Liberal Talking Heads Turn Against the West

The liberal reaction to Donald Trump’s speech on Western civilization goes to show how much liberals played the fool way back in the 1980s. That’s when the debate over Western Civilization boiled over and traditionalists and multiculturalists vied for control of the humanities curriculum. Liberals didn’t fit easily in either camp. Most of them in the humanities taught a standard course in recognized figures, English from Beowulf to Joyce, art and architecture from the Acropolis to Pollock, U.S. history from the Pilgrims through the Sixties. But while their educational practices were conventional, they stood politically with the progressives and radicals. They had to come up with a compromise–and they did. Donald Trump’s speech proves beyond all doubt that, whether they realized it or not, it was a fake.

At that time, when William Bennett, Allan Bloom, E. D. Hirsch, and other advocates of traditional cultural literacy were filling the public sphere (though Hirsch was a firm political liberal), there were two versions of the “Eurocentrist” critique coming from the Left. First, hard identity politicians in humanities departments and “studies” programs cast Western civilization as a racist, sexist, imperialist enterprise. They retained the anti-Americanism of the anti-War movement of the previous decade and applied it to the college syllabus, treating a course packed with dead white male authors as just that: an ideological formation by race and sex. They didn’t see the legacy of Homer and Plato, Dante, and Shakespeare, Mozart and Manet as a positive lineage of genius. They only registered the exclusions: not enough women and persons of color.

But their presentation was so bitter and anti-intellectual that it didn’t impress many colleagues across the campus, not to mention observers in the public sphere. In fact, it alienated them. Harold Bloom termed these bilious progressives the School of Resentment, and in my view, the Nietzschean tag fit even though I hated Reagan and all the other Republicans as much as anybody. Liberals didn’t view the Western heritage that way, and it wasn’t how they talked about reform, either. The professors I had in the 1980s were solidly Democrat (that is, anti-Reagan) and fully in favor of affirmative action and abortion rights. They wanted to see Geraldine Ferraro Vice President and they acknowledged all the oppressions of the past, but they hadn’t learned to characterize their own teaching of Great Books as another one of them.

Yes, they agreed that Milton and Pope had their sexism and that pre-Civil Rights American writers didn’t recognize the equality of African Americans. But that didn’t make Western civilization something to withhold from historically-disadvantaged individuals. The liberal position was to allow everyone access to it, and that included appreciating the tools of justice that Western civilization provided such as natural and universal rights. If Western civilization bore elements of the bad -isms, the solution wasn’t to banish it or even to disparage it. We should revise it, instead, particularly where it had excluded other voices and other experiences.

And so, we got a positive version of reform, not “Hey hey, ho ho, Western civ has got to go!” but happy expressions of diversity, “opening up the canon,” “recovering lost voices,” preserving “herstory” as well as “history.” This was the liberal via media. It didn’t displace Western civilization — it enriched it. We didn’t need to denounce Jonathan Swift because of his misogyny. We could simply place contemporary women’s writings alongside his and produce a fuller, deeper, richer picture of the tradition.

That was the promise of liberalism in the humanities. When conservative critics would charge that Alice Walker is pushing Hemingway off the reading list, liberal professors quickly replied, “No, no, not at all. Hemingway is still there, but now we have broader representation of American literary history.” Who could argue with that?

Well, now we know. We believed that sober moderates would prevail over adversarial leftists, who would sputter out once the (in their eyes) repressive tolerance of liberalism would do its work. But it didn’t work out that way. The identity politicians suffered many public embarrassments because of their political correctness and speech codes and illiberal education and tenured radicalism, but that didn’t slow their advance one bit. On this issue of civilization, they have won off-campus liberals to their side. The enthusiastic or benign appreciation of Western civilization is now a sign of bad politics.

Peter Beinart handily explains what Western civilization now means: “In his speech in Poland on Thursday, Donald Trump referred 10 times to “the West” and five times to “our civilization.” His white nationalist supporters will understand exactly what he means.” Beinart regards “the West” as “a racial and religious term.” The Washington Post‘s Jonathan Capehart, too, linked it to white nationalism, especially Trump’s sentence, “We write symphonies.” In response, Capehart wrote, “In that one line, taken in context with everything else Trump said, what I heard was the loudest of dog whistles. A familiar boast that swells the chests of white nationalists everywhere.”

Commentaries on these remarks have been profuse, but I haven’t seen anyone bring up this 30-year-old background. To recall it is to prove a remarkable and sad transformation in the status of Western civilization. To speak proudly of its achievements, to hail its art and music, to acknowledge its origin in Jerusalem and Athens and Rome was in the past a partial interpretation of human history and culture. Now, it’s racist and imperialist.

All the old liberal talk about diversity and recognition and recognizing the “other” is gone. The fierce multiculturalists of the 1980s are now the mainstream liberal talking heads of the 2010s. It is anti-intellectual and historically-inaccurate, but among the left, it has a bienpensant moral force.  One expects this in academic humanities departments, and now we can find it in the pages of distinguished liberal periodicals, too.

Our Exquisitely Sensitive Academic Culture

Mind your Ps and Qs,” Wikipedia tells us, “is an English expression meaning ‘mind your manners,’ ‘mind your language,’ ‘be on your best behavior.’” Recent advice provided in the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that academic conference goers also need to mind their PC.

The Chronicle’s July 7 “Daily Briefing” to subscribers links to two “Talkers” who draw, unintentionally I am sure, a chilling picture of how brittle and thin-skinned academic culture has become. In one, “April Hathcock, a librarian at New York University, writes about race fatigue after attending an academic conference,” and in the other “Lucy Allen, an English professor at the University of Cambridge, argues in her blog that you shouldn’t fall back on the common question ‘Where are you from, originally?’”

In “‘Otherness’ and Conference Advice,” Professor Allen rejects the advice given in another recent Chronicle piece, Robin Bernstein’s “How to Talk to Famous Professors.” One example Bernstein suggested was “the old standby: Where are you from originally?” I suspect that what Bernstein had in mind — certainly what she could have had in mind — was that a nervous junior convention goer could reasonably assume that famous Professor Whatshisname from the University of Virginia lives in Charlottesville, and thus asking, “Where are you from, originally?” is a perfectly natural, neutral, unloaded conversation silence filler.

Professor Allen, however, no doubt ever attuned to dog whistles, hears something sinister: “There are many ways,” she warns, “to put your foot in it at conferences. But I’m fairly sure that using a phrase that’s stereotypically associated with ingrained racism/xenophobia is one of the more easily avoided ones.”

Just as everything looks like a nail if all you have is a hammer, so, too, everything can look like a micro- or even a macro-aggression if much of your personal and professional life is spent inhaling a miasma of race, gender, and ethnicity. Thus, after spending five days at the American Library Association convention in Chicago, New York University librarian April Hathcock writes, “Race fatigue is a real physical, mental, and emotional condition that people of color experience after spending a considerable amount of time dealing with the micro- and macro-aggressions that inevitably occur when in the presence of white people. The more white people, the longer the time period, the more intense the race fatigue.”

Ms. Hathcock is tired “of being tone-policed and condescended to and ’splained to.” She’s tired “of listening to white men librarians complain about being a ‘minority’ in this 88% white profession – where they consistently hold higher positions with higher pay – because they don’t understand the basics of systemic oppression.”

They’re librarian, she adds disdainfully, “You’d think they’d know how to find and read a sociology reference, but whatever.” She’s tired, in short, of white people, even “well-meaning white people” who want to “‘hear more’ about the microaggressions you’ve suffered and witnessed, not because they want to check in on your fatigue, but because they take a weird pleasure in hearing the horror stories and feeling superior to their ‘less woke’ racial compatriots.”

But “Don’t get me wrong,” she concludes. It wasn’t all bad. “I caught up with friends and colleagues of color and met new ones. These moments kept me going. And I did have some moments of rest with a few absolutely invaluable and genuine white allies.” Who knows? Maybe even some of her best friends are white, though it sounds like whites are at best allies in “this racial battle called life.”

How sad … and depressing since her sentiments are no doubt not unique.

Here’s What Happens as Campuses Turn Further Left

A couple of years ago, six social scientists published a paper describing a disquieting occurrence in academic psychology: the loss of almost all its political diversity. As Jonathan Haidt of NYU, one of the authors of the paper wrote in a commentary:

Before the 1990s, academic psychology only leaned left. Liberals and Democrats outnumbered Conservatives and Republican by 4 to 1 or less. But as the “greatest generation” retired in the 1990s and was replaced by baby boomers, the ratio skyrocketed to something more like 12 to 1. In just 20 years. Few psychologists realize just how quickly or completely the field became a political monoculture.

While the paper focuses on psychology, it briefly mentions that the rest of the social sciences are not far behind:

Recent surveys find that 58–66 percent of social science professors in the United States identify as liberals, while only 5–8 percent identify as conservatives, and that self-identified Democrats outnumber Republicans by ratios of at least 8 to 1 (Gross & Simmons 2007; Klein & Stern 2009; Rothman & Lichter 2008).

Related: How the Leftist Monoculture Took Over the Academy 

As these studies are now approximately ten years old, it’s quite plausible that the gap has widened further over the past decade (as it has in psychology) meaning that these figures most likely underestimate the current left-to-right ratio across the social sciences.

In response to this problem, Haidt and others formed the Heterodox Academy website, which is dedicated to arguing for a more intellectually diverse academy and now has almost 900 members.

*   *   *

One shouldn’t draw conclusions too hastily, of course, and there are many plausible explanations for this trend. For example, economist Paul Krugman argued on his blog that data suggests the Republican Party has moved rightwards over the past few decades, dragging with it the definition of a “conservative,” thus driving academics away from both the Republican Party and from conservative orientation.

Krugman suggests that this is especially true of scientists, even more so than non-scientist academics, due to a perceived hostility towards climate change data and evolutionary theory within the Republican Party. (He doesn’t distinguish social scientists from scientists in general. Although to be fair, the Heterodox Academy has marketed itself as addressing a general problem in academia.)

Professors Moved Sharply to the Left

A more detailed examination by political scientist Sam Abrams doesn’t lend support to Krugman’s hypothesis. Abrams found that party and ideological affiliation has remained relatively constant among the American population over the past 25 years; while it has shifted markedly to the left among professors:

Professors were more liberal than the country in 1990, but only by about 11 percentage points. By 2013, the gap had tripled; it is now more than 30 points. It seems reasonable to conclude that it is academics who shifted, as there is no equivalent movement among the masses whatsoever.

What is particularly striking about this shift is that the number of moderates has dropped sharply among professors. This seems to be the strongest argument against Krugman’s hypothesis. If professors were driven away by a rightward shift in the Republican Party, one could reasonably expect a build-up of moderates. Yet, this has not happened at all.

In fact, Haidt recently reported on a remarkable survey that was conducted among the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, which, as Haidt notes, is … a professional society composed of the most active researchers in the field who are at least five years post-PhD. It’s very selective—you must be nominated by a current member and approved by a committee before you can join.

As part of the survey, members were asked to identify their political affiliation on an eleven-point scale, from “very liberal” to “very conservative.” (One point in the center and five on each side.) The results are telling. Only percent cent of respondents chose a conservative point, and only 8.3 percent chose the center-point, meaning that 89.3 per cent identified as left-of-center.

Social psychologists’ self-ratings of their political orientation. Taken from Bill von Hippel and David Buss’s survey of the membership of the Society for Experimental Social Psychology, 2016.

Intriguingly, the least popular point among the left-of-center points was the most moderate one (5.8 per cent), and the second-least popular was the second-most moderate one (15.6 per cent). More than two thirds (67.8 per cent) chose one of the three points furthest to the left on an eleven-point scale, and more than a third (38 per cent) chose one of the two points furthest to the left. And 16 per cent chose the furthest possible point to the left on an eleven-point scale.

This means that there were almost as many people who chose the furthest possible point to the left as there were who chose all the conservative points, the center-point and the most moderate left-of-center point combined (16.6 per cent).

The members were also asked to rate themselves on nine specific political issues and mention who they voted for in the 2012 election, which also showed an overwhelmingly left-leaning attitude. I find the general political placement the most interesting, though, because it shows how these members think of themselves politically in the abstract.

People that freely self-identify as far-left in the abstract, in other words irrespective of specific political issues, seem to me to be signaling something: that they are committed to an ideology. The fact that such a large portion of the most influential people in academic social psychology do so suggests that this ideology is entrenched in their field.

‘Social Justice’ an Entrenched Ideology

And there are signs that point in that direction across the social sciences. Sociologist Carl Bankston paints a picture of a field that has institutionalized “social justice” ideology on all levels over the past twenty years:

To attend a conference these days can feel like taking part in a rally of true believers. These associations are not government entities, one may argue, and they are entitled to become exclusive clubs of the committed.

The problem is that the embedded ideologies of academic professional organizations are bound up with the embedded ideologies of universities. When we hire new faculty members or when we tenure or promote professors, one of the points we consider is whether the individuals concerned have been active in professional associations, especially the national association. Because the associations so strongly push political perspectives, universities implicitly encourage professors to hold and express the “correct” socio-political orientation.

From Bankston’s description, it seems clear that any non-leftist would find working in sociology almost unbearable. The research in the original paper suggests that the leftward shift in social science is likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination.

In Haidt’s commentary, referring to the hostile climate, he includes part of an email from a former graduate student in a top 10 Ph.D. program, which he says is representative of several he received:

I can’t begin to tell you how difficult it was for me in graduate school because I am not a liberal Democrat. As one example, following Bush’s defeat of Kerry, one of my professors would email me every time a soldier’s death in Iraq made the headlines; he would call me out, publicly blaming me for not supporting Kerry in the election. I was a reasonably successful graduate student, but the political ecology became too uncomfortable for me. Instead of seeking the professorship that I once worked toward, I am now leaving academia for a job in industry.

With regard to discrimination, a recent article in Quillette presents a sobering anecdote from someone (who considers himself on the left) going through the process of applying to prestigious graduate programs, and how he was consistently steered toward the expression of far-left ideological views by well-meaning advisors who presumably know what review committees are looking for.

Here he summarizes the process:

As a brief disclaimer, none of what I say here should be interpreted as a criticism of my advisors – not of their job performance and especially of their personal predilections. If anything, I think they did their jobs well. Given what I perceive as the entrenched far-Left political ideology in the world of academia, I’m confident that their advice improved my applications in the eyes of review committees. I can honestly say that by the end of the process, I felt as if the only way to be considered a serious candidate – by the Rhodes Trust, Harvard Admissions, etc. – was to present myself and my proposed research as conforming entirely to a far-Left political narrative.

An Increasingly Radical Ideology

It seems likely to me that there are self-reinforcing mechanisms at work. As the ratio of liberals to conservatives increased, a tipping-point was reached where conservatives were actively excluded from the social sciences, and as they have disappeared the more radical liberals are now outnumbering the moderates to the point where they too are being gradually excluded. In other words, it appears that social science is undergoing a purity spiral towards an increasingly radical left-wing ideology. The anecdote above suggests just this.

I suspect there is some truth to Krugman’s hypothesis, and the Pew Research data that Krugman links to does suggest there is a large group of politically unaffiliated scientists. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t separate natural scientists and social scientists. This suggests that Abrams’s data understates the extent to which both liberal and moderates have disappeared from the social sciences and supports the idea of a purity spiral in these fields.

If there has been a build-up of moderates among natural scientists, it means—since the number of moderates has decreased sharply among professors as a whole—that even more moderates must have disappeared from the other areas of academia. (It’s likely that the humanities have followed a similar development to the social sciences; a recent Quillette article by a classicist suggests as much, at least within their field.)

*   *   *

This is a much more serious problem than the number of conservatives in the field. If the social sciences were full of people who were moderate or apolitical, it wouldn’t be that much of a problem. But the fact that a specific ideology has become so entrenched, and is increasingly becoming more and more so as others—even moderate leftists like the graduate program applicant above—are gradually disappearing from the field, is highly disturbing.

So, what is this ideology?

In the paper, it is labelled the liberal progress narrative, articulated by sociologist Christian Smith:

Once upon a time, the vast majority of human persons suffered in societies and social institutions that were unjust, unhealthy, repressive, and oppressive. These traditional societies were reprehensible because of their deep-rooted inequality, exploitation, and irrational traditionalism. . . . But the noble human aspiration for autonomy, equality, and prosperity struggled mightily against the forces of misery and oppression, and eventually succeeded in establishing modern, liberal, democratic… welfare societies.

While modern social conditions hold the potential to maximize the individual freedom and pleasure of all, there is much work to be done to dismantle the powerful vestiges of inequality, exploitation, and repression. This struggle for the good society in which individuals are equal and free to pursue their self-defined happiness is the one mission truly worth dedicating one’s life to achieving.

No doubt most social scientists would nod their heads to this. Unfortunately, it’s so simplistic, and so full of vague, emotionally charged words that it’s not very informative. To understand leftist ideology, we need it to be more specific. What actual things in the current world does it want to replace, and what specific things would it put in their place?

Haidt, appearing on author Sam Harris’s podcast, gave a somewhat more specific description when he described leftist ideology as the following (starting at 01:02:09, lightly edited for clarity):

So, I take part in a lot of discussions, I’m invited to all sorts of lefty meetings about a global society and… you know… the left usually wants global governance, they want more power vested in the U.N., I hear a lot of talk on the left about how countries and national borders are bad things, they’re arbitrary. So, the left tends to want more of a universal… I’m just thinking about the John Lennon song… this is what I always go back to, Imagine. Imagine there’s no religion, no countries, no private property, nothing to kill or die for, then it will all be peace and harmony. So that is sort of the far-leftist view of what the end state of social evolution could be.

Related: The Normalization of Bad Ideas

This is more specific than Smith’s narrative, suggesting initiatives such as reducing national power and redistributing property. This, of course, is a much broader definition of fighting oppression than for example abolishing slavery.

One could argue that as slavery and feudalism have been eradicated, terms like oppressionexploitation, and inequality have increasingly become dysphemisms for power differences of any kind. In this view, the fact alone that one country, group, or person is wealthier or more influential than another is sufficient for the label oppressive.

This isn’t to say that everyone who subscribes to Smith’s liberal progress narrative agrees with Haidt’s extension. The point, rather, is that the liberal progress narrative is so vague and emotionally charged that it’s probably unclear even to most liberals themselves what these terms mean when referring to the specifics of the modern world.

(I should note that Haidt now considers himself a centrist rather than a liberal, so he’s not claiming to describe his own position.)

*   *   *

Why is it a problem that the liberal progress narrative is so vague, yet has come to dominate social science?

Well, the liberal progress narrative is not new. Nor is extrapolating it into the future. In fact, one of the most influential documents in recent history, The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, does exactly this.

Their central argument is that human history is a succession of systems, each less oppressive than the previous, until it reaches its conclusion in communism, a system with no oppression because everyone is equal. Aside from the historical extrapolation, Marx and Engels use much of the same terminology as Smith. The words oppression and exploitation and their derivates feature prominently, and capitalism is referred to as slavery—notably similar to the dysphemism suggested above.

Consider the following:

[The bourgeoisie] has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

Take away the specifics in The Communist Manifesto, such as the definition of classes, and it becomes almost indistinguishable from Smith’s liberal progress narrative. Compare for example Smith’s last sentence with what Marx and Engels write at the end of Chapter II:

In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

The Communist Manifesto, along with Marx’s later works, played a key role in energizing and coalescing communist revolutionaries, and several societies throughout the twentieth century declared themselves in accord with Marx’s theory. The results, however, have been consistently disastrous.

Very few social scientists are communists, I imagine. But why? If most social scientists subscribe to Smith’s liberal progress narrative, and communism is (arguably) the logical conclusion of the liberal progress narrative, then shouldn’t they subscribe to communism as the ideal human society?

The answer for many, presumably, is that they don’t subscribe to communism because it produced disastrous results. But if the main lesson social science has learned from the failures of communism is that eliminating private property is a bad idea, then it has learned far too narrow a lesson.

What it should have done is asked itself this: if communism is the logical conclusion of the liberal progress narrative, and communism has consistently failed disastrously, what does this tell us about the liberal progress narrative—or as Haidt calls it, Universalism?

What’s interesting about Haidt’s alternative interpretation of the liberal progress narrative is that he mentions two elements central to the narrative—private property and nations. And what has happened to a large extent is that as the failures of communism have become increasingly apparent many on the left—including social scientists—have shifted their activism away from opposing private property and towards other aspects, for example globalism.

But how do we know a similarly disastrous thing is not going to happen with globalism as happened with communism? What if some form of national and ethnic affiliation is a deep-seated part of human nature, and that trying to forcefully suppress it will eventually lead to a disastrous counter-reaction? What if nations don’t create conflict, but alleviate it? What if a decentralized structure is the best way for human society to function?

What if the type of mass-scale immigration currently occurring in Europe, containing relatively large amounts of people with different nationalities, cultures, and religions, is going against some of the core features of human nature? Maybe it isn’t, but if it is, do we have to wait until after the fact to say ‘well, globalism doesn’t work’, as we did with communism? Surely there is a better way.

*   *   *

Let’s set aside the liberal progress narrative for a while and consider a different narrative. Let’s call it the scientific progress narrative:

Once upon a time, human beliefs and practices were crude, steeped in superstition, and tightly regulated by central authority. Consequently, humans were at the mercy of not only an unpredictable and punishing environment, but also of each other. But the human aspiration for truth and stability eventually prevailed, as humans piece by piece began to assemble a model of not only their environments, but of human nature itself. With this understanding came the blueprint for establishing a robust, dynamic society that could withstand environmental pressures while effectively regulating human interaction.

Thus, societies learned to harness human potential by working with human nature, not against it. Again and again, theories that were believed unquestionably true were replaced by better ones, often after heavy resistance. There is much still to be understood, but it’s clear that the struggle for a good society must be led by an uncompromising search for truth, however uncomfortable it might seem at the time. Any society that forces humans to behave against their nature is bound to eventually fail, and only truth can prevent this from happening.

Now, it’s not clear that this narrative contradicts the liberal progress narrative. In fact, for most of the past few centuries, the two—or some variants of them—have been held to be two sides of the same coin. Maybe they are. But it’s not obvious that they are, so it’s important not to conflate them. They both describe the past reasonably well. But what about the future?

Well, they appear to be diverging. The most important cause of the divergence is the advances in cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, and neuroscience, which has led to a model of human nature that many leftists find unacceptable because they perceive it to threaten the liberal progress narrative. As Steven Pinker wrote in The Blank Slate (1992a0:

Related: Some New and Narrow Versions of Academic Freedom

The taboo on human nature has not just put blinkers on researchers but turned any discussion of it into a heresy that must be stamped out. Many writers are so desperate to discredit any suggestion of an innate human constitution that they have thrown logic and civility out the window. Elementary distinctions—“some” versus “all,” “probable” versus “always,” “is” versus “ought”—are eagerly flouted to paint human nature as an extremist doctrine and thereby steer readers away from it. The analysis of ideas is commonly replaced by political smears and personal attacks. This poisoning of the intellectual atmosphere has left us unequipped to analyze pressing issues about human nature just as new scientific discoveries are making them acute.

The second point of divergence is when scientists uncover negative effects of programs attempting to implement the liberal progress narrative. Consider Carl Bankston:

In 1976 the president of the American Sociological Association, Alfred McClung Lee, led a movement to expel prominent researcher James S. Coleman from the association because Coleman had dared to draw the ideologically unacceptable conclusion from research data that busing and other means of forcible school desegregation were actually exacerbating segregation by intensifying white flight. To the ASA’s credit, the expulsion effort failed, but only after many attacks on Coleman’s character and motivations.

Now consider both these points in relation to, for instance, globalism. If the suggestion that national, or ethnic affinity (or more broadly, tribalism) is deeply rooted in human nature is considered taboo, and likewise any attempt to describe cultural clashes and lack of assimilation in, for example, Europe is forcefully attacked, this can accumulate to become a significant blind spot.

Add to that the practice within the social sciences of using dysphemisms like xenophobia to refer to non-Universalist attitudes towards globalism, and you have a situation where the pursuit of truth is being hampered in the quest to support the liberal progress narrative, and where there appears to be a disturbing lack of learning from the disasters of communism.

It is important that people stand up for science, even when it clashes with the liberal progress narrative – or Universalism, as Haidt calls it. Yet, as non-leftists and increasingly also moderate leftists are being excluded from the social sciences, there appear to be fewer and fewer people willing to do so. The consequences could be grave.

Reprinted from Quillette with permission.

How Colleges Promote Censorship and Undermine Free Speech

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley writes: “There isn’t any need for a civilized man to bear anything that’s seriously unpleasant.”  In his sanitized future, general happiness and social stability are achieved not via threats of legal action but rather through perfect genetic and behavioral engineering, endless indoctrination, anodyne feel-good phrases and drugs, and organized outlets for intense emotion and lust.  “That is the secret of happiness and virtue–liking what you’ve got to do,” explains Huxley’s Director of Hatcheries (where test-tube babies are produced).

Alas, we’re not there yet, hence the recourse to crude legal instruments backed up by moral grandstanding is still essential. Given the pesky First Amendment, however, thus far valid in contemporary America despite ever more frequent attacks, not just any claim to hurt feelings can be used to shut down others’ speech. Learning which words are most effective in preventing the expression of views and comments we don’t like is, therefore, a crucial step if one wants to be successful in ushering in the utopian future.

In more legalistic terms, offending words and gestures can be said to deprive college women of the right to an equal education, thus constituting illegal discrimination. That is the language of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs that receive federal funds.  Expanded over the years to include such categories as “hostile environment harassment,” Title IX turned out to be a godsend to those determined to go through life free of unpleasant words, vulgar jokes, suggestive glances, and, as has become clear, ideas and viewpoints they dislike. In today’s academy, insisting that one feels unsafe or threatened is a routine and usually effective opening move in attempts at controlling others’ words and attitudes.

A recent example:  A student group called Feminists United has filed a Title IX lawsuit against the University of Mary Washington, alleging that by declining to ban access to Yik Yak, the school failed to protect them from disagreeable posts on the anonymous app.  The requisite linguistic expertise was on full display, with the suit referring to the “overtly and/or sexist/threatening” anonymous messages on Yik Yak, which allegedly created a “hostile environment” for the group.

True, there are slight glitches in the group’s charges. The Supreme Court standard (established in the 1999 case Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education) stipulated that harassment becomes discriminatory conduct for which schools are liable only when it is “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively bars the victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit.”

Susan Kruth, staff attorney at the indefatigable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a non-partisan organization defending the First Amendment on American campuses, has explained why the university in the Yik Yak case did nothing wrong.:

Universities should respond to true threats and to serious allegations of sexual harassment, and they can provide non-punitive resources to people who encounter offensive speech. But to the extent that remarks are merely sexist or offensive, a public university must recognize that such language is protected under the First Amendment and decline to take unlawful steps to censor it. Throughout their complaint, the plaintiffs conflate alleged threats and a pattern of conduct that they claim deprived them of educational benefits with remarks or behavior that made them uncomfortable.

In commenting on the lawsuit recently, another FIRE staffer, Communications Manager Daniel Burnett, cited the 2003 Supreme Court case Virginia v. Black, which defined  “true threats”—valid  exceptions to the First Amendment–as “those statements where the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals.”

However, because courts have regarded intimidation as a type of true threat, it becomes advantageous for complainants to assert that they indeed were placed in fear of bodily harm or death. These magic words then set in motion a series of potentially draconian consequences, with the alleged perpetrator usually denied due process as schools, trying to save themselves from lawsuits or perhaps joining in with current campus orthodoxies, cave in to complainants in short order.  Ironically, it is only when sued by those charged with such offenses that universities are likely to rediscover the beauties of First Amendment protections.

A further irony of the current campus climate is that it is not speakers who incite the audience to violence but rather outraged students who threaten speakers and their supporters with violence. Yet universities are acting as if this potential for violence is a reason to prevent unpopular views from being heard – a perfect example of the power of a “heckler’s veto” to silence speakers in an arena where free and full discussion ought to be promoted: the university.

The result is that campus speech censors have a positive incentive to overreact.  They become agitated, claiming they feel unsafe, and threaten violence—in response to which administrators and even campus police rapidly capitulate.  And in the downward spiral that has been played out on numerous campuses over many years now, students ironically demonstrate ever greater physical and verbal aggression as they insist on their discomfort, vulnerability, and fear.

FIRE’s Susan Kruth has highlighted the role of the Office of Civil Rights (OCR), charged with enforcing Title IX, in promoting a redefinition of sexual harassment and sexual assault so broad and vague that it covers mere “speech or conduct of a sexual nature,” which in practice means whatever anyone finds offensive. The low standards encouraged by the OCR, in conjunction with colleges’ natural aversion to lawsuits, have resulted in the campus environment by now familiar to us all, even though these low standards would never carry the day in a court of law.

Apart from the unconstitutionality of such broad definitions, it is well worth asking whether we really want to live in a society where you can’t even make a sexual allusion or tell a joke, where any thoughtless, critical, or offensive comment—not to mention an unpopular viewpoint–can be construed as harassment.  According to many would-be censors, the answer is yes, provided it’s the other guy whose speech is to be curtailed, never mine.

One has to marvel at the touching innocence of so many American students. Lacking experience of what it’s like to live in a society in which some speech is prohibited ostensibly for the greater good, they apparently have little imagination of what such a society would entail. It seems not to occur to them (or to their faculty and administrative abettors) that the very vagueness of what could cause offense means ever more words will need to be avoided, just to be on the safe side.  Yet numerous accounts exist of all the countries around the globe where speech is or has been curtailed by the state and its institutions, with frightening and violent consequences.

It’s an old observation, but nonetheless routinely ignored by campus vigilantes.  More than twenty years ago, for example, FEMISA, an electronic list devoted to feminism, gender, and international relations, was discussing kicking out some men who posted comments women on the list didn’t like.  I was among the very few who argued on that list for the importance of free speech, which–in that particular context–meant tolerating the messages of male contributors whose words were making them unpopular.

Excluding those whose views we did not like, I said, would soon enough lead to instituting censorship, public humiliation, shunning, ganging‑up‑on, etc., so as to protect the feelings and views of the rest.  I contended that even men thought to express obnoxious views should not be struck from the list, and that intolerance of ideas we dislike can quickly move into the prohibitory mode as if the people with whom we disagree had no right to speak freely.  This was a dangerous turn, as I knew then and have had confirmed numerous times since.

Kate Zhou, a political science professor originally from China, sent a long message to FEMISA supporting my position and explaining her own:

I am a feminist from China. For many years, sexist language was banned by the Chinese state (at least in the urban public sphere). Urban Chinese women were very much “free” from sexist verbal attacks. Many women including myself were willing to give up freedom for some degree of protection and security.  When everyone lost the freedom to speak, women’s independent voice was also gone. When women’s voices were silenced, women suffered.

 Yes, we did not have to be bothered by sexist language and pornography. But we could not complain that we had to line up two or three hours for basic food. We had to take less interesting work because we had to take care of the family.  It was not politically correct to complain about the double burden.

Is it clear to feminists that there has been no feminist movement in those countries that practice state censorship? My experience in China seems to suggest that women are often victims of any kind of censorship. As a feminist, I believe that women have the ability and power to defend their interests if given a chance. We should welcome complex and diversified debates. Difficult and complex debates help to train us. If we try to shut someone up because we dislike what he has to say, we just confirm our weakness and sexism.   [Kate Zhou, May 5, 1995].

Not surprisingly, FEMISA did not heed this sound advice. Instead, after more comments from argumentative men –who in some cases merely pointed out that women routinely posted hateful language about men, while men’s objections and rejoinders were treated as intolerable flames–the list owners barred various men from posting and moved the entire list onto “moderated” status, the better to control its discussions.

A similar case affected me directly. For nothing more than disagreeing with the predominant views on certain subjects on the Women’s Studies E-mail List (WMST-L), I (unlike virtually all the other 5,000 subscribers to that list) was placed on “moderated” status for ten years, so that no message of mine could be posted without first being vetted by the list’s overseers.  The result was, of course, as intended: Not eager to waste my time, I participated ever less on the list, to the point that my contributions decreased to almost zero. Why should anyone on the list have to be upset by divergent viewpoints?

Now, however, entire institutions do this dirty work for fragile feminists and others demanding protection from the verbal slings and arrows of people who dare voice dissenting views.  The state and its apparatuses must, of course, keep its grubby hands off our bodies, but please, please, let it control words, gestures, even thoughts.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

How Schools Create Social Justice Warriors

When people watch videos and TV footage of college students screaming at professors and blocking doors to lecture halls, they wonder where the rancor and intolerance come from. A story recently in The New York Times identifies one origin.

It’s called “Children’s Primers Court the Littlest Radicals,” and it covers a new trend in children’s books. Not volumes for 9- and 12-year-olds–we’re looking at 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old audiences.

The topics, plots, and characters in these books are all hardline leftist and heavy on identity politics. “Toddler-tomes,” the reporter calls them,  “are meant to resonate most ringingly with progressive millennials and their tiniest charges.” Some of the lessons in “A Is for Anarchist,” a popular alphabet book, exemplify the indoctrination.

‘F’ is for feminist, For fairness in our pay.

‘J’ is for Justice! Justicia for all.

L-G-B-T-Q! Love who [sic] you choose.

Don’t laugh. “A Is for Activist” has sold 125,000 print units since its release in 2013. And whenever a book takes off like that, it inspires dozens of imitations.

We have “My Night in the Planetarium,” which spends pages “speaking out against oppression.” And the self-explanatory “A Rule Is to Break: A Child’s Guide to Anarchy (Wee Rebels)”; “V Is for Vegan”; and “Emma and the While,” which emphasizes “empathy and wildlife preservation.”

The trend is long overdue, say people interviewed in the story. “For every book about social justice, I’d like to see 50 published,” says the head of We Need Diversity books. A blogger who writes about “political and child-rearing issues” praises books that “respect people with disabilities, people that don’t necessarily look like [her own kids], people of all gender identities.”

It all sounds warm and welcoming. Progressivism trades quite skillfully in dreamy positivity. but anyone who has ever had to debate or contend with a progressive knows that a dark side lies just beneath the inclusivity talk. This story displays it well.

It isn’t sufficient for the blogger to envision a wonderful world of diversity. She must preface her loving concerns with a livid premise:

When racist, misogynistic and hateful rhetoric has become mainstream, offering affirming and respectful messages to my children seems more urgent than ever.

“A Is for Activist,” too, denigrates anything outside its progressive vision. It characterizes people who oppose the development of alternative energy sources as this: “Silly Selfish Scoundrels Sucking on Dinosaur Sludge.” Heads of corporations are “Vultures.”

This is the flip side of progressive benignity. It demonizes the opposition. And when it reaches kids at the age of three, they accept it as real and true. Toddlers don’t have the mental equipment to place such characters and ideas into a dramatic context. They don’t have what is called aesthetic distance.

This isn’t reading. It’s catechism, indoctrination, proselytizing. We see here the beginnings of an intolerance that results in the Middlebury-Murray episode. The only thing more irritating than the books themselves is the solemn confidence of the advocates. They believe they are improving an unjust society. The implantation of progressive propaganda into little minds is a noble moral mission in their eyes. Children are like

The implantation of progressive propaganda into little minds is a noble moral mission in their eyes. Children are like clay and must be molded right. If progressives don’t do it, children will assimilate the values and biases of a racist, sexist, homophobic, nationalistic world. It is out of this early learning that the disputation, resentful, arrogant social justice warrior-undergraduate emerges.

China’s Propaganda Arm on U.S. Campuses

More than 100 U.S. colleges and universities have allowed Confucian Institutes on their campuses. These institutes, sponsored and paid for by the Chinese government, yield a good deal of sway to  China over the curriculum and hiring of teachers, sometimes outsourcing control. As a result, several universities, including the University of Chicago, have closed their Confucian Institutes, and the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the National Association of Scholars (NAS) have urged that they all be shut down.

In April, NAS issued a report on Confucian Institutes in NY and NJ, Outsourced to China: Confucius Institutes and Soft Power in American Higher Education, and this week two NAS officials—president Peter Wood and director of research projects Rachelle Peterson–sent letters to the Trustees of the SUNY system asking for the “soonest” closing of CIs at SUNY’s six institutions that have them: Stony Brook University, the University at Albany, the SUNY Global Center in New York City, Binghamton University, the University at Buffalo, and the State College of Optometry.

The letter said:

“An agency affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education, known as the Hanban, oversees all Confucius Institutes worldwide. The Hanban’s governing council consists of the heads of twelve Chinese government agencies, including the State Press and Publications Administration (which handles state-run media and propaganda) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Hanban’s executive director, Xu Lin, is also a Counselor in the State Council, the 35-member top-ranking administrative arm of the People’s Republic of China….

“While each university selects a professor or administrator who serves as the American director of the Confucius Institute, and who then serves as the immediate supervisor of all teachers and classes, a significant amount of authority remains in the hands of the Hanban.

These measures permit the Chinese government an unparalleled degree of access to the college classroom. Many nations send teachers abroad to promote their language and culture. But most build separate, stand-alone institutions, such as France’s Alliance Française or Germany’s Goethe-Institut.  China is unique in insisting its cultural ambassadors are located at colleges and universities. Such direct influence on a college campus by a foreign government is alarming.

“The Hanban itself considers the Confucius Institutes to be key parts of the government’s propaganda initiative directed against Western societies. In 2009, Li Changchun, then the head of propaganda for the Chinese Communist Party and a member of the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, called the Confucius Institutes “an important part of China’s overseas propaganda setup.”

At Yale, ’Politics Is Imposed on Everything We Read’

Because my English professors at Yale are largely liberal, the political message in my classes is always the same: Trump is a demagogue, American society is doomed, and English literature is our refuge. The liberal domination of the classroom is one problem, but even if the Academy reached political equilibrium, the imposition of politics into everything we read would still remain an issue. The real victim of Trump’s presidency may turn out to be a generation of adults whose liberal arts educations were hijacked by political debate.

Excerpted from Heterodox Academy by a center-left student who voted for Hillary and dislikes Trump.

Stanford’s Wildly Popular ‘Self-Help’ Course

Mechanical Engineering 104B!  The most popular course offered at Stanford University, Silicon Valley incubator and home of one of the top engineering schools in America, ranked #2 in the country by U.S. News, just under M.I.T. And you, lucky Stanford student, can take Mechanical Engineering 104B just because you got into Stanford and made it to your junior or senior year—it’s upper-division and graduate level only. There are no prerequisites. No math, no science. You don’t have to know a single thing about mechanical engineering, much less major in it, and you might even still be thinking that “engineering” means keeping a train running on its tracks.

The class is titled “Designing Your Life,” and one of its co-instructors is William Burnett, a former designer for Mattel and Apple and adjunct engineering professor who heads Stanford’s undergraduate program in product design. Product design at Stanford is a rigorous major that requires a raft of math, physics, psychology, studio art, and above all, mechanical engineering courses in order to graduate—as well it should, because just think of all the technical skills you’d need just to design an office chair that someone might want to sit in all day.

Anyone Can Do It

But in Mechanical Engineering 104B, no worry about any of that actual engineering stuff. “This isn’t a technical course,” its webpage reassures soothingly, and you’ll never have to design one thing in order to pass (the course is pass-fail anyway). “There may be some simple projects…, but nothing that takes any prior design or fabrication experience. Anyone can do it and it’s a great thing to learn.”

Instead, what “Designing Your Life” offers—and what attracts a full 17 percent of Stanford juniors and seniors to sign up for it, so many that the course is offered continuously throughout the three-quarter terms that make up Stanford’s academic year—is what Burnett and his co-instructor, fellow Stanford adjunct David Evans (leader of the team that developed the first Apple mouse), call “Design Thinking.” And “Design Thinking” sounds an awful lot like…plain old-fashioned self-help.

Need to figure out what to do after graduation? Find a mate? How about filling up those long days after you retire? How about losing weight? “I’ve lost 25 pounds, reconnected with close friends and refocused my energy on specific goals and habits,” wrote New York Times health columnist Tara Parker-Pope reporting on Design Thinking in January 2016. “Design thinking has helped me identify the obstacles that were stopping me from achieving my goals, and it’s helped me reframe my problems to make them easier to solve.”

Keeping a ‘Gratitude Journal’       

Indeed, the Design Your Life course’s relation to actual product design seems to be strictly metaphoric. Juniors and seniors who sign up for the two-credit course, monitored by Evans and Burnett with the help of guest lecturers and a flock of student-volunteers who lead discussion groups engage in such activities (according to a Fast Company report) as keeping a “gratitude journal,” working with “a deck of cards featuring problem-solving techniques,” and drafting “odyssey plans” for their first five years out of school. For Stanford sophomores, there is a starter course, Mechanical Engineering 104B, “Design Your Stanford,” in which they can earn another two credits plotting out the rest of their education. And For grad students and postdocs, there’s Engineering 311B, “Designing the Professional,” offering the opportunity to draft career-based “odyssey plans.”

As for Stanfordians unlucky enough to have graduated before Evans and Burnett launched Design Your Life in 2010—and for those whose SAT scores weren’t high enough to get them into Stanford in the first place—Evans and Burnett have a best-selling 2016 book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived Joyful Life. Alternatively, knock-off, or perhaps parallel, Design Thinking classes and workshops have been sprouting up like ailanthus trees around the country: at the University of Vermont, the Chicago-based online school IDEO U, and K-12 teachers’ conferences everywhere.

Looking for Moral Order

How Stanford’s prestigious and rigorous engineering school got into the touchy-feely purveying business most likely has to do with two factors: the desire of engineers to feel less like slide-rule pushers and more like creative artists and the yearning of hyper-educated young people for meaning and moral order in a post-religious world. (A 2008 study by the Templeton Foundation found that only a fourth of college juniors attended regular religious services, and 38 percent of them never set foot in a house of worship.) During the mid-1960s Stanford had created a “Joint Program in Design,” (often called the “Stanford Design Program”) an inter-departmental collaboration between its art and engineering departments predicated on the then-novel idea that design engineering should be “human-centered,” as one of the program’s founders called it. It offered undergraduate and graduate degrees in both mechanical engineering and fine arts/design. All students had to take a class called “visual thinking” in which they took “voyages” in a 15-foot geodesic dome featuring light shows aimed at stimulating their creativity.

Then, in 2004, Stanford mechanical engineering professor David Kelley, apparent coiner of the phrase Design Thinking to describe a project-based methodology for solving problems and heavily involved in the design program, used a grant from German software billionaire Hasso Plattner to help found—and erect a multi-million-dollar campus building for—the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, known informally as the “d-school.” The d-school doesn’t grant degrees, but its warehouse-like open-plan structure does offer an atmosphere that satisfies many people’s ideas of what creativity is all about: whiteboards for scribbling ideas, sticky notes all over the walls, and cool vintage cars and minimalist furniture as decoration.

Most significantly, the d-school offers undergraduate and graduate-level courses that have the coveted Stanford “mechanical engineering” label attached to them, even as they sometimes skirt the more demanding aspects of mechanical engineering. The course-takers typically hail from Stanford’s other schools besides engineering who can earn credits for taking such courses as “Civic Dreams, Human Spaces,” “Designing for Extreme Affordability,” and “Beyond Pink and Blue: Gender in Tech.” Neither Burnett nor Evans is officially on the d-school faculty roster, but Design Your Life is definitely from the d-school template

From Engineering to Life Design

Lately, though, Stanford’s School of Engineering has been distancing itself from the d-school’s free-for-all ethos. For example, it has discontinued the 1960s-era Joint Program in Design, whose last class graduated a few days ago in June. The school replaced the graduate-level program with a tough-minded master’s program in “design impact engineering” that includes no art courses, accepts no art majors, and requires all its applicants to have solid engineering or hard science backgrounds. A page on the program’s website diplomatically explains that the master’s program has no connection to the d-school, which, it says, was set up to give Stanford students “confidence in their creative ability,” not teach them “depth and expertise in design.”

Still, that hasn’t thrust any sand into the well-oiled—and clearly lucrative–gears of Design Your Life. On the Burnett-Evans website, you can learn about the Design Your Life TEDx talk, the Design Your Life workshops coming up in August, and the fact that Northern Arizona University selected Designing Your Life as its freshman book read. Oh, and “Designing Your Life for Women”: a $950 two-day immersion in “odyssey plans,” “group ideation,” and “your three potential futures,” plus meditation and kundalini yoga for an extra $45. You won’t get Stanford mechanical engineering credit for this, but you will, it’s promised, “flourish.”

Napolitano and the Decline of Berkeley

Complicity or incompetence: those two alternatives describe a good deal of policing in the Bay Area these last few years. Peter Shrag writes, “California or even the whole West Coast is in a liberal bubble in the age of Trump” and that “the Bay Area is a bubble within a bubble”—as manifested by its leaders’ politically correct deference to violent mobs from the left. Schrag notes how Oakland’s authorities have “fuss[ed] with their agenda of political correctness” while downtown businesses in the city have been repeatedly vandalized since the Occupy protests of 2011. Rioters shut the Port of Oakland, the nation’s fifth busiest. The Oakland Police Department is notoriously undermanned, mostly to the detriment of minority neighborhoods, while the city authorities spend $300,000 a year for a department of Race and Equity.

Schrag puts it nicely: “On April 27, when Anne Coulter was supposed to have spoken, and when militants threatened more violence, UC and Berkeley in effect confessed their role in allowing the disturbances of the prior months.”

Their delay in doing their duty, however, is going to cost California taxpayers half a million dollars to reimburse neighboring police agencies. Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern estimated the cost to his department at about $80,000, a sum he expects the University of California to pay. UC, at the time of this writing, does not have an official estimate of the total cost. It says it is working with other agencies for eventual reimbursement.

This, however, is only one manifestation of the way the University of California mismanages its affairs. Another was uncovered two days before the April 27 demonstration, with the release of a state audit of the finances of the UC president’s office.

Related: UCAL Regents Strike Back at Napolitano

The University of California, Berkeley denies free speech to selected individuals and groups by deferring to left-wing terror tactics. As a corollary, the university administration has encouraged lawlessness that endangers both individuals and public property. Furthermore, by permitting the metastasizing politicization of the university, the University has both violated its fiduciary responsibility to the taxpaying citizens of California and betrayed its mission as an institution of higher education.

To put the violation of fiscal responsibility in perspective, let’s go back to a case at UC Davis in 2011. Students staged a sit-down protest on campus to protest a hike in fees.

When the campus police ordered them to move, they refused to do so. Instead of carrying the protestors away, as has been done in the past, one officer used pepper spray to disperse the crowd. A recording of the incident went viral over the internet, which caused an image problem for the university. To counter the negative effects, Chancellor Linda Katchi used public money to hire a Maryland public relations firm to help scrub the internet of references to the protest.

This by itself raised ethical questions. An investigation conducted by Melinda Haag, former United States Attorney for San Francisco, uncovered further irregularities, which led UC President Janet Napolitano to describe the chancellor’s administration as “deeply flawed.” It showed “poor judgment,” she said, and “violated multiple university policies, misled, even lied to, superiors, the public, and the media.”

Katchi offered her resignation, which Napolitano immediately accepted.

At the same time as the free speech and violence issues erupted, a series of audits had uncovered poor judgment in Napolitano’s own office. In 2017, Assemblymen Phil Ting (D-San Francisco, chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) called for another audit, this time over concerns about increased university spending and rising tuition and fees. Elaine Howle conducted the audit and released it two days before the scheduled demonstration in Martin Luther King Jr. Park. The audit showed that Janet Napolitano’s office used poor judgment and had violated ethical standards. It had also misled the public, the media, and her superiors at the UC Board of Regents. The investigation further revealed mismanagement, waste, and a cover up. State legislators proclaimed their ire in a two-hour grilling of Napolitano.

A Slush Fund Discovered

While the UC system struggled with a $150 million deficit, Napolitano’s office had spent lavishly on perks such as expensive parties. It had also increased spending on cell phones, iPads, and other such devices. Her administration also paid its bloated staff higher salaries than those of their counterparts in the California State University system and the state government. At the same time, Napolitano’s office had been calling for yet another hike in tuition and fees—which had doubled since 2006-2007. Moreover, the president’s office had amassed a hidden slush fund of $175 million.

California Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who also sits on the UC Board of Regents, had said that Trump’s threat to withhold federal funds from the university “is asinine” and “showed zero awareness of the real-world,” and that to do so “would only create more innocent victims [the students] and more Trump carnage.” But, then, what had Napolitano and her administration done to students when they spent lavishly and hid money for their own use while raising student tuitions and fees? Newsom, of course, deplored the situation uncovered by the audit, saying that it was “outrageous.” But what else could he say?

He also treated Napolitano with deference, blaming the situation not on her but on the faceless bureaucracy. “I remain a supporter of Janet’s and her office,” he concluded. “I still believe in her.” He was still confident, he said, that she “has the political skills to smooth things over with the legislature. The fact that she hasn’t, doesn’t mean that she won’t and can’t.” Newsom found a (nameless) scapegoat while closing party ranks in defense of his fellow Democrat.

Even more serious than hidden funds, excessive salaries, and extravagant perks were the auditor’s conclusion that the “Office of the President intentionally interfered with our audit process,” which prevented “us from drawing valid conclusions.” The auditor had sent confidential surveys to each of the UC campuses to learn more about the system’s finances and expenditures, and to determine if there was any duplicate spending. Napolitano’s office appeared to have tampered with the results.

Republican Assemblyman Dante Acosta said, “Often, where there’s smoke there’s fire. Here I think we might have a mushroom cloud.”  And indeed, there was, for emails reported by the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that administrators at UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, and UC Irvine had removed statements critical of Napolitano and her staff at the direction of Napolitano’s office. Furthermore, her office had arranged a system-wide conference call to coordinate responses among campuses, when the surveys were supposed to have been independent and confidential.

‘Outrageous Tampering’

Howle said that this “tampering was outrageous and unbelievable,” while Ting compared Napolitano’s office’s actions to those of a professor who “magically … changes the grade [of a failing student] and passes the student.” When some lawmakers at the hearing asked Howle about the possibility of criminal violations, she replied that she didn’t know, because she wasn’t an attorney, but that in her seventeen years as auditor she hadn’t seen “interference of this kind.”  Ting, along with other Democratic Assembly members, plans to introduce a bill in the Legislature to create penalties for obstructing the state’s auditor. Some Republican legislators have called for a subpoena of documents from the president’s office, while Democrats want stricter controls over how state money is spent by the university.

Democratic Speaker of the Assembly Anthony Rendon told the Los Angeles Times that he is “frustrated with the lack of communication coming out of the office of the president.” Governor Jerry Brown said that the state would withhold $50 million dollars from the university until it reduces its spending, and Democratic Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva called on Napolitano to resign, saying, “President Napolitano no longer engenders the public trust required to perform her duties.” An ironic echo of what Napolitano herself had demanded of UC Davis Chancellor Katchi.

Assemblyman Ting also said that “the fact that the president already tampered with a state audit is very serious,” and that the Board of Regents should look into the matter. Assemblyman Acosta said of the regents that he is “a little shocked at how out of touch they have been,” for it is their duty to oversee the operations of the sprawling UC system. But Monaca Lozano, chair of the Board of Regents, like Lieutenant Governor Newsom, defended Napolitano. Lozano said that she stands with the president, who has harnessed the university’s size and brain power to take on “great social challenges.” Lozano did not elaborate on what that means, or on why educational and financial challenges seem to take second place in Napolitano’s administration. Lozano instead said that “we have confidence in [the president’s] leadership,” and called Napolitano “a capable and effective leader.”

What will happen now? Napolitano will probably continue in office. Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist, now at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California, told the East Bay News Group that it is understandable why people would want to avoid open conflict with Napolitano. “She might be wounded at the moment,” he said, but “she’s going to recover, and she probably has a long memory, so there’s not much incentive for anyone to get in her dog house.”

In the light of all this uncomfortable publicity, the Board of Regents agreed to hire an outside consultant to investigate interference in the audit. This issue is too big for them to ignore—although they continue to disregard the decline in UC student performance and the increasing politicization of the university.

The Role of the Regents

The University of California holds a prominent and privileged place within the three-tiered system of public higher education in California, a system of mass higher education that has been described as a model for the world. At its base are community colleges that are conveniently located and affordable, offering courses required for the first two years for the bachelor’s degree, as well as technical and vocational courses of study. The next level is the California State University (CSU) system, which offers bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the liberal arts, the sciences, business, teacher training, nursing, engineering and other technical specialties. At the pinnacle of the pyramid is the University of California, which offers degrees from the BA to the Ph.D., as well as degrees in law and medicine. UC also carries on high-level scientific research on its ten campuses, as well as in the three laboratories that it supervises.

In 1879 the legislature made UC an autonomous branch of the California government, “equal and co-ordinate with the legislature, the judiciary, and the executive,” to be overseen by a Board of Regents whose members are appointed from among the citizens of the state. The board of regents thus functions within the state government in a manner similar to that of the boards of directors of business corporations. The Board’s autonomy was intended to insulate the university from the control of politicians. It is obvious from the results of the state audit that the board has failed to exercise either its fiduciary duty to the taxpayers of California or its obligations to its students.

As State Senator Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) said, the Board has been “tone deaf” in its approval of decisions by the administration, such as when it raised the pay of its staff while cutting student services and raising tuition. As a remedy, she has proposed a constitutional amendment that would change the status of UC, and bring it more in line with the relationship that exists between the legislature and the CSU.

The only objection to such a measure is the one that led California to grant UC autonomy in 1879:  weaken the university’s autonomy and it will become vulnerable to political meddling. Yet, as demonstrated at length in the National Association of Scholars’ (NAS) report Crisis in Competence (CIC): the Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California (2012). the university has already become steadily politicized: not by meddling politicians, but by its own faculty and administrators.

CIC’s lead author was John Ellis, a former dean of Graduate Studies and Research at UC Santa Cruz, and then president of the California Association of Scholars, the California state affiliate of the National Association of Scholars. CIC notes the fall in measurable skills among students, along with reduced study-hours by students and reduced academic expectations by the faculty. CIC stated that as the public becomes increasingly aware of that slippage, it will recognize that college increasing lacks the capacity to improve reading, writing, or reasoning skills much less to provide the general knowledge necessary for success. Adding insult to injury, this collapse of UC’s academic quality has been accompanied by ever-rising tuition.

CIC then states that the collapse of college education in California has come about in large part because of politicized teaching, which has led to a shift in instruction from how to think to what to think. The report extensively substantiates that claim and recommends that the University of California take a different direction in its teaching. The report was addressed to the UC Board of Regents, the body responsible for the quality and the reputation of the university.

Rather than placing the points made in the report on the agenda for discussion, Ellis says that the regents were evasive, “ducking and weaving” to avoid the evidence, acting not as watchdogs in the interest of the university and the public, but rather as lapdogs of the administration that they are supposed to oversee. The regents can’t avoid addressing their failure with respect to financial problems and the way the administration has deceived them, but they can and will dance away from the question of politicization and its effects on the educational quality and the reputation of the institution for which they are responsible.

UC’s ideological conformity, appeasement of leftist violence, bloated administration, left-leaning faculties, political correctness, censorship, and self-serving administration are all connected to one another as part of a general decline of higher education at the University of California. But UC is not alone. As Stephen Hayward puts it, UC is just “a microcosm of an American higher education archipelago of ideological intolerance and detachment from reality,” in which the university “can’t control its spending and won’t control its kooks.”

The Ideal and the Real

Robert Gordon Sproul, after whom the UC Berkeley administration building and the plaza are named, was the president of the University of California from1930 to 1958. During that time the university transformed itself from a regional university to a nationally respected institution of higher education. UC then exemplified the ideal of what a first-rate university should be. Since the 1960s, however, UC and its peers across the country have abandoned that ideal. Universities today, says Victor Davis Hanson, are Potemkin villages: “their spires, quads and ivy-covered walls are facades” that mask a crisis not only of free speech but also of university finance, plummeting test scores, grade inflation, and student debt. UC is scarcely worth attending anymore.

  1. R. Reno, editor of First Thingswrites, “American elite universities today are cold, soulless places” because “they’re run for two purposes, both of which treat students as means, not ends in themselves.” One of those purposes is to “provide legitimacy to the American ruling class,” and the second is to “promote the greater wealth and glory of the university itself.” At one time the best American universities were quite explicitly for the social elite. During a brief meritocratic interlude, these universities sought out and welcomed the most qualified students, regardless of their background. After the 1960s, the elite universities returned to group consciousness in the form of affirmative action admissions—a policy designed to legitimate the university on the grounds of “social justice.”

Elite universities continue some meritocratic recruitment; if they didn’t they couldn’t maintain their status as premier academic institutions. They also continue to serve America’s elite, recruiting their less stellar children via the rubric of legacy admissions. The extension of meritocratic recruitment to foreign students now helps these universities to brand themselves for the global marketplace. Publicly funded universities also often give preferences to out-of-state and foreign students, since they pay higher tuitions than in-state students.

The problem with racial and ethnic preferences, however, is that far too many minorities have been brought up in conditions where education is not emphasized and where schools are poor, thus putting promising minority students at a disadvantage in the faster paced elite institutions. Thomas Sowell coined the term “mismatch” for such policies, policies which assert the social virtue of the university at the expense of students. Professor of law and economics at UCLA Richard H. Sander and legal journalist Stuart Taylor Jr. conducted a study that showed that mismatch indeed very often works in that way.

Reno says that admissions, therefore, serve the university’s purpose, not necessarily that of students and the public, by ensuring that “the establishment’s power remains legitimate,” and that the elite university itself remains “super-eminent”—and well-funded. Universities, he says, are thus on a trajectory to “becoming rigid, mechanical and artificial communities dominated by rent-seeking faculty, populated by alienated students, and governed by administrators,” and thus unable to “attract loyalty” or to “create a culture for the future.”

Student alienation manifests itself in several ways. One is when the doctrine of permanent victimhood and identity politics (which the university promulgates) leaves many minority students seething with resentment rather than focused on the advantages that American society offers. This doctrine orients minority students towards divisive race-based identities rather than towards a unifying identity as Americans. Since these alienated students know quite well that university administrations will yield to their demands because of their privileged position within the institution, many have banded together in organizations determined to impose their will on compliant institutions.

Takeover at UC  Santa Cruz  

The latest example at UC took place this April at UC Santa Cruz. There, the African Black Student Alliance (ABSA), a racially defined organization, occupied the administration building, while accusing the university of fostering “a hostile climate.” The protesters locked the doors and plastered the windows with posters, saying that they would disrupt university administration until their demands were met. Those demands centered on segregated campus housing and ABSA-designed mandatory propaganda sessions for all incoming students. Chancellor George Blumenthal was willing to negotiate. He was afraid, however, to go near the occupied administration building. Instead, he met with ten representatives of the group in another building, where he submitted to all ABSA’s demands.

Press interviews of students revealed other forms of alienation. Some who supported the protesters identified with their cause, saying that the climate on campus was indeed hostile, no matter what the administration, faculty, and students did to make them feel welcome. And some white students who agreed in principle with diversity ideology were puzzled by the fact that certain groups wanted further special treatment when so much is already being done for them.

In sum, universities have become institutions run by the administration for the administration’s own purposes, much as corporations are run by their managers and boards of directors, while the politicization of the faculty and the resultant student alienation remain unaddressed. The high costs of college education and rising student debt also remain unaddressed. With every passing day, the taxpayers of California are given further reason to doubt the value of a UC college education—for which they pay so dearly.

The long march of the authoritarian left has succeeded in capturing the institutions of higher learning, and they have imposed their anti-liberal and anti-intellectual agenda upon institutions that once supported a free marketplace of ideas. Illiberal administrations and boards of directors disregard the missions of the institutions they are charged with governing. These institutions are financed by student tuitions and fees, by donations from alumni, businesses, and philanthropic organizations, and by taxes, government subsidies, and tax-funded grants. Perhaps it is time to rethink our unquestioned support of institutions that are failing to fulfill their missions in so many ways.

Excerpted with permission from the author and the site of the National Association of Scholars.

Is “Gender Balance” the New Quota System?

The Chronicle of Higher Education fretted recently about the lack of “gender balance” among college presidents. Women have achieved “gender parity” in the Ivy League, but “the Ivy League, with its eight institutions, is an outlier. Overall in higher education, the share of women presidents has barely budged, remaining at about 25 percent over the past decade.”

Aside from the epistemological challenge of figuring out how to promote “gender balance” in an employment category that has only one employee (the college president), there are other difficult questions: whether “balance” requires “parity”; whether either is necessary for  fairness; and finally whether seeking “gender balance” is even legal. The Supreme Court has repeatedly asserted — by Justice O’Connor in Grutter, for example, citing earlier cases — that “outright racial balancing” is “patently unconstitutional.” If seeking a goal of “gender parity” is not outright balancing, what is?

If women are believed to be more uniquely different from men than blacks are from whites, I suppose it could be argued that “outright gender balancing” should be allowed even if racial balancing is not. Indeed, the Chronicle quotes Kevin Miller, a senior researcher at the American Association of University Women, coming close to laying the predicate for that argument.

Female presidents bring a different perspective to the job, raise different concerns, and ask different questions than their male counterparts, says Kevin Miller…. Those are useful traits in making decisions.

“At the highest levels, where people have decision-making powers, women still aren’t in the room,” he says. “The things that they would be focused on just aren’t being discussed because they’re not there.”

Really? If that is true, it should be easy for Mr. Miller or someone to provide a list of the different concerns raised, the different questions asked, the different things focused on and discussed at the four Ivies with female presidents that have been ignored at the four male-headed Ivies.

Can someone point me to such a list?

Mitch Daniels’ Bold Move Into For-Profit Education

Who gains as Purdue University acquires on-line Kaplan University? For Kaplan, the sale has strong appeal. For-profit companies have been maliciously maligned by politicians and leftist ideologues, and the Obama Administration tried to kill them through regulations that largely did not apply to traditional not-for-profit institutions. Students will like the prestige of the Purdue name, so enrollments will grow, helping Kaplan receive fees from performing non-academic back-office functions.

Shedding the For-Profit Stigma

For Purdue, the deal jumpstarts its comparatively anemic presence in on-line education, buying expertise it simply does not have. It allows it to join the likes of Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University, on-line providers that have flourished in part because they don’t have the “for profit” stigma associated with them.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels views this as a natural extension of its land-grant mission, just as agricultural extension services and branch campuses have provided ways for individuals to learn at affordable prices. Daniels, previously a lawyer, budget guru, seasoned business executive, and governor, sees the deal as nearly no-risk for Purdue. Andy Rosen, CEO of Kaplan who, like Daniels, I know and respect greatly, sees this as a winner, as does, no doubt big stockholder Donald Graham.

Yet according to news accounts, the Purdue Faculty Senate said the deal “violated both common sense educational practice and respect for the Purdue faculty….” A long-time nemesis of for-profits and the architect of much of the Obama Administration’s war on them, Robert Shireman, referred to the Kaplan-Purdue deal as “a dangerous long-term marriage between a public university and a firm answerable to Wall Street investors.”

The biggest threat to the deal probably comes not from the faculty, but from the cartel that controls entry into higher education, notably the Higher Learning Commission, Purdue’s regional accreditor. It would not let Grand Canyon convert from for-profit to not-for-profit status, and may do the same to Purdue. The defenders of the status quo (faculty interests, other universities) will try to use accreditation to stop this effort by Purdue to do the equivalent of creating another branch campus. This is another reason why accreditation as we know it should die.

To me, the deal makes a lot of sense. Purdue uses expertise it does not have to expand its educational outreach and improve access. Kaplan probably will gain too, partially just because the word “Purdue” is worth more than the word “Kaplan.” If the new entity is truly part of Purdue, the faculty will ultimately gain some control over curriculum content and teaching. At my school, the main campus faculty has only limited control over those at the branch campuses, and it is not a big issue. I suspect the same will become true at Purdue.

Faculty Want in

What this controversy really is about, however, is ownership. As the late Henry Manne pointed out first over 45 years ago, so-called “not-for-profit” universities like Purdue really generate financial surpluses (“quasi-profits”) that get distributed –much as they do at private corporations. These distributed surpluses are often like dividends.

The problem is the ownership of Purdue, unlike that of private companies, is ambiguous. Legally, probably the state of Indiana owns the institution, and the state turns its ownership interest over to university trustees for administration. Yet the faculty call for “shared governance” is as much a call for “shared ownership.” The faculty thinks, “There would be no Purdue without us —we are entitled to an ownership interest in the enterprise. We want to share in the surpluses.” Yet the Trustees, Mitch Daniels, and Indiana taxpayers may disagree – they are other claimants for at least some ownership rights.

President Daniels has been disruptive of traditional arrangements. He has not raised tuition fees during his tenure. Higher tuition fees are revenues to be distributed, at least in part, as “dividends” to faculty, administrators, and others. He has personally accepted a lower base salary than most university presidents, wanting to be rewarded by bonuses for superior performance. He occasionally sits with students during football games instead of indulging in the perks of the presidential suite. I suspect the students love him –as did the voters who twice elected him governor by solid majorities. He does not bow excessively to collegiate elites.

Too Many Going to College

So, despite having a faculty orientation embedded in my DNA, I am supportive of Daniels move. Higher education is in a bit of a crisis –yet much of it does not know it, being largely shielded by public (state government appropriations, federal student tuition assistance) and private largess (endowments, alumni donations). Enrollments in the aggregate are falling as costs continue to rise and benefits stagnate or even fall.

“Creative destruction” (Joseph Schumpeter) or “disruptive innovation” (Clayton Christensen) are needed to make higher education more nimble, efficient, productive, and responsive to societal needs. Thus, a good case can be made for Daniels’ latest in a long series of innovations that includes the tuition freeze, Income Share Agreements, textbook deals with Amazon, etc.

The strongest case against pushing a big on-line expansion actually is an argument the faculty would emphatically not support: there are simply too many kids going to college, and Daniels’ move is likely to aggravate that problem. The private rate of return on college investments is falling, and the so-called “positive externalities” of higher education are, conservatively put, overstated.

That said, given the policy environment and the attitudes of Americans, higher education, while beset with problems, is not going away soon. Educational entrepreneurs like Mitch Daniels are responding to the changing environment, in the process transforming American higher education. albeit too slowly.

The Curious Provisions of the Rolling Stone Settlement

Rolling Stone magazine recently settled a defamation lawsuit over their falsely reported article about a gang rape at UVA’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. The $1.65 million settlement seems like a win/win for the two parties. It’s hardly surprising that Rolling Stone settled. If the magazine couldn’t prevail against Dean Nicole Eramo, it certainly faced a loss against the people Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s article falsely deemed monstrous rapists. For the fraternity, a settlement now allows the process to be brought to a close and avoids lengthy litigation.

There was, however, one striking aspect of the settlement. In a statement released to the Washington Post, Brian Ellis, a spokesperson for the fraternity, revealed that “the chapter looks forward to donating a significant portion of its settlement proceeds to organizations that provide sexual assault awareness education, prevention, training and victim counseling services on college campuses.”

This struck me as a very odd decision, given the specifics of this case (the students were wrongly accused, and these “organizations” joined the crusade against them). It would be as if, after the Duke lacrosse case, the wrongfully accused students would have ignored the Innocence Project (with which they have, in fact, been actively involved), and instead focused on raising funds for the North Carolina NAACP. That organization might well do good work—but its sole role in the lacrosse case was to harm the students.

Rolling Stone Rape Hoax
Rolling Stone Rape Hoax

So, I asked Ellis if the statement meant that the fraternity would not be donating to organizations that promoted campus due process (such as FIRE) or that advocated on behalf of the wrongfully accused (such as the Innocence Project)—issues that seemed more relevant given the experience of the fraternity members. His response: “They just reached a settlement, so the fraternity has not reached the stage of determining how it will allocate the funds. The statement is a demonstration of their commitment to helping to address the issue on the UVA campus.”

Of course, I hadn’t asked for the how the funds would be allocated; I only had wanted to know which type of groups would receive settlement funds. Given that Ellis was able to identify three types of groups to the Post—sexual assault awareness education, prevention training, and victim counseling services—it’s hard to interpret his statement as anything other than an admission that no settlement money will go to advocates of due process or the falsely accused.

Moreover, at least with regards to UVA, the primary “issue” associated with this case was how the UVA administration, much of its faculty, the leadership of its campus newspaper, and a variety of student groups (including the student government) rushed to judgment when facing heinous allegations against their students—and then, once the case collapsed, acted as if the allegations were true anyway.

Examples included a high-ranking figure at the campus newspaper chastising the national media for doing too much fact-checking and the student government (after the story had been discredited) urging that the state of Virginia learn from the case and change state law to make all rape trials secret. (Stuart and I cover these examples, and many others, in the final chapter of our book.)

Indeed, it seems likely that Rolling Stone would never have targeted Phi Kappa Psi but for the actions of a UVA employee, Emily Renda—someone hired, to borrow Ellis’ words, to address “sexual assault awareness education, prevention training, and victim counseling services on” UVA’s campus. It was Renda who first publicized Jackie’s tale (in testimony to Congress that does not appear to have been retracted), and who then passed on information about Jackie to Erdely.

So, in the end, the wrongfully accused fraternity members have promised to give a portion of their settlement money to the very type of organizations that produced the Renda hire. Quite remarkable.

The settlement money, of course, is Phi Kappa Psi’s; they can donate it to whatever groups they wish. But the fact that a group that was defamed as rapists would turn around and give money to the type of groups that amplified the defamation they experienced speaks volumes as to the frenzied atmosphere on campus today.

More Bad News about College

What was the most noteworthy finding of the recent Gallup survey of people who have attended college? Half of the 90,000 respondents regretted one significant decision made as an undergrad, such as picking the wrong major. In journalistic terms, this is known as burying the lede — downplaying the major point of a story while elevating some minor point.

The major finding—stunning really–appears under the heading, “Most U.S. Adults Say They Had a High-Quality Postsecondary Education.” Gallup asked respondents whether they received a “high-quality” education, and they answered overwhelmingly in the positive.

Fifty-eight percent of those who earned a bachelor’s degree assigned their school a 5, the highest testimony, while another 31 percent graded them a 4.  Even those who never earned a degree came out at 40 percent a 5 and 30 percent a 4.

But most college students in America today do not receive a high-quality education. Academically Adrift, the 2010 book that struck the world of higher education like a bombshell, proved that only a small number of students make significant gains in critical thinking and problem-solving from freshman to senior year. Every survey of employers, too, shows them complaining about poor reading and writing skills.

Related: College Students Now, the Good and the Bad

One poll is particularly relevant here. When the Association of American Colleges & Universities commissioned a poll of college students and employers that focused on the latter’s workplace readiness, an astonishing gap was revealed. While 65 percent of students said that they were “well prepared” in written communication, only 27 percent of employers agreed. Similarly, wide discrepancies showed up in areas of critical thinking, problem-solving, and critical thinking.

Coincidentally, a week after the Gallup poll was published, The Wall Street Journal published an investigative report from Collegiate Learning Assessment on the scores of dozens of colleges and universities dating back to 2013 titled, “Many Colleges Fail in Teaching How To Think.”  The results are embarrassing, and they reinforce the judgments of Academically Adrift authors Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa.

The Journal reported that at more than half of 200 schools tested, at least a third of seniors were unable to make cohesive arguments, assess the quality of evidence in a document or interpret data in a table. This is a devastating finding. International rankings show U.S. college grads in the middle of the pack on numeracy and literacy and near the bottom when it comes to problem-solving.

The gist paragraph reads, “At some of the most prestigious flagship universities, test results indicate the average graduate shows little or no improvement in critical thinking over four years.”

Related: How to Make College as Bad as High School

The data comes from public records requests, and so the Journal’s findings apply to public institutions, not private ones. The biggest point gain didn’t come from top research universities. Plymouth State University in New Hampshire led the list.  The University of Kentucky and University of Texas-Austin students didn’t show much improvement at all. Those schools no longer use the test.  University of Louisiana—Lafayette scored low as well, and it, too, has dropped the test.

The Journal quotes a 2011 Lafayette graduate who recalls, “I wasn’t as focused as I should have been, but in a lot of classes, we just watched videos and documentaries, then we would talk about them. It wasn’t all that challenging.”  He now works in a local coffee shop.

I have no doubt that any other objective measure of actual learning that takes place from matriculation to graduation—except for the competitive areas of pre-med and STEM fields—will replicate these disappointments. Even if super-selective institutions point to the strong scores that their graduates earn on the CLA, they will not be able to show much value-added impact. That is, their students came in with sound critical thinking skill, and they left with, oh, a bit more of it.

Those data points force another interpretation of the high ratings people give to the quality of higher education. Instead of proving the actual rigor and excellence of undergraduate instruction in the United States, the sanguine estimates evince the low educational standards of American millennials. They just don’t know what actual excellence is. How could they when grade inflation in high school and college has reached such an absurd level that nearly half of all college grades are in the A range. If their teachers awarded them the top mark, well, then, they learned a lot in the course.  If the work that was required of them during the semester seemed suspiciously light, well, that may be due to the sparkling intelligence of the student, not to a cushy workload.

Or, perhaps, the faith that they received a high-quality education only proves their high gullibility. Every college has abundant marketing materials that proclaim the wonderful education they provide, and the students trust those pledges of superiority. It soothes their vanity. After all, the more superb the education they received, the more educated they are. The respondents in the Gallup poll are early in their adult lives, searching for jobs and for spouses, they want to believe in their own special condition.  Acknowledging a crummy education hampers their self-confidence. They need the power of positive thinking.

Millennials have been encouraged ever since kindergarten to overestimate their own abilities. They aren’t going to stop once they graduate. It takes several years of the realities of the American workplace to contain their judgment.

900,000 Costly Bureaucrats Work on Campus—How Many Do We Really Need?

For universities and many colleges, this is the age of administrative bloat. The Office of the President of the University of California has roughly two thousand employees – doing no teaching or research. In just the Diversity and Engagement area of her office (which probably did not even exist 50 years ago), there are five senior administrators with the words “vice provost” or “director” in their title, and 25 other identifiable support personnel. And this, of course, includes none of the administrators at any of the ten campuses where students are actually taught. If these 30 diversity and engagement employees abruptly fired, would learning or research be impaired in the slightest? Who was Socrates’ Diversity Coordinator?

More ‘Administrators’ Than Faculty 

Over the last ten years, at the California State University System, “the growth in the number and compensation of management personnel significantly outpaced other employee types,” nonacademic according to the state auditor. The Cal State experience is repeatable all over America.  For all American four-year public universities, for example, the National Center for Education Statistics tells us that from 2007 through 2014, spending for “student services on academic professional personnel) rose 18.8 percent in inflation-adjusted terms, nearly double the 10.6 percent rise in spending for “instruction.”

There are more “administrators” broadly defined, than faculty at most American universities. For the year 2015, I added up the number of full-time employees in “management,” “business and financial operations,” “office and administrative support,” and “student and academic affairs” and compared that with the total number of faculty. There were 911,428 in the administrative category, far more than the 807,032 faculty (some not teaching).

Deliberately Hard to Track Numbers?

The U.S. Department of Education, I suspect deliberately, has increasingly made it difficult to track the trends in administrative staff, changing employment categories, recently including most administrators in a very broad category of “other” employees. Nonetheless, after reviewing a lot of historical data, I am reasonably confident that, even after adjusting for enrollment growth, there are nearly twice as many administrators today as there were in the mid-1970s, while the number of enrollment-adjusted faculty has grown only very modestly.

Two explanations are often advanced to explain this. First, federal regulations have increased substantially, requiring more administrators.  Examples include safety requirements surrounding use of laboratory materials, rules on investigating human subjects, regulations regarding discrimination in hiring, admitting students, and contracting, and the infamous 2011 Federal “guidance” regarding campus sexual assault.

Second, we are providing so many more services today for students than previously –- it takes administrators and other workers to maintain the climbing walls, indoor running tracks, and lazy rivers that we provide students. Universities are now as much country clubs as they are learning communities –my school (Ohio University) employs workers just to run the golf course’s pro shop and schedule tee times (ah, the heavy burdens of academic life!)

Layers of Bureaucracy

When I began working at Ohio University in the mid-1960s, there was no Provost, but a Vice President for Academic Affairs who had one assistant.  Enrollments have risen about 50 percent, but now our Provost office has an administrative staff of 16, including a “senior vice provost for instructional innovation” and, our equivalent of a Secretary of State, the “vice provost for global affairs.”

So it goes across the country. At some schools, two levels of bureaucracy oversee an already large campus administrative staff. Take the University of Texas. There are a large number of campuses, including the Austin flagship, but others at locations such as Arlington, San Antonio, Dallas and El Paso. Overseeing them is a university-wide administrative apparatus. But on top of that is the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, an organization with over 200 administrators overseeing not only the University of Texas but other public schools like Texas A & M, the University of Houston, and Texas Tech University.

Why is this happening? As they say in analyzing felonious (as opposed to merely wasteful and inefficient) behavior: look at means, motive, and opportunity. Regarding opportunity, the faculty have lost an enormous amount of power on campuses to non-academic apparatchiks. It used to be difficult to recruit professors, but now in many fields in academia it is a buyer’s market –there are often dozens of applicants for every position. Increasingly, the faculty are hired hands, not persons with real clout. Decision-making is done by administrators, who have not only seized opportunity but have ample motives to expand their own empires of underlings to do irksome chores.

Buying Peace on Campus

The federal student assistance programs have enabled higher tuition fees, providing the means to hire more staff. Rising fees mean more revenues. To be sure, some added staff are fundraisers, as universities become more aggressive about begging for money from alumni and others to continue their profligate ways.

Some of the administrative expansion reflects attempts by university administrators to buy campus peace and tranquility. Loyal alums who equate university excellence with student ball- throwing prowess demand that schools hire lots of coaches and weight training experts –and pay some of them far higher salaries than the university president. Environmental activists pressure universities into spending vast sums on sustainability coordinators and economically dubious alternative energy projects. Minority students demand all sorts of “diversity” related positions or special services. Thus presidents will create positions to reduce discontent, or, less politely, bribe militants to behave.

An interesting academic exercise is to ask: how much more affordable would American universities be if the administrative bloat of modern times had not occurred?  Looking at public universities, in recent years spending on “public service,” “student services,” “academic support” and “institutional support,” all largely administrative staff categories, has almost precisely equaled the revenues raised from tuition fees. If spending in these areas had been reduced 20 percent, which historical data suggests would have been possible, then tuition fees could likewise probably be reduced about 20 percent. Are rising administrative costs an important factor in rising tuition fees? The answer seems clearly “yes.”

What can be done about this? Passing laws restricting administrative staff growth is tempting, but the cure could be worse than the disease if one-size-fits all rules are indiscriminately applied. Reducing the fuel supply (financial support) for the administrative apparatus is another, perhaps more promising approach, by restricting federal student financial aid that enables universities to promote high tuition fees, and by state governments continuing recent trends towards restricting financial support.

An imperfect Way to Fight Unfair Sexual Accusations

Too often on campus, the best chance for a wrongfully accused student to achieve justice involves a lawsuit after the campus tribunal has done its worst. A system that uses the lowest standard of proof, allows accusers to appeal not-guilty findings, lacks mechanisms for mandatory discovery of exculpatory evidence, denies meaningful (or any) representation by counsel, and prohibits direct cross-examination is almost, by definition, unjust.

As FIRE’s Samantha Harris has long observed, courts are an imperfect vehicle to protect campus due process as a whole; the nature of due process lawsuits makes it difficult for courts to do anything more than address the facts of a single case. (The Brandeis decision comes closest to a judicial declaration that a university’s sexual assault process violated the Constitution.) Moreover, a lawsuit can cost tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars—well beyond the means of many middle-class or poor families.

It is, therefore, nothing short of preposterous to suggest that the myriad due process lawsuits illustrate the “powerful legal incentives” for colleges to handle sexual assault complaints “fairly.” Yet this was the claim of one prominent defender of the Obama administration’s efforts to weaken campus due process—my own institution’s president, Michelle Anderson. She added that “campuses are responding—as they must—when accused students prevail.” The extensively footnoted article contained no footnote for this assertion.

When Innocence Isn’t Enough

Anderson’s words would be cold comfort to accused students from Miami (Ohio), Case Western, or the University of California-San Diego. In the Miami case, Judge Michael Barrett noted that the accused student had “alleged facts which cast doubt on the accuracy of the outcome.” Indeed, the “discrepancy between [the accuser’s] written statement—‘I never said no’—and the finding that [the accuser] asked [the accused student] to stop casts serious doubt on the accuracy of the outcome of the Administrative Hearing [emphasis added].” Yet Judge Barrett concluded that 6th Circuit precedent prevented him from rectifying the injustice.

In a 2015 case at Case Western, Judge Christopher Boyko concluded that the accused student had made “a plausible claim that [he] was innocent of the charges levied against him and that CWRU wrongly found that [he] committed the offense.” Case Western didn’t give the accused student access to the full case file. The panel refused to ask some of the questions he deemed critical to his defense, and the chairman of the panel treated him with hostility.

The university denied his appeal—after allowing the appeals officer to consider an anonymous letter, to which he was never given access, to be added to his file. Despite noting that this treatment left a “plausible inference that CWRU’s disciplinary hearings were procedurally flawed,” Boyko sided with the university, citing relevant 6th Circuit precedent. The likely innocent student—found guilty after a flawed procedure—was out of luck.

This is, of course, the same circuit at which Judge Martha Daughtrey mused at how students accused of sexual assault are entitled to no more due process than a soldier facing a military board of inquiry. Daughtrey isn’t alone in her judicial indifference of basic fairness. The highest-profile example came in a 2016 appellate decision from California, where a three-judge panel restored the discipline against an accused student at UC-San Diego. The judges reached that conclusion even after one of them publicly compared the UCSD process to a kangaroo court.

Settlements

For those accused students filing outside of the 6th Circuit (or, in the aftermath of the UCSD decision, in California state court), success depends less on the merits of their case than on the judge to whom the case was assigned. For the public, however, even an unsuccessful lawsuit can provide critical insight into the otherwise secret world of campus due process.

Yet in two important respects, the interests of litigants and of the public are at odds. First, and quite understandably, wrongfully accused students want to end the process as soon as possible. In almost all cases, their primary goal is an expungement of their record, given the life-altering consequences of a wrongful finding of sexual assault. The public, by contrast, has an interest in a process lengthy enough to require the university to turn over internal documents relating to its disciplinary process—and to get university disciplinarians under oath.

These two interests most obviously come into conflict in settlement discussions. With the exception of Brown (and, oddly, Brandeis), most colleges and universities have entered into settlement discussions shortly after losing a motion to dismiss. The two most recent settlements—both troubling cases profiled by Ashe Schow—came at Lynn University in Florida and Allegheny College in Pennsylvania. In a twist, both settlements came shortly after court rulings requiring some degree of participation in the lawsuit by the accuser, setting up the possibility of cross-examination that the schools had gone out of their way to prevent.

It’s easy to see why the accused students settled; otherwise, their lives would have been on hold indefinitely. But the settlements also ensured that the public will learn no more about these deeply disturbing cases.

Secrecy

The interests of litigants and the public also are in opposition with regards to publicity. The first round of litigation after the Dear Colleague letter—cases at Xavier, St. Joe’s, Miami (Ohio), and Vassar—all featured students suing in their own names. Now, virtually all suits are filed under “John Doe.”

For reasons recently explained by Judge Philip Simon (in a case at Notre Dame), this shift is in the best interests of justice: the marginal benefits to the public knowing litigants’ identity are overcome by the litigants’ need for privacy. But the shift nonetheless represents a tradeoff and prevents those who cover the cases from getting a better sense of the personalities involved.

The far more troubling new development involves the sealing of all or much of the case file. Such efforts initially came mostly from accusers—in cases at Georgia Tech, St. Thomas, and (involving her subpoena) Amherst. But in two recent cases—James Madison and Notre Dameaccused students have entered into agreements with their universities to file material, including the transcript of the disciplinary hearing, under seal.

It’s understandable why an accused student would want to take such a course—even if innocent, the material in the campus process can be personally embarrassing. And not all of material is permanently shielded from the public—judges can cite from it in their opinions, as the two judges did in the critical due process victories at JMU and Notre Dame. But one reason why I was able to write so extensively about Amherst is that the accused student’s lawyer, Max Stern, placed all aspects of the disciplinary file, including the transcript, into the record, fully open at PACER.

In contrast to the “John Doe” issue, judges should push back on closing non-redacted material from public view. The public has a right—indeed, an obligation—to learn as much as they can about the unfairness of the campus disciplinary process. And as things stand now, due process lawsuits represent the only way for the public to achieve an unvarnished view.

To date, the Trump administration has made no efforts to push back any of Obama’s anti-due process policies. And it’s not at all apparent that, even if they did so, colleges would do much to restore a sense of fairness. So litigation—despite its clear limits—will remain the best avenue for both justice and transparency.

Student Grievance: Righting Imaginary Wrongs

In the persistent demands for submission to the current campus orthodoxy of verbal policing, there is evidently not a shadow of concern for the creation of ethical individuals capable of thinking for themselves. Instead, a distinctly authoritarian streak is proudly proclaimed in the assaults and threats angry students launch at others.

Ironically, the less there is to be angry about, the angrier student agitators get and the more vociferous their demands that the entire university is forced to conform to the particular terms official victim groups prescribe. And since anger, like the alleged pain of triggers and microaggressions, is the new currency of moral righteousness, those around them must genuflect and then rush to appease and heal the supposed wounds.

Surely only people used to enormous personal freedom are capable of willingly tossing it away in the name of righting wrongs that are ever more imaginary. How did it happen that the appeal to authoritarianism – the state and its institutions, the university and its administrators – has arisen in a modern liberal democracy as the path by which a better society is to be forged? Do students today lack all knowledge of the actual sordid history of the imposition of goodness (usually in the name of equality) throughout the world?  Or might it be not ignorance but a drive for power that leads many people today to embrace as solutions the very restrictions on freedom that have resulted in the death and destruction of millions?

Anger and accusations, it turns out, serve as powerful weapons, bringing administrators, faculty, and other campus reprobates to their knees. Perhaps it is the obeisance demanded and received that makes student protesters ever more aggressive, more extreme. Principles vanish, accusations grow more hysterical, reasonable voices are shouted down, claims to victimhood abound. What actually transpires, who does what to whom, who suffers what ills — none of this matters. Only the identity of the players counts.

And so, relinquishing reason and evidence bit by bit, we’ve come to the present pass, in which the presumptive powerlessness of minorities has turned into a strong and ever available weapon, just as the supposed powerlessness of women has become an effective bludgeon against men.  Abject apologies are extracted, careers are ended, resignations forced. Verbal disagreement is not to be tolerated. Nothing but capitulation will do.

No doubt the thrill of power so easily achieved is hard to resist.  But the groundwork for this new spectacle was laid decades ago, when well-meaning academics accepted double standards by which whites were permanently on the defensive, forever needing to apologize for their “white privilege.”

The language of white privilege wasn’t that common back in 1989 when Peggy McIntosh’s article on the subject began to wend its way through education programs.  Who could have anticipated such wild success, as the term became a tireless mantra for those taking up McIntosh’s call for curriculum reform and an “anti-racist pedagogy”?  And who could have foreseen such rapid surrender on the part of school faculty and administrators, as if they were in endless need of atonement?

Calm disagreement, when expressed, is treated these days as further incitement, as demonstrated by the reaction in 2014 to Princeton undergraduate Tal Fortgang’s article refusing to apologize for his supposed privilege. His words caused a storm, and the ensuing tempest was picked up by national media.  But Fortgang’s explanation rested on some details that undermined his own cause.  He was Jewish, and his family had fled Nazi-occupied Poland (those who didn’t were killed). In fact, he should not have had to offer such a defense.  The child of, say, wealthy Protestant parents should have the same right to not constantly apologize for his existence, for once identity politics are unleashed, no one is immune.

Indeed, the logic of demanding that people “check their privilege” is hard to grasp unless it is merely a verbal gesture (one so many academics are apparently willing to make).  Are they to hand it over? In what form and to whom? As in China? Cambodia? Eastern Europe? Or simply apologize for it forever more – as so many people who attacked Fortgang’s article seem inclined to do?  Yet it is telling that the meas culpas written to protest Fortgang’s and similar articles tend to be written in highly confident and assertive tones, perhaps in the belief that such self-criticism, so familiar a sight in totalitarian regimes, might spare the writers from personal attacks.

Do these good souls eager to “check their privilege” really aspire to live in a society that imposes ideological conformity and rhetorical policing on all its citizens? Or do they just want to display their own sterling credentials and moral superiority?  In fact, saying “Yes, I am privileged, I am guilty” changes not a thing.  It is an act of acquiescence to ritual humiliation.

The logical fallacy of this offering was beautifully displayed at Harvard in March 2016: During a formal debate ostensibly about renewable energy, two black debaters decided instead to attack their opponents’ skin color, and suggested that since “white life is based off black subjugation,” the ethical thing for whites to do is to kill themselves. “Affirmative suicide, that’s cool,” one experienced debater declared. “It’s one little step in the right direction.”

Related: Working Hard to Convince Freshmen They Are Victims

In the light of such statements, the recent attacks on Professor Bret Weinstein at Evergreen State College are mild—students merely shouted obscenities at him and demanded that he be fired. Evidently, even polite disagreement with the new campus dogma is not allowed. Weinstein’s great offense was to express the opinion that the college’s Day of Absence (whereby whites are asked to stay off campus for a day, an inversion this year of the annual ritual by which black students and faculty leave the campus to demonstrate how sorely they would be missed).

It is intolerable that Professor Weinstein should say, as he did: “On a college campus, one’s right to speak – or to be – must never be based on skin color.” No, according to his student critics, the mere expression of such a view provides incontrovertible evidence of the professor’s racism, which must be punished.

When the supposed oppressors knuckle under, either because they really believe in their guilt or because they’re trying to protect themselves from similar attacks by being vocal “allies,” a healthy society of individuals not subjected to group-think evaporates quickly. All that is left is arguments based not on reason and evidence but on blackmail and threats of violence. The rapid capitulation to the presumably correct politics of inflamed students has been visible for decades; it just wasn’t so cravenly embraced by administrators most of the time.  But now it is.

A Nation of Whiners and Grovelers

Claiming to feel unsafe—but only when the claim is put forth by a member of an official oppressed group–is the facile new campus device for preventing unpopular speech. News flash: life is dangerous, full of risks. Being safe from the words and attitudes of one’s neighbors isn’t possible in any absolute sense.  Never having to hear a discouraging word is incompatible with a society of free people, who, yes, are capable of being unkind, thoughtless, even mean and nasty.

It’s difficult to let go of highly emotional accusations that take no account of changing conditions or individual agency. Is the U.S. the same now as it was in the 1960s, the 1980s?  Hardly. Yet today, in the sub-legal environment of college campuses, any hurt feelings can be turned into a weapon, and the truth of an accusation counts not at all, merely the identity of the accuser and the accused.

We have created categories positively designed to stimulate accusations and aggravate resentments, and it should surprise no one that this is precisely what is taking place, as self-righteous students believe ever more deeply in their right to control others. Evidently, it is far easier to play this game of gotcha than to go about constructing a positive life for oneself.  The herd mentality is at work. We’ve become a nation of whiners and grovelers. Are all such demands for greater equality destined to founder and become mere reversals of privilege? Is that the new ideal of American citizenship?

In this topsy-turvy world, speaking truth to power has morphed into endless lies about our social reality. Everything in life is supposedly stacked against those whose forebears may indeed have experienced prejudice and marginalization, even if they have no experience of it in their own lives.  Who would wish to admit to not actually being a victim, when the payoffs are lavish, in sheer emotional indulgence, destructiveness to those around one, and the actual power to bring them down? How much more gratifying and, indeed, economical, than trying to work hard, learn, and forge a path through life. Claiming victimhood denies any agency while paradoxically fully displaying it in the too often successful attempts to destroy others over a comment or opinion.  Why not threaten violence in order to suppress expression of the “wrong” opinions?

What Fun to Attack Their Elders

The need to count grievances, and to invent them if none are readily available, creates a new social reality. But no one calls this the social construction of grievance. No; it’s simply called reality, and presented as if it were a fact of contemporary life. And like all other closed systems, there is no way to combat or contradict this representation, since to do so immediately marks one as a defender of privilege, a loathsome enemy of those suffering souls clamoring for justice.

That those suffering souls are college students in modern-day America evidently does nothing to modify this caricature.  Identity is all – except, of course, in those cases where one simply decides to adopt another identity (e.g., males “identifying as female”), in which case that simple declaration must be respected by all.

So, what have we? A real reality, in which race, sex, and class actually do exist and matter? Or a make-believe reality of which I am a victim if I say so and you an oppressor if I say that? Of which not referring to me by my preferred pronoun is a grievous injury?

In today’s academy, all offenses are treated as the same offense. When a cruel word is the same thing as a physical assault, a skeptical attitude about claims to perpetual victimization is simply not to be tolerated.  The inmates are running the asylum; the doctors have capitulated, afraid of losing their jobs or merely being stigmatized by people whose newly acquired virtue consists in insisting they are victims.

Enraged students these days evidently have too much time on their hands. Their school work is ever-less demanding, and their energy seems to find no outlet in positive activities – say, learning. Thus they must seek out alternatives.  What fun to attack their elders, those who dare imagine they have something to teach them, those whose lives will (if they don’t lose their jobs) continue in these educational institutions long after the irate students have gone on to greener pastures.

Or maybe not. Perhaps not using their time in college to actually learn about the world beyond their narrow little vision of villains and victims will have some cost in their future lives.  Maybe one day they’ll realize they wasted a great opportunity, that they weren’t in college to do moral grandstanding, to engage in risk-free politics, to create little storms endlessly magnified by the media, but to actually explore the world, to get beyond frantic recriminations and gain some understanding.  To do that, however, they’d have to value the opportunity to study, open their minds, give up their puerile grievances, and grow up.

Of course, if the elders around them can’t get beyond abject apologies and groveling, the adult world doesn’t look very enticing.  In which case, it makes sense to just continue with the same drama, the same recriminations, forever more. After all, it seems to pay—at least for now, at least on the very dangerous terrain of the modern university.

When Universities Go Out of Control

Edgar Rice Burroughs foresaw the situation at Evergreen State and other campuses. He described it in Tarzan Untamed, a 1919 novel in which the hero finds himself in the lost city of Xuja.

Xuja, hidden in a secret valley, cut off from the rest of the world, resembles the typical American campus today in that the Xujans are also given to occasional eruptions of insanity. A citizen might be walking down a street, conducting a rational conversation when he will be suddenly enraged (triggered, you might say). His eyes will go dull, enameled by some obscure idea, and he will assault a fellow Xujan, and beat him savagely.

The entire country feels like Xuja now—a circus of the Id. It’s not just the universities. Donald Trump is the President of Xuja. A hitherto respectable citizen of lesser rank (Congressman-elect Greg Gianforte, let’s say) will erupt in a mad fit and throw a reporter to the floor.

If Edgar Rice Burroughs was a racist, it is not evident in the Xuja story: His villains in the tale—aside from the crazies in the lost city, who are sort of white, or something—were Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germans, who appear earlier in the story; they had been marauding in East Africa in the years just before Burroughs wrote the novel.

Too many American colleges — sometimes I think all of them — have become satellite campuses of the University of Xuja. They have aspects of the insane asylum (in which the patients are of course not responsible for their actions). Giving the matter a different emphasis, you might call them institutions of higher daycare.

Evergreen State is an especially vivid case because of the widely shared video in which students confront Professor Weinstein outside his classroom. Professor Weinstein is a professor of evolutionary biology; here we see him in dialogue with the adolescent reptilian brain.  Amazing.  The students are perfectly moronic in their virtue. Send the video over to the anthropology department. Jean Cocteau once wrote: “Stupidity is always amazing, no matter how often one encounters it.”

The Red Guards in China’s Cultural Revolution behaved in this fashion—banging through the institutions, humiliating their elders and now and then destroying a professor’s life’s work.  Pol Pot’s youthful idealists did the same before they got down to the hard work of Cambodian genocide.  This is human nature in its state of raw and most profound stupidity— murderous and yet astonishingly sentimental about itself. What could equal the chivalrous indignation of a Mississippi lynch mob assembled on a Saturday night in 1910 to vindicate the virtue of Southern Womanhood?

What’s at work in the campus eruptions is not a virtue or social justice; it has nothing whatever to do with learning or knowledge or the life of the mind.  It’s the other way around. These performances — a travesty of education — do not expand the mind, they devour it.

College authorities — a term of irony, a perverse oxymoron — are desperate for the approval of the children. That’s what is essentially wrong. The college sets up bouncy castles in the quad. They go over language and Halloween costumes with a fine-tooth comb, seeking not truth or knowledge or insight, but, rather, evidence of micro-aggressions. Brains shut down and become Play-Doh.

Yet, at the same time: they are given over to a permanent state of agitation – to hysteria. Learning to tend the fires and ceremonies of their grievances, they acquire plausible historical and ideological excuses for not studying — and indeed for not thinking. Ideology does the thinking. Some parents pay something in the high five figures for four years to have their sons’ and daughters’ minds systematically disabled.  Pre-frontal lobotomy would be cheaper.

The Evergreen president’s message to his students — after they had assaulted one of his professors and demanded the destruction of that honest man’s career and livelihood, on grounds of an imagined ideological slight — was a masterpiece of the sniveling and craven. Although Evergreen President George Bridges announced that progressive professor Bret Weinstein wouldn’t be suspended, Bridges said that he would comply with the long list of demands brought by the students, whom he called “courageous.”

University presidents in the twenty-first century have perfected this form of self-abasement. It is one of their tools of survival.

The sane response at Evergreen, Middlebury, Yale and elsewhere would be to expel the students involved:  Not to warn them, not to counsel them, not to suspend them, but to expel them. In no other way will the virus be brought under control. At Yale,  angry students who abused and threatened the husband and wife professors drew no punishment, but the innocent professors were driven from the campus as the students demanded, and the president of the university took no action.

A good education, ardently pursued, would go a long way to curing crises of identity and to composing differences.  But those presiding over the ideologies have no wish to cure; the point is to use the crises and to inflame them.

In loco parentis, indeed.  The elders (so many of them veterans of the Long March of the nineteen sixties, now holding the presidencies and chancellorships and tenured professorships) busy themselves at making the young as fatuous — as intellectually lifeless — as themselves, bundled up in the neurotic vocabularies of Caring.  It is an ignoble business.

Self-confidently virtuous students and college presidents might take a few hours to study Robert Jay Lifton’s extraordinary 1986 book, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, which has just been reissued in paperback.

A quote: “As Bavarian professors were told by their new minister of culture: ‘From now on, it will not be your job to determine whether something is true, but whether it is in the spirit of National Socialist Revolution.’”

Of course, zealous American students and educators claim that they are, quite precisely, fighting Nazis. If so, they should be more careful not to imitate them. They should look in the mirror, and then look a second time, and a third, and try to see how, with an entirely different eye from theirs, history will see them.

What is at stake is not students’ racial, ethnic, or gender identity. Such issues, believe it or not, are transient.  The twenty-first century is moving on at the speed of light and has far more serious business in mind.

As for the universities, their very reason for being is at stake. Right now, it seems to me that they are in the active process of trying to destroy themselves.

Four Lessons for Professors from Recent Campus Tumult

1) Never object to a diversity policy publicly. It is no longer permitted. You may voice concerns in a private conversation, but if you do it in a public way, you are inviting a visit from a mob or punishment from an administrator.

2) Do not assume that being politically progressive will protect you (as Weinstein found out at Evergreen and the Christakises learned at Yale). Whatever your politics, you are eventually going to say or do something that will be interpreted incorrectly and ungenerously. Your intentions don’t matter (as Dean Spellman found out at CMC). This is especially true if your university offers students training in the detection of microaggressions.

3) If a mob comes for you, there is a good chance that the president of your university will side with the mob and validate its narrative (as the presidents at Yale and Evergreen have done, although the presidents at Middlebury and Claremont McKenna did not).

4) If a mob comes for you, the great majority of its members will be non-violent. However, given the new standard operating procedure (which I described in a recent Chronicle article entitled “Intimidation is the New Normal”) you must assume that one or more of its members is willing to use violence against you, and you can assume that many members of the mob believe that violence against you is morally justifiable.

Excerpted with permission from Heterodox Academy

Angry Students Turn on Another Progressive Prof at Evergreen

Evergreen State College Biology professor Bret Weinstein is surprised. Indignant. Alarmed.

Weinstein is the new Allison Stanger—the progressive Middlebury professor still suffering a concussion from the attack by the masked anti-Charles Murray rioters on March 2. Weinstein is also the new Laura Kipnis, the progressive Northwestern professor hauled up on Title IX charges in 2015 by her university after she published an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which she criticized the “sexual paranoia” of some of her fellow campus feminists.

Kipnis now faces a “Jane Doe” lawsuit from a former Northwestern student Kipnis called “Nola Hartley” in her book, Unwanted Advances.   Weinstein also has some kinship with Jordan Peterson, the social democratic professor at the University of Toronto who has been mobbed by protesters for his objections to proposed legislation that would require faculty members to use “non-binary pronouns” such as “zhe” and “zir.”

Weinstein, Stanger, Kipnis, and Peterson are all left-of-center faculty members who are—or were—at peace with the progressive agenda whipping through higher education like a wind-driven prairie fire in a drought.  And they all found themselves suddenly on the wrong side of the flames.

Year of the Shout-Down

Judging by his op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, Professor Weinstein remains puissantly in favor of Evergreen College’s progressive approach to higher education and its octopus embrace of diversity, racial grievance, and victim identity.  He is no backslider from the core doctrines of contemporary academe as advanced by the last generation of leftist ideologues. He just hasn’t kept up. He’s aware of the new positions, which have evolved from the old ones, but he somehow cannot get himself to march to the new music.

The essence of the Weinstein story is that he was perfectly good with Evergreen’s “Day of Absence,” when “students and faculty of color” left campus for a day to remind those left behind how much the community as a whole was enriched by their everyday presence.  But this year Evergreen flipped the theatrics and asked the white students, staff, and faculty to make themselves scarce. Weinstein objected, and then met his classes as usual on the day in question, April 12. Nothing happened.  But someone was keeping track, and on May 23, some fifty students invaded his class, yelling obscenities, calling Weinstein a racist, and demanding that he resign. He now lives under a threat of violence from these students, and Evergreen’s president, George Bridges, has allegedly told the campus police to “stand down.”  Weinstein is left to fend for himself.

That last detail would seem hard to believe except that it so closely matches what has happened on other campuses. Stanley Kurtz has put together a nice compendium of “The Year of the Shout-Down,” and more than a few of the incidents involve college authorities simply deciding not to enforce their institution’s own rules against disruptions.  Middlebury president Laurie Patton “vowed” accountability to the disruptors, but then handed out wrist slaps of a leniency similar to a mandatory application Oil of Olay hand cream.

Patton and the other presidents who stand by and do nothing are not just appeasers of the student mobs; they are diffident admirers. They dare not say outright that the raw authenticity of black students tearing the place up with the connivance of white “allies” gladdens their progressive hearts. They know the alumni wouldn’t like that.  But these presidents will do all in their considerable power to protect their cohort of mischievous social justice warriors.  Those mobs threatening conservative speakers and insufficiently enthusiastic progressive professors are a badge of honor for the college presidents whose greatest fear is that they will be left out of the Great Historical Moment.

White Racism—Is It Relentless?

Perhaps the biggest question for those outside the academy is: What is that Great Historical Moment?  It is probably best grasped as Ferguson, though it could as easily be named Trayvon Martin, Black Lives Matter, or even the Obama Era.  It is the moment defined in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, in which the fading residue of institutionalized racial discrimination is amped up to a belief that white hatred of blacks pervades every aspect of American society, and nothing short of a revolution will end it.

The less actual evidence there is of racial animosity coming from whites, the more important it is to conjure its insidious presence, and the more urgent it is to teach the coming generation of black Americans to ground their lives in victimhood, resentment, and robust resistance to surrounding society.  This apotheosis of resentment, of course, is not limited to blacks.  Any collection of people willing to band together into an identity group based on a history of victimization can do the same thing.  Women, Hispanics, Native Americans, illegal immigrants, and sexual minorities of all sorts can adapt both the logic and the techniques of revolutionary existential despair.  But black Americans define this territory; the others merely emulate.

The Great Historical Moment comes with the realization that this movement must discard all the old forms of civility that governed society in general and the university in particular.  Willingness to listen to arguments on the other side is a sign of weakness.  Toleration of dissent from the views being asserted today only vitiates the solidarity of the movement.  Deference to the individuality of people in all their diversity dilutes the purity of the group’s will to power.

Professor Weinstein is blind to most of this.  He persists in thinking that he is engaged in a defense of liberal or even progressive principles.  In his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, he sees himself as a critic of President Bridges’ campaign to substitute the principle of “equity” for the formerly reigning shibboleth, “diversity.”  The “equity agenda” at Evergreen ramps up the demand for hiring people on the basis of race rather than ability or accomplishment.  The diversity agenda, of course, did the same thing, but lightly disguised the proceedings with an appeal to the good will of all involved.  “Equity” removed the velvet wrapper from the iron fist.  And Weinstein sees this as finding support among the campus postmodernists.

Here Comes the Equity Agenda

He is not wrong about the postmodern element.  He is speaking of those academics who can no longer credit the idea that there are foundational truths, and who instead see the world is little more than fragments of attention spent on a perpetual struggle for power and privilege.  These folks, holding forth in the humanities, have no basis on which to stand against an organized grievance group.  Unable to oppose it, they either accede to it or adopt it as their own.

Jonathan Haidt has drawn some plausible conclusions from the Weinstein affair, coming on top of other such descents.  Haidt observes that the rules appear to be: (1) “Never object to a diversity policy publicly”; (2) “Do not assume that being politically progressive will protect you”; (3) “If a mob comes for you, there is a good chance that the president of your university will side with the mob and validate its narrative”; and (4) “If a mob comes for you, the great majority of its members will be non-violent, [but] you must assume that one or more of its members is willing to use violence against you.”

Alas, these are sound points.  But they probably do not go quite far enough.  What I have called the Great Historical Moment is a delusion that lives in the heads of a great many faculty members, college presidents, and even some trustees.  It has found fertile ground in the minds of a generation of students who have been marinated for their entire education in progressive ideology and who have but the thinnest comprehension of human nature, civilization, the rule of law, and American history.  They have a rage to destroy, and only utopian fantasies to put in place of what they would tear down.

Like all utopian movements, this one will also fail.  The great Historical Moment is a figment of their collective imagination.  But the failure is bound to be costly, not only to the students themselves but also to the institutions that have fostered it.

Evergreen College was a somewhat silly experiment when it was started in 1967.  It belongs to a small category of “alternative” colleges opened in that era, including Hampshire (1970) and Prescott (1966), which replaced traditional curriculum with a surfeit of progressive novelties. What the Weinstein affair really teaches is that the experiment has run its course.  But it may take a few years for Evergreen to realize that.

Middlebury Student Government Says No to Free Speech

Middlebury’s response to the disruption of Charles Murray’s invited campus address—followed by the protesters assaulting and injuring Professor Alison Stanger, moderator for the talk—offered little ground for optimism. A statement from the college implied that evidence (albeit ambiguous evidence) existed suggesting that some professors violated the Faculty Handbook in the pre-disruption period. The disruptors themselves received token punishments, as several sympathetic professors supported them in the disciplinary process. The chief of the Middlebury Police Department even denied that the disruptors assaulted Stanger. (“It was more of a scrum. There wasn’t any assault per se.”)

The Middlebury student government, moreover, has seemed intent on confirming the critics’ case about a campus out of control. After repeatedly expressing support, in words and deeds, for the disruptors, the student government concluded its term by rejecting an academic freedom/viewpoint diversity bill, which sponsors Rae Aaron and Jack Goldfield hoped would reaffirm the college’s stated commitment—clearly not upheld in the Murray case—that “officially recognized student organizations may invite to the campus and hear any person of their choosing,” and that “free intellectual inquiry, debate, and constructive dialogue are vital to Middlebury’s academic mission and must be protected even when the views expressed are unpopular or controversial.”

In the body’s first meeting after the Murray disruption and the attack on Stanger, the student government’s co-chair issued an apology—for not convening an “emergency session” before the Murray event, with the goal of appeasing the would-be disruptors. The only resolution the student government passed on the issue was a thinly-veiled effort to urge that the disruptors avoid all punishment for their actions. The measure was approved on a 10-3 vote.

The academic freedom/viewpoint diversity resolution noted that pressure on campus free speech has come from both sides of the ideological spectrum. It urged the administration to champion diverse viewpoints on campus, expressed support for the right of peaceful protest, and looked to have the student government call “upon Middlebury College to allow outside speakers of all viewpoints—assuming they are invited by a student organization, conduct themselves in a lawful manner, and do not physically harass—to speak on campus without the threat of disruption, and to enforce the policies as set forth in the Student Handbook.”

This commonsense proposal generated furious opposition, and ultimately (in a somewhat weakened form) went down to defeat. If nothing else, opponents of free speech on the Middlebury campus are unusually candid in their distaste for the concept. While some critics offered the unusual canard—that a distinction exists between “hate speech” and free speech, and the college needs to crack down on the former—they also presented some intriguing claims.

One student senator, for instance, incredibly asserted that the college had both a statutory (hostile work environment for student employees) and a constitutional (“due process”) requirement to censor. Other student senators claimed that passing an academic freedom resolution would “prioritize” some voices, while ignoring “voices that can’t be heard because of societal pressures”—even though Middlebury has myriad student identity politics groups (and, of course, academic programs as well), while the only students whose voices were suppressed in this affair were those whose group had invited Murray to speak. Several senators justified their vote on grounds that defending free speech could be interpreted as criticism of the student disruptors, who at the time still had not received their (token) discipline.

In perhaps the strangest section of the debate, a co-sponsor of the resolution pointed (appropriately) to the suffrage movement as an organization that used peaceful protest, and the power of ideas, to win support. (She could also have referenced Jon Rauch’s arguments on the importance of free speech to the gay rights movement.) The critics’ response? Using “the women’s right to vote movement is not applicable,” because it was “only white women” who benefited from suffrage.

The minutes also featured a lengthy statement from one of the student disruptors. After speaking of his desire for a “middle path” on the issue of free speech—“I’m not saying Charles Murray has to be arrested if he comes onto our campus (that would be repression/censorship)”—the disruptor affirmed that if “we as a community are going to commit to ending discrimination, we will also have to commit to denouncing speech that constitutes discrimination (either by further normalizing white-supremacy or engendering violent/discriminatory action).” His conclusion? “We must name white supremacy and deprive it of power. Robbing Charles Murray of one platform for his racist pseudoscience is a small but important part of that resistance.”

In an interview with The New York Times, a Middlebury political science professor worried how events of the year showed a failure of teaching, in that many of the college’s students “don’t understand the value of free speech at a college and what free speech really means.” Based on the outcome of the free speech resolution debate, it would be difficult to argue with that assessment.

Re-Educating Whites on Campus

Colleges are now increasingly busy herding faculty members into racial equity training seminars where they are urged to examine and eliminate their white privilege, implicit bias, and role in maintaining institutional racism. It’s as though Mao’s Cultural Revolution has come to campuses everywhere.

One such effort recently erupted into bitter dissension at Duke Divinity School when Prof. Paul Griffiths, Warren Chair of Catholic Theology, responded to an email sent to faculty urging them to attend a two-day Racial Equity Institute. Calling it a “waste” and objecting to the “exhortation,” Griffith predicted “with confidence” that it would be “intellectually flaccid,” filled with “bromides, cliches, and amen-corner rah-rahs.” If it gets beyond that, he added, “its illiberal roots and totalitarian tendencies will show. Events of this sort are definitively anti-intellectual.”

Griffith was subsequently chastised by his dean for using email to “express racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry,” and threatened with disciplinary action. He then resigned. (The American Conservative reported on this controversy and reprinted relevant documents.)

Now comes a friend from the left coast who has forwarded to me a May 17 invitation to the faculty from The Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusiveness at San Jose State University to participate in an eight-week  re-education exercise professional development program on “Whiteness and Race.”

This eight-week indoctrination “professional development series,” the invitation states, “offers the opportunity for SJSU white-identified faculty to build their racial literacy through participation in a seminar focused on whiteness, white racial identities, white racism, and anti-racist practice.” Whiteness, the program description helpfully explains, “refers to hegemonic racial power that privileges white groups while subordinating racialized ‘others.’” Still not clear about “whiteness”? Never fear, there’s more: “As an identity and performance, it is a position of racial privilege, a standpoint perspective, and a set of cultural practices that often remain unmarked. As an ideological and institutional structure, it is a complex web of discourses and processes that sustain racial domination.”

This program reflects the research of, and is “facilitated” by, SJSU Sociology Professor Susan Murray, whose professional preoccupation seems to be a social science version of racial navel-gazing. From her web page:

White culture, white racism, and white privilege are so deeply embedded in American history, in our social institutions, and in everyday thinking that I find myself in constant self-reflection about my own racial location. American cultural denial of privilege, of history, of institutional racism, and the constant barrage of white racism in the media (especially during this election season) create moments of intellectual self-doubt about my research agenda.

Based on the scholarship and other notions that inform this seminar promoting “racial literacy” (see, for example, Murray’s article, “Whitened rainbows: how white college students protect whiteness through diversity discourses”), I confess that I must be a racial illiterate. Although my racial illiteracy and the inevitably resulting racial insensitivity no doubt make my opinions and judgment suspect, I wonder if I am the only one who sees a problem with a state institution limiting an educational …  er, well, … opportunity to “white faculty,” or rather to “white-identified faculty.”

And for that matter, who is authorized to do the identifying or to judge the authenticity of the identifying? For example, if a Rachel Dolezal in reverse — a woman (i.e., a person who identifies — or perhaps is identified by others? — as of the feminine gender) who has a dark skin but identifies as white — if such a person wanted to attend, would she be allowed? Or what about Justice Clarence Thomas, should he find himself at some point on the SJSU faculy, or better yet, Shelby Steele, who taught At San Jose State from 1974 to 1991?? Neither, of course “identifies” as white, but others have described both of them as “Oreos,” a person who is black on the outside but white inside.

And what about those people, of whom there are many (some perhaps even on the SJSU faculty), who appear to be white but for whatever reason don’t “identify” as white? I’m sure Prof. Murray thinks those are precisely the people most in need of re-education attending since she freely admits that she herself was late to the enlightenment party: “it was not until graduate school at UCSC that I really started thinking about my own racial privilege and racist proclivities.” Given the tainted American environment, then, it is not surprising that others are in need of what she has to facilitate.

Since white-appearing faculty who choose not to subject themselves to this “professional development series” are so obviously the ones who need it most, surely the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at SJSU must have some means at its disposal of forcing them to do so. Not doing so would seem to be a dereliction of its diversity-inducing duty.

Increased Sensitivity Needed–Yale Dean Yelps at Whites

It is awfully tempting to laugh at the case of Yale dean June Chu, for writing Yelp reviews of restaurants and food stores that referred to customers as “low class folks” and included statements like, “If you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!” Watching the sensitivity monitors go after one of their own is a guilty pleasure.

But the exaggerated response to Chu’s nasty remarks on Yelp about white people should sadden liberals and conservatives alike. The message sent out to students and faculty by Stephen Davis, the head of Pierson College, announcing Chu’s removal, is a jumble of sensitivity bureaucratese that embodies everything conservatives, libertarians, classical liberals, and any self-respecting American adult hates about tolerance ideology.

The sentences do what they are supposed to do, that is, to numb the independent will of a free citizen.  Examples:

  • “make sure that your academic needs are addressed”
  • “partner with me in envisioning a way forward”
  • “deeply harmful to our community fabric”
  • “a path toward healing and reconciliation”
  • “what holds us together is our collective effort to ensure that every single person in our midst is valued beyond measure”
  • “to honor and embrace those who are different from us”

The solemnity is hard to stomach.  The elevation of stupid remarks on a Web site into a grave hate crime shows the impulse of a totalitarian.  Do not take the words of sorrow and empathy at face value.  They carry a not-so-subliminal message to everyone at Yale: watch your mouth, even on private time.  You may have a sterling record of diversity worship on the job, but if you let slip a frustration that assumes the form of a group denunciation, you’re done.

Maybe this threat to private conduct is just a function of the Digital Age, which encourages individuals to share every thought and experience and which watches over them unless they block their “Privacy” settings.  Add to the technology the progressivist impulse to re-educate people who don’t follow the party lines on race, sex, gender, nation, and religion, and you get the language of Davis’s email.

At what point are a critical mass of people going to rise up and say, “That’s none of your business!”

Universities, Free Speech and the Rise of the Spit-Viper Left

Free speech on campuses has come on hard times. By now, we are all too familiar with the litany: invited speakers disinvited, talks by honored guests disrupted by shouting protesters, vandalism and riots forcing the cancellation of events, campus security announcing it cannot guarantee public safety.

The disruptions and attacks come almost entirely from an emergent Spit-Viper Left (as I call it), drawn from a motley collection of campus grievance groups that are angry, uninformed, anti-intellectual and uniformly illiberal in their attitudes and beliefs.  They may describe themselves as feminists, defenders of civil rights, or advocates for sexual minorities, but they are very different from the older, and more tolerant versions of such advocacy groups, and far removed from any manner of liberalism by their authoritarian ways and intemperate rage.

Whatever else may be among the concerns of this newly emergent Left, furthering its cause through rational discussion isn’t one of them. The 60s-era radical Todd Gitlin, distraught at this transformation of the campus Left, suggests it may subconsciously feel that reason and argument are no longer on its side. Free speech, a fruitful exchange of ideas, mutual intellectual enrichment — these are not its modus operandi. And those among the most illiberal segments of the Left on college campuses often attract to their protests even more radical and more illiberal supporters from beyond the university, who bring with them a love of violence, confrontation and disruption. Mayhem can be exhilarating for some people — especially young males —  and outside anarchists and nihilists come to join in the fun.

Related: Do Free Speech Students Outnumber the Snowflakes?

It is important to realize just how far this newly emergent Left has strayed from the American Left of the immediate post-WWII decades.  During the Cold War, it was often Social Democrats and other anti-Communist leftists who were leaders in the struggle to defend free speech, whether on college campuses or within the broader society.

People like NYU philosopher Sidney Hook, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, Harvard historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr., Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, University of North Carolina President Frank Graham, and perennial American Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas were in the forefront of those defending a very broad understanding of free speech in America and its central importance to a vibrant, well-functioning democracy.

Together with influential organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Americans for Democratic Action, these left-leaning defenders of free speech proclaimed in unison the ideal attributed to Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Stalinists and other Communists, of course, never bought into such an ideal, but in the post-war decades, especially after Khrushchev’s famous 1956 Secret Speech denouncing the crimes of the Stalinist era, old-line Communists in America became increasingly marginalized, not least among the democratic Left.  This attitude carried over to the beginnings of the New Left, which in its founding Port Huron Statement praised American universities as “the only mainstream institution that is open to participation by individuals of nearly any viewpoint.”

The New Left first came to national attention in 1964 with a largely peaceful demonstration by students in Berkeley, California, as part of a Free Speech Movement challenging the university to live up to the free speech ideals it proclaimed.

Related: Their Violence Is Free Speech, But Our Speech is Violence

In the Cold-War years, it was usually members of the anti-Communist Right who sought to restrict the range of speakers permitted on college campuses. William F. Buckley, Jr., the founder of National Review and America’s leading conservative intellectual, considered it one of his great early achievements when he successfully convinced Yale University (his alma mater) to rescind a previous invitation to a prominent Communist to speak on the Yale campus. Dis-inviting invited guests didn’t start in the current century or with the Left.

The opposition to free speech on campus by the anti-communist Right, however, was hardly comparable in its scope or impact to the broad-based assault on free speech that we see today launched by the Radical Left. The anti-communist Right during the Cold War sought almost exclusively to deny hardcore Communists the right to speak — those seen by almost all Americans as not only odious but as traitors giving aid and comfort to America’s implacable enemies.

Aside from the views of pro-Soviet Communists, there were few views expressed on college campuses during the Cold War years that the Right sought to ban. Controversial speakers routinely came on campus with little opposition from organizations of the Right. There were no campus riots, the shouting down of lecturers, threats of violence, bomb scares and false fire alarms, strong-arm scuffles, acts of vandalism and arson — tactics that have become common among the Radical Left today.

And the targets of such assaults by the Radical Left are typically not those holding intolerant or extremist views like Klansmen or neo-Nazis, but often people of great moderation, decency, and an eagerness to engage those holding opposing views with sympathetic understanding and reasoned argument.

When people like Condoleezza Rice, Christine Lagarde, Charles Murray, Suzanne Venker, Ben Shapiro, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Heather Mac Donald and others like them are forbidden to speak on various college campuses — or their invitations to speak suddenly withdrawn — we know we are in a big-time crisis far removed from the minor-league opposition to free speech on college campuses that existed in the 1950s and 1960s.

Elsewhere I have referred to the Spit-Viper Left as “snowflake Jacobins and crybaby fascists.”  This designation was intended to draw attention to the fact that those who comprise the Radical Left on college campuses today — many of whom were brought up in excessively protective and indulgent parental households — manage to combine an overly sensitive and thin-skinned temperament unable to tolerate criticism, with an anti-liberal ideology and fascist-like authoritarianism.  And these Black-Shirted Snowflakes gain the support of at least small numbers of radical faculty members — and the cowardly indulgence of many college presidents.

Related: The Seven Deadly Sins of Higher Education

Most troubling is the fact that there seems to be a significant number of people outside the academy who are not themselves radicals or leftists but who agree with the Radical Left that those espousing offensive viewpoints ought not to be permitted to speak on college campuses.

A recent poll (April 27-30, 2017) by the firm of Morning Consult found an alarming number of Americans who support an extreme speech-restrictive viewpoint.  The following was one of the questions asked of a representative national sample: “Universities should not allow guest speakers to appear on campus if the guest’s words are considered to be hateful or offensive by some.”

If you scratched your head and asked, “Who could possibly agree with such a broadly proscriptive statement?” you are not well attuned to public opinion today. A very significant minority of Americans believe that only speakers should be invited to college campuses whose message does not seriously offend anyone and is not considered by anyone to be hateful.

The poll showed that support for such an “offense-takers veto” differs considerably by demographic groups. Women were much more likely than men to support the “don’t allow offensive speakers” position (36 percent vs. 23 percent), Blacks more likely than Whites (43 percent vs. 28 percent), and Democrats more likely than Republicans (41 percent versus 28 percent).

When gender and political categories are combined, the statistics looked particularly grim: Close to half (47 percent) of female Democrats agreed that offense-giving speakers should not be allowed to speak on college campuses versus only 18 percent of male Republicans. When one considers that females as both students and administrators often outnumber males on many college campuses, that at Ivy League and other elite institutions students identifying as Democrats often far outnumber those identifying as Republicans, and that many of the most politically engaged students are drawn from departments like Sociology, Women’s Studies, and Comparative Literature that are dominated by female Democrats, one gets a sense of the fragility of any free speech consensus on American campuses today.

Why should we worry about free speech on college campuses? How important is free speech on or off campus?  These are perennial questions that need to be addressed now more than ever.  I’ll just say briefly that for answers we could hardly do better than turning to the defense of open discussion and free speech in John Stuart Mill’s classic On Liberty, or to the defense of the university as the place where people of differing backgrounds can come together and share their differing perspectives found in Ralph Mannheim’s long neglected Ideology and Utopia. A brief word about each.

Mill starts out with the sensible claim that on many issues of public controversy, truth is often not monopolized by any one side.  While the human mind tends toward simplicity and one-sidedness, the fullness of truth, Mill believed, usually requires the interweaving of the partial truths contained in varying and often conflicting positions. Free speech and a vigorous confrontation with viewpoints differing from one’s own are indispensable to realizing this goal. Common opinions, Mill says, “are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth.  They are part of the truth, sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjointed from the truth by which they ought to be accompanied and limited.”  “In the human mind,” he goes on, “one-sidedness has always been the rule, and many-sidedness the exception.”

The only way that anyone — even the wisest and smartest — can ever come to know the truth on complex issues of morality and public policy is to listen attentively to the best presentations of the various opinions held on these subjects and then weld together whatever insights can be gained from a fair-minded assessment of each. “No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this,” Mill writes, “nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.”  Such a process, of course, requires open, vigorous, and often contentious debate.

Even if an expressed opinion has no truth in it whatever, it can serve an important function in the truth-seeking process, Mill explains, in that its refutation requires understanding why it is not true and why an alternative view is better. Above all, disapproved opinions must not be prohibited if the goal is to know the truth and to know why it is true, and to know why competing views are not true or not the whole truth. “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion,” Mill writes, “is that it is robbing the human race — those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.  If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

Mill’s defense of freedom of thought and freedom of expression in On Liberty is still the most eloquent and intelligent treatment of its subject in the English language.  It should be on every college reading list for entering freshmen.

Mannheim has a view similar to Mill’s regarding the complexity of truth in the area of controversial political issues and he shares with Mill the belief in the natural one-sidedness and parochialism of the human mind.  And like Mill, he believes that the only way that this limitation can be overcome is by bringing together people representing contrasting viewpoints and integrating the truth within each into a more comprehensive whole.

“It has become incontrovertibly clear today,” Mannheim writes, “that all knowledge which is either political or which involves a world-view, is inevitably partisan. All points of view in politics are but partial points of view because historical totality is always too comprehensive to be grasped by any one of the individual points of view which emerges out of it.”  He continues: “The fragmentary character of all knowledge is clearly recognizable.  But this implies the possibility of an integration of many mutually complementary points of view into a comprehensive whole.”

Mannheim believed that this integration process would be easiest to achieve by university-educated intellectuals who would attend institutions where they could receive a similar educational experience that would enable them to share with one another their varying perspective viewpoints. The unifying bond of such educational institutions would be the shared conviction that all could learn from one another and that a vigorous exchange of contending ideas would enrich everyone’s understanding.

Today the central ideas of both Mannheim and Mill could be used to defend some kind of university focus on “diversity” in its faculty and student body though it would be a very different kind of diversity than what is currently understood by that term in most of today’s institutions of higher learning.  The most important kind of diversity for Mannheim and Mill was ideological or viewpoint diversity, especially in regard to politics, economics, morality and religion. The fact that on many of these subjects contemporary American universities are often among the least diverse institutions in American life would clearly be seen by them as a tragic failure.

The systematic silencing of voices challenging the Left, and even within the Left a narrowing of permissible opinions to those of angry, anti-intellectual grievance groups, is a betrayal of a central mission of a university education. We have allowed the barbarians to destroy what should be one of the citadels of our civilization.  That, at least, would be the judgment of the older liberal defenders of universities and free speech like Mannheim and Mill. The Spit-Viper Left has spread its venom far and wide and paralyzed the work of one of the few institutions democracies rely upon for their sustained vibrancy and good health. There remains for us — whether liberal, conservative, libertarian, or social democrat — the work of reconstruction.

A Sad Goodbye to a Great Friend

Peter Augustine Lawler of Berry College, one of our best writers, has passed away at age 65.

His last article for us appeared here last Thursday, “The  Withering Away of the College Professor,” an excerpt from his last book, American Heresies and Higher Education. 

We extend our deepest sympathies to his family.

He will be missed.

The Kipnis Lawsuit Seeks to Muzzle the Truth

The lawsuit filed by Northwestern Title IX accuser “Nola Hartley” against best-selling author Laura Kipnis (Unwanted Advances) has attracted substantial attention from both the mainstream media and from commentators; the two best pieces (taking differing approaches to the lawsuit’s merits) come from Robby Soave and Michelle Goldberg. The Kipnis book looks primarily at four cases—one at Colorado and three at Northwestern: Kipnis’ own Title IX witch hunt, and two cases involving former professor Peter Ludlow.

One case involving Ludlow (who seems to be an extremely unsympathetic figure) and an undergraduate student almost certainly ended wrongly; as presented by Kipnis, while Ludlow used horrible judgment, the accuser was unreliable. The second case, which involved Ludlow and a graduate student in his department, prompted the Title IX complaint against Kipnis and is also the subject of the lawsuit.

Related: Professor Laura Kipnis–She Faced Title IX Charges for Writing an Essay 

Three items particularly struck me from Hartley’s lawsuit—which, if anything, makes Kipnis look even more sympathetic than the Title IX allegation Hartley previously filed against Kipnis. The first involved Hartley’s peculiar definition of her own credibility. Northwestern’s investigator, the lawsuit asserts, found Hartley “extremely credible,” and, therefore, by implication, Kipnis should have, too.

Yet Northwestern’s own investigation ultimately did not proceed with the most explosive claim in the case: that Ludlow had sexually assaulted the Ph.D. student. The lawsuit massages this inconvenient fact by asserting that the investigator “found that she did not have enough evidence to determine whether or not a sexual assault had occurred.”

But using the preponderance of evidence standard, “not enough evidence” means that Northwestern’s own investigation deemed Ludlow, not Hartley, more credible on this critical point. (It probably helped that Ludlow was able to show he slept elsewhere on the night in question.) So Hartley is the “extremely credible” accuser whose central allegation even Northwestern didn’t deem credible.

Second, the lawsuit claims that Kipnis inaccurately portrayed the Hartley-Ludlow relationship. It wasn’t, Hartley asserts, the romantic fling that a thousand text messages and emails between the two implied. Kipnis, according to the lawsuit, quoted these text messages out of context. (How she did so must remain a mystery; the lawsuit doesn’t mention even one out-of-context text.)

Related:  A Judge Catches Notre Dame Acting Badly in a Title IX Case

Instead, according to Hartley, Ludlow all but groomed her from the start, inappropriately pressuring her to have a relationship with him in an almost textbook case of sexual harassment. The evidence she presents? Three conversations—each of which, conveniently, seem to have lacked any witnesses—in spring 2011, mid-fall 2011, and at an indeterminate date in late 2011.

It’s possible that Kipnis failed to appreciate that the Hartley-Ludlow relationship can best be reconstructed not by thousands of Hartley’s own words from the time, but instead by three witness-free conversations as Hartley (who the lawsuit describes as “emotionally intimate” with Ludlow) now remembers them. I doubt, however, any court would agree with Hartley on this point.

Third, multiple elements of the lawsuit make Hartley look (to be charitable) odd. She claims, for instance, that Kipnis’ book presented her in a “false light” as “litigious.” And her response to this problem is to sue over Kipnis’ interpretation of events? As part of her grooming claim, she asserts that Ludlow “enrolled” in a seminar, taught by another professor, that she took in her first year as a Ph.D. student. A senior professor “enrolled” in another professor’s class?

Hartley complains that Kipnis’ book “needlessly devotes an entire chapter to Plaintiff.” And the federal court system is the appropriate venue for resolving disputes over an author’s editorial choices? That chapter, Hartley continues, contains “facts never before publicized, and facts that Plaintiff did not want to be publicized,” thereby providing “far more detail” about the Hartley-Ludlow relationship than the “bits and pieces” previously in the public domain. (Again: these descriptions of the Kipnis research effort are Hartley’s.)

Related: Ruined by the Beach Boys and Other Title IX Disasters

Perhaps Hartley didn’t want some of the “facts” Kipnis uncovered to see the light of day—Northwestern’s secret process doubtless was preferable to her—but it’s hard to see the merit in a lawsuit downplaying the importance of “facts” about a widely-publicized case on a widely-publicized issue, and instead seeming to prefer that the public rely on “bits and pieces” of information.

Goldberg criticizes Kipnis for failing to ask Hartley for a comment before the book went to press. Kipnis should have done so if only to avoid this criticism—but there seems to be no chance Hartley would have agreed to speak with her. That said, the book extensively presents Hartley’s own words and actions (as even the lawsuit concedes), primarily by using text messages written by Hartley to Ludlow.

Given that the Kipnis book describes in some detail the claims Hartley presented to Northwestern, gathered from documents (including Northwestern’s Title IX report) obtained by Kipnis in her research, I don’t agree with Goldberg’s assertion that “there’s no indication [Kipnis] ever sought to hear” Hartley’s version of events.

My approach to writing about this issue is to post everything—all documents that I have used in writing about sexual assault and due process, either at Minding the Campus or in the new book, are available on my website. It’s true that Kipnis hasn’t posted the documents from the cases about which she writes. But the lawsuit’s implication that she simply chatted with Ludlow and then accepted his version of events is absurd.

Beyond the exaggerated claims, the baseline premise of the lawsuit is a chilling one: that while the Ph.D. student purportedly “takes no issue with [Kipnis’] choice to write on this topic,” Hartley, as a Title IX accuser, some of whose claims Northwestern accepted, should have a veto power over which “facts” Kipnis can present. This argument should raise grave concerns.-