About Critical Mass [dot] Writing [dot] Reviews [dot] Contact
January 31, 2003 [feather]
Teacher fired for beliefs

A Missouri schoolteacher has been fired for voicing controversial opinions. Last fall, a student in Jendra Loeffelman's eighth-grade class asked her what she thought about interracial marriage. The question grew out of a discussion about an assignment the student had been given in another class. Loeffelman answered honestly, telling her class that she disapproved of interracial marriage because it produced children who are likely to be persecuted. Some of Loeffelman's students are of mixed racial origins.

And thus was the witch hunt begun. At hearings conducted this month, both students and parents (who weren't even there!) testified that Leoffelman also said that interracial students tended to be dirty and that interracial couples should be sterilized in order to prevent them from having children. Loeffelman does not deny telling her class that she opposes interracial marriage and fears for the children of such unions. But she does deny the additional allegations--some of which, it appears, were made by people who could not possibly know what she said that day. Loeffelman was found guilty of intentionally violating school district policies on harassment and discrimination, and was summarily fired.

This is what Loeffelman gets for honestly responding to a student's question. Loeffelman was not using her classroom to proselytize; she was not attempting to indoctrinate her students; she was not conducting her class in a discriminatory manner. What she was doing was treating a student's difficult question with the respect all such questions deserve: instead of deflecting the question (and thus teaching her students that they are not worthy of straight answers) or refusing to address the question (and thus teaching her students that it is morally wrong to seek answers) or parroting a politically correct position that is not her own (and thus teaching her students that the only proper response to tough questions is to mouth institutionalized platitudes), Loeffelman spoke her mind. She had to have known her comments would touch a nerve or two. But she decided that it was more important to address her students' questions frankly than it was to pander to their--or their parents'--sensibilities. For this, she lost her job after thirteen years of service. The Crystal City school board should be proud of itself for so deftly conflating honesty with harassment and for treating matters of private conscience as the proper purview of discrimination law.

Loeffelman may have the last laugh if she chooses to pursue the matter, however. Her lawyer contends that the school district cannot fire her unless it can show that she knew about its harassment and discrimination policies and that she deliberately violated them: "They must have proof she knew what the policy was - and they can't just say you can't offend anyone - and that she intentionally violated the policies." They don't have proof, he says. And without proof, they won't have a case if Loeffelman wants to take them to court.

Erin O'Connor, 10:47 AM | Permalink




Cheating stings at Maryland

Six University of Maryland business students have been caught using cell phones to cheat on an accounting exam. Six others are implicated in the case. Knowing the professor would post the answer key while the test was in session, the students arranged for accomplices not in the class to send them the answers via text message during the exam. Knowing what the students were up to, UM professors staged a sting operation: they posted a fake answer key with incorrect answers in order to out the cheaters.

Erin O'Connor, 9:53 AM | Permalink




Eco-terrorism conference at Fresno State

In February, Fresno State will be hosting a conference entitled "Revolutionary Environmentalism: A Dialogue Between Activists and Academics." Bruce Thornton profiles the radical groups that will attend (they include the Earth Liberation Front, the Animal Liberation Front, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), notes the manner in which such groups openly advocate and practice violence, points out how the radical anti-humanism espoused by such groups--which reject the notion that human life is superior to other forms of life--is the first epistemological step toward a mass-murdering mentality, and outlines the double standard inherent in the conference itself: radical anti-abortionists would never receive such a cordial academic welcome on a state campus.
Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: The American Prowler has more. Thanks to reader Andrew B. for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 9:35 AM | Permalink




January 29, 2003 [feather]
Banning the N word

Black activists in San Jose are seeking to ban the word "nigger." Though they acknowledge that the word is sometimes used not as a definite slur but as slang, they argue that it always connotes hate. For that reason, they not only want a law forbidding people to use to word, but want to see those who do use it be prosecuted for committing a hate crime. The word "carries more violence to it than any other ethnic slur we know,'' said one of the activists. "It is a hate crime. The use of the word is hate.'' Guess this means the San Jose Mercury News should apologize for covering the movement and should fire the reporter who wrote the story.

Erin O'Connor, 2:25 PM | Permalink




Banning Steinbeck

An Ohio school district has been petitioned to ban John Steinbeck's short classic, Of Mice and Men (1937). There's some "foul language" in the book, objects Lloyd Caldwell, whose granddaughter was assigned to read it for her high school English class: "Thereís words on there you wouldnít say to a drunken sailor .... Every page in this book except four, and thatís right at the beginning, has swear words of one nature or another ó and some of them are just dern right, down rotten filthy." Caldwell claims that the parents of other students object to the book's use as well, but have not come forward for fear that this would cause teachers to retaliate against their children. Caldwell's daughter, Brenda Morris, argues that books like Steinbeck's should not be part of the curriculum because they do not facilitate the school district's goals of building character, teaching self-respect, and educating young people in the rights and duties of citizenship.

John Steinbeck won the 1962 Nobel Prize for Literature. In his acceptance speech, he spoke of both the moral force of literature and the ethical duties of the writer:


The ancient commission of the writer has not changed. He is charged with exposing our many grievous faults and failures, with dredging up to the light our dark and dangerous dreams for the purpose of improvement.

Furthermore, the writer is delegated to declare and to celebrate man's proven capacity for greatness of heart and spirit - for gallantry in defeat - for courage, compassion and love. In the endless war against weakness and despair, these are the bright rally-flags of hope and of emulation.

I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of man, has no dedication nor any membership in literature.

The present universal fear has been the result of a forward surge in our knowledge and manipulation of certain dangerous factors in the physical world.

It is true that other phases of understanding have not yet caught up with this great step, but there is no reason to presume that they cannot or will not draw abreast. Indeed it is a part of the writer's responsibility to make sure that they do.


Of Mice and Men is one of the most frequently protested and banned books in American schools. Perhaps the shortsighted families who are offended by Steinbeck's occasionally graphic language should be invited to study Of Mice and Men along with their kids. Before they take to banning books, they ought to know a little bit more about them.

Erin O'Connor, 2:01 PM | Permalink




January 28, 2003 [feather]
Fomenting hate at Dartmouth

Last Thursday, Paul Robeson, Jr., son and biographer of the legendary entertainer and far-left activist, spoke at Dartmouth as part of the school's week-long recognition of Martin Luther King, Jr. His speech, a passionate, hour-long condemnation of America in general, and the Bush administration in particular, featured the following claims:


--that America is splitting into two countries, one dominated by African-Americans and one dominated by the ideals of white Southern Protestants such as Trent Lott, Bill Frist, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and Vice President Dick Cheney.

--that such men are all "made of the same stuff."

--that America needs a "second period of Reconstruction" to finish the work of the Civil Rights movement, to install universal human rights, and to redistribute economic resources

--that Bush "is part of a neo-Confederate government geared at destroying the Union."

--that some of Joseph Stalin's documents provided the template for the Homeland Security Act

--that the support Bush receives from the South is analogous to the support Hitler received from southern Germany

--that it would be better to spend "hundreds of billions of dollars" assisting all Americans who make less than the median income than it would be to pay slave reparations

--that while "A civil war at a time like this would be unimaginable," a "revolution" must still be staged "by any means but that."

So much for the content of our characters. Maybe Dartmouth should hold a forum to debate whether intellectually dishonest historical revisionism celebrates or denigrates King's memory. At such a forum, it would also be intriguing to consider how Robeson, Jr. is using a distinctly American vocabulary of segregation and secession to promote the eventual dissolution of the U.S. as we know it--if institutionalized racism in the U.S. is his most visible target, the revolutionary triumph of a new transnational socialist order is his ultimate goal.

Thanks to reader Fred R. for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 2:17 PM | Permalink




Dissing Single-Sex Diversity

Peter Wood, an anthropology professor at Boston University, will be publishing a book entitled Diversity: The Invention of a Concept next month (read Chapter One here). If the (subscribers only) article culled from the book and currently running in the Chronicle of Higher Education is any indication, Wood's book promises to be a timely and much-needed analysis of how the slippery and often self-discrediting terminology of diversity came into being.

Wood's piece in the Chronicle centers on the hypocritical logic of private women's colleges that sell themselves as havens of multiculturalism. Wellesley, Smith, Mt. Holyoke, and Bryn Mawr are all committed to a selective, internally contradictory, and ultimately indefensible concept of diversity, Wood argues. They exclude men even as they tout their commitment to non-discrimination; they promote themselves as places where sheltered young white women can have transformative encounters with people from different ethnic and racial backgrounds even as they promise nonwhite applicants respect, community, and identity; they engineer a safe and nonthreatening McDiversity of skin color for students that does more to shelter them from difference than to educate them about it.

Some excerpts:


...to avow the ideal of admitting diverse classes of students and to simultaneously reject, for purposes of admission, one of the most basic forms of actual human diversity is hypocritical and reveals a deep confusion of guiding principles.

I can well imagine that the exclusion of men or women from a particular college could be ethically, as well as educationally, justifiable. As it happens, however, the elite women's colleges that I have cited do not offer much in the way of credible ethical explanations for their exclusion of men. Moreover, their current infatuation with diversity would probably make them recoil from the best justification for single-sex education: that some forms of diversity can impede learning for some students, and that perhaps a women's college fosters a sense of group identity that promotes intellectual development.

[...]

Colleges are complex institutions that serve multiple purposes, but beneath every legitimate purpose in higher education ought to be a profound commitment to the pursuit of truth. Institutions that wed themselves to the self-serving lie of promising real but delivering fake diversity deserve to be excoriated. That lie breeds other lies. It gives the public-relations staff a rationale for publishing staged or phony pictures of racial and ethnic harmony. It tempts colleges to betray their admissions standards and to lie and insist that they haven't. It underlies corrupt choices about grades, courses, faculty appointments, and whole academic programs --Ýwhich, in turn, perpetuate a deeper dishonesty throughout society.

This large hypocrisy eats away at the foundations of American higher education. Clearly, one answer is to hold colleges to the spirit of real diversity. If diversity is such a good thing, why not, as at least part of the effort to create a diverse institution, eliminate artificial barriers that exclude some categories of intellectually able and otherwise qualified people? In that light, why shouldn't Smith and the other women's colleges that extol diversity go coed?


Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: John Rosenberg has more.

Erin O'Connor, 12:01 PM | Permalink




Title IX according to John Irving

John Irving fans know how significant wrestling is to him--a lifelong devotee of the sport, Irving has been both athlete and coach, belongs to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, and even made a cameo appearance as a wrestling referee in the film version of Garp. In today's New York Times, Irving weighs in on the problems Title IX (which bans sex discrimination in schools) has been causing for men's college sports. Irving is eloquent on how a strategic and manipulative misinterpretation of Title IX has been used to systematically discriminate against male college athletes, and pays particular attention to Title IX's devastating and actionable impact on college wrestling. His argument is detailed, informed, persuasive, and damning.

Erin O'Connor, 9:01 AM | Permalink




January 26, 2003 [feather]
George Will's Diversity Quotient

George Will argues that by its own logic, the University of Michigan should be giving conservative applicants preferential treatment. Noting that conservatives are grossly underpresented at UM, Will suggests that admissions officers should work to correct the lack of intellectual diversity on campus by subjecting applicants to a handy political litmus test:


The university should ask all applicants the following 15 questions, awarding each applicant 10 points for each diversity-enhancing answer (150 points being a perfect Diversity Quotient):

The Supreme Court's principal function is (a) to wield the Constitution as a living document to right all wrongs (b) to protect the Second Amendment.

Do you wish to enroll in UM's ROTC program?

U.S. policy toward Iraq should be: (a) give peace a chance (b) pave it.

The UM Wolverines athletic budget ($54 million) (a) is too small (b) should be contributed to Greenpeace.

True or False: Ohio State is part of the axis of evil.

Were you home-schooled?

Do you watch Fox News Channel?

America's coolest anchorman is (a) Tom Brokaw (b) Dan Rather (c) Peter Jennings (d) Brit Hume.

Do you read National Review while listening to Rush Limbaugh?

Can you tell the difference between The New York Times front page and its editorial page?

The most socially beneficial development in America in the past three decades was (a) Roe v. Wade (b) the University of Michigan speech code (c) ESPN.

The nation's worst failing is (a) racism (b) sexism (c) inequality (d) imperialism (e) respect for the United Nations.

Given a choice, would you own (a) an environmentally friendly hybrid car? (b) a Ford F-150 pickup truck?

Who is the more plausible president: (a) Martin Sheen of "The West Wing"? (b) John Edwards of North Carolina? (c) Any of the Dixie Chicks?

The Miller Lite ad in which the "tastes great" woman and the "less filling" woman duke it out in a bodice-ripping cat fight is (a) fascistic phallocentrism (b) a hoot.

Dear applicant, if your answers optimize your Diversity Quotient (b, yes, b, a, true, yes, yes, who are those first three guys?, yes, you're kidding -- right?, c, e, b, c, b), well, then: Welcome to Ann Arbor, you wonderful addition to Wolverine diversity.


The debate about racial preferences has been largely conducted in the passionate, overearnest tones of righteous political commitment. This is well, up to a point: serious social issues should be debated with conviction and care. But at the same time, there is only so much you can say when you are balanced on a soapbox, and so many things you can't. One thing you can't do very well is expose absurdity for what it is. It can also be hard to demonstrate the depths of intellectual dishonesty that characterize some ostensibly "reasoned" positions. You need humor for that. Will's column may signal wit's welcome arrival on the scene.

Humor has been slow to come to the debate about racial preferences because all sides have been so concerned to show both that they take oppression seriously and that they are not themselves racist or sexist oppressors (this has not, however, stopped either side from levelling accusations of racism at the other). But it's a mistake to imagine that the only way to handle serious issues is with deadly seriousness, or that making fun of something always automatically shows a lack of respect for the principles that something stands for. The crippling humorlessness that characterizes PC campus culture today is a sign not of its intellectual seriousness or even of its moral integrity, but of its shallow preference for conformity over debate and its callow reliance on emotional and intellectual blackmail to achieve its ends. It deserves to be laughed at, and it deserves to be challenged to learn to laugh. In public as in private life, laughter may indeed be the best medicine.

Erin O'Connor, 8:04 AM | Permalink




January 23, 2003 [feather]
Egging on racism at Texas

Students at UT Austin are outraged that someone chose to honor MLK Day by egging the campus statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. The statue was found covered in raw egg last Monday. Monday evening, students gathered around the statue to demonstrate their disgust and Tuesday a rally was held to continue the protest. "Students also contemplated the action they would take to draw attention to racist attitudes on campus and around the country," UT's Daily Texan reports today. A rally to raise awareness about racism at UT is taking place today.

Some quotes from UT students and staff:

"This is a disgrace to the integrity of what the statue represents. Unless you empower yourself and not stand for this to continue to happen then everything Dr. Martin Luther King stood for has been in vain." -- Mary Hood, adviser to the Longhorn chapter of the National Association of Advancement for Colored People

"It's a reflection of where we're at in today's society with the issues of peace and equity." --Nicholas Kendall, mechanical engineering major

"George Bush touted the University as being this example of diversity and acceptance and one of the reasons affirmative action should be eliminated. This is a perfect example that racism exists on this campus. It goes beyond racism. It's a hate crime." --Andy Gallagher, a senior psych major

"I'm gonna move on. I'm gonna make something of myself. I will go back to my community, and I will teach them. I will bring up another generation who's not afraid to be active." --Maxine Chambliss, a history and government junior who calls the vandalism "just another example of the way UT has conducted itself" since she enrolled.

"People will sit on the floor before they come and sit next to you" --Jennifer Johnson, a (presumably black) marketing senior

The leap from awful but unexplained event to blanket condemnation of unproven causes has become a common one on campuses, particularly when it comes to questions of race. Last fall, when threatening racist graffiti appeared on the doors of black students at the University of Mississippi, everyone assumed that the perpetrators were white and that the event was a classic white-on-black hate crime. Students, faculty, and staff lamented the terrible racist climate at Ole Miss, demanded sensitivity training and a variety of programs and procedures to increase tolerance and prevent future hate crimes, and called for the perps to be prosecuted under state felony laws or federal hate crime statues. Everyone knew exactly what that graffiti meant and what should be done about it--except that they didn't. The vandals were, in fact, black. (True to the hypocrisy of campus witch hunts, they have not received a fraction of the punishment that they would have received if they had been gratifyingly, satisfyingly white--instead of facing possible prison time, they have been sentenced to academic probation, community service, and fifteen-page essays on what they did wrong. They also have to pay the $600 it cost to remove their "work".)

A similar sort of case is currently brewing at Texas A&M, where students face disciplinary action and sensitivity training because they planned and publicized (but did not throw) a "ghetto party." An anonymous letter to an administrator portrayed the event as racist, and administrators ran with it--even though, as an editorial in today's student paper clearly reveals, the event was nothing of the kind. An annual tradition, it has been happily and freely attended by students of all races. The anonymous letter inflamed administrative sensibilities by mentioning that some party-goers have worn KKK outfits to it in the past. Today's article supplies the essential but hitherto neglected information that the student who wore the KKK costume to a past ghetto party was himself black.

No one knows who egged UT's statue. It could have been hooligans from town, it could have been misguided black students as it was at Ole Miss. But lack of information has not slowed campus activists down one whit--the egging proves what they have known all along, that UT is a racist campus where bigotry runs rampant and unchallenged, and where whites are entirely unreconstructed and unrepentant. So certain are UT students of why the statue got vandalized and who did it that the student government passed a unanimous resolution on Tuesday condemning the defacement and "urging" (this is the word used in the student paper) the UT administration to implement a racial harassment policy. A cynic might think that the unknown vandals could well have been campus activists looking to create opportunities to pressure UT for policy change.

The UT administration has refrained from public condemnations of campus racism because they do not know yet what actually happened on Monday. UT President Larry Faulkner says that "We don't know who did this. We don't know if students or faculty or alumni or anyone associated with the University was the perpetrator. I, of course, deplore any symbolic attack that might have been intended on Dr. King's memorial." This, in turn, has been taken as evidence of further, institutionalized racial insensitivity by campus activists: "This statue means a lot to us, [yet] the administration doesn't seem to put forth the effort to show that they care," said Kimberly Cruse, a sophomore who is president of the Longhorn chapter of the NAACP.

This will be one to watch.

Erin O'Connor, 11:20 PM | Permalink




January 22, 2003 [feather]
Whitehorn whitewashes

Last week, Duke University's African and African-American Studies Department made the Best of the Web for including Laura Whitehorn, a revolutionary activist who did fourteen years of jail time for planting a bomb in the Capitol building in 1983, on its roster of Spring speakers. Duke defended AAAS' right to invite speakers regardless of their politics or past records, and posted a notice of the university's commitment to free expression; meanwhile, AAAS' official blurb on Whitehorn, which had initially glossed over the nature of her crime by describing her as having been a "political prisoner," was amended to include the reason why she had been jailed.

Today, the Duke Chronicle returns to the story, explaining how Whitehorn got invited to speak and how the Duke Conservative Union brought the scheduled talk to James Taranto's attention, and giving both Becky Thompson, the professor who invited Whitehorn to Duke, and Whitehorn herself, a chance to speak. Here are their words.

Thompson expresses dismay at the sloppy reasoning and poor diction of those who have labelled Whitehorn a terrorist: "Her work was actually the opposite of terrorism," she said. "Part of being patriotic is trying to encourage the government to stand by principles of equality and democracy." According to Thompson, the article notes, Whitehorn was protesting terrorism, not committing it, when she tried to bomb the Capitol building.

Whitehorn likewise describes herself as a pacifist who is "very against terrorism": " Terrorism is the targeting of civilians, a reactionary form of arms struggle," she declares. "I've never been involved in targeting civilians. [The U.S. Capitol bombing] was a symbolic action. Great care that no one would be hurt was taken, even the janitorial staff." Like Thompson, Whitehead is disturbed by the failure of her opponents to make the crucial distinction between a terrorist, who targets people, and a (ahem) "pacifist," who blows things up when people are (hopefully) not around. "I am shocked that students would use this definition [of terrorism] without knowing what it means," Whitehorn said. According to Whitehead, the article notes, the real terrorism is that perpetrated by the U.S. government--first in Vietnam, and now, most likely, in Iraq.

Let the record show that terrorism is defined in the U.S. by the Code of Federal Regulations as: "..the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives" (28 C.F.R. Section 0.85) (my emphasis).

For Whitehead, it seems, terrorism is not terrorism when she is committing it, and war becomes terrorism when she does not like it. Terrorism when Whitehorn commits it is metaphoric, a symbol. It doesn't really exist, except as an idea. Words define it away, leaving behind only the purity of the noble concept behind it. By contrast, war when Whitehorn doesn't like it can be converted into terrorism via metaphor: if you call war terrorism, then that must be what it is. And if that's what it is, then you can oppose it by equating it with the activities it seeks to arrest. You can even condone "symbolic" action against the government you have defined as terroristic. And so you rationalize activities like, say, bombing the Capitol buiilding, or, perhaps, flying commercial jets into skyscrapers.

Erin O'Connor, 6:19 PM | Permalink




A&M students defend free speech

I wrote Monday about an uproar at Texas A&M surrounding a "ghetto party" that was scheduled in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Students were to come dressed as a black stereotype; in the past, some have worn blackface as part of their costumes. Though the party is an annual event, though it was to be held off campus, though it was cancelled when student organizers were confronted by outraged administrators, and though those same student organizers have apologized for the insensitivity of the projected party and publicly affirmed their commitment to tolerance and inclusion, A&M admins are nonetheless "investigating" further, announcing plans to send the culprits to sensitivity training and darkly hinting at the possibility of disciplinary sanctions for guilty students.

An editorial in Texas A&M's student daily, The Battalion, rejects the hotheaded illiberalism of the administration's handling of the matter, and singles out A&M English professor Marco Portales for particular condemnation. Portales said that the students involved in the ghetto party should be expelled, and added that "maligning" others is not a constitutionally protected activity (I had much to say about that in Monday's post, and Eugene Volokh has since commented as well). Here's the student paper on Portales' comments:


Statements like these give rise to fears that recent diversity initiatives are little more than political correctness run amuck [sic]. Those who, in the name of diversity, would punish views they deem unacceptable, do more to create an atmosphere of intolerance on campus than the organizers of the "ghetto Party." Forced adherence to a dogmatic multiculturalism will stifle free debate and breed division and rancor. Diversity must be a positive force for change - an appeal to reason and conscience, and should not degenerate into a purge of unorthodox or even distasteful opinions.

Amen. Here's hoping the A&M administrators see this--and that they familiarize themselves with the law--before they make an even bigger mess for themselves.

Erin O'Connor, 10:06 AM | Permalink




January 20, 2003 [feather]
Texas A&M chills free speech

Texas A&M has joined the growing list of public schools that allow their commitment to tolerance and diversity to curtail their commitment to free speech and academic freedom. Upon learning that some students were planning to celebrate MLK Day by throwing an off-campus "ghetto party," campus administrators launched an immediate investigation to determine who was organizing the party and circulated flyers expressing its official disapproval of the event. A&M's ghetto party is an annual event; students come dressed as black stereotypes, and some wear blackface. Both black and white students have attended in the past.

The party was cancelled after administrators confronted the student organizers. Today's Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription only) reports that the cancellation does not mark the end of this, however. Ronald E. Sasse, A&M's director of student life, told the Chronicle that the university is continuing to investigate, that it is determined to find out how much resident hall advisors knew about it (the party was advertised on flyers posted in dorms) and whether any leaders of student groups were involved in organizing it. Once the investigation is complete, the university may take disciplinary action against the organizers. "We try really hard to promote an inclusive environment, and these kinds of situations certainly don't help us," Sasse said. "It's just hard to understand how somebody couldn't realize that this was wrong in this day and age." As at UT Knoxville and UVa, where similar debacles arose last fall when some students wore blackface to fraternity-sponsored Halloween parties, A&M's college administrators imagine that they can legislate tolerance and coerce students into becoming appropriately sensitive. Once again, public college administrators forget their obligation to the First Amendment in their zealous desire to squelch offensive expression. Once again, they decline to learn from other institutions' past mistakes, and they ignore the law.

A&M English professor Marco Portales offers unusually candid insight into this garbled logic. "If we donít take a stand, this will continue to happen," Portales told the A&M Eagle. Though the party has been cancelled, "the damage has been done." Portales thinks A&M should expel students involved in ghetto parties and like events, as it "maligns" the reputation of the university. Though this may sound like the Orwellian agenda of a bureaucratic drone who has no respect for either free inquiry or free speech, think again. Portales has it all worked out. Protecting the reputation of the university is not, to Portales' mind, incompatible with protecting individual rights because there are some viewpoints that no one has the right to express. ìDiverse viewpoints ought to prevail,î he said. ìAlthough, if a viewpoint is maligning without provocation, I donít think that is constitutionally protected. You are, in effect, assaulting people. You are misrepresenting them. You are making fun of people.î Voila: you can be as diverse as you want, as long as you adhere to the party line; viewpoints that offend--or "malign"--are not protected by the First Amendment; making fun of people is the same thing as misrepresenting them which is the same thing as assaulting them. If you wonder where students get their desire for speech codes and their twisted perception that suppressing unpopular or abhorrent expression is the proper means of creating a vital educational atmosphere, look at their teachers. Portales' confused and wrongheaded pronouncements on expression are an exemplary instance of the professorial malpractice that so often surrounds questions of controversial campus speech.

UPDATE: A&M administrators plan to send the residents of the dorm responsible for throwing the party to sensitivity training "to make them more aware of the adverse effects of their actions."

UPDATE UPDATE: Eugene Volokh has more.

Erin O'Connor, 3:29 PM | Permalink




Thanks

A sincere and heartfelt thanks to Maurice Black, who has very kindly and efficiently streamlined and reorganized my formerly cluttered and farflung websites. Maurice also engineered my entirely painless and long-deferred move from Blogger to Movable Type last fall--for which I extend another heartfelt, if belated, thanks.

Pointers on the new site design: You'll see links to my non-blog writing in the sidebar, and you can access the archives of Cant Watch, Critical Mass' parent site, through the Critical Mass archives--March 2002-October 2002 contain the entire Cant Watch site.

Erin O'Connor, 2:38 PM | Permalink




January 19, 2003 [feather]
Ohio harassment

The chief of the Ohio University Police Department has resigned after being punished for allegedly sexually harassing a co-worker. It's the familiar story of he said/she said that results in complete and total ruin for the accused. Stephen Ramirez was put on a week's unpaid leave and made to attend "management" (i.e., sensitivity) training after Teresa Trussell filed a complaint last August alleging that between November 2001 and July 2002, Ramirez abused his authority by first trying to establish a sexual relationship with her and then attempting to bribe her into silence with the promise of promotion. Ramirez denied the charges, calling them a combination of distortions, fabrications, and falsehoods. He also appealed the findings of the Office of Institutional Equity as biased. He resigned when the media got hold of the story, and so did his wife, who was also a university employee. "The stress and pain that I and my family have felt is more than we can bear, and therefore my only recourse is to offer this resignation," Ramirez explained.

No matter: the university is satisfied that it followed correct procedure, and applauds Ramirez' resignation as "the best thing under the circumstances, in terms of the future of the organization."

Those who follow campus politics will recall that Ohio University is currently prosecuting journalism professor Patrick Washburn for sexual harassment--for showing a woman student a nutcracker in the shape of women's legs. They will also recall that the AAUP has become involved, expressing the suspicion that someone at OU is "exerting a great deal of energy to defame, humiliate and harass Professor Washburn" and citing numerous procedural violations, including failure to follow university policies, denial of Washburn's right to due process, failure to supply Washburn with the documents that bear on his case, and violation of Washburn's right to free speech. Ramirez does not have recourse to the AAUP--but it sounds like his claim that his case was not properly conducted may have some truth to it.

Erin O'Connor, 11:01 AM | Permalink




Gunning for girls

Mt. Holyoke is the nation's oldest women's college. It's also the home of one of the more controversial student groups to emerge in quite some time. Second Amendment Sisters is just what it sounds like: a girls' club centered on the celebration of guns.

Thanks to reader Fred R. for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 10:39 AM | Permalink




Poisonous bullies

A group of Denver fifth-graders have been caught trying to poison a classmate. When asked why they put pills, glue, lead, and chalk in her drinks over three days, they told the school principal that "they didn't like her and that they wanted to hurt her." The kids have been suspended and face charges of reckless endangerment because of their clear and conscious intent to do harm.

Erin O'Connor, 10:12 AM | Permalink




January 17, 2003 [feather]
Boalt scandal provokes policy

When former Boalt law student Jennifer Reisch anonymously accused Boalt Hall Dean John Dwyer of sexual harassment last fall, Reisch's lawyer Laura Stevens and her former mentor, Boalt professor Linda Hamilton Krieger, made it clear to the media and to UC administrators that they expected to see policy change at Boalt, at UC Berkeley, and beyond. They specified the kinds of changes they expected to see, citing the need for institution-wide sensitivity training about sexual harassment and gender discrimination, for policies regulating--or even banning--romantic and sexual relationships between students and faculty, and for more women faculty at Boalt. They also made it clear that there was likely to be a lawsuit if their demands were not met.

No matter that Reisch, Stevens, and Krieger shamelessly manipulated a case of he said-she said to promote their political ends, no matter that those ends bear only the vaguest connection to the situation they propose to address, no matter that the media willingly colluded with them by acting as their megaphone instead of investigating the validity of their claims and reporting the story as neutrally and objectively as possible. Now Reisch (who continues to enjoy anonymity in the mainstream media, despite being correctly identified by Critical Mass and by Shark Blog), Stevens, and Krieger are getting their way: yesterday's San Francisco Chronicle and today's San Jose Mercury News print an AP report stating that some UC Regents are calling for a comprehensive formal ban on student-faculty dating and that university officials are planning to implement a system-wide sexual harassment training program as early as next month.

UC Berkeley already has a policy forbidding students from dating their academic supervisors, and has flirted with the idea of a more comprehensive policy on student-faculty relationships since 1983, when faculty passed a resolution citing the dangers of such relationships and recommending that the faculty code of conduct be amended to reflect this awareness. Nothing was done about that recommendation at the time, though it was revived in 2001. Now, Reisch's well-timed accusations are poised to convert a longstanding bad idea into an unworkable, disrespectful, and paranoia-inducing policy. A policy is now being drafted, and the faculty will take it up at a meeting on January 29.

Though Reisch was 25 at the time of her encounter with Dwyer, though she was, by her own lawyer's characterization, falling-down drunk the night it happened, though she invited him up into her apartment and chose to wait drowsy and prone on her bed while he used her bathroom, though she was well able to choose to make the series of transparently stupid mistakes that made their now-notorious disputed encounter possible, her accusations and her subsequent use of those accusations to drive an agenda reveal not only an unwillingness to take responsibility for her own role in the ambiguous groping encounter that has since been labelled "harassment" but also a truly draconian determination to make her own lack of accountability into the basis for sweeping institutional change. The Regents are ready and willing: Judith Hopkinson, for example, has expressed a particular desire for a policy forbidding faculty from dating any and all undergrads--not just those who are presently their students.

Regent-designate Barbara Bodine has warned that such a policy is not enforceable, that it will create an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia, and that it will make all students and faculty vulnerable to blackmail, stating that "It is very right and proper to be concerned about abuse of power" but that "there are also people who are predators on the other side." It seems clear enough, though, that there are some--Reisch, Stevens, and Krieger come to mind--who want to cultivate just such an atmosphere and who see blackmail as a useful political tool. After all, that's just what they've been doing since the case went public last November.

UPDATE: Jeff Bishop at XRLQ has more. Among other things, he notes that since "l'Affaire Dwyer" began, he's gotten numerous hits from people Googling the Boalt case--and that many of them contain the word "reisch" as one of the search terms. The same is true for me: since January 1, I've had 67 hits for the string "Jennifer Reisch," 5 for "john dwyer jennifer reisch," 4 for "john dwyer and jennifer reisch," 3 for "jennifer reisch dwyer," 2 for "dwyer boalt reisch," 1 for "jennifer reisch and boalt," 1 for "dwyer reisch," 1 for "dwyer boalt jennifer reisch," 1 for "reisch boalt," 1 for "boalt hall resignation dwyer reisch," 1 for "dwyer boalt dean jennifer," and 1 for "jennifer reisch denies." There were many more such searches throughout December. Like Jeff, I have a hard time believing that all of these hits are from people who picked up Reisch's name from the postings Jeff, Stefan Sharkansky, and I did on the Boalt case. There is a feeling of independent corroboration about them.

UPDATE UPDATE: UCLA's Daily Bruin has more details about yesterday's UC Regents' meeting.

Erin O'Connor, 7:16 AM | Permalink




January 15, 2003 [feather]
NoIndoctrination.org meets Brooklyn College

If you have been following the tenure debacle surrounding Brooklyn College history professor KC Johnson, you may recall the name of Johnson's senior colleague, Stuart Schaar. Schaar, a professor of Middle Eastern history, is one of Johnson's most outspoken opponents. Described as an "academic terrorist" by his own chairman, Schaar has proven the justice of that label in his conduct toward Johnson: when Johnson protested the political one-sidedness of a post-9/11 conference Schaar was coordinating, Schaar told a campus reporter that Johnson's complaint was an "attack" on his work. As media coverage of the case has made eminently clear, this episode played a key role in Brooklyn College's decision to deny tenure to Johnson for lack of "collegiality."

Now Schaar's bullying tactics are being aired in another forum: his course on the history of the Middle East during the twentieth century is the subject of NoIndoctrination.org's latest posting. Here is what a student had to say about how Schaar handles the delicate and controversial question of the Middle East:


Despite its seemingly innocuous title and banal course description, this class was replete with examples of ideological cant and bias. In addition to demonizing adherents of a different point of view--especially in lectures having to deal with discussion of the precepts of Islam and the methods in which Muhammed acquired his emprire, the professor also routinely disparaged any student who questioned his baseless assertions on certain subjects. For example, when a young woman deigned to raise the question of how Sadam Hussein treated one of Iraq's smaller minorities (the Chaldeans), he perfunctorily dismissed her question with the bald assertion that: "they don't count." His lectures dealing with the Israeli "occupation" of Judea & Samaria and the Gaza Strip were even more monolithic. He did not even entertain the possibility that these territories could indeed be part of a Jewish state, and often would refer to people who questioned this liberal nostrum, e.g, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle, as extremists. Of course, we expect scholars to have a different standard than say, reporters, who are supposed to present a unvarnished account of a given situation without inserting their personal biases. My objection rested primarily on his refusal to entertain opinions that contravened his own. His reading of certain events, e.g. the Six Day War, was very selective in its allocation of the facts. The fact that he relied solely on the arabic perspective in his analysis of this crucial historical event is evidence of his ideological pedigree.

Even though the discussions were not quite as one-dimensional as the lectures, they did provide an opportunity for some of the professor's acolytes to heap scorn on the few students who dissented from his ideological programme vis-a-vis, the modern historiography of the Middle East. In fact, some of his more eager disciples took this opportunity to reiterate the views of the professor in a much less nuanced manner. Some of the numerous examples of bias that were exhibited during these discussions--led by the professor, of course, were the constant verbal attacks on Israeli settlers, the foreign policy of the United States, and a favorite of some of the class's "Palestinian" students-- ad hominem attacks against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. The fact that the other students knew that they could ingratiate themselves with him by aping his viewpoint on certain subjects, certainly did not help matters. Overall, I found this portion of the class to be the most annoying, if not quite so intimidating. I can't say that he was particularly hostile. However, there were certain times when his ideological predilections made themselves abundently clear, especially during back-and-forth exchanges he had with a classmate. He also made some snide comments about the relative knowledge (or lack thereof), of the students attending his class. While these may have been warranted, I don't think that they were the most tactful way to begin a class. While I commend the professor for allowing several of us--in fact only two--to express our disagreement, and appreciate the fact that he kept his word not to penalize students for their personal political beliefs, I still think that he could have done a much better job providing a forum for dissenting voices.


The author of this review is clearly trying to present a balanced and fair critique. That just makes the description of Schaar's unwillingness to entertain alternative viewpoints and his readyness to allow students to ingratiate themselves with him by parroting his views all the more damning. It also lends additional credibility to the emerging portrait of Brooklyn College's history department as plagued by ideological rift and rife with petty politics.

NoIndoctrination.org posts rebuttals when professors care to write them. As of this posting, Schaar has not done so.

Erin O'Connor, 1:13 PM | Permalink




School of hard knocks -- and lawsuits

Joshua Kaplowitz's long, heart-wrenching piece in the current City Journal is worth a close read and careful thought. Kaplowitz tells the story of how, after graduating from Yale, he decided to devote his life to teaching in an inner-city school in Washington, D.C. The article describes in relentless detail how he was prevented from doing actual teaching by the web of poor training, bad policy, corrupt administration, and parental negligence that effectively gave control of his classroom to disturbed and disruptive kids more interested in hijacking the education of their fellow students than in learning anything themselves.

Kaplowitz describes how the Teach for America training program spent more time on therapeutic consciousness-raising than on how to teach:


the training program skimped on actual teaching and classroom-management techniques, instead overwhelming us with sensitivity training. My group spent hours on an activity where everyone stood in a line and then took steps forward or backward based on whether we were the oppressor or the oppressed in the categories of race, income, and religion. The program had a college bull session, rather than professional, atmosphere. And it had a college-style party line: I heard of two or three trainees being threatened with expulsion for expressing in their discussion groups politically incorrect views about inner-city povertyófor example, that families and culture, not economics, may be the root cause of the achievement gap.

The irony of all this, Kaplowitz soon found out, is that his ability to teach was crippled by a combination of rabid racism (from parents, students, and even fellow teachers who felt he had no business teaching at a primarily black school) and misguided "progressive" policies (Kaplowitz was investigated more than once for the crime of corporal punishment--not because he hit unruly kids, but because he broke up their fistfights).

Taken as a whole, the piece is an argument for school vouchers, an indictment of inner-city public schools, a commentary on the atrocities wrought by PC educational administration, and an impassioned plea for parents to become involved in and accountable for their children's education. Read it and weep.

Erin O'Connor, 10:40 AM | Permalink




Harvard's Critical Mass

Last fall, Harvard sophomore Aaron Greenspan was so disgusted by how poorly an economics course was being taught that he successfully lobbied to have the professor removed from the classroom. Greenspan is now launching a web site designed to allow Harvard undergrads to communicate openly with one another about the quality--or lack thereof--of their courses. Named Critical Mass (no relation), it bills itself as


a web-based software application designed to make a positive difference in Harvard academics. Though students have no trouble voicing their frustrations to each other, many are often afraid to go to staff members, professors or administrators with their complaints. CriticalMass solves this problem by removing the communications barriers that exist between students and the rest of the University.

You must be a Harvard undergraduate to use the site, so I was unable to check out its contents. But this piece in the Boston Globe makes Greenspan's site sound like a local version of NoIndoctrination.org, minus the emphasis on bias. Like NoIndoctrination,org, Greenspan's Critical Mass allows students to criticize their professors anonymously.But where NoIndoctrination.org collects course reviews from students around the country, this one is limited to the Harvard undergraduate population. And where NoIndoctrination.org focusses on professors who allow their political biases to become the content of their courses, the Harvard site centers on quality, broadly defined.

According to Greenspan, there is a lot of terrible teaching at Harvard. His fall Econ course was a case in point:


Apparently the economics department has a difficulty with finding good teachers - at the last moment, they brought in a game theory professor. The man had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Not only that, but he couldn't teach. Here was a guy who was making arithmetic errors, not labeling graphs. What made me really angry was that he wouldn't answer questions. After a while, I just couldn't take it anymore. I wrote a letter to [economics department chairman] Oliver Hart. He came and sat in on the class. They actually removed him. He can't teach, there are no two ways about it.

Noting that some of his professors have yet to return papers to him that he wrote during his freshman year, Greenspan describes Critical Mass as a place where Harvard students can speak their minds about the shoddier aspects of their educations and even blacklist certain classes: "You can blacklist classes that you hated. If the administration is going to respond to anything, it's going to be to a list of classes that countless students don't like." Greenspan's comment speaks both to the depth of the problem at Harvard and the difficulty of getting anyone to take it seriously.

We are entering the era of the academic watchdog organization. Specifically, we are entering the era of academic watchdog web sites. In addition to NoIndoctrination.org and Harvard's new site, there are Campus Watch (Daniel Pipes' controversial site documenting the excesses of academic Middle East studies), Campus Nonsense (which chronicles left-wing bias on American campuses), a host of blogs, and the grand-daddy of them all, FIRE (which is fast becoming famous as a defender of student and faculty civil liberties). These sites and organizations are unpopular, to say the least, on campuses themselves, but that's to be expected when the reason they exist is that college and university faculty and administrators expect not to be held accountable for either the quality of the education they provide or their frequent disregard for the law. Here's hoping that these sites will inspire more sites, and that together, they can force American higher education to clean up its act.

Erin O'Connor, 10:05 AM | Permalink




January 13, 2003 [feather]
Sexual harassment at UM

An English professor at the University of Michigan is suing the university for racial discrimination, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. If the article in the Michigan Daily is accurate, the charges sound entirely spurious, the bitter reaction of a woman professor of color seeking what revenge she can against a department whose "abuses" resulted in a delayed application for tenure (yes, that's "delayed," not "denied": the plaintiff is suing despite winning tenure in 2001).

The suit alleges that the English department exploited Betty Bell, the plaintiff, when it asked her to create a Native American Studies Program and then did not provide adequate mentoring, administrative support, or financial compensation (no matter that Bell was the highest paid assistant professor in the department between 1994 and 2001, when she resigned from her position as program director). The suit claims that the onerous and excessive responsibilities associated with the program interfered with Bell's ability to do the other work expected of her as an assistant professor, and culminated in a leave of absence for emotional distress. Bell claims that her career and reputation were harmed, that she lost earnings, and wants $25,000 in damages.

Bell also names two other UM English professors as sexual harassers. One apparently made the odd insensitive comment (when she refused a drink at a party, for example, he allegedly said, "What kind of Indian are you?"). The other apparently did not comport himself perfectly after they broke up. The suit alleges that he--horrors!--insulted her and gossiped about her.

There may be more to this than the Daily reports, and I'll try to see if there is. But on the face of it, this looks like a petty, contrived attempt to humiliate Michigan's English department, and to do particular, lasting damage to the reputations of two older white male colleagues in exchange for possibly imaginary, possibly deserved, certainly small personal slights.

The English department contends that no one forced Bell to undertake the work of creating a Native American Studies Program, and that she did receive considerable support while she was involved with the Program. I cannot adjudicate this--but I can say that Bell's absurd harassment charges speak loudly--and poorly--for the credibility of her claims of institutional exploitation.

The drinking comment--which, among other things, was not sexual--was almost certainly deliberately misconstrued: it was made by a fellow Native Americanist, an eighteenth-century scholar who has long been a devoted student of Native American literature and culture. As for the insults and the gossip: that's what comes with the territory of the acrimonious breakup. If you sleep with a colleague, odds are it will bite you at some point (odds are, too, that you'll do some backbiting of your own). That's unpleasant, but it's hardly harassment, and it's hardly worthy of a lawsuit.

I'm grieved to read about such a mess at Michigan's English department. I earned my Ph.D. there between 1990 and 1995; I took a course from one of the "harassers" (he's NOT a harasser); and I remember well the excitement that surrounded the hiring of Betty Bell. A cynic would say that UM is reaping what it sows: that spurious but damaging suits that convert minor annoyances, personal baggage, and psychic fragility into epic tales of oppression and discrimination are the just desserts of a campus atmosphere organized around racial preferences and all the inequity and intellectual dishonesty that comes with them.

Erin O'Connor, 10:16 PM | Permalink




Crayon Diversity Awards

Shark Blog has announced the advent of the Crayon Diversity Award. Oliver Willis is the first recipient of this ignoble honor for his comments about the lack of diversity at last week's San Francisco Blog Bash. Competition for such an award is bound to be fierce. But I'd like to nominate the leaders of the 35 national higher education associations who signed this letter to President Bush urging him to support the University of Michigan in its attempt to convince the Supreme Court that racial preferences are Constitutional. (For a fine fisking of the letter, see John Rosenberg's eloquent and forceful explanation of why the letter and the logic it represents are reprehensible.)

UPDATE: Stefan concurs: the second Crayon Diversity Award goes to the 35 righteous leaders of higher ed. Stefan awards "a box of 64 crayons, to be split 35 ways. I recommend cutting each crayon into 35 pieces, so that every institution can get a piece of every color."

Erin O'Connor, 7:58 PM | Permalink




January 10, 2003 [feather]
Composition as consciousness-raising

An English instructor at Ball State has converted his freshman composition classroom into a sensitivity training seminar. Here's the short piece on him in the Ball State Daily News, under the headline "Instructor teaches harassment policies: Students act out scenarios to recognize improper conduct":


Instructor John Dobelbower doesn't just teach his students English--he also informs them about the realities of sexual harassment.

Dobelbower has taught his students how to recognize sexual harassment and what to do if confronted with it for the past five years.

"Freshmen can have problems understanding what it is and what to do if they feel victimized," Dobelbower said.

Thursday, Dobelbower engaged his English 114 class in an activity that would help to clarify sexual harassment.

Dobelbower put the students in pairs and gave each group a different scenario to act out. After each skit the class discussed why it was sexual harassment and then what the victim should do.

"Personally, the assignment helped make me aware of Ball State's policy on it (sexual harassment) and brought up new situations I hadn't thought of," freshman Corbin Blackerby said.

The university follows Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which banned student and faculty sexual harassment. Though it has been 31 years since it was enacted, sexual harassment is still prevalent.


According to Dobelbower's home page, English 114 is a composition course designed to help students develop writing proficiency, critical thinking skills, and research skills. Apparently, it is also designed to raise students' social awareness by teaching them all the ways they might be victims or victimizers.

It's not clear how such ideologically loaded consciousness-raising enhances writing skills, nor is it clear how acting out skits that illustrate Dobelblower's concept of harassment encourages critical thinking--sexual harassment is a complex concept with a complicated and vexed history, one that can hardly be covered adequately in a single classroom session centered more on politically correct proselytizing than on reasoned, historically informed discussion and debate.

What is clear is that Dobelblower, his students, and the writer for the student paper do not question either the "prevalence" of sexual harassment (which is largely the self-fulfilling prophecy of a sexual harassment industry that is invested in endlessly expanding the definition of sexual harassment) or the propriety of a composition teacher undertaking to enlighten a captive group of freshmen about matters far removed from those of sentence construction, thesis statements, and revision.

What is also clear: Dobelblower's students could charge their English teacher with sexual harassment under the very policies that he has brought to their attention. After all, he brought the issue of sexual harassment up in a classroom where it arguably does not belong; as the teacher, he made listening to--and acting out--his thoughts on the subject a condition of class participation; as such, any student who was made uncomfortable by this at the time, or who decides at some future point that she was uncomfortable, could well have him up on charges of abusing his authority and creating a hostile educational environment. BSU's Statement on Sexual Harassment is a tantalizingly flexible document, eminently given to such an interpretation. Among other things, it says that the "use in the classroom of sexual jokes, stories or images in no way germane to the subject of the class" may constitute harassment.

Erin O'Connor, 11:49 PM | Permalink




January 9, 2003 [feather]
Battle of Brooklyn, Part 2

Last month, Wall Street Journal columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz published a searing indictment of the tenure debacle at CUNY's Brooklyn College. Unlike the New York Times, which ran an intellectually dishonest article that failed even to mention the corruption surrounding the history department's decision to deny tenure to KC Johnson for lack of "collegiality," WSJ's piece took Brooklyn College to task for its unethical practices and its political toadying. Rabinowitz showed in damning terms how Johnson made enemies of some of his senior colleagues last year when he protested a proposed campus roundtable on 9/11 because it did not represent a range of viewpoints (pro-U.S. and pro-Israel perspectives were omitted) and when he objected to how a job search was being conducted, arguing that the department should not seek specifically to hire a woman (as the chairman and others argued it should do), but that it should seek to hire the best candidate for the job, male or female. At that point, a campaign to deny Johnson tenure was launched by Philip Gallagher, the history department chair. Johnson was duly denied, despite having a stellar teaching and publishing record, and is currently appealing his case. (I wrote about this here.)

Today, Brooklyn College's Provost, Roberta Matthews, writes to the Wall Street Journal to protest Rabinowitz's piece. Here is her entire letter:


We take strong exception to the portrait of Brooklyn College in "Battle of Brooklyn" by Dorothy Rabinowitz (Taste page, Weekend Journal, Dec. 20). Brooklyn College has been synonymous with excellence in education for the past 73 years. We are respected nationally for our rigorous academic standards, and hold our students, faculty and staff to the highest principles and values. Our award-winning faculty -- including several Pulitzer Prize winners -- were graduated from top-notch universities such as Harvard, Stanford, Yale and Oxford. They publish quality books with internationally known publishers and are featured in respected scholarly journals.

Brooklyn College hosts eight honors programs and boasts students who have won prestigious awards such as the Mellon, Pickering and Beinecke. Our students are accepted to prominent graduate and professional schools. Again last year we exceeded our registration goals with applications from strong, academically qualified students. I am confident that our 15,000 students and 140,000 alumni would agree that Brooklyn College epitomizes an outstanding academic culture, while encouraging individual thought and personal development.

I am proud of the scholarly work done on campus, of our distinguished chair of the History Department and all of our faculty, and of our talented, diverse and eminently qualified students. We have great confidence in the time-tested processes used to evaluate faculty for hiring purposes, promotion and reappointment.

Roberta Matthews
Provost
Brooklyn College
Brooklyn, N.Y.


This is a promotional pamphlet masquerading as a refutation. Matthews has nothing to say about the facts as Rabinowitz reported them--and as such, she implicitly corroborates Rabinowitz's damning portrait of institutional corruption. More than that, she suggests that what was wrong with Rabinowitz's article was not its presentation of facts, or even its interpretation of them, but its suggestion that Brooklyn College's reputation is implicated in them. Apparently, rigging tenure cases to punish independent thought and principled debate is completely consistent with Matthews' idea of academic excellence.

Matthews writes that she is "proud" of "our distinguished chair of the History Department" (though that chair has himself written that Matthews "has no idea what actually goes on" in the history department and has pronounced her to be "either naive or devious: I suspect some of both.") If Matthews were serious about rectifying the problems at Brooklyn College, and, crucially, if she were not herself a large part of those problems, she would not be congratulating Philip Gallagher, but would be looking into firing him. You have to work hard to get fired from a tenured position, but Gallagher's studied and deliberate attempt to destroy KC Johnson's career--an attempt that Johnson and others have meticulously documented--makes him a strong candidate for that rare and dubious honor.

For more on Johnson's case and the departmental culture surrounding it, see
Jerome Sternstein's recent commentary
on the History News Network. You can also read the complete media coverage of the case on Johnson's home page.

Erin O'Connor, 10:54 AM | Permalink




January 8, 2003 [feather]
FIRE storm at Harvard

FIRE has won another victory for free speech on campus--this time at the Harvard Business School.

Erin O'Connor, 7:54 PM | Permalink




Bellesiles and political conformity

Writing for the History News Network, Clayton Cramer argues that the Bellesiles scandal is symptomatic of an academy where political conformity has come to matter far more than intellectual debate:


Over the last thirty years, the academic community in general, and historians in particular, have become quite concerned about the need for diversity: sexual diversity; racial diversity; and ethnic diversity. It does not surprise me that a professorate consisting largely of white males tended to give less importance to the history of women, blacks, and Hispanics in America. This wasnít because white males were consciously ignoring other groups; it was because it takes a considerable effort to break outside the assumptions with which you have been raised. I think most historians agree that there is merit to having a diversity of voices within the profession.

Unfortunately, it seems to me that the Bellesiles scandal exposed the lack of political diversity within the profession. You see, at least part of why historians swallowed Arming Americaís preposterous claims so readily is that it fit into their political worldview so well. I donít mean that historians consciously decided not to look at Bellesilesís claims because they were afraid of what they would find; I mean that Arming America said things, and created a system of thought so comfortable for the vast majority of historians, that they didnít even pause to consider the possibility that something wasnít right.


Cramer is right. There are some ideas, some questions, and even some entire schools of thought that never even make it to the table in today's academy. The planned ignorance is profound. So is the intellectual dishonesty of a "scholarly" system that is only capable of crediting ideas that fit with its views and that is correspondingly incapable of reliably recognizing when attractive arguments are not valid ones.

Erin O'Connor, 10:17 AM | Permalink




Frozen Pipes

Stanley Kurtz reports that Daniel Pipes, founder of the controversial Campus Watch, has been blackballed by his academic detractors. Pipes was recently invited--then disinvited--to speak at Stanford and at Colltown, a Baltimore-area group of colleges and universities that will be hosting a series of panels on globalization and the Middle East. Pipes has been accused of McCarthyism ever since he launched Campus Watch, a site dedicated to recording the excesses and biased proceedings of academic Middle East studies.

Kurtz's piece is thorough and damning. Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Dale Keiger has more.

Erin O'Connor, 9:57 AM | Permalink




January 7, 2003 [feather]
Expanding rape

The California Supreme Court has expanded the definition of rape and narrowed the definition of consent. In a 7-0 ruling yesterday, the Court held that if a woman first consents and then retracts that consent during intercourse, the man can be convicted of rape. The Court offered no guidance on what constitutes a revocation of consent, nor did it say how long a man has to withdraw before the consensual act in which he is engaged becomes a forcible act of rape. As a reader notes, this ruling neatly dispenses with the idea that rape necessarily involves force, and replaces it with a definition of consent that is as uncertain and shifting as the woman who wields it.

One imagines that prudent men will now not only carry condoms in their wallets, but consent forms and stopwatches.

UPDATE: The Associated Press misreported the ruling. It was 6-1, not 7-0.

Erin O'Connor, 7:59 PM | Permalink




FIRE storm at Rutgers

The Washington Times has picked up the current scandal at Rutgers. Rutgers is getting itself sued for failing to understand the Constitutional concepts of religious liberty, freedom of speech, and freedom of association. Administrators there have defunded the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship because the group stipulates that its leaders must be Christian; their argument is that this puts the group in violation of Rutgers' nondiscrimination policy. FIRE filed the suit, and that alone should make Rutgers take notice. FIRE does not lose, and FIRE has fought and won this battle before--at Tufts, and, most recently, at UNC Chapel Hill. Last fall, FIRE also won a similar case at the law school at Washington University at St. Louis. Looks like there are some people at Rutgers who did not do their homework--and it's not the students.

UPDATE: The Washington Times had its facts wrong. FIRE did not file the suit--though it has been actively involved in the case. The suit was brought by the Alliance Defense Fund.

Erin O'Connor, 12:02 PM | Permalink




Boalt bits

XLRQ points out that whether or not former Boalt dean John Dwyer is guilty of sexual harassment, as Jennifer Reisch charges, he is almost certainly guilty of drunk driving.

And Joanne Jacobs writes with a trenchant and damning clarification of journoethics. In his Daily Journal article on how bloggers have named Dwyer's accuser, John Roemer cites prominent SF media lawyer Jeffrey Bleich on why the mainstream media has not done so:


Traditional print and broadcast journalists typically withhold alleged victims' names when sex crimes are involved. "The nature of such complaints is sensitive and personal," said media lawyer Jeffrey L. Bleich, of San Francisco's Munger Tolles & Olson. "But Web sites are not held to journalistic ethical standards."

As I noted Sunday, Roemer uses this quote to demonize the investigative work that bloggers have done on the Boalt case while raising up the mainstream media's problematic silence on the issue as the right, moral, and professional way to handle cases such as this one. I noted, too, that there was a little problem with Roemer's use of this quote: Bleich is hardly an objective outside expert. He is a Boalt alum who has been teaching as an adjunct faculty member at Boalt for the past ten years--facts Roemer failed to note.

Joanne Jacobs wrote to point out another problem with Roemer's reporting here:


Traditionally, journalists don't name the victims of sex crimes without their consent. I don't think I'd call it a question of "ethics." Some journalists argue that sexual assault victims should be named like other crime victims; shielding them perpetuates the idea that it's shameful to be raped.

In any case, it's not traditional to shield alleged victims of sexual harassment.


Readers will recall that Reisch charged Dwyer with sexual harassment, not a sex crime. They will also recall that when Dwyer resigned, acknowledging that he had had an inappropriate encounter with a former Boalt student but stressing that it was "consensual," Reisch's lawyer went ballistic and told the media that Dwyer had "molested" her client. The language of sexual assault was introduced into the media by Jennifer Reisch's lawyer, Laura Stevens. It was a tactical move, one that Stevens openly declared was intended to prevent Dwyer from working again (the media, she also acknowledged, would be better able to accomplish this than the courts). The media then accorded Reisch the same sort of protection that she would have been accorded had she charged Dwyer with sexual assault.

Roemer fails to register the crucial distinction between Reisch's charge (that Dwyer sexually harassed her) and Stevens' strategic claim (that in reality, her client was molested). Instead, he handles the question of whether Reisch's name (and background, and motives) should be part of this story as if Reisch were a victim of sex crime. I have been arguing all along that the media has been playing into Reisch's hands. The fact that it treats her not as what her own charges say she is--an alleged victim of sexual harassment who does not warrant any special treatment from the media--but as a victim of sexual assault whose identity must be kept out of the media for her own protection, says it all.

Erin O'Connor, 11:02 AM | Permalink




January 5, 2003 [feather]
Charlotte Allen on Boalt, harassment, and bad policy

In today's L.A. Times (registration required), Charlotte Allen takes up the Boalt case with a refreshing skepticism.

Jennifer Reisch's belated and highly questionable accusations of sexual harassment have not only caused former Boalt dean John Dwyer to step down, but have become the occasion for Laura Stevens (Reisch's lawyer), Linda Hamilton Krieger (a Boalt law professor), and others to push for policy change at Berkeley. Berkeley already has a Title IX officer whose job it is to hear complaints about sex discrimination, and Boalt's student body is already well over 50% women. But Stevens, Allen notes, will not be satisfied until she has overhauled the entire culture at Boalt:


Stevens, however, wants more: for the law school to set up a comprehensive sexual-harassment training program to teach students, professors and administrators how to create an "environment" in which no female student would ever have to suffer from unwanted male attention. The program would entail not only re-education, but a law-school speech code that would forbid even the cracking of jokes that "make women into meat," as Stevens puts it.

Allen argues that in such demands, we can see how the Boalt case has "wandered far from the original issue" and notes, too, that this "might be a good thing" for Jennifer Reisch, about whose credibility Stefan Sharkansky and I have raised "serious questions." She then proceeds to take the agenda of Stevens and Krieger apart, showing how the policies and procedures they are demanding will actually work to create the sort of hypersexualized, deeply threatening environment they are supposed to eliminate--in the brave new world of sensitivity training and speech code, men are demonized as potential predators; women are infantilized as potential victims; words, looks, jokes, and romantic overtures wound; and heterosexuality itself is pathologized as a motive force so damaging that it ought, by implication, to be snuffed out altogether.

Allen ends an intelligent article on a chilling and telling note:


In the Dwyer case, involving two highly intelligent adults, what are we supposed to do -- raise the drinking age to 35? Even the alleged victim's supporters seem to agree that her case isn't strong, and from what we know about her, she suffered no professional harm.

But that doesn't seem to matter to the sexual-harassment industry. What matters is seizing on some excuse, any excuse, to push through a campuswide regime of vague and subjective standards that would place all interaction between the sexes under a legal cloud.


Read the whole thing--Allen gives good background and context for the Boalt situation, and also offers a timely commentary on the move other schools (most recently the University of Texas) are making to "tighten" their sexual harassment policies.

Erin O'Connor, 11:38 AM | Permalink




Boalt scandal breeds unethical reporting

Last Thursday I commented on John Roemer's poorly reasoned coverage of how three bloggers--Stefan Sharkansky, Jeff Bishop, and I--have challenged the media to report the Boalt sexual harassment scandal more responsibly. Roemer had an opportunity in his Daily Journal piece to report facts the rest of the media has ignored, namely that Sharkansky and I have correctly identified former Boalt dean John Dwyer's accuser as Jennifer Reisch, and that in so doing we have demanded that the media cease facilitating Reisch's agenda (by protecting her identity, by failing to investigate her credibility, by refusing to question the ideological agenda behind her accusations, and by allowing her, through her lawyer, to destroy Dwyer's reputation by continuing to print her unsubstantiated claims). But Roemer dropped the ball, choosing instead to present the story of bloggers' successful detetective work and principled objection to media bias as the story of "opinionated" web authors venting "hostility" by claiming to know who the accuser is.

I chose to understand Roemer's refusal to report the facts as symptomatic of a spinelessness that is all too characteristic of journalists today. But an astute reader has written pointing out that a spine is not the only thing Roemer was missing when he wrote the piece: journalistic ethics appear to have deserted him as well.

To explain why the media has not published Jennifer Reisch's name (and implicitly to excuse himself from responsibilities along those lines), Roemer cites a local legal expert:


Traditional print and broadcast journalists typically withhold alleged victims' names when sex crimes are involved. "The nature of such complaints is sensitive and personal," said media lawyer Jeffrey L. Bleich, of San Francisco's Munger Tolles & Olson. "But Web sites are not held to journalistic ethical standards."

The message here is crystal clear: what bloggers have done in the Boalt case is unprofessional in the fullest sense of the word. Real journalists are held to higher standards. Authorities in the field all say so, and here is one to prove it. It's okay, then, for the media to ignore what bloggers have done in this case, and to treat the information they have uncovered and the arguments they have raised as the specious products of wannabes who truly do not know whereof they speak.

There is a problem, though. Bleich is held up here by Roemer as an objective, neutral authority. His word is supposed to stand, in the article, as the word of all right-thinking journalists. But who is Bleich? Turns out he is not just a media lawyer with SF's Munger Tolles & Olson, as Roemer reports. Turns out he is also an adjunct professor at Boalt Hall School of Law, where he has taught various courses since 1992. Roemer's authoritative source on journalistic ethics was thus unethically chosen and falsely represented: in failing to note that Bleich currently teaches at Boalt, Roemer cites an implicated insider as an objective outside source. (Roemer also omits the information that Bleich is a Boalt alum and has been honored by Boalt as its most outstanding recent alumnus.)

Bleich told Roemer that Web sites are not held to journalistic ethical standards. But it seems that neither is John Roemer, or the journal for which he writes.

Erin O'Connor, 10:47 AM | Permalink




January 2, 2003 [feather]
Update on Boalt

Last week the San Francisco Daily Journal ran an article by John Roemer on the Boalt debacle. Roemer's subject was how three bloggers--myself, Stefan Sharkansky, and Jeff Bishop--have responded to media coverage of John Dwyer's resignation in the face of anonymous accusations of sexual harassment from a former Boalt law student. Under the headline "Boalt Sex Scandal Takes a Spiteful Turn on the Internet," Roemer's article offers a factually garbled and conceptually challenged portrait of our respective postings as the "opinionated" ravings of those who are siding with Dwyer against his accuser.

Granted, Roemer most likely did not write the headline for the piece. But the header is an accurate description of the piece nonetheless, which treats the putatively nasty attitude of certain independent web writers as newsworthy while failing to report the real news--that Sharkansky and I discovered and reported the accuser's identity as that of Jennifer Reisch, that we did so because the mainstream media was protecting her rather than investigating her claims and reporting the story objectively, that we were at every point scrupulously clear about our goals and our reasons, and that as such we had used the internet to challenge journalists to do their jobs properly instead of unctuously bowing to the manipulative tactics of political correctness.

Indeed, the most striking thing about Roemer's piece is how it manages to evade the facts and the issues that the bloggers he discusses have made available to him. He notes that we have reported the accuser's identity--but he does not himself report it, nor does he do the legwork to confirm it (though odds are that he, like many other Bay Area reporters, knew very well who the accuser was well before I published her name). Instead, Roemer quotes Jennifer Reisch's lawyer, who attempts to deflect attention from her inability to deny that Jennifer Reisch is indeed the name of her client by descending to ad hominem attack: "These people are vile," she says of Sharkansky, Bishop, and me, as if sticks and stones could change the facts or discredit the care with which we have approached the dubious claims and aims of her case.

The result is that Roemer winds up misrepresenting his own material. Rather than report the truth--that independent bloggers have accurately identified the accuser--he presents the situation as a case of he said/she said in which bloggers make accusations that Reisch's lawyer then denies. The irony here is that the Reisch/Dwyer debacle is a case of he said/she said--it will never be known just what happened between Reisch and Dwyer on that regrettable night in December 2000. That hasn't stopped Reisch and her lawyer, though, nor will it stop Berkeley from tightening its harassment policies and--quite possibly--changing hiring practices at Boalt. Roemer has missed the boat on this one, sacrificing an opportunity to raise the level of debate on the subject of the media's responsibilities in cases of anonymous, possibly defamatory accusation, and settling instead for a noncommittal, ultimately disingenuous approach to the very real issues raised by bloggers who have responsibly reported verifiable facts.

For more on Roemer's piece, check out the eloquent critiques at XRLQ and Shark Blog. My own numerous postings on the Boalt affair can be found by scrolling through Critical Mass' December archive.

Erin O'Connor, 4:04 PM | Permalink




Art History as agit prop

NoIndoctrination.org has posted a disturbing student evaluation of an Art History course taught at the University of Maryland. Described as covering "Art and archaeology of ancient Mesoamerica from 500 B.C. to 1500 A.D.," the course satisfies Maryland's "diversity requirement." It was perhaps for this reason, the student evaluator suggests, that the professor felt free to pontificate about contemporary politics, oppression, and the virtues of terrorism as a means of resisting Western imperialism:


Let me start by pointing out that this is an art history class about Mesoamerica, one that has nothing to do with sociology, politics, or the middle east. I took the course because it seemed like a fairly painless way to satisfy the "diversity" requirement. This turned out to be wishful thinking. Apparently being a "diversity" class gives the professor the right to bash American foreign policy in the middle east and glorify terrorism. During the second to last lecture, when we should have been learning what was going to be on the final, he started with his usual lecture about understanding these "oppressed" people in the middle east. He made us out to be the evil oppressors and said that we don't understand these people (Islamic Terrorists) until they BLOW it into us (in reference to September 11). He then got very animated and began to pretend that he was a terrorist. He made the point to the class (evil America) that if we tried to buy him, he would tell us to take our money and shove it up our asses. This all culminated in him pretending to strap a bomb to himself, sitting down next to a student, and saying something to the effect of, "If you try to get rid of us, we'll take you with us." If this is not glorifying terrorism then I don't know what is, and because the professor chose to use this class to impose his political views upon us (as opposed to teaching the subject matter), we barely made it through the first book of two that we were supposed to cover.

The student points out that in straying so far from the course's ostensible subject matter in order to proselytize for his political views, the professor violated Maryland's Policy on Faculty, Student, and Institutional Rights and Responsibilities for Academic Integrity:

Part 1, Section B states: "Faculty members shall enjoy freedom in the classroom to discuss all subject matter reasonably related to the course. In turn, they have the responsibility to encourage free and honest inquiry and expression on the part of the students." Part 1, Section C states: "Faculty members, consistent with the princibles of academic freedom, have the responsibility to present courses that are consistent with their descriptions in the catalog of the institution." Professor Miller did not stick to the subject matter reasonably related to the course, he did not encourage free and honest inquiry on the part of the students, and he most certainly did not present the course in a manner consistent with its description in the course catalog.

It's good to see cogent critiques of professorial malpractice continuing to appear at NoIndoctrination.org, which is gradually putting together an impressive archive of the ways and means of academic indoctrination. At the same time, I hope that students like this one will also pursue their complaints through their school. This particular evaluation is a grievance in the making. Its power lies in the content-neutral manner of its critique. The observation that in devoting excessive time to off-topic ranting, the professor violated university policy by effectively failing to teach the course he had contracted to teach is one that could make some interesting waves at even the most doctrinaire institutions. Framed this way, the nature of the professor's ranting becomes irrelevant, and the issues at stake emerge with corresponding clarity; what the professor's views are matters less than the fact that those views formed the focus of a course that was supposed to be about something else.

Erin O'Connor, 9:46 AM | Permalink