MSU student guilty of insensitive flyer
A Michigan State student has pled guilty to a misdemeanour charge of harassment for posting an offensive flyer in his dorm. David Powder was offended by the Shaw Hall Black Caucus, which limits membership to black students: he didn't like the double standard and felt the organization was racist. So he made his point by creating a flyer that turned the tables. On January 11, residents of Shaw Hall discovered a flyer inviting all students to a meeting of the "White Caucus." The flyer, which parodied a Black Caucus flyer, depicted a naked pregnant woman and listed the phone numbers of Black Caucus board members as contacts.
It wasn't long before the Shaw Hall director, Tracy Bobertz, found out who posted the flyer. Did she contact Powder about it? Did she attempt to discuss the matter with him? Did she try to help the ruffled students in Shaw Hall resolve their differences quietly and amicably? Of course not. Racial insensitivity--even when it falls within the bounds of free speech--calls for more stringent measures. She met with university officials and then filed a police report.
Powder was arrested (in his dorm room, by MSU police) and spent a night in jail before entering his initial plea of not guilty. He only avoided more serious felony charges of ethnic harassment because the flyer did not target specific individuals or threaten violence. Facing jail time and fines, he told the MSU student paper, The State, that the flyer was meant as political satire, adding the usual painful caveats: "Most of my friends are people of color or people of ethnic minority," he said. "Being arrested really isn't a bad thing, it's just part of the process. Just because you're charged doesn't mean you're guilty. ... People are going to assume I'm guilty and people are going to say I'm a racist. ... I want people to understand just because I'm being charged doesn't mean I'm guilty and also not a racist." Henry Silverman, president of the Lansing ACLU, backed Powder's claim: "He wrote the flier as a political parody and sees it as a political statement and, in that sense, we have looked at this issue."
But fighting the campus thought police can be wearing, particularly when it has decided to treat you as a danger to society. Powder fought back at first, but eventually pled guilty in order to get the ordeal over with. Now he has a criminal record for his trouble. He also has to write letters of apology to each of the students whose numbers were given as contacts. The prosecutor is recommending six months probation. Powder, who turned down ACLU representation in order to get the unpleasant episode over with, is contrite: "I was commenting on the belief that Black Caucus is a racist organization," he said. "I was not using much foresight at the time. In retrospect, I can see how they might be offended."
This is what happens when the untenable ethical double standards of the multicultural campus--where some students have the right not to be offended while others do not; where it's racist to point out that the growing separatism of campus minority groups is itself racist; where white men are fair game for vindictive diversity zealots--meet local law enforcement. Powder overstepped when he included black students' phone numbers on the flyer. But at the same time, if the situation had been reversed, the reaction would have been far different. In fact, that was Powder's point.
February 27, 2003
Snow phallus unveiled
The case of Bob Uttl, the Oregon State psych professor who was summarily fired one day after receiving a positive performance evaluation, begins to take on the familiar contours of a departmental witch hunt.
Followers of academic politics will recognize in Uttl's profile a history similar to that of KC Johnson, the Brooklyn College history professor who was denied tenure for lack of collegiality after he criticized some of his senior colleagues for allowing politics to slant their teaching and hiring practices (Johnson won his appeal and was awarded tenure this week). Like Johnson, Uttl apparently works in a department where backbiting and petty politicking are the norm. He has a history of being outspoken; he has not only criticized senior colleagues, but filed complaints against their more egregrious conduct (the nature of those complaints remain unspecified, but Critical Mass trusts the details will emerge in time). Those whom Uttl has alienated happen also to be those who have power over his job.
At a campus hearing Tuesday, retired OSU psychology professor Carol Saslow elaborated:
"He didn't keep a low enough profile," Saslow said of the grievances Uttl filed, adding that the hearings are designed to wear professors out.
Of the psychology department as a whole, she said it's "a pretty miserable place to work," adding that there is a alot of in-fighting.
Saslow said she was appalled at statements made during a promotion and tenure meeting regarding Uttl in 2001. She said that meeting aided in her decision to retire in 2002.
"In our department, the people who vote on you just happen, by and large, to be the same people who were Uttl's downfall," she said.
"Young, smart people can be very threatening," Saslow continued.
Sounds a bit like the history department at Brooklyn College. There, KC Johnson argued (successfully) that he was the victim of a "vendetta" led by his department chair. Saslow's disgusted testimony suggests that something analogous may be happening at OSU.
OSU policy states that untenured faculty can be fired at any time, without a stated reason. But it also states that retaliatory action cannot be taken against those who file complaints. Uttl does not know why he was fired. But he suspects retaliation.
Uttl has a stellar record of teaching, scholarship, and service. To his knowledge, there is only one negative thing in his personnel file: a four-page screed written by disgruntled former student Jennifer Krebs. Uttl caught Krebs cheating on an assignment and offered her the chance to do it over. Instead, she dropped the course and--encouraged by administrators to whom she had complained--she wrote a letter accusing him of speaking broken English (Uttl is Czech), of discriminating against women, and of committing "atrociously unprofessional acts." Uttl believes Krebs wrote the letter with intent to destroy his career--which it now appears to be in the business of doing. Though Uttl has not been given an objective, clear reason for his dismissal, the letter has been used by his department to justify the decision to fire him.
Uttl has filed a $1.2 million defamation lawsuit against the graduated Krebs, who now does fundraising work for Oregon State. One wonders how long it will be before Uttl sues OSU for more.
The Berkeley College Republicans have followed the lead of their UCLA compeers: yesterday, they held a bake sale to protest affirmative action. Chocolate chip cookies were available on a sliding race-based fee scale: $1.50 for whites, $1.25 for Asians, $1.00 for Latinos, 75 cents for Chicanos, 50 cents for Native Americans, and 25 cents for blacks. Only thirty cookies sold, but the group made its point: it offended strong supporters of racial preferences and amused opponents.
State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres repeated the condemnation he made when UCLA students held a similar sale, saying that it "is a shame Republican students at Berkeley and UCLA have chosen to mimic the extreme views of their Republican leaders .... Once again we see hard-working students of color subjected to racist Republican rhetoric for simply seeking a good education and equal opportunity."
Anti-affirmative action activist and UC Regent Ward Connerly, most famous at Cal as the man who spearheaded Proposition 209 (which made it illegal to make race a factor in UC admissions), applauded the sale: "I think that it highlights the absurdity of preferences on the basis of race or gender or ethnicity," he said. "I commend them for piercing through the clutter and getting to the heart of what is really wrong with preferences."
The UCLA sale, which took place weeks ago, continues to cause controversy: in today's Daily Bruin, the leaders of the Bruin Democrats denounce the sale as racist, segregationist, and characteristic of the racism built into the Republican Party, closing with the following food for thought: "Events like the Bruin Republicans' bake sale oppose equal opportunity, just like Trent Lott did in 1962 when he opposed the integration of the first black student into the University of Mississippi."
UPDATE: The Daily Californian has more.
February 26, 2003
Snow phallus newsflash
The hitherto silent partner in Harvard's snow phallus-breaking dynamic duo has come forward. In today's Crimson, Amy Keel's roommate, Mary Cardinale, explains why she helped tear down the now notorious nine-foot snow penis erected last week in Harvard Yard. Cardinale stresses that unlike Keel, she is not a radical feminist but a social conservative concerned to maintain standards of public decency. When deciding what to do about the offensive snow sculpture, both Keel and Cardinale looked within: "we asked ourselves what someone we respected would do. While I considered what Jesus would think, Amy considered what the reaction of her Womenís Studies professor would be." On the strength of their mutual introspection, the two decided to take a shovel to the snow penis. There was no time to lose: even though it was one in the morning, the towering "symbol of male violence" was attracting an all-too appreciative crowd. "We witnessed the lewd acts that the presence of the sculpture inspired in our peers," Cardinale writes. "There were the typical photos taken of climbers, huggers and lickers, and one young man went so far as to disrobe and mimic a sexual act against the statue as his friends snapped pictures. There were no two ways about it: the display had to go."
Meanwhile, the campus women's group R.U.S (which stands for "Radcliffe Union of Students," and not, as Princess Bride fans might imagine, "rodents of unusual size"), has met to discuss the controversy. Keel reiterated her conceptually challenged argument that "women or men who are walking to class should not be subjected to a penis," and Cardinale stated her view that it was her responsibility to spare sensitive Harvard eyes from the "lewd" and "inappropriate" spectacle (unstated, but implicit in this view, is the related belief that she is specially equipped to adjudicate what is and is not "lewd" and "inappropriate").
The good news is that there appears to have been a sincere exchange of views at the meeting. One student questioned whether the snow phallus was really such a big deal; another pointed out that destroying the phallus was showing disrespect for those who devoted a great deal of time to creating it; there was a discussion about whether building a snow vagina alongside the penis would have made a more effective statement. More to the point, the status of the phallus, and of the phallus-breaking, as forms of expression were discussed. Keel remains adamant on this point: ìIt wasnít anyoneís private property; it was snow,î she said. ìTaking down a penis...is not impeding anyoneís free speech.î But the co-president of RUS isn't so sure: ìI donít think we have a right to take down things that offend us,î she said. ìWe have to put up posters to the contrary.î
Reed's race for civility
Student journalists at Miami University are not the only ones who aren't allowed to criticize the faculty. The editors of Reed College's student paper Quest have resigned after a satirical send-up of the English department chair's Afrocentric teaching led to accusations of racism and widespread outrage among students and faculty.
According to a column in yesterday's Oregonian, the February 4 issue of Quest (which is not, alas, online as far as I can tell) featured a centerfold spread modelled after hotornot.com, a website dedicated to determining, well, who's hot and who's not. Entitled "Academic or Not?", the centerfold focussed on five Reed professors, inviting readers to judge the quality of their work. Reed English department chair Pancho Savery was one of them: "Incendiary afrocentrist with alarmist concerns? Enlightened intelectual (sic) with informed opinions? He preaches multiculturalism, but is his agenda unscrupulously Black and White?", the Quest spread asked. "You Decide!"
Every year, Savery delivers a lecture entitled "Black Athena" to the students in Humanities 110, a core course all freshmen are required to take. Savery's lecture presents the familiar--and discredited--argument that Greek culture has African origins; it also challenges Reed College to design a more "diverse" curriculum. Savery gets standing ovations for his lecture--but he doesn't convince everyone. One student described it as "more inflammatory rhetoric than earnest scholarship." Another wrote that "While exiting that lecture, I had the same reaction expressed in the satire: Alarmist incendiary afrocentrism . . . I thought his argument lacked merit because it was entirely reactionary, and made significant logical leaps that I believe would be indefensible if challenged."
But the unspoken rule appears to be that students should keep such objections to themselves. Quest's suggestion that Savery's lecture may be more sensationalistic than scholarly, that it smacks of an agenda, and that as such it might not be the most ethical or responsible pedagogical performance Reed has ever seen, caused a collective campus meltdown. There were cries of racism and calls for the resignation of the student editors responsible for the spread. The Reed student senate threatened to withdraw funding for the paper. The poor timing of Quest's unwarranted display of racial insensitivity was loudly lamented: February is Black History Month after all. The communal pain was such that the Multicultural Resource Center held "a meeting for students who need support and a safe place."
The letters poured in, and many made their way into the pages of Quest. Since Quest isn't online, we can't look at all of them. But some select excerpts have made the Oregon papers. Among them were some intellectually dishonest gems from faculty. They accused Quest of ad hominem attack--as if criticizing a professor's pedagogy were the same thing as personally attacking him. They argued that the paper had violated community standards of civility, thus damaging "the trust and respect we share as members of an academic community"--as if the free exchange of ideas were not the lifeblood of an intellectual community; as if trust could be born of hypocritical silence and respect could come from sham displays of tolerance. They argued that Savery was targeted because he is black--as if questioning a professor's extreme ideas is akin to hate crime when the professor happens not to be white. As Jacqueline Dirks, who chairs Reed's American Studies Committee, opined, "It is in the assertion that simply addressing race makes a black professor 'less academic' that the racism lies." Student leaders concurred. The message was clear: Savery was not to be criticized because he is black. And because Savery is black, criticism of his questionable pedagogy is racist.
There were voices of dissent: one student wrote that "What constitutes 'latent racism' ... is the assumption that Pancho Savery, because he is black and teaches about African American-related issues, should be immune from criticism. ... This expression of unacceptable paternalism (often manifested in 'white guilt') holds minorities to a lower standard -- intolerable in an academic community such as ours." And as Quest co-editor Jesse Hoffman wrote before he resigned, "It is this kind of hyperbole and self-fabricated threat that disrupts an intellectual community from engaging in productive debate."
But those dissenting voices are less likely to surface at Reed from now on. Reed elects its student editors; according to the student body president, the editorial board of Quest has an obligation to reflect the values of the student body; its members can be recalled when they fail to live up to that obligation. Quest has a greater duty to conform to campus orthodoxy than to seek the truth;it might more properly be named Mirror.
More disturbing than the prior restraint under which Quest must operate, though, is the failure of Reed faculty to provide a voice of reason and to model how citizens of a free society ought to behave. If events at Reed show nothing else, they show how invested faculty (not just at Reed, but across the country) can be in creating and maintaining an illiberal, anti-intellectual campus atmosphere (all in the name of inclusion and tolerance, of course). They show how willing faculty can be to encourage their students in the ways and means of censorious ignorance. Levelling spurious charges of racism rather than teaching students how to dissect ideas, assemble cogent argument, debate fairly, and give and receive criticism, the professors who condemned Quest's satirical spread as racist without, apparently, addressing the substance of its critique--that Savery is disseminating ideology as history--are themselves guilty of the very racism they are so eager to decry in others: after all, to suggest that a professor's ideas should not be challenged because he is black is to suggest that this professor can't handle criticism and that his work cannot stand up to scrutiny. It is to suggest that the chair of Reed's English department is a second-class citizen, one who cannot be held to the same standards as everyone else because he cannot measure up to them.
February 25, 2003
Last night, the trustees of the City University of New York overturned the decision of Brooklyn College to deny tenure to history professor KC Johnson for "lack of collegiality." Matthew Goldstein, chancellor of the CUNY system, read one of Johnson's books and interviewed him personally in order to arrive at his decision. His statement, as reported in today's Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription only, or see the shorter column in The New York Post) is a remarkable and much-deserved vindication of Johnson: "Although collegiality is a factor that may be considered in connection with promotion and tenure decisions, I did not find compelling and objective evidence of a major problem in that regard sufficient to trump a truly outstanding record of scholarship, teaching, and other aspects of service." Johnson's own comment is worth remarking as well: "I hope this will be a lesson to college administrators to respect academic freedom and make tenure decisions based on scholarship and teaching."
Here's hoping the Brooklyn College vigilantes reconsider the case of philosophy professor Michael Cholbi, which bears a striking resemblance to Johnson's. Here's hoping, too, that this is not the end of Johnson's case: he was persecuted by departmental colleagues who disliked his politics; the campaign to deny him tenure for "lack of collegiality" was engineered by the department chair; and Brooklyn College administrators--most notably Provost Roberta Matthews--backed up the departmental vendetta by refusing to take Johnson's charges of malfeasance seriously. There are some who should be fired at CUNY--but Johnson and Cholbi are not among them.
UPDATE: The New York Times has more.
Reading between the lines
Here's an example of how a single letter--of dubious veracity--written by a single disgruntled student--encouraged by administrators with suspect motives--can cost a professor his job.
One day after receiving a positive annual review, Oregon State psychology professor Bob Uttl was sacked. The smoking gun? A four-page letter of complaint written by a former student who dropped his course after eight weeks. Uttl, who faces deportation now that he is no longer employed, says he is being discriminated against and has filed a $1.2 million lawsuit against the now-graduated Jennifer Krebs for placing what he claims is a "defamatory" letter in his personnel file. Krebs' letter accused Uttl of discriminating against women, of speaking in "broken English" (he has Czech and Canadian citizenship), and of engaging in "atrociously unprofessional acts."
Punchline: the official reason for the fourth-year assistant professor's termination was lack of collegiality: according to his dean, "he has not shown himself to be a good citizen of the department or the university." Uttl is in good company: in recent months, Brooklyn College history professor KC Johnson, Brooklyn College philosophy professor Michael Cholbi, and Simpson College English professor Dan Bauer have all lost their jobs for their alleged uncollegiality.
UPDATE: This story reports that the trouble between Krebs and Uttl began when Krebs worked together with another student on an assignment they were supposed to do on their own. When he confronted them and asked them to do the assignment over, Krebs dropped the class.
In other words, Krebs got caught cheating. Uttl seems to have offered to let her off lightly--but instead she dropped the course and pursued a vendetta.
Uttl's lawsuit grows out of his conviction that Krebs wrote her letter in a deliberate attempt to destroy his career. Krebs' lawyer claims that Krebs' comments are constitutionally protected, since they are statements of opinion.
The real issue here seems to be why Oregon State gave such weight to what appears to be one outlying negative evaluation whose motivations look cloudy at best.
February 24, 2003
Beyond the snow phallus
Harvard's self-appointed feminist thought police(wo)men, sophomore Amy Keel and her unnamed room-mate, may be disappointed to learn that their destruction of the nine-foot-tall, anatomically precise snow phallus erected recently in Harvard Yard has not rid the earth of offensive ice sculpture. Obscene snow scuptures are busting out all over: in Kent, Ohio, Crystal Lynn was contacted by police after they received an anonymous complaint about her "inappropriate snow sculpture" (thanks to reader William D. for the link). Lynn had crafted a snow-woman replete with celery eyes, carrot nose, and two blobs of snow for breasts. A policeman showed up at Lynn's door minutes after she finished sculpting. "He said that I should cut off her breasts, but I said no woman wants that," Lynn reported. Worried that she might be charged with disorderly conduct if she left the statue au naturel, Lynn draped a tablecloth around her shoulders to create a cape-like effect: "She looked really good, like she was getting ready to go to a party," she said. But when she learned that the officer was simply passing on an anonymous complaint, she restored her snow-woman to all her original full-breasted glory. A similar case occurred in Salt Lake City, where Kevin Dille and Dawn Napples collaborated on his and hers snowpeople. Ironically, what inflamed the sensibilities of the neighbors was their attempt to be sensitive: they covered their snowpeople's privates (jingle bells for him, three well-placed maple leaves for her) in an attempt to honor the modesty of their creations. But a prude's work is never done, and the police received complaints about the "offensive" manner in which, in covering the snowpeople's genital areas, the sculptors drew attention to them.
Meanwhile, in a clear violation of internet standards of decency, treehuggercreations.com displays this smutty photograph of a snow sculpture entitled, "Snowblower." Treehuggercreations is not alone in its propagation of snow porn, as this image suggests. It is not titled, but I like to call it "The Ice Man Cometh."
Truly, a feminist censor's work is never done. Perhaps Keel can get a travel grant to go knock down Lynn's boobalicious snow woman. Maybe she could get some course credit for launching a campaign to ban all pornographic snow photos from the web. The possibilities are endless. She might even be able to get an honors thesis out of her censorious ice capade: as every proper academic feminist knows, resistance is meaningless unless it is properly theorized.
Or, Keel could do the more difficult thing: commence the slow, hard process of shedding the protective ideological skin of radical feminist claptrap and grow up. One concerned blog reader has taken it upon herself to give Keel some guidance on this point, should she choose to accept it. Here are excerpts from the letter she sent to Keel (italicized lines are from Keel's explanation for why she destroyed the snow phallus):
People like you make me embarrassed to call myself a feminist. Do you realize what a parody of a radical women's studies major you sound like? No, probably you don't, because everyone else at Radcliffe is as far out in left field as you are, and nobody who could breathe some fresh air and common sense into the debate is allowed to speak up without being punished.
The penis "sculpture" was not an official Harvard installation, and the men who put it up had no permission to do so. It was perfectly within my rights to take down this object which was incredibly offensive to me.
Uh-huh. You know, I thought going to college meant being exposed to the points of view of other people, not being sheltered from the sight or sound of anything you might deem "offensive." Does your viewpoint mean if, say, the gay students' organization puts up a display on proper condom use without university permission, conservative and/or religious students who are offended by it have the right to take it down? And I mean a logical right, not a right or lack thereof according to your double standards (i.e., "womyn" and "gender minorities" and "people of color" have the right, whereas "oppressive white males" don't).
As a student of Harvard University, neither I, nor any other woman, should have to see this obscene and grossly inappropriate thing on my way to class. No one should have to be subjected to an erect penis without his or her express permission or consent.
Sweetie, you weren't subjected to an erect penis. You were subjected to a snow sculpture. I realize all you post-modernist types think that words, thoughts or representations are the literal equivalents of actions, but understand that most rational, intelligent human beings can tell the difference.
And not all women would find a snow penis offensive. I, for one, would have laughed long and loud. So would many other women of my acquaintance.
Many women and men, including myself, are the victims of sexual assault, child sexual abuse and rape.
Oh, I see. The entire world has to change to cater to your collective traumata. You know what? I know quite a few men and women who were sexually abused or assaulted, and they were able to get on with their lives and deal with human sexuality in its myriad and often impolite forms, rather than turn into professional victims and bitter enemies of any form of masculinity.
The unwanted image of an erect penis is an implied threat; it means that we, as women, must be subject to erect penises whether we like it or not.
Of course. It couldn't just be a tasteless joke, could it? Especially to those who have no sense of humor. Or perspective.
There was nothing "challenging" or "subversive" about the penis. The only thing it did was create an uncomfortable environment for the women of Harvard University.
And, again, Ghoddess FORBID we make anyone uncomfortable, even if it means we have to destroy things that others have taken great time and effort to make. I mean, feelings are more important than respect for other people's property, right?
Once again--what my roommate and I did was not cowardly, but instead quite brave.
And war is peace. And freedom is slavery. And ignorance is bliss. That reminds me, I gotta order me some George Orwell books from Amazon.com. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
These men felt that it was their right to build this pornographic sculpture whose only purpose could be to assert male dominance.
Right, because again, jokes don't exist in your universe.
I am dismayed that The Crimson chose to both publish the picture of the snow penis and Esensten's commentary, both of which were extremely offensive.
Yep, "anyone's opinion who differs from mine" = "offensive." Amy, as much as I wince at the thought of you indoctrinating future students with your wild-eyed and ultimately poisonous ideology, I think you should definitely seek out a career in academia. You wouldn't last very long in the real world.
I am so grateful I graduated college before political correctness took over completely. Otherwise, I never would have discovered that there are better systems of political thought out there than leftism in all its incarnations, including radical feminism.
Harsh words. No doubt they will offend. But that doesn't make them less truthful.
Miami vice revisited: FIRE-style
Last week I reported the case of a Miami University student who was fired from his job at the student paper (variously known as the Miami Student and, to locals, as the Miami Stupid) for writing a column that criticized French department faculty's use of sexually explicit material in their courses. French department chairman Jonathan Strauss objected strongly to Aaron Sanders' criticisms, and complained to Cheryl Heckler, the student paper's faculty advisor. Heckler promptly directed Jill Inkrott, the student editor of the paper, to fire Sanders. And that's when all hell broke loose. The Cincinnati Enquirer got hold of the story and reported it as a classic case of discrimination, arguing that Sanders was fired for expressing his views. Critical Mass picked up the story from the Enquirer, which drew a reply from Jonathan Strauss himself, which in turn sparked a debate about the nature of free expression and the responsibilities of faculty members to demonstrate a commitment to it (scroll down here). The Miami Student Senate put together a resolution defending Sanders and condemning campus censorship. Now the Enquirer is following up: yesterday it reported that the campus civil liberties group FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) is "eager" to take up Sanders' case. "This is an astonishing case," FIRE's CEO Thor Halvorssen said. "It shows utter contempt for freedom of speech." FIRE doesn't make such comments casually. If Miami administrators don't want their local scandal to become national news, they should start taking seriously the charge that free speech is compromised on their campus.
UPDATE: You can read a March 10 follow-up piece in the Cincinnati Enquirer here.
February 23, 2003
Columnist Walter Williams argues that the debates about the use of affirmative action--or,if you prefer, racial preferences--in college admission are smokescreens that work to distract us from the real issue at hand: the "fraudulent education" delivered by predominantly black high schools.
Williams quotes damning numbers:
At 12 of [Washington, D.C.'s] 19 high schools, more than 50 percent of the students test below basic in reading, and at some of those schools the percentages approached 80 percent. At 15 of these schools, more than 50 percent tests below basic in math. And in 12 of them, 70 percent to 99 percent do so. Each year, more than 80 percent ó and up to 96 percent ó of high-school students are fraudulently promoted to the next grade.
...In Philadelphia's predominantly black high schools, combined SAT scores of its seniors average between 590 to 800 out of a possible 1600. I suspect there's little difference between these education outcomes and those in other predominantly black school districts. Indeed, nationally there's more than a 200 SAT score gap between blacks and Hispanics on the one hand, and whites and Asians on the other.
Williams' point: that the outrage in the black community about the University of Michigan lawsuits is accompanied by a "deafening silence about the day-to-day sabotage of black academic excellence by the public schools that most black students attend." Williams' question: "With the deplorable academic outcomes at the high-school level, how can anybody reasonably expect for black students to ever be admitted to college on academic merit?" Williams' implied question: How can anybody reasonably expect blacks to become fully equal participants in an integrated society when the educational system that offers them affirmative action to compensate for twelve years of sub-par education virtually ensures that they will not make it through college? Only 20% of blacks who enter college graduate four years later.
For Williams, affirmative action is a belated and inadequate non-solution to a problem that only gets worse the longer it is ignored. Worse, affirmative action and the debates around it operate to distract us from the real issues at hand: the failure of public schools to provide proper training to underprivileged kids. In this logic, affirmative action emerges not as a means of redressing oppression (as its defenders would have it) but as a tool of oppression; likewise, supporters of affirmative action come off not as progressive, but as deludedly complicit with the system they want to change.
The good news: Williams profiles a predominantly black school in Harlem that really is doing a good job preparing kids for college and beyond. 98% of kids who attend the Frederick Douglass Academy graduate, and 95% go to college. The school was listed by Newsweek as one of the top schools in the country. The secret? High expectations and no pandering. As the school principal explained, "You have to demand more of your students, while providing them with the structure to meet those demands. The more difficult the curriculum, the greater the likelihood your students will be successful."
And the more successful students there are, the more "diversity"--that demographic holy grail of college admissions offices--will take care of itself. Williams' column offers more than just a fascinating angle on the problem of black underachievement and the ongoing debates about affirmative action; it also shows how advocates of "diversity" may also be defenders of merit-based admissions and hiring systems. In other words, Williams' column punctures one of the central arguments in the Michigan case (an argument echoed by the many universities that have lately filed amicus briefs), and in so doing recasts the issue in crucial ways. The question is not whether we need racial preferences to create and maintain diversity, as Michigan and many other schools would have it, but why we want to engineer a false diversity rather than create the conditions for an authentic one.
February 21, 2003
Snow phallus mystery solved
Last week, a nine-foot-tall snow phallus was erected in Harvard Yard. It was anatomically precise, a labor of love, if you will. But to some it was also offensive, and shortly after the sculpture was completed, it was crushed. Controversy raged: in a letter to the editor of The Harvard Crimson, one student angrily decried the sexual double standard embodied in the snow penis, criticizing the Crimson for running a picture of the icy member ("complete with testicles and vein") and opining that the Crimson would never be so immature as to run a photo of a vast vagina sculpture (the offending phallus photo, entitled "Winter Wonder," has been removed).
On Wednesday, Jonathan Esenstein, an executive editor at the Crimson, answered this criticism and more with an erudite, tongue-in-cheek defense of the snow phallus, condemning the anonymous crushers for their "cowardly act of vandalism," meditating on the "long and distinguished history of phallic imagery in art," pointing out that the phallus is often a symbol of peace, and speculating about the motives of the self-appointed snow police: "Perhaps the phallus-breakers of Harvard Yard were reacting with bourgeois conventionality in labeling challenging art as subversive. Or maybe they were acting on some radical womenís liberation agenda that requires the destruction of visible symbols of male virility."
Now the mystery is solved. The culprit has come forward. And she is every inch the deluded radical feminist Esenstein so presciently skewered in his column. In today's Crimson, sophomore Amy Keel proudly announces that she and her room-mate were the ones who "dismantled the obscene snow penis 'sculpture'", defending her actions thus:
As a student of Harvard University, neither I, nor any other woman, should have to see this obscene and grossly inappropriate thing on my way to class. No one should have to be subjected to an erect penis without his or her express permission or consent.
Yes, she really did write that. No, I don't think her letter is a parody. Keel seems to think that representations of penises are every bit as potentially damaging to women as real ones. She also seems to think that the only thing an erect penis can be is a weapon of sexual violence, and that the only thing an image of an erect penis can be is a symbol of violence against women. The wording here suggests that the sculpture, to Keel's mind, committed a type of rape simply by standing within view. Keel got a nonconsensual eyeful, she felt violated by it, and she did what every self-respecting woman would do when faced with sexual assault: she hit the perp where it counts. In this case, that wasn't hard since there was no part of the predatorial snow sculpture that was not also part of its manhood.
Keel offers the following explanation for treating the snow phallus like a real one:
Many women and men, including myself, are the victims of sexual assault, child sexual abuse and rape. The unwanted image of an erect penis is an implied threat; it means that we, as women, must be subject to erect penises whether we like it or not. There was nothing ìchallengingî or ìsubversiveî about the penis. The only thing it did was create an uncomfortable environment for the women of Harvard University.
In this logic, to see something is to be subjected to it; vision is synonymous with vulnerability, and the eye is--weirdly enough--a sort of always already raped sex organ. When it sees an "unwanted image," the eye is effectively abused. "Subjected to erect penises whether we like it or not," Harvard women who see things like the snow phallus are victims of visual rape. In such a hostile environment, Keel contends, it was not cowardly of her and her room-mate to destroy that statue, but "quite brave."
Lest there be any confusion on this point, I will clarify: Keel is not a victim of the snow phallus; she is a victim of sensitivity training.
February 19, 2003
Crystal Thompson's soft voice quavered as she stood at a microphone in a packed auditorium and faced the University of Texas president.
"What are you going to do to keep me here? What are you going to do so I should convince my brother to go here?" the college senior, who is black, asked UT President Larry Faulkner.
So begins the Dallas Morning News coverage of Monday night's University of Texas public forum on campus race relations (registration required). In recent weeks, UT has been the scene of a number of "racially insensitive" incidents, ranging from the egging of the school's Martin Luther King, Jr. statue on MLK day, a fraternity "gin and juice" party where some students wore blackface and other racially provocative costumes, and the alleged racial profiling of a black UT student by campus security. UT President Larry Faulkner has responded to the student outcry by deploring the insensitivity of those who were involved in these events, founding a campus task force on racial respect, investigating the offending fraternities with intent to punish, and by holding Monday night's town meeting.
I've written at length about the individual events, none of which are as clear-cut as offended UT students would have them. I've also commented on Faulkner's extremely problematic response to outraged students: light on reason and heavy on appeasement, his is a classic instance of administrative toadying that patronizes students while pretending to respect them.
What I want to note now: the unbridled and uncritical sentimentalism of Linda Wertheimer's Dallas Morning News piece. It begins with the quavering voice of the helpless victim, moves from that opening tableau of trembling emotion through a summary of recent events at UT and a recap of the Monday meeting, and closes on a tearful note by returning, dramatically, to the figure of the wounded innocent with which it began:
Ms. Thompson, the young woman who wanted to know what to tell her brother about UT, praised the administrator for trying. "I do commend you on your efforts," she said. "I just want you to see the big picture."
Dr. Faulkner replied: "I just want you to be proud of UT."
Ms. Thompson walked away from the microphone, her eyes wet.
The manipulativeness of this piece is palpable: we are supposed to be crying, too, by the end of it. Or, at the very least, we are supposed to identify with the student, who has courageously faced the man presiding over her educational oppression and whose effort to make him see through her (wet) eyes has cost her such emotional upheaval. This is strange procedure for supposedly neutral reporting, not least because of the way it relies on precisely the sort of racial stereotyping that some UT students say is rampant on their campus.
Wertheimer wants to promote the cause of UT students--and their claim that UT is a racist environment--not by closely examining facts, but by playing on the reader's sympathy. In so doing, she abandons journalistic standards. There are people at UT who would dispute the claim that it is a racist environment, and there are others who would argue that pandering to the sensitivities of minority students (by, for example, seeking to suppress and punish racially insensitive speech) will only exacerbate racial tensions. But the writer of the piece does not acknowledge this. Her aim is emotional, not intellectual. She does not want to explore, or even report, the complexity of the issues. She wants, rather, to short circuit argument through emotional appeal: by getting readers' feelings involved, she solicits their cooperation in treating a complex, extraordinarily fraught philosophical, historical, and ethical situation as if it were an obvious problem with--it follows--an obvious solution. And as such, she compromises her own project by casting UT students' quest for tolerance as simply another chapter in the long rhetorical history of blacks' abject subordination to whites.
Crystal Thompson is shown in a posture of helpless dependence before the white master of the school. She wants to know what he is going to do to make her feel better, and to make her brother feel welcome. She is in his hands, he holds the power to determine her fate. He stands strong and silent; she quivers and weeps and pleads. The image of the abject slave on her knees before her master, begging for mercy, hovers unpleasantly behind Wertheimer's rhetoric. It's every bit as problematic as wearing blackface to a party or egging a statue of a black leader. And as such it should give us pause.
February 18, 2003
The chair of Miami University's French department has had a student reporter canned for writing an opinion piece that criticized him and a colleague for assigning sexually explicit material to students.
Aaron Sanders wrote a column for the January 17 edition of the Miami Student entitled, "Hold MU Professors Accountable." In that column, he singled out French professor Claire Goldstein for criticism because she shows the French film Ridicule to her students. Ridicule opens with a graphic close-up of one man urinating on another man's head. Sanders wrote that the film was "bordering on pure pornography," citing students in the class who had found the film offensive and adding that too many MU professors confused shocking students with educating them. "Time and again professors will try to pass along nonsense for what they believe is education," he wrote, noting that Jonathan Strauss, the French department chair, "consistently subjects [students] to books and films that contain lewd, sexual content, rape and incest -- many seemingly condoning it." Strauss, who is currently writing a book entitled The Filthy Longing: Dirtiness and Identity in Post-Revolutionary France, didn't appreciate Sanders' criticism--so he contacted Cheryl Heckler, the paper's faculty advisor and arranged to have Sanders fired. "Your thoughtless determination to remain ignorant on getting the fuller picture ... has caused greater pain to a dedicated, careful, VALUABLE professor than you can possibly comprehend," the advisor wrote to Sanders.
Sanders believes he was fired for his conservative beliefs. Goldstein says she does not think he should have been fired. Strauss has responded to Sanders' criticisms in the Miami Student by insinuating that Sanders, and not he, is the one with sexual hangups.
Regardless of your feelings about the pedagogical value of sexually explicit material, you have to admit that Strauss and Heckler have badly bungled their jobs. In pedagogical parlance, Sanders' column was a "teachable moment," an opportunity for Goldstein, Strauss, and others to explain why they bring controversial material into the classroom and how, in their view, that material enhances, rather than harms, the educational value of their courses. This was also an opportunity for the premises underwriting that pedagogical stance--that you cannot learn unless you are stretched past your comfort zone, that students need to be "shocked" out of their complacency, and so on--to be publicly debated by students and faculty alike. Instead, it became an exercise in authoritarian suppression of unwelcome viewpoints and a gross display of what Dinesh D'Souza has memorably called "illiberal education."
So much for liberte, egalite, fraternite.
UPDATE: Jonathan Strauss responds in the comments. According to Strauss, he was misrepresented by the Cincinnati Enquirer article I summarize above. Strauss did not actually call for Sanders' job (to my knowledge, he is not calling for Sanders' reinstatement, either). But Sanders was fired for writing the article, and the firing was done at the behest of a Miami faculty member--journalism professor Cheryl Heckler instructed the paper's student editor to terminate Sanders after Strauss complained to her about the article. Read Strauss's comment, follow the link to his response to Sanders, and judge for yourself what's going on at Miami.
UPDATE UPDATE: You can read a March 10 follow-up piece in the Cincinnati Enquirer here.
February 17, 2003
Tenure, like socialism, sounds good in theory. But in practice, it is about as flawed and corrupt an institution as you can find. Dan Bauer, an assistant professor of English at Iowa's Simpson College, is a case in point. Bauer received a glowingly positive third-year review from his departmental chair last year (Simpson's personnel policies state that a positive third-year review may be read as a statement of intent to grant tenure). Eight months later, the same chair turned in such a negative evaluation of Bauer that the Faculty Personnel Committee voted unanimously to deny Bauer tenure for unprofessional conduct and failure to demonstrate adequate professional growth. Students and non-implicated faculty are up in arms; the English departmental chair, meanwhile, has coolly informed the student paper that it can "cast [her] as a villain" if it wants to.
In Bauer's third-year review, English department chair Nancy St. Clair wrote that "Dan is a hard-working, deeply committed teacher. ... In the two years he has been here the strong teaching skills he brought with him have become stronger yet. He cares deeply about Simpson and is committed to educating the whole student and partakes in all aspects of student life in order to do so. I see no reason why his progress toward tenure shouldn't continue on course." Eight months later, she was citing him for lack of "initiative" and for talking with students about how "other faculty members were grading their senior essays." One of the "other faculy members" in question was St. Clair herself. Bauer has refuted the one claim and clarified the other: as far as he is concerned, there is nothing to the rationale for firing him, but there is a great deal of personal animus against him on the part of his chairman.
Connoisseurs of corrupted promotion procedures will recognize in Bauer's case a pattern that has manifested itself at CUNY's Brooklyn College twice in the last several months: junior faculty who cross their departmental chairs stand a good chance of getting crucified come reappointment season, particularly when the chair is a woman and the assistant professor is male. At CUNY, history professor KC Johnson was denied tenure for "uncollegiality" after clashing with his department chair and other senior faculty about hiring ethics and pedagogical standards; philosophy professor Michael Cholbi was denied reappointment for no stated reason after he, too, had clashed with his departmental chair about hiring ethics. And now Bauer, who describes the English department atmosphere as "toxic," has lost his job after clashing with his chair about teaching philosophies. In case after case, we see the confidential tenure process, in which careers are made and destroyed at the will of colleagues who are often capricious and almost wholly unaccountable for their decisions, used not as a means of rewarding dedicated and accomplished teaching, scholarship, and service, but as a means of exorcising those whose presence is inconvenient to resident ideologues and incompetents.
For campus feminists, Valentine's Day is now "V-Day," and "V" stands for "valentine," "violence," and "vagina." The brainchild of Eve Ensler, feminist activist and author of the award-winning "The Vagina Monologues," V-Day was celebrated nationwide last Friday as 1053 cities and 660 campuses put on performances of Ensler's play. Ensler herself appeared at the University of Michigan. Her visit coincided with the Midwest premiere of her latest play, "Necessary Targets," at Ann Arbor's Performance Network--but that isn't why Ensler was there. "I can't think of a place I would rather be on V-Day than here," Ensler told her audience Friday afternoon. "I'm in total awe of the women and vagina-loving men on this campus." Whether Ensler is also in total awe of the ticket-buying power of the women and vagina-loving men at UM must remain a matter of speculation.
The Michigan Daily has published excerpts from Ensler's V-Day talk, which centered on raising awareness about violence against women. Telling her audience that "You're part of a world-wide movement," Ensler elaborated on her theory of how becoming a "vagina-loving" individual can make the world a kinder, gentler place:
"My entire life was shaped by violence," Ensler said. "I had never become anything other than a reaction to what had happened to me. My own relationship with my vagina was very dissociated."
Ensler began the V-Day movement and wrote "The Vagina Monologues" to make women aware their vaginas belong to themselves. She also criticized current practices females use to enhance their looks, including liposuction and leg waxing.
"If every woman in this room were living in their full power, we'd be living in another world," Ensler said. "Practices (of beauty) are so time-consuming, it's clear why we're not running the world.
Ensler calls her world of women and "vagina-loving men" V-World, a world that is "creative, sexy, delicious and fabulous."
In addition to speaking about her own projects, Ensler spoke in opposition of President Bush's campaign against Iraq.
"We're on the verge of doing the most suicidal thing we can do, which is bomb Iraq," Ensler said. "The most radical thing you can do is not be afraid of these testosterone-driven warriors."
Some absurdities should simply be allowed to speak for themselves, so I will not comment on Ensler's logic, except to note that there does not appear to be any. Maybe that's what happens when you choose loving your vagina over thinking with your brain.
Ensler wants to stop violence against women, and I'm all for that. But the way to do that is not to engage in adolescent word play ("ooooh, I said 'vagina': that makes me shocking and transgressive!") that then becomes the basis for a pathetically simplistic politics ("if we all hold hands and say 'vagina' over and over, we will grow to love vaginas, and in loving vaginas, we will love one another, and then there will not only be no more violence against women, but there will be no war, only peace, and women will run the world and the world will be creative, sexy, delicious and fabulous!"). Ensler's gratuitous male-bashing only enhances the hysterical quality of her rhetoric. In emphasizing feeling ("vagina-loving") over thought, that rhetoric not only directs at men the kinds of conceptual slurs that Ensler finds so damaging when they are aimed at women, but imagines either that no one will notice the double standard or that despising men is a necessary component of empowering women.
The "V" in V-Day apparently also stands for vacuous.
February 16, 2003
Sensitizing sports at Harvard
Harvard has sentenced its student-athletes to mandatory diversity training. Last Tuesday, every athlete from Harvard's 41 different teams was required to attend a session entitled ìCommunity Building and Diversity for Athletes" as part of its ongoing bid to be recertified by the NCAA in 2007. The session was led by Elaine Penn, a motivational speaker and ex-college athlete whose promotional web site touts her as one who can "reach your audience in a way that will help plant that seed for lasting change." Penn's presentation at Harvard covered questions of tolerance, focussing especially on racism and sexism.
Athletes told the Crimson that they were offended by the assumption that as athletes, they needed special help learning to be considerate of people from different backgrounds:
ìI think the speaker vastly overestimated the level of prejudice that was present in her audience,î rower Jeremy N. King í04 said. ìThe content of the event was unnecessary and, at times, insulting to Harvard athletes.î
At one point, Penn proposed a scenarioówhich she dubbed ìsubtle racismîóin which a biracial couple sitting in a restaurant is confronted by another patron who uses a racial slur.
King said that he and his teammates were alarmed at what he called Pennís ìabsurd assumptionî that athletes might have trouble identifying the use of a derogatory epithet as racist.
Other athletes also said they were perplexed as to why they were mandated to attend the session. They said they felt they are exposed to a broader spectrum of racial backgrounds than most other Harvard students.
ìIn general sports break down stereotypes,î football player John F. X. Connors í06 said. ìWeíre exposed to a very diverse mix of people. The meeting wouldíve been better geared toward the rest of the student body, who are exposed to much less diversity than we are.î
Harvard's Assistant Director of Athletics Sheri Norred insists that student-athletes were not compelled to attend the session because they are less sensitive than other students, but because they could be compelled to attend. Attendance at last year's inaugural athletic diversity training session was voluntary--and was, in Norred's word, "pathetic." So this year it was required. Norred stressed that the athletic department was not singling out athletes as especially insensitive: ìQuite honestly, if we could have a conference for the whole school that would be great,î she said. In other words, Harvard athletes are no more or less in need of diversity training than the rest of the Harvard student body--which is very much in need of diversity training. Despite student complaints, the Student Athlete Advisory Committee is recommending that the program be mandatory next year, too.
It's common for college athletes to be subjected to sensitivity training. And despite Norred's protests, the offended Harvard students read things right: the rationale is that jocks are less refined and intelligent than non-jocks; that as inhabitants of a muscular, competitive world they are less cerebral and more visceral, more likely to act than think, more likely to use force than reason, more apt to descend to interactive ugliness than to demonstrate tolerance and self-restraint.
The NCAA encourages this stereotype, ironically, by trying so hard to shatter it: it runs a number of diversity programs, including training workshops, as well as a Gender Equity Resource Center for women in sports. The message is double-edged: on the one hand, the NCAA wants to represent college athletics as an enlightened and progressive enterprise; on the other hand, the emphasis it places on diversity training and programming suggests that left to its own devices, college athletics is rife with racism and sexism, that athletes and coaches need guided re-education to cure them of their intolerant, loutish ways. The winners are people like Penn, who peddle instant thought reform--or, in Penn's words, "help plant that seed for lasting change"--for a tidy fee.
The Wit And Wisdom Of Ivy League Preferentialists
John Rosenberg's Discriminations remains down, and John consequently remains a blogger without a home. He's paid another visit to Critical Mass, however, where he's always welcome. His latest is posted below.
There was a revealing demonstration at the University of Pennsylvania on February 13 protesting Justice Antonin Scalia and his views on affirmative action. (Link via Howard Bashman)
Although demonstrations are not the best places to observe reasoned, thoughtful arguments, this demonstration at Penn was particularly striking because of the level of Ivy League preferentialist analysis that it put on display. Even for demonstration-thought, that level was quite low.
Quotations follow, in italics, with any comments of mine following in plain text.
Bush says Jim Crow/We say hell no!
These Ivy Leaguers must be quite smart to have plumbed the depths of Bush's mind and heart to discover that his opposition on principle to discrimination based on race is really a call to return to officially imposed segregation.
"We're headed backwards, and that's insanity," History graduate student Kyle Farley said.
"America's historical memory is way too short," Farley continued, explaining his participation in the demonstration. "I study American history, so I don't forget what's happened."
Translation: if you knew as much as I do, you'd agree with me.
Does [Penn] have a problem?" asked Classical Studies Professor Keith DeVries, who happened to walk by the protest.
When told that the signs and chanting were directed at Scalia, DeVries response was to the point.
"What a horrible person," he said. "Who invited him?"
Exactly whose point was that to? Classical studies always did induce humility and modesty, and it's nice to see those virtues thriving at Penn.
"He's an evil man," said Anthony Monteiro, a lecturer in Afro-American Studies. "He's a throwback to Dred Scott."
This shows historical understanding at Penn is on a par with Classical wisdom. Let's see, Dred Scott held that the territories could not exclude slaves and offered as dicta that blacks had no rights whites were bound to respect. Thus it's easy to see how Mr. Monteiro, lecturer, would think that identical with Justice Scalia's view that blacks and whites have exactly the same rights, based on the principle that every person must treated without regard to race, creed, or national origin.
Second-year Graduate School of Education student Kelley Evans expressed fears that Scalia represented "a return to education where diversity is not represented."
"That's going backwards," she continued. "That's the world of my parents."
"I'm going forward," she concluded, as she walked back into the circular ranks of the picketers.
Well, as a parent I feel qualified to say that Ms. Evans is indeed going somewhere, but I don't think it's forward.
Academic Program chair of the Black Student League and a resident in DuBois College House, [College sophomore Carl] Foreman described the possibility that programs such as DuBois itself might be rendered unconstitutional as "scary for me, personally."
It's hard to see how Michigan losing would close down the Black Student League or, even assuming it is a black only residence, DuBois College House at Penn. (Racially segregated housing might be under more pressure at a public university, and I repeat that I'm only guessing here as to what DuBois College House is.) But let's say that Foreman's worst fears were realized: it sounds like the worst that would happen is that he might haveÝto experience more diversity than he does now.
February 15, 2003
Majoring in self esteem
Harvard government professor Harvey C. Mansfield--who has famously resolved the grade inflation conundrum by giving his students two grades, an inflated one for their transcript and a real one for their private consideration--has written a searingly smart piece on American higher education's transformation into a self-esteem-building industry. Focussing on Harvard's position as America's leading university, Mansfield details how Harvard's easy A's, overspecialized course offerings, overblown letters of recommendation, overall lack of accountability, overdone displays of sensitivity, and overly self-serving professors combine to create an environment where students are at once constantly coddled and utterly neglected, fiercely proud and deeply unsure of themselves, drivingly ambitious and deeply suspicious of work, eager to do good but unable to reconcile that urge with the acquisition of knowledge and skills.
Some choice quotes:
Harvard is afraid to look ambition in the face. To Harvard, ambition and the responsibility that accompanies it look elitist and selfish. ("Elitist" is the fancy, political version of "selfish.") Harvard gives its students to understand that the only alternative to selfishness is selflessness. Morality is held to be sheer altruism; it is service to the needy and the oppressed. A typical Harvard student spends many, many hours in volunteer work on behalf of those less fortunate. But what he or she plans for his own life --Ýa career --Ýseems to have no moral standing. To prepare for a career is nothing but to make a selection under the regime of choice. It is careerism --Ýa form of elitism and selfishness --Ýthat seems unattractive even to those contemplating it.
Selfless morality is fragile and suspicious: Who believes a person who claims to be unconcerned with himself? Yet mere selfishness is beneath one's pride. Harvard is caught between these two extremes; it has lost sight of its virtue. It cannot come to terms with the high ambition that everyone outside Harvard sees to be its most prominent feature.
The notion of self-esteem rampant in American education today is a debased version of pride. It is pride that shies away from any standard of good education, fearing that to apply a standard will hurt someone's pride. But true pride requires a standard above itself in which to take pride. True pride is neither selfish nor selfless, but both. It is not afraid of a test --Ýand would rather lose than flinch.
Read the whole thing, as they say.
Vested Interest: a post by John Rosenberg
John Rosenberg's Discriminations has been down with technical difficulties for the last couple of days. But the indomitable John is still blogging. Check out his latest below, and cross your fingers for the speedy recovery of the Discriminations blog.
MIT is very good at taking race into account. Just ask it. Actually, someone did, in the form of an interview with Charles Vest, MIT's president. Yesterday, Vest was the featured speaker at a press conference in Washington, representing a number of universities who will be filing amicus briefs in support of Michigan's use of racial preferences.
At MIT race may well be only "one of many factors" taken into account by the admissions office, as Vest claims. But his comments nevertheless reveal the extent to which the establishment now regards race as a privileged category, due government deference, as opposed to a protected category, walled off from government favor or disfavor.
We don't want to rob people of their identities, and race and culture and economic status and whether you're from a big city or a little town -- all these things are important components of who these students are and what they have to offer and what advantages they’ve had or obstacles they've overcome ... Risk-taking and demonstrable passion for particular intellectual pursuits, all of these things we try to take into account as we read the cases and decide who we’ll actually offer admissions to.Very interesting. For me, this preference rhetoric has the distinct ring of deja vu all over again: I grew up (in Alabama) surrounded by people complaining about "the federal government" taking away their right to make racial distinctions.
One of the other points that we will make in our brief is that one of the most fundamental academic decisions a faculty makes is who should study in their university, and we don't believe that it's appropriate for the federal government to take all of these important factors that define people and remove one of them and say "you can consider everything, but you can't consider this."
In addition, Vest obviously either 1) doesn't think religion plays any role in defining who people are, or 2) he thinks it not only appropriate but necessary to "take religion into account" in deciding what students to admit. Does MIT do that? If not, why not?
How long will preferences have to remain in effect? Vest doesn't know, but says "I think we'll know when we've finally arrived at that point...." How reassuring.
What about the fact that preferences discriminate against people who are not regarded as minorities? Listen to this:
The fact is that when you array this whole pool of thousands of young men and women who apply to [colleges], you are really trying to judge them as individuals and consider all of these characteristics. Now if you want to build a class that has reasonable [geographic] representation ... and you want to have some reasonable distribution of race in the pool, then by definition, the probability that an individual who meets one of those criteria will be admitted is going to be higher than the probability of an individual who does not meet that criteria -- just because you have a large pool defining some of those sets and smaller pools defining the other sets.... The real point is that [admissions are] subjective. We don’t have a quota, we don’t have a formula, we don’t assign points, but these are factors that we think about and I think if you were to look at the whole structure of a class, you would see that they are very diverse in this broad set of things.Got it? Good.
What about the problem of self-segregation"?
I think to some extent, self segregation goes on in every group -- at MIT and in the country. We just hope that in general people do a lot of mixing and get to know each other and learn from each other and value each other, but I don't think it's up to me to say that one group can't spend most of its time socializing with the other or what have you. ... [Self-segregation] is not something you enforce -- you create opportunity....If diversity is essential, why isn't it enforced? Is freedom of association a more important right than freedom from racial discrimination?
February 14, 2003
Beyond incivility at Seton Hall
Mary Ann Swissler, an adjunct professor of communications at Seton Hall University, had some choice words to say to her fall students after she discovered their write-up of her on myprofessorsucks.com:
All I can say is that the comments confirmed to me what I had to keep to myself all semester: that most of you mental midgets are the most immature, sheltered, homophobic, sexist, racist, lying sacks of sót I have ever met in my life. ... Seton Hall may be kissing you're aóes now, but out here in the real world, brats like you will be eaten for breakfast.
Swissler discovered her students' comments after reading an article about myprofessorsucks.com in the Seton Hall student paper. Among the negative commentaries on her are the following gems:
"No student wants to go into a class and hate a professor, but Swissler's complete lack of teaching skill and negative attitude made us turn on her."
"I truly believe that I am dumber because of this class."
"I just received an email from this orangutan that stated not to "send homeword through email because it don't work." It DON'T work??? How about that! A professor with the grammar of a Rahway inmate! Who'd a thunk it!?"
"swissler is a geek- if im not busy participating in class chatroom activitie i find myself mesmerized by her skunkdefied roots..Word of advice: DYE THAT SHIT!- her wardrobe is horrible-- straight from the Salvations Army reject pile...And we cant forget about her YELLOW THERMOS-..and her red moped.. But she loves me- and gives me A's on everything..so things could be worse-- "
"The class is called Promotional Writing, and let me start by saying that there is more sleeping going on in this class than writing. No homework. No tests. The occassional press release or ad is due. The teacher makes me sick to look at, and her handwriting is worse than my lil bros (age 9). Her grey roots are gagging, and her outfits are blinding to the eye. Yes the class is easy, and thank god for the easy A, but there has to be some education that comes from class...I do pay $1500 for this damn class. Thank you Seton Hall for giving nothing but the best! Swissler is the #1 reason not to come, and the #1 reason to leave. Oh yeah--why do we have a teacher that doesn't know how to spell lead? She spells it LEDE?! wtf!! Pure crap...and I leave you with this thought--she is wearing my clothes I donated to the salvation army! (its sad-really.)"
"If there was ever a reason NOT to support human cloning, than this is it."
"I do not know where they found this "woman" but I think the Salvation Army is a good start. She never has any idea what is going on, she assigns stuff that she dosen't understand, she is a writing teacher who can't spell. Also she gets excited over the dumest things"
"This amish pilgrim needs to go back to whereever she came from!!"
Thus do illiterate and petty pots call the kettle black. Swissler won't be back at Seton Hall--but then, it sounds like she anticipated that and decided to go out with a bang.
As for the Seton Hall administrators, they've taken the easy road, apologizing to offended students on behalf of Swissler and asking them to consider her comments as the work of someone who is not entirely mentally balanced:
"I am an advocate of free speech and believe that we have the freedom to express our opinion as long as it is respectful to others," said Communication department chairman Peter Reader in a bulk e-mail. "Unfortunately, professor Swissler was not. I am sure that many of you feel hurt by her words, as was I. You would think that someone who works professionally as she does would behave more responsibly and set a better example. However, please set aside her e-mail as a bad example of someone not thinking clearly and [do] not take it personally."
Apparently, libelling Swissler (as an enemy of free speech and as a mental case) and empathizing with students who can hardly be described as entirely innocent victims of their professor's wrath, is Reader's idea of a competent response to the mess that is festering in his department. Swissler was way out of line to write what she did. But that doesn't mean she didn't know what she was doing, or that she was unprovoked, or that students who express their frustrations with a course by publicly and repeatedly trashing their professor are not a big part of the problem as well.
The consumerist mentality of Swissler's students is palpable in their comments. They speak as readily of how much money they have wasted on the course as they do of how offensive she is to look at--as if she had an obligation to please them visually with her person, as if her clothing and hairstyle had anything to do with the quality of her instruction, as if her red moped and yellow thermos materially damaged students' abilities to learn. This is the rudeness of entitlement, the hostility of students who labor under the mistaken idea that education should entertain them, and that teachers are performers whose job it is to play to their audience.
This aspect of the situation is lost on Reader, whose pandering apology to Swissler's students only rewards them for the very sort of incivility and disrespectfulness that he condemns in Swissler. Yes, teachers who get attacked by immature and hostile students should take the high road. But that does not mean students who behave as Swissler's did should get a free pass for their own descent into the gutter. They deserve as much condemnation from Reader as Swissler does. His failure to recognize this, and his subsequent tacit admission that a double standard of conduct is in place at Seton Hall, simply empowers angry students to do unto other unpopular professors what they did unto Swissler. And as such, Reader's apology invites the inmates to run the asylum.
February 13, 2003
Blame games at Texas
University of Texas President Larry Faulkner is forming a President's Committee on Racial Respect and Fairness in response to a string of "racially insensitive" events on campus. A statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. was egged on MLK Day; a fraternity-sponsored "gin-and juice" party on January 31 saw students donning blackface and wearing "potentially offensive" t-shirts; in the wake of outrage about the party, one black student claimed that he had been "racially profiled" by campus security officers; this week, the American Civil Rights Institute placed an ad in the student newspaper expressing "anti-affirmative action sentiments": "If you are white, you may be a victim of illegal discrimination," it read, encouraging white engineering students to challenge a Texas Department of Transportation program that allocates grants exclusively to minority and women students.
It is not known who egged the statue; the costumes are constitutionally protected forms of expression; campus officials deny profiling anyone; and the ad simply apprises students of the law: as recent events at Princeton and MIT have made eminently clear, government-funded entities cannot discriminate on the basis of race or gender--even if that discrimination is directed against white men and done in the name of diversity.
These facts pale in comparison to the hysteria generated by failure to acknowledge them, however, and so UT's president has joined the chorus of the outraged, decrying racism on his campus and vowing to do what must be done to ferret it out and expel it. In a letter addressed to "Members of the UT Community," Faulkner personally apologized to students, faculty, and staff "for any action by (the) University itself that may have contributed to the issues we are now confronting." He offered his "public, personal condemnation of offending individual behavior outside the official control of the University." He spoke of the importance of community "standards of civility and decency," noting that "our community has an obligation to adopt and to uphold the highest standards of respect for others." In order to preserve those standards, he wrote, "we must reject, and take steps to eradicate, behavior that casts disrespect on any person because of ethnic or racial identity."
The rhetoric is a disturbing combination of diversity-ese and puritanical intolerance. In the name of showing respect for each individual, it advocates rejecting--and, chillingly--"eradicating"--those who do not conform to an externally imposed norm of conscience. In the name of tolerance and inclusion, it preaches ritual expulsion. In the name of fairness, it seeks to subject each member of the UT community to an intrusive ideological litmus test. Those who fail it must go: all in the name of civility and decency, of course.
What Faulkner does not mention: UT's legal obligation to the First Amendment; UT's ethical obligation as an academic institution to foster debate and inquiry rather than censorship and surveillance; the liberal value of meeting offensive expression with principled expression; the importance, in this difficult day and age, of learning to live with the knowledge that the world is not a womb; and the crucial facts that 1) ignorance, insensitivity, and even hate are not crimes, 2) that very few people we encounter in life will give a damn about our fragile egos and delicate sensibilities, and 3) that it is a rank waste of time and energy to insist that they do.
Faulkner is trying to cast himself as a good guy--and he is employing every patronizing and illiberal tactic available to him to do it. The piece de resistance? Faulkner's suggestion that the problems on his campus are the fault of the lawsuits against the University of Michigan: According to the Austin American-Statesman, "Faulkner said the problems seemed to begin with news reports of the pending Supreme Court case on affirmative action policies at the University of Michigan." Perhaps--just perhaps--the problems on UT's campus are the products not of the "attack" on affirmative action, but of the intellectually dishonest and morally bankrupt rationale for racial preferences themselves.
Thanks to reader Chuck H. for the link.
February 12, 2003
More on Texas blackface
Yesterday I noted that the University of Texas looks as if it is about to join the growing ranks of universities that violate the civil rights of students in order to punish them for wearing blackface to parties. Today's Daily Texan reports that UT is advancing steadily along that path. A group of offended students is filing a formal complaint about the costumes, and the Dean of Students, Teresa Graham Brett, has vowed to punish the offenders. She "found the costumes highly offensive," the article notes, and "is looking into actions that can be taken against the fraternity":
"I feel like this has really harmed the entire University community," Brett said. "There is already a lot of tension on campus right now around a number of issues, and I think this just adds to that tension. We are going to look at all possible avenues trying to hold them accountable."
Here we go again.
Usually in such cases very few people actually get to see the offending costumes. There is often no photographic record of them, and if there are pictures, they don't make it into the press. Outrage feeds on ignorance, and the anger of the community sustains itself on imagined visions of what the costumes must have been like. The Daily Texan, however, is letting readers see for themselves what all the fuss is about by running a picture of some of the offending costumes. Faces are blurred, but you can get a pretty good idea of what all the fuss is about if you look closely. One of the more heinous costumes reported is of a white man covered in black paint, wearing a chain and padlock around his neck. You can see him in the picture. I had originally pictured the chain as tight around his neck, the lock as close to his face, and the impression one of the abject slave. But the chain is worn loosely, as jewelry, and the impression given is much more that of the rapper than the slave, much more that of a humorous homage to black music than a bigoted celebration of slavery. See what you think.
UPDATE: For more pictures of students in blackface, and for a wider historical perspective, check out Captain Yips' recent scanning efforts.
February 11, 2003
The University of Texas looks like it is about to join the growing list of schools where frat boys wear blackface to parties, offended students complain, and administrators take unlawful disciplinary action in order to prove the school's commitment to tolerance. UT is investigating Kappa Alpha and Phi Gamma Delta for throwing parties where members and guests were photographed wearing "racially offensive" costumes. Such parties took place last Halloween, and, more recently, at the end of January. There are photos of students dressed as rappers with exaggerated lips, and another of a white man covered in black paint, with a chain and padlock around his neck. UT has not announced what disciplinary action it is considering, but the fact that it is investigating a constitutionally protected--if offensive--form of expression as if it were a crime does not bode well.
FIRE has put together a fascinating collection of stories of campus blackface incidents. Their archive demonstrates in stark terms not simply the rote quality of fraternity racial pranks, but the equally rote character of adminstrative reactions to them. These reactions routinely involve violations of the fraternity members' individual rights; on some occasions, they also involve fraternity members suing their universities--and winning. Check out the Auburn and George Mason cases, and then watch to see whether UT admins have learned from their peer instititions' mistakes.
Thanks to reader Chuck H. for the link.
MIT revamps race-exclusive programs
Princeton's decision to nix its summer program for minorities interested in doing graduate work in public policy has been all over the news and the blogosphere. Coverage of that decision has included the tantalizing information that Princeton acted as it did because it knew of another, unnamed university that had ignored the Center for Equal Opportunity's warnings and had subsequently gotten itself reported the the Department of Education. Now we know the name of the school: MIT.
As John Rosenberg noted earlier this week, MIT also runs elite summer programs that exclude whites. Today, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that MIT has decided to open two summer programs to whites and Asians in response to the investigation the Office of Civil Rights has been conducting on that campus since last spring. MIT's programs were brought to the OCR's attention by the Center for Equal Opportunity and the American Civil Rights Institute after MIT ignored their attempt to convince the university to bring its exclusionary programs into line with the law. One of the programs was for minority high school students interested in science and engineering (John Rosenberg's co-blogging daugher Jessie was not allowed to apply to it because she is white); the other was designed to help entering freshmen adjust to college life.
Though MIT has shown a slower learning curve than Princeton, it has reached a similar conclusion about the legality of its programs. "We are not aware of any racially exclusive programs that have been successfully legally defended," said Robert P. Redwine, MIT's dean for undergraduate education. Jamie Lewis Keith, the university's senior counsel, was equally blunt, saying that "from a legal perspective, we did not have a lot of choice."
Lester Monts, the University of Michigan's senior vice provost for academic affairs, has called Princeton's decision "irrational" and has proudly announced that Michigan runs "many" such programs. But as MIT joins Princeton in acknowledging the indefensibility of their past procedures, it's Michigan that is beginning to look irrational.
February 10, 2003
Michigan disses Princeton
Princeton's decision to scrap its minority-only summer institute at the Woodrow Wilson school "sounds irrational," says Lester Monts, the University of Michigan's senior vice provost for academic affairs. Princeton junked the program after the Center for Equal Opportunity pointed out that such racially exclusive programs are discriminatory and not legally defensible by schools receiving federal funding. Fearing a lawsuit like those Michigan presently faces, Princeton chose to terminate the program afer this year, stating unequivocally that the summer institute was not legitimately structured: "This program is race-exclusive in its admissions and most certainly could be challenged," said Princeton's vice president for communications, Robert Durkee. "It was not a good strategy to offer a program that is not defensible. ... We didn't want to be in a position that put other programs at risk." The irony: now UM is inviting even more scrutiny than it is already under. Monts told the Michigan Daily that "We have many of these programs on the University campus and they are working very well to bring minority students and students of color into the fold for graduate study and professional study."
Berkeley English graduate student Snehal Shingavi made a name for himself last spring when he discouraged conservative students from taking his composition course. Entitled "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance," Shingavi's course description advised prospective students that "This class takes as its starting point the right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination. Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections." Shingavi had done the same thing with a prior composition course entitled "Why the Modernists hated wars, and why you should, too," stating in the course description that "This class has an anti-war emphasis; most of the literature that we read and essays that will we [sic] examine will take as their starting point the claim that wars are not the solutions that they claim to be, that they in fact destroy the lives of the people who lose and those who win. ... If ideological conflists [sic]will make it difficult for you to engage in the discussion, please select another course." Shingavi's suggestion that a student's ability to succeed in his course would depend on whether that student shared his political beliefs made national news after blogger Angry Clam broke the story. Organizations like the ACLU and FIRE also made statements condemning his actions.
Yesterday, the L. A. Times ran a piece entitled "Protest Central Needs a Few Good Recruits" that amounted to a sympathetic--and woefully partial--profile of Shingavi (or Shingabi, as the article inexplicably misspells his name). Opening with a description of the activist gauntlet that is Cal's Sproul Plaza, the article centers on Shingavi, who was handing out black anti-war armbands to passing students on the day the reporter visited campus. Shingavi--who supplemented his illegitimate pedagogical antics last spring with a variety of disruptive protest activities carried out in the name of Students for Justice in Palestine--appears in the article as a mild, respectful, and modest man, a "patient proselytizer" who was "unfailingly polite and would bounce with enthusiasm toward every extended arm." The image that emerges is vaguely saintly; Shingavi comes across almost like a martyr, a peace activist radiating humble, unobtrusive confidence in his cause: "'Wear a black armband to show your opposition to the war?' he would ask, offering a cloth strip with both hands and slightly bowing his head. 'Would you like to help build the student antiwar movement?'"
No mention is made of Shingavi's less-than-tolerant career as a Berkeley activist. His known abuse of his authority as a teacher and his well-known record as a leader of SJP, which was suspended last year after it stormed Wheeler Hall, disrupting classes and resulting in a number of arrests, are completely suppressed in the Times' puff piece for the campus anti-war movement. It's not reasonable, informed, or fair reporting. It's not even a decent profile. What it is, is shameless pandering dressed up to look like responsible journalism.
Thanks to reader David W. for the link.
February 8, 2003
Insensitivity killed the class
In today's Herald-Sun, an article entitled "Professor Quits Over Racist Remarks" tells the story of how a lecturer at UNC-Chapel Hill resigned after the students in her graduate course on social work took offense to something she said in class. On the first day of "Social Work and Practice with Couples," Martha Lamb discussed her own experiences as a student in North Carolina during the 1960s, noting that back then, some people liked to joke that the NAACP stood for "Niggers Ain't Acting Like Colored People" and observing that such comments are rare today. Her point appears to have been that times have changed, and that this is good; that while Carolina was a hotbed of racism thirty-odd years ago, things have improved a great deal. But that isn't how her students took it (or, apparently, how the person who titled the article sees it).
Lamb is white; six of her sixteen students were not; after that comment, ten of her students dropped her class. The six remaining students dropped the course a month later, after meetings with administrators and a mediated conversation among Lamb and her students. Lamb resigned shortly after.
According to the Dean, Lamb "used some insensitive, hurtful, disparaging words. ... During the hour-and-a-half, I had hoped they would be able to come to some understanding that she was trying to do something pedagogical that went awry." Noting that the University's racial harassment policy requires teachers to provide a comfortable learning environment, Richman went on to say that Lamb's "wasnít adequate teaching ... (The students) got so uncomfortable they couldnít (understand) anything past the statement."
Lamb sent a contrite apology to her former students: "I have respect for each of you and the work you have done to address sensitive issues. I realize a quotation was used the first day of my class that contained offensive words, and I certainly apologize for its use. I expect we shall all be devoting additional energy to ëgetting it rightí in addressing cultural differences openly and celebrating our rich diversity in the future."
The Dean plans to use this episode as an opportunity to perform a "diversity audit" on his school. "I want them to take the pulse of the school," the Dean said. "Are there issues here at the school that are under the surface, and this ignited the concerns? Clearly, these were very hurtful statements." At Dean Richman's behest, professional diversity experts will be hired to assess the racial climate of the school (this will most likely cost upwards of $30,000). These experts will then make recommendations for improvement based on their assessments (diversity audits typically end in recommendations for--you guessed it--plenty of diversity training and programming, much of it expensively supplied by the diversity consultants themselves). In other words, an episode of gross misunderstanding--and, arguably, bad faith on the part of hostile and immature students and careerist administrators--has resulted not only in the termination of one lecturer's contract, but also in the creation of a new social contract at UNC's School of Social Work. Under the guise of thoroughness and proactive care, the Dean plans to buy for his school an official diagnosis of racism and then to implement the policies, procedures, and cultural shifts that foregone diagnosis demands.
Worth noting: If UNC's racial harassment policy does require teachers to provide a "comfortable" classroom environment, then UNC Chapel Hill's racial harassment policy is almost certainly in direct conflict with its obligation to the First Amendment (not to mention its obligation, as an educational institution, to free and honest inquiry). Lamb was within her constitutional rights to speak as she did, and she was also well within the bounds of civility: she is basically being called a racist for pointing out that the atmosphere at UNC used to be racist.
I could find nothing in UNC's racial harassment policy specifying that it is a teacher's duty to provide a comfortable classroom environment--but it is clear, too, that empowering students to bring claims of racial harassment whenever they feel "uncomfortable" does create an illiberal and intolerant atmosphere, and does in turn compromise the educational enterprise by making teachers' livelihoods, reputations, and authority totally dependent on the subjective assessment and emotional whims of their students. UNC does post a Teaching for Inclusion handbook with guidelines on course design and classroom management. The emphasis is on racial sensitivity, with nods to the special needs of women students, disabled students, and students with "diverse religious and political beliefs." The handbook stresses the importance of "establishing a safe classroom atmosphere," notes that turning the classroom into a safe "zone" is the key to "increasing everyone's comfort level," and even recommends that teachers lay out groundrules for class discussion--Lynn Weber's controversial and intrusive ideological guidelines for class discussion are singled out for special praise (FIRE took up Weber's guidelines last year). What are the odds that the diversity audit will conclude that UNC's problem is that it has swallowed the problematic logic of diversity hook, line, and sinker?
Lamb's case is a classic instance of how a carefully cultivated climate of racial sensitivity can produce intolerance, illiberalism, and the gross miscarriages of communication and justice that come with them. In this case, UNC's "sensitivity" to racial harassment created the conditions for utterly spurious accusations that in turn have damaged and perhaps ruined a career. The students who could not cope with Lamb's anecdote are the products of an anti-intellectual educational culture that encourages thin skin and closed minds; they are part of a new generation whose members cannot differentiate between a harmless anecdotal use of an ugly word and the calculated delivery of a racial slur, who are so "sensitized" that they are more likely to react than to think, who believe that they have the right not to be offended, who spend inordinate amounts of time looking for ways to be offended, and who think that taking offense somehow ennobles or anoints them. Bear in mind that the sensitive souls in Lamb's course are the social workers and shrinks of tomorrow: they already possess the wounded intolerance they will eventually be cultivating in their clients.
One last note: the University's racial harassment policy stipulates that "This Policy shall not be used to bring frivolous or malicious charges against students, employees, or agents." It looks like Dean Richman forgot about that part of the policy when he took student complaints against Lamb seriously.
UPDATE: Reader Fred R. sends this link to a Daily Tar Heel editorial deploring Lamb's racism, lauding UNC's racial harassment policy, and calling for Lamb's prompt resignation. The editorial misrepresents Lamb's comment, failing to provide the context of her utterance and making it sound as though she was herself making a racist joke instead of recounting how such jokes were once common at Carolina. It also treats a perfectly civil and proper statement of hers as an example of her racism: when a student complained to her about her comment, she allegedly replied, "I will try not to treat you as an African American. I will try to treat you like a person." Reading between the lines: she was trying to say that she runs a colorblind class, but she was understood as saying that blacks are subhuman. Take one part inarticulate speech and one part bad faith, add hysterical institutional climate and stir til done. Result: a handy opportunity for students, faculty, and administrators to stage their racial righteousness for themselves and one another. How clever of the offended students to recognize in their teacher a true sacrificial Lamb.
February 7, 2003
Princeton pulls preferential plug
For the last eighteen years, Princeton has offered a summer program for minority undergraduates interested in pursuing graduate work in public policy and international affairs. The program lasts seven weeks, and draws students from around the country; it has had particular success as a means of recruiting minority graduate students to Princeton's prestigious school of public policy. But after this summer, the program will be dismantled because Princeton fears its racially exclusive admissions criteria could make it vulnerable to lawsuits of the sort Michigan presently faces. The program's web site announced that applicants must "be a student of color from historically underrepresented backgrounds" and celebrated the exclusive focus on minorities as a contribution to greater global harmony: "By educating a cadre of students of color," the site declared, "we will strengthen the leadership capacity of government and nonprofit organizations." Princeton took the program site down Tuesday, but it is still cached on Google.
Princeton decided to terminate the program after it was contacted by the Center for Equal Opportunity (a Virginia-based think tank that opposes affirmative action and bilingual education) and the American Civil Rights Group, an activist organization that opposes affirmative action. The Center for Equal Opportunity has been alerting colleges to race-based programs and policies that are legally problematic; according to today's Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only), another school so contacted by the CEO ignored its cautions--and promptly got itself reported to the Education Department's civil rights office. Princeton's decision to end the Woodrow Wilson School Junior Summer Institute--and so remove the possibility of federal investigation--marks one success in the CEO's broader campaign.
Princeton's vice president for communications, Robert Durkee, stressed that the decision to terminate the summer program does not mean that Princeton is against affirmative action, but rather that Princeton recognizes its race-based structure could threaten the university's federal funding, which runs to $180 million annually: "This program is race-exclusive in its admissions and most certainly could be challenged," he said. "It was not a good strategy to offer a program that is not defensible. ... We didn't want to be in a position that put other programs at risk."
Three things: it will be interesting to see whether other universities follow Princeton's lead here; it will also be interesting to see if they extend their logic to programs that exclude men in favor of women; and it will be interesting to see what rhetorical maneuvers schools like Princeton will come up with to try to convince those who are alienated and angered by their attempt to comply with the law that they remain committed to diversity. At this point, the pursuit of diversity is quickly becoming identified with defiance of the law (hence Rice's in-your-face admissions practices in the wake of Hopwood). The law, in turn, is increasingly cast as the enemy of fairness and inclusion instead of as the protector of equal rights and opportunity (the jerryrigging of college admissions in California in the wake of Proposition 209 is another instance of this pattern). Princeton's proactive compliance complicates--and possibly rejects--this stance. As such, it may mark the advent of a new rhetorical and procedural phase in the ongoing struggle to reconcile the pursuit of that chimera, "diversity," with the principles of liberal democracy.
UPDATE: The AP report has more, including the interesting information that the extraordinarily progressive Ford Foundation pulled its funding from the program five years ago because it was concerned about its legality. Princeton has been funding the program on its own since then. I had originally thought that the reason the program had to be terminated was that its funding was tied to its structure; now I wonder why, since Princeton finances the program on its own, the university doesn't just open the program to all applicants and keep what sounds like a fine bridge between undergraduate and graduate work alive. Surely the benefits of spending seven weeks seeing what graduate work in public policy might be like are not confined to black and Hispanic students.
UPDATE UPDATE: John Rosenberg has much more, including an interesting parallel situation at MIT.
February 6, 2003
Kurtz, liberalism, diversity
Stanley Kurtz has a stunning piece entitled "Liberalism vs. Diversity" in the current Weekly Standard (subscribers only). Subtitled "The high stakes in the Supreme Court's affirmative action decision," the essay is a pointed and succinct articulation of what hangs in the balance of the Court's pending ruling on the University of Michigan's admissions policies. Kurtz plays out both possible outcomes, outlining what will most likely happen if the Court finds that UM's race-based admissions policies are not constitutional, and sketching a truly nightmarish picture of the moral, ethical, and epistemological "Pandora's box" that will be opened if the court rules that they are. Noting that "racial preferences are at odds with liberal principles," Kurtz explains how, historically and philosophically, "an ideology of 'multicultural diversity'" has come to compete with classic liberalism to "define our social contract." The battle over racial preferences is, Kurtz shows, a battle over whether we are--and wish to remain--a truly liberal society.
Kurtz projects that if the Court determines UM's policies to be constitutional, that will set a precedent for social engineering that cannot do otherwise than erode the foundational tenets of the U.S. The principles of equal opportunity, of civil liberty, and of democracy cannot be upheld in a country that favors group privilege over individual rights and that allows identity politics to trump meritocratic ideals.
However, if the Court rules against UM's policies, Kurtz notes, that will not mean the end of "diversity" and the manipulative social agenda it embodies. Rather, it will mean that the agenda will go underground, as it has at Rice University in the wake of the 1996 Hopwod decision. A negative ruling will ensure that the pursuit of diversity will become more secretive, sly, and slippery than it presently is, and will as a consequence pose new challenges for those who want to see the dismantling of both the practice of race-based admissions and the ideology that practice expresses. I wrote along similar lines Tuesday, and noted that Michigan is already giving signs of moving toward a Rice-like admissions policy.
The bottom line, in Kurtz's words:
What the Court will really do this summer is create a framework for the next phase of our cultural and political struggle over the meaning--and even the legitimacy--of liberal democracy. We stand at a fork in the road. On the one hand, the Court can set aside the diversity rationale, thereby affirming classic liberalism and initiating a series of arguments over the practical application of race-blind principles. On the other hand, the Court can sanction the doctrine of diversity, and thus well and truly open Pandora's Box. Once diversity has acquired unquestioned legal sanction, we will be forced to confront what, to some degree, is already playing out: a creeping constitutional civil war--a battle for the soul, and even the existence, of liberalism--whose outcome is impossible to foresee.
This is an important piece. It explains with elegant, concise clarity why the debate about preferences is not a struggle between reactionary, inherently racist adherance to the status quo and progressive, multicultural commitment to an inclusive future, as proponents of preferences would have it, but, rather, a debate about what America is, what it ought to be, and, more crucially, whether the America of the future will be recognizably related to the America that was conceived in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
UPDATE: John Rosenberg--as ever--has more.
February 5, 2003
Fresno State restricts access to eco-terrorism conference
Fresno State has taken so much heat for holding a conference on "revolutionary environmentalism"--or eco-terrorism--later this month that it has decided to close the event to the public, today's Chronicle of Higher Education reports (subscribers only). Described as "A Dialog Between Activists and Academics," the conference lists on its roster of speakers a number of convicted eco-terrorists and representatives of organizations that openly advocate violent means of protest. Among them are Rodney Coronado, a former member of the Animal Liberation Front who served four years in jail after fire-bombing animal research facilities at Michigan State in 1992; and members of the Earth Liberation Front, a group that encourages "direct action" such as arson and sabotage, and that claimed responsibility for trying to burn down the construction site of a new plant genetics building at the University of Minnesota last year (a detailed roster of participants and their criminal records can be found here). Critics of the event included the Center for Consumer Freedom, California Representative Richard Pombo, and Fresno State's own Bruce Thornton, who published a searing indictment of the conference's disingenuous one-sidedness in FrontPage Magazine last week.
"We are astonished and appalled that a public university that operates with public funds welcomes these folks with open arms, and secondly, that they would hide behind closed doors," said David Martosko, who is research director at CCF. "There's a real danger to the community from people who try to put themselves above the law in a radical nature." "When you have such an imbalance, it seems you're not after the truth," said Thornton. "It's political advocacy rather than an intellectual activity."
Fresno State administrators continue to insist that the conference is being held in the spirit of intellectual inquiry: "Our goal was to have professors and activists talking together," said the dean of the College of Social Sciences. "It's a commitment to experiential learning for our students." Likewise, conference organizers dismiss the criticisms as conservative filibustering: as one put it, "It is a special conceit of conservatives that there are only two sides to any debate -- their side and anyone who disagrees with them." Nevertheless, the decision to close the event to the public speaks volumes for the university's commitment to the free exchange of ideas and to open debate. It is ironic that the threat, as Fresno State sees it, comes not from the criminal mentality represented on its panels, but from those members of the law abiding public who disagree with the views and acts certain panelists endorse. When a campus decides that dissent and disagreement are more threatening than bombs and fire, when argument and criticism are not welcome but terroristic advocacy is, you know that the mission of that campus is not education, but political gamesmanship. You know, in other words, that the campus has failed its students, its faculty, and the surrounding community.
UPDATE: Compare Fresno State's present position to that which it articulated in the January 19 edition of the Fresno Bee. In that article, a great deal of space is devoted to the concerns local businessmen and growers have about the conference--and a great deal of space is also devoted to the University's certainty that the conference participants pose no threat to the local community or to animal and plant research at the University itself. Though some local farmers have already been the targets of eco-terrorist attacks, though some have even spotted some of the conference participants photographing their ranches, and though even the Dean of Fresno State's School of Agriculture called the conference "unbelievably mismanaged," the University President swept aside their concerns with the rhetoric of academic freedom: "The role of the university is really to provide a place where ideas can be freely exchanged and dialogues can occur." Likewise, one of the conference's academic participants stressed the public service the event would provide: "What I hope this conference will do for the Fresno community, and generally as it gets exposure, is for people to consider in positive ways what they are doing in their business and daily lives that might need to be changed for this planet." It's hard to see how a closed conference facilitates either dialogue or communal enlightenment. But then maybe that was never the real intention of the gathering.
UPDATE UPDATE: The L.A. Times has more.
February 4, 2003
Michigan admissions II
In response to my post on former University of Michigan president James Duderstadt's comments on how UM can best continue its unconstitutional use of racial preferences in admissions, a reader writes:
As a longtime reader of your blog, I'm shocked that you didn't blast the Duderstadt piece that you linked to today. (I realize, also, that you didn't necessarily give it a ringing endorsement, either.)
While I think it's worthwhile for universities to avoid mathematical equations in the admissions policies and look at each applicant individually, I'm even more opposed to the "let's pretend we're colorblind" approach taken by Rice University than the more blatant approach taken by Michigan. It's obvious from the NYT article that the admissions officers at Rice are doing everything in their power to find out an applicant's race, and then adjusting their standards accordingly.ÝWhile it may involve more individual attention than Michigan's, it's just asÝdiscriminatory andÝfar less honest.
Agreed. The intellectual dishonesty of Rice's admissions policy and of Duderstadt's proposition are so obvious that I thought I would let them speak for themselves. The striking thing, indeed, about the NYT article on Rice is how openly the Rice admissions officers declare their intent to circumvent Hopwood, and how freely they share their techniques for doing so. And as such I think we see sketched before us the next step in the fight to end racial preferences in college admissions. Getting rid of quota systems like Michigan's is a cakewalk compared to what it will take--rhetorically, conceptually, and investigatively--to find legal fault with policies like Rice's. Which is exactly why the canny Duderstadt is proposing that Michigan adopt similar policies.
UPDATE: Duderstadt clarifies his position in a letter to the editor of today's Michigan Daily. Bottom line: no, he does not think UM's current admissions policy is wrong; yes, he thinks it is possible to devise a policy that will accomplish Michigan's diversity goals more effectively than the current point system; yes, he is advocating, without saying as much, continuing a race-based admissions policy no matter what the courts have to say.
In today's Michigan Daily, former University of Michigan president James Duderstadt offers his thoughts on how UM might go about improving the diversity of the student body. Duderstadt notes that under President Lee Bollinger, many of UM's minority recruitment programs were discontinued, and that as a result an overall increase in minority enrollment at UM has been accompanied by a substantial decrease in black enrollment: between 1994 and 2002, minority enrollment at UM rose from 20% to 26%, but black enrollment decreased by 10%. At the business school, it has decreased by over 50%: 200 blacks were enrolled there in 1994, but less than 100 were enrolled there last year.
To rectify the problem, Duderstadt outlines an admissions policy that would do away with the problematic point system that has earned UM a place on the Supreme Court's docket this year, and that would instead seek to increase diversity by looking more closely at the "whole application":
Duderstadt said he would like to see the University initiate a more subjective process for admissions applications. He added that race might not be as necessary a factor if the University took on a more subjective process, looking at applications, essays and recommendations in depth rather than just assigning points. Currently, the undergraduate colleges admit students based on a 150-point selective index based on factors including high school grades, SAT and ACT scores, an essay and race.
"I think if the University were to make a substantial investment in its admissions office and stack it and really devote the time and attention to evaluate the whole application ... then I think we might be able to build a very diverse class," Duderstadt said.
Boasting one of the largest undergraduate populations in the nation and receiving 25,000 applications for the class of 2006, the University does not currently have time or resources to fully examine each application. But spokeswoman Julie Peterson said all factors of admissions, including outreach, the use of race and mentoring are necessary in order to maintain a diverse campus.
"You need outreach and recruiting, financial aid and mentoring," Peterson said. "All these things need to be in play."
Translation: UM needs to model itself after Rice University. After the 1996 Hopwood decision made it illegal for federally funded Texas schools to use race as a factor in admissions, Rice devised an admissions policy that was explicitly designed to circumvent the ruling. According to a December 2002 New York Times article entitled "Using Synonyms for Race, College Strives for Diversity,"
Rice says it remains fiercely committed to having a diverse student body, so in the years since, it has developed creative, even sly ways to meet that goal and still obey the court. Thus the admissions committee, with an undisguised wink, has encouraged applicants to discuss "cultural traditions" in their essays, asked if they spoke English as a second language and taken note, albeit silently, of those identified as presidents of their black student associations.
Those efforts, along with stepped-up recruiting at high schools with traditionally high minority populations, yielded a freshman class last year with a near-record composition of blacks and Hispanics. Of the 700 freshmen, 7 percent are black, 11 percent Hispanic.
The Times article goes on to note that Rice offers a "preview of the subtle ways that life would most likely change inside the admissions offices of colleges like Yale, Princeton and Stanford should the Supreme Court decide to impose strict restrictions on affirmative action." I would add that it also provides a preview of how life will change inside the admissions offices of those public institutions that pride themselves on being among the nation's very best schools. Michigan regards itself as a "public Ivy," and is even known in some quarters as "the Harvard of the Midwest."
Duderstadt's vision of how UM might revamp its admissions process is implicitly a vision of how it might continue to seek to admit racially diverse classes if--or when--its current point system is struck down. Presented as a picture of how UM should probably have been handling admissions all along, Duderstadt's vision casts Michigan's present point system not as a quota system, but as the inevitable result of an inadequate admissions budget. The implication is not only that UM ought absolutely to continue its quest for an ideal racial balance among its students, but should spend whatever it costs to assemble an admissions office capable of giving every last one of its 25,000 annual applications the all-important personal--or, in Duderstadt's words, "subjective"--touch.
February 3, 2003
More on Whitehorn's Whitewashing
Duke University President Nannerl Keohane is saying thank you to the Wall Street Journal for sparking a lively debate about Laura Whitehorn's upcoming speaking engagement at Duke. The controversy surrounding Whitehorn's visit began when James Taranto's Best of the Web noted not only that Whitehorn served fourteen years in jail for planting a bomb in the U.S. Capital building, but that Duke's announcement of her visit glossed over her terrorist past by describing her as a "revolutionary anti-imperialist" who was once a "political prisoner" (Whitehorn supplied the wording). In today's WSJ, Keohane expressed gratitude to the journal for inspiring a "useful conversation here, both on campus and with others, about why Duke should allow her to appear." Keohane goes on to offer a ringing endorsement of free speech, academic freedom, and the spirit of intellectual inquiry as embodied by Duke: "We've encouraged a debate about this incident for the same reason we resist pressuring our faculty, students or departments in their selection of speakers: We are committed to an open airing of ideas and opinions. Students, faculty members and others in the Duke community benefit from hearing and debating a wide variety of ideas."
It's always nice to see university administrators, particularly presidents, championing free speech and open expression. But at the same time, it's important to recognize those moments when such endorsements work to obscure important issues. When the Duke Conservative Union brought the issue of Whitehorn's visit to Taranto's attention, its position was not that Whitehorn should not be allowed to speak on campus. Its position was, rather, that Duke should not be permitted to whitewash the backgrounds of those it brings to campus. DCU did not dispute Whitehorn's right to free speech. What DCU did dispute was the wisdom of spending university funds (including student fees) to bring in such a speaker. DCU also disputed Duke's misrepresentation of that speaker in its public announcement of her visit. The DCU took out a full page ad in the student paper criticizing the use of university money to "fund a terrorist." It is also encouraging alumni to suspend donations until Duke shows more responsibility choosing speakers. The issue was not one of free speech, but of full disclosure. Students and alums have a right to know what their dollars are paying for; the university has an obligation to advertise truthfully.
Casting the controversy as a free speech issue, however, allowed the university to spin attention away from the disingenuousness surrounding Whitehorn's visit. Criticism of the invitation and of Whitehorn herself was defined as an illegitimate demand for censorship: David Jarmul, Duke's associate vice president for news and communication, released a statement defending freedom of expression at Duke. The statement begged the question of how and why Thompson determined to invite Whitehorn to campus, ignored the issue of whose money is paying for her talk, and neglected to distinguish between expression and misrepresentation. The overall effect was to suggest that criticism (which is not a call for censorship) threatened Whitehorn's freedom of speech--as if public dissent and open debate, the essence of liberal society, were themselves the means of chilling expression and curtailing civil liberties.
Meanwhile, Whitehorn and others continued to twist words and propagate lies. Becky Thompson, Whitehorn's faculty sponsor, argued that Whitehorn's action was the "opposite of terrorism" because it protested the terrorism perpetrated by the U.S. government. And Whitehorn told the Chronicle that she was not a terrorist because she never targeted people:
"I was a pacifist for much of my life, and I am very against terrorism," she said. "Terrorism is the targeting of civilians, a reactionary form of arms struggle. 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."
I wrote a little bit about the claim that Whitehorn was not really a terrorist here.
The Wall Street Journal takes a subtle dig at Duke's "we stand for free speech" spin this morning, publishing a letter dissecting some of Whitehorn's intellectually dishonest rhetoric just below Keohane's glossy thank-you note. Here it is in full:
When Laura Whitehorn says, "Great care that no one would be hurt was taken, even the janitorial staff," you can only gasp at her willful and self-serving ignorance, and the willingness of her apologists to overlook the obvious.
When a bomb goes off, emergency agencies respond. Fire trucks, police and EMTs speed to the site. Along the way, motorists are forced to deal with the surprise appearance of emergency vehicles: Emergency response is an intrinsically dangerous situation, and collisions between emergency vehicles and garden variety motorists is commonplace.
Once the responders arrive on site, they must deal with what they find. If there is fire, firefighters must place themselves at risk to fight it. Even if there is no fire, there is the real danger that the bombed structure will be unstable, which endangers any who enter it to look for victims who may or may not even be there (how are rescuers to know?).
Laura Whitehorn should not be allowed even the tiny refuge afforded by her false assertion, "I was careful not to endanger anyone," when in fact human endangerment was inherent in what she did.
This writer has caught Whitehorn dead to rights, and he's done it in full view of Duke's president. The WSJ made sure of that, which I find interesting. The effect is not to let Keohane have the last word on Whitehorn's visit, to remind her and everyone else who may be reading that there is much debate yet to be had on this issue, and to refuse the lame assertion that taking Whitehorn to task for her self-serving misrepresentations somehow chills her expression. Hopefully, Whitehorn will be met with robust debate when she visits Duke. Hopefully, Duke administrators will not attempt to protect Whitehorn from criticism or questioning by disingenuously invoking her free speech rights. And hopefully, Keohane will thank the WSJ for the reminder.
February 2, 2003
Fired teachers who sue
Does Jendra Loeffelman, the eighth-grade Crystal City teacher who was fired for voicing her controversial views on interracial marriage, have a lawsuit against the school district that terminated her? Though some commentators are suggesting that Loeffelman is a bigot who had it coming, I suspect that the courts might understand things differently.
In 1997, a fifth-grade Kentucky schoolteacher was fired for teaching her students about hemp farming during a school unit on agriculture. She sued, saying her First Amendment rights had been violated. Though her case was dismissed by a lower court, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the court had erred, stating unanimously that schoolteachers retain their First Amendment rights in the classroom. The case will go to trial later this year.
Here is what the teacher's lawyer had to say about her civil liberties:ìTeachers donít lose their First Amendment rights because theyíre teachers. Thereís not a special rule for teachers ó not even fifth-grade ones. ... The most terrifying aspects of the lower courtís ruling and of the school boardís argument was that they seemed to assert that school officials have complete control over classroom teachersí every utterance and that they could take retaliatory action if, as in this case, what the teacher said upset the community.î
Some have implied that it is unreasonable to invoke the First Amendment in Loeffelman's case because her students are only in eighth-grade, and are therefore too young to cope with her opinions. The Kentucky case suggests that this is a spurious argument. If ten-year-olds can handle learning about industrial hemp, thirteen-year-olds can deal with a teacher's views on interracial marriage.
Another one: In 1997, a Utah high school teacher was ordered by her school district not to discuss her homosexuality. She was also fired from her job coaching the school's champion volleyball team after a student asked her whether she was a lesbian, and she answered "yes." Backed by the ACLU, the teacher sued, claiming that the school district violated her First Amendment rights when it ordered her not to tell anyone she was gay, and that it violated her right to equal protection when it fired her from her coaching job. She won.
This case, like Loeffelman's, involves a teacher being punished for truthfully answering direct questions from students. The beliefs conveyed by those answers--politically apposite as they are--then became the subject of disciplinary action. Though the one teacher came off as a bigot and the other as a victim of homophobia, they were both on the wrong end of the same type of intolerance. My guess is that Loeffelman, like the Utah teacher, could well sue for viewpoint discrimination.
Last one: in 1991, a Texas teacher was accused of racism by a twelve-year-old student. The accusation grew out of a discussion she had with her students about the importance of completing school work. During that discussion, she made reference to the high rate of dropouts among Hispanic children. Though the teacher is herself Hispanic, she was publicly denounced as racist by the student's mother and by LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens). Unable to continue teaching, she resigned and sued for defamation. in 1996, she won a $36,550 award against LULAC and the slanderous mother. Loeffelman has been fired for expressing her views; in the process, she has been labeled a racist. Even if she successfully appeals her termination, she is ruined and her career in Crystal City is over. Does she have a defamation case? That remains to be seen.