Campus Surveys Inflate Rape Statistics

Calls for additional or new “campus climate surveys” have been a regular feature the post-2011 war on campus due process. The White House has produced a template that colleges can copy. The Gillibrand/McCaskill Campus Safety and Accountability Act (co-sponsored by such Republicans as Marco Rubio, Charles Grassley, and Kelly Ayotte) contains a provision seeking to make such surveys mandatory. Given the Obama-Gillibrand-McCaskill-Rubio record on campus due process, it should come as little surprise that something the four of them want is problematic.

Though often billed “campus climate” surveys, these polls do little of the sort. They never ask, for instance, whether students understand the specifics of their campus adjudication system’s procedures (such as the preponderance of evidence or the lack of meaningful legal representation). Nor do they seek to ascertain student attitudes toward due process matters at the school—a topic that should be obvious if the real goal were to get a sense of the “campus climate.” And, of course, their anonymity ensures that climate surveys deal only with allegations of sexual assault, and provide no way of testing their accuracy.

The White House template suggests that universities survey “perceptions” of “attitudes” among students regarding sexual assault. (If perceptions and attitudes are all that’s required, it makes the exclusion of questions about due process all the more puzzling.) White House guidance strongly discourages schools from asking students if they were raped or sexually assaulted, instead asking for behaviors that the school’s researchers can then re-interpret as sexual assault. This list is so broad as to include “sexual contact” while “drunk.”

For students who didn’t report such incidents, the template asks them which of twenty-four possible reasons explains why they didn’t report. The possible answers include such duplicative items as “didn’t have time to deal with it due to academics, work” and “had other things I needed to focus on and was concerned about (classes, work)” or “I thought nothing would be done” and “didn’t think the school would do anything about my report.”

Beyond the limited array of questions, the surveys suffer from another fatal flaw—in the current campus environment, they aren’t really designed to solicit information. Instead, their primary goal appears to be to confirm preexisting beliefs about the existence of a campus sexual assault epidemic.

Consider the reaction to a recent Stanford survey. It revealed that 1.9 percent of Stanford students said they had been sexually Assaulted. This figure (which would translate to around 160 sexual assaults, given the university’s enrollment) would make the Stanford campus the violent crime capital of Palo Alto, which in the last five years has averaged around six rapes or attempted rapes annually. Nonetheless, it generated fury from Stanford campus activists, led by the anti-due process law professor, Michele Dauber—who seemed outraged that it didn’t return the preferred 1-in-5 figure.

In response, students passed a non-binding resolution demanding a new survey, which would presumably return a higher figure of sexually assaulted students. A group of Stanford alumni penned a letter threatening to withhold financial donations to the university unless Stanford conducted an “improved survey” that used the methodology of the AAU. The signatories included Stanford Ph.D. Paul Gowder, whose dismissal of campus due process was previously eviscerated by Scott Greenfield.

The AAU’s 2015 survey, which my colleague Stuart Taylor strongly critiqued, returned a figure suggesting that the campus sexual assault rate was roughly the same as (and perhaps even higher than) the rape rate in war-torn areas of the Congo, where rape is used as a weapon of war.

What’s the purpose of a survey if activists already know the result they desire? It clearly isn’t to discern information. Instead, the goal at Stanford—just as with Gillibrand and McCaskill—is to generate apocalyptic figures, which then can justify the diminution of due process.

Yale Tries to Dodge New Protests

Last fall, Peter Salovey, president of Yale, badly botched the student protests that broke out over the insignificant issue of proper campus Halloween costume. Now he has made a few decisions in hopes of avoiding another round of protests.

First, he announced that the “masters” of Yale’s twelve residential colleges will now be known as “heads of college,” a leaden term, but one Yalies can’t confuse with “masters” as in ‘slave masters.” Heaving this ancient academic title overboard was meant to distract potential protesters from decision number 2: keeping the name of notorious defender of slavery John C. Calhoun on one on of the colleges.

Related: What the President of Yale Should Have Said

Salovey says, “Removing Calhoun’s name obscures the legacy of slavery rather than addressing it.” Really? Probably not, or we would see a demand for names of more slavers to be enshrined at Yale so that slavery could be addressed more fully. Salovey explains that an “interactive history project” will examine Yale’s past, starting with Calhoun, “elucidating two aspects of our campus’s history about which we can be proud, but also those that we find troubling.”

Got that? In addition, two new residential houses will be named for Benjamin Franklin and Ann Pauline Murray, a black feminist and civil rights activist who graduated from Yale in 1965. Salovey mentions that Franklin was a slaveholder as well as an abolitionist, thus reminding Yalies that if they want to remove all slavers from campus recognition, it will now have to include a campaign against Franklin.

Suing the Office for Civil Rights

The prospect of the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) being sued has been much in the news lately. Talk began with an announcement from FIRE—on the fifth anniversary of the issuance of the “Dear Colleague” letter—that it was soliciting an accused student to sue OCR. Attorney Andrew Miltenberg then filed two such suits, on behalf of an accused student from Colorado and a state legislator from Georgia.

In a break from the past, the Dear Colleague letter reinterpreted Title IX to grant the federal government authority to order colleges to enact specific disciplinary procedures for handling sexual assault (and sexual harassment) complaints filed by one student against another. Each of the changes ordered or strongly urged by the administration increased the likelihood of a guilty finding; the best-known change required colleges to use the lowest burden of proof, preponderance of evidence (50.01 percent), to determine guilt.

Related: An Illegal Program OCR Won’t Strike Down

OCR issued the Dear Colleague letter without going through a notice-and-comment period, which the Administrative Procedures Act requires for new government regulations. Subsequent claims by OCR head Catherine Lhamon as to why the office pursued this unusual course—that it didn’t need to do so, because the preponderance standard previously had been offered in resolution agreements with two of the nation’s thousands of colleges; or that the Dear Colleague letter merely provided guidance—don’t pass the laugh test. The most likely explanation: the delay caused by notice-and-comment would have ensured that the Dear Colleague letter wouldn’t have appeared until after the 2012 elections, robbing the letter of its value confirming the administration’s identity politics bonafides.

Republicans control 34 of the nation’s 50 governorships; many of these states have been under GOP control for more than a decade. Every state’s higher-ed law is different, but all give at least some control (usually through appointment of trustees) to a governor. Any of these 34 state education boards would have had standing to challenge OCR’s new mandate. Yet none have—a reminder that campus due process has no constituency, and with the exception of Lamar Alexander and James Lankford, the Republican record on this issue is very poor.

Any lawsuit coordinated by FIRE—or the two Miltenberg lawsuits already filed—first will need to survive a challenge on standing that a university threatened by OCR would not face. But the “Dear Colleague” letter not only lowered the evidentiary standard, but also mandated the right of accuser to appeal, pressured colleges to accelerate their adjudication processes, and discouraged cross-examination. So for standing purposes, the likeliest case would involve a student—as in the recent cases at James Madison and George Mason—whose not-guilty finding got overturned on appeal.

More often than not, when universities have lost motions to dismiss in due process lawsuits, they’ve quickly moved to settle the case. The federal government has no incentive to settle, so this litigation likely will be protracted. What would the effects be if any of these lawsuits succeed?

In theory, colleges could return to fairer adjudication systems—they could increase the burden of proof, end the double-jeopardy scenario where not-guilty findings can be appealed, and create more robust investigations. It seems unlikely that many colleges would actually pursue such a course. But the termination of the “Dear Colleague” letter would, at the very least, remove any chance that judges could rely on it—as occurred in the recent Cincinnati decision—to side with universities in due process lawsuits.

Returning to the pre-“Dear Colleague” letter status quo also would allow for a more even-handed discussion of why colleges are legally compelled to adjudicate felony allegations by students in the first place. The recent article by Jacob Gersen and Jeannie Suk uncovered at least one resolution letter, from 2005, in which an OCR regional office made clear that colleges had no obligation to investigate criminal offenses.

Bush-era court decisions to the contrary seemed far more limited than anything the Obama administration has proposed. A decision from the 11th circuit, for instance, made clear that its findings were dictated by the unusual facts of the case—that the University of Georgia recruited a basketball player who had committed sexual misconduct at his previous school. And the only non-athlete case from the Bush years that foreshadowed the Obama policies—the Kelly case at Yale—featured a judge who seemed to ignore the provisions of the Supreme Court’s 1999 Davis ruling. (You can read materials from the Kelly case file here.)

Progress toward a fairer campus adjudication system—much less a structure where colleges no longer investigate felonies at all—can only occur once the “Dear Colleague” letter ceases to exist. Hopefully the courts will be up to the task.

Mizzou Wipes Out Respect and Excellence

The University of Missouri has eliminated Respect and Excellence.  I have to write this in a hurry because it won’t be long before others will seize on this gift.  Respect and Excellence are the names for two residence halls at the University.  They are being closed because the University suddenly finds that its enrollments are plummeting.  Two other dorms were closed already in light of the crisis.

Let’s bask in the irony for a moment or two longer.  The University of Missouri arrived at this juncture by cravenly submitting to the demands of activists and the threats of football players who decided to abet the activists.  On November 9, System President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned rather than face down those threats.

Respect—respect for the abiding values of higher education, respect for civic disagreement, respect for intellectual freedom—went on an unpaid leave of absence from the University of Missouri that day.  As for Excellence, it wasn’t all that clear that the University of Missouri was a congenial place for Excellence before November 9.  But on receiving the news that Demands were moving in, Excellence cancelled her lease and moved out.

Rumors are that she transferred to the Oklahoma Wesleyan University or possibly Ohio State.

Mizzou map


Why Not Use Endowments to Lower Tuition Costs?

Connecticut is going through the motions of trying to tax Yale’s $25.6 billion endowment to help relieve the state’s $266 million shortfall. That effort will fail, but public opinion is starting to question the appropriateness of government-conferred tax benefits for university endowment funds. At Harvard, alumni as politically diverse as conservative Ron Unz and progressive Ralph Nader are running for the Board of Overseers on a “make tuition free” platform.

What legitimate public purpose do endowments serve? The co-authors of this article spent several months exploring this question, looking at roughly 800 university endowment funds on which good data are available and concluding that, with some exceptions, endowments do little to make colleges cheaper and more accessible to students.  Suppose a wealthy donor gives a school funds to endow $100,000 annually in scholarships. Our research shows that probably on net $100,000 in endowment income leads to a student tuition fee decline of only about $13,000. As more endowed scholarship money flows in, universities typically either raise tuition fees more aggressively, or allocate less of their own resources to scholarships.

Related: Endowments Are Still Massive, So Spend

Princeton University had more than $2.8 million in endowment per student as of last June 30-enough to generate $112,000 in spending per student if four percent of the endowment were spent annually.  Princeton’s tuition fee for this year is $43,450. More typical schools have modest endowments generating at most $1,000 in per-student annual revenues.

Yet the more typical school likely has a sticker price at least $25,000 a year less than the highly endowed institutions. The average amount students actually pay after taking account of scholarships is only $3000 lower at the 20 highest endowment schools, compared with schools with more typical modest endowments. That is despite the fact that the high endowment schools have over $20,000 more endowment income per student.

If endowments only modestly make college more affordable, where does endowment income go? A goodly portion (we estimate about 37 percent) goes to support instruction, both by hiring lots more professors and by paying them a lot more. While there are about 12 professors for every 100 students at highly endowed schools, there are only half as many (6) at more typically endowed institutions. Similarly, while full professors at the poorer school average about $90,000 a year in salary, at the highly endowed schools, the figure is more than $155,000.

Related: Is an Endowment a Nest Egg or a Gambler’s Stake?

Some of this increased instructional money probably leads to smaller classes and more contact between students and professors, some of whom are both well-known scholars and fine teachers. Yet as any keen observer of higher education knows (one of us has been a professor for more than 50 years), the highly endowed school faculty mostly have very low teaching loads so they can write papers on often obscure academic specialties, and the more highly paid teachers not only live quite well (particularly when consulting and other income is considered), but often avoid undergraduate students like the plague. As Adam Smith said of professors 240 years ago after Oxford started paying them from endowments, they had “given up altogether the pretense of teaching.” Additionally, the statistical evidence also says about 25 percent of endowment income goes directly for research.

Not all schools behave the same way. Berea College, in relatively poor Appalachian Kentucky, uses its endowment to essentially make college free, foregoing high salaries and extremely low teaching loads to promote student access. A few other schools (College of the Ozarks in Missouri, and, historically, Cooper Union in New York City (now charging tuition) have done the same.

Do big endowments promote prestige and perceptions of high quality? Looking at the relationship between endowment size and rankings on the Forbes Best College list (which we help compile), we find some positive relationship between endowment size and rank, but it is not the dominant determinant.

Still, the five schools with the highest per student endowments (Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Pomona College and Harvard) are all very highly ranked.

Related: Another Bad Idea-Mandatory Endowment Spending

Universities argue endowment allocations are determined by the intent of thousands of donors, many of whom wish to promote things other than low tuition. Yet the Berea example demonstrates that colleges poorer than the Ivy League schools can use alumni support to make college free. Why hasn’t Harvard, Yale or Princeton ever mounted a capital campaign with a-goal of providing no-cost undergraduate education? A no-cost Harvard would set a powerful example and encourage other schools to forego the expensive university arms race in order to reduce financial burdens of attending college.

As tuition fees and student debt loads soar, and as doubts grow about the true return to students of a college education (total enrollments have actually fallen over the past four years), scrutiny of endowments is likely to grow. Pell Grant data reveals that highly endowed schools typically have a much smaller proportion of low-income students. Should they continue to be incentivized to strengthen their academic gated communities for the affluent by accumulating ever larger endowments, largely financed through special tax breaks to donors and capital gains tax exclusions? There are arguments for doing so, but our research suggests that if special tax privileges for endowments are curtailed by Washington policymakers, the colleges have only themselves to blame.

An Illegal Program OCR Won’t Strike Down

In my research as a labor economist, I discovered that the Lawton program, offering aid exclusively to minority and disadvantaged students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is operating illegally—Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits Federal aid going to members of certain racial and ethnic groups, and not others, as Lawton does. That was 11 years ago, and the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education still hasn’t managed to rule on my formal complaints.

Not that there is any doubt about the Lawton Undergraduate Minority Retention Grants. Eligibility continues to be restricted to minority groups specified as “African American, Hispanic American, Native American, South East Asians.”

To my periodic inquiries about the delay in ruling, OCR offers several stock responses.  It claims in a February 2009 letter that my complaints “involve highly complex legal issues.” OCR claims in that same letter it “is proceeding as expeditiously as possible.” In an October 2013 letter OCR refers again to the “complexity of the issues involved.”

Anyone wanting to inquire about the status of my complaints or any other unresolved complaints will be frustrated by OCR’s record-keeping practices. Based on a recent FOIA request for a chronological listing of all Title VI complaints filed against post-secondary institutions, I discovered that OCR no longer lists the names of institutions whose long-standing complaints have not been resolved. I could identify my complaints only because I knew their docket numbers and the dates they were filed.

The cards seem to be stacked against any quick ruling on my complaints. I suspect UW is trying to find some way to rationalize its continuing discrimination under the Lawton Program. At the same time, I suspect OCR is trying to find some way to avoid ruling that the UW is violating Title VI. The likely reason: concern that doing so would jeopardize similar racially-exclusive scholarship programs at other colleges and universities.

Hey, Stanford: ‘Western Civ Has Gotta Grow’

Back in 1987, in a paroxysm of self-contradiction, Jesse Jackson engaged in what would have gotten him tossed in the clink had he done anything comparable in Djakarta or Chungking.  He led a crowd of banner-waving students at Stanford, taking advantage of a western nation’s heritage of free assembly and free speech, even when the assembly is noisy and the speech is foolish.  They were complaining about the school’s modest requirement of two semesters in Western Civilization.  “Hey hey, ho ho,” cried out the poetical preacher, “Western Civ has got to go!”

And go it did, replaced by the usual college fare, which might range from a sensible course in history to politically motivated twaddle: “Dance in Prison” or “Food Speaks” or “Queer Theory in Comparative Literature.”  What did not replace it?  Shared courses in great works of art, literature, history, or philosophy, or an alternate course in the civilization of India or the civilization of China.

So now, a group of students at The Stanford Review has circulated a petition to reinstate that modest requirement, and a manifesto making the case for its necessity.  The authors of the manifesto cite Stanford Law professor Michael McConnell on the poor preparation of the students he teaches, who “have little or no familiarity with the political, intellectual and cultural history that shaped the American legal system.”  These students “have never heard of Hobbes and Locke, do not know the causes of the American Revolution, are unfamiliar with the Lincoln-Douglas debates…. don’t know what separates Protestants and Catholics,” and so forth.  McConnell concludes: “One thing a great university provides is education about what educated people should learn.”

That, right there, should point the petitioners towards the most powerful argument in favor of their proposal, one they could hardly emphasize too much.  It is that graduates of Stanford as the curriculum is now constituted will be – I am reaching for a technical term – ninnies.  The petitioners do note that Stanford engineers will be engaging in research that will change the face of the world, covering the land in robots like locusts and threatening the jobs of nearly half of all workers.

Imagine these inventors, ambitious and clever, but utterly incapable of thinking along with the great heritage of western philosophers and theologians, ignorant of history, and possessed of tastes determined by mass entertainment rather than by Rembrandt or Keats.  They are the technocrats of the future, morally anarchic, easily attracted by schemes that would subordinate all human activity to centralized direction – by people like themselves. Hence, there is an urgency about the manifesto; an urgency which I believe is entirely warranted.

The opponents of their proposal, if I may judge by comments upon it, and by twenty-five years of listening to the opponents of our own Western Civilization program at Providence College, are afflicted by delusions of adequacy. They are under the odd impression that they actually know things. They believe, for example, that twelve years of American schooling will actually have imparted considerable knowledge of English literature and of the European literature upon which it is founded.  They believe that college students already can say sensible things about Wordsworth, when most do not know who Wordsworth is, and those who do, cannot write grammatical prose. They think that they are ready to learn about “other cultures,” when they have no firm grasp of what it even means to have a culture, since they have precious little knowledge of their own.  These students are not the radicals here. They are altogether satisfied with their ignorance, even smug about it.  They are content with the nostrums of our time, peddled by mass politics and mass entertainment, which degraded phenomena are increasingly indistinguishable from one another.

The petitioners at Stanford are forthright in proposing that only one civilization, the Western, be studied, because the Western has, as a matter of brute fact, provided the terms of political, moral, and scientific thought for the whole world.  Their opponents will trot out the usual accusations of racism and bigotry.  But the petitioners understand that Western errors in philosophy are not going to be addressed by a slapdash course in Hinduism – the educational equivalent of a meal of tandoori chicken.  Kant’s errors must be addressed by Kant’s opponents; Pieper, Maritain, Pope John Paul II, Alasdair MacIntyre.

The political reason to study the West is not to promote our current predilections, but to understand what they are, where they came from, what they might have been had we taken other routes, and what they might yet become, for better or for worse.

But there are nearer and better reasons for the course. The great majority of students at Stanford speaks English as a first language, and will live in the United States. All of the rest speak English as a second language, and among them will be many who speak another European language. If they are ever going to fall in love with poetry or with our treasures of plays and novels, it will almost certainly be the English.  “Multiculturalists,” those who peddle the tandoori chicken rather than Sanskrit, are not going to replace close study of the Old Testament with close study of the Rig-Veda.  They replace it with nothing.  An English speaker who fails to learn English poetry is not going to learn poetry in Urdu.

The same goes for other areas of cultural achievement. If you cannot be bothered to learn who Augustine and Thomas Aquinas were, you are probably not going to try to figure out the precise differences between Buddha and Lao-Tzu. That is not to say anything about those men and their merits.  It is simply a fact.  Stanford is in California, not Thailand.

If you cannot be moved to curiosity by a hundred thousand works in your native tongue and in the languages that influenced it; if you turn your head away from the First Baptist Church on your own Main Street, and all the other churches and their schools, and from Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam and Bach’s Passion According to Saint Matthew, then you are simply fooling yourself if you think you can be immersed in eastern civilizations without learning the original languages and living in India or China for thirty years and worshiping in their temples. Otherwise, you will not even rise to the level of the dilettante.

The irony is that only someone who actually has a culture is prepared to learn about another; as a master in the grammar of his native tongue is prepared to learn another.  But these days we prefer our education to be like our politics: superficial and silly.

UConn’s Civil Rights Failure

Criticism, including mine, greeted the University of Connecticut’s plan to build a new dorm to house its 40 black student males. That pressure caused the “black dorm” to be revised: it would be “open” to non-blacks who identify with the “African-American male experience”. Stubbornly college officials held fast to the idea that blacks would be assigned to separate spaces in the dorm in order to create a “living community” for black male students, to “help” one another and create a “living community” that would elevate a low black graduation rate.

But why is it  acceptable for a public–government-funded–university to start classifying, stereotyping and differently treating its undergraduates on the sole basis of their skin color? Didn’t the nation as far back as the unanimous 1954 US Supreme Court Brown decision ban as odious and unconstitutional practices, as suspect and baseless, classifications based on a student’s race?

Today, however, when it comes to black students, governmental bodies still fall back reflexively to the impulse for racial separatism. That’s bad enough when militant black students, full of rage, demand separate facilities and “safe spaces” on campus. It’s worse news when the colleges, like the University of Connecticut, surrender to such demands to buy campus peace. Worse, when public college officials on their own initiate separate dormitory spaces based on skin color–as a supposed benefit for their black students–that’s Orwellian double talk, reprehensible racial paternalism and outright condescension.

Such separatism is, also, on its face ostensibly illegal and unconstitutional.

Shockingly, the UConn trustees and Governor of Connecticut have been silent accessories to racial tripe. They have obliged college officials who want to set up on its Storrs campus separate spaces–corridors or floors–for black males in a dorm. Not unexpectedly, UConn is witholding its records that will expose its racial steering and demarcations for the dormitory housing. They have clammed up, and hid from public inspection the identity of the “private” educational foundation that is funding the dorm, and they’ve scrubbed, through redactions, the identities of college officials who have signed off on it.

This is what happens when officials evade the law and banter in double talk. They actually intend to cluster in sections or on floors the black men. And to justify their race-based actions they seek to bamboozle black men and others on campus into seeing this separatist scheming as an “educational” benefit for the black males–arguing that because black men’s graduation rates are lower as a group than their peers of other “races”, black males at UConn are “at risk.”

And there’s the rub. 

Seeing  black male students not as individuals but as racial entities, as stereotypes, as “different” from their peers of all other colors, is a 21st century repeal of civil rights laws that firmly declared an end to all that. So, where are the strong voices on civil rights to oppose this obfuscation of higher education’s once inviolable principles of equal opportunity, access, and equality of treatment? UConn isn’t alone but it’s unique in its pretensions that it’s doing blacks a favor by backtracking and ignoring state and federal laws that prohibit differential treatment solely because of a person’s skin color. That’s so wrong.  It’s time for the sane voices to speak up in disgust.

Alleging Sexual Assault When an Affair Ends

Have you noticed how many of the campus accusations of rape/sexual misconduct are reported after the 3rd, 4th, or 5th sexual encounter? It’s possible, of course that rape-minded males on campus like to let a relationship proceed a while before forcing themselves on a woman. Or it could be that something happens in the midst of a sexual relationship (or a series of hook-ups) that sours the female on a sexual partner. For instance, she may see him with another woman, or she may run into a female from the campus gender lobby and learn that all men are pigs and all disappointing sex can be counted as rape. After all, the famous Catharine MacKinnon said as much:

“Politically, I call it rape whenever a woman has sex and feels violated.” (Feminism Unmodified, 1987). Of course, she may feel violated by his rudeness, promiscuity or failure to call the next day. Whatever. It’s all rape. Or so says a leading voice in the feminist canon.

This meditation is prompted by a victory of sorts by one of the railroaded males. “John Doe,” a  student at James Madison University, was cleared of sexual misconduct,  but convicted on appeal and expelled under a blizzard of Kafkaesque procedures (no notice of the meeting, no names of judges provided, no copy of the new charges—though he was allowed to read it and take notes). Elizabeth K. Wilson, an Obama-appointed federal judge, ruled that Doe’s suit alleging lack of due process can proceed. Accounts of the case are provided by Robby Soave of Reason (“The accusation is among the more dubious ones I‘ve ever read about.”) and Ashe Schow of the Washington Examiner.

On appeal, the accuser was supported by statements from her residential advisor and her Title IX representative. Both say that the first of five sexual encounters between accuser and accused was not consensual. (The accuser’s roommate said it was consensual). The pair exchanged friendly messages after the first encounter, and she took the initiative in other sexual meetings. After the third, however, she showed up at his dorm carrying her pillow, but left when she saw another woman sitting on his bed. Hmmm. Could this have been a MacKinnonian violation?

Why Is It So Hard Now to Read a Book?

I was thinking about the issue of time this past week, while doing what I call cross-reading:  reading items online and pausing every few minutes to look something up on a web browser and then returning to the original reading.  This is a high-stimulation way of reading, producing an ultrathin layer of information about many different things, but not the intense experience of being deeply immersed in a book or other demanding piece of reading, which takes real time, not just internet time, to absorb and digest.

Almost thirty years ago, Roger Ebert wrote an enthusiastic review of Woody Allen’s film Radio Days, set in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn in the 1940s. It began:

I can remember what happened to the Lone Ranger in 1949 better than I can remember what happened to me. His adventures struck deeply into my imagination in a way that my own did not, and as I write these words there is almost a physical intensity to my memories of listening to the radio. Television was never the same. Television shows happened in the TV set, but radio shows happened in my head.

It’s this “happening in my head” that seems to be declining, replaced by constant and superficial connectivity, on the one hand, and exacerbated sensitivity to real or imagined slights on the other.  Though teaching my courses continues to interest me, I often doubt that they interest most of the undergraduate students who enroll in them.  A few, yes, but most sit passively with little or nothing to say.  When I first enter the room, they’re all sitting silently, absorbed in their iPhones.  Some continue playing with their iPhones during class, as if they think I can’t tell from the movements of their fingers, even if I can’t see the device itself.  And in the lobby of my building, I’ve noticed that almost all the students who come and go are on iPhones as they walk, alone but not alone.  Constant, instant, communication has colonized their time and minds.  Does this matter?

Related: Summer Reading for Freshmen, Unchallenging, Mediocre

Long experience has taught me that students often don’t do the assigned readings, or do only part of them, or in all likelihood read on-line summaries of novels (which can be very thorough and detailed, but also rapidly forgettable).  What is the difference between reading something at length and giving it a quick once-over?

There are two main ones:  time and imagination.  Two very dissimilar things: imagination, as Ebert noted, is internal. Time is external, and there are only 24 hours of it in a day.  It takes perhaps 8 or 10 hours to read a 250 or 300-page novel.  I know because I once spent a month at the British Library reading dozens of obscure dystopian novels that weren’t available in this country (this was long before the Internet, of course).

I used to reread each of the novels I taught in class, but this became discouraging:  my knowledge and understanding of the works increased with each reading, while my students’ reading habits were moving in the other direction, spending ever less time on assignments.  Like other professors, I’ve adapted to this reality to a large extent – using more short stories and essays, and feature films, in my courses. When I started teaching utopian and dystopian literature decades ago, I would typically include eight or nine novels in one semester. But then the semesters grew shorter (they are now at 13 weeks each at my university), and the habit of reading rarer.

Related: What Should Kids Be Reading

Years ago, some of my students told me that even between their experience and that of their younger siblings, there was an enormous gap: the younger kids were less likely to be interested in reading, whereas many of my students, in those days before the Internet, still loved books.  These shifts are not due entirely to technology, though it plays a large role, and text messaging certainly made this problem worse, as everyone knows.  The inevitable result is that more and more communication is going on about less and less:  sheer trivia constantly conveyed to all one’s “friends.”  Time is at a premium, apparently, and patience is short.

Universities have made many accommodations to this, as well.  Not that long ago I served on a committee dealing with a proposal to change many three-credit General Education courses to four credits. The problem was how to do this without increasing the professors’ workload or contact hours, guarded by the contracts our faculty union negotiates with the administration.

A lengthy discussion ensued about what that extra one credit might entail:  additional work for the students, yes, but without correspondingly increasing the professors’ work time.  All kinds of ideas were floated.  At one point I asked: “How about actually requiring the students to do all the work that’s already on our syllabus?”  No one was amused.  We pretended that the additional credit meant students would intensify and deepen their studies.

Since then, what we expect of our students has only decreased, even as many three-credit courses have indeed been transformed into four-credit ones, so that fewer courses are necessary to complete a bachelor’s degree.  And colleagues have grown bored with complaining about how difficult it is to get students to do reading, and how they must take ever greater pains to keep students amused and engaged.

But it’s not only these practical considerations (on our part and our students’) that are worth noting. An equally important component is the reduction of so much of our teaching to political bottom lines, usually resting on identity issues. Why bother reading anything in detail if one can readily enough spot its politics and praise or blame it on that score alone?

By encouraging or capitulating to this perspective, professors in many humanities departments have in effect taught their students that the humanities do not  matter, that attentiveness to reading is irrelevant, that the life of the mind (does anyone use that phrase these days?) has nothing to offer.  Instead, what counts are attitudes – in particular attitudes toward race, class, gender, heterosexuality, etc. – and if we can discern these quickly, so much the better. Why shouldn’t this far more economical, and self-righteous, path not appeal to our students?

The well-known scholar and former MLA president Elaine Marks, whose work was instrumental in promoting feminist literary theory, in the years before her death in 2001 turned against the practice of reading guided by identity politics and the tireless insistence on “differences.”  In 2000, she published an essay entitled “Feminism’s Perverse Effects,” in which she expressed her growing concern about the directions in which literary, cultural, ethnic and women’s studies had all been moving for some years.

Disillusioned with the practice of trolling literature and culture for signs of the ubiquitous -isms, Marks acknowledged her new-found sympathy with the arguments set forth by Harold Bloom in his much-maligned 1994 book The Western Canon.  Like Bloom, she had come to lament students’ failure to respond to literature imaginatively, their habit of replacing knowledge of western culture with a ceaseless pursuit of signs of its villainy, and their inability to experience surprise and delight in a text.  She was astonished, she wrote, to discover herself applauding Bloom’s words, “To read in the service of any ideology is not, in my judgment, to read at all.”  But merely expressing such concerns, Marks complained, would stigmatize a scholar as a closet conservative and traitor.

The Suicide of the Humanities

And that was in 2000. Since then things have only gotten worse, as higher education increasingly and openly pledges itself to politics before all else, whether in the name of  those elusive absolutes “diversity, inclusion, and  social justice” – words constantly promoted by university administrators (and accompanied by an ever-expanding corpus of administrators tasked with overseeing these agendas) – or to protect the fragility of  college students who claim to be unable to withstand the horrific offenses to their sensibilities that they manage to ferret out on America’s campuses.

Though some scholars may worry when they see the university diverting more and more resources to non-humanistic subjects, the fact remains that the suicide of the humanities is not occurring against but rather with the willing participation of many professors, who have long given up defending their own fields as worthy of study except as ersatz politics. But if that’s all the humanities are about, why not just abandon them and go straight for the real thing?

Is the Glut of Liberals In Academia Benign?

Academe is Overrun by Liberals. So What?” UCLA historian Russell Jacoby both declares and asks in a long Chronicle of Higher Education essay. Although published on April 1, it is presumably not an April Fool’s joke.

For a number or reasons — not all of which coexist easily —Jacoby dismisses out of hand the notion that there is any cause to be alarmed, or even concerned, about any “underrepresentation” of conservatives in academia.

His reasons:

1)They are really not so underrepresented. Why, he asks, is the concern always limited to humanities and social sciences? “Why not the medical sciences? Earth Sciences? Aerospace engineering? After all, those fields … possess the clout, money, and prestige.” The reason, he says, “is obvious: Liberals do not outnumber conservatives” in many fields that cover “a lot of turf — indeed, most of the university.”

2) Nothing new here. Jacoby is particularly critical of the social psychologists associated with the Heterodox Academy and their concern with the increasing political imbalance of college faculties. “That social psychologists tend to be liberal cannot be surprising,” he points out. “Virtually all the founders or key figures of American social psychology — Carl Murchison, Gordon Allport, Kurt Lewin — belonged on the left.” Also not surprising is that Jacoby did not attempt to make that argument for history or economics or political science or even sociology (see Emile Durkheim).

3) There are so few conservatives because so many are so dumb. “[T]hat there are many serious and responsible conservative thinkers cannot be doubted,” Jacoby begrudgingly acknowledges, but it also cannot be doubted that he doesn’t think there are very many of them. He equates conservative with Republican and then argues that any analysis of the paucity of conservatives in academia “cannot be taken seriously” if it “ignores” the fact that the “party of Dwight D. Eisenhower … became the party of Sarah Palin, Rick Perry, and Marco Rubio, all of whom denounce higher education, science, and the Department of Education.” Since “an anti-science, anti-evolution, and anti-climate-change ethos increasingly characterizes the Republican Party,” he is not surprised that so few of its members find their way into the humanities and social sciences. One gets the idea that Jacoby believes the only “serious and responsible” conservative is a former Republican.

4) No evidence that “left-wing unanimity distorts research and teaching.” Those who lament the underrepresentation of conservatives assume that “a balance of conservative and liberal professors would lead to better teaching and research, Jacoby writes. Conversely, having fewer conservatives on campus damages the educational enterprise. But is there evidence for that belief? Virtually none.” Implicit in this mistaken lament, he notes, “is that Democrats and Republicans teach or do research differently. A course on Chaucer or Rome taught by a Democrat supposedly diverges from that taught by a Republican.”

Related: Social Psychology—a Field with only 8 Conservatives

Russell Jacoby, meet Bloomberg News columnist Megan McArdle, also writing on April 1:

The politicization of the humanities was well under way when I was an English major in the early 1990s, and my education suffered as a result. This wasn’t because I was so oppressed as a conservative, but because in roughly half my classes, there was no easier route to an A than to argue that some long-dead author was a sexist pig, racist cretin or homophobic jerk. Being, like so many college students, not overly fond of unnecessary labor, I’m afraid I all too frequently slithered along the easy path to the 4.0.

Jacoby is a cultural historian, and thus it is odd he ignores the anti-conservative hostility that is pervasive in academic culture and dominant in many precincts of it. Intellectual diversity on campus is hindered not just by the paucity of conservative professors but also, perhaps especially, by the way conservative arguments are often treated, when they are treated at all.

In their recent book, Passing On The Right: Conservative Professors In The Progressive University Jon Shields and Joshua Dunn Sr. describe chilling examples of outright bias. A sociologist, in one example, wrote an article “with findings that affirmed a progressive critique of an important American institution” that was widely admired and featured in Contexts, an American Sociological Association Journal that attempts to disseminate important research to a wider audience. The author subsequently discovered a coding error that changed his results, but he could not get the corrected article published anywhere.

In a similar vein, in Mismatch Richard Sander describes (pp. 77-83) several episodes of prominent law professors and journals refusing to correct clearly demonstrated errors that undermined their conclusions. In one of them, he noted, the “results were stunning … a powerful, independent confirmation that law school mismatch was dramatically hurting minority law students.” If the authors, widely “respected empiricists,” had “fully and fairly reported their [corrected] results,” Sander concludes in both sorrow and anger, “the entire course of debate on law school affirmative action might have been quite different.”

Related: Affirmative Action for Conservative Faculty?

Jacoby does not discuss the bias and discrimination against conservatives and politically incorrect arguments that might have some bearing on the nature and quality of intellectual diversity in the academy, although he does mention Passing On The Right, a book that is filled with examples of it. Readers of Minding The Campus will know (from my review of it) that I am not a big fan of that book, but Jacoby’s brief reference misrepresents its argument.

Jacoby’s polemic is devoted primarily to rejecting affirmative action for conservatives, but the argument he attacks is largely a straw man. Thus he quotes Shields and Dunn stating that “The Bakke rationale obliges its defenders to support affirmative action for conservatives.” On their next page, however, they state explicitly that “To be clear, we are not advocating for or against affirmative action for conservatives.” And in case that was not clear enough, in a March 18 Op-Ed summarizing their book in Jacoby’s hometown newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, Shields and Dunn stated unequivocally that “We don’t endorse preferences in graduate admissions and hiring.”

Jacoby’s confusion, if that’s what it is, flows from the fact that he assumes that anyone who believes that a paucity of conservatives on campus is a problem must favor a solution of not only affirmative action but preferential treatment leading to proportional representation. Referring to studies by the “Heterodoxians and their sympathizers” showing “political lopsidedness on American college faculties,” Jacoby writes, “The assumption of all these studies is that political variations require correctives. But why should political proportions be constant across society?”

Of course, neither the “Hetereodoxians” nor any of their sympathizers of whom I am aware demand proportional hiring of conservatives. Nearly all of them would be more than satisfied if the “diversity” and “inclusion” that is so incessantly preached in academia were actually practiced more consistently — if, that is, “inclusion” were extended far enough to include conservatives and conservative ideas.

Jacoby’s fundamental fallacy is that he denies the existence of the disease — the disturbingly small number of conservatives in many areas, with the resulting injury to intellectual diversity — because he opposes the cure that he mistakenly imputes to those who wish to treat it.

Senators Reward OCR Abuses with Budget Hike Proposal

Twenty-two Senators have asked the Appropriations Committee to increase the budget of the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) by almost 30%. All of those Senators are Democrats except for Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada.

OCR has pressured colleges and high schools to adopt unconstitutional speech codes. It also has pressured school districts to adopt veiled racial quotas in school discipline. And in sexual harassment cases, it has stacked the deck against accused students, and occasionally forced colleges to reward false allegations. It has done all these things by expanding and essentially rewriting the federal civil-rights laws Title VI and Title IX through uncodified administrative “guidance” and “Dear Colleague” letters.

The pretext for this proposed increase is that OCR is supposedly overworked. But if this is actually true (which is doubtful, as I explained in the Chronicle of Higher Education; delays at OCR often occur due to its own slowness, inefficiency, and mismanagement), it is only because of OCR’s own overreaching. It routinely makes up violations out of thin air in a way that generates far more “violations” to investigate.

The “Dear Colleague” letter lowered the burden of proof in campus cases of sexual misconduct from ”clear and convincing evidence” to “preponderance of the evidence,” in effect just over 50 % certainty of guilt. It also helped erode other due process protections.

As The Washington Examiner notes, Several Democratic senators are requesting additional funds for the Education Department to continue policing the sex lives of college students.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Tim Kaine, Claire McCaskill and Mark Warner have written a letter calling for increased funding for the Department’s Office for Civil Rights. . .The senators are requesting a budget of $137.7 million for OCR. [The current level is $107 million].

Here’s how we got to this point, put as simply as possible: In 2011, OCR sent out a “Dear Colleague” letter that vastly expanded the definition of Title IX and what schools needed to do in order to comply with the statute. Because of the broadening of the statute, schools have been accused of violating students’ rights under Title IX and have come under investigation by OCR. Now OCR is requesting more money to investigate these schools because it has become overwhelmed.

The “Dear Colleague” letter sent by OCR in 2011 did not go through the required notice-and-comment period…. This prompted Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., to demand that OCR justify its overreach. OCR failed to do so to Lankford’s liking.

Why does this matter? OCR expanded its own responsibilities — it wasn’t Congress or anyone else who gave it more authority. Put another way: OCR expanded its own responsibilities and now wants more money to carry out those responsibilities.

Sherry Warner, president of Families Advocating for Campus Equality, criticized the proposed increase sought by the Senators in their March 17 letter. “The request by Senators McCaskill and Gillibrand of $137.7 million for the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education essentially rewards the OCR for its current overreach on college campuses,” Warner wrote. “This request asks the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services & Education to fund the OCR’s illegal, expansive and nebulous standards which schools around the country are struggling to enforce.”

Legal experts have also questioned the wisdom of increasing OCR’s budget. In a February 26, 2015, letter to Congress, two members of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights noted that OCR “has all too often been willing to define perfectly legal conduct as unlawful. Though OCR may claim to be underfunded, its resources are stretched thin largely because it has so often chosen to address violations it has made up out of thin air. Increasing OCR’s budget would in effect reward the agency for frequently overstepping the law.”

Congress already increased OCR’s budget by 7% last year in the omnibus spending bill passed in December with President Obama’s assent. That drew criticism from Investor’s Business Daily, which lamented that the “omnibus spending bill grants a generous 7% increase in the budget for the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights, which is pressuring school districts across the country to adopt racial quotas in discipline,” in what the newspaper characterized as “radical, out-of-control, race-mongering.”

It also is not clear that increases in OCR’s caseload in recent years actually reflect additional work. On March 18, 2015, The Washington Post quoted OCR’s head admitting that just “two individuals were responsible for filing more than 1,700 of those allegations.” Former Congressman John Linder has noted that OCR is extremely inefficient in handling its cases.

If OCR were not stretching and rewriting the law, it would probably have fewer complaints to process than in years past, and could make do with a smaller budget than it now has, as I explained earlier. Its budget should be cut, not increased.

Title IX Tramples Free Speech and Fairness, So Now What?

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has just dipped its oar in the dank water of Title IX.  The AAUP’s draft of its new document, The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX, leaves much to be desired.  But welcome to the fight, AAUP.  We’ve been wondering when you would show up.

From 1972 to Now

A refresher.  How did we get here?

Title IX is Title IX of the Higher Education Act, which was added to the 1965 Act as part of its 1972 reauthorization. The key sentence in it is, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

That seemed simple enough at first. Don’t discriminate against men or women on the basis of their sex, you American colleges or universities, or we will cut off your federal funds. “Financial assistance” referred primarily to federally guaranteed students loans, codified as Title IV of the Higher Education Act. By 1972, almost all colleges and universities had become addicted to the money flowing in from those loans.  The loans officially went to the students, but the dollars went to the college bursar offices, and the colleges had to be pre-approved by the Department of Education as worthy recipients.

So Title IX had instant clout. But it was also a bit murky.  Clearly it didn’t apply to single-sex institutions.  What forms of discrimination did it legislate against?  The answer emerged slowly, first through regulations issued by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in 1975 and later through litigation. The 1975 regulations suddenly made it clear that Title IX was going to be used to advance women’s sports on campus. But it took years of litigation to arrive at what Title IX would really mean: the destruction of many men’s sports teams to ensure that women’s sports were in parity with men’s sports.

Title IX soon began to grow in new and unexpected directions, sometimes in conjunction with court decisions that didn’t initially appear to have anything to do with higher education.  A good example is the Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson U.S. Supreme Court decision of 1986, which defined “hostile environment” for sexual harassment cases under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  It would take several more decisions and some creative thinking on the part of regulators to get to the idea that wherever an environment can be described as “hostile” there also is a Title IX discrimination case waiting to be framed and fitted out.

“Hostile environment” was supposedly limited by the Supreme Court in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education in 1999 to “severe, pervasive and objectively offensive” sexual harassment, but OCR has seen no need to get so fussy.  It sees “hostile environments” created by harassment pretty much wherever it likes.

Complaints about how Title IX now runs roughshod over due process, academic freedom, and basic fairness are now legion. The basic picture is that the mere expression of some words and ideas is now at risk of being conjured into a Title IX complaint on the grounds that those words and ideas make some people uncomfortable.


My organization, the National Association of Scholars, has been criticizing the new Title IX regime for years.  We also have an older history of wrestling with the excesses of the feminist-inspired attacks on academic freedom. NAS isn’t alone in this.  FIRE is a stalwart ally, among others. NAS’s 2014 “Compendium of Key Sources” on sexual assault provides a good summary as well as a gateway to other materials.

The AAUP has also on previous occasions ventured into this topic, most notably in its 2012 “Campus Sexual Assault: Suggested Policies and Procedures.” But the AAUP’s brand new statement ventures in a somewhat unexpected direction.  It seems, at least to some of its first readers, like a stronger check on OCR policies.

“A Slew of New Problems”

The History, Uses, and Abuses of Title IX impressed The New York TimesInside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Education the same way:  as a complaint that Title IX rules have gone too far and are stifling free speech.

The New York Times leads with “broadening definitions of inappropriate sexual behavior” having “a chilling effect on academic freedom and speech.”

Inside Higher Ed leads with the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) creating “a slew of new problems with implications for free speech and academic freedom.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education headlines, “AAUP Slams Education Department and Colleges Over Title IX Enforcement,” and leads with the sexual assault rules that “trample faculty members’ rights to academic freedom, due process, and shared governance.”

All three see the AAUP as boldly stepping forward to declare that the Title IX enforcement regimen has gone too far.  It is now chilling/compromising/trampling free speech—which doesn’t sound especially good.  Has the AAUP suddenly come to the realization, long since achieved by millions of other Americans, that Title IX rules and enforcement have gone crazily overboard?

Let’s not be hasty.

Two of the journalistic watchdogs of higher education are quick to add zag to their zig:

The New York Times: The AAUP “does not mean to underestimate the gravity of sexual harassment complaints.”

Inside Higher Ed: “The Office for Civil Rights brought needed attention to the problem of sexual assault and harassment on college campuses.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education, however, sticks closely to the theme that the AAUP has launched a relentlessly tough-minded criticism of OCR’s Title IX overreach.

What’s the truth of the matter?  Has the AAUP consulted its moral compass and found the true north of presumption of innocence, due process, fair treatment of the accused, respect for evidence, and freedom of expression?  Or has it offered a temporizing defense of some of its principles some of the time, provided that they don’t get in the way of the feminist social justice agenda?

Feminists Burnt by Feminism

Alas, when we turn to the report itself, it is more the latter.  The major problem that the AAUP raises with Title IX rules is that they have more than once been turned against well-meaning women’s studies professors and other campus feminists. The “abuses” signaled in the title of the report exist at an abstract level for much of the report: “OCR has given only limited attention to the due process rights of those accused of misconduct.” [p. 17] But when AAUP gets down to specifics, we hear very little of the hapless male students thrown under the Title IX bus on flimsy or no evidence.

Instead we have accounts of the travails of Professor Patty Adler at the University of California, Boulder, who was Title IX’d for having her undergraduate teaching assistants in her Sociology class, “Deviance in US Society,” act out roles in class as “Eastern European ‘slave whore,’ pimp, a ‘bar whore,’ and a high-end escort.”  For this Professor Adler found herself accused by students of sexual harassment and was pressured by her dean to accept an early retirement.  The dean eventually backed down but Adler, “deeply affected by the chilling academic freedom climate,” retired anyway after one more semester.  [pp. 23-24]

AAUP’s second example: Louisiana State University early childhood education professor Teresa Buchanan, drummed out of her job after complaints from students about her “salty language.” Some of her students, preparing for careers teaching very young children, didn’t care for “F*** no” interjections, her use of “a slang term for vagina that implies cowardice,” and similar indiscretions.  Buchanan defended herself saying, “The occasional use of profanity is not sexual harassment.” But Title IX rules are pretty tough.  Buchanan is suing. [pp. 24-25]

Not So Fun Home

Another incident the AAUP draws attention to is the closing of Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina Upstate.  The closing “coincided” with controversy about the use of the “lesbian coming-of-age story,” Fun Home, as a common reading at the university. Fun Home had garnered “trigger warnings” at three other colleges, and a Title IX administrator at a university in another state in a previous year had issued a memo that warned that some students might have had “traumatic experiences” that teachers using “materials containing instances of violence related to power, control or intimidation” should take into account.

So, a memo by a Title IX administrator at a university in one state; a “trigger warning” on a book in three other universities in different states; and the closing of a Women’s Studies center at yet another university add up to what?  In the AAUP’s audacious analysis: “the fact that the serious study of sex and sexuality are becoming increasingly vulnerable fields of study.”

Kipnis’ Conniption

The AAUP report also devotes some attention to Northwestern University Professor Laura Kipnis, who was Title IX investigated after some students took umbrage at her article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe,” in which Kipnis leveled some criticisms at the “new paradigm” of sexual harassment rules.  In the article Kipnis styled herself a strong feminist:

For the record, I strongly believe that bona fide harassers should be chemically castrated, stripped of their property, and hung up by their thumbs in the nearest public square. Let no one think I’m soft on harassment. But I also believe that the myths and fantasies about power perpetuated in these new codes are leaving our students disabled when it comes to the ordinary interpersonal tangles and erotic confusions that pretty much everyone has to deal with at some point in life, because that’s simply part of the human condition.

But Kipnis ended up fighting—in the AAUP’s words—a “bureaucratic ordeal” or in her own words, a “Title IX Inquisition.” Kipnis won, but clearly Title IX was being put to uses that feminists didn’t intend.

Male Victims

The AAUP does find some male victims of Title IX. A University of Kansas student had to fight expulsion after he made tweets on his private account deriding his former partner as a “psycho bitch.” Chemistry professor Craig Anderson was Title IX’d after a lab assistant accused him of using aggressive and vulgar language. The AAUP rushed to his defense because Bard College failed to provide him due process. On the other hand, Title IX completely failed to catch University of California Berkeley astronomer Geoffrey Marcy, who met his comeuppance as a repeat harasser only when BuzzFeed broke the story.

There is a great deal more to say about the AAUP’s statement, issued as a “draft” and presumably open for further changes. But one thing at a time. The one thing to start with is that the AAUP is mostly upset that the new Title IX rules are producing “friendly fire” casualties. It was meant to punish men, regardless of their guilt or innocence. To accomplish that it set the evidentiary bar so low that some women faculty members are tripped by it as well.

Some of the cases the AAUP cites make that point well enough. Others entail some stretching. But the main thing is that AAUP has paid so little heed to the larger story of Title IX tyranny: the rise of bureaucrats that can and do ruin the educational careers of male students and some faculty members on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations and sometimes even in the face of exculpatory evidence.

The Distant Shore

I am, on balance, happy that the AAUP has decided to dip its oar in these waters.  It is better that it is half-heartedly alarmed about the rolling disaster of Title IX regulation than it sit back in smiling approbation of the new regime. But I don’t think the AAUP’s oar will propel us very far across the fetid lake. AAUP doesn’t like Title IX’s collateral damage. It is rather less concerned with its main targets.  What we really need is a thorough housecleaning at OCR; the retraction of the noxious “Dear Colleague: letters; and in due course the abolition of OCR itself, which has been a deep and continuing source of injustice in higher education.

Harvard to Supply Life’s Meaning To Students

Since the dawn of time, humankind has sought an explanation for our being on this planet, and some have looked for an answer in “liberal arts” education. But now – at Harvard at least – this profound search for meaning has apparently been transferred from the liberal arts department, where definitive answers have been rare, over to the student life bureaucracy, according to The Harvard Crimson.

Crimson staff writer Jamila M. Coleman, wrote that. The Freshman Dean’s office, which for several years has been under the leadership of Dean of Students Thomas Dingman, is focusing on “reflective programming” for Harvard’s presumably benighted and meaning-bereft undergraduates. The most recent step is the creation of a position for a “Fellow for College Programs and Initiatives.” According to the Crimson, this new hire will “attempt to enhance the experience of students by working…on ways to foster personal growth during their four years as undergraduates.”

One of Dean Dingman’s proliferating underlings, Director of College Initiatives and Student Development Katherine W. Steele, explained that the purpose of this new administrator’s work would be to “create experiences where people can dig into these questions of ‘Who am I?’ and ‘What’s my purpose?’”

What does this position entail? An explanation was given to the student paper not by Dean Dingman himself, but rather by one of his countless assistants. Reported the Crimson:

The fellow will attempt to enhance the experience of students by working closely with Katherine W. Steele, the Director of College Initiatives and Student Development at the FDO [Freshman Dean’s Office], on ways to foster personal growth during their four years as undergraduates.

“What does this mean?” you understandably ask. The Crimson continues:

We realized that through doing this kind of programming, you can really create experiences where people can dig into these questions of ‘Who am I?’ and ’What’s my purpose?’” Steele said. “Thinking about those questions now may help you later when you’re deciding what to do after you graduate.”

Of course, guiding students in such a profound pursuit is too large a task for one bureaucrat. So the Freshman Dean’s Office plans to ensure that “[t]he Fellow will work closely with Resident Deans, Faculty Deans, Tutors, and Proctors to provide reflective guidance for students and formulate new approaches to community conversations, a required program during Opening days,” according to Steele. “It’s brand new,” Steele gushed to the Crimson reporter. “This job’s never existed before…we’re going to be a start-up basically, within Harvard.”

And therein lies the value of this initiative: As a start-up, it will doubtless require the hiring of many more administrators to assist the illustrious ranks of Resident Deans, Faculty Deans, Tutors, and Proctors, plus student-life administrative staff. As the Crimson reports, Steele hopes “to run focus groups with recent graduates during the summer, using their reflections to provide direction for new programming.”

The philosophical justification for this new, personnel-heavy and likely expensive initiative is, according to Steele, rooted in a 2006 study by Graduate School of Education Professor Richard J. Light. “Seniors said they learned a lot from chemistry and history and whatnot, but never really learned how to live life,” Steele told the Crimson. Hence the need for this profound new initiative headed by the student life bureaucracy. “The position is a very college focused role and is not necessarily just a response to a need that we’re seeing here at the Freshman Dean’s office,” Steele assured the reporter. And because this lacuna in Harvard’s curriculum “is not isolated to freshman year, this person will focus on personally transformative programming across the four years,” she said.

Of course, such a profound four-year initiative cannot be the sole province of Director Steele and the soon-to-be-hired Fellow for College Programs and Initiatives.  And so the Crimson reported that Dean for Administration and Finance Sheila C. Thimba “wrote that she approves of the new position’s goal of fostering personal growth among students.” “I’m glad we can support this nascent programming in personal transformation,” Dean Thimba said.

This new initiative is not altogether unexpected, but rather is the latest piece of a larger and longer-standing effort to direct students’ personal growth.

Reports the Crimson:

“Administrators have in recent years attempted to bolster College programming focused on student reflection. In 2015, Dean of the College Rakesh Khurana pushed for additional reflection seminars and retreats during winter session.”

And, of course, when the powerful Dean of the College pushes, the rest of the ample bureaucracy responds with creative new initiatives, and, of course, new hires.

All of this makes for rather interesting reading. But it does appear that certain fundamental questions are not being asked, much less answered: Is it not the role of the faculty of a liberal arts college to spend four years helping students think about questions such as “Who am I?” and “What’s my purpose?” And is it not the province of the students to answer these highly personal questions themselves, without micromanagement by student-life administrators? With these fundamental questions asked and presumably answered by the bureaucrats assembled by the Freshman Dean’s office, what role will remain for the learned Harvard faculty, or indeed, for the student meaning-seekers themselves?

It’s a troubling – if not entirely surprising – fact that administrators now vastly outnumber faculty members in our institutions of higher education. According to one analysis, the ratio of full-time administrators to tenured or tenure-track professors in 2008 was roughly 2:1. I’d bet that in the past eight years since this study was done, the ratio has tilted even more dramatically in favor of administrators. What we don’t know is why this has come to be. Perhaps an inquiry into administrative bloat should be the next focus of the Harvard Freshman Dean’s office. This weighty task will, of course, doubtless require several new administrative hires.

A version of this article ran on WGBF News, Boston and is reprinted with permission.

Why “To Kill a Mockingbird” Could Never Be Read Aloud*

At first glance, this looks like a victory for free speech: University of Kansas assistant professor, Andrea Quenette, was allowed to keep her job after quoting the word “nigger” instead of referencing it by initial during a discussion of racism. But her victory was qualified–Quenette did not escape punishment. As The Washington Post reports, for merely quoting a word in an appropriate context, not hurling an epithet, she was placed on paid leave and subject to a four-month investigation sparked by complaints from eight graduate students, some of whom were not in class when the verboten word was uttered.

One student who was present recalls leaving the classroom in tears after hearing a word, instead of an initial, quoted aloud. (Soon the expression “n word” may be banned, since it evokes the word “nigger.” Or maybe people will start using “n word” as an epithet.) Complaining students wanted Quenette fired. They’ll have to hope for her rehabilitation instead. Before resuming teaching, Quenette will “pair up” with a faculty mentor and undergo diversity or “cultural competence” training.

This is, of course, a familiar story, but it has a particularly depressing twist: Quenette’s praise for her interrogators. I don’t mean to criticize her obeisance, which is politic and may be the cost of keeping her job. But, commending university officials for “due diligence in taking student’s concerns seriously” and expressing enthusiasm for her reeducation plan, Quenette sounds a bit like the text of a hostage video. “A faculty mentor, I think, is a great thing,” she said. “I embrace the opportunity” for diversity training.

Political correctness is an increasingly inadequate description of the current campus climate, when merely quoting a slur in the context of discussing prejudice is considered a potentially traumatizing act of aggression and possible firing offense. It’s now considered appropriate for presumptively disadvantaged students to react to the utterance of banned words the way people with arachnophobia react to tarantulas. You could use the h word — hysteria — to describe the campus climate, or you could say we’ve descended from political correctness into the realm of linguaphobia.

*The word “nigger” appears 48 times.

Yale’s Case against Montague Looks Shaky

Max Stern, the lawyer for the expelled Yale basketball captain Jack Montague, has spoken out, announcing that he will sue Yale on behalf of Montague in April, and clarifying some details in the case, including a very surprising one: that the aggrieved female did not file the sexual misconduct complaint. In his telling, Montague had sex with the woman four times and the woman says only the fourth time was non-consensual.

The Stern statement said, “On the fourth occasion, she joined him in bed, voluntarily removed all of her clothes, and they had sexual intercourse. Then they got up, left the room and went separate ways. Later that same night, she reached out to him to meet up, then returned to his room voluntarily, and spent the rest of the night in his bed with him”

The accuser waited around a year to speak to someone from Yale’s Title IX office, but decided not to file a complaint with Yale. But the Title IX officer filed a complaint. A disciplinary hearing occurred, amidst a campus frenzy following a survey suggesting that the New Haven campus was a hotbed of violent crime.

Related: Montague and Yale’s Poisoned Campus Culture

The indication that the Title IX officer—not the accuser—filed the charges should have triggered outrage on the Yale campus. The Title IX coordinator has authority under Yale’s procedures to file a complaint independently. But according to the regular Spangler Reports on campus sexual misconduct (my review of the most recent report is here), such a move is supposed to occur only in “extremely rare cases,” and only when “there is serious risk to the safety of individuals or the community.” Stephanie Spangler herself reaffirmed this point in February, telling the Yale Daily News, “Except in rare cases involving an acute threat to community safety, coordinators defer to complainants’ wishes.”

There is nothing in the facts as described by Stern that remotely fits these criteria. So why did the Title IX coordinator act? Did Montague’s status as a high-profile basketball player account for the decision? Was she, for instance, fearful of negative publicity from following Yale’s own guidelines? Or was she worried about the fallout from a recent AAU survey, which had generated negative publicity for the school?

Related: Yale’s Imaginary Crime Wave

Or perhaps it’s simpler than that: The Title IX office seems to have a custom of not following the restrictions laid out in the Spangler Report. Here’s a chart using data in the Spangler Reports, involving allegations of sexual assault of Yale undergraduates. (I have updated cases originally listed as “pending” when follow-up information was provided in a subsequent report.

Yale-Title IX




In the two starred 2014 cases, the accused student was found not guilty. Given Yale’s stated criteria—“extremely rare cases” involving “acute threat to community safety”—it should be all but inconceivable that any case filed by the Title IX officer ended with a not-guilty finding. That two did suggests that she had ceased following Yale’s own standards even before the Montague case.

(Despite these not-guilty findings, the accused student in both of those cases received what amounted to minor punishment—a no-contact order, which could have academic consequences by limiting course offerings. In two Title IX officer-filed cases, in fall 2011 and spring 2012, there were allegations of physical, but not sexual, violence involving couples that previously had a sexual relationship.)

The pattern here is obvious: the Title IX office has gradually become more and more aggressive in filing charges, culminating in the three cases in which charges were filed in the 2015 academic year, despite the supposed restrictions on the types of cases the office can file. So: has the Title IX coordinator decided that Yale’s own regulations don’t apply to her?

Media Reaction

Richard Bradley, probably too hopefully, suggested that this might be the case that prompts the fair-minded to recognize that cases such as this should be handled by the police. But for now, they’re still handled by secret university tribunals that deny due process to the accused.

Some in the media, however, appear to be hearing the message. Both the Daily News and the New York Post had powerful editorials condemning Yale’s handling of the case. Montague’s high school coach, Dennis King, invoked the witch-hunt metaphor, and added that he knew of no player “more dedicated to self-improvement, more single-minded in his love of the game, or more committed to his teammates.” And Montague himself attended the Yale NCAA games in which, but for Yale’s procedures, he would have played.

Related: Worst College President of 2015, Who Wins the Sheldon?

Perhaps because of this public pressure, Yale issued a statement defending its approach to campus sexual assault. Most of the press release was boilerplate, but one section was interesting—stressing that most students accused through Yale’s procedures don’t wind up being expelled. This passage telegraphs the university’s likely defense, borrowing from the standard pioneered by Judge Furman in the Columbia case—since the university doesn’t find all accused students guilty, it shouldn’t be vulnerable to any Title IX challenge, and the courts should wholly defer to its unfair procedures.

Writing in the Washington Post, Shanlon Wu, a former federal sex crimes prosecutor, placed these stats in context: “What would be far more telling would be the percentage of Yale’s campus sexual assault allegations that go forward to hearings. Sending nearly every college student accused of campus sexual assault to a hearing is an abdication of responsibility. Colleges and universities owe it to their students to review and investigate each allegation of sexual assault professionally and thoroughly — prior to sending it forward to a panel hearing. While every case deserves investigation, not every case deserves a hearing.” He also took note of the fact that the “training” Yale provides its disciplinary panelists remains secret.

The Hostage-Video Statement

In the aftermath of 30 for 30’s “Fantastic Lies” documentary profiling the Duke Lacrosse case, it’s hard not to focus on the differences in the campus atmosphere between then and now. During the lacrosse case, the students were the voices of reason—from the student government, to the student newspaper, to students who registered to vote against Mike Nifong. And perhaps the highest-profile student action came from the Duke women’s lacrosse team, in the 2006 national semifinals, who said nothing but wore armbands with the number 6, 13, and 45—the numbers of the three falsely accused men’s players.

Doubtless the Brodhead administration did not welcome this move—the Duke president, after all, had a month before suggested privately that a movie in which an accused murderer fooled his lawyer into believing his innocence was a good frame for the case. But Duke allowed the silent statement to proceed. And students in general were either supportive of or neutral toward the women’s lacrosse team members.

In 2016, the Yale men’s basketball team made a nearly identical, silent statement. They said nothing, but wore warm-up shirts with Montague’s number and nickname. Here, however, the campus backlash was furious. Unidentified students posted flyers accusing the team of defending “rapists.” Yale’s dean issued a statement that seemed to condemn the basketball team. Student reaction toward the team seemed overwhelmingly negative. And the team then issued a statement that came across as a written version of a hostage video, filled with buzzwords more common from Title IX officials than a typical college student, apologizing to the campus community.

There’s scant reason to believe that the Yale Daily News is up to the task that the Duke Chronicle performed so ably in the lacrosse case. Rather than examine whether the basketball players were inappropriately pressured to issue the hostage-video statement—and, if so, what such pressure would say about the intellectual environment at Yale—a long article in Monday’s Daily News broke the news that members of the team still spoke with Montague.

The piece also contained lengthy quotes from campus rape groups criticizing Stern. In their own words, reporters Daniela Brighenti and Maya Sweedler wrote, “Stern’s reasoning drew criticism from experts, victims’ advocates and sexual assault survivors, who argued that the language Stern used in the statement blames victims.”

But such standards—which essentially conflate the experiences of battered women in long-term relationships, who are often emotionally and financially dependent on the men who abuse them, with college students who engage in brief sexual relationships—render it impossible for any accused student to defend himself. If any behavior or evidence undermining the credibility of the accuser (who often, as appears to be the case here, is the only witness suggesting the accused student did anything wrong) can be dismissed as typical conduct of a “victim,” then all behavior confirms the accusation, and the accused must be found guilty.

Claude Steele, Victim of Stereotype Threat?

Claude Steele, the social psychologist best known for developing the influential concept of “stereotype threat,” is in hot water. He is Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of the University of California at Berkeley and holds appointments in the Psychology Department and the Graduate School of Education, ” He has come under fire for the way he handled a sexual harassment complaint against the dean of the law school (who as a result of that complaint and ensuing lawsuit is now the ex-dean), Sujit Choudhry.

Law Students Unhappy

“The provost ordered a 10% pay cut in Choudhry’s $415,000 annual salary,” the Los Angeles Times reports, “required Choudhry to attend counseling and ordered him to apologize to the assistant, Tyann Sorrell, after Berkeley officials determined last July that the then-dean had violated the campus’ sexual harassment policy by repeatedly forcing unwanted kissing, hugging and touching her.”

Some think there’s more: the suspicion that Provost Steele might have handed down only a figurative slap on the wrist in return for a favor. According to documents from the dean’s harassment investigation, “Choudhry urged the faculty to approve Steele’s appointment to the law school in May,” the Los Angeles Times article reports, “at the same time the dean knew he was being investigated over sexual harassment allegations.”

At a March 10 faculty meeting Steele agreed to resign from the law school appointment and “to remove himself from the search process for an interim dean, after widespread criticism of his leadership — including a survey that found 75% of nearly 400 law students surveyed did not want him involved.”

So far Steele has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing, and University of California President Janet Napolitano and UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks have issued statements defending him. The allegations of a quid pro quo are “absolutely untrue,” Dirks said. Even in the absence of established wrongdoing, however, it seems safe to say that at the least Steele has not handled his vice chancellery and provost responsibilities adroitly.

Since Steele’s disappointing performance in handling a controversial harassment controversy can be compared to performing poorly on a test, perhaps it is appropriate to ask whether Steele himself might be a victim of his own discovery.

<Ten Reasons Not to Wait 25 Years to Revisit Grutter>

Here is Steele’s description of the nature and effect of “stereotype threat” taken from his expert testimony in the Grutter affirmative action  case, where he argued that standardized test scores do not accurately reflect the ability of black students.

My research, and that of my colleagues, has isolated a factor that can depress the standardized test performance of minority students — a factor we call stereotype threat. This refers to the experience of being in a situation where one recognizes that a negative stereotype about one’s group is applicable to oneself.  When this happens, one knows that one could be judged or treated in terms of that stereotype, or that one could inadvertently do something that would confirm it.

In situations where one cares very much about one’s performance or related outcomes — as in the case of serious students taking the SAT — this threat of being negatively stereotyped can be upsetting and distracting.  Our research confirms that when this threat occurs in the midst of taking a high stakes standardized test, it directly interferes with performance.

Steele is African-American, and he is certainly aware of the widespread stereotype that minorities — no matter how distinguished — are often stereotyped when they are appointed to prestigious, highly visible, high stakes positions such as his, that they are often chosen more as a demonstration of their institution’s devotion to “diversity” than because of their own merit. Did Steele’s knowledge of those stereotypes interfere with his job performance? If not, does not fact that he did not succumb to “stereotype threat” undermine or seriously qualify the theory?

<The Implausibility of Stereotype Threat> 

“Stereotype threat” is no doubt one of the most vigorously explored topics in social psychology, and I take no position here on its scientific merits. In my essay here on the widely noticed Reproducibility Project, however, “Almost Two-Thirds of Psychological Studies Are Wrong,”

I did discuss two of Steele’s “stereotype threat” studies that could not be reproduced.

Whatever its general merits, however, I have never understood why that theory has been so widely relied on to justify abandoning or minimizing the influence of standardized tests. “Stereotype threat” means that even highly qualified blacks don’t do well on tests where blacks as a group underperform, and hence where there is a stereotype of black underperformance that will be applied to them. Thus it has always seemed to me that insofar as “stereotype threat” is a real problem, race-blind grading and admissions would be the most reasonable solution.

Claude Steele, however, opposes race-blind admissions, and recommends discounting standardized test results for blacks. His antidote to “stereotype threat,” he explained in a long article summarizing his theory, is to “tell students that you you are using high standards” — this signals that that they are in fact being evaluated by “standards rather than race” — “and that … they can meet those standards (this signals that you do not view them stereotypically).”

Telling universities to eliminate or minimize standardized test scores for blacks, thus giving them admissions preferences, however, sends exactly the opposite message, as I argued in “Claude Steele, ‘Stereotype Threat,’ And Racial Preference” back in 2003 criticizing his Grutter testimony. It says in no uncertain terms to minority students that they are not capable of meeting standards applied to others and they must be judged at least in part on the basis of their race to gain admission.

Threat Follows Its Targets

Nor are taking standardized tests the only venue where “stereotype threat” impairs minority behavior, Steele observed in his Grutter testimony. “Stereotype threat follows its targets onto campus, affecting behaviors of theirs that are as varied as participating in class, seeking help from faculty, contact with students in other groups, and so on.”

Does it affect only students? If not, could it have affected how the Berkeley provost dealt with the tests of his office? It would be ironic indeed if “stereotype threat,” Frankenstein-like, turned on its creator and undermined his recent job performance, and it would be equally interesting to see the explanation if it did not.

Charles Murray Insulted but Allowed to Speak

The thought police are at it again. The latest confrontation is at Virginia Tech University at Blacksburg where the usual suspects — a coalition of black activists and white leftists — have called upon the university president to withdraw an invitation to Charles Murray, where he is scheduled to speak on March 25 at Tech’s business school. Murray will give an address drawn from his latest book, Coming Apart, which explains the increasing economic and cultural polarization that has taken place in America because of structural changes in our information-based, post-industrial economy.

Like much of Murray’s interest over the past three decades, Coming Apart focuses on the alarming growth of a downwardly mobile, and ever-more disoriented white underclass at the same time that a highly educated white over-class has pulled away and isolated itself in upscale, affluent communities.

These latter groups, Murray argues, have a vastly disproportionate influence on how public policy is conducted in America, yet they lack an understanding of the needs and traditions of less affluent and less well educated people. The protesters, however, seemed unconcerned with what Murray intends to say at Virginia Tech. Their sole objection is to the very appearance of Charles Murray, the co-author of the rarely-read but much vilified book, The Bell Curve, which was published more than 20 years ago.

<How Our Campuses Came to Reject Free Speech>

Together with his co-author, the late Richard Herrnstein — a distinguished Harvard psychologist — Murray documented in The Bell Curve the increasing returns in the job market to those with high abstract reasoning ability as indicated by high IQ test scores. The book’s primary concern was with IQ differences among socio-economic groups — a topic Herrnstein had written about many years earlier. But two chapters dealt with the data on IQ and race. It was this material that produced an explosion in commentary by reviewers, much of it hostile, uninformed, and irrational.

The Bell Curve pointed out that decades of testing had shown a persistent IQ gradient around the world with Ashkenazic Jews at the top, followed by northern Asians, whites, Latinos, African Americans, and at the very bottom black Africans, the latter a full standard deviation (15 IQ points) behind their descendants in America. After surveying much of the relevant technical literature on the topic, Murray and Herrnstein concluded with what, under more rational circumstances, would surely have been considered a very moderate, reserved, even anodyne statement about the likely causes of these differences:

If the reader is now convinced that either the genetic or the environmental explanation [for racial differences in IQ scores] has won out to the exclusion of the other, we have not done a sufficiently good job of presenting one side or the other.  It seems highly likely to us that both genes and the environment have something to do with racial differences [in IQ scores]. What might the mix be? We are resolutely agnostic on that issue; as far as we can determine, the evidence does not yet justify an estimate. (p. 311)

Moderate and circumspect though such a statement may seem, it brought the roof down on the two Bell Curve authors, with Murray having to face the avalanche of criticism alone since his co-author died unexpectedly just as the book was going to press. The style, substance and quality of much of the criticism are well captured by the title of one of the reviews in The New Republic: “Neo-Nazi!”

The Bell Curve had clearly breached a powerful taboo, one that calls for explaining racial, ethnic, and socio-economic differences in IQ scores solely in terms of non-genetic, non-heriditarian factors.  To a large segment of the American intellectual and media elite a genes-plus-environment explanation was simply unacceptable and identified with the demented minds of Nazis and Klansmen. Even if Murray himself were not a Nazi or Klansman, he was, many commentators seemed to believe, at the very least a fellow traveler and his book gave aid and comfort to the most despised enemies of the human race.

An Open Letter from a Suddenly Disinvited Speaker

For many elements of the campus Left, this is still where Murray stands, and his appearance on a university campus, even to discuss matters unrelated to race, must never be tolerated. This is true despite Murray’s impeccable scholarship, his great personal integrity, his concern in recent years for developments among whites rather than non-whites (Coming Apart is subtitled “The State of White America 1960-2010”), and the ever-increasing acceptance by knowledgeable researchers of The Bell Curve’s basic genes-plus-environment explanation for a host of human differences.

Even in its own time The Bell Curve was hardly an outlier in terms of what it said about racial differences in IQ scores and their likely origin. A poll of professional psychologists, sociologists, and behavioral geneticists conducted years before publication of the Murray/Herrnstein book found the proportion of those favoring a genes-plus-environment explanation for the persistent black/white IQ-gap exceeding those favoring an environment-only explanation by a factor of 3-1.

Only 17 percent of the respondents were in the environment-only camp, versus 53 percent who believed that both genes and environment were responsible for the observed IQ differences. Of the remainder, only 1 percent adopted a genes-only explanation while the rest said the data were insufficient to make a sound judgment. See Mark Snyderman and Stanley Rothman, The IQ Controversy, the Media, and Public Policy. In recent years, with the exponential growth of interest in behavioral genetics, this 3-1 ratio may well have increased.

<How Universities Promote the Coming Apart of America>

Among the campus Left, Murray continues to be vilified as a “fascist,” “Nazi,” “Social Darwinist” and the like, though he is simply a rigorously honest scholar — the New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan once described him as “honest to a fault” — with an exceptionally humane, classical liberal approach to most social problems. At Virginia Tech, a group calling itself the Coalition for Justice fell into this standard pattern of Murray vilification. In a public statement, the group objected to having Murray speak on campus saying that his was a voice of prejudice and hate that should not be given a Virginia Tech forum.

“At the time when rising racism, misogyny and anti-intellectualism have moved to the forefront of our national consciousness,” the group said in its statement, “there is no better place than a college campus from which to focus our efforts against the voices of prejudice and hate. … Mr. Murray’s social Darwinist take on intelligence, ability and morality — and his assertion of the inherent racial and gender inferiority of non-whites and women — do nothing but promote a white supremacist agenda, cast in the guise of ‘scientific discourse’.” The group wanted the business dean to rescind Murray’s invitation.

(How the “misogyny” theme got in there is anybody’s guess, since Murray has never written anything that can be construed — or even misconstrued — as critical of women whether in The Bell Curve or, to this writer’s knowledge, anywhere else.  In Coming Apart it is the lazy, irresponsible, uninvolved white fathers in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown who clearly stoke his ire).

The anti-Murray onslaught was joined by both the local Virginia Tech chapter of the NAACP and several faculty members of the Africana Studies Program. The latter group issued a statement that while not calling for revocation of Murray’s invitation said that Murray was “engaged in a mission to use discredited pseudoscience to perpetuate the subordination of people of African descent, Latino/as, Native American Indians, the poor, women and the disabled.”  His ideas were seen as perpetuating a kind of narrative that would “visit violence upon marginalized populations — recalling the history of forced sterilization, unjust institutionalization and incarceration, and denial of basic human rights.”

The president of Virginia Tech, Tim Sands, also got into the act of issuing public statements with “An Open Letter to the Virginia Tech Community” that can best be described as combining elements of “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” On the good side, Sands refused to rescind the invitation to Murray while reaffirming the values of academic freedom and open debate at Virginia Tech.

On the bad and ugly side, the Open Letter erroneously claimed that Murray’s views on race and IQ had long been discredited, and that Murray’s scholarship promoted ideas that were not merely false but dangerous, since they gave aid and comfort to fascists and other evildoers. Murray, said the Open Letter, “is well known for his controversial and largely discredited work linking measures of intelligence to heredity, and specifically to race and ethnicity — a flawed socioeconomic theory that has been used by some to justify fascism, racism and eugenics.”

Murray could not take all this sitting down, and in the form of his own “Open Letter to the Virginia Tech Community,” he responded to president Sands’ remarks. While giving a “Bravo” to Sands’ defense of intellectual freedom, Murray accused Sands of being “unfamiliar either with the actual content of The Bell Curve …. Or, with the state of knowledge in psychometrics.” Anyone who has carefully read The Bell Curve and kept up with developments in psychometrics and related fields of intelligence research would hardly dispute Murray’s assessment.  Murray proceeded to cite some of the findings of the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on intelligence, a group of leading specialists in psychometric testing, which published its findings in the February 1996 issue of the American Psychologist.

On the issue of black/white differences in IQ scores, the hereditability of intelligence, and the predictive validity of IQ for the differing black and white populations, the Task Force came to conclusions virtually identical to those of The Bell Curve authors (the Task Force’s report can be obtained online by googling “Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns – CiteSeerX”).

<Princeton Takes a Stand on Free Speech>

Continuing his indictment of Sands’ statement, Murray wrote that it was particularly exasperating to have the president of a distinguished university accuse the authors of The Bell Curve of presenting material that has been scientifically discredited.  On the contrary, Murray says, “our presentations of the meaning and role of IQ [in The Bell Curve] have been … steadily reinforced by subsequent research in the social sciences, not to mention developments in neuroscience and genetics.”   Murray was most upset, however, by Sands’ accusation that he was promulgating a theory used in the past to justify fascism and racism.  At this point President Sands, Murray wrote, “went beyond the kind of statement that merely reflects his unfamiliarity with The Bell Curve and/or psychometrics. He engaged in intellectual McCarthyism.”

Such is the state of much of academia where a combination of left-wing political correctness, the cowardice of university presidents, and the fear of being called a racist determines the order of the day.  In saner times, a scholar of Murray’s stature would be honored wherever went and he would probably hold an endowed chair at an institution like Harvard or Stanford. Today, he never knows if he will be allowed to show up even at an institution that has invited him to speak.

The Power of Buzzwords, like ‘Dispositions” and ‘Social Justice’

Mitchell Langbert, a professor at Brooklyn College, wrote last week about the grandly titled and resolutely leftist faculty union that he and all teachers at CUNY are stuck with, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). Langbert mentioned, briefly, that PSC had made no effort to defend our excellent writer, KC Johnson when KC was under attack at Brooklyn College and nearly lost tenure.

Langbert wrote, “When favored faculty—those with left-wing views, or those whom a departmental chair favors—are denied appointments or tenure, the PSC has been quick to protest. However, when KC Johnson, a politically moderate history professor who had published two acclaimed books but wasn’t sufficiently zealous about many leftist causes was denied a promotion, the union sided with the departmental chair who had denied it. (Eventually, Johnson’s position was secured, but only because of the intervention of trustees and the chancellor.)”

Johnson clashed with the left at Brooklyn College over many issues, but one of the best known was “Dispositions,” one of the apparently harmless but actually dangerous buzzwords in use at the time. The word seemed to say simply that prospective teachers at teacher education classes must have the correct “disposition” needed to help the young learn. But what it really meant was that teaching candidates should be weeded out if they lacked commitment to the hard left. Indicators of a poor disposition were lack of commitment to “social Justice,” another buzzword whose meaning was never quite clear, although it seemed to include commitment to gay marriage, aggressive environmentalism and redistribution of wealth.

During the flap over Johnson, it apparently included mandatory resistance to teaching standard English to young black kids who spoke versions of black English. Soon it may mean telling public school girls that after gym class they must shower with boys who think they’re girls, because otherwise it may hurt the self-esteem of those boys, and besides the current tsunami of gender nonsense is basically a left-wing cause. Beware of apparently harmless buzzwords.

Pollyannas on the Right: Conservatives OK on Campus

“Forget what the right says,” the title of a recent Washington Post OpEd proclaims, “Academia isn’t so bad for conservative professors.”

The sub-title, “Right-leaning professors do face challenges on campus, but we can still thrive,” both reveals that the authors — Jon A. Shields, associate professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, and Joshua M. Dunn Sr, associate professor of political science at the University of Colorado-Colorado-Springs— regard themselves as conservative and summarizes the argument of their new book, Passing On The Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University. “As two conservative professors,” they write, “we agree that right-wing faculty members and ideas are not always treated fairly on college campuses. But we also know that right-wing hand-wringing about higher education is overblown.”

The authors’ sanguine conclusions about the nature of conservative life in progressive-land rest on the wobbly foundation of their survey of and interviews with 153 conservative academics in the social sciences and humanities. For reasons I will discuss, that survey is far too rickety to support robust generalizations about conservative academics, but that does not mean its results are without value or interest — just as the fact that the plural of anecdote is not data does not mean that anecdotes cannot be revealing, instructive, and amusing.

Having decided to limit their focus to social science and the humanities, the authors further restricted their search for conservatives to six disciplines — economics, political science, sociology, history, philosophy, and literature. The effect if not the purpose of this restriction was to exclude a number of fields — they mention psychology, anthropology, education, and all the race/ethnicity/gender “studies” programs — where progressives are dominant and conservatives especially scarce or even virtually absent.

Next was the problem of deciding “who should count as a conservative.” Their solution side-stepped the difficult problem of definition, of deciding what principles or policy preferences are essential. “We simply decided,” they write, “to classify professors as conservative if they identified as such.”

That left the problem, however, of how to find the professors who so identified, and their solution was rather haphazard. They began by “culling names from right-wing journals and academic membership lists with distinct ideational profiles,” followed by asking professors culled from these sources “to help us grow our snowball sample by identifying other scholars that are likely to self-identify as “political conservatives or libertarians.”

The culled were in turn asked to identify others, who were asked to identify others, and so on, which generated “249 confirmed conservatives,” which in turn resulted finally in the authors conducting interviews with 153 self-identified conservative professors from 84 colleges and universities. The institutions are named in a table; the interviewees were not named, in part to protect those who were afraid of being outed. “Approximately a third of the conservatives we interviewed, for example, concealed their politics prior to tenure by ‘passing’ as liberals.” The comparison of conservatives on campus to gays in the closet was pervasive throughout the book, usually implicit but often explicit.

The resulting “snowball sample” of conservative academia was commendably interesting, easily justifying the effort of creating it and trying to cull observations of and about such an elusive minority group, but it does not have a snowball’s chance in hell of providing reliable generalizations about the lives of conservatives on campus. It comprised a collection of individuals that was both too small and too idiosyncratic in the situations and experiences of its members to support reliable generalizations.

I believe, in short, their net could have been cast wider (or the snowball allowed to gather more snow). Apparently no one on a popular listserv of conservative historians had been consulted, nor were a few prominent conservative historian friends of mine approached. In addition, books and memoirs, such as Paul Gottfried’s Encounters: My Life with Nixon, Marcuse, and Other Friends and Teachers would have added a dimension that is missing here.

Regarding the 153 conservative specimens who were collected by Shields and Dunn, here is their distribution by discipline:

Political Science      25%

Economics                  22%

History                        19%

Literature                   15%

Philosophy                 10%

Sociology                       9%

On the face of it there’s nothing unreasonable about this distribution — though there’s also no reason to think it represents anything other than itself — but in one important respect it demands the Sesame Street query, “which of these things is not like the other?”

The answer, of course, is economics. “Economics,” the authors recognize, “is odd. Surveys of faculty consistently show that economists are far more likely to be on the right than professors of any other discipline…. [T]he discipline of economics is not plagued by partisan polarization.” Thus, unlike other interviewees, “the economists we interviewed do not feel discriminated against, nor do they ever feel the need to hide their political views.”

The authors found, for example, that 46% of of political scientists, 42% of sociologists, and 42% of historians but only 4% of economists among the conservatives they studied indicated they had concealed evidence of their politics before tenure. 36% of their economists, in fact, were actually in conservative-majority departments, compared to 0% of sociologists, 4% of literature professors, and 12% of historians.

The large proportion of economists in the sample — and even of political scientists, since that field also contains many with orientations such as behaviorism and rational choice that are “indifferent and sometimes even friendly to conservative points of view” — makes the authors’ frequent generalizations about conservative academics as a whole problematic.

What should one make of their finding, for example, that 36% of their respondents omitted information from their CV’s that might identify them as conservatives or libertarians? Does that number— masking what must have been much much lower responses from economists and higher responses from philosophers, sociologists, and literature professors — reveal anything useful about what it means to be a conservative in the humanities and social sciences in general?

There were other survey results that suggest the situations and experiences of the conservatives located by the authors’ rolling snowball method do not reflect those of most conservative academics. For example, I think it unlikely that 21% of conservative philosophers, 17% of conservative political scientists, and 12% of conservative historians actually work in departments that have a majority of conservatives.

The text of Passing on the Right is heavily salted with tables containing numbers similar to those I’ve quoted, giving the book an air of field-based social science research, but in fact its argument and conclusions rest all but exclusively on quotes from the authors’ interviews. That argument in a nutshell: academia itself, and the position of conservative professors in it, is much better than portrayed by “David Horowitz’s campaign and other right-wing efforts to scandalize the radicalism of higher education.”

The authors’ attempt to distance themselves from “right-wing critics” is a recurring theme, often in the form of snarky put-downs of critiques like Horowitz’s, Roger Kimball’s Tenured Radicals, or “the designs of conservative organization’s like the Koch Foundation.” Some conservatives, they regretfully acknowledge, “accept monies from the coffers of right-wing foundations,” as though that were somehow subversive of the mission of the university.

“While many on the right and left conclude that academia is not an appropriate career choice for conservatives,” Shields and Dunn write in their Introduction, “they do so without knowing very much about the right-wing thinkers who are already quietly making a living as professors.” Their book, they believe, “corrects that shortcoming by illuminating the hidden world of right-wing professors.”

The most illuminating word in that claim is an adverb: quietly. Although Shields and Dunn produce numerous quotes from conservative academics who “generally told us that the academy is far more tolerant than right-wing critics of the progressive university seem to imagine,” the weight of the evidence they produce seems to undermine their own rather rosy conclusions.

Consider, for example, the poignant beginning of Chapter 4, “Closeted Conservatives”:

We met our first closeted professor in a leafy park, about one mile from his prestigious research university. Though we found a secluded spot, our subject was edgy and spoke softly. When the sound of footsteps intruded on our sanctuary, he stopped talking altogether, his eyes darting about….

Given the drama of this encounter, one might think that he is concealing something scandalous. In truth, this professor is hiding the fact that he is a Republican. It is a secret he guards with great care.”

I have already alluded to the similarity of the situation of closeted conservatives to closeted gays. Another comparison, not mentioned by the authors, also comes to mind. Their title, Passing On The Right, obviously refers to blacks crossing over the color line and passing as whites, but another fraught racial situation may be an even more apt comparison: blacks under slavery who were allowed to work in the plantation house and later, during segregation, as servants, as long as they were on good behavior and “knew their place.”

Finally, in my view, Shields and Dunn sound far too much like Polyannas on the Right, but the best thing about their book — and it is a good thing indeed — is that they present more than enough evidence to allow readers to reach their own, and far different, conclusions.

Should Conservatives Lead Secret Lives?

Passing on the right is dangerous and generally illegal driving.  But a fair number of people do it anyway.  The title Jon Shields and Joshua Dunn’s new book, Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University, combines the image of the careless driver with the other transgressive meaning of “passing.”  Conservative professors can now pass by concealing their political identities the way Coleman Silk, the classic professor who is the central character in Philip Roth’s novel, The Human Stain, “passes” as Jewish to conceal his African-American origins.

Racial passing has a storied history in the United States.  It evokes a two-edged response:  some admiration for the trickster who successfully evades racial obstacles to social advancement, combined with disdain for the individual who turns his back on his own kind for the sake of getting ahead. It is a complicated deceit for the person who does it, since it often means concealing from oneself important parts of one’s own identity, and perhaps betraying friends and family.

Related: Social Psychology, a Field with Only 8 Conservatives

Thus, when Shields and Dunn playfully put the word front and center in the title of their book, it signals trouble ahead.  And indeed the trouble comes.  As many reviewers have already noted, their core theme is that conservatives can get along just fine in academe provided they wait until after they get tenure before they reveal their conservative views.  This is troubling in several ways, not least in its seeming validation of the unfair obstacles that conservatives must endure along the way.  It is troubling in more subtle ways too, including its implicit endorsement of the pathological tactic of passing.  Train up a generation of conservatives to believe that prudence requires them to hide their views for more than a decade of graduate study, post-grad appointment, and tenure-track positions, and you train up a generation imbued with the intellectual habits of timidity and excessive deference.  Elsewhere in the academic archipelago this has a name, “internalized oppression.”

Why do we need a book counseling conservatives to love their mistreatment?  What good is it to tell conservative scholars to bear with it, because at the end of the day, you will be rewarded with freedom? It is a freedom that is in fact wasted on many of those who eventually get it.  By that point in their lives, many faculty members have achieved hard-won acceptance in their departments and professions which they are not about to put at risk.  They are enmeshed in relationships with senior colleagues on their political left and they know that, at most, they can from time to time dip a toe in the waters of dissent from progressive orthodoxy.

As the head of The National Association of Scholars, I talk frequently with conservative scholars who express views like this: untenured scholars scared stiff they will be identified as having non-progressive views, and tenured scholars scared of being labeled their campus’s “conservative professor”—a category always assumed to be singular.

Related: Why So Few Conservatives in Higher Ed?

In that light, I don’t welcome Shields and Dunn’s book. It strikes me as profoundly cynical and likely to damage the effort to summon from young scholars the courage they will need to change American higher education for the better.

But it would be unfair to paint the book as only that.  They have done good research and have many pertinent observations.  Their evidence for their conclusions comes from interviews with 153 professors in economics, political science, sociology, history, philosophy, and literature, all of whom self-identified as “conservative” or “libertarian.” They found their subjects by networking outwards from faculty members who had published in journals such as The Claremont Review of Books.  That gave them a list of 249 “confirmed conservative professors.”  Over the course of ten research trips, they were able to conduct in-person interviews with 153 of these at a total of 84 colleges and universities.

Those numbers may strike some as small, but in fact that’s an impressive accomplishment. Shields and Dunn recorded and transcribed these interviews and kept track of the relevant categories.  Political science provided the largest number of interviewees:  25 percent of the total.  Sociology the fewest:  nine percent of the total.  The academic ranks of the respondents, however, tell the largest story.  Full professors accounted for 53 percent of the respondents, and associate professors accounted for 27 percent.  So 80 percent were in tenured positions.  Another 4 percent were “emeritus,” i.e. retired from a tenured position.  Only 8 percent were in the pre-tenure category of “assistant professor.”   The remainder were visitors and adjuncts, off the tenure track.

Translation: 127 of those 153 were protected from the most serious career consequences that can follow from being identified with non-liberal positions on current issues.  Nonetheless, Shields and Dunn have concealed the identities of all but one of them.

Shields and Dunn frequently acknowledge pertinent realities.  They write, for example, that “Conservatives are least welcome in field where they are most needed.” But each such zig is followed by a zag.  The very next sentence following that acknowledgement is the declaration that “the right-wing critique of the university is overdrawn.”  It’s overdrawn because a privileged and adroitly disguised few have created “niches” for themselves within the university.

This is rather like saying a few stray wildflowers have survived in the 2,000-acre industrial-scale mono-cropped farm.  We wish those wildflowers well, but what we would really like is some greater diversity in the planting.

There should be no need to pass on the right. In either the sense of traffic management or the sense of concealed identity.  Shields and Dunn know that and more than once call on liberals and progressives to welcome conservatives into the faculty.  They know too that this counsel is unlikely to be heeded, and their last words of counsel go instead to “conservative outside the university” not to complain too loudly about “intolerance” on campus because doing so discourages young conservatives from pursuing academic careers.

My own response differs.  I would rather that anyone who is daunted by the obstacles conservatives face choose a career outside the academy.  What we need are people willing to dismantle those obstacles by challenging them head-on.

BDS: Jew-Hating Propagandists on the March

The anti-Semitic Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel keeps reaching for—and finding—new depths of indecency.  Among the deepest descenders into this abyss is Jasbir Puar, an associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers.  Professor Puar recently garnered national attention for her address at Vassar, February 3, “Inhumanist Biopolitics: How Palestine Matters.”  The talk has not been published, but some in the audience reported that Puar exhorted armed resistance to Israel; alleged that Israel “mined for organs” from dead Palestinians; and claimed that Israel systematically starves Palestinians as part of a medical experiment.

Readers can get a good idea of what Puar had to say from her November 2015 essay, published in Borderlands, “The ‘Right’ to Maim: Disablement and Inhumanist Biopolitics in Palestine.” The “right to maim,” to be clear, does not refer to the epidemic of stabbings of Israelis by Palestinians.  It refers to an “implicit claim” by Israel “to the right to maim and debilitate Palestinian bodies and environments as a form of biopolitical control.”

Related: Worry about Islamophobia but not about Anti-Semitism

The talk provoked heated responses, both to its substance and to the eight Vassar academic departments (including Jewish Studies) that sponsored it. But it also introduced a new angle in the current controversies over free expression on campus. The Vassar professor who introduced Puar asked the audience to “refrain from recording this evening’s proceedings, in the spirit of congeniality and mutual respect, though it is not against the law.” This request was also made as part of “the modest contract of trust essential to the exchange of ideas.”

As Cornell law professor William A. Jacobson observed, “Requesting non-recording of an open, public event on the pretext that non-recording is ‘essential to the exchange of ideas’ is odd.”

Puar’s talk leapt to national attention when Mark Yudof, former president of the University of California, and Ken Waltzer, an emeritus professor of history from Michigan State, published an op-ed, “Majoring in Anti-Semitism at Vassar,” in the Wall Street Journal. Puar objected that Yudof and Waltzer quoted her out of context. If they erred, it would be easy enough for Puar to set the record straight by releasing the transcript. Instead, she has protested her right to give public lectures that are off the record.

And in this she has gained support from 966 (so far) signatories around the country of a public letter asking Vassar’s president to defend Puar. The letter says that the criticism of Puar chills her speech and curbs her academic freedom. Puar has become the target of “heinous and misinformed attacks” because of her speech, as well as her “vilification” in “the ugly op-ed” in the Wall Street Journal.

Related: An Anti-Semitism Controversy at Stanford

These attacks, the signatories say, are all the more disgraceful in light of Puar’s scholarly achievement, including “her acclaimed book Terrorist Assemblages,” (subtitled Homonationalism in Queer Times) and other writings, “of the highest professional and scholarly rigor.” The scholars who have signed the letter include Judith Butler, Marilyn Hacker, Rashid Khalidi, Steven Salaita, Angela Davis, Rick Ayers (Bill’s brother) and some other familiar names. The list of signatories includes 137 who have appointments in English departments; 92 in either Women’s Studies or Feminist Studies; 55 in American Studies; 52 in Anthropology; nine in international studies; and seven in Environmental Studies.  Twenty have faculty appointments at Rutgers, including twelve members of the Women’s and Gender Studies Department.

Thirty-five have some Vassar connection, though only eight teach there.

Three weeks after her talk at Vassar, Puar was scheduled to speak at Fordham on “the biopolitics of debility in Gaza.” The New York Daily News, alerted to curious aspects of Puar’s public presentations, nudged Fordham into noticing that Puar had imposed a “no recording” stipulation on her talk. But Fordham’s president, observing that a public lecture is a public lecture, said Fordham would not stop people from recording Puar’s words. Moreover, to avoid claims and counter-claims about her speech, Fordham itself would record and disseminate it.  That was too much for Puar, who cancelled her talk.

Puar also threatened to sue anyone who records her talks or makes public any existing recordings of her talk from Vassar.

Related: A Conversation with Jonathan Haidt

At nearly the same moment that the Fordham events were unfolding, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an essay, “The Free-Speech Fallacy,” by Puar supporter Jason Stanley, professor of philosophy at Yale.  Stanley praises Puar as “an agenda-setting scholar” whose work has had “a level of impact few academics achieve in a lifetime.” But then he pivots to his real subject: his attack on the critics who say “left-wing social justice” is a threat to free speech. He dismisses Yudof’s and Waltzer’s defense of free speech as hypocritical, since their op-ed inflamed people against Puar.  He jabs at Jonathan Haidt for framing the view that “academe suffers from a leftist ideological uniformity.” He sneers at the Heterodox Academy group, which, at Haidt’s lead, criticizes the left’s aversion to free speech.

Stanley trivializes their complaint: “I told my mother the other day that she shouldn’t tell me that I am overweight. Was I challenging her freedom of speech?” In Stanley’s view, people who complain about leftist repression of free speech are like students in a mathematics class complaining when their errors are corrected.

Returning to Puar, Stanley argues that those of us who criticize her smears against Israel are attempting to “silence oppressed and marginalized groups.” This is a head-spinning argument to the effect that support for free speech is really anti-free speech. It is anti-free speech because it impedes the voices of those who purport to speak for the oppressed. But silencing the defenders of Israel is acceptable because they speak for the privileged and powerful.

The core of the problem is that anti-Israel propagandists such as Puar and other “social justice advocates” want a double standard. They demand the right to speak, but they want none of the responsibility of having their views held up to ordinary standards of evidence and argument, or their words made accessible to audiences beyond their chosen venues.

To respect intellectual freedom, we must allow room for speakers such as Jasbir Puar and John Derbyshire, but we must also allow room for those who disagree to have their say, and those who dissent from such disagreement to have their say too.  Nearly all colleges and universities are failing this test—though hats off to Fordham for refusing Puar’s demand to bottle-up her talk.

It is our deep misfortune to live at a time when the illiberal left, luxuriating in its “social justice” agenda has also embraced anti-Semitism and developed a new sophistry aimed at providing a free pass for the propagandists who claim to speak for the oppressed. Intellectual freedom never means immunity to criticism. It means making your best case and, if you can, answering your critics. Puar’s problem, it seems, is that she can’t.

Shrinking the White Male—and His Culture

Last September, the English Department at Colby College in Maine posted a job opening for Associate or Full Professor of American Literature. It’s a plum position, one that hundreds of professors would love to have.

As with all academic job listings, the ad files a diversity statement at the bottom, assuring applicants that some identities are more desirable than others. Bluntly put, Colby prefers anyone over white males.  Part of the statement reads:

Colby is an Equal Opportunity employer, committed to excellence through diversity, and encourages applications from qualified persons of color, women, persons with disabilities, military veterans and members of other under-represented groups. Colby complies with Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in an institution’s education programs and activities.

Nothing unusual there.  Every posting says pretty much the same thing.  But in this case there’s something wrong with the statement—factually so.  It doesn’t jibe with the actual demographics of the English faculty at Colby.

The department Website shows the full roster of faculty and staff, and I count 15 regular professors, tenured and tenure-track (not visitors or fellows). The advertisement lists “women” #2 in the list of identities that will improve diversity, but the faculty is already more than half female, with eight women. Women are not an under-represented group.

The first category is “persons of color.” Here things are more complicated, but still inaccurate.  Two of the English professors count, an African American man and an Indian man, making the department 13 percent “persons of color.”  That rate nearly equals the rate of the persons-of-color in the student body and far exceeds the minority population of the state of Maine, which is 97 percent white.

In other words, the demographics of the Colby department are just fine on those identity categories.  No more diversity is needed for the department to meet realistic goals of proportionate representation.

If you were to point those numbers out to most academics at Colby and elsewhere, however, they wouldn’t carry much weight. That’s because diversity-by-proportion only operates as long as we have disproportions. If things balance out, another kind of diversity takes hold, hegemonic diversity.

If numbers of hirees balance out, another kind of diversity takes hold. It covers the ideas, values, outlooks, approaches, and practices of a discipline. It’s not enough to hire African Americans to teach in the English department.  We have to make the materials on the syllabus more African American, too. Feminism says that patriarchy isn’t just material dominance by men in the workplace.  Patriarchy also works by sedimenting “male” values into seemingly neutral practices and orientations. Efforts to create this kind of diversity can continue forever, since they apply to such fuzzy realities.” Call this hegemonic diversity.

So even when white males are scaled back to disproportionately small rates (they make up 33 percent of the English department, but they make up around 48 percent of the state population), we may still have a white-male-oriented curriculum and outlook. Because of the long history of white-male domination, we need more women and more persons of color, not just equal representation.

This will never stop. Today, girls make up nearly 60 percent of the undergraduate population, but one hears virtually nothing about the shrinking male side from diversity advocates.

Worry about Islamophobia, but Not Anti-Semitism

Southern Connecticut State University, where I teach, has gone to great lengths to accommodate Muslims — and reject the slightest manifestations of Islamophobia — while acting complacently toward egregious anti-Semitism and hate crimes. Concurrently, widely publicized events at Vassar and Oberlin Colleges reveal that displays of anti-Semitism typically cause uproar within the Jewish community but near silence by others, who even go so far as to defend hateful expression as freedom of speech.

In recent months, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel bullying, misrepresentation and double standards have been common fare. In one case, an academic named Jasbir Puar who claims to be a feminist, and who is associate professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University, gave voice to the latter. In her controversial Feb. 3, 2016 lecture at Vassar, Puar asserted that Israel conducts scientific experiments in “stunting growth” of Palestinian bodies. Apart from engaging in classic forms of anti-Semitic blood libel, she is a queer theorist of so-called “homonationalism,” or the concept that LGBT people in progressive liberal Western countries where they have won civil liberties have become “co-opted” and “discriminate against” other minorities — specifically Muslim immigrants, whom they falsely accuse of harboring homophobia. Puar, operating in what Hillary Clinton calls the “evidence free zone,” turns against feminist concerns, demonizes Western LGBT people and Israel, and accepts Islamic fundamentalism as the manifestation of legitimate Muslim grievances against the West.

A Troubling Report on Anti-Semitism

Worse still, at Oberlin, Assistant Professor Joy Karega, who teaches rhetoric and composition, has given voice on Facebook to bizarre and virulent anti-Semitic rants, blaming Jews and Israelis for masterminding 9/11, the Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks and the downing of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine in 2014. In response to communications she has received from others castigating her or attempting to educate her about antisemitism, she has announced that she plans to write a book-length work defending anti-Semitic conspiracy theories as legitimate responses against those with “hegemonic power,” and, basically, to critique how Jews conspire to silence anti-Semitic expression.

In the meantime, the observant Jewish president of Oberlin, Marvin Krislov, initially responded only tepidly, by defending her right to “academic freedom of speech” but without offering any acknowledgment of the vicious anti-Semitism of her posts. Only after intense pressure from Jewish groups has the Oberlin Board of Trustees recently released a statement of condemnation with the suggestion of taking disciplinary action. Meanwhile Karega would surely have been immediately and severely reprimanded publicly had she engaged in anti-Islam (or sexist, racist, or homophobic) conspiracy theories.

At my own institution, in December 2015, the Faculty Senate — which putatively deals with matters involving academic policy and administration — held a regular meeting that showed how the practice of ignoring anti-Semitism while focusing on Islamophobia operates. During that meeting, one Senator mentioned that some students had made a derogatory comment to another student about her hijab. A Muslim faculty member who was present also said that Muslim students had come to her with concerns over how they were perceived on campus. These events quickly led to an impassioned discussion about anti-Islam bias.

This public conversation took place on a campus where there are a sizeable number of Islamic students who usually interact seamlessly with non-Islamic students and where views of Donald Trump range from disapproval to disgust. However the Senate passed a motion and decided to hold, on February 3, 2016, a two-hour campus-wide meeting to “raise awareness of Islam.” The Senate justified the choice of this time to ensure that as many professors as possible would be able to attend and bring their students. The Senate scheduled the forum to take place at one of the largest venues on campus, and Faculty Senate President William Faraclas announced plans for an aggressive campaign of public outreach.

Steering Orthodox Jews Away from Massad at Columbia

Insofar as bias against and ignorance of Islam remains prevalent, the Faculty Senate action was commendable, appropriate and timely. But the lavish attention given to this one form of prejudice seemed somewhat misplaced. And this is particularly true in light of other remarks offered at that same Senate meeting, at which another faculty member noted in passing during the conversation about Islamophobia that swastikas had been painted in a public women’s bathroom in the main academic building on campus. The Senate was not interested in this comment. Unlike in the case of the remark about Islam, the swastikas were not perceived as problematic, or representative of a more widespread issue that the campus needed to address.

Further, painting swastikas in bathrooms is a hate crime — something far more serious than inappropriate comments about hijabs or concerns about perception. But in the contest between merely negative remarks and painted swastikas, the negative remarks won by a landslide. The Senate went even further: it even canceled its next regular meeting so that the entire Senate would be obliged to attend this forum on Islam.

To my personal knowledge, apart from the swastikas, there have been at least three anti-Semitic hate crimes committed against Southern faculty alone since 2008 — at least one of them involving death threats against the faculty member and her family as well as defacement of Jewish and Israeli materials posted on office doors. Further, during that same time period, Jewish students have complained to me about false anti-Israel allegations made by professors and, led by them, students as well. Rather than the Faculty Senate taking these seriously — anti-Semitic hate crimes and hateful classroom commentaries by professors — it did nothing.

The fact is this: while the mildest critical remarks or behavior directed toward Islam (or any other protected group) produce serious public outcry, anti-Semitism on campus, particularly in the form of anti-Semitic animus directed at Israel, is widely perceived as permissible.

On my campus, after repeated complaints made by Jewish faculty members — but, of course, no one else — a forum focusing on Judaism and anti-Semitism is finally in the planning stages. It remains to be seen whether or not the Faculty Senate will cancel its regular meeting or dedicate similar time and resources to it.

Reprinted with permission from The Algemeiner

Corinne E. Blackmer teaches English and Judaic Studies at Southern Connecticut State University.

Jane Mayer Peddles Her “Sky is Falling!” Story

Jane Mayer is a writer for The New Yorker who knows her audience. It consists mostly of elitist progressives who like reading that their enlightened transformation of America is imperiled by greedy conservative villains. She has written many articles and most recently, a book entitled Dark Money on that theme.

The February 26, 2016 issue of Chronicle Review (the companion publication to The Chronicle of Higher Education, but much more overtly political) contains an essay drawn from that book, “How Right-Wing Billionaires Infiltrated Higher Education.”

To leftist readers, that’s certain to sound frightful. Higher education, after all, is supposed to be the domain of highly intelligent, far-sighted, compassionate scholars—the sort of people they admire. How awful to hear that it has been infiltrated by malevolent billionaires, who have (as the cover of the issue puts it) “tugged academe to the right.”

In the essay, Mayer recounts the tale of how this dastardly deed was done, beginning with the John M. Olin Foundation’s “offensive to reorient the political slant of higher education to the right.” That so-called offensive meant funding a few scholars at major universities who dissented from the prevailing leftist notions about the impact of government. Those scholars were all of a classical liberal bent, their thinking informed by the likes of John Locke, Adam Smith, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman.

That intellectual tradition has always been present in American universities, but following the New Deal, progressives who could see nothing but good in the expansion of the state came to dominate most faculties. For many students, contrary ideas could only be found if they ventured into the dusty shelves of the library. Was there a case against socialism, for instance? Students would probably never hear that there was unless somehow they chanced upon a reference to Ludwig von Mises’ great 1922 book.

What Olin and other foundations wanted was to revive an intellectual tradition that was out of favor with the elites who thrive on government control. They weren’t “tugging” higher education in any direction, but merely trying to add to a voice that was mostly going unheard. If a philanthropist put money into sponsoring a series of string quartet performances, we wouldn’t object that he was tugging the music world toward the classics.

But Mayer knows that she needs to keep her readers edgy, so she throws in lines like this, a quotation from a “progressive political strategist,” who says of Olin and other conspirators, “What they started is the most potent machinery ever assembled in a democracy to promote a set of beliefs to control the reins of government.”

That isn’t within light years of the truth. The objective of Olin (which spent itself out of existence ten years ago in keeping with the benefactor’s wishes), the Koch Foundation, and many smaller foundations is not to take control of the reins of government but instead to suggest to people that we’d be better off if the reins of government were loosened.

Mayer wants readers to think that some sort of coup is in the making, but all that’s happening is that a rather small number of students will get to hear one or two professors who think critically about the impact of government.

Critical thinking is supposed to be something colleges encourage. Mayer is opposed to letting “right-wing billionaires” encourage it with regard to the effects of government policy. She can’t resist name-calling and wails about “a tiny constellation of private foundations filled with tax-deductible gifts from a handful of wealthy reactionaries.”

That’s both nasty and false – the people behind this movement are only “reactionaries” if that word now means anyone who thinks government has grown too big.

If Mayer wanted an accurate title, she might have written “How a Handful of Classical Liberals Added Some Intellectual Diversity for Students to Consider.” But that wouldn’t scare her readers.