothing can stop women from exploiting their sexuality in the modern world, while everything these days tells men they dare not respond to it in any way. Thus, male and female cultural norms for the past few decades have been on a collision course.

It’s also worth acknowledging that most women have an interest in being attractive to men. In fact, older women often complain about becoming “invisible” sexually as of a certain age. Why complain if they hated all that attention earlier? And those that can continue to play the game, do. Check out the media attention given to Susan Sarandon, age 70, who appeared at Cannes in 2017 in a revealing outfit with leg flashing and pneumatic breasts prominently on display. Ditto for the tendency among women in the public eye to exhibit ever more flesh, and to sport skin-tight and diaphanous clothing leaving almost nothing to the imagination. These are typically famous and well-paid women, communicating with all others that being quasi-naked is the new dressing up. They are obviously presenting themselves as objects of desire. Does anyone seriously believe that men are forcing women to display themselves like this? That women don’t flirt, don’t make provocative comments and gestures even when they have no wish to go further than that? Sexuality has always been a power tool for women.

In the face of such constant displays, however, men are supposed neither to look nor touch nor comment – unless the woman somehow signals that she welcomes their attention. Being in a state of undress in public evidently does not count as a signal, though it used to when streetwalkers displayed their wares. It’s as though today every woman has the right to channel her inner slut—while expecting there to be no negative consequences, only the positive ones she desires: appreciation, opportunities, admiration, career advancement, publicity.

But good looks and sexual attractiveness are not the only things on which people are eager to trade. Professors are well aware that students have advantages over one another in all sorts of ways, including brains, talent, charm, wit, humor, and conversational skills. All these come into play in ordinary interactions, and all affect success not only in school but in life generally. This is why some famous dystopian satires (such as L.P. Hartley’s 1960 novel Facial Justice, or Kurt Vonnegut’s 1970 story “Harrison Bergeron”) envision societies that, in the name of achieving absolute equality, level the playing field through draconian measures designed to reduce everyone to the mediocre mean.

In the real world, apart from the policing of language and the advantages currently accruing from identity politics, sexual harassment law has succeeded in leveling the playing field in an unforeseen way (or was it, in fact, intentional?): by creating rewards for those making charges. Far from being a stigma to those who allege harassment, as is still maintained decades after this ceased to be the case, it is the reputations and livelihoods of those charged—as we’re seeing on a daily basis—that can readily be ruined.

The hyperbolic claims of a “rape culture” on campus or a sexual harassment “epidemic” is designed to bolster demands for ever more forceful rules and regulations and to signal both the virtue and resolution of administrators in dealing with them. As I noted in Heterophobia, though, many studies had found that sexual bribery and sexual assault were, in fact, rare among students and workers, it made sense that, if “the sexual harassment industry” was to survive, it would have to magnify and extend the range of behaviors and words constituting the offense. This is how a social problem is defined and gains attention, as the sociologist Joel Best has demonstrated: not by drawing distinctions, but by presenting every instance as “nothing but” a further example of the underlying problem.

The range of charges all being treated as equally serious is extraordinary evidence that a kind of hysteria is at work, as is the “#me too” vogue these days. Mob psychology is visibly unfolding before our eyes and it’s hardly surprising that many of the accused men are acting like abject creatures, no doubt hoping to salvage their careers and lives to some extent. We have been through this before. The recovered memory of childhood sexual abuse mania of the 1980s, as is well documented, ruined lives (of both self-proclaimed victims and their alleged abusers), landed innocent people in jail and even caused desperate parents to confess to things that had never happened.

Can’t Women Handle Vulgar Men?

The conflation of charges large and small as all representing one evil, one problem, also raises additional concerns, as does the practice of assuming all charges to be true because some of them are plausible and rest on evidence. What should one think if, after 40+ years of very active feminism, women still have no gumption, spirit, and ability to take care of themselves? If they do not know how to respond to vulgar gestures or comments or don’t dare leave a room when they don’t like what’s going on within it? If they later construe a whole range of alleged behaviors as equally traumatic and life-altering?

Or could it be that many women have qualities of autonomous, capable, and mature human beings but choose not to exercise them in particular circumstances? Are they so eager for the success of a certain type that they in effect negotiate with their “assailant” about just what they’re willing to do or not do? And yet even some recent accusers are reported to have run out of the room, or otherwise successfully rebuffed the men against whom they are now speaking out.

A question worth pondering: If these scenarios are in fact as common as so many people are now claiming, how on earth did nearly half a century of very active feminism create a population of such cowards? We know that women do better than men in many academic subjects; they outnumber men in college attendance and among graduates; they have reached or surpassed parity with men in many highly-regarded professions. They insist on their ability to compete successfully with men on every level. Yet, somehow they’re unable to deal with obnoxious men on their own and need the state and a massive bureaucracy to take over the task.

Certainly, people should behave with decorum (an outdated concept) for the sake of having a truly civil, “civil society,” but laws micromanaging everyday interactions are not helpful, any more than are restrictions on speech because someone feels “offended” or “uncomfortable.” Sexual extortion, sexual assault, and rape,” are and should be illegal. Vulgar overtures should not be. Women should learn to deal with these things.

Feminists insist on a woman’s right to control her own body, and on women’s ability, even obligation, to forge their own identities. Yet somehow these same women are excused for not being able to deal with vulgar or misplaced sexual overtures. If women are really this fragile, how can they function in the public sphere? If decades of feminism have been such a failure that women are indeed afraid to speak up or to leave the room, why might that be? If they’re not willing to insist that a professional meeting is held in appropriate professional venues, is it because they want something from these men, hence have a certain inclination to risk and even put up with sexual overtures and worse if they think it might get them something else they seek?

Raising these uncomfortable issues will, of course, be attacked as outrageous defenses of sexual assault. They are not. In a world in which we constantly talk about “interaction,” about the complexity of human relations, why the simple-minded division into villains (men) and heroes (usually women)? Why should we exempt the relations between adults seeking something – perhaps different things: promotion, an opportunity, a break, a sexual dalliance or diversion, some quick pleasure? Why the constant conflation of sexual overtures with sexual assault? Why are we not supposed even to discuss these aspects of the situation?

The Purge of the Deviants May Go Too Far

Sociologist Emile Durkheim would find validation for his theory of deviance in the fury surrounding sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men in politics, the media, business, and academia. More than one hundred years ago, Durkheim argued that the reason acts of deviance are identified and publicly punished is because defining deviant behavior reinforces social order, and inhibits future deviance. The kinds of public punishment and shaming that Hollywood celebrities and media stars have endured these past weeks affirms our collective beliefs and provides a stabilizing function for society. But, as in all moral panics, the innocent often become collateral damage—sacrificed to make amends for previous injustices.

Definitions of Deviance Change

Durkheim concluded that by defining some forms of behavior as deviant, we are affirming the social norms of the society. But, what puzzles many of us is why the definition of deviance varies so dramatically over time. We cannot always predict who will become defined as deviant, and when the definitions will change. We do know that power plays the most important role in identifying who gets to define deviant behavior.

Until recently, allegations of sexual harassment and abuse by powerful men were not taken seriously—they were not viewed as deviant because the acts were perpetrated by powerful men on less powerful women. Now, the power to define sexual deviance has shifted to women—those who have collaborated with the media to bring attention to the issue and reform how such behavior is perceived and dealt with by society.

Men on college campuses have been enduring the new definition of deviance, where due process protections have been withheld from them for nearly two decades. Title IX administrators on college campuses like Georgetown and Boston College admit that there is “no presumption of innocence” for males accused of sexual assault. It is ironic that the same congressmen—like John Conyers (D-NY)—who helped create the Title IX nightmare that pressed colleges and universities to withhold due process protections for students is now himself accused of sex abuse, and demanding due process.

Likewise, the same faculty members who failed to protect the students on their campuses from the kangaroo courts that were set up to deal with Title IX violations are now themselves caught up in that same dilemma. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported last week that two Stanford English professors—one retired and one deceased—have now been accused of rape. And, in even more alarming allegations, renowned professor Tariq Ramadan, a scholar of Islam at Oxford University, has been accused of rape by Henda Ayari, a French feminist author. Four Swiss women claim he made sexual advances to them when they were studying with him as teenagers in Geneva.

The UK Telegraph reports that one of the accusers claimed that Ramadan made unsuccessful sexual advances to her when she was 14 years old. Another alleged he had sexual relations with her in the back of his car when she was just 15 years old. Avari accused Ramadan of raping and assaulting her in a hotel during a conference they attended together in Paris in 2012. Ramadan has taken a leave of absence from Oxford University, where he holds an academic chair financed by Qatar. He denies all the allegations, claiming in a Facebook post that he is being targeted by a “campaign of slander clearly orchestrated by my longtime adversaries.”

There are indeed some adversaries. In 2010, Ramadan was fired from his teaching position at a Dutch University and from an advisory position with the City of Rotterdam amid allegations that his Iranian-funded television program Islam and Life, airing on Iran’s Press TV, was irreconcilable with his duties in Rotterdam. In 2004 Ramadan had to resign his faculty appointment at the University of Notre Dame’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies because his visa was revoked by the State Department. The grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Ramadan presents himself as a reformist and says he rejects terrorism. But, it seems the State Department thought otherwise.

The Notre Dame controversy triggered a series of protests against the Bush state department by professors throughout the country. The Rev. Edward Malloy, then the President of Notre Dame decried the decision claiming that “We have no reason to think he is a mole or an underground instigator…we see him as a really good fit for our peace institute.”

Well, perhaps not. With a culture shift that has empowered women, formerly acceptable behaviors are now newly defined as deviant. Sometimes the redefinition goes too far as in many of the false allegations of sexual abuse on college campuses like the Duke lacrosse case, and the University of Virginia false fraternity house rape allegations published in The Rolling Stone.  Durkheim would see these false allegations as a kind of “correction” –an over-reaction to formerly unpunished deviant behavior.

Related: Harvey Weinstein and Higher Ed

For decades—until the 1960s—sociologists viewed identifying deviant behavior as central to the process of generating and sustaining cultural values, clarifying moral boundaries and promoting social solidarity. But, defining by consensus what is acceptable conduct is exactly what had disappeared. In the aftermath of the radical egalitarianism of the 1960s, merely to label a behavior as deviant came to be viewed as rejecting the equality—perhaps the very humanity—of those engaging in it.

Most sociologists became convinced that the sociology of deviance was more about the selective censure by those with power—and the subject matter became contested. Once undergraduate students began referring to the college course in deviant behavior as the course in “nuts, sluts, and perverts,” most universities deleted the once-popular course from their catalogs. By the mid-1970s, the overt deconstruction of the concept of deviance was complete. Few university campuses offered the course, and even fewer books were written about the concept of deviant behavior.

But, in the early 1990s, a lone voice encouraged sociologists to consider these problematic behaviors once again. Addressing the 87th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association in 1992, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan did the unthinkable – he spoke of a “worrisome increase in deviant behavior.” In a speech entitled “Defining Deviancy Down” the Senator warned that for the previous 25 years, society has chosen not to notice behaviors that would be otherwise disapproved or even punished. He complained that we had been redefining deviancy so as to exempt much conduct previously stigmatized and also quietly raising the level of what is considered normal in categories where behavior is now abnormal by any earlier standard.

The speech was received with subdued applause. Few sociologists were willing to be disrespectful toward one of “their own,” especially since the Senator favored the same progressive policies they endorsed. But most dismissed Senator Moynihan’s speech as the “nostalgic musings” of an old-fashioned sociologist who had lost his way during his years in politics.

Still, Moynihan’s turn of phrase became ingrained in our political vocabulary. Then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani invoked the phrase when discussing the ways in which he revitalized the City of New York. And, when the Monica Lewinsky scandal emerged in 1998, some conservative commentators accused President Clinton of having “defined the presidency down.” Everyone knew what that meant, even though few were willing to use the word “deviant” to refer to the President.

There will be dozens—perhaps hundreds more men identified as deviant. Many of them will be innocent, but in the midst of a moral panic like we are experiencing, moral entrepreneurs have the power. Eventually, as in the Salem witch trials, the accusers will begin to be accused and truly innocent people with power will be targeted. We will begin to realize that we need to temper our allegations and perhaps provide due process protections. For now, though, the power to define deviancy up has shifted to women—and the public punishments and shaming have just begun.

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.

Unsheltered

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.

Are All Men Really Like That?

In the mainstream and on social media, we’ve been told that all women live under constant threat and that all men are part of the problem.

One columnist admonished “nice guys” were most likely responsible for the bulk of the problem and bore the responsibility for fixing it. The journalist Benjamin Law started the hashtag #How I Will Change for men to publicly confess and “take responsibility for their role in rape culture, complicit or otherwise,” portraying any man who has ever questioned the accuracy of a claim of harassment as a “bad guy.”

It is important to consider the accuracy and impact of stereotypes of men in general as violent. While it is true that the overwhelming majority of violent crimes are committed by men, it is a tiny minority of men who are responsible for the majority of violence. In a Swedish sample, the most violent 1% of the population committed 63% of all violent crimes, nearly twice as many as the other 99% combined.

It has also been shown that the subset of the population with the greatest propensity to criminality, those known as “life-course persistent offenders,” are much more likely than the general population to commit rape or engage in sexual coercion. The researchers who have investigated this go on to suggest the tendency of this small minority of men to commit such acts may be caused by the genetics of those specific men, not by a “rape culture” that teaches men in general that violence against women is acceptable.

In the realm of sexual harassment as well, repeat offenders are likely to be giving the male population a bad name. It is quite likely that a very small percentage of men harass large numbers of women, causing a disproportionate amount of distress. And this type of offender (a life-course persistent offender) is often resistant to rehabilitation and treatment. Indeed, some investigations have found that attempts to rehabilitate psychopaths (as diagnosed by the Hare psychopathy checklist) have actually increased their likelihood of committing violent crimes such as sexual assault.

The actress Alyssa Milano began a social media campaign to raise awareness of these forms of abuse in the world at large, tweeting to ask anyone who has been sexually harassed or assaulted to reply, “Me too.”

While Milano may have had the admirable goal of drawing attention to a serious issue, the subsequent narrative that has been presented has not been entirely accurate, and a non-trivial amount of ugliness has also been unleashed.

Are violent experiences universal

The scale of the response to Alyssa Milano’s tweet does not necessarily mean that her experience is shared by all women. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that only 5% of the population had suffered these types of abuse. Since Milano has 3.25 million followers on Twitter, if 5% responded to her tweet, then that would lead to 162,500 posts. If each of those followers, in turn, had 100 friends, of which 5% responded that they too had been victims, that would lead to 812,500 posts. Continue this for a few more levels, and we can see how the scale of the Internet can cause an awareness campaign to go viral with millions of posts even if it is raising awareness of something that affects only a small percentage of the population.

Of course, this analysis does not prove that abuse is rare; it only shows that the success of #MeToo does not prove the contrary. In order to answer the question of how widespread abuse actually is, it is crucial that we define clearly what exactly constitutes abuse. To have been “sexually harassed or assaulted” can encompass anything from hearing a sexually explicit joke once to being brutally raped repeatedly over an extended period of time. The former is a relatively small affront that most adults of either gender have likely experienced at some point in their lives, while the latter is one of the most horrific ordeals that a person can be put through, and there are certainly many shades of gray in between.

If we treat every inappropriate joke as if it were a violent felony, then we do a disservice to all involved: True victims have their experiences diluted by comparatively trivial grievances, innocent men stand to be swept away along with the guilty in the resulting moral panic, and the factual integrity of our understanding of these important issues is severely compromised.

It also behooves us to be aware that violent crime, including sexual assault, has been in decline for decades. As illustrated by Steven Pinker in his book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, this trend is represented across many nations and cuts across many demographic categories. According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN,) our country’s largest non-profit devoted to rape prevention, sexual assault has dropped by half in the U.S. since 1993.

While even one rape is one too many, we should also be concerned about creating a moral panic when the evidence suggests that the situation is actually improving. Doing so may interfere with our ability to learn from experience and understand how have we achieved this decline, making it more difficult for us to most effectively ensure that we continue to build on the progress that we have made toward preventing this horrific crime.

Sexual violence statistics

To understand the actual scope of the problem, we can look to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS), a 2010 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control to measure the prevalence of different forms of abuse. By examining these data, we can evaluate the claim that sexual violence is a universal experience among women and that men are unaffected.

To begin, let us consider the most severe form of sexual violence, rape. According to the survey, 18.3% of women and 1.4% of men have been raped at some point in their lifetimes. However, the NISVS uses a definition of rape that excludes most male victims, including only those who were either raped by another man or anally violated using the rapist’s fingers or an object.

Most men who were raped by a woman—whether through physical force, threats of physical force, or incapacitation from date rape drugs or alcohol—are instead listed as being “made to penetrate,” which is classified as a form of “other sexual violence” despite meeting the common definition of rape as forced sexual intercourse.

The lifetime prevalence of this form of rape is 4.8% for men and too small a number to accurately estimate the survey results for women. Combining these two pairs of numbers, we find that rape is approximately 3-4 times more prevalent among women than among men, depending on how many men who were “made to penetrate” were also victims of rape under the NISVS definition.

However, the gender gap vanishes altogether when we look at the prevalence over a 12-month period instead of lifetime prevalence: 1.1% of women were victims of rape, while 1.1% of men were “made to penetrate.” We do not know the reason for this discrepancy. It is possible that there was a greater gender gap in the past than there is today, or that male victims who were violated more recently are more likely to report their victimization on the survey. Whatever the true gender ratio, we know that rape is far from being a universal experience of either gender but nonetheless a problem for both. It is simply the decent thing to do to treat all victims with sympathy and respect and not write anyone off just because of their gender.

The NISVS also measured other forms of unwanted sexual contact that do not rise to the level of rape. These types of abuse are somewhat more common but still far from universal, affecting 27.2% of women and 11.7% of men. Once again, when we look at the 12-month prevalence statistics, the gender gap narrows to the point of vanishing, with 2.2% of women and 2.3% of men reporting victimization over the course of a single year.

Domestic violence statistics

Having discussed sexual abuse at length, let us now turn our attention to domestic violence. It is true that women are more likely to experience the most serious forms of domestic violence, which can culminate in stalking and murder. However, 30% of the victims of intimate partner homicides are men. Even for this rarest and most severe form of violence, male victims are far from negligible. Less severe forms of intimate partner violence are both more common and more evenly distributed.

Domestic violence is indeed a scourge that affects people of both genders. According to the NISVS, 32.9% of women and 28.2% of men report having been victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives. The gender ratio flips when one looks at the 12-month prevalence, which is 4.0% for women and 4.7% for men.

If we restrict ourselves to looking solely at severe domestic violence, we find that it is less common with a somewhat larger gender skew, with 24.3% of women and 13.8% of men reporting victimization at some point in their lives, although once again the gap is somewhat smaller (2.7% vs. 2.0%) over a 12-month period. Whether one defines it more broadly or more narrowly, domestic violence is an affliction affecting significant numbers of people of both sexes—although it is far from universal for either.

LGBT couples are at especially high risk of being victims of domestic violence. According to the NISVS data, lesbians were significantly more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to experience domestic violence, as were bisexual people of either gender, with a whopping 61.1% of bisexual women reporting that they had been victims. The domestic violence infrastructure, including shelters and other services, was built on the assumption that abuse is male-on-female, and LGBT victims often report experiencing discrimination when seeking help.

Male victims also face gender-related barriers to being taken seriously. ABC News conducted a social experiment in which a woman acted out beating a man in public in front of a hidden camera. The experiment carried on for hours while no less than 163 bystanders of both genders walked by before someone finally called 911. One woman even rooted for the female abuser, saying “You go, girl!” When some of the bystanders were interviewed by ABC, they said that they assumed that the man must have done something to deserve it, rather than thinking that he deserved help.

We also see these attitudes play out in popular culture. Consider, for example, the music video released in 2014 by the country singer Taylor Swift for her song “Blank Space.” In it, Swift is shown pushing her boyfriend and throwing a heavy object at his face. Toward the end of the video, he is shown lying on the ground unconscious with her on top of him, violently shaking his head back and forth and kissing him erotically. While what happens next is left to the viewer’s imagination, it is safe to say that that it is not consensual.

Male victims of domestic violence often face the surprising obstacle of being falsely accused of the very crime of which they have been the victim. One of the most emotionally wrenching scenes of the 2016 documentary film “The Red Pill” shows a male victim recounting how he was admonished by a police officer that had better get out immediately if his wife got violent again, as he would be hauled off to jail if she so much as broke a fingernail while beating him.

A 2011 study confirms that these are not just isolated incidents but a pervasive problem—in fact, men who call 911 for help with domestic violence are more likely to be arrested themselves than to see their abusers arrested. The same study found that men who call domestic violence hotlines or other service providers were often turned away on the grounds that they only help women, and 95% felt that the service providers were biased against them because of their gender. 

Other forms of violence

The forms of violence examined by the NISVS are those that are most likely to affect women, yet they are far from the only forms of violence. For the rates of other crimes, we can look to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), an annual survey taken by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that measures the victimization rates for all crimes.

The data show that the majority of the victims of violent crime overall are men. The one crime not measured by the NCVS is murder, as a victim who has been killed cannot respond to a crime victimization survey. For data on murder, we look to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports to find that no less than 78% of the victims are men.

The criminal justice system

In addition to discussing the perspectives of victims, it is also important to consider the injustice arising from stereotypes of men in general as violent. To see this, we need only look to the ways that men and women are treated differently by the criminal justice system. According to the National Registry of Exonerations, over 90% of those found to have been wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit are men.

When a man is convicted of a crime, whether rightly or wrongly, he can expect to receive a sentence that is on average 63% longer than a woman convicted of the same offense. The death penalty is applied almost exclusively to men. While women make up 10% of those convicted of murder in the first degree, they are only 2% of those sentenced to death and less than 1% of those actually executed.

Conclusion

While there is no denying that violence tends to affect men and women differently, the notion that women are always the victims and men are always the aggressors is demonstrably false. All victims deserve our sympathy, whether they are male or female and whether the crime they have endured is typical of their gender. No one deserves to be viewed as violent or threatening just because of the anatomy with which they were born.

Rates of violence against both men and women are much lower today than they have historically been. We should work to devise effective solutions to continue that progress, rather than resorting to using all men as scapegoats for the violence that remains. Competing over which gender has it worse is counterproductive and only serves to needlessly divide us. We must be willing to listen to men’s pain along with that of women, including the perspectives of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, and seek solutions that build a better world for all of us. Until the day arrives when that begins to happen, men everywhere should raise their hands and respectfully say #MeToo

Reprinted with permission from Quillette

Gideon Scopes is a pseudonym used by a software engineer.

Teaching Millennials How Not to Think Stupid

I teach in a law school. For several years my students have been mostly Millennials. Contrary to stereotype, I have found that the vast majority of them want to learn. But true to stereotype, I increasingly find that most of them cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings. Their minds are held hostage in a prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors.

Everything Is Classist or Racist

They cannot learn until their minds are freed from that prison. This year in my Foundations of Law course for first-year law students, I found my students especially impervious to the ancient wisdom of foundational texts, such as Plato’s Crito and the Code of Hammurabi. Many of them were quick to dismiss unfamiliar ideas as “classist” and “racist,” and thus unable to engage with those ideas on the merits. So, a couple of weeks into the semester, I decided to lay down some ground rules. I gave them these rules just before beginning our annual unit on legal reasoning.

Here is the speech I gave them.

Before I can teach you how to reason, I must first teach you how to rid yourself of unreason. For many of you have not yet been educated. You have been dis-educated. To put it bluntly, you have been indoctrinated. Before you learn how to think you must first learn how to stop unthinking.

Reasoning requires you to understand truth claims, even truth claims that you think are false or bad or just icky. Most of you have been taught to label things with various “isms” which prevent you from understanding claims you find uncomfortable or difficult.

Skip All Terms Ending in ’ism’

Reasoning requires correct judgment. Judgment involves making distinctions, discriminating. Most of you have been taught how to avoid critical, evaluative judgments by appealing to simplistic terms such as “diversity” and “equality.”

Reasoning requires you to understand the difference between true and false. And reasoning requires coherence and logic. Most of you have been taught to embrace incoherence and illogic. You have learned to associate truth with your subjective feelings, which are neither true nor false but only yours, and which are constantly changeful.

We will have to pull out all of the weeds in your mind as we come across them. Unfortunately, your mind is full of weeds, and this will be a very painful experience. But it is strictly necessary if anything useful, good, and fruitful is to be planted in your head.

There is no formula for this. Each of you has different weeds, and so we will need to take this on the case-by-case basis. But there are a few weeds that infect nearly all of your brains. So I am going to pull them out now.

First, except when describing an ideology, you are not to use a word that ends in “ism.” Communism, socialism, Nazism, and capitalism are established concepts in history and the social sciences, and those terms can often be used fruitfully to gain knowledge and promote understanding. “Classism,” “sexism,” “materialism,” “cisgenderism,” and (yes) even racism are generally not used as meaningful or productive terms, at least as you have been taught to use them. Most of the time, they do not promote understanding.

Don’t Tell Us What You Feel

In fact, “isms” prevent you from learning. You have been taught to slap an “ism” on things that you do not understand, or that make you feel uncomfortable, or that make you uncomfortable because you do not understand them. But slapping a label on the box without first opening the box and examining its contents is a form of cheating. Worse, it prevents you from discovering the treasures hidden inside the box. For example, when we discussed the Code of Hammurabi, some of you wanted to slap labels on what you read which enabled you to convince yourself that you had nothing to learn from ancient Babylonians. But when we peeled off the labels and looked carefully inside the box, we discovered several surprising truths. In fact, we discovered that Hammurabi still has a lot to teach us today.

One of the falsehoods that has been stuffed into your brain and pounded into place is that moral knowledge progresses inevitably, such that later generations are morally and intellectually superior to earlier generations and that the older the source, the more morally suspect that source is. There is a term for that. It is called chronological snobbery. Or, to use a term that you might understand more easily, “ageism.”

Second, you have been taught to resort to two moral values above all others, diversity and equality. These are important values if properly understood. But the way most of you have been taught to understand them makes you irrational, unreasoning. For you have been taught that we must have as much diversity as possible and that equality means that everyone must be made equal. But equal simply means the same. To say that 2+2 equals 4 is to say that 2+2 is numerically the same as four. And diversity simply means difference. So when you say that we should have diversity and equality you are saying we should have difference and sameness. That is incoherent, by itself. Two things cannot be different and the same at the same time in the same way.

Furthermore, diversity and equality are not the most important values. In fact, neither diversity nor equality is valuable at all in its own right. Some diversity is bad. For example, if slavery is inherently wrong, as I suspect we all think it is, then a diversity of views about the morality of slavery is worse than complete agreement that slavery is wrong.

Similarly, equality is not to be desired for its own sake. Nobody is equal in all respects. We are all different, which is to say that we are all not the same, which is to say that we are unequal in many ways. And that is generally a good thing. But it is not always a good thing (see the previous remarks about diversity).

Related to this:  You do you not know what the word “fair” means. It does not just mean equality. Nor does it mean something you do not like. For now, you will have to take my word for this. But we will examine fairness from time to time throughout this semester.

Watch the Words ‘Fair’ and Diversity’

Third, you should not bother to tell us how you feel about a topic. Tell us what you think about it. If you can’t think yet, that’s O.K.. Tell us what Aristotle thinks, or Hammurabi thinks, or H.L.A. Hart thinks. Borrow opinions from those whose opinions are worth considering. As Aristotle teaches us in the reading for today, men and women who are enslaved to the passions, who never rise above their animal natures by practicing the virtues, do not have worthwhile opinions. Only the person who exercises practical reason and attains practical wisdom knows how first to live his life, then to order his household, and finally, when he is sufficiently wise and mature, to venture opinions on how to bring order to the political community.

One of my goals for you this semester is that each of you will encounter at least one idea that you find disagreeable and that you will achieve genuine disagreement with that idea. I need to explain what I mean by that because many of you have never been taught how to disagree.

Disagreement is not expressing one’s disapproval of something or expressing that something makes you feel bad or icky. To really disagree with someone’s idea or opinion, you must first understand that idea or opinion. When Socrates tells you that a good life is better than a life in exile you can neither agree nor disagree with that claim without first understanding what he means by “good life” and why he thinks running away from Athens would be unjust. Similarly, if someone expresses a view about abortion, and you do not first take the time to understand what the view is and why the person thinks the view is true, then you cannot disagree with the view, much less reason with that person. You might take offense. You might feel bad that someone holds that view. But you are not reasoning unless you are engaging the merits of the argument, just as Socrates engaged with Crito’s argument that he should flee from Athens.

So, here are three ground rules for the rest of the semester.

  1.  The only “ism” I ever want to come out your mouth is a syllogism. If I catch you using an “ism” or its analogous “ist” — racist, classist, etc. — then you will not be permitted to continue speaking until you have first identified which “ism” you are guilty of at that very moment. You are not allowed to fault others for being biased or privileged until you have first identified and examined your own biases and privileges.
  2.  If I catch you this semester using the words “fair,” “diversity,” or “equality,” or a variation on those terms, and you do not stop immediately to explain what you mean, you will lose your privilege to express any further opinions in class until you first demonstrate that you understand three things about the view that you are criticizing.
  3.  If you ever begin a statement with the words “I feel,” before continuing you must cluck like a chicken or make some other suitable animal sound.

To their credit, the students received the speech well. And so far this semester, only two students have been required to cluck like chickens.

Reprinted with permission from The New Boston Post 

When Students Kill Important College Courses

The Abolition of Man is the best refutation of moral relativism that has ever seen print (aside from the Bible, of course). In this short and cogent book, C.S. Lewis ponders what happens when human beings abrogate transcendent moral law and objective truth and begin to fashion their own guidelines for living. One argument that he refutes is that “Man” needs not to observe old, time-encrusted commandments handed down from the Year One, but can decide the course of his own future through reason and deliberation.

Lewis responds, simply, that “Man” will not make such decisions, but a certain number of men who have the power in any given generation will do so, depending on the technology available to them, and that these decisions will then bind the generations afterward. “For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases,” Lewis explains, actually means “the power of some men to make other men what they please.”

Furthermore, Lewis argues, these powerful men will not necessarily act out of reason and deliberation, but, bypassing objective standards of truth, will be governed by their own “impulses.”

Lewis particularly faults the moral relativists for not considering, as physicists routinely must, the dimension of Time in their actions and calculations. Lewis is thinking in terms of generations. When we consider curricular changes propelled by students at a university, we are dealing with a much shorter timeline, four years really, the amount of time it takes most students to earn the degree–the ones who will earn the degree, that is, and not drop out altogether. So, at present, we are talking about changes demanded by, say, members of the Class of 2022, that will affect all future students in that particular college through the 2020s and into the 2030s and even the 2040s, some of them now obliviously playing video games, some toddling about their playgroups, some not yet even born.

This prospective scenario may be playing out now at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. As Peter Wood writes at Minding the Campus, “a slow-motion protest” is being mounted at Reed by the “Reedies Against Racism,” who are

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.

As Wood explains, “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.”

While the outcome of the Reedies’ disruptive activism is not yet known, the whole protest seems to illuminate Lewis’s point. Some members of the present student body at Reed are seeking to overturn a required course that has instructed generations of students before them, and to eliminate it from the education of cohorts of students after them because these activists feel that studying Ancient Greece, foundational to Western civilization, is ipso facto “racist.”

Related: Our Colleges Are Getting Worse-3 Proposals to Help Save Them

I thought about this while at a New York Philharmonic concert featuring two works by Leonard Bernstein, inspired, respectively, by Plato’s Symposium and the Lamentations of Jeremiah. I saw a young couple there, perhaps in their early thirties, who would be about the right age to have graduated Stanford in, say, 2006, long after the “hey-hey-ho-ho-Western-Civ-has-got-to-go” movement removed any required courses there on Western culture, and sparked similar movements at other colleges. Obviously, this couple is interested in concert music, but they might have been surprised to find that a modern composer such as Bernstein, who also composed the popular musical West Side Story, drew inspiration from ancient texts.

I could imagine them wondering as they busied over the program prior to the entry of the conductor, “Who are Plato and Jeremiah and why would Bernstein find them inspirational?” Or perhaps, alternatively, “Too bad, but the courses in which these ancient figures were taught were no longer required at Stanford when we were there.”

Yes, those infinitely wise students of the Class of 2002, barely out of braces and acne ointments, had decided that my couple, Class of 2006, were not to be required to study these writers, supposedly tainted somehow by the purported racism of the West.

Thanks to the actions at Stanford, which started the whole anti-Western-courses crusade throughout American higher education, students are missing out on the likes of Plato and the prophets in favor of diversity writers such as bell hooks and Sandra Cisneros.

The Founding Fathers who fashioned our system of government set it down for generations to follow but they provided a mechanism of checks and balances and a procedure for amending the Constitution. Today’s student militants don’t think very far ahead.

Some students are daring to think differently, however.  In 2016, close to twenty years after the hey-hey-ho-ho-ing, the staff of the Stanford Review, the student newspaper founded in 1987 by Peter Thiel and Norman Book as a conservative/libertarian alternative, drew up a petition to the Faculty Senate to require a two-quarter freshmen course in Western civilization.

Related: Hey, Stanford: Western Civ Has Gotta Grow

It may be protested that a requirement should not be necessary, that students could individually and separately seek out courses in the great figures, assuming that these are somewhere still available, and in relatively unpoliticized form, somewhere in the university, but some students might actually like the guidance of a designed, thought-out curriculum. As the little girl in a free-form, progressive school asked her teacher, “Could we just for one day not do whatever we want?”

The petition garnered enough signatures for the request to be put to a school-wide student vote before it could get to the Faculty Senate. It was defeated, 342 in favor, and 1992 against. It is evidently too late to reverse the actions of previous generations of students. As Lewis says, some men and women get to decide what other men and women can have.

Photo: Painting of a scene from Plato’s Symposium (Anselm Feuerbach, 1873) at Google Cultural Institute