Sustainability, the New Campus Fundamentalism

Back in 2008, Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, wrote here that on campus, the word ”sustainability” was moving away from its normal English meaning (prudent use of resources with the needs of future generations in mind) toward a usage with heavy ideological baggage: “sustainability” (definition 2) – a condition that arises when capitalism and hierarchy are abolished; individuals are made to see themselves as “citizens of the world;” and a new order materializes on the basis of eco-friendliness, social justice, and new forms of economic distribution.

On Thursday in New York City, NAS released a 260-page report on how far the new version of sustainability has spread, particularly on campuses: credentials can be earned in 1,438 distinct college programs and its message now extends to such unlikely subjects as English composition, mathematics, art history  and psychology—all without any transparency on what is happening or why sustainability is being pushed so hard on students who should be examining and debating ideas on their own, not guided or nudged  toward a pre-packaged ideology.

Rachelle Peterson of NAS, co-author of the report with Peter Wood, said the movement “represents  a significant shift away from giving students access to rational and moral knowledge that prepares them for wise, conscious choices, ands toward training operations that elicit automatic responses.”

Under the argument that true sustainability requires an end to social oppression, the report says, the movement embraces identity politics, calls for the overthrow of patriarchal systems and misogynist bias, the virtual elimination of extraction of energy from fossil fuels, an end to industrial development in the underdeveloped world and a return to subsistence of near subsistence standards of living.   The need to overthrow capitalism, though not supported by all, is common and much discussed theme in the movement.

At the release of the report, Peter Wood called Continue reading

Campus Hypersensitivity—at Last a Pushback

A campus debate on sexual assault was too much for Emma Hall, a junior at Brown, She had to retreat to a “safe space” because “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.” Exposure to ideas you don’t already have is problematic on the modern PC campus, as Judith Shulevitz explained Sunday in a New York Times article, “In College Hiding from Scary Ideas.” We are in the midst of a flurry of articles on the fear of ideas, the discomfort with disagreement and the infantilization of college students. Some of the articles are appearing in outlets that almost never tell readers about such things, such as the Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In the Chronicle, Northwestern professor Laura Kipnis, discussing a ban on teacher-student sex, objects to campus codes that depict women  as quivering and vulnerable in the face of male  power. She writes: ‘’’what do we expect will become of students, successfully cocooned from uncomfortable feelings, once they leave the sanctuary of academe for the boorish badlands of real life?…The new codes sweeping American campuses aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing. Sexual paranoia reigns; students are trauma cases waiting to happen. If you wanted to produce a pacified, cowering citizenry, this would be the method.”

On the left, Continue reading

Now Cornell Is Being Sued

Cornell is the latest university to face a due process lawsuit; last week, attorney Andrew Miltenberg filed a suit in New York’s Northern District. (You can read the complaint here.) The specifics are depressingly familiar—though with something of a twist, since Cornell featured one of the earliest post-“Dear Colleague” letter battles over due process. In 2012, the university administration ignored the prescient warnings of Cornell Law professors, one of whom described the school’s new policy as “Orwellian.” Indeed, the Cornell Daily Sun reported that Mary Beth Grant, who presided over the case that triggered the new lawsuit, “acknowledged the concern expressed by opponents of the change that an increase in allegations of sexual assault will result in more students being falsely accused or found in violation.”

The basics: in December, the two students had intimate relations after a night of drinking. Sixty-six days later, the accuser filed a complaint with Cornell, arguing that she was too drunk to have given consent. (It does not appear that she ever reported this alleged crime to the local police.) Cornell, which has moved to the OCR-approved “single investigator” model (in which a person supervised by the Title IX office serves as the equivalent of police, jury, and judge in a criminal trial), then opened an inquiry.

Much like the case at DePauw, the thrust of Cornell’s investigation consisted of asking students who themselves had been drinking at a party to analyze the intoxication level of anotherstudent who had been drinking at the same event—more than two months after the evening in question had occurred. According to the complaint, several students who partied with the accused and accuser affirmed that all had been drinking, but that no one was incapacitated; one witness maintained that the accuser had seemed more intent on initiating events. As at DePauw, the university gave more weight to students who corroborated the accuser’s story than to apparently identically-situated students who backed the accused’s version of events, seemingly to shoehorn a finding that would edge past the preponderance-of-evidence threshold. Apart from the accuser, Cornell’s main witness appears not to have been any of the students with whom the accused and accuser partied, but instead a close friend of the accuser with whom she breakfasted around 30 hours or so after the alleged encounter.

The university largely based its decision on the accuser’s claim (months after the fact) that she had Continue reading

Cuomo Joins the No-Due-Process Club

The politics of campus due process are most unusual. Since the emergence of crime as a major (federal) political issue in the 1960s, Republicans have tended to be the tough-on-crime party, Democrats more concerned with the rights of the accused, especially when the accused are poor or racial minorities. (Obviously there have been exceptions in the case of both parties.) But in the case of campus sexual assault, it’s been the Democrats—from President Obama on down, and especially including Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Claire McCaskill—that have been the tough-on-crime advocates demanding the decimation of due process protections. Republicans have either been willing accomplices (Marco Rubio, Chuck Grassley) or basically acquiescent (the House Republicans who have allowed the Office for Civil Rights to escape without meaningful oversight).

It remains to be seen how—or even if—Congress will further weaken students’ due process rights over the next two years. But the odd politics of campus due process means that students’ rights are particularly vulnerable in the nation’s most liberal states. California led the way, enacting an “affirmative consent” law that effectively replaced the presumption of innocence with the presumption of guilt. When asked how an accused student could defend himself under the law’s terms, the measure’s co-sponsor, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), candidly replied, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Cuomo and the Language of “Survivors”

Affirmative consent came to New York via an executive order from Andrew Cuomo. Now the Democratic governor seeks to codify the concept into law. Cuomo’s fiscal year 2016 executive budget contains a wholly non-budgetary provision—a plan to rewrite, by statute, the definition of sexual assault, though only when the state’s college students are accused through a campus disciplinary process. Cuomo seems intent on outdoing Assemblywoman Lowenthal for indifference to due process.

The most extraordinary provision of Cuomo’s proposal is a “victim and survivor bill of rights.” He is referring here not to students who filed a claim of sexual assault and saw their attacker convicted in a court of law—or even saw their alleged attacker found culpable through the OCR-mandated, due-process unfriendly system currently used at SUNY. No, according to Cuomo’s language, the mere filing of a sexual assault complaint on campus transforms the accuser into a “victim” or “survivor.”

Many of the provisions of the “bill of rights” are reasonable, even commendatory—except that Cuomo has decided that a person becomes a “survivor” before any adjudication takes place. For instance, the list of rights includes the right to “confidentially or anonymously disclose a crime or violation.” But alleging a “violation” of campus procedures is just that—an allegation—and the person making the allegation is an accuser or at most an “alleged victim.” Tellingly, Continue reading

The Controversy Over Hillel at Swarthmore

Hillel is an unrivaled center of Jewish life on college campuses. Swarthmore College students decided this week to give up the Hillel name, and thereby break from the organization, because they thought it absolutely critical that its chapter host speakers and cooperate with organizations that denigrate Zionism and wish to expel Israel from the family of nations.

At issue are Hillel’s Standards of Partnership which, among other things, obligate Hillel affiliates not to partner with organizations or sponsor speakers who “deny the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish and democratic state with secure and recognized borders,” “demonize” Israel, or call for “boycott of, divestment from, or sanctions against” Israel.

Hillel developed these standards in the context of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement on college campuses. BDS calls for an economic, cultural, and academic boycott of Israel until it ends its “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands.” As I’ve noted here, the call is studiously vague, in order to keep in the BDS coalition both those who wish to destroy Israel and those who merely think Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Since 2005, the BDS movement has Continue reading