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November 30, 2002 [feather]
Harvard's secret history

I'm currently reading Donna Tartt's The Secret History, a gothic campus thriller in which a group of classics students are led by their studies first into Dionysian revelry and then into murder. There are plots and counterplots and paranoia and madness all enabled by the inherently crazed structure of college life itself--which is of course what gives Tartt's novel its special chilling charm, what makes it seem just possible that something as twisted as her plot could really happen. And so it has--witness the newly uncovered tale of the anti-gay witch hunt Harvard administrators secretly conducted during the 1920s. Replete with suicides, ruined careers, cryptic codes, and administrative cover-ups, it's truth as strange as very strange fiction.

Erin O'Connor, 10:58 PM | Permalink

La trahison des postmodernistes

Quote for the day: "An intellectual commits treason against humanity when he or she propagandizes for ideas which lend themselves to the use of tyrants and terrorists."

That's from Eric Raymond's latest post on intellectual treason. Beginning with a summary of Julien Benda's 1927 La Trahison des Clercs (the treason of the intellectuals), Raymond goes on to describe the defining features of intellectual treason today:

In Benda's time, the principal problem was what I shall call "treason of the first kind" or revolutionary absolutism: intellectuals signing on to a transformative revolutionary ideology in the belief that if the right people just got enough political power, they could fix everything that was wrong with the world. The "right people", of course, would be the intellectuals themselves ó or, at any rate, politicians who would consent to be guided by the intellectuals. If a few kulaks or Jews had to die for the revolution, well, the greater good and all that...the important thing was that violence wielded by Smart People with the Correct Ideas would eventually make things right.


But Benda also indicted what I shall call "treason of the second kind", or revolutionary relativism ó the position that there are no moral claims or universal values that can trump the particularisms of particular ethnicities, political movements, or religions. In particular, relativists maintain that that the ideas of reason and human rights that emerged from the Enlightenment have no stronger claim on us than tribal prejudices.

Today, the leading form of treason of the second kind is postmodernism ó the ideology that all value systems are equivalent, merely the instrumental creations of people who seek power and other unworthy ends. Thus, according to the postmodernists, when fanatical Islamists murder 3,000 people and the West makes war against the murderers and their accomplices, there is nothing to choose between these actions. There is only struggle between contending agendas. The very idea that there might be a universal ethical standard by which one is `better' than the other is pooh-poohed as retrogressive, as evidence that one is a paid-up member of the Party of Dead White Males (a hegemonic conspiracy more malign than any terrorist organization).

Treason of the first kind wants everyone to sign up for the violence of redemption (everyone, that is, other than the Jews and capitalists and individualists that have been declared un-persons in advance). Treason of the second kind is subtler; it denounces our will to fight terrorists and tyrants, telling us we are no better than they, and even that the atrocities they commit against us are no more than requital for our past sins.


Today's treason of the intellectuals consists of equating suicide bombings deliberately targeting Israeli women and children with Israeli military operations so restrained that Palestinian children throw rocks at Israeli soldiers without fearing their guns. Today's treason of the intellectuals tells us that because the U.S. occasionally propped up allied but corrupt governments during the Cold War, we have no right to object to airliners being flown into the World Trade Center. Today's treason of the intellectuals consists of telling us we should do nothing but stand by, wringing our hands, while at least one of the groups in the Islamo-fascist axis acquires nuclear weapons with which terrorists could repeat their mass murders in New York City and Bali on an immensely larger scale.

Behind both kinds of treason there lurks an ugly fact: second-rate intellectuals, feeling themselves powerless, tend to worship power. The Marxist intellectuals who shilled for Stalin and the postmodernists who shill for Osama bin Laden are one of a kind ó they identify with a tyrant's or terrorist's vision of transforming the world through violence because they know they are incapable of making any difference themselves. This is why you find academic apologists disproportionately in the humanities departments and the soft sciences; physicists and engineers and the like have more constructive ways of engaging the world.


It's not a game anymore. Ideas have consequences; postmodernism and multiculturalism are no longer just instruments in the West's intramural games of one-upmanship. They have become an apologetic for barbarians who, quite literally, want to kill or enslave us all. Those ideas ó and the people who promulgate them ó should be judged accordingly.

I did a series on politicized postmodernism in the academy last summer. The focus is on what that stance has done within the academy, particularly on how it has eroded the discipline of literary study. Part I is here, Part II is here, Part III is here, Part IV is here, and the conclusion is here.

Erin O'Connor, 4:54 PM | Permalink

Feminist sticks and stones

Here's a particularly mean-spirited piece on conservative women activists from the current Nation. Don't read it for substance--this piece wilfully misconstrues and misrepresents both the issues and the people who espouse them (of Christina Hoff Sommers, who presides over the essay in the guise of feminism's evil step-mother, the author reflects that it is hard to tell whether she is "the darling of the far right or whether she is doing penance for some great sin committed against her conservative brethren"). Do read it, though, regardless of your politics, to remind yourself of the look and feel (the phrase is that of Virginia Postrel, another of feminism's succubi) of bad intellectual faith.

Erin O'Connor, 2:12 PM | Permalink

Black underachievement

Berkeley anthropology professor John Ogbu has written a new book on black underachievement. Focussing on school kids in Cleveland's affluent and integrated suburban Shaker Heights, Ogbu argues that a major reason black students lag behind white ones is that the black community does not value or encourage academic achievement as much as whites do. The New York Times devotes a great deal of space to trying to qualify and even debunk Ogbu's thesis, covering the opposing position in elaborate detail while neglecting to acknowledge that Ogbu is hardly alone in his assessment--Shelby Steele and Thomas Sowell, among others, have long made similar arguments.

UPDATE: John Rosenberg has the full fisk.

Erin O'Connor, 1:22 PM | Permalink

Journalism's Orwellian cast

Matthew Parris explores the media's role in policing conscience.

Erin O'Connor, 1:04 PM | Permalink

November 29, 2002 [feather]
Great minds...

Diogenes puts words to a fantasy I have long had myself:

Here's my idea. I'd like to take some of the kids that "no one wants" and set up a year-round boarding school out in the countryside somewhere. I'm sure some wealthy benefactor would be happy to pony up the endowment. (NOTE TO BENEFACTOR: if you're reading this, drop me a line) I'd start with a classical curriculum (you wouldn't have to, I'm just partial) I'd hire humanities instructors from the vast pool of recent desperate English, History, and Classics PhD grads (after giving them a summer training course led by experienced inner-city educators).They'd have the ability to keep publishing, and pay comparable to a prof's salary. Then I could pick up math and science teachers from the tech-boom casualties. The structure of the school would be a cross between the conventional preppy boarding school model, and the top public magnet schools. Perhaps I'd rope in a martial element a la Josiah Bunting.

You'd get them at a young age, put them in a nurturing environment, and hold them to exceptionally high standards. It would WORK. ...anybody want a school named after them?

It's not just that this is a way to rescue otherwise doomed inner-city kids, but that it is also a much better use of a Ph.D. than your average academic career is. Everybody wins, if this dream can come true. That I'm not the only one dreaming it suggests that maybe, just maybe, it will.

If an opportunity to teach in such a school were presented to me, I would be hard-pressed to say no.

Erin O'Connor, 6:18 PM | Permalink

Inducting NoIndoctrination.org

NoIndoctrination.org, a new web site that catalogues student-written course reviews with the aim of exposing the problem of bias in higher education, has begun to attract the attention of mainstream media. During the past week, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Chronicle of Higher Education have both profiled the site, which was launched by Luann Wright after her son took a freshman writing course that was actually a course in racial sensitivity. The Chron piece in particular is a bit of a smear job, spending more time on professors' objections to the site than on the site's reason for existing and ending with the suggestion that the information gathered at NoIndoctrination.org is unreliable. NoIndoctrination.org has posted a rebuttal to that piece that deserves wide circulation.

Critical Mass first noticed this important new web site in early October and has since reported on the site's growing archive here and here.

UPDATE: Stanley Kurtz has written a long, eloquent, and balanced piece on NoIndoctrination.org.

Erin O'Connor, 5:56 PM | Permalink

Heather McDonald does diversity

The inimitable Heather MacDonald takes on the collegiate diversity industry. MacDonald has been reporting on the diversity movement since the early 1990s, and is well positioned to comment on how that movement manages to thrive on endlessly recycled claims. The central paradox of diversity, indeed, is that its success is predicated on its continual failure: rampant racism and sexism on campus are the administrative rationales for throwing money at diversity; continued--or even worsened--racism and sexism are the administrative rationales for throwing even more money at diversity over time. In other words, campus diversity initiatives entrench themselves deeper all the time by effectively announcing that they are not successfully addressing the "problem" they were created to resolve. Behind the lines, one can detect diversity's dirty little secret: that it is itself in the business of exacerbating the tensions it presumes to alleviate, and that it teaches the intolerance it claims to decry.

Erin O'Connor, 4:05 PM | Permalink

World without school

Colby Cosh has written an eloquent piece on the anomalousness of school. It's long, but well worth an attentive read: he both captures the utter peculiarity of an institution we too readily accept as natural, inevitable, and good; and sketches a vision of a school-less future in which education is personalized, de-centralized, and far more effective overall than it is today. Cosh doesn't explicitly include college in his vision, but his arguments are readily extended to higher ed, where the assembly-line standardization of study and the passivity-inducing structure of coursework all too frequently do more to prevent learning than to encourage it. I for one would love to be a part of a future where the schools--like the proverbial state--had withered away.

Link via Joanne Jacobs

Erin O'Connor, 3:44 PM | Permalink

November 27, 2002 [feather]
Wendy McElroy on the demise of compassion

Wendy McElroy writes about how one unintended but very real side effect of radical feminism is the cheapening of compassion. Feminist victimology--which originates in the foundational concept of patriarchy itself--diminishes the plight of actual victims by equating them (via a classically repugnant moral relativism) with the everyday slights, real and imagined, experienced by all women and, indeed, all people. The longterm result of such devaluing is a deadening: insofar as we play this relativistic game, we are hardening ourselves to the brute reality about which we claim to be so concerned. When everyone is a victim, skepticism runs high and empathy runs dry, McElroy notes, even among feminists themselves.

Erin O'Connor, 5:56 PM | Permalink

25% of British eleven-year-olds can't read

25% of British eleven-year-olds graduate from primary school unable to read or write properly. 27% do not meet minimum requirements for numeracy. Girls are also doing disturbingly better than boys: where 83% of girls met minimum requirements for reading, only 77% of boys did; where 68% of girls met the standard for writing, only 52% of boys did.

The good news is that unlike U.S. schools, which conceal their failures by labelling children learning disabled, Britain is admitting that the problem lies in poor teaching and a lack of strong leadership in the schools. The bad news is that Chief Inspector of Schools David Bell actually defends the gender gap in achievement, arguing that girls need a head start in school to compensate for the discrimination they will face when they enter the workforce: "We have assumed that the big issue is boys' achievement, but let's not forget some of the difficulties that girls continue to face in the system. ... One should not just assume that the gap is about boys' underachievement. One should also look at it in terms of the premium girls gain from access to higher education." In other words, discriminating against boys benefits women over the long term: as more and more boys fall behind in school, fewer future women will have to compete with men for jobs and promotions.

The logic here is neither sound nor ethical. But that's all right--by the looks of things, logic isn't being taught in the schools, either (though the elements of bomb-making are). In a few years, no one will even notice that there is a problem.

Erin O'Connor, 9:21 AM | Permalink

November 26, 2002 [feather]
Lisa Snell disables "learning disabled"

Lisa Snell has written a chilling article about how schools cover for their failures by labelling kids learning disabled. Increasingly, it's not that the child has a problem, but that the teacher does. Increasingly, too, the teacher's insufficiency becomes the child's: children who do not learn certain concepts by certain ages really do become disabled, and really may never catch up. Twelve percent of American schoolchildren are classified as learning disabled--but only 10% of that 12% suffer from severe disabilites. The rest languish in the foggy diagnostic categories created for kids who are easier to label than to teach. There's more, none of it good.

Erin O'Connor, 1:58 PM | Permalink

The British government teaches bombmaking

The British government has come up with an innovative solution to the problem of school children's waning interest in science: teach them about how bombs are made. More specifically, science teachers are being encouraged to show students how to make the sort of movement-triggered tilt switches that were used on the bombs that killed nearly two hundred people in Bali last month. Other suggestions for sparking student interest include analyzing an actual murder site for blood samples and studying how cars crumple on impact by simulating crashes.

Erin O'Connor, 9:34 AM | Permalink

UVa expels plagiarists

UVa has expelled 48 students for plagiarism. Three of those students had already graduated--so their degrees were revoked. Good thing historians Doris Kearns Goodwin, the late Stephen Ambrose, or Ann Lane weren't enrolled there.

Erin O'Connor, 9:13 AM | Permalink

Ronald Radosh on PC CUNY

Ronald Radosh weighs in on the CUNY tenure debacle. Back in the 1970s, Radosh was repeatedly denied promotion at CUNY for political reasons.

Erin O'Connor, 8:55 AM | Permalink

November 25, 2002 [feather]
A student's lament

A reader who is also a student writes an impassioned indictment of what passes for education on campus today. It's a long letter, but every word is worth reading:

I have been skimming through some of your previous Cantwatch posts, and I have noticed a common thread. That is, that a liberal arts education is, all too often, practically useless (insert mitigating caveat here). As a current "student" of history and philosophy, I can only conclude you're right.

I have to post those little post-modernist sneer quotes around the word "student." Why? Because, in short, I'm not learning anything about history and philosophy, even at $10,000 a year (I'm an out-of-state tuition casualty). Sure, I go to the appropriately-titled classes: History, Philosophy. I show up, take my notes, take my tests, write my papers. I'm a straight-A student. Honor roll material. All that.

But in spite of all this, I'm not learning. I haven't actually been assigned Plato's Republic. Or Herodotus. Or the Gulag Archipelago. Oh, no. But I can tell you this: Islam is more inclusive than Christianity, and a lot easier on women to boot. I know it sounds crazy. But my Religion teacher says so, and he has some really snazzy theories to back that assertion up.

I think you know where I'm going with this. The bottom line is that no matter what class I take, the lesson is nearly always the same: all of my assumptions are untrue, and doubly so because I'm infected with the sickness of lousy social conditioning. The tragedy is that I'm a truly committed student, desperate to become an authority in my chosen field. Instead of being given an actual body of useful knowledge, reinforced by a demanding curriculum of scholarly training and research, all I'm being offered is an attitude, a stance, a socio-political posture, and the lie that by assuming it I will somehow become brilliant. None of this, of course, is actually informed by anything like a depth of learning. The actual content of my humanities courses is so much window dressing.

An example from my afore-mentioned religion course will be instructive. Our readings have included the following: excerpts from African tribal myths describing female genital mutilation; Malcolm X's hajj; a diary about the Holocaust; the Genesis story (with an emphasis on gender relations); an explication of the Hindu caste system from the Dhammapada; a native American vision quest (with an emphasis on the respect for the environment it entails); a biography of Gandhi during his anti-colonial days; the portion of the Vatican II documents that describe the reform of the Catholic church to a more "community centered" institution; the introduction to an influential Wiccan text by the high priestess Starhawk, describing the pillage of our idyllic matriarchal pre-history by war-like patriarchal tribesmen (my personal favorite); a work by Gutierrez on his transparently Marxist "liberation theology;" and on and on and on. We talk endlessly about false consciousness, Marx, social determinism, and the great race-class-gender triumvirate. We are finishing the semester with Silko's exceedingly bitter work, , about a young native American suffering from shell shock because of his foolish decision to fight in WWII (the "white man's war"), with special attention being paid to his ruminations about the double-dealing hypocrisy of all those "white whores" he slept with along the way. Oh, and how he doesn't resent the Japanese at all, but man those pale-faced Americans really pulled off some atrocities at Iwo Jima.

In essence, the pretense that this is a course in "the academic study of religion" is nothing short of a smokescreen. It could be taught in the English, Sociology, or Gender Studies departments every bit as easily, under a different title, and no one would ever know the difference. The reality of it is that we are engaged in a shameful little game of intellectual Simon Says with our professor. We strip-mine the texts for every pertinent word or symbol or turn of phrase, we plug it in to the Academic Theory of the Week Machine, and voila! We have our minds blown. Then, we regurgitate the conclusion on the test, all the while making pretend that these were our ideas all along, and that we are engaging in some kind of critical thinking exercise. In truth, we are simply replaying someone else's pre-recorded thought process, having been led through it by our professor step-by-step, and with a wink and a shrug passing it off as our own.

This is a travesty. There is not another student in that entire class with the inclination or the information to challenge the lecture content and see it for what it is. The other students I talk to know there's something missing, something simply wrong, but they can't quite put their fingers on it. They do agree on one thing--the class itself is a worthless enterprise, and if that's the kind of consensus the school is after I'm not sure what all the fuss over the importance of an education is all about. And so it goes in nearly all my classes. I just sit there, frustrated, trying to sift through the politics to find the parts that will help me advance as a scholar, and I'm redirected time and again into the blind alley that is revisionism, deconstruction, and every other fashionable triviality that characterizes the current university environment.

Parents of America, wake up!

This letter was not written by a whiner, nor was it written by someone attending a crappy school. It was written by a person of real intelligence and courage--one who is brave enough to admit to himself what his own education has become. The reality is there for all students and teachers to see, but few students are in a position to pinpoint it, and few teachers are honest enough to admit their complicity with such a corrupt system. My own need to think openly and rigorously about the problems posed above is what got me started blogging last March. My hope is that there will come a point when the frustration and feeling of betrayal expressed above--which is also an expression of awareness and understanding--will evolve into positive action; my hope is that there will come a time when there are enough articulately dissatisfied parents, students, citizens, and teachers to force the educational system to change. My fear is that we are fast losing the ability to effect meaningful change, that the blind have been leading the blind for so long that we may not be able to recover our ability to see.

Erin O'Connor, 7:13 PM | Permalink

Offbeat news

CNN's aptly titled "Offbeat News" section carried the following item Friday: "Scientist Burns Penis With Hot Laptop". This would be, among other things, an argument against blogging in the nude.

Erin O'Connor, 2:13 PM | Permalink

Orwell undone

John Reed has published an anti-capitalist parody of George Orwell's classic, Animal Farm. Entitled Snowball's Chance, the book was inspired by the events of 9/11:

Mr. Reed said he was watching the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on television in his East Village apartment on Sept. 11 when the idea came to him to rewrite the Orwell classic. "I thought, `Why would they do this to us?' " he remembered. "The twin towers attack showed us that something is wrong with our system, too."

He decided, he said, that the world had a new form of evil to deal with, and it was not communism. It was the evil, he said, within American corporate capitalism itself, and American arrogance in protecting its interests in the Middle East oil fields. To Mr. Reed, "Animal Farm" was the ultimate expression of pro-capitalist ideology. "It has inoculated generations of schoolchildren against the evils of communism," Mr. Reed said.

Mr. Reed says he is definitely one of those in the anti-Orwell camp. "I really wanted to explode that book," he said of "Animal Farm." "I wanted to completely undermine it."

The Orwell estate is not happy about this:

William Hamilton, the British literary executor of the Orwell estate, objected to the parody in an e-mail message to the James T. Sherry, the publisher of Roof Books, saying, "The contemporary setting can only trivialize the tragedy of Orwell's mid-20th-century vision of totalitarianism."

"The clear references to 9/11 in the apocalyptic ending can only bring Orwell's name into disrepute in the U.S.," Mr. Hamilton wrote.

One hopes that when schools assign this book--and they will--they will at least have students read it alongside Orwell's original. It would be nice if they would assign some Friedrich Hayek, too, but that's probably too much to ask.

Erin O'Connor, 9:13 AM | Permalink

November 24, 2002 [feather]
Harvard law, the First Amendment, and free speech

The bottom line on Harvard law school's proposed speech code:

"What I do find amazing is that it should be considered at a law school, any law school, because one thing that law schools do is study the constitution and these codes are clearly in violation of the First Amendment," said Harvey Silverglate, a Harvard Law graduate and civil liberties litigator.

Silverglate is also co-founder and co-director of FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), an organization that regularly--and successfully--challenges schools when they infringe on the civil liberties of students and faculty. Here he captures the exceptionally disturbing nature of the situation at Harvard. It's one thing when undergraduates demand rules and regulations that violate the First Amendment--such demands are usually motivated by ignorance, and are tempered proportionally by education. But it's another thing entirely when law students at one of the nation's most elite law schools demand unconstitutional policies. It says they neither understand that law nor respect it; it says they are in the business of rationalizing ill-conceived agendas rather than mastering the rationale embodied within the U.S. Constitution; it raises serious questions about the quality of legal education in this country, and it bodes poorly indeed for the future of civil liberties in the U.S.

UPDATE: John Rosenberg notes that law schools have long been in the business of helping the courts make constitutional law regarding race by losing illegitimate cases.

Erin O'Connor, 9:07 PM | Permalink

PC geography

In English schools, geography has been infected by PC; it is now a means of promoting an environmentalist agenda:

Pupils are leaving secondary school knowing "everything about pollution but nothing about rivers or mountains", say researchers from Canterbury University.

Their study found that geography lessons are dominated by "environmental values and attitudes" and do not provide pupils with enough information to form their own views. The new "greenwash" approach is being promoted by the Government, exam boards and geographical associations, the study claims.

One exam board, Edexcel, is accused of making a virtue out of providing fewer facts to pupils, boasting that its new GCSE syllabus "contains the same core geography [as before] but in less depth".

The study gives warning that the emphasis in the classroom has shifted from knowledge to "environmentalism, sustainability and cultural tolerance".

It concludes: "Replacing knowledge with values means that the subject has become less academic, less rigorous, less demanding and less interesting."

Crucial point: one of the selling points of the PC curriculum is that it is a dumbed-down curriculum. All politics aside, teaching "proper" attitudes toward minimal, selectively edited material is a lot easier than than either teaching a subject in its full complexity or teaching students to think for themselves (to the extent that such an oxymoronic concept is possible). A teacher does not have to be a good teacher to impart PC values toward slanted "facts." Nor does a student have to be a good student to earn high grades: the PC classroom is one organized around the idea that "learning" is equivalent to telling the teacher what he or she wants to hear; what the teacher wants, in turn, is to hear students regurgitate what has been fed to them. In such a classroom, no expertise is required. Neither is thought. In a world where teachers come increasingly from the lower ranks of college students and where are often not trained in the subjects they teach, the PC curriculum is a godsend of a very pragmatic, if tragic kind.

Erin O'Connor, 8:37 PM | Permalink

On civic feminism

Worth a look: this Washington Times piece on "civic feminism".

Erin O'Connor, 7:48 PM | Permalink

November 22, 2002 [feather]
Graduate student unionization

The National Labor Relations Board has determined that graduate students at Penn are eligible to form a union. The Penn administration, like administrations at Brown, Tufts, and Columbia, will be appealing the decision, arguing that graduate students are primarily students, not employees, and contesting the coherence of the NLRB's decision. Here is Penn's official statement, issued yesterday:

This afternoon we received word that the National Labor Relations Board's Regional Director issued a Decision and Direction of Election finding that certain graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania are employees when they are teaching and research assistants at the University. The NLRB has directed an election to determine if a majority of these graduate students desire to be represented by a Union.

The complicated decision arbitrarily divides and discriminates among graduate students in determining who would be eligible to vote and who would not. For example, the decision includes some professional masters degree students in the proposed bargaining unit and excludes other comparable professional masters degree students. Even the regional director recognizes that there is no basis for the distinction drawn between PhD candidates in the natural sciences (excluded) and the social sciences (included). The regional director says that she is "compelled to follow the NYU case," even though she concedes that she would "otherwise agree with the University's contention that Natural Science RA's should be treated the same way as other RA's."

The decision makes no sense for graduate students at Penn. We hope that the students themselves, like their counterparts at Cornell, would come to the same conclusion.

We disagree with this decision and plan to appeal to the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, as have Brown, Tufts and Columbia.

We will continue to keep you informed of future developments in this important matter.

I'm with the admins on this one. Yes, graduate students do the lion's share of teaching and grading on many university campuses; yes, they do an exceptional amount of lab work for research scientists. Yes, graduate students tend to have impoverishingly small stipends and inadequate benefits; yes, they deserve better. But the solution to the problem is not to unionize. The solution is to end the situation that currently enables graduate students to claim that they are employees of the university.

Grad students are not employees, though they are exploited sources of labor. The distinction is a fine one, but I think it is also foundational. Graduate students do not, for example, have to interview for their teaching positions; they are guaranteed a certain amount of teaching in their offer of admission, as part of their funding package. Graduate students need that teaching experience in order to be viable job candidates; learning to teach is part of their graduate education, and time spent in a classroom is essential to that process. Where universities break down is in failing to make graduate student teaching an adequately mentored, truly guided learning experience. Dumping grad students into undergraduate classrooms that the faculty would do just about anything not to be in--freshman writing, introductory language courses, and so on--sends a loud message that a) this is work no one wants to do; and b) graduate students are going to do that work because they can be forced to. It's not hard to imagine the alienation this causes, and it's easy to see how that alienation would crystallize as that of Marx's "alienated labor" (not least because so many grad students are steeped in Marxist theory).

But I still contend that even though this is an understandable response to an unpleasant, not to say abusive, situation, it is still a misguided one. The Penn administration has been right when it has argued that it is important for grad students to see themselves as members of the scholarly community, and that the oppositional relationship to the university that is embodied in the concept of the union will damage that. But they have erred--as have all other administrations who have opposed the move to unionize recently--in their response to the problem. Trying to block a union simply creates more antagonism in already alienated graduate students; more to the point, it does not address the problems to which the union effort is a response.

In its most elemental form, the problem is this: there are more students being taught at universities than the standing faculty are willing to teach. Graduate students bear the brunt of this unwillingness, picking up the slack for the faculty even as they are themselves the beneficiaries of the faculty's pedagogical neglect. Too often, grad students spend more time teaching than being taught; more specifically, they are too often expected to teach without the attentive guidance of experienced teachers. The rhetoric of apprenticeship is used to justify grad student teaching even as there is little or no attempt to make the experience live up to the language. That would, after all, involve extra work for the faculty. Which would defeat the purpose of putting so many grad students in so many unproctored classrooms.

Far from unionizing, which formalizes a wrongheaded institutional approach to graduate student teaching, the solution is to put the faculty back into the classroom (and the lab). At elite research universities like Penn, faculty have an absurdly light teaching load (usually two courses per semester, each of which meets two or at most three times per week), the idea being that the bulk of their time is dedicated to their research and their committee work. Much hot air is expended extolling the virtues of this pedagogical system, and loving attention is given to how teaching a 2/2 load is much more time-consuming than it looks. Be that as it may, the load is still too light, and the priorities are still wrong.

Increasing the standard teaching load for fulltime faculty to a 3/2 or even a 3/3 and hiring more faculty as needed will put more professors back in the classrooms where they should be, get more graduate students out of the classroom more of the time, allow more mentoring to happen for grad students when they do teach (perhaps by making it possible for them to team-teach with experienced teachers when they are starting out), allow grad students to feel more like students who are learning than like labor that is exploited, and send the strong message that teaching is indeed the primary project of university professors instead of an unpleasant afterthought.

I know it's a pipedream, but I'm going to dream it anyway. Even if this vision can't come true, just having it makes it more possible to see that graduate student unions are symptoms of a widespread problem in graduate education rather than the solution.

Erin O'Connor, 7:07 PM | Permalink

The Halloween fallout continues: Hundreds

The Halloween fallout continues:

Hundreds of students at Union College are up in arms about a student who dressed as a pimp for Halloween. His costume consisted of blackface, an Afro, and a purple velvet coat. The student will appear before the school Conduct Board, and could face anything from a warning to suspension.

At Swarthmore, campus-wide consciousness-raising is taking place after a student donned blackface for Halloween. The student apologized publicly, explaining that he painted his face black on the spur of the moment, as a way of satirizing his less-than-stellar dancing abilities.

At the University of Mississippi, administrators are debating whether to reinstate Alpha Tau Omega after an offensive photograph was taken at last year's Halloween party. In the photo, one frat member dressed as a policeman held a gun to the head of another wearing blackface and a straw hat while kneeling and picking up cotton. Ole Miss has hired the Institute for Racial Reconciliation to perform a "cultural audit" of race relations on campus.

At Oklahoma State, Alpha Gamma Rho has agreed to disciplinary sanctions after two fraternity brothers came to a Halloween party dressed in offensive costumes: one wore KKK robes while the other wore blackface, overalls, and a bandanna with a Confederate flag print. In the photo that was taken of the two, a noose dangled above the head of the student in blackface.

And of course there are the cases at UT Knoxville and UVa. The UT students were dressed as the Jackson Five; the students at UVa were dressed as Venus and Serena Williams, and a black Uncle Sam. FIRE has put together a fascinating catalogue of past blackface cases as well as the relevant First Amendment law.

I catalogue the cases because I want to stress the highly stylized pattern that surrounds the wearing of blackface on college campuses. It's almost always fraternity brothers who do it; they almost always do it at Halloween; they always incur the righteous wrath of the campus; that wrath doesn't distinguish between dressing as tennis stars and dressing as Sambo; there is always some kind of discipline; often, in the process of doling out the discipline, administrators violate the offenders' constitutional rights; there is also always talk of institutionalized racism--the history of minstrelsy is always invoked, as are the less-than-optimal numbers of black students on the campus in question. To say that blackface episodes signify the presence of unreconstructed racism on campus is to miss the wider picture, which is that the donning of blackface is one scene in a complex campus-wide dramatization of the racial tension built into the multicultural agenda that presides over an increasing number of college campuses.

Fraternity members wear blackface not because they don't know that it will be seen as racist, but because they know it will. They are deliberately flouting campus convention with their costumes; I would argue that blackface says less about the racial awareness of its wearer than it does about his rejection of politically correct codes of conduct. The white male fraternity brother is the emblematic oppressor on campus today--he symbolizes all that the many speech codes, harassment policies, sensitivity workshops, and diversity requirements cluttering up his campus most revile. To use the phraseology of oppression theory, blackface as it is worn on campuses today might more rightly be understood as a form of resistance than a sign of neanderthalism. That doesn't make it right. But it might help explain it.

UPDATE: The Washington Times has more.

Erin O'Connor, 12:04 AM | Permalink

November 21, 2002 [feather]
Volokh on speech codes

UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh has a fine NRO piece on why campus speech codes are a bad idea. It's worth a careful read.

Erin O'Connor, 10:54 PM | Permalink

Blackface at UVA

The national office of the Kappa Alpha fraternity has lifted its suspension of UVa's chapter after determining that none of those who wore blackface to its Halloween party were members of the fraternity. Officials at UVa say this this does not "effect" [sic] their own "local investigation" however, and the campus chapter of Kappa Alpha remains suspended by the school. Though no Kappa Alpha members wore the offensive costumes, some argue that the fraternity is nonetheless responsible for them:

Okem Nwogu, vice chairman of the Black Fraternal Council, was critical of the lifted suspension, saying he felt the Kappa Alpha Order is still accountable for the offensive actions because they co-sponsored the party.

"Accountability has to be placed on Kappa Alpha and Zeta Psi because they controlled access to the party," Nwogu said. He described the acts as "blatantly ignorant," adding that both fraternities are "guilty by omission" for not controlling the content of their party.

Nwogu added that the costume of the individual dressed as a blackfaced Uncle Sam was particularly offensive because of the historical context of blackface.

"Blackface is a reference to minstrel shows, where white men dressed up as plantation slaves and imitated black musical and dance forms in a derogatory and paradoxical manner," Nwogu said. "That's a symbol of a time when black people were subjected to all different sorts of discrimination and racist practices. Black people weren't treated as equals."

The concept of "controlling the content of [the] party" is a telling one: in that choice of words, the reporter inadvertantly refutes the argument she is reporting by casting the entire gathering, not just individual costumes, as a form of expression. In effect, her words suggest that the "accountability" demanded by Nwogu is synonymous with censorship.

Erin O'Connor, 11:19 AM | Permalink

Paulin "receptive" to Harvard

Tom Paulin has indicated that he is "receptive" to Harvard English's renewal of its retracted invitation to him to deliver the annual Morris Gray Lecture. A staff editorial in the Harvard Crimson argues both sides of the issue: that the department's reversal "sets a disturbing precendent [sic] of allowing speakers who promulgate hate speech and religiously based violence to address this campus under the Harvard imprimatur," and, in an addendum labelled "Dissent: A Principled Reconsideration," that "the English departmentís decision to re-extend its initial invitation to controversial poet Tom Paulin is a positive step toward maintaining a free and open exchange of ideas at Harvard," noting that "the invitationís prior rescinding, under administrative and student pressure, only contributed to a climate of institutional hostility to a particular side in this political debate over Israelóa thoroughly destructive force to the health of an academic community." It's a good give and take.

Erin O'Connor, 10:50 AM | Permalink

November 20, 2002 [feather]
Blackface at UVa

UT Knoxville may be finally laying last month's embarrassing blackface episode to rest, but that doesn't mean other schools don't want to experience it for themselves. The University of Virginia is the newest addition to the growing list of institutions where fraternity members have convulsed their campuses by wearing blackface to a costume party. The short story is that some members donned blackface to dress as Venus and Serena Williams and a black Uncle Sam for a Halloween party, while others wore "brownface" and still others wore costumes "mocking ethnicities" (the Washington Post is distressingly vague about what these costumes were). Pictures were taken and posted to a password-protected web site where visitors could order prints; they have now been removed.

So far, events are unfolding according to pattern. Zeta Psi and Kappa Alpha have been suspended by their national organizations pending investigation, and university officials have denounced the insensitivity of the costumes (in the words of Aaron Laushway, assistant dean of students and director of fraternity and sorority life, "I find such representations hardly fun Halloween costumes, but rather despicable displays of ignorance, intolerance and jocular folly"; in the words of Patricia Lampkin, vice president of student affairs, "This is not reflective of what the University stands for. Anything that makes any statement against another race is absolutely abhorrent.") Now it's time for UVa to show it knows more about free speech than the admins at UT Knoxville initially did; it's also time for the students at UVa to show they understand that the proper response here is not to demand speech codes, sensitivity training, forced apologies, and expulsion of the offending individuals, but to counter expression they deem insensitive with forceful expression of their own.

An editorial in UVa's Cavalier Daily today profiles FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) and champions free speech on campus. So maybe there is hope.

UPDATE: John Rosenberg has more.

Erin O'Connor, 7:41 PM | Permalink

Gilmore Award to Boyarin

Critical Mass is proud to honor Berkeley rhetoric professor Daniel Boyarin with the coveted Gilmore Award. Boyarin earned this recognition for this comment in today's Daily Californian: "Barak is an evil man, he is a violent man, a racist and a liar." Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak spoke at Berkeley last night.

Erin O'Connor, 1:11 PM | Permalink

Harvard English reinvites Paulin

Harvard English has reissued its invitation to poet Tom Paulin. The Harvard Crimson notes that this reversal may have an interesting domino effect: in the wake of Harvard's cancellation of Paulin's lecture, the University of Vermont cancelled a Paulin appearance that would have taken place today.

Harvard English Chair Lawrence Buell said that a major factor in the department's unanimous decision to re-invite Paulin to speak was ìwidespread concern and regret for the fact that the decision not to hold the event could easily be seen, and indeed has been seenóboth within Harvard and beyondóas an unjustified breach of the principle of free speech within the academy.î The language is telling--if Buell's statement is accurate, this amounts to a confession that Harvard English is motivated less by the desire to promote open expression than by concern about what people think. There is no acknowledgement that the reason the disinvitation was seen as "an unjustified breach of the principle of free speech within the academy" is that it was one.

Erin O'Connor, 1:04 PM | Permalink

Thin skin at Harvard law

Quote of the day: "These are people with extraordinarily thin skins who want to be treated as adults but insist that Mommy, Daddy, and the dean come to their rescue instead of debating in the market of free ideas." --Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, commenting on the Black Law Students Association's demand for a speech code that would ban--and punish--offensive speech in the classroom.

The Boston Globe had the details yesterday morning; the quote above is from the Chronicle of Higher Education's coverage today (subscribers only, alas).

This is what I had to say about the Harvard situation when it was brewing last year:

These students are supposedly the creme de la creme. They represent the nation's finest college graduates, and will become some of the most influential and powerful lawyers, judges, and law professors in the land. And yet they can't hear the "n" word without decompensating. So mortally bludgeoned are they by one professor's completely legitimate, if awkwardly phrased, comment that "feminists, Marxists, and the blacks" have done nothing to advance tort law that they can't physically attend his lectures for fear of further psychic injury (in fact, critical race theorists and feminist legal theorists such as Catharine MacKinnon have completely screwed tort law by eroding the crucial distinction between words and acts). Another law prof upset students so much that he has simply been removed from the classroom. The administration has promised to hold faculty workshops on diversity this summer (Blue Eyed, anyone?), and may even bless Harvard with a racial harassment policy.

How will these fragile young legal souls handle the gritty reality of professional life after law school? Will they sue disrespectful clients for harassment? Will they demand "time-outs" in court when they get ruffled by opposing counsel or hostile witnesses? Will they show no commitment whatever to the laws they are bound to uphold, and devote themselves instead to banning, censoring, and sanctioning everything and everyone that give them a bit of a twinge? These are neither idle nor paranoid questions. We should all be asking them. We should all be watching the anti-intellectual, hystericizing effects of universities' "commitment to diversity." And we should be extolling the virtues of thick skin, reasoned debate, and a sense of social purpose that does not get its energy from our narcissistic need to feed and feed and feed our ever so pleasurable, profitable pain.

Erin O'Connor, 11:34 AM | Permalink

November 19, 2002 [feather]
Gender Equity at Penn

Today, Penn will release an update on last year's controversial Gender Equity Report. The update details the steps Penn has taken over the past year to ensure that the hiring process is as "equitable" as possible. Penn Provost Bob Barchi elaborated for the Daily Pennsylvanian:

Departmental accountability was among the many steps identified in the report. Barchi said he is working with deans to ensure that all searches for new faculty members comply with gender equity guidelines.

Although the University does not make hires based solely on any applicant's gender, Barchi said the University is striving to make gender equity a priority in all search processes.

"We want to make sure that every hire appropriately takes into consideration opportunities for women and that we provide every opportunity to make sure that we have gender equity in every one of our searches," Barchi said.

Specifically, Barchi said the composition of faculty search committees should reflect the number of women in the given field. He added that search committees should strive to compile an applicant pool that accurately mirrors the gender distribution in the respective field as well.

The update reveals that several problematic search processes have arisen in the last year.

"In several instances over the past year, deans have identified search processes that were not designed to promote gender equity sufficiently," the report states. "In those instances, the deans asked that the search process be corrected to assure the appropriate consideration of women candidates."

Barchi said that this type of hold-up in the search process would discourage departments from not seeking an appropriate composition of candidates.

In addition, the update details ways the University has created incentives for establishing gender equity. For example, the University established a new fund to support the recruitment and retention of women faculty.

Addressing "inequity" by engineering proportionality is bizarre enough in debates about college admissions. It's positively surreal in this context. The flawed logic is breathtaking:

1) Academe is not representative government. Its emphasis is supposed to be on excellence, not on modelling demographic distribution. A department can pursue an ideal gender distribution or it can pursue an ideal mix of scholars. It cannot do both at once. The implication seems to be that departmental excellence can be maintained--or even acquired--by making a candidate's sex a primary factor in his or her job candidacy. But unless academic excellence is synonymous with demographics, the logic does not hold.

2) The logic of the plan does not even hold if you look at it on its own terms. The requirement that search committees mirror the gender distribution in the field in order to bring departments into line with the numbers elsewhere cannot, by definition, be met. Penn is instituting this rule in large part because other schools have made more "progress" toward "equity"; in other words, because the numbers in certain departments do not measure up to the numbers elsewhere. The only way to make search committees in "under-feminized" departments conform to this requirement is to put women on them who are not experts in the field. This is insulting both to the women (who are there as tokens and whose presence is supposed to inhibit the discrimination that would presumably take place in their absence) and to the legitimate members of the search committee (whose ability to judge candidates fairly and impartially is not trusted). Not ethical, and not even workable: departments with comparatively few women will be put in the impossible position of vastly overworking those women faculty they do have. In the name of gender equity, they will be compelled to exploit women faculty.

3) It does not sound from the Provost's comment as though logic was a high priority in devising these new policies. It does sound, however, as though punitive inconvenience was. I've written before about Penn's institution of "disincentives" to hiring men, and we see here what those disincentives are: failure to conform to the policy results in arrest of the search, which in turn means that no hire gets made and that at best the search will have to be repeated the next year, at great cost of time and energy to all. Worst case scenario: the deans don't approve another search, having decided that the department either can't run one properly or is functioning fine without a new faculty member, or both. Hiding behind the new requirements for equitable hiring practice is the threat of departmental decimation: hire women, the policy seems to say, or you may not be hiring at all.

There's much more to say. But for now, I'll just say I'm disappointed and point readers who want more to my earlier postings on this issue.

Erin O'Connor, 1:30 PM | Permalink

Conservative students demand diversity seats

Conservative students at Amherst and Tufts are taking on the hypocrisy of the campus diversity crusade by adopting its rhetoric. Both schools reserve special "diversity" seats on the student senate to ensure that a certain number of minorities will always be present in student government. And at both schools, conservative students are arguing that as members of under-represented groups, they should be allocated "diversity" seats of their own. Their point? True diversity is not ethnic diversity, but diversity of thought.

Erin O'Connor, 9:37 AM | Permalink

November 18, 2002 [feather]
Rabinowitz on Harvard Law

In today's Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Rabinowitz profiles Harvard Law School's descent into the bathos of sensitivity training (subscribers only, alas). Following several episodes of what the Harvard Black Law Students Association called "racial outrages" last year, Harvard has instituted a workshop for entering law students entitled "Managing Difficult Conversations." Rabinowitz is witheringly on target:

At Harvard Law today, skill in hard combative argument is no longer prized, nor even considered quite respectable. Indeed, first year law students can hardly fail to notice the pall of official disapproval now settled over everything smacking of conflict and argument. That perception can only have been strengthened by a new program for freshmen, called "Managing Difficult Conversations."

In the lesson books provided, students learn the importance of empathy. "Emotions need to be acknowledged and understood before people can problem solve," another lesson teaches. In a book by the program's chief creators we learn that "A Difficult Conversation Is Anything You Find It Hard To Talk About." Not the sort of wisdom that would have taxed the minds of the students. Still, the purpose of the three-hour sessions did elude one otherwise accepting attendee, who reports that the discussion leaders seemed to circle around specific issues, and that he had the feeling there was a real subject here not yet clear or acknowledged.

He was not the only one wondering about the substance of these meetings. The freshman had just gained entry to the most elite of the nation's law schools. For upward of $32,000 a year tuition, he could learn that a difficult conversation is anything a person finds hard to talk about, and that "logic/reason" have to be combined with "emotions and personal experience" in order to be persuasive. He would not have learned, at such a session, that all the negotiating strategies, all the emphases on emotion and personal history and subtext being advanced at these workshops, was exactly opposite of what legal training was supposed to teach. He would not learn here that the law deals in objective truth that it is concerned with fact. That what is said is determinative, not what is left unsaid, not subtexts, not emotions, expressed or other, not personal history.


One senior member of the faculty marveled that the school was now training law students to stigmatize conflict. Just before his own class went off to attend the workshops, he slipped them all pieces of paper -- these filled with quotes from Supreme Court Justices's opinions holding that free speech is supposed to invite dispute.

Boston attorney Harvey Silverglate, who tracks assaults on free speech at universities, describes the workshops as "an exercise in thought reform disguised as an effort to help students improve their negotiation skills." Dean Todd Rakoff, the program's overseer, stands foursquare behind it, nonetheless. The students needed these skills for their careers, he argues. As to free speech, "We are absolutely in favor of uninhibited debate, in a workable fashion."

Why the school's administration yielded to the pressure to punish two senior professors charged with racism, one because of a misunderstanding of his meaning, another because of an attempt to turn an ugly episode into an educational one -- instead of standing by them -- remains unexplained. Nor has anyone in that administration explained why, instead of a rational assessment of these hysterically inflated incidents, the school's dean was moved to give instant implicit assent to the strange notion that racism was running riot at Harvard Law. Both of these subjects would, of course, make for difficult conversations.


Worth noting: it's not just Harvard that is allowing advocacy groups to leverage instances of "racial insensitivity" for their own ends. At many schools across the country, such groups use these instances to make loud, unyielding, often off-topic demands for everything from mandatory diversity training for all students to more money for minority hiring to the creation of entire departments in the "problem" area. They don't always get all they ask for--but they always do get something, and it's always more than they should be getting. As one practiced student advocate at UT Knoxville said, apropos of the recent blackface incident, the list of demands made by black student organizations is deliberately excessive: "It's like asking for a dog, when you only want a fish." Among the demands were that the students who donned blackface be expelled, that all incoming students take an oath of loyalty to the goal of racial harmony, and that UT establish a black studies department. They won't get all those things--but it's worth noting what they will ge. Almost as soon as the blackface incident became public, UT Provost Loren Crabtree stated that the "fraternity clearly needs to go through some training on diversity and some training on racial tolerance and racial sensitivity, and we expect that they will have to do that." He also announced that UT would institute racial sensitivity training next year as part of freshmen orientation. Penn State did something similar a couple of years ago, forcing entering freshmen to attend a seminar on racial sensitivity after several racial incidents rocked the campus.

It's a pattern worth considering, not least because sensitivity training is often a punishment meted out to student offenders. That the same type of session can be used as a punishment and as a supposedly proactive form of training speaks loudly to both the punitive nature of the workshops entering students are increasingly required to attend (it's as if new students are paying for the "insensitivity" of others) and to their political mission (to indoctrinate in the name of educating). What Harvard and UT Knoxville and other schools who play the sensitivity game have in common is a solid, increasingly entrenched record of treating new students as proven offenders, of using the "insensitivity" of others as an excuse to try to shape--intrusively, unapologetically--the sensibilities of others.

Erin O'Connor, 4:31 PM | Permalink

Tenure debacle at CUNY

CUNY is deservedly taking it on the nose for denying tenure to a prominent young historian because he was not "collegial." This is a growing trend, one that is transparently designed to enable departments to fire people they don't like or whose politics turn out not to be in conformity with campus norms. I've written at length in the past about the glaring problems inherent in using that entirely subjective and abusable category, "collegiality," as a criterion in tenure cases, concentrating on a disturbing case in the biology department at Nevada-Reno. In that piece I note that the American Association of University Professors--the official watchdog organization for academic freedom--has become concerned enough about this growing trend to issue a formal statement about the ethical morass that is formed when collegiality becomes a decisive factor in tenure cases. The CUNY case proves the AAUP's point--not least because the alleged episodes of "uncollegiality" on the part of this professor centered on his suggestion that his department make hires on the basis of merit rather than gender preference and that a proposed panel on 9/11 should represent more than one viewpoint. When such sensible and ethical statements qualify someone as "uncollegial" and cost him his job, you know both that academic freedom is a farce and that the academy itself is more committed to perpetuating bias than to fostering the exchange of ideas.

Erin O'Connor, 3:43 PM | Permalink

November 17, 2002 [feather]
Feminism and male-bashing

I got some really thoughtful mail about my post on how radical feminism has made it acceptable to publicly revile men as inherently inferior to women.

Some of it is anguished, not just at the anti-male vitriol that has become part of feminist etiquette, but also at our collective inability--or unwillingness--to recognize this for what it is and to acknowledge its terribly damaging effects:

The power of mainstream feminism to set agendas, control public discussion, and move legislation (through both their liberal and conservative proxies) has caused untold harm to millions of people in this country. People just don't get it - the concrete consequences I mean. Do they think its cute or just a bunch of dumb broads?

From the sexual harassment industry, to frivolous restraining orders and false accusations as punishment, to the denial of male DV victims, to the gutting of due process and equal protection for men, to affirmative action, to 700+ womens studies programs spewing Msinformation and hate, to VAWA, to the assault on divorced fathers and their children, to the ceaseless torrent of hostility directed at the male children growing up today (much of it rather subtle), feminism is creating a dystopia with greater ramifications than any movement I can think of (other than the really awful examples like nazism). But it rarely makes the news. Anti-white PC is quite often criticized now - Belafonte, and the NJ poet laureate come to mind as recent examples. What about feminism? I think our society is afraid to face it.

Do we need to wait until men just explode with resentment and rage before anything changes? Do we need to raise a generation or two of boys and men who so fear and hate women that bitterness reigns, anti-woman violence spikes and the family disappears? Do we need to wait until boys suicide rate is 10X girls, as if 5X is not enough. Do we need to wait until 80% of colleges freshmen are female? Do we need to wait until males are entirely phased out of medical research? Is anybody awake out there????

The combination of biology, misguided conservative chivalry, and PC liberalism are an unbeatable force. Every other PC sickness in our society has some strong opponent as far as I can see, but not feminism. Men for the most part can not or will not criticize women or fight back. It just ain't natcheral - we want to please women, to woo 'em, win 'em, and you-know-what 'em. And just as importantly, many good women have been silent or bought into feminist myths.

Some of the mail sees a potential silver lining in the increasing hostility of certain strands of feminist screed, observing that building shrillness might be read as both a sign of desperation and a tacit acknowledgement that the movement's moment is past:

Yes, Ms. Greer has finally descended into madness. What is so unfortunate is the fact that she began as a truly promising and brilliant cultural critic, and could potentially have brought feminism to unthought-of heights of intellectual depth and respectability.

My opinion is that this kind of foolishness, which doesn't even manage to get my blood up anymore, is a manifestation of the fact that she and her ilk are becoming irrelevant--and they know it. So accustomed to being lavished with attention every time they throw their plate on the floor and spit their broccoli out, radical feminists are trying to find ever-more absurd means of commanding awe among the infantile and impressionable. That's also what's at the heart of their disrespectful and irresponsible efforts to bring sex--meaning actual, live sex--into the classroom. The more this tack fails (most thinking young women are on to them by now), the louder their little rhetorical death rattle will get. One gets the distinct impression that Greer is trying to recapture the good old days of Valerie Solanas, et al. It's a sad fate, but not altogether unexpected.

The fact is, this stuff is so self-evidently stupid, so completely wrong in nearly every factual assertion it makes, that only the press could find it newsworthy.

There is much truth in both positions. And for me the creepy thing is that even as many of the claims of radical feminism have been widely discredited, and even as more and more women refuse to call themselves feminists because they do not want to be associated with what they perceive as an obsolete hate movement, radical feminism continues to set social, political, and educational agendas. There are the widely circulated false statistics about eating disorders and rape; there are the discriminatory hiring and promoting practices adopted in the name of "gender equity"; there are the absurd studies about how girls are getting short shrift in school; there are the compensatory fellowships and grants designed to make up for this institutionalized sexism. I could go on.

Glenn Reynolds points to three excellent pieces on this subject today, one by Doris Lessing, one an interview with Camille Paglia and Christina Hoff Sommers, and one by Glenn Sacks. Also worth a look: Wendy McElroy's current column on feminist urban legends.

Erin O'Connor, 8:38 PM | Permalink

November 16, 2002 [feather]
Feminism and male-bashing

One of my favorite armchair sports is trying to pinpoint the moment where radical feminism merges with hate. Germaine Greer affords an unusually rich playing field in today's Guardian. The first two of many hateful paragraphs:

The truth is out. Men are much more trouble than they're worth. Sisters are doing it for themselves. Discarded males of all ages loiter in the streets, looking for trouble to get into and finding no lack of it. Male security guards shoot male football fans in Bratislava, male fans howl racist abuse and hurl chairs at each other, males train as suicide bombers, male heads of state stroll about discussing whether they could get away with another shooting war on the women and children of Iraq, and their male flunkies zoom around the world trying to talk other males into joining in. The Beltway Sniper turned out to be a man. And those "children" ejected from school for threatening to kill their teachers are actually boys. It doesn't do to say so. A kind of mad squeamishness prevents us from quantifying the nuisance value of maleness, possibly because if you actually tell men that they are damned nuisances, they are likely to behave even worse.

What can be the root cause of all this male dysfunction? Feminism, that's what. When feminism came along and drew women out from under men, men found themselves in freefall. Liberated women could change their own light bulbs and tap washers and engine oil, so men felt unwanted. Women who could earn a decent living could get their own mortgages and buy houses on their own, so they did and do, in their millions. No wonder men went off in an enormous sulk, refused to do their homework or tidy their rooms, ran round the streets shouting and screaming and writing on walls, balked at committing themselves in relationships, and wandered off into a fantasy world of pornography, sport and grotesquely violent video games. Women made men redundant; redundant tissue inevitably turns malignant.

And then the column wanders off into a long and creepy eugenic screed for why women are biologically superior to men in every respect and why men are, and always have been, "redundant."

Here's the game: substitute "white" and "black," or, if you are feeling trendy, "Muslims" and "Jews" for "women" and "men." Being a traditional type, I've chosen "white" and "black." The results are as follows:

The truth is out. [Blacks] are much more trouble than they're worth. [Whites] are doing it for themselves. Discarded [blacks] of all ages loiter in the streets, looking for trouble to get into and finding no lack of it. [Black] security guards shoot [black] football fans in Bratislava, [black] fans howl racist abuse and hurl chairs at each other, [blacks] train as suicide bombers, [black] heads of state stroll about discussing whether they could get away with another shooting war on [whites], and their [black] flunkies zoom around the world trying to talk other [blacks] into joining in. The Beltway Sniper turned out to be [black]. And those "children" ejected from school for threatening to kill their teachers are actually [blacks]. It doesn't do to say so. A kind of mad squeamishness prevents us from quantifying the nuisance value of [blacks], possibly because if you actually tell [blacks] that they are damned nuisances, they are likely to behave even worse.

What can be the root cause of all this [black] dysfunction? [White supremacy], that's what. When [white supremacy] came along and drew [whites] out from under [blacks], [blacks] found themselves in freefall. Liberated [whites] could change their own light bulbs and tap washers and engine oil, so [blacks] felt unwanted. [Whites] who could earn a decent living could get their own mortgages and buy houses on their own, so they did and do, in their millions. No wonder [blacks] went off in an enormous sulk, refused to do their homework or tidy their rooms, ran round the streets shouting and screaming and writing on walls, balked at committing themselves in relationships, and wandered off into a fantasy world of pornography, sport and grotesquely violent video games. [Whites] made [black] redundant; redundant tissue inevitably turns malignant.

Okay, so the substitutions sometimes cede into nonsense. But that only makes the temper of Greer's "discourse" that much more clear: hers is a discourse of irrational blame and vitriolic hate, a discourse in which one group is described as wholly superior to another group whose inferiority is treated as natural and right, a discourse that quite literally does not make sense--except, insofar, as it participates in the deliberate nonlogic of demonization. And yet it is printed in one of the world's most respected papers, the product of one of the twentieth century's most influential feminists. Its place in that paper speaks to how profoundly respectable hatred of men has become in our enlightened culture, as well as to the role feminism has played in making such hatred a badge of liberal propriety.

The bit about men being malignant tissue says it all. As Greer calls men a cancer on an otherwise healthy female society, so Hitler said that "The Jews are a Cancer on the breast of Germany"; so radical Islamists call Jews a "cancer" on Palestine.

UPDATE: William Sjostrom has more.

Erin O'Connor, 6:01 PM | Permalink

November 15, 2002 [feather]
Censorship at Georgetown

An op-ed in the Georgetown Hoya entitled "GU Must Protect Students, Not Offensive Speech" defends the recent theft from a freshman residence hall of newspapers containing "personal slurs":

The university needs to address this whole issue of ìoffensiveî speech. And it is time to jettison the platitude that ìbad speechî is only or best corrected just by ìmore speech,î and not by ìcensorshipî or, in the worst cases, just by ìeducation.î That non-policy was never more than an evasion by the university of its responsibilities.

Personal vilification, slurs and the like have no place at a Catholic university and they are clearly not correctable by just ìmore speechî or by ìeducation.î


Iíd like to hear from the Georgetown administration how ìmoreî speech could ever undo the damage of the dissemination of such ìbadî speech.

Like it or not, this university has a duty to do what it can to prevent the dissemination on its property of personal slurs.

Of course, that is often not easy. And, of course, different kinds of ìbadî speech call for different kinds of university responses. But the mindless repetition of that ridiculous mantra ìbad speech is to be corrected by more speechî is an insult to everyoneís intelligence.

Read the article to get the details of what was printed in the student paper. I don't recount them here because the details do not matter. What matters is how the author of this essay uses a single episode of inter-student nastiness to 1) excuse the crime of newspaper theft (he even puts the word "stole" in quotes; and 2) to call for sweeping, censorious, ultimately unenforceable speech codes on Georgetown's campus.

Georgetown is a private university, and that means it can have whatever speech code it likes. At present, it does forbid "offensive" speech, stating in its formal policy that ìexpression that is indecent or is grossly obscene or grossly offensive on matters such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation is inappropriate in a university community and the university will act as it deems appropriate to educate students violating this principle.î In practice, Georgetown has held to a relatively liberal position on speech--when confronted with complaints about the paper in question, Vice President for Student Affairs Juan C. Gonzalez said that the best course of action is to ìdrown it with more speech of your own making, not steal it.î This is commendable, and reasonable. But as we have seen countless times, it does not satisfy campus crusaders for forced sensitivity. The author of this screed, for example, comes right out and says he feels censorship is a right and necessary thing. He's tired of "the ridiculous mantra" known as the First Amendment. He's had it with "education." He wants people to be expressly forbidden to say unpleasant things, and then he wants to see those who say such things anyway be punished. This fascistic procedure, he seems to believe, will make the Georgetown campus a kinder, gentler place to be.

Never mind that it is not possible to define "offensive speech" in a way that will hold up under scrutiny--or creativity (I recall Andrew Dice Clay's appearance on Saturday Night Live back in the spring of 1990; my brother and I watched him absolutely confound the censors who were ordered to make sure none of his legendary profanity made it onto the air, simply by coining his own cache of dirty words as he went. His monologue was filthy--and yet, by network standards, squeaky clean).

Never mind, either, that you simply cannot force people to be nice. You can't even force people to agree that "being nice" is a worthy behavioral goal. Nor can you legislate sensitivity--not least because attempting to do so is itself a profoundly insensitive, not to say offensive, act. In its punitive fantasies, refusal to condemn theft or even call it by its name, and irrational belief that "bad speech" could be an operative disciplinary category, the editorial quoted above makes that abundantly clear.

I am struck, lately, by how often the concept of community standards is raised to defend restrictions of campus speech. Tuesday, also in The Hoya, a student wrote that the reason it was important to denounce Bat Ye'or and David Littman's invited talk on dhimmitude is that the opinions they expressed "threatened more to polarize our campus community than to educate about and debate a difficult topic":

While it is our job as students to bring to light difficult realities about our world that many people might not like to hear, we also have a responsibility to ensure that peace and civility are maintained within our classrooms, sponsored events and campus community at large. These goals can only be pursued in a respectful and cooperative environment that reflects Georgetownís values of interfaith dialogue and diversity of thought. Any incident that threatens this environment is detrimental, particularly to the Jewish students we have been elected to represent.

Similarly, the uproar about blackface at UT Knoxville and the recent cancellation of Tom Paulin's poetry reading at Harvard both center on the perceived threat unpleasant expression might pose to the sanctimoniously invoked "campus community." Lawrence Buell, Chair of Harvard English, explained that Paulin's visit has to be cancelled because it was causing "widespread consternation;" Twenty-one UT faculty signed a letter stating that the blackface incident was a "threat to the very fabric of our intellectual community," adding that "This needs to be a place where students can feel comfortable and safe - not just physically, but intellectually as well."

It's worth noting how coercively the nebulous concept of "community" operates in such moments (I myself have never felt that I belong to a "campus community," but I have been accused more than once of "shaming," "menacing," and "threatening" that same entity by people who want me to shut up). Community is a happy concept, seemingly innocuous. But it gets invoked on campuses as a means of making a call for censorship seem kindly and necessary. "Protecting the community" thus becomes a code phrase for enforcing conformity to a narrow and self-serving behavioral norm. Saying that a university "needs to be a place where students can feel comfortable and safe" is saying that a university must not be a place where students ever feel challenged or provoked. It is saying, in other words, that the university is not about education but the pursuit of a quasi-intellectual utopia where everyone pretends to think, study, and learn but the real priority is never to step on anyone's toes.

To speak of "feeling intellectually safe" is to utter oxymoronic nonsense. You can be committed to a collectivist ideal, or you can be committed to ideas. You cannot be committed to both--not, at any rate, in the current campus climate.

Erin O'Connor, 1:52 PM | Permalink

November 14, 2002 [feather]
L'Affaire Paulin

Regarding L'Affaire Paulin (see below), a reader writes:

You are absolutely on target regarding the Paulin affair. As much as I detest Paulinís statements, and as tempting as it might be to fall into line with Harvardís illiberal behavior ìjust this once,î I just canít. The fact is, the Harvard English faculty sent a message about more than Paulinís ìhate speech.î

When people argue for the curtailment of expression, what they often fail to recognize is that they are circumscribing their own rights. None of us has any more freedom of speech than the least popular speaker, as is often said. When someone says, ìPaulin has no right to say the things he said,î what they are really saying is, ìI do not have the right to say what Paulin said.î Thought of in this way, the matter is a little more serious.

I canít add much to what you already said on the subject, except to say that I am shocked at the number of peopleóconservatives, particularlyóapplauding this thuggish decision. They are stripping themselves of any reasonable grounds for complaint the next time David Horowitz gets the same treatment, and they are sure to be called to the mat for it at some point. It makes one wonder if there really is a principle at stake, from their perspective.

Ah, well. Suppression of speech is, I believe, the worldís second-oldest profession.

Erin O'Connor, 8:10 PM | Permalink

L'Affaire Paulin

Yesterday I wrote a bit about the Harvard English department's politically-motivated cancellation of Irish poet Tom Paulin's poetry reading, focussing in particular on the unethical role taken by Rita Goldberg, a lecturer in English who orchestrated the protest that led to the cancellation by telling her students what to think about the visit and then instructing them about how to protest it. Today's Guardian has more from Goldberg:

Rita Goldberg, who was involved in the Harvard protests, said that she supported Mr Paulin's right to free speech but felt she had a duty to inform the English department of controversies in Britain they might not have known about.

"I was very reluctant to do this, but I think Tom Paulin has crossed the line. Free speech is one thing, hate speech is another," Professor Goldberg said. "I think anti-semitism is on the rise, and Tom Paulin must be quite confused about his own relationship to Jews. He used a public platform to advocate violence, and that is incitement."

Israel, she said, "is a democracy with an active critical population of its own, and to make everyone a great mush of Zionists and Jews who are somehow like the SS has to be inflammatory. We all know in our gut when speech is hate speech and when it's perfectly rational discourse."

First, an aside: between this woman and the self-righteous literary twits at UT Knoxville, I think I can fairly say that the deservedly low public opinion of English professors can--and should--sink even lower than it already has. I say this as one who thought there was nowhere to go but up.

Now the fisk:

I was very reluctant to do this, but I think Tom Paulin has crossed the line.
No you weren't reluctant to "do this" (conveniently vague wording, that). You were thrilled to "do this." You got a charge out of "doing this." You are still getting a charge out of it. That's why you are talking up your role as Chief Sensitivity Officer of Harvard English in the media. Let's be precise about what it is you "did": you decided Paulin "crossed the line" (because he crossed your personal line); you convinced yourself that what you personally wanted was what was best for your students; you manipulated them into staging your protest by telling him Paulin's visit would hurt and offend them--when really you were hurt and offended by the prospect of his visit. You used your students. And now you are soaking in your pitiful little bath of glory when you should be hanging your head in shame.

Free speech is one thing, hate speech is another.
Wrong. There are some who argue that, but an argument is not a law. As of today the Constitution is still in the business of protecting unpopular speech. Hate, for the record, is not a crime. It may be morally repellant, it may even be frightening. But it is not a crime--not in the U.S. anyway. There are powerful ethical reasons for refusing to legislate matters of private conscience. There are also powerful practical reasons for not doing so, the first of which is that you can't define "hate speech." One person's hate is another person's truth.

I think anti-semitism is on the rise, and Tom Paulin must be quite confused about his own relationship to Jews. He used a public platform to advocate violence, and that is incitement.
The first point is irrelevant. What does the increase in anti-semitism have to do with Paulin's right to express his opinion? And what do your personal speculations about Paulin's mental health have to do with anything besides your own prurience? The second point is a distortion of fact. Paulin expressed violent views about Jews. They are shocking, even mind-boggling in their cruelty. But they are not incitement. He does not issue orders, he does not exhort particular individuals to specific acts of violence. He isn't doing much to promote reasoned opinion or considered tolerance with his statements, but he isn't inciting anyone to anything, either.

Israel "is a democracy with an active critical population of its own, and to make everyone a great mush of Zionists and Jews who are somehow like the SS has to be inflammatory.

True, but inflammatory speech is not illegal.

We all know in our gut when speech is hate speech and when it's perfectly rational discourse.
Fascinating and telling words from our expert in textual interpretation. They tell us what she is "thinking" with, or more precisely, they tell us that she is not thinking at all. She is acting on what she "knows" in her "gut." She is letting instinct, not careful consideration or reasoned argument, determine her opinions and her actions. She is doing this in a pedagogical setting, and it sounds like she is having quite an impact. For the record, "we" don't "all know in our gut" anything of the kind. This is a weak defense of an indefensible position. In its appeal to instinct and in its use of that appeal to cover over the utterly fickle, inconsistent, and self-serving nature of the statement--which licenses hate to be anything the person in power wants it to be--it is also the sort of thinking that we have learned historically to revile as an enabler of fascism.

The good news is that at least there is one English professor out there who not only gets it, but has enough spine to speak up. The Guardian balances Goldberg's irrational commentary with this from Jim Shapiro, Paulin's colleague at Columbia:

Jim Shapiro condemned Harvard's actions as "disastrous".

"I say this as somebody who is a Zionist, who teaches Jewish studies, who has opposed petitions on my campus for the university to divest from Israel," he said. "The idea of rescinding an invitation because someone has not passed a political litmus test establishes a very dangerous precedent.

"Do I think Tom said a stupid thing? Absolutely, and I know few people who haven't said stupid things. Do I think Tom is an anti-semite? I can say from extensive discussions with him on the Middle East that he isn't. These students have an absolute right to heckle Tom Paulin, but they do not have the right to force the university to rescind the invitation."

Well said. It's worth noting, too, that Harvard's original plan for dealing with the Goldberg-engineered unrest surrounding Paulin's visit was to provide an open forum after his reading where all views could be freely aired. They almost got it right. And then they punted.

Erin O'Connor, 6:59 PM | Permalink

Iraq flunks freshman English

Quote of the day: "He who remains silent in the defence of truth is a dumb devil. " From--you guessed it--Iraq's letter to the U.N.

The entire letter is a monument to poverty of expression. A prime and typical example:

However, representatives at the United Nations and its agencies, especially those from permanent member-states, instead of fellowship up on this and, hence, expose those responsible for the dissemination of lies and fabrications, were busy discussing the type and wording of the new resolution. They were indulged in what word or letter to add here or omit there, until they adopted a text under the pretext that is would be better to take the kicks of a raging bull in a small circle than to face its horns in an open space.


We have said to the member of the Security Council whom we have contacted, or who have contacted us, when they told us about the pretexts of the Americans and their threat to perpetrate aggression against our country, whether unilaterally or with participated from others, if the Council were not to allow them to have their way, that we preferred, if it ever became necessary to see America carry out its aggressions against us unilaterally, when we would have to confront it relying on Allah, instead of seeing the American government obtaining an international cover with which to camouflage its falsehood, partially or completely, bringing it closer to the truth, so that it may stab the truth with the dagger of evil and confronted the United States before when it looked as it does now, and this was one of the factors of its isolation in the human environment on the globe at large.

I was going to grade this illiterate tour de force and post my comments. But then I realized that if a student handed me a paper this poorly written--an ill-conceived rant, riddled with errors of grammar and syntax, clearly not proofread--I would not grade it. I would fail it.

Shall we place our bets on whether the U.N. has lower standards than a freshman composition class?

Erin O'Connor, 11:19 AM | Permalink

November 13, 2002 [feather]
Faculty members at UT Knoxville

Faculty members at UT Knoxville have registered their disapprobation of the recent blackface incident on campus in a letter to the editor of the school paper. Nine of twenty-one signers are from the English department--a fact that, sadly, does not surprise when one considers the content and tone of the letter itself. The gist of their pious missive: every single person on the campus of the University of Tennessee is deeply implicated in the event, which speaks eloquently to the campus' continued participation in America's long history of racism against blacks; it is thus wrong to dismiss the episode as either a "joke" or a "racist 'mistake.'" It is, rather, "a threat to the very fabric of our intellectual community." Why? Because UT "needs to be a place where students can feel comfortable and safe - not just physically, but intellectually as well."

I am reminded of the parable of the boy who cried wolf. If this is the worst thing that ever "happens" to UT students (I hesitate even to participate in the victimized rhetoric that suggests one person's expression can "happen" to another, and that insists representations, like blows, wound), then they should all thank their lucky stars that they had the luxury of getting all righteously bothered about something so ultimately inane. They should also realize how much privilege, how much sheer cultural capital and personal entitlement, it takes to act like five frat boys' poor taste does real, lasting harm to the tender psyches of impressionable young students.

If ill-advised face paint is a "threat" to the UT community, if an offensive costume carries within it the weight of the entire history of American racism, if awareness that some fraternity boys wore blackface makes some students feel "uncomfortable" or "unsafe," perhaps the university should just shut down right now and send everyone home. Certainly, at the very least, no member of the campus community should be allowed to read the papers or watch the news or otherwise have potentially frightening contact with the outside world. Knowledge of how real people act in the real world might threaten the fabric of the campus community, membership in which is apparently conferred not on those who attend UT and teach its classes, but on those who accept that conformity to a rabidly censorious set of moralistic norms should be the condition of belonging.

Erin O'Connor, 9:12 PM | Permalink

Daniel Pipes wants to know:

Daniel Pipes wants to know:

* Why do American academics so often despise their own country while finding excuses for repressive and dangerous regimes?

* Why have university specialists proven so inept at understanding the great contemporary issues of war and peace, starting with Vietnam, then the Cold War, the Kuwait war and now the War on Terror?

* Why do professors of linguistics, chemistry, American history, genetics and business present themselves in public as authorities on the Middle East?

* What is the long-term effect of an extremist, intolerant and anti-American environment on university students?

I can offer a preliminary answer to that last one. Some students will imbibe the attitude wholesale, often without even knowing they are doing so. These are often your straight A humanities and social science majors; they become well-meaning, unthinking fellow travellers. Other students recognize in their professors a desire to indoctrinate, and lose respect for higher education. The upshot? One "long-term effect of an extremist, intolerant and anti-American environment on university students" is a massive increase in cynicism among college students. The honest cynics have the toughest time, as they lose the ability to take their own educations seriously. The dishonest ones--or, more softly, the pragmatists--recognize in their politicized classrooms the opportunity to score high grades with minimal effort. Regurgitating their professors' pet issues on exams and term papers, they pad their transcripts with the results of their strategic self-presentation. In short, they become politicians, or, if you prefer, good businessmen.

Not as many students as one might think simply absorb the intolerance that saturates so much of the campus climate--though neither do they graduate with a clear understanding of either the historical and philosophical rationale for America or the purpose of honest, open inquiry. Instead, they adopt a self-serving, cagey, often apolitical stance toward "education", one whose main aim is to learn to manipulate their environment--and their professors--to suit their own ends. As one colleague memorably told me when I was starting out as a college teacher, "If you think you smell a rat, you are actually smelling two."

Erin O'Connor, 4:49 PM | Permalink

The Harvard Crimson has more

The Harvard Crimson has more on the English department's decision to cancel tomorrow's scheduled appearance by the Irish poet Tom Paulin. Last April, Cairo's Al-Ahram Weekly quoted Paulin as saying that Israel is a "historical obscenity" and that "Brooklyn-born Jews" who settle in Israel "should be shot," adding ìI think they are Nazis, racists. I have nothing but hatred for them.î Paulin has also written one rabidly pro-Palestinian poem in which he refers to the "Zionist SS" (scroll down for the goods).

These facts are well known by now; they've made their way through the mainstream media and the blogosphere; they were the reason Harvard English cancelled Paulin's appearance. Yesterday the web practically did the wave when, as Eugene Volokh put it, Harvard "did the right thing."

One thing that remained a bit mysterious was what precisely went on at Harvard to cause such an unusual turn of events. The Crimson piece is enlightening on that point:

Though Paulinís remarks and frequent British TV appearances have created controversy at Oxford over the past few months, little was known in the United States about his work and views.

Rita Goldberg, a lecturer on Literature who had been familiar with his work, began gathering a protest as soon as Paulinís lecture was announced last week.

Goldberg sent out an e-mail to her students encouraging them not to attend the lecture, and asking them to contact the English department to protest the speech.

ìUnder rules instituted by the Rudenstine Administration, students are entitled to an environment free of racism, hostility and threatening speech,î she wrote. ìAn audience is oxygen to a poet, and the most effective way of showing your feelings is to deprive him of air.î

The controversy escalated after the Wall Street Journal published an article on Monday that described his anti-Israeli views and criticized Harvard for hosting him.

As word spread of the article and Paulinís controversial views through the University via various e-mail lists, protest mounted against the lecture.

Between 100 and 120 people, mainly undergraduates, e-mailed and called the department to protest the reading, according to Buell. They decried Paulinís views as hate speech, and said the Department should not give a forum to those who advocate violence and racism.

In other words, a member of Harvard's English faculty took it upon herself to decide that Paulin's personal views constituted, in and of themselves, a violation of Harvard's harassment policy. She determined, through some mysterious alchemical process unavailable to us less privileged mortals, that Paulin's presence on campus would constitute, in and of itself, a hostile environment--regardless of what he might or might not say or do while there. And then she "encouraged" her students to object to this violation of their right not to be offended by protesting Paulin's visit. In short, she came damn close to assigning activism. Certainly she made it clear to her students what she thought they ought to think and do about Paulin's visit; certainly she made it clear they ought to think as she does, and do what she says; certainly she made it clear that to do so would curry favor with her and implied, inevitably, that not protesting Paulin's appearance would be tantamount to endorsing his heinous views; certainly she created an inexcusable conflict of interest for her students, whose political opinions and extracurricular activism--or lack thereof--are far beyond her pedagogical purview and should have been allowed to stay there.

Maybe Harvard English should use the time that would have been dedicated to Paulin's lecture for a little workshop on pedagogical ethics.

Erin O'Connor, 3:07 PM | Permalink

November 12, 2002 [feather]
In response to my post

In response to my post yesterday about the communal pleasure campuses derive from publicly staging outrage against "offensive" or "insensitive" expression, reader Bob F. suggests that perhaps college administrators would do well to read a little Dostoevsky:

In an early chapter of "The Brothers Karamazov" entitled "The Old Clown," Fyodor K's boorish antics elicit a wry, perceptiveÝlecture from the elder Zossima, who tells the old buffoon, "A man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone else. For it is sometimes very pleasant to take offense, isn't it? And yet he knows that no one has offended him and that he has invented the offense himself ... that he has exaggerated just to make himself look big and important, that he has fastened on a phrase and made a mountain out of a molehill -- he knows it all and yet is the first to take offense, he finds pleasure in it and is mightily satisfied with himself, and so reaches the point of real enmity ..."

Then again, maybe it's hoping too much to expect thatÝuniversity administrators read Dostoyevsky anymore, or that they'dÝrecognize themselves in the elder's cautionary description if they did read it.

This is why I love nineteenth-century fiction. It is wiser than we are (not least because it is not afraid to be earnest), and far more humane.

Erin O'Connor, 8:56 PM | Permalink

Here's an interesting article about

Here's an interesting article about the internal tensions within the diversity movement. Centering on strife at UNC-Wilmington, the piece provides a window into how what looks to outsiders to be a creepily unified enterprise is actually riven by factions competing for money, recognition, and, of course, first place as Most Oppressed Group. The two principal competitors? You guessed it: the race faction, which wants the diversity agenda to center on the needs of minorities, and the sex faction, which thinks sexual orientation ought to be the top priority. The result? You guessed it again: separatism originating within the diversity movement itself:

Given that UNCW now has separate black faculty meetings, separate women's faculty meetings, and separate lunch meetings for black faculty and staff, some are beginning to question whether our diversity proponents know where they are going with their heavily funded agenda. Many, like myself, fear that their vision of "progress" will soon include separate water fountains.

Reasonable people understand that when an idea fails consistently that it just might be wrong. But when we deal with the diversity proponents we are dealing with people who are at war with the very concepts of right and wrong. We are also dealing with people whose financial and political interests rely heavily on the success of the diversity movement.

Indeed, if the diversity nightmare ever ends, it will not be the result of some sudden realization among college administrators that it is expensive, hypocritical, and divisive. It will only end when ordinary Americans realize that they can no longer afford to be silent.

The piece is a healthy antidote to the sugar-coated promotional pamphlet for the campus diversity movement that appeared in this morning's New York Times. John Rosenberg does what needed to be done to this article here and here.

Erin O'Connor, 8:09 PM | Permalink

Penn President Judith Rodin's excellent

Penn President Judith Rodin's excellent October commentary on why it's more important than ever to protect free speech on campus is finally making the rounds on the web, thanks to Glenn Reynolds. I posted my comments on it when the piece came out, here.

Erin O'Connor, 7:52 PM | Permalink

Harvard's English department has not

Harvard's English department has not only cancelled pro-terror poet Tom Paulin's visit, but actively dissociated itself from Paulin's politics. Here's the palpably embarrassed notice on the department's web site:

By mutual consent of the poet and the English Department, the Morris Gray poetry reading by Tom Paulin, originally scheduled for Thursday, November 14th, will not take place. The English Department sincerely regret the widespread consternation that has arisen as a result of this invitation, which had been originally decided on last winter solely on the basis of Mr. Paulin's lifetime accomplishments as a poet.Ý
- Lawrence Buell, Chair

Note the care with which Buell stresses that the decision to invite Paulin was made almost a year ago (i.e., before his belief that Jewish settlers "should be shot dead" and that he feels "nothing but hatred for them" was made public), and that he was chosen purely on the basis of his poetry (i.e., not as a gesture of political solidarity). Generally, I feel it's rotten form to disinvite speakers, particularly when the reason for the disinvitation is extraneous to the reason for the invitation (Paulin was invited to read poetry, not to discourse about how much he hates Jews). Disinvitation is suppression, pure and simple--even when it is illegibly cast as a decision reached by "mutual consent." It is in this respect not in the best interests of open expression and the free exchange of ideas. But if you cannot in good conscience offer to be a hospitable host to your guest--which I am guessing is the case here--disinviting makes the best of a bad situation. Link via Jacob Levy.

UPDATE: A poem by Tom Paulin (who belongs to the famed Amiri Baraka School of Versification):

We are fed this inert
This lying phrase
Like comfort food
As another little Palestinian boy
In trainers jeans and a white teeshirt
Is gunned down by the Zionist SS
Whose initials we should
--but we don't--dumb goys
Clock in that weasel word

Via Best of the Web

Erin O'Connor, 7:22 PM | Permalink

November 11, 2002 [feather]
As the University of Tennessee

As the University of Tennessee clamps down on civil liberties, punishing five fraternity boys for wearing blackface to an air guitar contest, suspending the fraternity itself, and, now, contemplating a policy that would (unconstitutionally) banish "hate speech" from campus, it's worth getting a little historical, juridical, and moral perspective. FIRE has done just that, putting together a timely and detailed piece on the tendency of college administrators to target fraternities for disciplinary action, and surveying the case law that unequivocally shows that potentially "offensive" acts of expression such as wearing black face, burning flags, or, in the recent case of the University of Georgia, simply flying flags, are protected by the First Amendment. Included are summaries of cases at Syracuse, the University of Louisville, Dartmouth, the University of Mississippi, and Auburn.

What is most noteworthy about the cases summarized in FIRE's report is not the racial insensitivity displayed by each of the fraternities in question--though that is what a certain contingent of moralists would have us believe. Rather, what is most noteworthy is the positively rote quality of the alleged incidents of "racial insensitivity." The whole thing is a sort of sick disciplinary dance at this point. Fraternities lead, flouting the conventions of the campuses that officially revile them by making the most literally off-color joke they can think of: wearing blackface to a public gathering. Student activists follow that lead, and cry racism with the reflexive reliability of actors who know their lines and their moves by heart. The demands are stylized to the point of cliche: the fraternity must be punished, public apologies must be made, more black faculty must be hired, more sensitivity training must be required. Administrators behave in a similarly automatic manner, decrying the fraternity for its gross insensitivity while forgetting about free speech, threatening punishments and promising to work to improve the campus climate by throwing money at diversity-oriented initiatives. Sometimes there is an extra step to the dance, when FIRE or a lawyer cuts in and reminds the school of the law. But these reminders are unwelcome interruptions in the massive communal pageantry that is the public accusation of racism on campus.

Don't be fooled by the argument that "awareness must be raised" and that "racism is rampant" on campus. What's rampant is not lack of awareness about what constitutes a racist--or racially controversial--act. What is rampant is a collective need to stage--endlessly, repetitively, almost consolingly--the spectacle of communal righteousness. The need to display one's multicultural worthiness is tremendous on campuses today, and fraternities supply seemingly endless opportunities to do so. It doesn't take a genius to see how truly gratifying students, faculty, and administrators find the expression of righteous outrage about fraternity pranks; you don't have to be an expert in race relations to see why condemning racism--or "racial insensitivity," as the newspeak has it--would be the most gratifying outrage of all. In this sense, the frats that make this cathartic communal experience possible should be thanked, not punished. They are, after all, performing a public service.

Erin O'Connor, 10:29 PM | Permalink

At Regis University, the campus

At Regis University, the campus diversity movement has been stricken by pathetic fallacy: projecting a properly sensitized affect onto the environment, coordinators have devised a topographical form of sensitivity training called the Tunnel of Oppression. An "interactive exhibit that forces visitors to confront the hatreds and prejudices that bludgeon people daily - sometimes on their own campus," the Tunnel of Oppression confronts fellow travellors with "violence, racism, sexism, homophobia, faith- based hatred and intolerance, as well as issues of body image." Interestingly revealing reporting, that: "forcing" people to "confront the hatreds and prejudices that blugeon people daily" is itself a form of bludgeoning, one that imposes prejudice in the name of exposing it. One telling example: new to the exhibition this year is a section featuring photos of Afghan children maimed in the fighting there. "We want to show that war might serve certain ends, but it results in children being hurt," the coordinator said. Presenting war as a form of oppression, the Tunnel of Oppression casts anti-war sentiment as the one right, enlightened way to think, as the natural extension of true tolerance.

UPDATE: A reader writes to suggest an alternative to the Tunnel of Oppression:

"Lane of Liberation", sunny and warm. It starts,say, in Kuwait, rolls through the hills and dales of Bosnia and Kosovo ( lined on each side by millions of Muslims), and into the precincts of Afghanistan (this stretch is especially favored by women, who find themselves restored to the status of human beings ). The Lane is being extended: construction completed, hopefully, by 2003. For the children of Iraq.

Great idea. I wonder if student fees could pay for it?

Erin O'Connor, 8:52 PM | Permalink

From NoIndoctrination.org, an evaluation of

From NoIndoctrination.org, an evaluation of Introduction to Government at Cornell:

[The professor's] personal charisma, engaging lecture style, and well thought-out speeches almost compensate for his subtle liberal evangelism. Shortly into the first lecture, Lowi defined the term ëconquestí for the class as ëmilitary takeover of a country.í He offered alternate definitions of ëthe action of gaining by forceful armsí or ëa subjugation of a land and its people,í and then proceeded to declare that America is currently undergoing conquest at the hands of Attorney General Ashcroft and the Homeland Security Department. Amazingly, this assertion aroused not even a single audible scoff from the hundreds of students in attendance, and Prof. Lowi continued with his lecture. Highlights of his second lecture included his attributing capitalism to ìDemocratic liberalismî and referring to Christianity and terrorism as ìmythsî used to subjugate populations that may or may not be valid. The latter comment seemed to be an attempt to encourage suspicion of all governmental explanations. Lowiís examples of possible lies arouse suspicion themselves.

I am consistently struck by the quality of analysis displayed in the course evaluations posted at this new and important web site. This one was written by a student who not only listens carefully, but thinks creatively and well about what s/he hears. This is a student who knows the power word choice has to shape perception, and who understands, too, how carefully chosen words can themselves convey an entire politics--even in the absence of explicit statements of policy. More specifically, this individual has picked up on three of the most significant patterns in the thought reform campaign that passes for education on many campuses: the evangelical quality of the politicized classroom, with its hortatory rhetoric, its rigid fundamentalism, and its palpable quest to convert; argument by analogy (so that comparing Ashcroft to a conqueror turns him into one); and the use of literary-critical terms to discredit inconvenient realities--calling terrorism and Christianity myths discounts the challenge they each pose, in their different ways, to the cherished beliefs of the deeply secular, radically egalitarian multiculturalist mode of the modern left wing.

The good news is that the T.A. for the course gave the students a taste of what honest, unfettered inquiry might be like:

Thank God, my TA isn't at all evangelical in her views. We've had perfectly civil discussions of affirmative action, aside from a few nuisance students who complained to the TA privately that they felt intimidated/threatened by people not supporting affirmative action. The TA responded in the best possible way: "I have an announcement to make to anyone who is feels uncomfortable or threatened by viewpoints expressed here. This is a discussion. If ideas scare you, be an adult and disagree with them. That's what discussion is all about. I'm not going to censor anybody."

Erin O'Connor, 5:48 PM | Permalink

November 9, 2002 [feather]
IllinoisLoop.org has a long page

IllinoisLoop.org has a long page of Scary Postings from online education bulletin boards. A small sampling from the prose of those who hold the intellects of America's youth in their hands:

"Hello, I am starting tutoring this Wednesday in Maryland. I will be tutoring 6th or 7th graders in math, things like fractions and decimals. I wanted to open my first tutoring session with something creative and fun that has to do with math. Considering that math is my worst subject, and I don't favor it at all, Im short on ideas. Could anyone please send me some suggestions, I would greatly appreciate it!" (from an ed school student)

"When teaching the basic units to primary students what is a method that is suggested to use?"

"I'm working on my final portfolio for graduation. When I get burned out on the writing piece, I've been doing the divider pages for different sections. One of the things I've been working on when the writing gets to be overwhelming. [sic] So far, the Understanding Children page is decorated with pictures of Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) making all sorts of faces; the Arts and Humanities page has Calvin and Hobbes dancing on one side to a record player and Calvin coloring in another corner; I have several cartoons for the Math section, but I have to decide which one(s) to use. ... Here's the request. Does anyone have pictures or cartoons that you might send to me?"

"I teach grade 11 and 12 level algebra and trig to adults at a small college. ... I started putting rules and formulas to song. For example on the first day or so of class I usually serenade those who tell me that they are afraid of math with a rendition of:
Hey You don't be afraid / Math can't hurt you / It's really not that bad. / The minute you let it into your heart / Then you can start to learn it better / Learning Math can be fun / Math is fun, hey you.... (to the tune of Hey Jude, in case you didn't guess)"

"hi!! i have just recently finished my degree in teaching and was wondering if any one has any tips on effective classroom management skills and discipline? hope to hear from you soon!"

And, finally, this from a certified New York high school social studies teacher: "Only if our society realize that there are so many factors contributing to a student's test score, then teachers will be willing to take the blam game. Who is to blam when students don't do homeworks? who is to blam when pareants don't care to come to the teacher pareant conference?"

Can it be that the teacher is to blam? Painfully, there are many more Scary Postings from scary teachers on this site. There are also scary postings from students:

Yo ya all, i need to no what a frequency chart is. I looked it up in 3 dictionarys, and they didnt have it. I sorta foregot it. Its the only chart that i foregot in 6th grade. darn. Well, ßee ya

Does anyone have anything on the civil war if you do please such a address Thank you


I get email like this last one all the time. Link via Joanne Jacobs.

Erin O'Connor, 3:07 PM | Permalink

It will be interesting to

It will be interesting to see what Christopher Hitchens has to say to this.

Erin O'Connor, 12:31 PM | Permalink

Quote for the day: The

Quote for the day:

The majority of pacifists either belong to obscure religious sects or are simply humanitarians who object to taking life and prefer not to follow their thoughts beyond that point. But there is a minority of intellectual pacifists, whose real though unacknowledged motive appears to be hatred of western democracy and admiration of totalitarianism. Pacifist propaganda usually boils down to saying that one side is as bad as the other, but if one looks closely at the writings of the younger intellectual pacifists, one finds that they do not by any means express impartial disapproval but are directed almost entirely against Britain and the United States.

George Orwell wrote that in 1945. I am moved to cliche: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The good news, if we believe Victor Davis Hanson, is that the era of rabid anti-Americanism may finally be coming to an end:

The post-9/11 animus from a Norman Mailer (the Twin Towers were like ugly buck teeth), Noam Chomsky (America planned to kill "millions" in Afghanistan), or Michael Moore (there were few Bush voters at the World Trade Center) ó followed by gleeful predictions by others of U.S. failure against the Taliban ó is now come to logical fruition over the toppling of the odious Saddam Hussein. And what one has to conclude from the present venom is that anti-Americanism is neither logical nor empirical. Indeed, it is a fundamentalist secular religion, not a reasoned stance, one entirely inconsistent and unpredictable in its choice of friends and foes ó except for one constant: Whatever America does, it hates.

We are learning that resistance never really entailed opposition to fascism at all, much less the need for intervention to support democracy, but was simply a strange desire to vent displeasure with our own culture. That so many of these ideological teenagers mad at their opulent and indulgent parents are affluent suburbanites suggests the deleterious effects of leisure and wealth; that so many enjoy the appurtenances of nice cars, houses, and travel denotes abject hypocrisy; that so many mindlessly repeat cant and fad reflects the power of belonging to a clique that promises status by being more "sophisticated" and "subtle" than ordinary Americans; that so many demand utopian perfection reminds us that their god Reason is an unforgiving totem; that so many are shrill and angry suggests that they seek global causes to assuage personal unhappiness and anger at a system that has not met their own high demands upon it.

I'm normally wary of political analyses that explain movements as symptoms of individual psychopathology. But it is hard to escape the observation that the anti-war left has a distinct personality, and that this personality is, in the aggregate, that of an enormously alienated, reflexively hostile, unselfconsciously self-serving, and distinctly unreasonable entity.

Erin O'Connor, 12:05 PM | Permalink

November 8, 2002 [feather]
Captain Yips has some thoughts

Captain Yips has some thoughts on the legalities of Penn's hiring policies (scroll down to the posting for 10/30). I blogged last week about how Penn has not only created an incentive system for hiring women, but has actively instituted disincentives to discourage departments from hiring men. Here's the Captain on the "unusually honest admission by officials at the University of Pennsylvania that they were looking at "disincentives" to the hiring of male teachers in the pursuit of some grail of faculty proportionality":

One must hope that the University's Counsel will take the provost aside for a discussion of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. Even in today's sorry state of the enforcement of that law (heavily loaded in favor of the employer), such admissions create indefensible positions. Every man who is turned down for a job or for tenure at Penn has a complaint; and expensive as individual complaints might be, a class complaint could be very pricey.

Let's turn this in another direction. Hypothesize that at some point, Penn reaches the ideal state in which its faculty is almost in perfect proportion to all groups in American society. Further hypothesize that a distinguished woman, a Nobel winner, perhaps in biology or some form of nanotechnology, Philadelphia born but currently, say, at Cal Tech, desires to return to the East because her parents are aging and she wishes to be near them. She makes it known that she is available to Penn. She has funding (the real Holy Grail of modern academic science) and she has a platoon of grad students and research associates who will come with her. Alas, Penn cannot hire her. To do so would upset the proportions, for the next position must go to an gay Hispanic male, currently the only underrepresented group. To appoint this woman would be risk untold strife from advocacy groups. Penn must say, no thanks, and the Nobel winner in a fury decamps to MIT.

An absurd example? Only the logical terminus of such a policy.

And yet, and yet, and yet. Until the last decade or so, the plight of women in science was real; conditions are much better today, and are likely to continue to improve. But the late Dean of Northwestern's School of Engineering fought bitter battles for many years to hire qualified women; qualified women, mind you. And such progress as has been made is not irreversible. Boys in my daughter's class, discussion the making of the Constitution, expressed the opinion that women are not equal to men. It's true that many of the lads are first generation immigrants from, well, patriarchal societies. But we are not done, yet. For a while, it looks like the wheel must be reinvented continually. But not this way.

Policies such as Penn contemplates (and many other institutions no doubt practice with more subtlety) are not the way to equality of opportunity, which is all that anyone can ask for legitimately. I hope that no sooner does Penn announce its "disincentives" that every untenured male join in a class complaint.

Personally, I would love to see a class action lawsuit of this kind. If tenuring patterns in my own department are any indication, white men have been aiding the cause of "gender equity" by getting fired quite a bit over the years. The double standard is as palpable as it is unspeakable. But the bottom line is that women get tenure in my department and white men, more often than not, do not. The disparity has nothing to do with differential levels of accomplishment. Again, more often than not, the men who lose their jobs look as good or better on paper than the women who get promoted. Has this ever been publicly acknowledged? No. We aren't talking about the fact that the graduate program has become a sorority either. Not talking about the problem means, of course, that it does not exist, and so does not need to be addressed. It also means we do not need to ask if this is happening in other departments. And it means that we can all pat ourselves on the back for the great equity work that is being done locally, while at the same time continuing to bitch about the institutional oppression faced by academic women and minorities. Not healthy, not honest, not, quite frankly, conducive to imaginative teaching or inspired scholarship.

It's not just men who are getting screwed by the current academic climate. It's everyone. But last December, when Penn announced its plans to create "concrete incentives and disincentives" to promote the hiring and tenuring of women, no one made a peep (except those who feel that even this is not enough).

For the record, here is the "official text" on incentives and disincentives, taken from last year's Gender Equity Report:

although the primary responsibility for gender equity rests with the faculty, the President and Provost can provide important leadership and assistance, facilitating efforts to identify problems and to monitor progress, ensuring that, where central decisionmaking is required, procedures appropriate to the goal of gender equity are in place ex ante and that accountability is assessed ex post, and otherwise using the powers and resources of the administration to encourage progress and discourage behavior that can cause or exacerbate problems.

As to incentives, the most obvious and best potential source of central assistance in the pursuit of gender equity are funds that might be made available to schools or departments that are seriously interested in furthering that goal, whatever their record in the past. As we understand it, from the central administration's perspective, hiring is not a matter of slots but of resources. Thus, a program like that used at some other institutions, in which a unit authorized to hire at a junior level is granted an "upgrade" in order to attract a distinguished senior woman faculty member, would not fit our circumstances. But slots are dollars, and the same functional result could be achieved if consequential funds were committed to the enterprise on the model of the funds currently committed to increasing minority presence. We encourage the administration so to commit central funds.

As to disincentives, we have already stated our recommendation that the central administration turn back proposed appointments found to have been recommended by a process that is not conducive to gender equity. But we believe that some of the problems revealed in the Report are sufficiently serious and have proved sufficiently intractable to warrant a more substantive remedy. Thus, even where the process has been impeccable, we believe that schools or departments in which women have consistently and in a statistically significant way been seriously underrepresented (as determined by comparing their representation on the faculty with their representation in the relevant recruitment pool) should bear the burden of justifying any recommendation concerning an offer of appointment to a male for a position within an area of such underrepresentation. We recommend, in other words, a system of pre-offer approval for such units, the details of which (notably, the precise criteria that determine whether a school or department must secure central approval before making an offer) should be agreed by the administration and the faculty after broad consultation. The criteria finally adopted should be published, if only themselves to serve as an incentive for departments or schools to make the progress necessary to avoid (or eliminate the need for) pre-offer approval.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the links. And shame on Penn.

Erin O'Connor, 4:03 PM | Permalink

Ron Rosenbaum fisks Gore Vidal--and

Ron Rosenbaum fisks Gore Vidal--and in the process puts his finger on one of the prime beauties of the blogosphere: "I'm particularly fond of 'fisking' and misting,'" he writes, "because I believe they represent a revival on the Web of the kind of attentive close reading (albeit with plenty of attitude) that has disappeared from the jargon-clogged analysis of literature in the academy." Amen.

Erin O'Connor, 3:29 PM | Permalink

November 7, 2002 [feather]
In response to my post

In response to my post this morning about the Texas 10% Plan, Rob Lyman writes that the plan may well raise the issue of "disparate impact":

I want to point out that while the "Top 10%" rule is not, on its face, a race-based policy, it has long been a tenet of discrimination law that "disparate impact" is a basis for a claim of discrimination.

That is, one need not show that a law was MEANT to be racist, merely that the law's impact falls disproportionately on one race. That might form the basis for a civil-rights challenge to this law, assuming that it can be shown to benefit blacks and Hispanics more than whites.

Disparate impact theory has always been the playground of left-wing race-baiters; it would be kind of funny to seem them impaled on their own sword. On the other hand, a principled rejection of the disparate impact theory would be more in keeping with the equal-opportunity goals of most conservatives.

I can't make up my mind whether I'd rather see the Left skewered with its own theories or the Right stay true to long-held principles.

A tough call indeed, especially when it comes to double standards on campus. Stanley Kurtz and Jonah Goldberg are debating this very issue--albeit in a different context--over at The Corner (permalinking is funky over there right now and does not cite the poster--so just follow the link and scroll down to Kurtz's 11:04 am post to find the beginning of the thread).

Erin O'Connor, 8:16 PM | Permalink

Jonathan Tobin visits Temple University

Jonathan Tobin visits Temple University to assess the state of anti-war feeling on campus. His verdict: the current anti-war movement is animated by a nostalgia for the anti-war student movement of the late 60s and early 70s and an unquestioned faith in the assumption that the real threat is not Iraq, but the U.S. itself.

We've heard a lot about how the reflexive anti-Americanism of the "intellectual" left has fueled anti-war sentiment. We've heard less about the role nostalgia has played--though numerous commentators have noted how "peace" rallies seem to be disproportionately attended by aging hippies and 60s retreads. The anti-war left continually condemns patriotism as a false emotion that validates imperialism, war, xenophobia, and all manner of related sins. But nostalgia is a very similar emotion--it is sentimental (like patriotism), it is based on a distorted perception of a mythic past (like patriotism), it seeks to recapture a lost sensation of wholeness or wellbeing that is itself the illusory creation of the emotion (like patriotism). I could go on. Critics of the anti-war left only get so far when they focus on anti-Americanism because the criticism--as valid as it may be--nonetheless conjures up the specters of mindless loyalty, anti-intellectualism, and a hostility to critique itself. Hitting the anti-war left where it counts--smack in the middle of its own visceral fantasies--might deepen, and even shift, the debate.

Erin O'Connor, 1:36 PM | Permalink

John Rosenberg has been doing

John Rosenberg has been doing some excellent posting on Texas' attempt to do affirmative action by other means. Start here for a discussion of the 10% Plan (which works to increase the all-important "diversity" at Texas state schools by guaranteeing admission to the top 10% of graduates from each high school), and be sure to read the comments. Then read the follow-up post here. Lots of discussion here about whether a 10% Plan amounts to discrimination; Terry Pell, of the Center for Individual Rights, states that such a plan is unequivocally discriminatory, that it is a thinly veiled attempt to impose race preferences on admissions committees without appearing to. Pell should know--the Center for Individual Rights is at the forefront of litigation on this issue, having successfully argued the Hopwood case, which ended racial preferences in the Fifth Circuit. The CIR is also litigating two analogous cases at the University of Michigan, one of which looks like it may be heard by the Supreme Court.

But Rosenberg makes a compelling case against Pell's position. There doesn't seem to be any doubt that the Texas plan is designed to be an end-run around the Hopwood ruling, a way to favor race during admissions while at the same time not specifically setting out to reward individual applicants for having a prized ethnicity. But at the same time, the plan seems--to my amateur legal mind--to be legally unimpeachable. It's content-neutral. It's statistical. Certainly it privileges crappy high schools over quality ones by treating them as qualitatively the same (it also, for the record, privileges big schools over small ones). And certainly the students who will benefit from this type of institutional egalitarianism are going to be disproportionately poor and probably disproportionately non-white. They may also be disproportionately female and disproportionately comprised of students who specialized in wood shop rather than calculus. But these are side effects of a policy that does not itself set out to manipulate who makes it into that top ten per cent. At any given school, students have an equal opportunity to get into that category ... and that, to my mind, makes what Texas is doing substantially different from what, say, California is doing, with its "extra points for personal pain" admissions policy.

This is not to say that the 10 % Plan is a good one--it seems clear enough that it will dilute the academic quality of the students attending Texas state schools, and that as a consequence it may well send the best students out of state or to private colleges. It may, well, too, inspire its own brand of abuse. It's a bad idea to create an incentive for parents to send their kids to sub-par schools just so they can make it into the top ten percent. It's a bad idea, too, to create an incentive for kids not to do their best, but instead to do just enough to stay in the top ten per cent of their class. But bad ideas are not themselves discriminatory: if Texas wants to approach admissions the way many teachers approach grading (the top ten percent of students in every class gets an A, even though the quality of students in individual classes may vary widely), that would seem to be its business.

Erin O'Connor, 10:12 AM | Permalink

November 6, 2002 [feather]
Ever wonder what a pro-war

Ever wonder what a pro-war teach-in would look like? Here's one interpretation.

Erin O'Connor, 5:38 PM | Permalink

November 5, 2002 [feather]
The list of course evaluations

The list of course evaluations at NoIndoctrination.org continues to grow. Here are some choice excerpts.

On "Modernizing America," a History course at Brown:

The professor displayed his political opinions with great passion. While this is certainly not a crime in itself, the sheer frequency and fervor of his partisan proclamations eventually crossed the boundaries of appropriateness. When a professor openly refers to certain political parties as ìidioticî on a regular basis, he effectively censors that particular viewpoint from the class. No student should ever be expected to voice his ideological convictions if he knows that the professor holds an emotional, hostile reaction to such views. This professor absolutely hated a certain political affiliation, and he was quite happy to admit it. The history of labor conflict comprises a very specific area where I feel that the course failed to allow open discourse. The lectures unabashedly encouraged students to take a specific ìsideî and assign a very specific blame. The detailed policies and interpretations that were advocated are not of paramount concern in my complaint. The indoctrination came from the fact that these options were rigidly imposed on the students as absolute truth, without opportunity for real ideological criticism. Another bizarre moment in this course came when the professor decided to embark on a lengthy lecture about how students need to protest the administration more often. He did not advocate an issue to protest, rather he simply felt that a necessary component of any good student was the desire to actively oppose the establishment. Perhaps I am overreacting, but there seems to be something quite devious about using class time to recruit students for apparent acts of disobedience against their own university.

On "City Politics," a Political Science course at Brown:

This course is one of the most popular classes in our entire university, likely due to the professorís dynamic, energetic, interesting lecture style. Yet, his popularity and charisma made it all the more frustrating as his lectures appeared to use disingenuous tactics to subtly endorse a specific political agenda. The professorís favorite tactic is to provide an incomplete factual description of certain policy situations, then subtly lead the class to his preferred solution. Since the class is so large, there is rarely an opportunity to debate or question his opinions. For example, in the very first class alone he tries to shape the studentsí views of the drug war, the prison system, socialized education, socialized medicine, taxes, and much more. Expressing opinions on these subjects is very reasonable, but there is a fine line between articulating opinions and promoting agendas. He has very specific solutions to policy questions, and the format of the class never allows for debate or contrasting views. Fortunately, (or perhaps unfortunately,) the class is so big that teaching assistants grade all assignments, and make all evaluations.

On "Introduction to the Justice System," which fulfills a diversity requirement at the University of Idaho:

[This professor] Would teach liberal research findings as fact, while tearing apart conservative findings. Would also constantly teach her own opinion as fact (once even declaring in class something like, "Ronald Reagan has done more harm to the American working class than any other president in history"). ... If any student presented an idea contrary to her own, he was either "brainwashed by the media" or the product of a "middle-class" upbringing, and unaware of the problems faced by those less fortunate than himself.

I watch this web site closely. Even though it takes the form of anonymous course evaluations (which every college teacher knows from personal experience do not always accurately describe a course and do always invite vindictive attack), the information on this web site is, I believe, a telling testament to the sort of thing that routinely takes place in college classrooms across the country. What compels me to trust the evaluations, one-sided as they necessarily are, is the quality and consistency of the commentary students are submitting. The specific complaints they make about individual courses at a variety of schools in a range of departments work together to describe a pattern. That pattern is one of systematic political bias built into the form and content of courses as diverse as freshman composition and American history, of lectures that tell one side of the story, of readings that support one interpretation, of professors who will not tolerate challenging questions or debate, of grades hinging on one's willingness to regurgitate as truth the propaganda served up by professors and teaching assistants. It rings true, not least because one can watch young adults struggling to be fair in their evaluations even as they pinpoint over and over the precise nature of the problem that is corrupting higher education in America today. It's damning as can be--not least because NoIndoctrination.org shows that students who use their brains can see right past--and through--the cheap attempts at indoctrination that their less canny, less intelligent teachers try to pass off as quality education.

Erin O'Connor, 9:29 PM | Permalink

The University of Tennessee is

The University of Tennessee is sticking to its decision to suspend Kappa Sigma fraternity after five members donned blackface and dressed up as the Jackson Five last week for an air guitar contest. UT Provost Loren Crabtree claims that those who have criticized the university's decision for violating the First Amendment don't know the whole story (Critical Mass was among those critics).

Here is a summary of the Provost's reasoning, as provided by the Knoxville News:

Although there is no evidence to suggest the UT fraternity members were motivated by racism, Crabtree said their true motivations were "irrelevant" because of the persecution that black Americans have experienced in the past.

"What we are dealing with is historical consciousness and awareness," Crabtree said. "It's similar to the Jewish people, who have to put up with the Holocaust memories You hear all about these false historians who argue that the Holocaust never actually occurred. It's a tremendous offense to them to have Nazi Swastikas displayed."

Crabtree said whites appearing in "blackface" costume is highly offensive to many blacks because it "recalls old time minstrel shows that depicted African Americans as ignorant simpletons - mere human scenery."

Before the fraternity was suspended, UT hosted several meetings between the fraternity and black student leaders, Crabtree said. Talks broke down last week after several black students concluded that the fraternity's apologies weren't heartfelt and walked out of a meeting.

Crabtree stressed that UT didn't take any direct actions against the fraternity because the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech would have protected fraternity members. Because the national organization is a private entity, however, Kappa Sigma was free to impose a suspension on its Knoxville chapter.

So: the fraternity members were not only insensitive when they put on blackface, but they were rude about it afterwards. They were not properly apologetic; they were not abject in their regret. And that's why UT is going after them. Except, we need to keep in mind that UT is not actually going after them. UT, Provost Crabtree reminds us, respects free speech. It's the national organization of Kappa Sigma, not UT, that is going after the frat--or so it is now reported (this is not what papers reported last week). Disavowing the action as wrong while benefiting from the same action taken by another entity, Provost Crabtree sounds rather like another famously slippery scion of Tennessee here: he might well have said, "I have not suspended Kappa Sigma, but there are those who have."

In any case, we would all do well to remember that there is no punishment involved here at all, nor is there any pandering to a vindictive victimology. There is only education, responsibility, and the pursuit of justice: "One of the chief accusations is that we're playing on political correctness," Crabtree said. "I think we're after equitable human relations. Universities have a responsibility in that regard. We don't just mirror society, we try to improve it through education." That's why the folks at UT can make five unrepentant frat boys responsible for the entire history of racism in the U.S. It's only right. It's the least a responsible institution of higher learning can do.

UPDATE: UT is considering instituting a hate speech code to make it easier to handle future incidents like the blackface one. Eugene Volokh has the details, and the appropriate level of contempt.

UPDATE UPDATE: UT's Glenn Reynolds also has a few choice words for the UT administration.

Erin O'Connor, 5:52 PM | Permalink

If you are what you

If you are what you eat, what are you if you eat this?

Erin O'Connor, 5:23 PM | Permalink

Harvard economics students have compelled

Harvard economics students have compelled the college to remove an incompetent lecturer from the classroom. The Crimson's coverage of this remarkable event is as sensitive as it can be. There is much ink spilt on the raw intelligence of the lecturer, and much optimistic hot air blown about how things will be different when he returns to the course in one month's time. Everyone is very sympathetic to the lecturer's plight--he was used to teaching small tutorials, and the large lecture format was infamiliar to him. Everyone wants to see him return to the classroom after his month off, a new pedagogical man. The lecturer gets the full benefit of affirmative action philosophy: he has potential, he could do better if he had more time, we all want to see him succeed, we'll give him a month of free unfettered prep time and then cheer his return. We must be flexible and understanding; some professors, like some students, are differently abled.

Saccharine rhetoric aside, it is not hard to read between the lines. Harvard put an unqualified teacher in the classroom. This individual compounded his problems by not preparing for class or adjusting his teaching style to the needs of a large course. Students became so outraged that they demanded redress (Study Question: how bad does a course have to be for undergrads--who, through combined passivity, innocence, and fear of retaliation, will put up with just about any degree of teacherly incompetence--to get this annoyed and this organized?). Students got what they asked for (Study Question: how bad does a course have to be for administrators--who, through combined inertia, spinelessness, and self-interest will also put up with just about any degree of teacherly incompetence--to do something this quickly and decisively?). In short, Harvard not only has a big problem, but has publicly acknowledged it, albeit on a local level.

Crimson columnist Arianne Cohen connects the dots in a piece aptly entitled "World's Greatest University, World's Worst Teachers":

I have stumbled upon a dirty secret: our teachers need teaching lessons. Except itís not a well-kept secret, because I sit through lectures alongside hundreds of fellow students, watching as brilliant minds mangle their genius into incomprehensible, wandering lectures.


... for every good teacher Iíve had, there is another who deserved the Teaching Police: there was the professor with organizational skills based solely on conversational whim, the professor who spoke in a whisper and looked up from his feet only when the fire alarm went off and the multiple professors who spent fourteen 52-minute sessions reading directly from thick pages of text. And letís not forget the quality teaching fellows (TFs) who accompanied these professors. There was the one who started crying at a student question, the one who spent sections discussing his girlfriend and the one who regularly lost control of her cleavage, distracting half the class from any insight she may have had, had she done the reading.

There's more.

Erin O'Connor, 11:51 AM | Permalink

At Point Park College in

At Point Park College in Pittsburgh, you can take a course entitled "Wealthy White Males." According to the professor, this a "minority" worth studying because it has such power and prestige. According to critics, this is a course on how to blame rich white men for your own and the world's problems. The Washington Times gathers some interesting comments about "Whiteness Studies," the new pseudo-scholarly field of which this course is just one example. An excerpt:

The class reading list includes "The Power Elite," a 1956 book by sociologist C. Wright Mills, and "Power Politics," written by Arundhati Roy.

Given the reading assignments and topic of study, the class is less a study of a minority than a "rehashing of old theories about elites, their circles of power and the consequences of their actions," said Winfield Myers, an education analyst with the Democracy Project, a new educational-assessment and outreach organization in Wilmington, Del.

Mr. Myers said Mrs. Roy argues against so-called "globalization" and Mr. Mills argues that success in modern societies is predicated on immorality and corruption.

"If these assertions form the intellectual foundation of the class, then students will not learn about the dynamism of modern American culture, nor about its unequalled ability to assimilate people from all over the world and provide opportunities for anyone who desires to improve their lot," Mr. Myers said.

"Rather, they'll contemplate dusty, deterministic theories from the era of Dr. Strangelove and self-righteous indignation from a woman who's international fame rests upon the very system she condemns."

Erin O'Connor, 11:16 AM | Permalink

With a nod to Malamud,

With a nod to Malamud, The Guardian dubs Dubya "the natural."

Meanwhile, Nicholas Kristof notes that the American left has begun to sound like Rush Limbaugh.

Erin O'Connor, 10:48 AM | Permalink

November 4, 2002 [feather]
The good news is that

The good news is that Oregon students don't want to see Huckleberry Finn banned as a racist book. The bad news is that they want teachers to undergo sensitivity training before they are allowed to teach it. Two black students presented their case to the Portland school board last week. "I feel books like Huck Finn decrease my stance and make me less of a person," said one. "When reading Huckleberry Finn, the word 'nigger' is used over 200 times. But this is not the problem. The problem is the hostile environment that reading this book, and books like it, creates," said the other.

Literature courses have long been in the business of doing group therapy under the guise of initiating students to the literary tradition. The "opening up of the canon" has meant that course syllabi have become egalitarian displays of demographic inclusiveness (the lit syllabus that only has white men on it is an oppressive, unenlightened construct; the lit syllabus that makes room for women and writers of color--without concern for questions of quality or influence--is the right and proper syllabus). And the attendant rise of identity politics has meant that literature courses rely increasingly on fallacious--but empowering!--categories such as "women's literature" (as if women have only ever written in a vacuum, to and for one another; as if they did not write alongside men writers, participate in the same traditions, work in the same artistic forms, want to achieve the same things). Literature teachers and literary "theorists" have long used (I mean used) literature to further a distinctly left-leaning multicultural agenda--to study English in school today is to become sensitized to how literature has historically been an instrument of both power and resistance; it is to absorb the etiquette of "diversity" by way of--as the truth of--literary history. It is to "learn" about oppression. Huck Finn is a favorite stomping ground for English teachers who use literature to stage politicized discussions about the various -isms; assessing the quality and caliber of the novel's "racism" has become something of a pedagogical sport in recent years--as if pejoratively labelling a work of art were an act of interpretation, as if stroking our enlightened egos at Twain's expense could even begin to do justice to the complexity and enormity of his deceptively simple little novel.

And so it comes full circle. As teachers assign books that will facilitate classroom discussion of racism, sexism, and homophobia--as they turn English into an artsy form of sensitivity training--so students demand that their teachers be properly credentialed to undertake such therapeutic pedagogy. Meanwhile, Mark Twain is reduced to a caricature of the very attitudes that he himself so ably satirized. Pity that with all the demand for sensitivity training, no one is demanding that students--and their teachers--be sensitive readers.

UPDATE: An American lit professor applauds the idea that teachers should undergo sensitivity training before teaching Huck Finn. I rest my case.

Erin O'Connor, 5:45 PM | Permalink

Eric Raymond waxes gleeful at

Eric Raymond waxes gleeful at the information that the anti-war movement has turned out to be a Communist front:

Investigative reporter David Corn digs into last Saturday's D.C. antiwar rally and finds it was covertly masterminded by a Communist Party splinter originally founded in support of the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. For good later, he further digs up the fact that one if the principal organizers of the inane "Mot In Our Name" petion is a revolutionary Maoist.

Words almost fail me. There are just too many levels of delicious, deadly irony here.

For starters, the U.S. revolutionary Communist movement has been reduced to organizing demonstrations in support of a fascist dictator with a history of brutally suppressing and murdering Communists in Iraq. OK, so there's precedent for this; the CPUSA organized anti-war demonstrations in the U.S. during the Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact of 1939-41. It's still bleakly funny.

More generally the American Left seems bent on fulfilling every red-meat right-winger's most perfervid fantasies about it. All those earnest anti-war demonstrators were actual communist dupes! Oh, mama. Somewhere. Tailgunner Joe McCarthy is smiling. Who was it who said that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second as farce?

Farce because, of course, Communism as an ideology capable of motivating mass revolutions is stone-dead. (Well, everywhere outside of Pyongyang and the humanities departments of U.S. universities, anyway.) At this point one can contemplate vestigial organs of Stalinism like the Revolutionary Communist Party with a sort of revolted pity, like portions of a vampire corpse still twitching because they haven't yet gotten the message about that stake through the heart.

If I were a conservative, I'd go into a roaring, vein-popping rant at this point. And, secretly I'd be damn glad for them Commies. They simplify things so much. Because there will be more stories like this one. All the Communists can accomplish by organizing the anti-war movement is to thoroughly discredit it ó a fact our reporter (quite typical of U.S. journalists in that he both leans left and is too ignorant to notice how much of his world-view is Communism with the serial numbers filed off) notes with poorly-veiled regret.

Meanwhile, Debbie Schlussel of the Jerusalem Post reports that the notorious Second Annual Palestinian Students Divestment Conference, held last month at the University of Michigan, was funded by a number of terrorist front groups--and by the American tax payers themselves. Schlussel doesn't give the numbers--but it sounds like they would be well worth a look.

Erin O'Connor, 10:30 AM | Permalink

November 1, 2002 [feather]
University of Tennessee students, inspired

University of Tennessee students, inspired by the administration's suspension of a fraternity for committing the crime of blackface, seek to make the campus' commitment to diversity more inclusive. I copy a letter to the editor of today's Daily Beacon, UT's student paper:

Editor, The Daily Beacon:

You would not believe the injustice that I witnessed last night as I drove home from work. As I pulled off the Strip, there dancing in my headlights was a group of what appeared to be witches. Knowing a few witches myself, I decided to head over and say "hello." But to my surprise, those that returned my greeting weren't witches after all but people dressed up in "witchface." After all the chaos on campus these last couple of days, you would think people would have a little more respect than to be impersonating someone different than they are. What do they think ... it's Halloween or something? I asked the impostors who they were and they responded as members of the local Halloween fraternity (Beta Omicron Omicron) commonly known as BOO. Knowing they were lying, I asked who they really were. I don't want to point any fingers, but you can bet I contacted my local BOO chapter. The whole BOO community is in a uproar. We are tired of always being looked down upon. When are things going to change? I know people have a freedom of self-expression, but I say take it away because it is hurting my fellow BOO's feelings. The least UT can do is to promote BOO awareness. And when they do, I hope no one is too fixated on their own problems to listen. Now that would be a shame.

Michael Hoover

sophomore in biochemistry and microbiology

An excellent proposal. But we should not stop at outlawing blackface and witchface. I would also urge campus sensitivity watchdogs to look out for people in twoface. Such people make a mockery of honest folks everywhere, and so do untold damage to the self-esteem of this country's future leaders. People in twoface can be hard to locate--there are many of them, but they blend in pretty well. But they must be rooted out all the same, and banned from all campus activities (including administration). I hear they can be found behind closed doors.

Erin O'Connor, 9:57 PM | Permalink

Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds

Eugene Volokh and Glenn Reynolds have fisked the University of Tennessee's illiberal ass. UT suspended a fraternity when black students complained that some frat members had shown racial insensitivity by wearing blackface. More specifically--lest ye be shaking your head in disapproval at the crassness of frat boys who do the Al Jolson minstrel routine in this enlightened day and age--they complained because five white members of the fraternity dressed up as the Jackson Five for an air guitar contest. (Go ahead--laugh. I did. When you have expressed your mirth, continue.) UT has responded to the complaint by suspending the frat, which means it does not have standing as a student organization and cannot participate in campus activities such as Homecoming. It also plans to discipline the frat, whose failure to absorb the lessons of the sensitivity workshop all UT Greek organizations attended last year makes it doubly heinous and deserving of especially strict censure. Here's the UT provost: "We will require the leaders and members of Kappa Sigma to demonstrate a commitment to uphold our expectations for civility, ethnic diversity and racial harmony. He went on to note that after the university concludes its "investigation" (offensive costumes do, after all, require secret policework and dossiers) individual students may face "sanctions" (the likely repertoire: community service, written apologies, sensitivity training, perhaps a long essay on personal integrity).

The good news is that UT will be doing no such thing. Eugene Volokh notes that the courts have already formally determined that frat boys have the right to wear blackface, and both Volokh and Reynolds mention a little something called the First Amendment, whose terms usually will trump those of spineless administrators who are unfamiliar with any moral or legal code besides that which dictates their own professional self interest. In a triumph of blogospheric anti-idiotarianism, Reynolds points out that the UT provost's statement about requiring Kappa Sigma to demonstrate its commitment to UT expectations of civility, ethnic diversity, and racial harmony sounds eerily like he is mandating that the frat make an oath of loyalty to UT as a condition of regaining its status as a recognized student organization. The coup de grace: "loyalty oath" is a link--to FIRE, which has successfully shamed the pants off schools that have, like UT, violated their students' and faculty's freedom of conscience in the name of campus "harmony." I'm guessing Provost Crabtree is going to be getting a little phone call from one Thor Halvorssen--if he hasn't already.

UPDATE: From the comments at Scrappleface: "Hey, if Michael Jackson, one of the original Jackson Five, can go around impersonating a white woman, why can't white frat boys do the reverse?"

UPDATE UPDATE: Reader Bob F. has devised an appropriate punishment for the Kappa Sigma culprits:

Maybe those frat guys ought to show up at the provost's office in their Jackson 5 regalia, and twirling behind a row of standup mikes,Ýoffer him a musical pledge of love and loyalty. "For he that singeth praise, not only praiseth, but praiseth with gladness: he that singeth praise, not only singeth, but also loveth him of whom he singeth." (St. Augustine, Commentary on Psalm 73, 1)

OoohÝProvost, giveÝus one more chance
(show you that we're loyal)
(try to beÝcorrect)
Oooh we were so insensitive
(but we'll make it up now)
Make the Osmonds live

I think a little moonwalking and crotch-grabbing would be in order as well.

Erin O'Connor, 4:37 PM | Permalink

Human Rights Watch has declared

Human Rights Watch has declared Palestinian suicide bombings to be "crimes against humanity," noting that "The people who carry out suicide bombings are not martyrs, they're war criminals, and so are the people who help to plan such attacks." The 170-page report stresses that Israel has done nothing to warrant such attacks.

Erin O'Connor, 10:44 AM | Permalink

From a woman reader incensed

From a woman reader incensed by Penn's Gender Inequity policy of using (as-yet unspecified) "disincentives" to discourage departments from hiring and promoting men:

Affirmative action is wrong at the university admissions level, at the hiring level it is dead wrong. But deciding it is fine to oppress the unwanted males is a new low. Giving a "make-up call" to someone wronged might be a human instinct hard to suppress at times, but deciding to give unearned advantage to those who have not been discriminated against (but who had a relative who might have been discriminated against) doesn't do a free and open society anything but harm. Women might have been discriminated against in the past (which is hard to prove in fields that are still not chosen by women even when actively recruited today). But why do we repay their daughters to make amends to the dead? Why is perpetuating discrimination (once it is recognized as unfair) good for anyone? Gutting the fundamental American principle of equality and meritocracy in a university should be unthinkable. That such policies are openly discussed and accepted without dissent should be incontrovertible proof that reason is now extinct at the university. They don't seem to realize they have lost it and don't appear to miss it. Can we vote on which people we want to make the privileged "ins" and which will be "out" of fashion? Can we do this often so everyone gets the liberating experience of getting a turn at being oppressed and being an oppressor?

Equal opportunity victimhood does seem to be one solution. In a way, the marginalization of men on campus is a means of doing this. The undergraduate student body is becoming increasingly feminized (women make up more than 60% of undergraduates and are expected to be fully 2/3 of the student body within a few years), and the faculty is following suit (at Penn, for example, more than 90% of graduate students in English are women--a number that is not a local aberration, and that telegraphs quite clearly that this is one discipline that is fast becoming a single-sex enterprise). But one of the strange things about this massive demographic shift is that it does not in any way mitigate or controvert the loud cries of discrimination that have become such a reflexive tic on campus. You could argue that the signal achievement of academic feminism is to reconcile actual dominance with the rhetoric of subordination; indeed, how better to parade your institutional power than to force everyone around you to participate in the lie of your oppression? The oppressed people on campus are not those who, to borrow a priceless phrase from feminist rhetoric, "have a voice." They are not those whose subordination is the subject of endless protective policies, studies, syllabi, classroom discussions, sensitivity workshops, research projects, scholarships, fellowships, "incentives," "disincentives," and whole academic departments. They are those who cannot speak up about the double standard for fear of losing whatever small chance they have of making it in what is increasingly a woman's academic world. They are white men.

Another point raised by this letter that is worth highlighting: the logic of gender equity as it is presently carried out on many, many campuses is not that of equity (the term is a grotesque misnomer) but of reparations. The overwhelming majority of women who are currently benefiting from affirmative action in the name of gender equity on campus belong to a generation that does not know what institutionalized discrimination is. They are women like me, raised and schooled entirely in an America that was bending over backwards to give girls opportunities. They grew up knowing they could do anything boys could do. They played sports, excelled in school (even in math and science!), never imagined they would not go to college, never imagined they would not be able to pursue the career of their choice. Like boys, we always had an answer for the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Contrary to the received wisdom of self-help psychobabble, we were confident girls who grew up to be self-determining women. We are independent agents. We have choices and endless opportunity. And yet we luxuriate in the myth of our oppression and expect to be compensated personally for the way it "used to be" for other women living in other times. The hypocrisy is intimately related to that which animates those who think America's past history of slavery justifies paying reparations to blacks today.

Which thought brings us full circle here at Critical Mass. We find ourselves wondering: what is the place of race in Penn's hiring program of selective incentives and punitive disincentives? Does a department have a greater "incentive" to hire a black man than a white woman? What's the bounty on black women scholars? If there is a punishment for hiring white men, surely there must be a special prize for hiring minority women. Yes, this is a disgusting line of thought. But it isn't mine: it's that of an "affirmative action" that has lost its dignity, its respect for humanity, and its mind.

Erin O'Connor, 10:12 AM | Permalink