Category Archives: Essays

Did the Right ‘Weaponize’ Free Speech?

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

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

No, Not Milo or Spencer

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

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

Scott’s Diffuse Anxiety

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

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

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

Academic freedom as Fig Leaf

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Hillary Might Have Done

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

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

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

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

The Devious Plot Against the Universities

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

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

How to End Enlightenment Thinking

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

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

Trojan Horse Pedagogy

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

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

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

The Groupthink of Transgender Pronouns

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

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

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

White Men Not allowed to Speak

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

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

 

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

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

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

Popping the Higher Education Bubble

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

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

Related: Let’s Scuttle the University as Hotel

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

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

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

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

A Nightmare Future of Higher Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘The Resistance’ Fights Koch

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

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

Focus on George Mason

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

No Focus on Tom Steyer

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

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

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

Money for Catholic Colleges to Attack Catholic Values

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

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

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

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

Taxing the Campus Plutocrats

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

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

Money at the Top

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

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

College Presidents Doing Well

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

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

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

Call the Profits ‘Surplus’

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

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

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

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

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

Campus Sex—a Valuable Commodity

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

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

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

Obsession with Power

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

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

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

Is All Teaching Erotic?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Case for Taxing College Endowments

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

Now Universities Have Detractors

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

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

Academic Gated Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alerting Clueless Administrators

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

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

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

Gender Tyranny at Swedish Universities

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

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

In Search of Female Fascists

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

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

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

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

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

Here Comes Gender Mainstreaming

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Witch Hunt for Gender Warriors?

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

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

Photo: Tomb Raider

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

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

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

No Repentance for Monstrous Acts

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

O Sea, give me news of my loved ones.

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

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

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

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

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

Banal Landscapes as Propaganda

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

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

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

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

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

Why Would John Jay Do This?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Blurring of ‘Sexual Assault’

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

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

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

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

Harassment Charges Usually Mean “No Due Process’

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

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

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

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

Duke and UVA: Two Major Injustices

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

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

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

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

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

Heteronormativity Is Imposed by Men?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can’t Women Handle Vulgar Men?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Purge of the Deviants May Go Too Far

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

Definitions of Deviance Change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Harvey Weinstein and Higher Ed

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

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

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

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

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

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

What the Tax-Reform Law Could Do to Higher Education

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

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

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

The Maelstrom

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

Why the Cuts Upset the Colleges

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

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

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

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

Two Tricks

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

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

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

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

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

Unsheltered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Old Man River

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

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

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

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

Are All Men Really Like That?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are violent experiences universal

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

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

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

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

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

Sexual violence statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Domestic violence statistics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other forms of violence

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

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

The criminal justice system

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

Reprinted with permission from Quillette

Gideon Scopes is a pseudonym used by a software engineer.

Teaching Millennials How Not to Think Stupid

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

Everything Is Classist or Racist

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

Here is the speech I gave them.

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

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

Skip All Terms Ending in ’ism’

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t Tell Us What You Feel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch the Words ‘Fair’ and Diversity’

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reprinted with permission from The New Boston Post 

When Students Kill Important College Courses

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

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

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

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

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

waging war on the college’s core humanities course, Humanities 110, “Greece and the Ancient Mediterranean.” The students seem to have gained the upper hand in their attack on Reed’s only required freshman course. Classes have been canceled; a day-long boycott was launched; a Black Lives Matter group presented the president of the college with a list of demands, and President John Kroger capitulated to many of them.

As Wood explains, “The humanities course in question has been a cornerstone of a Reed education since 1943 and is the successor to a requirement that goes back to the college’s founding in 1908.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related: Hey, Stanford: Western Civ Has Gotta Grow

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

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

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

U. of Wisconsin Will Suspend or Expel Campus Disrupters

Following a spate of controversial protests on college campuses across the nation that sought to silence mostly conservative speakers, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents has adopted a policy that mandates punishment for students and other campus citizens who willfully seek to disrupt speakers.

The policy, resulting from pressure by the state legislature, calls for mandatory suspension of students who disrupt a speaker for the second time, and expulsion for a third offense.

This is one of the two most controversial aspects of the policy; the other is the potential for the “chilling effect” of those who want to properly protest a speaker. The disruption standard comes from a famous Supreme Court student free speech case (Tinker v. School District of Des Moines, 1968), which covers those who “materially and substantially” disrupt a lawful speaker on campus — a valid concern if the standard is not applied conscientiously. Ultimately, the courts may have to weigh in on how to draw a legitimate line between protest and disruption.

In addition to the disruption standard, the main features of the policy include requiring the following:

  • An annual report on the status of free speech and the application of the policy by the system’s campuses to the Board of Regents.
  • Orientation on free speech principles to all freshmen and transfer students.
  • That the University not in any way discourage students or employees from expressing or harboring their own views when the University takes a public stand on a policy issue (the so-called “Neutrality” policy.)

Supporters of the policy claim that it is a necessary response to the spate of disruptions that have beset higher education over the course of the last few years, epitomized by the physical attacks on American Enterprise Institute political scientist Charles Murray and his faculty host last March at Middlebury—a disruption heard around the academic world, though it was hardly the only such noise.

Related: Middlebury Sounds an Alarm

At Middlebury, where protestors injured a liberal faculty member who was scheduled to debate Murray after his talk, dozens of students were disciplined, but no one was suspended or expelled.

At Berkeley, where preventing people from speaking has become routine, the protests exceeded their goals and became violent and destructive. Property was destroyed, businesses in the area were looted and fires were set in the streets. It’s hard to say how many were students and how many were from outside groups. The growth of these university protest movements with little or no consequence to those who disregard the first amendment of the Constitution must have prompted the Wisconsin State Legislature to act.

The only way to adequately restore the free speech integrity of the campus is to appropriately punish those who do the disrupting. Reasonable people can argue over what punishment is proper, but sanctions need to be meaningful to work. Claremont McKenna provides a recent positive example: it suspended the students who shouted down Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute to stop her from speaking last spring.

Several intellectual and constitutional harms arise when a rightful speaker is disrupted: the rights of the speaker; the rights of the person or group who brought the speaker in; the rights of the audience to listen to the speech—listeners do not always agree with a speaker; the right of the institution to be an “open university;” and even the obligation of the republic’s fundamental commitment to intellectual freedom. (The First Amendment does not apply to private schools, but most of them provide similar protections to students and faculty through contractual agreements or official campus policy.)

Implementing free speech counseling during freshman orientation is a good and necessary idea in today’s environment.  The lack of civics education and American history, including a basic understanding of the Constitution, requires at least this effort.

Swinging the Pendulum Too Far the Other Way

So why are there critics? Several reasons. First, as FIRE pointed out on its website, the policy does not provide for disciplinary discretion to mete out different penalties based on the degree of one’s level of disruption. Those who shout down speakers or physically intimidate them are one thing; those who provide minor assistance in some other way other are another. Criminal law usually makes such distinctions. Should not higher education as well?

Another concern is the academic freedom of the institution itself, which has traditionally included sufficient institutional autonomy. This is the first time in history that the legislature has dictated to the University how it must punish its students. As mentioned, there are reasons to be distrustful of higher education’s will to apply sufficient sanctions in this context; but empirical evidence of the problems at UW System institutions would be good to substantiate these concerns in relation to the actual institutions the policy covers.

Just last week the legislature introduced a policy that FIRE claims would directly interfere with the UW Medical School’s academic policy and training of physicians when it comes to abortions. The proposed law does not allow training of UW Medical School personnel at places like Planned Parenthood. According to the medical school dean, Robert N. Golden, this training is required for the medical school to keep its national accreditation for OB-GYN training. As Golden said in testimony reported in the Wisconsin State Journal, the policy could leave medical school residents “with no place to be trained,” which would “’destroy the program and result in residents going to other states. Allowing them to leave Wisconsin would only worsen the state’s shortage of OB-GYN doctors, particularly in rural areas.’”

“It is disappointing to see members of the Wisconsin state legislature attempt to interfere with the academic policy and decision-making of UW’s medical school. The legislature would do well to avoid such intrusions into the academic freedom of faculty teaching at the state’s public universities,” FIRE wrote.  Some observers of the free speech policy see it in the context of this and other legislative interventions into UW academic policy that have taken place in recent times.

Many people worry that this external intervention will set a precedent for other cases, especially given past legislative actions that have negatively affected Wisconsin’s national standing. And as conservatives have long maintained, government action is often meted out with a hammer, not a scalpel.

Another unfortunate feature of the policy is that is has been construed by many sources—including those with no political ax to grind and are even champions of campus free speech—to be a partisan effort. The reasons for this are twofold. First, the policy is ultimately the fruit of a legislature that is highly partisan and has its own agenda with a university system that it considers, not unreasonably, to be clearly tilted toward the left. Second, the legislature’s actions were modeled on a blueprint for such policies presented last January by the Goldwater Institute in Arizona, which leans right. Such pedigree does not mean that the policy is unprincipled per se, but the political background plays into the hands of those who see partisanship behind the scenes.

Supporters of the policy may properly reply that the legislative left and their allies have exacerbated the partisanship problem by refusing to acknowledge that free speech and other issues that marginalize the right have endangered higher education. (Interestingly, this lack of acknowledgment is not matched at UW-Madison and other national campuses, where numerous faculty members on the left share genuine concern for the status of campus free speech.) Amazingly, some have even asseverated that no such problem exists on campus nationwide. As it is, the politics of free speech remains as divided and partisan as our national politics more generally.

Accordingly, rather than helping the cause of free speech, the regent policy and its links to the legislature may ironically be harming the cause of free speech in certain respects. One of the lessons I have learned during my long tenure as a pro-free speech campus activist is that being perceived as partisan undermines the credibility of erstwhile valid free speech claims. Sadly, this misstep has taken place in Wisconsin.

To be sure, higher education has opened the door to such intervention by its failure to protect its most important principle, which is intellectual freedom. But the need for remedial action still leaves open the question of the most prudent way to proceed, especially when empirical evidence of disruption is lacking for the institutions the law targets.

Harvey Weinstein and Higher Ed

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

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

Related: Occidental and the ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria

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

Motel California

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

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

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

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

Me Too? No.

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

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

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

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

Related: The Washington Post Joins the Rape Culture Crusade

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

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

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

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

Disrupting Campus Speakers Is Not Just A Free-Speech Problem

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

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

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

Will to Power

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

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

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

The Rudeness of the Right

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

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

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

The Weirdness of the Left

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

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

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

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

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

The Saga of Mattress Girl

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

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

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

Clouds Above, Rocks Below

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

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

Reedies Against Racism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saying Rude Things

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

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

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

Free Speech–Where Are the Adults in the Room?

Almost two years have passed since the Halloween imbroglio at Yale in 2015, which launched the current era of student mobilizations against speech that some students don’t want to hear.  Whatever their ideological stance, these protests aim to intimidate controversial speakers and those who would invite them to campus, to prevent others from hearing them, and to banish certain ideas and terms from campus discourse.

College leaders invariably denounce violence and affirm their unflagging commitment to robust speech and debate on campus. They invoke the standard tropes of liberal education: to cultivate students’ curiosity, knowledge, imagination, and critical thinking by exposing them to diverse ideas about the world. They routinely genuflect before the First Amendment’s protection of academic freedom and provocative and unsettling speech. (Private institutions, while not legally bound by the First Amendment, subscribe to the same doxology).

Backing up this free-speech rhetoric is anything but free. Security is very costly. It cost Berkeley an estimated $600,000 merely to protect one conservative speaker’s visit recently, a drop in the UC system’s $7.3 billion budgetary bucket. But at smaller schools, protecting such speakers competes with scarce resources for teaching, financial aid, housing, and other essential functions.

Colleges run other serious risks when campus turbulence threatens to blight the school’s reputation with its trustees, major donors, and potential applicants. Presidents who lose control may lose their jobs. Knowing this, they mollify the student groups which threaten to wreak this havoc. Having long ago abandoned the traditional in loco parentis role, their power to shape student conduct is now very limited. Leftist orthodoxy in the classroom is especially prevalent on more elite campuses and in academic departments (the social sciences and humanities, for example) where almost the entire faculty is liberal. (This is evidenced not only by what they teach and assign but also by their campaign contributions). And even if some professors present a range of perspectives, students probably prefer an unvarnished version of conservatism from true believer outsiders to liberal professors struggling to appear “balanced.”

The fuel for the speech-related disorder is inexhaustible. For many students, especially conservatives, these speakers also help to correct for a perceived leftist orthodoxy in the classroom. Scoring outside anti-establishment speakers with wide name recognition, rhetorical flair, and a taste for provocation revs up student interest and magnifies the organizers’ status and recognition on campus, their ideological and militant chops, and their feelings of accomplishment. Some schools even provide student organizations with a budget to support these and other “enrichment” activities. Some politically active outside groups such as the Federalist Society and its counterparts on the left may also subsidize them.

The protesting students can almost always count on some faculty sympathizers with similar motivations as well as a desire to embarrass the equivocating, temporizing administration. At the highest-ranked schools, professors often have great bargaining power due to global reputations and frequent job offers. At lower-ranked schools, many faculty have low status, poor pay, and little job security. Their estrangement encourages solidarity with protesting and disaffected students. And a new study from Brookings suggests that intolerance of unpopular views – and even support for violence to suppress them – is remarkably common among today’s college students.

These incentives and conditions help explain why the adults nominally in charge often seem so feckless. More eager to pacify their protesting student and faculty critics than to protect the abstract intellectual values which they claim to revere, they equivocate. As for students, most surely oppose the extremists — but like most silent majorities, they exert less influence than their numbers might warrant.

What is to be done?

  1. A counterforce consisting of trustees and major donors – the off-campus people who have invested the most in the institution and care most about its reputation and welfare should make clear to the administration that their future financial support will depend on a clear affirmation that (a) academic values and intellectual diversity are paramount; (b)academic freedom does not protect those who try to stifle other viewpoints; (c) students, faculty, and administrators who do not respect these norms do not belong there; and (d) serious sanctions will attend duly-adjudicated violations of those norms — including expulsion or long-term suspension of students who actively encouraged those violations. Similar sanctions should apply to even tenured faculty who promote them. (This last is easier said than done, of course). The public statement on freedom of expression issued by the University of Chicago in 2012 can serve as a good starting point.
  2. More student riots and speech-impeding mobs are likely to end up in court. Several of the most publicized confrontations, such as the intimidation of Professor Bret Weinstein by Evergreen students who wanted him and all other Caucasians off-campus for a whites-free day, ended in settlements, in Weinstein’s case for $500,000. Jay Weiser, associate professor of law at Baruch College, points out that the post-Civil-War anti-Klu Klux Klan laws still have power, one of them covering private conspiracies and masked conspirators (the Klan originally and presumably masked Antifa attackers now). Weiser writes:

“The statute applies most clearly to racially motivated physical attacks or efforts to exclude persons. Evergreen State is a classic case: After disrupting Mr. Weinstein’s class, students detained the college president and apparently posted photos of themselves brandishing baseball bats on Facebook. Some faculty members demanded disciplinary action against Mr. Weinstein and later assembled with masked Antifa members who attacked counter-protesters.” As Weiser notes, Colleges are subject to anti-discrimination statutes such as Section 1981, an anti-KKK act that would cover student and speaker contract rights. If they accept federal funding they are also subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and if the crowd attacked white “supremacy” or “privilege,” and if private universities act with deliberate indifference to racially motivated attacks, they may be liable to students or speakers.”

While affirming the right to protest peacefully against speakers with whom some disagree, the administration should inform the community about various federal and state law remedies (including reimbursement of attorney fees in some cases) to would-be listeners whose civil rights are violated by speech-impeding or violent protesters, especially those wearing masks or other disguises. Indeed, those in such disguises should not be admitted to such events in the first place.

  1. The agencies that accredit universities require them to demonstrate, among other conditions, a commitment to academic freedom, intellectual freedom, and freedom of expression.  Defenders of these values on campus can threaten to invoke dis-accreditation remedies for recurrent violations on their campuses.
  2. Diversity-talk on college today’s campuses is obsessed with gender, race, sexual orientation, and other constructions of identity. In excess, these obsessions degrade intellectual discourse, interpersonal civility, and campus life generally. Colleges now emphasize and promote these often divisive identities rather than fostering the civility, candor, and thicker skins necessary to sustain a robust and competitive diverse society. Colleges’ highest educational priority should be intellectual, methodological, and socioeconomic diversity, not a campus peace based on a patronizing co-optation of sullen groups.

Recently, a wealthy donor offered Yale a large matching grant to promote intellectual and viewpoint diversity, especially in faculty hiring. The offer was designed to parallel Yale’s $50 million fund for identity diversity, established immediately after the Halloween incident. Yale acknowledged the need, especially in law and certain humanities departments, but declined the gift. Evidently, it has other priorities. Columbia’s recently-announced $100 million faculty diversity initiative will likely reinforce its current obsession with ethnic, race, and gender identities rather than augment them with genuinely discordant, conservative voices that might challenge their students’ preconceptions.

Opposition to conservative voices is in the DNA of the radical left, inflamed by apocalyptic “Antifa” activists. The radical right’s uncompromising contempt for the left is a mirror image. Colleges have a tough job in keeping these clashes on the side of the line that protects speech and promotes genuine viewpoint diversity. These measures would go a long toward holding that precious line.

Protecting Academic Freedom Through All the Campus Smoke

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

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

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

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

Heckling Democrats at Whittier

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

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

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

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

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

Diatribe at Drexel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professors Targeted by Progressives

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

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

Tweeting Murderous Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

Marcuse without Marcusians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repugnance as a Starting point

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

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

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

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

David Horowitz: Battlefield Notes from a War Gone Unnoticed

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

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

Related: The Roots of Our New Civil War

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

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

Related: The Long Plight of the Right on Campus

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

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

Why No Greater Success?

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

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

A Thunderbolt in 1983

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

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

He Frightened Many People

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

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

Our Colleges Are Getting Worse—Three Proposals to Help Save Them

American colleges have been celebrated as the best in the world. But in fact, they have been getting worse – and something must be done about it.

The greatest value of a college education is in enhancing a student’s command of critical thinking and analytical reasoning. The educated person can think. Among other things, she can evaluate arguments from politicians, pundits, salespeople, business associates and others. She may not know whether a particular claim is correct, but she has a meaningful capacity to gauge whether a claim makes sense and to figure out how to investigate it.

For decades, researchers have been measuring how much college enhances these skills. A standard yardstick has been Collegiate Learning Assessment, or as it is known in its current iteration, the CLA+. That test is designed to measure critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem-solving, and writing. For decades, it has been given to undergraduate students at the beginning of their freshman year and at the end of their sophomore year to see how much their analytic skills have improved.

‘Barely Noticeable Impact’

The CLA+ is an open-ended test; students are given performance and writing tasks, not multiple-choice questions. In one section of the test, students are asked to read a set of documents and write a memorandum presenting their conclusions about questions relating to the material. For example, students may be told they are working for a city mayor who plans to combat rising crime by increasing the number of city police officers. The mayor is running for reelection against a candidate who advocates spending available resources on a drug education program for addicts instead of on more police. Students are asked to read a set of newspaper articles, statistics, and research briefs about crime and drug addiction and then write a memorandum for the mayor that evaluates the validity of both the opponent’s proposal the opponent’s criticisms of the mayor’s plan. The CLA+ does not test general knowledge. Its designers claim that the only way to successfully prepare students for the test is to teach how “to think critically, reason analytically, solve problems, and communicate clearly.”

In one study, researchers administered the CLA in 2005 and again in 2007 to 2,322 students at 24 colleges that varied in admissions selectivity and other factors. Students increased their CLA scores by the equivalent of only seven percentile points over their first two years of college. Thus, on average, students who entered college at the 50thpercentile on the CLA scored at the 57th percentile near the end of their sophomore year. That is considered anemic progress. As the researchers put it, the first two years of college today “have a barely noticeable impact on students’ skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.” By contrast, students in the 1980s increased their performance by the equivalent of 34 percentile points – rising from the 50th to the 84thpercentile. Other data confirm those findings

Why Have Colleges Gotten Worse?

Researchers suspect that the principal reason is that colleges have become less rigorous. Colleges more readily tolerate students doing little work, and more readily give good grades for mediocre performance. In the 1960s, students studied, on average, more than 24 hours per week outside of class. Even that is rather low. Undergraduates should be studying at least two hours outside of class for each hour of class. That would mean that for the average load of fifteen hours of class time they should be spending at least 30 hours on homework. But students today study only twelve hours per week on average. More than a third of students report studying less than five hours per week.

Moreover, 20% of students say they frequently go to class unprepared. Yet the average GPA in colleges today is 3.2. According to one recent study, 43% of all grades awarded in American colleges today are A’s. Meanwhile, the percentage of C’s has declined from 35% decades ago to 15% today. Grades and GPAs have become almost entirely meaningless.

Researchers also believe that a factor with a great impact on critical thinking skills is whether students take classes from instructors with high expectations. They define “high expectations” as assigning more than 40 pages of reading per week or more than 20 pages of writing per semester. Half of the students who took the CLA in their sophomore year reported that in the preceding semester they did not take a single class that required more than 20 pages of writing, and a third did not take a course requiring more than 40 pages of reading per week. Researchers observed: “If students are not being asked by their professors to read and write on a regular basis in their coursework, it is hard to imagine how they will improve their capacity to master performance tasks – such as the CLA – that involve critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.”

After controlling for many differences, including the selectivity of the college attended, students who reported they had taken high-expectation courses scored 27 points higher on the CLA than did students who had not taken such courses.

Do Away with Letter Grades

What should be done? I have three proposals. First, colleges should designate high-expectation courses in their catalogs and on student transcripts so that graduate schools and employers can see how many of such courses applicants have taken. As someone who often sits on my law school’s admissions committee, I know we would find this information extremely useful. It would indicate both how intellectually ambitious an applicant is and how well his studies prepared him for law school and for a career in the law. Making this information publicly available in the college catalog will also encourage colleges to increase the number of their high-expectation offerings. No college – and few instructors or academic departments – would want to be known as a purveyor of low expectations. Colleges must, of course, adopt mechanisms for ensuring that the designations are honest, and those mechanisms should be reviewed by accrediting agencies.

Second, instead of receiving a letter grade in courses student should receive a number designating the quartile of the class in which the student ranked. Students whose performance placed them in the top quartile of the class would receive a 1, students ranking in the second quartile would receive a 2, and so on. This is would be far more meaningful than our current system. It would also end grade inflation; after all, 43% of students could not be awarded the top grade of 1. Instead of GPAs, colleges should employ AQRs – average quartile ranks. For example, a student who ranked in the top quartile in half of her classes and in the second quartile of the other half her classes would have an AQR of 1.5. Colleges might also consider giving grades earned in high expectation courses a boost for AQR purposes, just as some high schools give a mathematical boost to grades earned in AP classes for the purpose of calculating GPAs.

Third, so-called output assessments are all the rage in education today. What could be a better measure than an instrument such as the CLA+? Colleges should require at least a significant cohort of their students to take such a test both on upon entering and again perhaps two years later, and should be making that information publicly available.

Do I think colleges will leap at my proposals? No, I don’t. Colleges will be resistant to adopting AQRs because doing so will make many students and their families unhappy. Letter grades hide a multitude of sins; performance by quartile is brutally transparent. However, graduate schools could pressure undergraduate colleges to provide quartile ranks and AQRs, if not instead of, then at least in addition to, GPAs. And for their own sake in being able to effectively evaluate applicants, graduate schools have good reason to do so. If graduate schools preferred students from programs that provided this information, undergraduate schools would be pressured to comply.

Designating high-expectation courses should be a bit easier. Some instructors will not like it. There may be something of a tacit agreement between some instructors and their students: the instructor demands little and awards high grades; in return, students reward the instructor with high student evaluations. However, colleges and departments that pride themselves on their rigor will see a competitive advantage in designating high expectation courses. Once some begin doing that others will have a hard time not following suit.

Accrediting agencies could require colleges to use a test like the CLA+ to assess their performance. And if U.S. News began using that information in its ranking calculations, colleges would be scrambling to figure out how to perform better.

Carl T. Bogus is Distinguished Research Professor of Law at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island. He is the author of Buckley: William F. Buckley, Jr. and the Rise of American Conservativism and Why Lawsuits are Good For America: Disciplined Democracy, Big Business, and the Common Law.

The Long Plight of the Right on Campus

On both sides of the Atlantic, complaints are frequently raised about the relative absence of intellectual and political diversity in the Academy. The main emphasis of these criticisms is that teachers holding conservative and right-wing views are seriously underrepresented in university departments, particularly in the social sciences and the humanities. Responsibility for the feeble state of political diversity is often attributed to unconscious and sometimes conscious discrimination.

Related: Pollyannas on the Right–Conservatives OK on Campus

Earlier this year, a report by Ben Southwood, published by the Adam Smith Institute titled Lackademia: Why Do Academics Lean Left? argued that teachers with left-wing and liberal attitudes were overrepresented in relation to the views held by the population at large. The report stated that in the UK, while around 50 percent of the public supports parties of the right only 12 percent of academics endorse conservative views. Moreover, Lackademia claimed that it is likely that the overrepresentation of liberal views in universities has grown since the 1960s. It suggests that the proportion of academics who identify as Conservatives may have declined by as much as 25 percent since 1964.

The claim that conservative academics are an embattled minority is even more frequently asserted in the United States. For example, a study published last year ‘Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology’ found that liberal professors outnumbered conservatives by a ratio of 12 to 1. Recently one conservative professor from the University of South Florida wrote that he doubts that he would have been hired ‘if my conservative views were known.’  A recent study of 153 conservative professors indicated that about a third of them adopted the strategy of concealing their political ideals prior to gaining tenure.

Related: Times Says Conservatives Unwelcome in Academia

Some American politicians have taken up this issue and demand that universities adopt a more ideologically diverse hiring policy. Iowa State Senator Mark Chelgren has filed a bill designed to equalize political representation on the faculties of state universities. The Bill aims to introduce a freeze on hiring academics until the number of registered Republicans ‘comes within 10 percent of the number of registered Democrats. It is likely that supporters of the Trump Administration will use this issue in order to change the political culture that prevails on American campuses.

During the past seven decades, concern with the ideological imbalance between left and right on campuses has been a recurrent theme in the conservative critique of higher education in the United States. Throughout the Cold War the domination of higher education by “liberal professors” was a concern that was constantly raised by conservative critics of the Academy.  As two conservative professors, Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn recently noted the crusade against the allegedly liberal-dominated university was launched in 1951 with the publication of William F. Buckley’s book, God and Man at Yale. Buckley claimed that the university had become a haven for anti-Christian, atheist and liberal professors.

Alarmist accounts of the threat posed by college radicals dominated the headlines in the 1960s and 1970s. In recent times, protests against allowing conservative speakers on campuses – Charles Murray, Condoleezza Rice, Suzanne Venker, John Derbyshire – has re-raised interest in the precarious status of conservatives within academic culture.

On the Defensive

There is little doubt that in many academic disciplines conservatives face difficulty in gaining employment. The leftist historian Robin Marie has criticized liberal academics who refuse to acknowledge that they have a double standard towards the practice of academic freedom. Drawing attention to the double standard that prevails in higher education regarding the employment of conservative academics – a double standard which she approves- Marie wrote;

“Academic institutions, moreover, are spaces that are morally policed – it is not a coincidence, nor due solely to the weak evidential basis of their positions, that only a minority of professors in the liberal arts are conservative. Declining to hire someone, publish their paper, or chat them up at a conference are exercises in exclusion and shame which those in academia, nearly as much as any other community, participate in.”

Marie’s allusion to the practice of marginalizing conservative academics in the social sciences and the arts serves her purpose of reinforcing her claim that academic freedom is a liberal shibboleth. Most of her colleagues would be reluctant to go on record and acknowledge their anti-conservative bias.

However, it would be wrong to attribute the marginal position of conservative academics in the humanities and social sciences simply to self-conscious acts of discrimination. Since the end of the Second World War, conservative ideas have become marginalized within the key cultural and intellectual institutions of western society. In a frequently cited statement, the American literary critic Lionel Trilling declared in his 1949 Preface to his collection of essays that right-wing ideas no longer possessed cultural significance:

“In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean, of course, that there is no impulse to conservatism or to reaction. Such impulses are certainly very strong, perhaps even stronger than most of us know. But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”

Though Trilling’s boast about the dominant status of liberalism contained an element of exaggeration there is little doubt it corresponded to developments in the 1940s.

It was the experience of the inter-war years and of Second World War that served to discredit the influence of right-wing and conservative intellectual tradition in Western Culture.  The 1930s depression, followed by the rise of fascism significantly diminished the appeal of right-wing ideas. It also solidified the association of intellectuals with left-wing philosophies. From this point onward, conservative thought became increasingly marginalized within the humanities and the social sciences. Which is why today it is difficult to recollect that until the second half of the last century right-wing thinkers constituted a significant section of the western intelligentsia.

Its Cold War rhetoric aside, McCarthyism can be interpreted as a belated attempt to discredit the moral authority of the liberal intellectual by equating its nonconformist ethos with disloyalty. However, despite the significant political influence enjoyed by McCarthy within American society, he could not defeat the liberal political culture that prevailed in higher education.

In her essay on ‘The New Class’(1979), the Conservative thinker Jeanne Kirkpatrick observed that the inability of McCarthy to make serious headway against liberal intellectuals meant that this group was able to strengthen its authority over cultural life in America. Kirkpatrick concluded that McCarthy’s demise and the growing authority of his intellectual critics was a “precondition of the rise of the counterculture in the 1960s.” Since the 1960s conservatives within the Academy have been more or less constantly on the defensive. One often unremarked symptom of this trend has been the growing trend towards the pathologization of the conservative mind.

The Presumption of Intellectual Inferiority

The marginalization of the conservative academic has been paralleled by the pathologization of the conservative mindset. Claims that conservatives are intellectually inferior to their opponents originated in the 19th century when the British Tories were frequently derided as the “stupid party.” Arguments about the supposed intellectual inferiority of conservatives claimed that those who remained wedded to outdated traditions lacked imagination and an openness to new experience. Since the defense of the status-quo did not require mental agility or flexibility, it was suggested that conservatives were likely to be left behind in the intellectual stakes. Only those who were prepared to criticise and question the existing state of society could be expected to develop a capacity for abstract and sophisticated thought.

From the 1940s onwards the insult of being labeled as stupid was often justified on intellectual and scientific grounds. Intelligence became a cultural weapon used to invalidate the moral status of conservative minded people. Inevitably this was a weapon that was most effectively used by those claiming the status of an intellectual. As Mark Proudman stated:

“The imputation of intelligence and of its associated characteristics of enlightenment, broad-mindedness, knowledge and sophistication to some ideologies and not to others is itself, therefore, a powerful tool of ideological advocacy.”

Ridicule as Moral Superiority

Making fun of the “outdated” views of conservative people and exposing their traditional ways to ridicule was one way of assuming the status of moral superiority. In this way, those with a monopoly over the possession of intellectual capital can present themselves as possessors of moral authority.

Often assertions about the intellectual inferiority of conservatives ran in parallel with claims about their psychological deficits. In the 1950s, Theodor Adorno’s classic Authoritarian Personality served to validate the dogma that the internalization of prejudice and the disposition for intolerance is a psychological issue. From this point onwards the conservative mind was increasing portrayed as authoritarian, inflexible, prejudiced and disposed towards simplistic solutions to the problems facing society.

Usually, the weaponization of intelligence to discredit groups of people tends to be challenged by the academic community. For example, Charles Murray’s, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life(1994) has provoked outrage on campuses. Riots broke out at Middlebury College earlier this year, leading to the cancellation of a speech by Murray. But though Murray has been criticised for linking people’s IQ to their predicament, such concerns are rarely raised when conservatives are the target of the weaponization of intelligence.

The representation of conservatives as less intelligent than their left-wing foes is frequently communicated by ‘research’ on the so-called conservative syndrome. The hypothesis of this syndrome is that conservatism and low cognitive ability are directly correlated. Such claims are frequently promoted by studies such as “Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes–Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact.” The authors of the study claim that low intelligence in childhood serves as a marker for racism in adulthood. Moreover, poor abstract-reasoning skills are closely correlated with anti-gay prejudice. From studies such as this, it is tempting to draw the conclusion that simple children with low cognitive abilities grow up to be prejudiced conservatives.

The pathologization of the conservative mind inevitably influences attitudes and practices in universities. This sensibility not only calls into question the ideas that conservatives uphold but their moral and intellectual status. Instead of offering an intellectual critique of conservative ideology it simply devalues the integrity and intellectual capacity of the person holding such views. Consequently, many conservative academics experience the critique of their views as not part of an intellectual exchange of views but as a mean-spirited insult.

Not surprisingly many conservatives have become defensive when confronted with the put-downs of their intellectual superiors. In many societies – particularly the United States – some have become wary of intellectuals and hostile to the ethos of university life. Anti-intellectual prejudice often constitutes a defensive reaction to the pathologization of conservatism. In the United States, the unrestrained anti-intellectual culture of sections of the right, which sometimes appears as the affirmation of ignorance serves to reinforce the smug prejudice of their opponents.

There is little doubt that some of the complaints made by conservative academics about the unwillingness of sections of the academic community to tolerate their views are not without foundation. However, it is important to note that many would-be conservative intellectuals were accomplices in the marginalization of their views on campuses. Certainly from the 1960s onwards they did little to stand their ground in the social sciences and the humanities. Many of them opted to join conservative thinks tanks and became critics of the Ivory Tower from the outside. There is also something opportunistic about the way in some conservatives have embraced the status of being victims of the campus culture wars. Shield and Dunn get the balance right when they write

“As two conservative professors, we agree that right-wing faculty members and ideas are not always treated fairly on college campuses. But we also know that right-wing hand-wringing about higher education is overblown.”

They point out that after interviewing 153 “conservative professors in the social sciences and humanities, we believe that conservatives survive and even thrive in one of America’s most progressive professions.”

Of course, conservative academics should not have to adopt a survival strategy any more than left-wing ones. The maintenance of intellectual diversity is one that all sides of the academic community have in interest in upholding. Openness to a diversity of views and genuine academic freedom is the foundation of a liberal academy. As Steven Holmes observed in his important study, The Anatomy of Antiliberalism, “Public disagreement is a creative force may have been the most novel and radical principle of liberal politics.”

Chart: Courtesy of Heterodox Academy. 

The Article that Made 16,000 Ideologues Go Wild

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

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

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

The Onslaught

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

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

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

A Limp Reaction from Academia

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

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

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

The Cork

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

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

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

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

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

Feckless College Presidents

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

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

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

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

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

Determinations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Same Old College Rankings—What Did You Expect?

Shocking news: the new Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education college rankings say that Harvard is the best school in the United States. So does Forbes in its rankings, while US News ranks it second. Some eight schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, Penn, Duke and Cal Tech) are in the top 10 in all three rankings. The top schools are like 17th century English landed aristocracy: all are old (the newest, Cal Tech, was founded over 120 years ago), with half of the top 10 in the WSJ listing beginning even before the nation in which they reside.  Indeed, none of the top 50 WSJ colleges was founded after 1950. All the top 10 are rich, with multi-billion investments –some, like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, have about two million dollars of endowment for every student.

Related: What I’d Add to College Rankings

There is a monotonous stability to the rankings –some embryonic assessments in the first half of the last century all placed Harvard, Yale, and Princeton at or near the top. Indeed, college rankings dramatically demonstrate how rarely healthy and innovative Schumpeterian “creative destruction” comes to higher education. I located a 1994 Fortune Magazine with its list of 500 leading American corporations. Of the top 10 1994 companies, six have changed dramatically, now have different names, and a seventh (General Motors) has gone through bankruptcy. Only three of the top 10 in 1994 (GE, IBM and Ford) are the same companies they were in 1994. At least one of them, Ford, was on life support once in the intervening 23 years. The new corporate leaders as measured by stock valuation, Apple and Google, did not even exist a half-century ago. The top American universities resemble far more the old British aristocracy than the business institutions that ultimately provide them with most of their wealth and resources.

According to the WSJ rankings, state universities are the junior varsity of higher education —not one of them makes the top 20 (that is true for most other widely used rankings). There are only eight state schools in the top fifty (for some reason, the military academies seem to be totally excluded). I would also note that the oldest and still probably the most popular rankings, those of US News, show a considerable decline in the number of state schools at the top over time.

Related: The Problem with College Rankings

How did the Wall Street Journal and the British-based Times Higher Education do their rankings? They used 15 factors, heavily emphasizing outcomes (40 percent), and resources (30 percent). Another 20 percent reflects student “engagement, ” and 10 percent is a diversity component.

Let’s analyze “resources” more closely. A school that spends more on instruction per student gets higher rankings or has a higher faculty-student ratio. It does better if the faculty publishes a lot of papers in top-flight academic journals. In other words, if a school is wealthy, it is better, since rich or high tuition schools can buy faculty and even research. Quality is measured here by inputs, not outputs. If a school gives its faculty all 10 percent raises, rankings go up —but does institutional effectiveness rise?

That problem, though, is minor compared with the diversity component, rhetorically disguised as an “environmental” factor. The University of Michigan could improve its already respectable 27th placement by replacing students from Michigan by those from Iran and by replacing white students with those from presumptively better races. While I believe having students of diverse backgrounds is useful in promoting a full learning experience, there are few American schools that do not largely achieve that already (although the number of poor students at top schools is typically relatively small).  The WSJ diversity component to me is not measuring quality but rather is catering to political correct racist instincts (and I bet a majority of the WSJ’s editorial board, not involved in this undertaking, would agree).  Campus tolerance and support for a diversity of ideas, of course, is what is really important, and it is not considered in the rankings (although it would be difficult although not impossible to do so).

Preventing the Public From Knowing

Stealing (as many do) from Winston Churchill, college rankings are the worst way to evaluate colleges —except all others. I know, because I began and directed those of Forbes for nine years. There are two huge problems: information and varying human preferences. Universities are supposedly in the business of creating and distributing information and knowledge, but when it comes to themselves, they do everything possible to prevent the public from knowing much. Some of them fought the Department of Education from creating the College Scorecard, providing some of the data used in the WSJ rankings (and which was just updated and expanded to make it more useful). College lobbyists have successfully kept us from knowing things like how much did students learn while at school? Or, what are post-graduate earnings of all graduates (not just those taking federal student aid) by university and major field of study? The college lobby in 2008 successfully outlawed efforts to get a better student outcomes database. Politicians as diverse politically as Elizabeth Warren and Orrin Hatch have proposed a College Transparency Act to lift restrictions allowing for better consumer information.

“Variety’s the very spice of life” William Cowper opined in 1785, so the best college or university for an individual varies with personal interests, academic performance, geography, income, sometimes race or religion, accessibility to friends or relatives, etc.  Published college rankings reflect some generic set of values that need to be modified to fit individual circumstances. Still, given the difficulty in getting really good objective information about colleges cheaply and quickly, published rankings serve a good purpose. Even though the criteria vary a fair amount amongst the top rankings, usually the schools considered the best are pretty similar. When I did the Forbes rankings, I would experiment with a variety of different weights on a large number of factors, but almost never could get Princeton out of the top ten. The nation could use a website with data about 10 or 15 important factors (graduation rates, earnings immediately after graduation, earnings 10 years after graduation, costs before financial aid, probability of getting financial aid, student attitudes towards instructors, etc.) that would allow people to concoct their own “do it yourself” rankings using personalized weights on the various measured factors.

Just Another Good or Service

For some reason, the WSJ rankings rekindled in my mind a recurring thought for almost six decades: why do we treat colleges different than any other good or service? Why do we subsidize them rather than taxing them? The reality, of course, is the so-called “private schools” dominating the rankings are very highly publicly indirectly subsidized by the federal government through its financial assistance programs, and the modest but real retreat by state governments from funding “state” universities has been offset by enhanced federal funding, having the unintended consequence of helping so-called private schools that are traditionally heavily tuition financed relative to state schools that traditionally depended very heavily on state subsidies. With very small exceptions (e.g., Hillsdale College) all higher education is government supported. Considering campus spending excesses, mediocre learning outcomes, and assaults on free expression, I am increasingly asking myself: why?