Tag Archives: rights

FIRE Singes the Censors


How time flies. In 1987, a new breed of speech and harassment codes and student indoctrination were unleashed on college campuses across the land. Thus, what Allan Kors
and Harvey Silverglate famously labeled the “shadow university”–the university
dedicated to censorship and politically correct paternalism–is
now at least 25 years old.

The public recognized the consequences
of the new censorship early on. Noteworthy authors began writing articles and books
about the mounting suppression of free speech, academic freedom, and due
process on campus, culminating in the in-depth chronicling of the dark state of
higher education in The Shadow University
in 1998. 
By the end of the 1990s, however, many observers predicted that the repression would eventually run out of steam as the
passions driving political correctness waned with age. And in many respects,
political correctness often did appear to mellow out. More skeptical
observers claimed that it was not disappearing, but metastasizing. Who
was right?

Greg Lukianoff adresses this question in his outstanding new book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate (Encounter Books).  Lukianoff is the president of the Philadelphia based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, popularly known by its telling acronym, FIRE. Unlearning Liberty is based on cases with which FIRE has dealt over the years.

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Oppositional Gay Culture and the Future of Marriage

Parade.jpgThese are banner days for the gay-rights movement. “Banner Days” is in fact the front page headline in The New York Times Book Review for a review of Linda Hirshman’s new book, Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution. The reviewer, Rich Benjamin, praises Hirshman’s work but feels the need to chasten her on the extent of the “victory”–

There are no federal protections against anti-gay employment discrimination. Same-sex marriage is explicitly forbidden in 38 states. Most Southern states have passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. Gay families face codified and implicit discrimination when adopting children. Gay youth across the country are stigmatized by their peers.

Benjamin is surely right that these are fairly large discrepancies to
accommodate to a thesis that the gay-rights movement has achieved
unalloyed victory. Gays and lesbians are a lot more mainstream than at
any earlier time in American history, but they nonetheless remain divided
from American culture and society in significant ways.

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Even Zimmerman Has Rights

George Zimmerman, the 28-year-old man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, has been an in-and-out student at Seminole State College. Now he is out–expelled by the college. Why did Seminole do this? Zimmerman is certainly in a lot of trouble, but he has not yet been convicted, tried, indicted or even arrested. Did the college hold some sort of rigorous but unpublicized hearing? No. Did officials, too impatient to wait for a trial, just conclude he was a murderous racist? No, that doesn’t seem to be the reason either, at least judging by the statement Seminole put out. Here’s what Seminole said: Zimmerman was expelled because of “the highly charged and high-profile controversy” surrounding him. He generated emotions and publicity that made the college uncomfortable. This shows that small colleges can be as unprincipled as great ones (Yale, Duke) in acting without principle, procedures or any attention at all to student rights.

Preferences for Homosexuals?

LGBT.jpgElmhurst College, in what is apparently a first, will ask this question on its admissions application:  “Would you consider yourself a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered) community?”  Answering the question will be optional; applicants may chose “yes” or “no” or “prefer not to answer.” 

Those answering yes to the LGBT question will be eligible for a diversity-driven “enrichment scholarship” since they will be considered members of an “underrepresented group.”  On the other hand, according to Insider Higher Ed, the school “admits around 65 percent of applicants, and does not anticipate using sexual orientation as a factor in admissions decisions.”

You can read about all this on the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed websites, and the college itself subsequently put out a  statement on the matter (in which it notes that “the College did not seeks publicity for this step”).

There do not appear to be any federal legal problems with the college’s action, and if there are it will be, ironically, because of liberal rather than conservative legal theories. That is, the left has been aggressive in pushing legal arguments that federal law prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation; to the extent that courts and bureaucrats accept those dubious arguments, then it opens the door to claims that preferences on the basis of sexual orientation are illegal, too.

Law aside, does Elmhurst’s action make sense as a policy matter?

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Pro-life College Event Hurts Feminists’ Feelings!

The Duke University women’s center has canceled a discussion of student motherhood as “upsetting and not OK” because the sponsoring group, Duke Students for Life was holding a pro-life event elsewhere on campus. A spokesman for the center said the pictures at the “Week for Life” event were “traumatizing,” perhaps because he was under the impression that body parts of aborted babies were being shown. Actually the pictures featured various stages of fetal development, based on sonograms. The spokesman failed to indicate how far away pre-birth photos must be to justify holding a discussion of motherhood at the center. The center allows pro-choice speakers but not pro-life ones. The mission statement of the center by the way, in addition to firmly opposing “ableism” and “heterosexism” says: “We ascribe to a broadly defined, fluctuating and inclusive feminist ideology that welcomes discordant viewpoints from varied experiences.” Not too inclusive and not too discordant, though.

Responding To Weissberg

(This is a response to Robert Weissberg’s “Rescuing The University”)
Professor Weissberg’s “Rescuing the University” offers a compact assessment of the frailties of the movement to restore higher education to light and sanity. He also urges the merits of another, he supposes, untried approach. “Guerilla warfare” and “monastery construction” are the unflattering labels he affixes to some of the efforts he thinks futile. His dismissals strike me as too breezy. FIRE and the Center for Individual Rights, which he cites as among the guerilla forces, have some pretty substantial victories to their credit. Were it not for them, our nation’s universities would be far more strangled by speech codes and systems of racial preferences than they are. It is easy to take their victories for granted or to sleight their accomplishments as falling far short of a re-conquest of the university for wholesome respect of academic principles, but I think Professor Weissberg’s gloom gets the better of him here. Things could be worse. Much worse. Those organizations that pursue tactics based on challenging specific transgressions at specific universities have achieved not only tactical victories but have also kept alive ideals that were in danger of being smothered under the academic left’s self-proclaimed “consensus.”
Professor Weissberg cites Princeton’s Madison Center and the Veritas Center as examples of “monastery construction.” He could easily have expanded the list. (Here’s NAS’s count: There are now about 40 campus centers around the country that aim to keep the study of Western civilization and other major ideas disfavored by the establishment left alive during the dark-ish and still darkening age we inhabit. The National Association of Scholars has had a hand in founding many of them. Are they monasteries, holding out against the barbarian horde? We prefer to think of them as beachheads for faculty members and points of embarkation for students, who might never otherwise glimpse what the life of the mind is really all about.
Professor Weissberg dismisses these centers as weak, vulnerable to leftist take-over, and intrinsically unable to “restore the Enlightenment.” Surely there is some truth to all three criticisms. But there is also something blinkered in the attitude. Many of the centers are thriving and are in fact lifelines to thousands of students. I wouldn’t lightly brush aside the University of Colorado, Boulder’s Center for Western Civilization, right there in the heart of Ward Churchill country. The Center for Political and Economic Thought at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania shows that a well-focused program can transform a whole college. Even centers that have hit rough sledding, such as the Hamilton Institute that had to set itself up off-campus near the uber-PC Hamilton College in upstate New York, have proven to be nimble in creating important debates in the face of complacent and self-satisfied orthodoxy.

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I’m Ok, You’re Not Ok

“Reclaim Your Rights as a Liberal Educator.” That’s the title of a short essay in this month’s Academe, organ of the American Association of University Professors. The phrase has all the imagination of a slogan unfurled at countless marches, but what it lacks in wit it makes up for in fortitude of the uniquely academic kind. Author Julie Kilmer, women’s studies and religion professor at Olivet College, sounds the standard “they’re-out-to-get-us” call and rallies her brethren to take back the classroom. We have, too, a vicious aggressor: conservative student groups that confront professors of perceived liberal bias, and they form a national network out to undermine the faculty, who come off as vulnerable and innocent professionals. While the professors uphold “freedom of inquiry to examine the worth of controversial ideas” and “teach college students to use analytical thinking in the development of new ideas,” groups such as Students for Academic Freedom do their best to subvert the process. Worst of all, they “encourage students to bring complaints against faculty to administrators.” To Kilmer, they are no better than spies, and they prompt her to wonder, “Each time a student is resistant to feminist theories and ideas, should I ask if he or she has been placed in my class to question my teaching? How is my teaching affected if I enter the classroom each day asking, ‘Is today the day I will be called to the president’s office?”

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