Category Archives: Essays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cadmus and Company

Racial preferences in college admission are dragon’s teeth.

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

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

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

Round One

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

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

Round Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Image: Hendrick Goltzius, Cadmus fighting the Dragon

Five Realities of Tribal Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Fallout from High School Walkouts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Catherine Lhamon
Catherine Lhamon

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

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

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

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

Insisting That Whites Should ‘Step Back’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identity Politics v. the New ‘Me Generation’

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

Writing in a decidedly deterministic vein, Chua contends that:

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

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

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

I identify as…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, the Weird Campus Culture Pollutes the Whole Nation Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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