“Full of years.” I
am not sure I know of anyone who better qualified for that Biblical epithet
than Jacques Barzun, who died last week at the magnificent age of 104. Born in France in 1907, Barzun had been a
presence on the American intellectual and academic scene since the 1950s. From
his perch at Columbia University, where he collaborated with the critic Lionel
Trilling on a humanities course than deeply influenced a generation of
students, Barzun (like Trilling) was part of the intellectual conscience of his
age. He was a public intellectual before
that role had been hollowed out by celebrity and the demotic faddishness of the
1960s. His scholarly work in subjects like French poetry consistently won plaudits.
Writing in 1991 about Barzun’s Essay on French Verse, the poet William Jay
Smith noted that although “there have
been other treatises on French versification for the English reader,” “none has been so thorough, so well reasoned,
so free of academic jargon, and so available as this one.” “It is amazing,” Smith went on, “that
Professor Barzun, now in his eighties, should have produced so youthful and
vigorous a book, an objective study that is at the same time so personal a
document.” That sense of amazement regularly greeted Barzun’s work in the last
decades of his life. He was the author
of more than 30 books, and his magnum opus, From
Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, wasn’t
published until 2000, when Barzun was 93.
Continue reading Jacques Barzun, 1907-2012
The ugly episode at Brown–a botched hearing of an alleged rape case– is part of a disturbing pattern of how sexual assault procedures are handled at Ivy League schools. Typically, the schools impose a gross form of injustice, permanently damaging the reputation of the accused male, then congratulate themselves for acting so fairly and appropriately.
According to the definitive 3,279-word account published by the Brown Spectator, Richard Dresdale, a wealthy donor to Brown and father of the accusing student, Marcella Dresdale, secretly met with a key witness in the case, and agreed to help promote that witness’s career. Then the witness, student counselor Shane Reil, made a damning statement against the accused student, William McCormick. In a criminal case, this would obviously be witness tampering, and it looks like that here as well, but a Brown administrator said there was no violation of university procedures in the secret meeting and what appeared to be a bribe to a witness.
Continue reading Star Chamber Hearings at Brown, Yale, and Cornell
Another day, another two-tier student disciplinary policy–this time at Cornell. The Cornell Daily Sun reports that the university has modified its sexual assault policy, in response to pressure from the Russlynn Ali-led Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education. As the Obama administration demanded, the key change comes in a lowering of the burden of proof to a preponderance of the evidence (50.1 percent) when Cornell students allege sexual assault. For all other disciplinary matters, however, the university will continue to employ a standard of clear and convincing evidence, which, Cornell’s disciplinary guidelines helpfully inform students (p. 29),”is a higher standard than the civil law’s more-likely-than-not standard.” In a demonstration of cowardice, not one member of the University Assembly voted against the rule change.
Continue reading The Kafka-like “Dear Colleague” Letter Wins at Cornell
Accountability is all the rage in today’s education reform industry and at the university level, “productivity” typically means upping scholarly publishing. The allure is simple–who can resist prodding lolling-about professors to generate more knowledge? Unfortunately, putting the thumbscrews on idle faculty will only push universities farther to the left. Better to pay professors for silence.
When I began my academic career at Cornell University in 1969 publications were important but production was not yet industrialized. Quality–not volume–was overriding and it was tolerable that some senior faculty had published almost nothing for decades. By the time I retired in 2002 from the University of Illinois-Urbana, however, scholarly publication there and elsewhere often mimicked Soviet-style manufacturing. Every year we received detailed annual report forms with multiple categories to list every last publication, all categorized according to supposed prestige rankings, as the basis for salary increases and promotion. Volume (“productivity”) was now deep in the academic DNA, even at schools hardly famous for original research.
Continue reading Do We Really Want Professors to Be Productive?
A few years ago, Cornell University spokesperson Thomas W. Bruce rejoiced that the Ivy League school had brought to Ithaca a man whose “distinguished background in contemporary global cultural studies,” and whose “unique perspectives and talents” would “add to the range of reasoned intellectual discourse at Cornell.”
The professor about whom Bruce gushed was Grant Farred, whose latest contribution to “intellectual discourse at Cornell” came when he labeled two graduate students “black bitches.” One of the most extreme members of the Group of 88 (the Duke faculty members who issued a guilt-presuming public statement two weeks into the lacrosse case), Farred had denounced as “racist” those Duke students who registered to vote in Durham; and had wildly charged that unnamed lacrosse players had committed perjury. Duke’s settlement with the three falsely accused players shielded him from civil liability for the latter remarks. Cornell knew this record of contempt for the students he taught when it not only awarded Farred a tenured position, but promoted him to full professor, with a median salary of $154,300.
Farred’s experience typifies the Group of 88’s rebounding from their rush to judgment in the lacrosse case. Indeed, at least three Group members moved on from Duke to endowed chairs at other institutions. Charles Payne, who violated Duke rules by authorizing departmental funds to pay for the Group of 88’s ad, is now Frank Hixon Professor at the University of Chicago. He has moved on from presuming the guilt of his own school’s students to receiving fellowships to fund his work on urban schools. Payne’s most recent book, Teach Freedom: Education for Liberation in the African-American Tradition, is an edited volume published by Columbia Teachers’ College Press; it features contributions from self-described “educator-activists” on how principles of African-American “liberation” education remain relevant today.
Rom Coles, who denounced an early 2007 from Duke economics professors that affirmed that the economics professors would welcome all Duke students, even student-athletes, into their classes, is now McAllister Chair in Community, Culture & Environment at Northern Arizona University. He’s involved himself in a host of pedagogically predictable causes, ranging from learning communities to “sustainability” initiatives.
Continue reading Whatever Happened to the Group of 88?
During a conversation at an academic conference, a professor from an Ivy League school refers to two female graduate students as “black bitches.” After the students report the incident, the professor apologizes — but it takes another two months, and vociferous protests from the campus black community, for the university officials to acknowledge the issue publicly, announce mild sanctions against the professor, and state that an investigation was underway.
This is a true story currently unfolding at Cornell University. It is a story with a twist: the offending professor is himself black and teaches in the Africana Studies department, and the incident occurred at a conference on black intellectuals. And, in yet another twist that some have called karmic, the professor, Grant Farred, has now become a target of a rabid campaign that has all the hallmarks of a politically correct witch-hunt — four years after he was at the forefront of a similar campaign at Duke University during the now-infamous rape hoax in which three white lacrosse team members were accused of assaulting a black stripper at a party.
Professor Farred’s recent gaffe, while hardly commendable, seems to have been little more than a tacky attempt at humor — humor which, compounding the irony, was probably rooted in the identity politics of black “authenticity” expressed through vulgar slang. Farred had invited the women, both of them his advisees, to a February 5-6 conference at the University of Rochester titled “Theorizing Black Studies: Thinking Black Intellectuals.” The women arrived late, walking into the conference room in the middle of a panel. After the session ended, Farred came up to them, thanked them for making the drive to Rochester and then added, lowering his voice, “When you both walked in, I thought, ‘Who are these black bitches?'”
Continue reading A Dose of Poetic Justice at Cornell
By John McWhorter
Debra Dickerson said of the Cornell students who took over Willard Straight Hall at Cornell in 1969, “What they actually wanted was beyond the white man’s power to bestow.” Even after they were granted a Black Studies department as they demanded, a core of black students remained infuriated at Cornell as still “fundamentally” racist.
As we mark the fortieth anniversary of that day, I am reminded of one twenty springs later in May, 1989, when 60 Stanford students took over the university president’s building and were arrested. Because 1989 was such a different America racially from that of 1969, such that Stanford had a healthy body of black students of middle-class provenance and above, what went down in the annals as “Takeover 89” was fundamentally a happy event. It was symbolic of a general detour in race ideology in America, and the memory has never left me.
The idea was that in not acceding to certain demands regarding minority issues, the administration had revealed itself to be racist. Interesting, though, what the “demands” were. This time there was already a Black Studies program, plus a student association, and a theme house. So instead, the main demands were four: a Native American Studies department, an Asian-American Studies department (despite there being an Asian-themed dormitory and university-funded Asian students’ association), an assistant dean for Chicano affairs (despite a Chicano student center), and a vague demand for “more” black professors. After all, if black professors are not 13% of the faculty when black people are 13% of the American population, then you know what that’s all about.
Continue reading Stanford ’89, A Happier Takeover
This is a letter to the editor of the Cornell Daily Sun, responding to a Sun report today about a campus Christian group apparently violating anti-discrimination rules by not allowing a gay student to become a leader.
To the Editor:
Alex Berg (“Outcry Erupts from Alleged Homophobia” April 23) seems to think the Chris Donohoe case is simply a matter of bias and homophobia. Actually it isn’t. Both anti-discrimination rules and freedom of religion are important, but you should know that religious groups hold the trump cards here and have been winning most of these clashes on campuses around the country. The reason is that no court, no political official, certain no university or student panel, can tell a religious group what to believe or insist that someone who does not accept the group’s belief system be accepted as a leader.
The first time I noticed this kind of dispute was at Tufts in 2000 in a case very similar to the one at Cornell today. A female student, running for office in a campus Evangelical group, said she had been struggling with her sexuality, faced the fact that she was bisexual and had come to the conclusion that Christian belief is compatible with a homosexual life. The Group said she could stay as a member–in fact they said they loved her– but couldn’t become an officer. The Christian group was de-funded, de-recognized, not even allowed to use bulletin boards. Tufts backed down quickly when the concept of religious freedom was explained and a few lawyers for the Evangelicals showed up. Conservative Christian groups may be wrong about homosexuality, but every group based on a set of beliefs is entitled to control its own message. Now the pattern is for universities to allow loopholes in anti-bias rules for “sincerely held religious beliefs” (Ohio State’s wording).
And it’s not just religious organizations. If every student is eligible to join and rise in any group, what would prevent a hundred or so Republicans flooding into a Democratic club and reversing the group’s message? Do we really think that Hillel is bound to accept Holocaust-deniers or that a science club must allow flat-earth officers?
Forty years ago this week, an armed student insurrection erupted on the Cornell campus. I was a sophomore on campus at the time and later wrote a book on the events, Cornell ’69: Liberalism and the Crisis of the American University. To some the drama represented a triumph of social justice, paving the way for a new model of the university based on the ideals of identity politics, diversity, and the university as a transformer of society. To others, it fatefully propelled Cornell, and later much of American higher education, away from the traditional principles of academic freedom, reason, and individual excellence. “Cornell,” wrote the famous constitutional scholar Walter Berns, who resigned from Cornell during the denouement of the conflict, “was the prototype of the university as we know it today, having jettisoned every vestige of academic integrity.”
In the wee hours of Friday, April 19, 1969, twenty-some members of Cornell’s Afro-American Society took over the student center, Willard Straight Hall, removing parents (sometimes forcefully) from their accommodations on the eve of Parents Weekend. The takeover was the culmination of a year-long series of confrontations, during which the AAS had deployed hardball tactics to pressure the administration of President James Perkins into making concessions to their demands. The Perkins administration and many faculty members had made claims of race-based identity politics and social justice leading priorities for the university, marginalizing the traditional missions of truth-seeking and academic freedom.
Two concerns precipitated the takeover: AAS agitation for the establishment of a radical black studies program; and demands of amnesty for some AAS students, who had just been found guilty by the university judicial board of violating university rules. These concerns were linked, for, according to the students, the university lacked the moral authority to judge minority students. They declared that Cornell was no longer a university, but rather an institution divided by racial identities.
Continue reading Cornell ’69 And What It Did