More on De Genova
The Columbia University anti-war teach-in that has been making headlines over the past few days was the brainchild of political science professor Jean Cohen. Cohen is beside herself at the outrageous comments assistant professor of anthropology Nicholas De Genova made at the teach-in--among them that he wishes for "a million Mogadishus" and that the only true patriots are those who help defeat the U.S. military. She did not hold back when she spoke to a reporter for the Columbia Spectator, and the results appear in today's issue:
"He and the press have hijacked this teach-in, and I'm very, very angry about it," said Jean Cohen, Professor of Political Science, who first had the idea for the event. "It was an utterly irresponsible thing to do. And it's not innocent. ... This was a planned undermining of this teach-in."
Cohen emphasized that De Genova had not originally been invited to speak. He was replacing Kimberle Crenshaw, a law professor who dropped out because of a medical emergency.
"At the last minute someone couldn't speak, and he just kind of appeared," Cohen said. "... He ended up on that platform by accident, almost by manipulation."
Cohen said that as soon as it was clear that there was an opening in the program, De Genova was "right there, all ready with his speech--which makes me suspicious."
"It's bad luck that there was an opening, but he was all too ready," she said.
Cohen's final take on the situation: "I don't think what he's said is some kind of formalistic liberal freedom of speech," she said. "This kind of thing is reprehensible. if he were paid by the [political] right to do this, it could not have been more effective." That's probably true. The trouble is, though, that De Genova was--I venture to assert--not paid to destroy the teach-in, and his remarks were not part of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy. The trouble is that De Genova was speaking from the heart, in the name of a movement that has quietly tolerated a lot of similarly horrific expression for all too long now. Cohen should not look to the right to see where De Genova got the idea that he could make such statements without reprisal, but to the left.
Elsewhere in the same issue, De Genova argues that the media furor surrounding him is the result of the Spectator's irresponsible reporting. Apparently, his statement about a million Mogadishus was taken out of context, and apparently, to De Genova's thinking, there is a context in which such a statement is reasonable, hopeful, and even patriotic. Here it is, in his own words:
I also affirmed that Iraqi liberation can only be effected by the Iraqi people themselves, both by resisting and defeating the U.S. invasion as well as overthrowing a regime whose brutality was long sustained by none other than the U.S. Such an anti-colonial struggle for self-determination might involve a million Mogadishus now but would ultimately have to become something more like another Vietnam. Vietnam was a stunning defeat for U.S. imperialism; as such, it was also a victory for the cause of human self-determination.
Is this a tirade against "anything and everything American"? Far from it. First, I hasten to remind you that "American" refers to all of the Americas, not merely to the United States, as U.S. imperial chauvinism would have it. More importantly, my rejection of U.S. nationalism is an appeal to liberate our own political imaginations such that we might usher in a radically different world in which we will not remain the prisoners of U.S. global domination.
Below De Genova's letter is one from Eric Foner, the teach-in organizer who denounced De Genova's comments as "idiotic" (even though he was there and heard them in context). Foner writes to denounce the Spectator as idiotic as well for criticizing the "atmosphere of intellectual conformity" at the teach-in:
Let me direct the editors to a resource they seem not to have previously encountered--the dictionary. Mine defines "teach-in" as follows: "An extended meeting usually held on a college campus for lectures, debates, and discussions to raise awareness of or express a position on a social and political issue." Spectator's complaint makes no sense, since the combination of education and advocacy is the essence of a teach-in.
The editorial acknowledges that speakers disagreed with one another, then says there was "an atmosphere of intellectual conformity." I suppose this means that we did not present pro-war talks. I can hardly believe that the editors think that students have no access to the government's arguments. Those who feel so deprived can simply turn on any television newscast.
It's comforting to know that there is only one argument for the war, that this argument is the one presented by the government, that the media are freely and willingly parroting it, and that it's all propaganda anyway. No wonder there was no need to represent various pro-war positions at the teach-in. I had thought that those who were anti-war would be better able to comprehend, explain, and defend their position if the teach-in included alternative viewpoints. But now I see how very wrong I was.
From hate crime to hate bias
At Utah's Weber State University, there has not been a single hate crime recorded in recent years. But you are wrong if you think that means Weber State is a welcoming, tolerant, and safe place to be. Officials at Weber State are indeed so eager to disabuse the campus community of that notion that it has instituted a new category of hate: hate bias.
Hate bias is defined by Keith Wilder of the campus diversity center as the mere expression of unorthodox opinion: "If someone has a bias and they speak it out, or they say it, or they announce that this is the way they feel about something, and people just kind of walk by without focusing in on it, it's a little bit like a cancer left alone. It grows and it has an effect." Wilder's idea is that hate bias leads to hate crimes, and as such it must be combatted before it spreads. His notion also appears to be that bias is itself hateful--that holding or expressing strong, unorthodox opinions on controversial questions having to do with race, gender, or sexuality in and of itself is a hateful, harmful act.
Creepy as the reasoning is, it works well for Wilder because it gives him something to do. There may be no hate crime on his campus, but there are plenty of what he likes to call "bias incidents." To combat hate bias, and the hate crimes that are bound to arise from them, Wilder has signed Weber State up to participate in the nationwide Stop the Hate program. Stop the Hate tracks hate crimes and hate bias on campus, recording as much information as possible on who says and does things that are deemed to be biased. Wilder is clear that hate biases are not illegal--but he is also clear that this is why those who commit hate bias must be watched. "It's those very incidents that have to be recorded and mentioned so at least we have an idea of what the bias is like on campus."
Does instituting the ideologically loaded, surveillance-oriented Stop the Hate program count as a bias incident? Of course not.
UPDATE: John Rosenberg uncovers a hate bias incident at the University of Virginia.
Advanced degrees in plagiarism
When we think of college students plagiarizing, we tend to think of undergrads buying short essays off the internet and handing them in on their own. But at Chico State, plagiarism has been raised to an entirely new level. Three--count them: three--Master's degree candidates were caught turning in entirely plagiarized MA theses this year.
To their credit, Chico State administrators admit that there is a huge problem of academic dishonesty on their campus, one that grows out of a broader national culture of educational cheating and that is enabled by professors who are both careless about watching for cheaters and reluctant to report those they do catch. According to Duke's Center for Academic Integrity, "On most campuses, over 75 percent of students admit to some cheating. In a 1999 survey of 2,100 students on 21 campuses across the country, about one-third of the participating students admitted to serious test cheating and half admitted to one or more instances of serious cheating on written assignments."
To combat the problem, Chico State admins are planning to institute an honor code (along the lines of West Point's "A cadet will neither lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do") in the hope of changing the culture of the school. A professor who used to be a firefighter recommends severe punishment for cheaters. Comparing fighting plagiarism to stopping fires, he told the Chico Enterprise-Record that "If we can't prevent it, we need to jump all over it and put it out."
May they stick to their guns (or their hoses). I've known several college teachers who have caught students plagiarizing, only to be told by administrators to lighten up when they turned the students in: it was clear that the punitive teachers were considered to be the problem, rather than the plagiarizing students. And then there is the case of the University of Virginia, where the honor code recently became a means of facilitating cheating rather than preventing it.
On a related note: Berkeley's prestigious Haas School of Business recently dropped 5% of the applicants it had slated for admission upon discovering that they had falsified their applications. Most lied about their employment history; one submitted a faked letter of recommendation and invented promotions he had never received. Haas instituted background checks on all applicants this year in order to reinforce the importance of ethical business practice.
March 30, 2003
Blowing up grade inflation
It's official: grade inflation exists. Duke environmental science professor Stuart Rojstaczer--who confesses that he has not given a "C" in more than two years--has done the homework no one else would do, and has posted the results on his newly created web site, www.gradeinflation.com. Rojstaczer studied grading trends over time at 66 colleges and universities in order to document the nature and extent of a problem that most agree exists but that no one knows how best to address. Along the way, he found some interesting things: that less than 2 percent of grades given at elite institutions are D's or F's, for example, and that at schools such as Pomona, Duke, Harvard and Columbia, about half of all grades are A's.
Rojstaczer has come to some disturbing conclusions: that students avoid taking courses from professors who don't inflate grades, that they evaluate such professors less positively than professors who give easy grades, and that professors respond by inflating grades; that grade inflation deprives students of an incentive to study hard and that it also deprives them of the ability to recognize when they have learned; and that as such it severely erodes the concept of meritocracy to which higher education is supposedly dedicated.
Rojstaczer offers several explanations for the grade inflation that has infected college campuses since the 1960s, citing professors' Vietnam-era tactic of enhancing grades to help men students avoid the draft, and noting, too, how the massive tuition hikes of the 1980s created a consumerist mentality in parents and students, many of whom figured that the least all that money could buy was a transcript lined with pretty rows of A's. What he does not mention: universities' growing reliance on graduate student and part-time instructors, whose combined lack of experience, lack of authority, and lack of job security make giving out the easy A an important survival strategy; and the cumulative effects of racial preferences and higher education's increasingly adamant "celebration" of diversity, which, as Harvard professor Harvey C. Mansfield has trenchantly and controversially pointed out, practically demand a lowering of academic standards across the board. It's worth noting that the two inflation spikes Rojstaczer attributes to anti-war protest and consumerism also correspond, historically, to the advent of affirmative action in college admissions and the rise of the campus diversity craze in the wake of the Bakke decision.
In fairness, Rojstaczer is in the business of documenting and describing a trend, not psychoanalyzing it. At the same time, it is hard to imagine successfully combatting grade inflation in the absence of a clear understanding of its causes and its rationalizations--not least because there is now an entire generation of university teachers that is itself the product of a grade-inflated education and because that generation makes up for its lack of intellectual rigor (one might even say its lack of comprehension of intellectual rigor) by strenuously denying traditional concepts of merit (this is most rampant in the humanities and social sciences). I was born in 1968: on this issue, I know all too well, and all too personally, whereof I speak.
Opponents of grade inflation tend to assume that if we can just all agree that grade inflation exists, then we'll all be able to concede that it is bad, and then we can just all stop inflating grades. Rojstaczer's study aims to be Exhibit A in this project: he has proven to all those grade inflation deniers out there that they are categorically wrong (as with so many other inconvenient historical events, there are those who pretend this one has not happened). But this is just the first, essential step in a project that many will resist, refuse, and even attempt to sabotage--for both selfish reasons (it takes a lot less time to deliver an inflated A than to explain to a weeping student why she got a C) and for political ones (some colleges have lowered standards so far that they literally cannot afford to raise them).
A case that illustrates this last point is currently brewing at Brooklyn College (better known as the school that screwed over history professor KC Johnson for failing to exhibit proper political opinions). I'll have the details in subsequent posts this week.
UPDATE: Stuart Rojstaczer writes to clarify that "the argument of Mansfield that affirmative action is a significant component of grade inflation isn't borne out by the data. For example, the percentage of black undergraduates nationwide, essentially stable from 1976 to 1994 (10.0% in 1976 and 10.7% in 1994), is not synchronous with the renewal of grade inflation in the mid-1980s." It will be interesting to see how Mansfield and other academics who espouse the theory that affirmative action has had much to do with grade inflation reconcile their personal observations and experiences with the numbers.
Distancing from De Genova
If you haven't already read about the recent anti-war teach-in at Columbia, you can find out all you need to know from Glenn Reynolds' and Eugene Volokh's commentary and links. The issue that has the blogosphere and the mainstream media in an uproar: the extreme statements of Nicholas De Genova, an assistant professor of anthropology who deliverered himself of some statements even hardcore anti-war activists could not stomach. Among them: that the only real heroes are the ones who help defeat the U.S. military, that to be a patriot is to be white supremacist, that he wants to see Iraq defeat the "U.S. war machine," that he dreams of a world order in which the U.S. has "no place," and that he'd like to see "a million Mogadishus."
Since journalists and bloggers got hold of the story, it has morphed from a simple account of what De Genova said to a more complicated story of how comments like his discredit both the anti-war movement and Columbia University. Yesterday's New York Times reports that there is very blunt and unequivocal distancing on both fronts. Columbia University President Lee Bollinger (yes, the same one named in the Michigan affirmative action suits) is quoted as saying that "Under well-established principles of the First Amendment, this is within a person's right to free speech. ... Not for a second, however, does that insulate it from criticism. I am shocked that someone would make such statements. I am especially saddened for the families of those whose lives are now at risk."
Columbia history professor Eric Foner, who helped organize the now notorious teach-in, was even more direct: "Professor De Genova's speech did not represent the views of the organizers. ... I personally found it quite reprehensible. The antiwar movement does not desire the death of American soldiers. We do not accept his view of what it means to be a patriot. I began my talk, which came later, by repudiating his definition of patriotism, saying the teach-in was a patriotic act, that I believe patriots are those who seek to improve their country."
One could nitpick: Bollinger's comment has the vaporous, "soundbytten" quality of much adminspeak, and Foner's both disingenuously pretends that there is not a strong anti-American streak in the anti-war movement and naively imagines that no one will notice his disingenuousness. (Glenn Reynolds points to a similarly naive distancing effort here.)
But one could also note that the De Genova debacle may mark the beginning of a necessary sea change. Commentators on both left and right have long been calling for the anti-war movement to police itself better than it does, and to publicly disavow the actions and statements of those who seek to commandeer anti-war energy in the service of various revolutionary and/or hate-driven agendas (the most recent and eloquent of such calls is authored by Andrew Sullivan). Nicholas De Genova may have finally driven that point home to the folks who most need to get it. Time will tell.
UPDATE: David Horowitz wouldn't have missed the chance to comment on De Genova's comments for all the world. Here are his thoughts, along with some choice words on Eric Foner's recent scuffles with the media.
Also of interest is this New York Post interview with Columbia student William Pratt. Pratt, whose father is an army colonel serving in Kuwait, did not take kindly to the spectacle of a "Columbia professor wish[ing] death upon the father of a Columbia University student and possibly [on the parents of] other students." He sent an email to De Genova inviting him to share his thoughts on the American military with his father, who will be attending Pratt's graduation later this spring. De Genova has yet to reply.
March 28, 2003
A Hunter College journalism professor gave a pop quiz this week. The extra credit question, offered ostensibly to give students a chance to win back an easy point: "Who is Tommy Franks?" None of the thirty students in the course knew the answer.
Thanks to reader Christopher D. for the link.
Students expose bias on campus
Here's a memo sent out to the entire Saginaw Valley State University community last week:
To the University Community:
We share our students' confusion, fear, horror, and sadness about the U.S. bombing of Iraq and feel called to address the issue with a Teach-in for Peace.
This event is scheduled on Thursday, March 20 from 9:00 to 12:00 in the Performing Arts Center (526 seats) and in Founders Hall from 9:00 to 2:00 and 6:00 to 8:30. At the teach-in, your faculty colleagues and students will read poetry and will discuss the ethical, historical, psychological, political, and sociological ramifications of the war. A flyer and a schedule should be in your mailbox with Wednesday's mail.
We are inviting faculty to modify your syllabus on Thursday and invite students to join them at the teach-in. We will have moderators standing at each door so students may sign in and out, and we'll send faculty their attendance list. You could also, of course, choose to give your students the choice either to attend or to remain in class, but we are really hoping that many of our colleagues, both faculty and staff, will join us. If you do not teach on Thursday, can you offer your students extra credit for attendance at this important university event?
We cordially invite everyone in the campus community to join us. Call or email one of us if you have questions or comments.
Mary Harmon, firstname.lastname@example.org Professor of English
Rosalie G. Riegle, email@example.com Professor of English
Scott Youngstedt, firstname.lastname@example.orgAssociate Professor of Sociology
And here's the web site that students put up to protest what they see as an abuse of professorial authority: http://www.geocities.com/svsutruth/index.html. The students who created the site post the faculty memo and append this succinct and damning comment:
As clearly displayed above, these three faculty members felt the need to ask other professors to cancel their classes and to assign extra credit if their students attended this propaganda meeting.Ý No effort or action was made to have a fair and balanced view on the world happenings.Ý Instead these faculty members abused their power and wanted to force their opinions on impressionable college students.Ý Furthermore, their actions have been endorsed by the administration of Saginaw Valley State University. We, the students of SVSU, are sick and tired of our tuition being wasted and our country being drug through the mud.
The website was created to publicize the institutionalized bias at SVSU after students and concerned citizens unsuccessfully appealed to SVSU administrators. Citing the one-sidedness of the rally, they noted that the rally was not devoted to educating students about the war or to encouraging genuine dialogue and debate about the issues, but was instead geared toward promoting a single political view. They objected strongly to the faculty organizers' suggestion that professors who teach at the time of the rally cancel their classes and that those who don't offer extra credit to students for attending it. And they were told by SVSU administrators that there was nothing wrong with cancelling classes or offering extra credit to students who go to the rally, and that the faculty organizers were within their rights to do as they did.
The website also profiles SVSU sociology professor Elson Boles, taking him to task for using his classroom to promote his extremist views, and providing links to his homepage and an extra credit assignment so that readers can see for themselves what they mean.
It's an interesting strategy for students who want to protest the way their professors are ramming views down their throats but cannot convince administrators to step in. If SVSU faculty are within their rights to do as they did (and that is debatable, considering that a) students pay for their courses and have a right to expect professors not to cancel meetings for political reasons; and b) giving academic rewards to students for showing support for a particular political view is not the proper business of teachers), SVSU students are very much within their rights to do as they are doing. Here's hoping the embarrassment of public exposure will motivate SVSU admins to do what private complaints would not: to ensure that on their campus, education will neither be confused with political advocacy nor sacrificed to it.
March 27, 2003
Athletic rapist gets a pass at Penn State
College athletics has had more than the usual number of scandals lately. Penn State now joins the illustrious ranks of Georgia, Rhode Island, Fresno State, and Florida State for putting a bowl game ahead of justice. Last December, a Penn State football player "accepted responsibility" for raping a fellow student. Cornerback Anwar Phillips was suspended for two semesters (spring and summer)--but that didn't stop him from travelling to Florida with his team to compete in the Capital One Bowl on January 1. Penn State lost to Auburn, although Phillips did block a pass at one point during the game.
Phillips is spending his suspension fighting legal battles. Last Friday, he was charged with sexual assault and aggravated indecent assault, both second-degree felonies. Yesterday, Phillips waived his right to a preliminary hearing and his lawyer entered a not guilty plea.
Penn State officials say that since the game occurred between semesters, and since Phillips' suspension formally commenced with the start of the spring term, he was eligible to compete. Concerned students, parents, alums, and taxpayers might legitimately wish to know how that explanation is not merely a pathetic attempt to excuse the fact that winning a game mattered more to Penn State officials and coaches than fairness, decency, and its own code of conduct. They may also wonder why an athlete in a big money sport gets a lighter punishment for a sex offense than regular campus mortals. But Joe Paterno, Penn State's head football coach, isn't talking and neither is Penn State president Graham Spanier.
March 26, 2003
Indoctrination and due process at Citrus College
Rosalyn Kahn, the Citrus College speech professor who was recently placed on administrative leave for violating her students' civil rights, now claims that her own rights have been violated. Kahn's students accused her of offering them extra credit for writing anti-war letters to President Bush (and of not offering analogous credit to students who wrote letters supporting the war). They also said she offered extra credit to students who wrote letters to California Senator Jack Scott arguing for the importance of adjunct instructors (Kahn is herself an adjunct), and had students fill out postcards detailing the importance of adjuncts. Kahn delivered the letters to Scott herself; the postcards did not carry addresses when the students filled them out, and Kahn told her class that she would address them herself. Some students were so upset that they appealed to Citrus College administrators. They got nowhere. Then they appealed to FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), which leaned on Citrus College admins to investigate the claims. They did so, devoting a class session to interviewing Kahn's students in an attempt to determine how she was conducting the course. The results of that preliminary investigation were definitive. The college concluded that Kahn had indeed abused her authority by violating her students' First Amendment rights, and placed her on administrative leave pending a deeper investigation. The college also promised to write to President Bush and Senator Scott to revoke the letters and said it would sanction Kahn.
Now Kahn says her own civil rights have been violated. In a six-page statement released by her lawyer, Kahn categorically denied the allegations and says she was removed from the classroom without ever being asked for her own side of the story. "A terrible wrong has been done to me and the teaching community," she wrote. "I believe that each individual has the right to develop, hold and defend a personal belief system. ... Students in speech communication learn to explain and defend propositions that they support, and as an exercise in persuasion only, also propositions they personally oppose. In early March, the college president, Louis Zellers, adopted unproven allegations against me as though they were fact." According to today's Chronicle of Higher Education, Kahn's statement swears that she offered extra credit to students who wrote letters regardless of their viewpoint, and that Citrus College had failed to provide her with "the protections of due process."
I'll leave the commentary on due process to the lawyers who read this blog, though it appears from the comments to this Critical Mass post that the point of putting Kahn on paid leave rather than firing her outright was to protect her due process rights.
As for the allegations themselves, they are compelling. Here's what one of Kahn's students had to say to Bill O'Reilly:
All right, Gina. Just tell us what happened.
GINA CANTAGALLO, CITRUS COLLEGE STUDENT: Well, I was in class, and she provided an extra credit assignment for us. She said we could receive extra credit if we wrote a letter to President Bush in regards to the war.
So I went home, did the assignment, and I came back, and I had a letter that said I supported Bush, I supported our country, I supported our troops. She looked at the letter and said this is unacceptable.
CANTAGALLO: Yes. I said, "What's wrong? You said write a letter on the potential war," and she said absolutely not, I wanted you to write a letter stating you were against war and against us overriding the U.N.
O'REILLY: Now how many kids in the class took her point of view, do you know?
CANTAGALLO: I don't know that, but I know there's at least nine that didn't do the assignment because they didn't want to write an anti-war letter.
O'REILLY: All right, but you did the assignment. You completed the assignment.
O'REILLY: And you didn't get the extra credit.
CANTAGALLO: I got no extra credit.
O'REILLY: But the ones who did it the way she wanted it done, as far as editorial point of view, got the extra credit.
O'REILLY: Now what steps did you take after that because that's patently unfair.
CANTAGALLO: Well, I was scared. I was really scared because she's an authority figure of mine, and I didn't know what aspects or what steps I could take as being a student. But I went to the dean, and nothing seemed to happen right away, and...
O'REILLY: You told the dean.
O'REILLY: You said -- just like you told us. And what did he say? What did the dean say?
CANTAGALLO: They said they would handle it appropriately and speak with her. Nothing got done that week.
A colleague of mine, who was in the same situation, Chris Stevens, wrote -- we wrote e-mails, tons of e-mails to Republicans, to conservative parties, got tons of feedback, and that's when FIRE stepped in.
O'REILLY: OK. So then -- and what did he do?
CANTAGALLO: Within a week, the problem was solved....
Proselytizing profs at USC and beyond
USC Daily Trojan columnist Rebecca Zak has lots of questions about how the war is being handled on her campus:
Are USC professors actually attempting to foster an environment conducive to unfettered critical thinking, or are students bouncing ferociously between the Pentagon's propaganda and the liberal agendas of their teachers? ... Are we being encouraged to think freely or to be too afraid to consider the merits of prowar arguments? Are campus liberals being lured into self-righteous and poorly thought out proclamations against the war by professors who fail to poke holes in fallacious arguments?
Zak's hardhitting and forceful column amasses numerous examples of how, in recent weeks, USC professors have been manipulating students in the name of encouraging them to think critically. Here's one of many:
Consider the comments of international relations professor Laurie Brand in yesterday's Daily Trojan ("Faculty openly discuss Iraq war"): "I take encouragement from the fact that ... people in the U.S. and elsewhere have the moral commitment to peace and justice and the courage to speak out against this war."
Let's read between the lines here. People who don't speak out for peace are immoral. People who don't speak out against this war are cowards. People who support the war in Iraq support injustice. Oh, yes, and people who support the war have been, in Brand's words, "seduced by the Bush administration's lies."
Brand is clearly trying to manipulate us, not foster a critical discussion in which the valid points of both the prowar and antiwar camps are considered.
Zak's list goes on. She sees through the shimmering rhetoric of professors who claim to want "dialogue" and to be encouraging "critical thinking," but who discredit themselves by making it clear that true dialogue and good critical thinking can only lead to one conclusion: their own. Her conclusion:
Don't get me wrong, I would be the last person to curtail free speech on campus and I think that professors should be able to express their opinions about the ongoing war.
But it's not playing fair to bill an ideological rally as a teach-in, and it's not OK to claim that you're fostering critical thinking when only antiwar opinions are represented.
Professors need to think carefully about their roles in encouraging discussion on the war in Iraq and about the unintended consequences of publicly proclaiming their views. Too often, students are being force-fed reasons to oppose the war instead of being encouraged to think on their own.
At a moment when professors are giving extra credit to students who parrot their own antiwar position and sending bullying emails to students about their personal antiwar activities, such words of warning are as badly needed as they are hard to come by. Too bad they are not likely to be heeded by those who most need to hear them.
A lot of those ideologically loaded "teach-ins" are taking place around the country at the moment. Yesterday at UMass, for example, an extremely slanted teach-in featured six professors and one student speaking out against war. Among them was communications professor Sut Jhally, who argued that those who support the war are the dupes of Washington's fascistic propaganda machine:
Jhally brought up a concept mentioned by Confucius, who taught that it is necessary in controlling a people, to "rectify the language." In relation to modern times, Jhally said Confucius would be referring to controlling the media. Control of the facts that are available would most likely force people to think along very specific lines, he said.
"If you can control the categories in which people think, you can imprison them in their own imaginations."
He also compared what the current Bush administration is doing to methods that the Nazi government employed during World War II. He quoted Hermann Gheoring [sic], a member of the Nazi party to emphasize his point. Jhally, quoted, "All you have to do is tell them [the people] they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger."
He said that the events of September 11, served as the propaganda that the Bush administration was looking for, and that he feels this is why the United States is at war with Iraq now.
"If Sept. 11,  wasn't planned, Osama bin Ladin came along and answered his [George W. Bush's] prayers," Jhally said.
Last week, an anti-war teach-in at American University was billed by a dean as part of "a tried-and-true process at a university to promote a diversity of views" and as a demonstration of the university's commitment to free speech. The teach-in's organizer, history professor Peter Kuznick, made it clear that there is only one educated, morally just opinion to be had on the war, that intellectuals have it and that the public does not, and that the mission of the teach-in is to help students arrive at the proper viewpoint: "I think public support for this war in the public is very, very thin. The nation always rallies behind the president in times like thisÖbut the American people tend to not pay very much attention and do not know very much [about Iraq]. There is also a moral blindness in the American people. ... Clearly people who are educated and have a more profound sense of ethics are very uncomfortable with [the Bush administrationís Iraq] policy.î (In fairness to American, the administration and faculty there seem to be unusually clear on the importance of preventing the classroom from becoming as ideologically one-sided as its teach-ins.)
There are schools who pay some lip service to diversity of opinion on the war--but the gesture is embarrassingly weak. Duke, for example, recently invited four professors to debate the Iraq question. Gathered to "present a myriad of opinions" on the subject, one of them served as a token representative of the "prowar position" while the other three presented various perspectives against it. Even the one prowar panelist, however, was dovelike, describing his position as a "reluctant case for war." Hardly a robust exchange of views--and hardly meant to be.
Duke profs protest on departmental dime
Last month, Dartmouth's sociology and Spanish and Portuguese departments voted to use departmental funds to finance a student trip to Washington to protest the war. They were admonished by the administration for violating the school's obligation, as a tax-exempt institution, not to finance political campaigns: Even in the ethically challenged world of academic administration, the partisan activities of two Dartmouth departments were clearly recognized to be wrong. But academics don't always keep up with their own news or understand the responsibilities of their own jobs, and as a consequence they tend to make the same kinds of mistakes over and over again.
So it is that the Duke anthropology department recently took out a half page anti-war ad in the student paper. The ad read thus:
We wish to express our opposition to the U.S. bombing of Iraq, and affirm our solidarity with those students and student groups protesting the war. We consider this unilateral action by the U.S. government reckless, unjustifiable, and against the best interests of the international community, and urge the Duke community to find ways to engage in serious reflection and dialogue about this disturbing turn of events.
Beneath the statement appeared the names of 39 Duke faculty members, some from anthropology and some from other departments. Under the list of names was some damning fine print: "The ad is sponsored by the Department of Cultural Anthropology." The ad cost $312.90, and was paid for out of departmental funds. Apparently, it simply never occurred to anyone involved that financing political advertisements is not a proper use of departmental funding.
It occurred to Duke Provost Peter Lange, though. When the ad ran on Monday, Lange let the anthropology department know immediately that it was very far in the wrong. In an email to the faculty who signed the ad (the first of whom was Anthropology Chair Anne Allison), Lange informed them that under federal tax code, it is against the law for one of the University's divisions to pay for a political advertisement. But he was also clear that there is nothing to prevent faculty members from expressing themselves through paid ads as long as they pay for it themselves. Lange's clarity on that point derives in part from an administrative fiasco in the fall of 2001, when Duke shut down the website of sociology professor Gary Hull after he posted two articles that advocated a strong military response to the 9/11 attacks. After a public outcry led by FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), Hull's website was reinstated.
March 25, 2003
Ivy peaceniks speak
A Harvard senior reports from the campus anti-war front. He is shocked but not awed.
UM students split on preferences
To hear the University of Michigan and various pro-affirmative action UM campus factions tell it, the UM community is overwhelmingly happy with the school's use of racial preferences in admissions. But a survey conducted by the Michigan Student Assembly last week suggests otherwise: It found that 41.5 percent of students opposed UM's use of race in admissions, while 40.8 percent of students supported the University and 17.7 percent of students said they did not feel they knew enough about the issues to have an opinion. UM's admissions policies are supposed to be for the students--for their enrichment, enlightenment, and multicultural betterment. And as UM fights to show that its politicies are constitutional, it needs to be able to show that the quality of education at UM is enhanced by the diversity produced by race-conscious admissions policies. But if the students don't want the policies....
Anti-American graffiti, II
At the University of Iowa, anti-war vandalism has inspired campus ROTC leaders to lift the requirement that cadets wear uniforms to classes. The glass doors to the ROTC office have been smashed, and messages such as "Stop U.S. military research," "Fuck all wars," "Bomb Bush," "USA = EMPIRE," and "Freedom dies when bombs fall" have been painted on buildings around campus. UI ROTC leaders are doing their best to downplay the decision, but the doublespeak that results is telling: "I am not concerned for the safety of the cadets, but I worry that their uniforms may provoke attention from a person who is looking to aim his antiwar sentiments at someone," Lt. Col. Carol St. John, a professor of military science, told the Daily Iowan. Apparently, it's more acceptable at Iowa to suggest that ROTC cadets in uniform are asking for unwanted attention than it is to decry the incivility and threatening behavior of anti-war protesters who have chosen to express themselves through the destruction of property and the threat of violence. The similarity of that logic to the logic that says a woman who wears revealing clothes may provoke her own assault is chilling.
Notice that when it's the ROTC that is targeted by campus vandals, no one yells hate crime. Compare this (which is not being called a hate crime) to this (which is) and behold the double standard in action.
UPDATE: Some readers are taking exception to my observation that the suggestion that ROTC cadets are responsible for preventing their own harassment bespeaks the double standard that surrounds the targeting of various kinds of campus groups. Let it be known that I am not alone in that assessment: Instapundit has spoken.
ANOTHER UPDATE 3/26/03: More language from Col. St. John about the decision to allow cadets not to wear their camouflage to class, this time from today's Chronicle of Higher Education: "We were simply concerned that many cadets walk around campus, and if they are out there they are a very large profile. There are antiwar protests on campus: These are emotional young people who may not respond appropriately."
March 24, 2003
Anti-war protesters at the University of New Mexico are showing their support for the troops.
War primer for protesters
NRO's Mark Goldblatt supplies the wartime equivalent of Cliff's Notes for the anti-war student movement. It's a ten-step, point-by-point program of clarification and demystification, one that, alas, is not terribly likely to reach the readers it needs to reach--unless bloggers pick it up and pass it on, and on, and on.
Delusions at Yale
From today's Yale Daily News, this quote from a student whose anti-war ardor has not been dimmed by facts:
Kirby Smith '05 said she is "not happy" about the war. She said she does not support Saddam Hussein but thinks Bush set somewhat unattainable standards for Iraq by requiring the Iraqi government to prove it did not have weapons of mass destruction.
"You can't prove that you don't have something," Smith said. "Nobody's going to step down from power just because Bush says to.
Two words for the starry-eyed Miss Smith: Scud and Najaf.
Spinning Rachel Corrie
What really happened to Rachel Corrie, as narrated by classmate and fellow activist Joe Smith, who was there:
Rachel "was sitting on a mound of earth in front of the bulldozer. The earth started to move under her when the bulldozer digs in. You have a couple of options you can roll aside --- you have to be very quick to get out of the way. You can fall back, but she leaned forward to try to climb up on top. She got pulled down, and the bulldozer lost sight of her ÖThen, without lifting the blade, he reversed and she was underneath the blade."
All the stuff about Corrie standing in full view, holding a megaphone? The strong insinuation that the driver of the bulldozer had to have seen her before he drove over her? The mass hysteria that ensued? Engineered by Reuters, courtesy of photos provided to them by the International Solidarity Movement. No photographs were taken of the actual event. All the photos we have seen of Corrie standing in front of the bulldozer were actually taken hours before. The ISM website has several eyewitness accounts posted; they differ on the details a bit, and the account from "Joe" (who I assume is the same as the one cited above) is--interestingly--scrambled into unreadable text. Whatever happened that day, it wasn't captured on film. And yet, following Reuters' lead, media coverage of Corrie's death presented publicity photos taken by Corrie's radical pro-Palestinian group as objective reporting. Reuters has since removed the photos from its site, but a misleading sequence remains online at Electronic Intifada.
March 23, 2003
Tufts strips protester of prize
Under pressure from outraged alumni, Tufts University has stripped graduating senior Elizabeth Monnin of a Senior Award for academic achievement and "potential for leadership." Monnin, a double major in women's studies and peace and justice with an A-minus average, was given the award in part to honor her prominence as an organizer of confrontational protests. In 2000, for example, she led a two-day takeover of the Tufts administration building to protest discriminiation on campus. But last month, it seems, she went too far.
At a campus appearance by President Bush, Monnin and several fellow protesters disrupted his talk, sitting close to the front, turning their backs on him as he spoke, raising a banner that read, "Gyms are for soccer, not for warmongers,'' and chanting in protest of the upcoming war. As she and her fellow activists were removed from the venue, she allegedly flipped Bush the bird. Among the 4,800 people attending the event were many Tufts donors and alumni. Their outrage at Monnin's "inappropriate and offensive" behavior has led the awards committee to rescind the honor it had awarded to Monnin just days after she was notified that she would receive it. Monnin denies making any offensive hand gestures and says that Tufts officials are just trying to "silence" her because they disapprove of her anti-war activity: ''People in power don't have to get out and rally to make their points - they can do things like take an award away from a student who is making an argument they don't support."
Tufts officials were quite clear that it was not the content, but the manner, of Monnin's protest that was at issue. They have thus far refrained from pointing out to the confused Elizabeth that agitprop is not an "argument."
UPDATE: Reader Dakota Loomis emails with more information about Elizabeth Monnin's style of "leadership." It includes assaulting conservative students for expressing their views. Tufts' style of leadership includes failing to discipline her adequately for it.
UPDATE 3/25/03: Better late than never, The Chronicle of Higher Education has picked up the story (subscribers only). It contains this quote from the president of Tufts' alumni association: "The award is given by the alumni association for qualities of leadership. We felt strongly that one such quality is the ability to listen to the opinions of others. As a diverse association, including four generations of people from very diverse backgrounds, we have to be careful to listen to one another in order to get our work done. We felt she didn't measure up to that standard."
Protesters fall flat
From a Washington Post piece on campus anti-war protests:
At American University, two dozen undergraduates suddenly dropped to the floor of the bustling student center Thursday afternoon at the count of "1, 2, 3, WAR!" As they played dead -- holding signs reading "Iraqi child," "doctor," "American soldier" -- one of their organizers begged the students walking past to heed their protest.
"This is what war looks like," shouted Elizabeth Falcon, a 20-year-old sophomore from Warrenton. "Do not pass us by without thinking about our friends and family who are out there."
A tall young man standing on the fringe of the crowd took issue. "Do not forget the thousands of Iraqis who are dead because of Saddam Hussein!" he shouted back. He walked away with a sharper rejoinder that drew a smattering of applause: "This is not what war looks like -- get . . . off the ground."
In the immortal syllable of Instapundit, heh.
Professor prefers to protest, II
Last Thursday, UC Davis Anthropology professor Sandy Harcourt sent an email to his students informing them that he would not be returning their final papers when he said he would be, because it was more important to protest the war. He also indicated that he would turn grades in to the registrar by the deadline--unless his activities got him arrested. Davis blogger Emoo has information on just how Harcourt planned to spend the time he should have been spending grading his students' final exams. In a letter to the Davis Enterprise, Harcourt threatened to arrest Sacramento-bound rush hour morning traffic on I-80 by disabling his car:
I will drive onto Sacramento bound Intersate 80 from Richards Boulevard. My car will develop engine trouble, and slowly come to a halt as it reaches the Causeway.
I will get out to investigate the trouble. I will suspect the distributor head, or spark plugs. But they will be so hot to the touch that they will fly out of my hands into the Yolo Bypass waters.
Harcourt invited other anti-war protesters with engine trouble to join him. The Yolo Bypass is a wildlife and bird refuge; Emoo notes that littering there is to Davis citizens a cardinal sin. Emoo also notes that "this is not just the type of childish tantrum that many of the anti-liberation of Iraq protestors are carrying out. This is conspiracy to cause significant restraint of trade, disturbance of the peace, and economic damage."
No word in the Davis Enterprise or elsewhere about how Harcourt's plans went.
March 21, 2003
Professor prefers to protest
UC Davis anthropology professor Sandy Harcourt has informed the members of his Anthropology 15 class that protesting the war is a higher priority than teaching them. Here is the text of an email he sent to his students yesterday, under the subject heading "delay probable in posting grades":
My and your Govt.'s invasion of Iraq - a country that has not attacked us, is not attacking any other country - My and your Govt.'s killing of citizens of Iraq - a killing that started today - will almost certainly delay my preparation of your papers and grades for pick-up outside my office.
To ignore what our Govt. is doing in our name is to connive in it. I will not connive in our Govt.'s unprovoked invasion of another nation. I would not connive whatever my Dept., whatever my courses. However, as a member of an anthropology dept., and instructor of a course designed to get us thinking about contrasts in life cycles of the peoples of the world, inaction in the face of US international aggression is especially inappropriate.
I realize that some of you will disagree with my position. I am not trying to change your minds. I am simply explaining why it is unlikely that either papers or grades will be ready as I had originally scheduled.
In brief, protests against our Govt.'s invasion of Iraq will take up most of my time today. I will submit the grades to the Registrar's Office by the required deadline - unless prevented by police reaction to my demonstrations against the US invasion.
However, I am afraid that I cannot guarantee to have either papers or grades outside my office by 10.00am tomorrow.
Grades will go up on the course website as soon as possible. Papers can be picked up next quarter if they are not ready for pick-up this quarter.
Chancellor Vanderhoef, Dean Sheffrin, Chair Smith.
Notice how Harcourt casts his dereliction of his teaching duties as a fulfillment of them ("as a member of an anthropology dept., and instructor of a course designed to get us thinking about contrasts in life cycles of the peoples of the world, inaction in the face of US international aggression is especially inappropriate"). Notice, too, his complete assurance that UC Davis administrators will support him in his decision. Finally, notice the condescending piety: Harcourt "realize[s] that some of [his students] will disagree with [his] position," and he is "not trying to change [their] minds"; nevertheless, he is quite clear that there is only one proper position to take on the war, and that it is his.
Harcourt's students may well worry that objecting to their professor's behavior could jeopardize their grades (the abovementioned papers are the Anthro 15 final exams, due March 11, and are worth 70% of the overall grade for the course). But readers of Critical Mass need have no such qualms. Should you be inclined to express yourself to Harcourt or any of his administrative superiors, here are their email addresses:
Sandy Harcourt: email@example.com
Chancellor Vanderhoef: firstname.lastname@example.org
School of Arts and Sciences Dean Sheffrin: email@example.com
Anthropology Chair Carol Smith: firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE: A Critical Mass reader has written to UC Davis Anthropology Chair Carol Smith--and she has replied. Read their exchange in the comments.
UPDATE UPDATE: The same Critical Mass reader has also been in touch with Sandy Harcourt himself. Their exchange is posted in the comments.
THIRD AND HOPEFULLY FINAL UPDATE (3/26/03): Sandy Harcourt responds in the comments. He still has not turned in grades, but says he will by the deadline. He disputes the description of his broken commitment to his students as a "dereliction of duty" and accuses Critical Mass of failing to get the facts--though a rereading of the original post should clarify that it is not the facts are in question, but what they mean.
Campus controversy over Corrie cartoon
A cartoon that appeared in the University of Maryland--College Park's student newspaper has drawn protests and prompted a sit-in for its gross insensitivity. The cartoon shows a woman sitting in front of an approaching bulldozer, with the word "Stupidity" defined below her. One of the several meanings listed ran thus: "3. Sitting in front of a bulldozer to protect a gang of terrorists." You can view the cartoon here.
Though only ten people attended the vigil, thousands either called or emailed the paper to express their outrage (a few people expressed threats). "Every newspaper has a standard of decency," said one protester organizer. "You wouldn't see cartoon in the newspaper making fun of 9-11 victims, you wouldn't see a cartoon making fun of a suicide-bombing victim." (She's wrong, of course: it all depends on your definition of "victim.")
The people at The Diamondback were unimpressed by the protesters' demands for an apology and an article honoring the life of Rachel Corrie, citing the importance of free speech in a staff editorial the following day: "Though many staff members objected to the cartoon's viewpoint, the editors unanimously determined that by apologizing for the cartoon, we would call into question the First Amendment - a blessing from our forefathers every newspaper and every protester in America lives by." These sentiments were eloquently echoed by the paper's editor-in-chief, who had this to say about the decision to run the cartoon: "Friedman's cartoons are often jarring and controversial, but clearly this one went further than any other. When he submitted his cartoon Tuesday evening, several editors and I had a brief discussion and some voiced disagreement with Mr. Friedman's viewpoint. But ultimately, this decision was not about a viewpoint. The decision was about freedom of speech, and that made the decision easy. Though the cartoon represents a radical view, The Diamondback's editorial board believes wholeheartedly in freedom of speech. We would be hypocritical to revoke any speech on the grounds of radicalism." He concluded his piece by reminding the UM community that The Diamondback is an independent newspaper that receives no university funding, apart from paid ad space, and no money from student fees.
University officials have left education in the First Amendment up to the paper, preferring to devote their public commentary on the matter to deriding the taste of the cartoonist and the editors who printed his creation. While the student editor of The Diamondback has studiously refused to state his personal opinion of the cartoon, stating that the paper made a viewpoint neutral decision to run it and reminding protesters that it is the obligation of a respectable free press not to shy away from printing radical views because they might offend, Maryland's chief of staff Ann Wylie has denounced the cartoon as "tasteless" and "crude" and has called the paper an "embarrassment." Not content to stop there, she has also claimed to speak for UM President Dan Mote himself: "Mote feels exactly like I do. We're embarrassed. The Diamondback embarrassed the university. People across the world think the University of Maryland is supporting this. The Diamondback has damaged me by publishing something as distasteful as this."
Yes, that's right, Wylie actually said the paper had damaged her by printing the piece. It's pretty clear she means that the paper has damaged her career, and it's pretty clear she thinks her career is more important than free speech. Wylie did add, as an afterthought, the obligatory acknowledgement that the paper had "the right to do it." But her comments make it unmistakably clear that she is far more concerned with maintaining UM's image than with defending civil liberties on campus. They also make it clear that she cannot imagine how it might be that UM's image might be enhanced if it turned the controversy into a "teaching moment" and used it to demonstrate the value of robust debate (for an example of how to do that, see University of Pennsylvania President Judith Rodin's response to the anti-Palestinian comments made by a Penn grad student last year). Wylie's are the words of a university administrator with absolutely no concept of why free expression matters on a campus, and with no clue that her job, as a top official at a state school, includes preserving the individual rights of faculty and students at the school. She has run for cover and has left The Diamondback's editor to twist in the wind all by himself.
Meanwhile, The Diamondback continues to cover the controversy--it is the source of Wylie's comments, for example--with a grace and balance that shames the self-interested sneerings of the UM administration. Check out the Diamondback article where Wylie's comments appear for additional negative commentary from UM journalism professors, a dean, a provost, and even a Congressman. All invoke the nebulous and eminently manipulable concepts of "taste" and "sensitivity" to back their opinion that the paper should not have run the cartoon. The Diamondback has met these criticisms with a scathing editorial excerpted here:
Administrators have every right to disparage the cartoon and our editorial staff, echoing the sentiments of thousands from around the world. But their eagerness to speak with passion on this issue while languishing in apathy on more important matters borders on hypocrisy.
Mote himself, in an e-mail to students on war with Iraq, eloquently said, "On campus we must maintain our principle of a free, open and civil society where differing points of view can be considered, accepted or rejected as we each decide for ourselves where the truth lies."
Guess that goes out the window when image is on the line.
Mote's email is now posted on the U of Maryland homepage as an official "President's Message on War." A crucial, already disregarded quote: "We all have a responsibility to work to preserve the principle allowing free, open and civil discourse on differing and strongly held points of view. Because the differences of opinion about the war in Iraq can be large and their consequences dramatic and personal, the tension created can become heated or worse. We must all guard against this outcome. Suppression of dissenting views is totalitarian, tears down our society and is against all that we stand for."
The UM administration has received a lot of email from people who are offended by The Diamondback's decision to publish the cartoon; it goes without saying that such emails are being sent by individuals who neither recognize UM's obligation to free speech nor understand that The Diamondback is an independent paper that does not answer to UM administrators. One hopes that after Wylie's outburst, the administration is also receiving a lot of email from people who are offended by the university's handling of the controversy.
Thanks to reader Fred R. for the tip.
March 20, 2003
Gore Vidal at UCLA
Speaking at UCLA Tuesday evening, Gore Vidal declared the then-forthcoming war to be unconstitional. "Vidal sees the current war as a direct assault to the Constitution of the United States. He argued that a declaration of war by the president without the vote of Congress is both an unconstitutional act and a dangerous abuse of power," reports today's Daily Bruin. "When President Bush was sworn into office, he swore to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution," Vidal said, "and he has not kept that promise." Ironically, the forgetful Vidal emphasized the importance of history throughout his talk. At least that's what the Daily Bruin said. But it sounds like it might have been more accurate to say he emphasized the importance of caricaturing history to carry one's point with those who can't tell the difference: it appears that Vidal drove his argument home Tuesday night by weaving "comic impersonations of President Bush and Ronald Reagan into his historical analysis."
UPDATE: A little more on Vidal's anti-war tour, this one an account of his recent appearance in Santa Monica, where one audience member declared that "I don't know anyone, not a soul, who supports this war," and another seconded him by describing American pro-war sentiment as a negligible geographical aberration: "No one on either coast is in favour. ... It's just the flyover people in the middle who are so bellicose." Thanks to reader Fred R. for the link.
UM earmarks student fees for activism
The Michigan Student Assembly has set aside $12,000 to bus students to Washington, D.C. when UM's pending admissions lawsuits are heard by the Supreme Court. The decision prompted an outcry among students who believed that only pro-affirmative action students would be sent, and that UM would thus effectively be using student fees to finance pro-affirmative action protesting in Washington. But a staff editorial in today's Michigan Daily sets the record straight: protesters of all political persuasions will be welcome on Michigan's D.C.-bound bus, and as such the MSA "has performed a vital community service by encouraging student activism." The editorial goes on to call for faculty cooperation, pointing out that it's awfully hard to be a good activist when one's professors persist in holding class:
While MSA has done its part in encouraging student activism, the same cannot be said for many faculty members. Due to the way the cases are scheduled, it is not possible to rally in Washington without missing class. Making it easier for students to miss class, at this historic moment in the University's history, would be of great benefit to the entire community. Canceling class might not be the best solution, but providing alternative coursework or adjusting lectures to meet these constraints would allow students to maintain academic standing and the achievement of their intellectual goals while still permitting them to express their views on a national stage.
On April 1, the buses will roll and students will begin the much anticipated "March on Washington." Thanks to the logistical and financial support of SSAA and MSA, students from both sides of the debate will be able to attend rallies in our nation's capital. With the additional support of the University's faculty and staff, students will be able to express their views and partake in this unique experience without the added stress of missing class. MSA stepped up to the plate, took a risk and succeeded in doing its part to aid students. It is time for the faculty to do the same.
The message is clear: as far the Michigan Daily is concerned, political activism is an essential component of the collegiate experience. Every self-respecting college student is passionate about certain causes (and especially passionate about the use of race in college admissions); to be a true college student one must be a truly politicized college student. Moreover, one must express one's politicization through the preferred form of marching and rallying; it is through protesting that even the most conservative college student consummates his or her identity. That identity, in turn, is not as a student, or a young adult, or even as an educated citizen of the world, but as an activist. The Michigan Dailyis hardly alone in its understanding of college as a place that is less about the slow, quiet work of getting an education than it is about the loud drama of publicly staking out polarized positions. And as such the Daily does have a sad sort of point: It's true that if becoming an activist is what college is for, you might as well cancel class.
UPDATE: Stefan Sharkansky has a chilling post on deceased student-activist Rachel Corrie's former school, Evergreen State College, which takes the college education=training in activism concept to a terrifying extreme. Thanks to reader Dominic O. for the link.
Banning the N-word at Penn
A University of Pennsylvania class on deceased rapper Tupac Shakur--one of whose albums was entitled "Strictly for My Niggaz"--has decided to ban the "N-word" from discussion. In today's Daily Pennsylvanian,one of the students in the course describes how the decision was made, deploring its logic and declaring that the hysteria of a few overly sensitive students has ruined the course for everyone else (there are about 200 people enrolled in it). The course is taught by Michael Eric Dyson, a big name African-Americanist who was hired by Penn last year to assist in what the director of Penn's African American Studies Program calls the "revitalization and expansion of the Afro-American Studies Program at Penn." Dyson, who has written a book on Tupac entitled Holler If You Hear Me: Searching for Tupac Shakur, has told the DP that "he feels it is his mission to take learning at Penn to the next level": "I am proud to be here to forge connections to make sure that African American Studies is seen as a legitimate discipline in both moral and ethical dimensions. ... Teaching is beautiful. I love to challenge and be challenged by students."
March 19, 2003
Don't miss Stanley Kurtz's excellent review of Peter Wood's excellent new book, Diversity: The Invention of a Concept. Then buy the book--which Kurtz reports is being frozen out at major chain bookstores because its politics have been deemed incorrect--and read it thoroughly, slowly, with pencil in hand.
I'm halfway through Wood's book at the moment, and am increasingly impressed with the power of Wood's argument and the depth of his research. Wood, an anthropologist at Boston University, explains how the extremely suspect and contradictory concept of diversity gained such wide power and credibility during the 1980s and 90s. Along the way, he demonstrates how it is that the concept of diversity has enabled educators and administrators covertly to equate education with political indoctrination in ways that have had terribly serious consequences for the quality of learning in American schools and the character of academic culture. It's an inspiring, infuriating, careful, and convincing book. Read it along with Wood's account of his recent debate against an empty chair at Colby College--and then join me in looking forward with eagerness to Wood's follow-up study, Rough Drafts in Higher Education.
UPDATE: John Rosenberg has even more, including a mini-fisking of Wood's use of numbers.
There is a new brand of music springing up on campuses. The multicultural analogue of Christian rock, I like to think of it as diversity pop. Magdalen Hsu-Li, a bisexual Chinese-American singer/songwriter from smalltown Virginia, is one of the poster girls of higher ed's new "roots rock." Hsu-Li recently performed at Pitt as part of its Diversity Week, where she sang a song about "the Divided States of America" (sample lyric: "There's not a lot of unity .... I like the idea of striving for unity, but I also like to face reality, which is that we live in divided states") and another entitled "F--- Bush" ( "You'll always be Daddy's bitch," she crooned to a delighted crowd of 60). Hsu-Li also offers a series of lectures and workshops on diversity issues (see in particular her "True Diversity - Exploring Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Programming").
Elaine Penn, who recently conducted sensitivity training for all Harvard athletes, is another practitioner of the new diversity pop. According to Penn's website, her album Same Sky "explores diversity in a profound and artistic way," using "melodic harmonies to resonate unity" and devoting songs to racism, homophobia, single motherhood, teen violence, and the importance of moving beyond prejudice to embrace diversity.
But diversity pop is, well, diverse, and not all of the new roots rockers are as quiet, reflective, and therapeutically-oriented as Hsu-Li. Rapper Ludacris, for example, will be appearing later this month at UNC Wilmington, where his presence will serve to demonstrate the university's commitment to diversity. Though Ludacris has been harshly criticized for lyrics that demean blacks and women--most notably by Bill O'Reilly, whose publicity campaign against the rapper caused Pepsi to pull an ad featuring him--he has been invited to UNCW for the express purpose of proving that the campus is a welcoming, tolerant, and inclusive place. Last year, when a white pop artist was brought to campus, some black students complained. Ludacris is the university's palliative response: "The black students didn't feel we were catering to them at all, and with the diversity issues on the forefront we thought it would be a good time to do it," said the event organizer. Half of Ludacris' $120,000 fee will be paid out of student fees.
Not all members of the UNCW community think Ludacris is a proper ambassador of diversity. Psychology professor James Johnson said that the rapper's music is "violent and it's condoning violence. ... Nothing good can come of this." Women's studies professor Elizabeth Ervin opined that "What's truly ludicrous is that UNCW would use student fees to host a so-called entertainer who degrades in the vilest and most violent terms more than 60 percent of the student body." These are minority opinions, however. So far, over 17,000 tickets to the event have been sold.
Racism: UVa's self-fulfilling prophecy?
In today's Cavalier Daily, UVa student and opinion editor Anthony Dick argues forcefully and courageously against the campus' collective reaction to sophomore Daisy Lundy's alleged assault several weeks ago.
Students, faculty, and administrators have reacted to Lundy's report that she was attacked by a white male student who informed her that "No one wants a nigger to be president" by taking Lundy's as-yet unsubstantiated allegations as proof that UVa is a racist environment, by decrying the school as--in Professor Wende Marshall's words--a "bastion of white supremacy"--and by demanding a massive series of institutional reforms (these range from demanding more funding for minority programs to creating an "Office of Diversity & Equity" and increasing the use of racial preferences in hiring and admissions).
In "Ending Racial Discrimination at UVa," Dick argues that such measures are not only unwarranted, but that, if implemented, they will do more to contribute to racial tension on campus than to meliorate it. He writes:
The overall racial climate here at the University does not nearly resemble the plantation attitude that many have so ridiculously espoused. Sentiments of racial intolerance are decidedly outside the mainstream in this community, and students overwhelmingly reject bigotry, at least on an intellectual level. You could not find one student in a thousand who would condone, much less carry out, a racially motivated assault like the one against Lundy. The subtle racial problems that persist among University students are driven not by hatred or supremacist views, but by self-segregation and mutual misunderstanding between students of different races. These problems simply cannot be solved by any administrative action, which is only likely to exacerbate existing divisions by creating even greater barriers along racial lines.
So what type of a "bastion of white supremacy" could Marshall possibly argue that we are living in? Five out of our last ten Student Council presidents have been black. All of us are blessed to be able to learn from intelligent faculty members of all types of racial and ethnic minorities. Our Admissions Office actually discriminates against white applicants in favor of racial and ethnic minorities that are deemed excessively needy. We have one of the highest rates of minority graduation and retention in the country, not to mention an Office of African-American Affairs, an Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and a vast array of active multicultural student organizations. To label our fine institution as a "bastion of white supremacy" is a cheap and pitiful tactic of emotional manipulation that hasn't the slightest basis in anything resembling a fact.
Even worse, this deceptive statement is only one of many carefully crafted to rally support for proposed "administrative action" that promises to improve race relations around Grounds. Should this action be implemented, it will cause many more problems than it will solve.
What the administration really can do to help diffuse racial problems on Grounds is not to pay more attention to the race of its students and faculty, but less. University-sponsored equal opportunity programming, multicultural initiatives and minority support offices can't engineer racial harmony among students, because they fail to engineer respect among human beings. Until administrators quit their obsession with the racial makeup of their students, the students themselves will never be able to do so.
There's more--all of it well worth reading.
After the alleged attack, Lundy's (white, male) opponent in the student council race dropped out, saying he did not want to contribute to further racial divisiveness on campus. Lundy is now the president-elect of UVa's student council, and is consciously poised--as she demonstrates in this public statement on UVa's "Voices of Diversity" website--to convert her personal tragedy into policy change at the school. Will she listen to the arguments of people like Dick?
It will be interested to see how--and whether--UVa responds to the arguments Dick lays out. It will also be interesting to see how--and whether--Lundy does. She is, after all, his elected leader, and he is one of her constituents.
UPDATE: John Rosenberg has more, including some reflections on another Cavalier Daily piece whose stunning incomprehension of individual rights serves as a reminder of how rare the clarity of the above mentioned article is.
UPDATE UPDATE: Two students of color respond to Dick's column in the letters section of today's Cavalier Daily. Their verdict: Dick's argument is "cheap" because it denies both their identity as minorities and the history of oppression to which affirmative action and campus diversity initiatives respond. As such, Dick's piece is complicit with the "institutionalized" racism that allows UVa to continue to be a "predominantly white, patriarchal, and homophobic institution."
March 18, 2003
Grading Bush's speech
The professoriate has spoken, and the grades on President Bush's speech are in. Here's what faculty at the University of Pennsylvania have to say.
Communication Professor Larry Gross said Bush was "stiff," and that the speech itself was "unpersuasive." Describing Bush's speech as the rhetorical equivalent of "stamping his feet," he asserted that "Bush is not making an argument, he's making assertions."
Communication Professor Klaus Krippendorff noted that "In general, I think he is an awful speaker," but gave the President points for improvement, adding that the president's delivery was "better than usual." "I hate to say it, but I was impressed," he said.
Retired English Professor Phyllis Rackin told the Daily Pennsylvanian that "she was surprised by Bush's rhetorical skills in comparison with his previous speech-making attempts." Rackin observed that Bush "must have practiced a lot," since "usually, he's not up to par."
The money quote: "Rackin described the president's rhetorical abilities in past speeches as 'well below those of the average freshman.'"
Reactions were similar at Harvard, where students told The Crimson that though they usually "crack up" when the President delivers a televised address, yesterday they did not.
As I watch Tony Blair addressing the House of Commons in live BBC coverage, I find myself wishing the smug students and faculty on U.S. campuses would work harder to separate their snobbish contempt for the President from the terribly pressing issues at hand. It's cheap, intellectually dishonest, and all-too easy to shore up one's anti-war position with snide commentary on Bush's rhetorical and mental capabilities--but that is, all too often, what passes for serious political commentary on campuses. It's far less possible to operate this way when one attends to Blair, whose eloquence in favor of war smashes the glib equation between a pro-war position and total human idiocy that is so often made on American campuses, and that contempt for Bush is used to cement.
I find myself wishing, too, that the true silliness of certain campus anti-war activities were acknowledged for what they are. The recent Naked People for Peace Procession at UNC Chapel Hill comes to mind, as does today's op-ed in the Michigan Daily, "How Does One Say 'Big Mac' in Arabic?" which opens thus:
It's now official: We're getting another state; America East is coming. Booyakasha!
Who said that Manifest Destiny was dead? Who heralded the demise of our expansionist spirit? Who wrongly surmised that there no longer were frontiers available for exploration? In the most American of moves, we've found a new land to conquer, extending our nation's proud history of ingenuity. We don't know the word "can't." (What's that, you say? We're not the first state to colonize, to use a military action to dispose of a deplorable dictator? Well, America has done its fair share of stealing in the past, so calling someone else's idea our own is fairly American, too.)
Read the whole thing, and ask yourself how this student's rhetorical skills compare to those of the above-mentioned imaginary "average freshman," whose oratorical abilities are invoked to show just how inept the President is in comparison to the least capable of college students.
UPDATE: The author of "How Does One Say 'Big Mac' in Arabic?" responds in the comments.
March 17, 2003
Study shows diversity disappoints
John Rosenberg reports on a new study indicating that the most "diverse" colleges are the most disappointing ones to students, faculty, and administrators. As the number of blacks enrolled at a school increases, the study found, students' satisfaction with the quality of their education, the quality of their fellow students, and the school's work ethic decreases. The more diverse the student population, the more students claim to have experienced discrimination. The more black students there are on a campus, the more faculty complain about the work habits of students.
There are many possible ways to interpret such data, and correlations should never be mistaken for causations: just as it would be a grievous misreading of such findings to argue that the presence of blacks on campus in and of itself drags down the educational quality of the school, so, too would it be wrong to argue that racism accounts for the heightened dissatisfaction of people studying and teaching at more diverse schools. All that we can say for sure is that the easy, glib assurances colleges offer in their brochures, their policy rationales, and their curricula that a diverse campus is an automatically enriched one do not stand up to close examination.
The study, entitled "Does Enrollment Diversity Improve University Education?", was conducted by Stanley Rothman, director of the Center for the Study of Social and Political Change and a professor of government at Smith College; Seymour Martin Lipset, a professor of public policy at George Mason University; and Neil Nevitte, a political-science professor at the University of Toronto. You can get a copy for your own perusal here.
March 16, 2003
Ignoring fraud at Wisconsin?
Earlier this month, the student paper at the University of Wisconsin-Superior printed a letter to the editor that condemned gays and lesbians for "advertising that they are queer." ěI say put them back into the damn closets they came from," the writer opeined. "Lock the door!î Shock ensued, and then a public forum to discuss homophobia on campus and to debate the newspaper's responsibility to communal sensitivities: some argued that the letter should never have been run, because it contains "hate speech" and was thereby a form of harassment; some argued that the newspaper should have edited the offensive passages out of the letter before publishing it; others argued that, as inflammatory and hurtful as the letter was, it's better to know the truth about how some people think than to try to whitewash their views. "In some ways, it's been helpful to have a letter like this appear because there's been quite an outpouring of students wanting to discuss it and act on it," said Dianna Hunter, faculty coordinator of the Queer and Allied Student Union at UWS.
The letter was written in response to a front-page story about how several gay and lesbian students and faculty at UWS were sent "anti-homosexual brochures" last fall. The brochures were sent anonymously through campus mail; Hunter was one of the recipients. Hunter said the campus paper should have required the writer to "take out some of the hate speech" before printing it, adding that in her view, the letter "violates our discrimination and harassment policy."
To his credit, UWS Chancellor Julius E. Erlenbach disagreed, stating unequivocally there had been no violation of university policy. Not to his credit, Erlenbach cushioned his message by suggesting that not all speech is free: "we all [need to] get to a point where we can determine where freedom of speech may cross the line and become harassment," he said, adding that the campus forum would mark the beginning of his campus' hubristic attempt to define where that line is. Stating that "we clearly have an issue here where we have a member of the university community that is espousing a view that's in direct conflict with our institutional values," Erlenbach stressed the difficulty of balancing free speech against those values, a statement that sounds disturbingly as if he does not see free speech as a value in itself, but merely a pesky legal requirement that tends to impede his ability to shape his campus into a model multicultural community.
Meanwhile, the paper's advisor has announced that it was wrong to run the letter: "The letter was not about discussion and debate," he said. "The views in the letter were inflammatory and discriminatory. ... It's a credit to the people in this community and the university that they took a very negative thing and turned it into a positive thing, to open the forum for talking about the issues of civil rights and free speech." The paper is now developing a policy to prevent such missives from seeing print in the future--all in the name of civil rights and free speech, you understand.
But all of this is so much rote behavior scripted by the diversity machine that is currently dominating higher education policy and setting the tone for campus culture. The people at UWS are responding with Pavlovian predictability to a typical stimulus; their reactions are not unique or original, but are instead a standard-issue response that matches in substance and form the responses of any number of other outraged students and conciliatory administrators on any number of other campuses.
Proof? The inability of UWS students, faculty, and administrators to make appropriate adjustments when their understanding of the facts is called into question. The woman whose name was signed to the offending letter, Kathleen Espersen, claims that she did not write it. She says her email account was hacked and that someone sent the letter in her name. Has this claim generated an equal concern for internet security on campus? Are public forums being held to discuss the university's commitment to electronic privacy? Has the seriousness of internet fraud been discussed? Has anyone made it clear that committing internet fraud is not consistent with the university's values? Has anyone proposed that the mistake the student paper made was not that it published the letter, but that it did not verify the authorship of the letter before publishing it? Of course not.
Espersen's claim has been downplayed to the point of suppression. Most coverage of the events at UWS does not mention it at all. One article that does report this aspect of the story merely mentions it in passing, treating it not as a serious allegation, but more as a wrinkle in the tale of Espersen's alleged homophobia, noting simply that "the UWS student the letter was attributed to has since denied writing it and said she's received threats since it appeared." Just as Espersen's denial goes uninvestigated, so does the nature of the threats she has received go unreported. The message is clear: any threats Espersen receives are not news. They are simply what she deserves.
March 14, 2003
Sexing up the campus news
Yesterday's Cornell Daily Sun contained a column on how to have anal sex. It's part of a regular sex column entitled "Come Again." The March 6 edition of the Daily Northwestern contains a piece on how to give--and receive--cunnilingus; highlights include meditations on whether to kiss one's partner after performing oral sex upon him or her, and what kinds of feminine pubic grooming men find most congenial to the activity the article fondly describes as "box munching." It, too, is part of a regular sex column by a woman student (these columns are always written by women students, for reasons I have noted here). Subjects of UC Berkeley's longrunning "Sex on Tuesday" column have included "New Year's Sexolutions" (#1: "I will kiss my partner after oral sex") and "Ragtime" (on whether women should have sex while menstruating).
Student sex columns are popping up all over: at James Madison, there is "Sex in the Suburbs;" at Cal State Long Beach it's "Sex at the Beach;" at Kansas it's "Sex on the Campus;" at Tufts it's "Between the Sheets." No topic is too raunchy: student sex columnists have addressed issues as down and dirty as masturbation, bondage, the finer points of fellatio, and the age-old spit or swallow controversy.
While the Amy Keels and Thomas Muchas of college life smash snow sculptures and tear down flyers in their effort to rid their campuses of material they find offensive and obscene, student newspapers are increasingly taking a deliberately provocative approach to pitching the news: whatever else you may say about student sex columns, you can't deny that their primary purpose is to drum up interest in publications that tend to be regarded--or disregarded--as deadly dull.
And it works--revealingly so. To my knowledge, no one has stolen a press run of a student paper in order to suppress the soft pornography produced by its resident sexpert. As raunchy as such columns are--and they do their best to be as suggestive and titillating as possible--they do not draw the kinds of violent reactions that, say, snow phalluses do. Nor do they inspire the kinds of censorious and punitive reactions that articles criticizing campus diversity initatives and ads critical of reparations have done.
It's interesting to compare the relative quiescence surrounding the one to the volcanic outrage sparked by the other: it suggests that on campuses today, the real pornography is not sexual but racial; that most members of campus communities are more offended by frank discussions about race than they are by explicit talk about sex; and that, further, those who cannot tolerate truly open, honest discussion of race suffer from a species of prudery: they blame others' immorality and insensitivity for their own inhibitions, and they seek to control the thought and expression of others in order to make the world over in the image of their own puritanical fear.
UPDATE: The resident sex columnist at William and Mary is getting course credit for writing her column. The department? Women's studies, of course.
Reflecting on hate at UVa
In today's Cavalier Daily, UVa student Kristin Brown reflects courageously and correctly on the racial double standards surrounding hate crime at her university. Brown applauds the UVa community for its outrage at the recent alleged attack on Daisy Lundy, the candidate for student council president who was attacked by a heavyset white man who told her that "no one wants a nigger to be president." But Brown notes that when black Charlottesville high school students committed a series of racially motivated attacks on white and Asian UVa students last year, there was no uproar at all. She writes:
There is a race problem at the University. But it cannot and will not be resolved until every race is seen as completely equal in every respect.
Expressing outrage over one racially motivated attack and not another only furthers racial divisions. The disparity between the reactions to last year's attacks and this year's attack is indicative of a larger problem within the University and Charlottesville communities. We are rightly upset when a white person attacks a student because of her skin color. But we remain silent when the roles are reversed, despite the fact that both are equally despicable crimes.
At a teach-in on Tuesday, Anthropology Prof. Wende Marshall called the University a "bastion of white supremacy." Today, with affirmative action programs, the efforts of University organizations such as the Office of African-American Affairs, and a generally progressive and tolerant student mindset, this is hardly the case. Historically, African-Americans have been subjected to countless forms of racism and oppression, even at our own University. There is a difference between the attack on Lundy as opposed to last year's attacks because of this dark part of American history. However, no student here today is responsible for the past. In today's world, where we strive for true equality, all victims of racial crimes should receive equal support from their fellow students.
What message has been conveyed to those students who were attacked last year? No one marched for them. There is no reason why they shouldn't have received the same torrent of support last year that Lundy is now receiving. This inconsistency conveys that no, University students do not tolerate racially motivated crimes -- most of the time.
Racial barriers can only be broken when all races and all people are truly given equal treatment. This includes racially motivated crimes committed by people of all races against people of all races.
Strong and courageous stuff--not least because her article reveals that her most elemental point about how discriminatory double standards only increase racial tension was not a significant part of the many conversations, speeches, vigils, and classroom dialogues UVa has held in the wake of the Lundy incident. Reading between the lines of Brown's essay, it seems that the character of UVa's massive collective response to the Lundy incident is perpetuating a pattern of discrimination in the name of raising racial awareness.
March 13, 2003
Harvard Yard XXX
Snow phalluses aren't the only "offensive" and "obscene" items being removed from Harvard Yard. Recently, a campus civil liberties group posted flyers to advertise an upcoming meeting. Some of the posters depicted a naked couple with genitalia concealed by tactically placed airbrushing; the image was accompanied by the following text: "Does Your Mother Know What Websites You Look At? The Government Does." Though the aim of the posters was to make a point about civil liberties, graduating senior and self-appointed campus censor Thomas Mucha deemed them "obscene and offensive" and tore them down. When asked to explain his rationale for removing the promotional flyers of a recognized campus group, Mucha told the Harvard Crimson that they were "just gross." The Crimson paraphrased his reasoning thus: "Mucha said the posters are not protected speech because they are obscene."
Readers of Critical Mass and followers of campus absurdity will recognize in Mucha's statement the rationale employed by Amy Keel and Mary Cardinale when they destroyed the nine foot snow phallus erected in Harvard Yard several weeks ago. They will also note the splendid irony: that one of the group's poster-variants depicted the notorious snow phallus itself, along with the caption ěBecause Freedom of Expression Protects Even The Pricks of the World.î And they will note the double standard: Harvard's undergraduate council recently passed a resolution condemning the wanton removal of posters after Harvard Right to Life's posters were removed by those who disapproved of the group's views. Mucha supported the resolution.
White Guilt 101
From NoIndoctrination.org comes a disgruntled student's review of an introductory anthropology course at Long Beach Community College. According to the course catalogue, Anthro 1 "Focuses on the evolutionary development of the human capacity for culture and its subsequent effects on human biology: the relation of people and animals; the origin and antiquity of humans; fossil humans; principles of heredity and population genetics; the synthetic theory of evolution." But according to the student reviewer, Anthro 1 focuses on inculcating as much white guilt and anti-capitalist sentiment as can be fit into the space of the semester:
[The professor] uses his Anthropology class as a forum for his excessively socialistic / political views. He would consistently interject his personal views, ie: The white race should be ashamed of itself, I'm ashamed to be white, The system should be more socialistic - Take from those who have and give to those who do not, Women are too lazy to breast feed, We should be ashamed of our government, Our government is nothing more than a giant war monger, Democracy is nothing more than a diguise for colonialism, The rest of the world has just cause to hate us, We should pay reparations to All African Americans, etc... The man is full of guilt and makes every effort to instill this guilt upon his students. None of this belongs in an Anthropology course. He takes young and impressionable minds and attempts to bend them into forming an Anti-American ideology. His use of an Anthropology class as a soap box for his political views is abhorring [sic]!
Dr. Novotny has managed to turn every discussion in his Anthropology course into one which reflects his political views. He shames Caucasian students into being ashamed of their heritage - If he were to do this to any other racial group, he would be labeled a racist!! He was extremely belittling to any opposing wiewpoints. He was extremely hostile to alternative views. When I expresed the viewpoint that reparations would possibly break the bank of our government and would not, in any way, repay anybody who had actually been a slave, he yelled at me. I was uncomfortable each and every class meeting. I felt personally attacked (daily), and we were all discouraged from expressing alternative viewpoints.
Although, the course did (eventually) meet all the criteria of the course decription, I felt that I was held hostage to his personal and political views. This was most frustrating, as I was (and still am) a Political Science major. I filed a formal complaint with the department head only to discover that Dr. Novotny IS the department head. Nothing has changed. His actions (in class) remain unchecked.
NoIndoctrination.org does invite all professors to respond to student criticism. Few do--but this one did. Here's what he had to say:
Well, here we go again. I sometimes get such glib, knee-jerk patriotic "you hurt my feelings" reactions to my lectures. For many of my students, I am their first encounter with the stark reality of the world at large. I expect to be attacked by people whose reality has been largely formed thorough indoctrination into unchallenged patriotism, unexamined Christianity, and a general absence of understanding of world history, especially the role of multinational corporations and the U.S. military in neocolonial ventures. Yes, I do occasionally "soapbox" on topics involving our species' headlong plunge into self-destruction (after all, I do teach anthropology, the study of people). I am guilty of placing the Earth, all its living systems, and human well-being above corporate greed, national policy, hegemonic religion, and the "comfort level" of students in my class. For every "griper" like the one I am responding to on your site, I can furnish dozens of students whose lives have been empowered by my influence.
I do not "yell" at students, though I can imagine that a professor saying something so upsetting to an ultraconservative student might sound like yelling.
Anyone who reads this and is in the Long Beach area is invited to enroll in one of my classes and judge me, if you must, by first-hand experience.
What's most intriguing about this response--which is labelled a "rebuttal"--is that it does not refute the student's claims so much as object to the student's reaction to the course. The student says the professor treated the students in the course like political ignoramuses who required enlightenment; the professor proudly announces that his courses offer political enlightenment to ignorant students who are open to being "empowered" by his "influence." The only disagreement is over whether a professor has any business telling students what they should believe.
What's also intriguing about this professor's response is how, in essentially agreeing that he is indeed using his anthro course as a political soapbox, it illuminates one of the more Orwellian terms in contemporary academic newspeak. "Empowerment," in this professor's post, is synonymous with successful indoctrination; those who are "empowered" by his "influence" are those who conform to his ideas. In an academy where a student's grades are too often contingent on a willingness to parrot the professor's beliefs, it is all too clear just how much is to be gained by ideological conformity, and, conversely, just how much dissent can cost.
More Brooklyn College nonsense
Last month, the trustees of the City University of New York overturned Brooklyn College's decision to deny tenure to history professor KC Johnson for his alleged lack of collegiality. A prolific scholar and a popular teacher, Johnson had been the victim of a departmental vendetta ever since he criticized certain of his senior colleagues for allowing political partisanship to shape their teaching and hiring practices. The nature of that vendetta, and the precise details of Johnson's case, were aired extensively in the media, most notably in a devastating piece by The Wall Street Journal's Dorothy Rabinowitz. The trustees' decision was hailed as a just and right thing by such publications as The New York Post, The New York Times, and The Chronicle of Higher Education, among others. Johnson's long and horrific saga seemed to be over: Brooklyn College administrators had been publicly overruled and duly shamed, and Johnson had been awarded the tenure he so richly deserved.
But life isn't a feelgood movie and happy endings are never so happy or so final as film and fiction would have us believe. And so it is that a new chapter in Johnson's ongoing persecution by Brooklyn College has begun.
Unwilling to recognize when enough is enough, incapable of realizing when it's time to shut up, not even able to tell when it has lost (badly, publicly, humiliatingly), Brooklyn College is re-opening KC Johnson's case. The Faculty Council has formally called for the ominously named "Integrity Committee" to investigate Johnson's qualifications for tenure--even though Johnson has already undergone tenure review, and even though he has already been found, with his many publications and his stellar teaching evaluations, to be more than "qualified" for the promotion he was originally denied. Indeed, BC's use of the shadowy category of "uncollegiality" as a criterion for denying Johnson tenure was itself a tacit acknowledgement that his scholarship and teaching were themselves impeccable.
The rationale for revisiting the question of Johnson's "qualifications"? Brooklyn College is gearing up to file a complaint against CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein for the actions he took in Johnson's case.
Here is the wording of the Faculty Council's announcement (all typos are those of the original: judge them as you will):
As you all probably know, the Chancellor recommended to the Board of Trustees to award promotion to full Professor with automatic tenure ot one of our faculty members. ÝNormal promotion and tenure processes were overrideen. ÝThe resultant fall-out produced many judgmental articles in the press and negative publicity that seemed to question the academic integrity of the college. ÝSteering [THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE OF CHAIRS] will convene the Committee on College Integrity to examine this issue and make a recommendation to Council on how and if, Faculty Council should respond to this.
In other words, the Brooklyn College Faculty Council has decided that the bad press BC got for its mishandling of Johnson's case was unwarranted. It feels that the reputation of the College has been damaged--not by the conduct of BC faculty and admins, but by the media that reported that conduct, and, more basically, by Johnson (for defending himself), and by Chancellor Goldstein (for determining that it was Johnson, and not BC officials, who was credible, and for acting decisively on that determination by awarding Johnson tenure and by telling the press that BC's case against him was unfounded).
Brooklyn College can't let Johnson's case rest. Someone must pay for the damage it did to the College's reputation; blame must be laid; no responsibility must be taken. And who better to attack than Chancellor Goldstein, the man who broke ranks with BC's official line, the man who overturned the unethical machinations of BC admins in order to do what he believed was right? After all, Chancellor Goldstein was being awfully uncollegial when he did that. And what do the folks at BC do when you are uncollegial (i.e., when you refuse to conform to their questionable procedural ethics)? Why, they go after your reputation and, if possible, your job.
The irony is palpable, and it proves yet again the legitimacy of Johnson's case and the propriety of Goldstein's actions.
March 12, 2003
Citrus College update
Rosalyn Kahn, the Citrus College adjunct speech professor who was recently caught giving students extra credit for writing anti-war letters to President Bush and for writing pro-adjunct professor letters to their local senator, has been put on paid leave. Last week, FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) busted Kahn; Citrus College admins have since distanced themselves from her actions, apologizing to her students, writing to President Bush and said senator rescinding the letters Kahn solicited, and promising to "sanction" Kahn. There was some debate on Critical Mass and JoanneJacobs.com about whether Kahn should be fired. No one, however, suggested that she be punished with vacation time. Clearly the disciplinary imagination of the American public is far less advanced than that of academic administrators. O brave new world of higher ed, that has such sweet sanctions in it.
Hate fuels diversity at UVa
John Rosenberg has been keeping close tabs on the alleged hate crime incident at UVa. Two weeks ago, sophomore Daisy Lundy reported that she was attacked by a white thug as she rummaged in her car at two in the morning. Lundy was running for student council president; the thug knocked her head against her steering wheel and threw her to the ground while telling her that "No one wants a nigger to be president." Lundy is biracial, of Korean and African-American descent. The outcry on UVa's campus was instantaneous and hysterical: this wasn't a case of a lone thug acting out, but proof that the entire UVa culture is racist. The diversity machine cranked into motion, and the results have been breathtaking.
Lundy won the election after her opponent--a white man--dropped out of the race, saying that "a 'divisive' election could compromise the community's attempt to unite after the Feb. 26 attack." The University has issued an official statement about how the campus is responding to the proof that racism festers in its midst: according the the UVa website, it "is moving from initial shock and outrage at the report of a racially motivated assault on a student to efforts at healing and raising awareness of the need for diversity." The vice president for student affairs has announced that "people at all levels of the institution are committed to bringing about positive change that goes beyond mere talk about diversity." And even Lundy herself has seconded UVa's reflexive hysteria, urging the campus community to stop focussing so much on her, and instead to devote itself to "the larger problem of exclusion that has plagued our University for far too long."
Today, there will be a March Against Hatred and a vigil led by the Committee for Progress on Race, a group of law students and faculty that formed in response to Lundy's alleged attack. CPR is planning to use the Lundy incident to advance an ideological agenda: "This is a beginning, not an end," said Michael Signer, CPRís coordinator. "The March will serve to show our spirit and purpose in the face of this outrage, but it will only lead in to a series of long-term initiatives to address systemic problems of race at the law school ó in the curriculum, the faculty, and the student body."
Events at UVa are classic examples of how campus hate crimes serve the purposes of local academic ideologues. The mere allegation that a hate crime has occurred allows campus activists to mask ideology as necessity. At UVa, a variety of student, faculty, and administrative opportunists are currently in the business of casting their self-serving appropriation of an isolated--and unproved--event as a noble good work. Channelling the hysteria they have themselves produced, they are now using the Lundy episode to try to transform the campus culture in ways that should be openly and freely debated--but cannot be because to question measures taken in the name of combatting racism is to open oneself to accusations of racism.
Lundy is a willing pawn, even a conscious actor, in the tactical shifting of attention away from the specifics of her case and onto broader issues of questionable relevance. It is striking indeed to see a young woman whose alleged attacker is still at large urging the campus community to focus not on catching him, but on instituting policy change at UVa:
This is the story of our University undergoing change and learning how to weave diversity into its everyday fabric. Understanding the story, the history of what lead to this incident is imperative in moving forward. We must seize this opportunity to turn the prayers and frustrations into action. They will have little meaning if we do not move forward to take a critical look at our community and commit ourselves to make it a better place not only for each of us, but for our children and our grandchildren. We have reached an obvious pivotal point in this story.
The issue of creating an inclusive and welcoming environment is not just my struggle. It belongs to everyone. But we have an amazing opportunity to begin to change here and now at U.Va. - with each other.
There has been debate about whether Lundy's claims are credible, and about what it means to question her claims in light of the current campus fashion of faking hate crimes. But there can be no debate about how useful, how convenient, how peculiarly welcome the Lundy incident has been for the local policy vultures--one of whom, it appears, is Lundy herself.
Meanwhile, the hunt for Lundy's alleged attacker appears to be going nowhere--despite a reward of nearly $30,000.
UPDATE: The Washington Post elaborates on the nature of UVa's impending diversity initiatives. Thanks to reader Fred R. for the link.
UPDATE UPDATE: John Rosenberg has even more.
March 11, 2003
A tunnel of oppressor speaks
My post on the Tunnel of Oppression, the grassroots campus diversity initiative that resembles a cross between a haunted house and a drive-thru restaurant, has provoked a response from one Brandon Dawson, a Tunnel of Oppression organizer at SUNY Cortland. Dawson has much to say to me and to those who posted comments. I quote his post in full; all grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and typos are his:
What is said is in order to be educated we have to understand our differences. Being a co-presentor of the Tunnel of Oppression for the past two years at SUNY Cortland and being involved with the program for my time at Cortland I have to laugh at some of the comments on this post. One most of you arguing here don't understand the importance and weight of a program like this. What I would like to ask is How many of youhave tried to do a campus diversity program. This program in its 6 years at Cortland has draw more students than any residence hall program could ever hope to imagine.
This past fall we presented this program and had over 750 students go through this program and impacted each and every one of them. At our annual residence life conferance we had 240 student staff attend this program. What most of you fail to comprehend is that different people expierence situations in different ways. This program is a slymps of how others may have to live on a daily basis.
Second I find it funny that the majority of you are claiming to be educated. I'TS A SAD REALITY THAT A TOUGHT FROM SOMEONE WAS LAWSUIT. it's people like you that don't allow us to move foward and add to the oppression in society. Being educated means being open to new ideas you may not agree with. As a scholar myself I ask you to look beyond the actors and role play and look at the real hidden meaning of this program and what it truely does. Because numbers don't like and when 750 students ATTEND a program.....you guys have no leg to stand on
President Carter once said " In order to accept our differences we must accept our commonality"
Whats most oppressive is people like you are going to be the teachers, lawyers, doctors, and educators of the future and you can't get over your own issues. What a sad future we have ahead of us.
If you are balking at the illiteracy of the post, try to get beyond that to the truth it conveys. You read it here first: according to Mr. Dawson, "it's people like you that don't allow us to move foward and add to the oppression in society." Amen to that.
Michigan undergrads profess
If you object to the amount of university teaching that is currently being done by graduate students and part-time adjunct instructors--and even if you don't--here's a new one to chew on: The Michigan Daily reports that more and more undergraduates are being hired to teach in undergraduate courses. They are cheap, plentiful, and they aren't unionized the way UM grad students are--so they can be exploited with relative impunity. The piece is light on detail because it is an editorial that takes for granted readers' awareness of the situation--but it is in some ways all the more damning for that fact. Check it out and meditate on the direction higher education is taking. But don't be too hard on UM: surely hiring undergrads to teach college courses enhances the diversity of the University's professoriate, which has hitherto been dominated by people with actual degrees. And we all know how important diversity is to the University of Michigan.
FIRE launches guides
At a press conference in Washington, D.C. today, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) will formally launch its Guides to Student Rights on Campus, which you can learn about and read at thefireguides.org. If you follow campus politics at all, you know about FIRE--they are the ones who ride in on a white horse when campus administrators and professors are in the act of violating student and faculty civil liberties. They rescue the wronged and lay down the legal and ethical gauntlet for would-be campus demagogues (most recently, FIRE defended Citrus College students against a speech professor who was offering students extra credit for espousing her political views). They are a non-partisan group, though they commonly get mislabelled as conservative, and their work is essential to preserving--or in some cases restoring--the climate of intellectual freedom without which higher education would be a complete and utter joke. Their mission is clear: they defend First Amendment rights on campus. And their strategy is simple: exposure. "Sunlight," Justice Brandeis said, "is the best disinfectant." The phrase is FIRE's motto.
But damage control and rescue missions can only get you so far. They may right wrongs, but they don't prevent the wrongs from occurring, and they don't prepare people to recognize when they are being wronged or show them how to defend themselves when they find their rights encroached upon by illiberal speech codes, partisan funding practices, mandatory sensitivity training, and similar outrages that are becoming the norm on many campuses today.
So FIRE is expanding its role to include education. The Guides to Student Rights on Campus are remarkable tools--students and faculty can use them to figure out what their rights are, and admins can use them to make sure that school policies and procedures respect individual rights. They contain historical background, discussion of relevant case law, and advice for defending oneself or one's group against intrusive or unfair policies. They contain the information that every college and university administrator should be required to know and respect as a condition of employment--but is not. And they contain the information that every college and university student and faculty member should know about their rights and responsibilities as citizens of an intellectual community--but all too often do not.
How significant is the launch of these Guides? Significant enough that at today's press conference, former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese and ACLU President Nadine Strossen will speak in support of them.
Check the Guides out when you have a minute--and make sure you let your kids and your friends and your friends with kids know about them too.
March 7, 2003
FIRE burns Citrus College
You know Lynn Weber, whose guidelines for class discussion require students to adopt a certain politics if they want to speak. You know Dartmouth's sociology and Spanish and Portuguese departments, which voted to use college funds to send students to an anti-war rally in Washington. You've met a host of ideologically challenged professors on Luann Wright's new website, NoIndoctrination.org. Now meet the latest addition to academic thought reform's hall of shame: Rosalyn Kahn.
Rosalyn Kahn teaches speech at California's Citrus College. Recently, she required students to write anti-war letters to President Bush, and penalized the grades of dissenting students who refused to do so. Kahn also compelled students to write letters espousing a particular political viewpoint to California State Senator Jack Scott. Kahn then delivered the letters personally to Scott's office, and apparently did so under false pretenses. When FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) asked Scott's office about the letters, it was told that the letters were unsolicited.
FIRE got involved when one of Kahn's students asked the campus civil liberties group for assistance. After successful negotiations with the Citrus College administration, FIRE is proud to announce that the college has mended Kahn's ways and will not be endorsing further attempts at political coercion by her or any other members of the faculty. Kahn will be sanctioned, the students will receive formal apologies and reassurances that their grades will not be affected by Kahn's inappropriate assignments, and Citrus College will write to both President Bush and Senator Scott acknowledging its violation of students' freedom of speech, apologizing, and formally rescinding the letters Kahn made her students write.
FIRE CEO Thor Halvorssen had this to say in a press release:
While Professor Kahn is free to hold and espouse her views on appropriate matters of public concern, it is, of course, absolutely impermissible for her or any professor to coerce students to share her political orthodoxies. This was an unconscionable abuse of classroom power. ... A college in which students are not allowed to disagree reasonably with their professors on fundamental issues is incapable of intellectual innovation, critical dialogue, meaningful discourse, or true scholarship. ... It is a great day for freedom of conscience and a great day for Citrus College. It is heartening to find a college president who defends the principles of freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. ... FIRE is committed to an academic world in which free speech and freedom of conscience are rights independent of the politics and ideologies of the individuals involved. It is very heartening when such an issue can be decided on behalf of liberty by a college itself, without recourse to the courts.
First let your head stop spinning at the incredible antics of Professor Kahn. Then read all about this case and many, many more on FIRE's website.
Faking the hate?, contd.
Last week Daisy Lundy, a sophomore candidate for student council president at UVa, was the victim of a hate crime. According to Lundy, she was attacked by a heavyset white man at 2 am while rummaging in her car for her cell phone. Lundy alleged that the man slammed her head into the steering wheel, threw her to the ground, and informed her that "No one wants a nigger to be president." The press--and the UVa community, and even the FBI--have been all over this incident.
But as the days pass, more and more people are beginning to express doubts about Lundy's story, and wondering out loud whether the real story is not that Lundy was the victim of a hate crime, but rather that UVa has been the victim of a hate crime hoax. John Rosenberg reports that the skepticism about Lundy's allegations is heating up in Charlottesville. Check out this comment board and see for yourself how local residents and UVa students are identifying the holes in Lundy's story and the tactical advantage the alleged incident gives her in her campaign.
Such concerns may seem harsh. But they aren't far-fetched: in recent years, American campuses have become the scenes of frequent hate crime hoaxes.
In 1998, a lesbian student at St. Cloud State University faked a hate crime against herself by cutting her chest and battering her face. She claimed two men attacked her as she came out of a vigil held for Matthew Shepard.
Also in 1998, members of Duke's Black Student Alliance faked a symbolic lynching to enhance support for their agenda. Hanging a black doll from a tree at the site of a planned protest, they had the campus in an uproar about the depth of hate that must reside there: "Maybe it won't be a doll next time," opined the student newspaper.
In 2001, a gay student at the College of New Jersey was arrested for sending death threats to himself and a gay student group--but not before the campus community banded together to fight homophobia on campus, devoting an entire semester to a campus-wide focus on "hate crimes" and sinking both taxpayers' money and student fees into the cause.
In 2002, an Arizona State student was caught faking anti-Muslim hate crimes. He had the campus up in arms after reporting that he had been pelted with eggs by students shouting racial epithets. But then he was found lying on the floor of a men's room, in the very act of faking another hate crime against himself. There was a plastic bag over his head, the word "Die" was written on his face and chest, his mouth was stuffed with paper upon which racial slurs had been written--and it had all taken place inside a stall that was locked from the inside.
There are countless similar examples. There are also countless examples of students, faculty, and administrators acting as apologists for the hoaxers.
After the New Jersey hoax was exposed, the campus remained committed to the student's trumped-up cause. "I would not want anyone to trivialize the seriousness of harassing and threatening behavior as a result of this case," the college's president said. "Whatever the source, such threats undermine our sense of safety and community." "It was a wonderfully teachable time to talk about what we face," said a college advisor who was not at all deterred by the news that the proof of campus hate had been disproved. "I hope the student body's attitude is a bit more enlightened than it was before."
At St. Cloud State, the campus lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender student organization was unwilling to give up the political edge they had gained in the wake of the alleged hate crime. Proudly touting the fact that the event had led to "a giant step forward" for campus awareness of homophobia, the group refused to credit the student's confession that she had faked her own assault, and even issued a press release stating that "We believe that the homophobic hate crime that occurred Oct. 20 at St. Cloud State University did in fact take place."
Duke's fakers had defenders, too. "The idea behind the act," one apologist explained, "is being overlooked (as is usually the case). The idea is that the University has not changed. Blacks are allowed to be enrolled here, but the idea is the equivalent of the transition from field slave to house slave."
The list goes on, and the agenda is clear. Hate crimes on campus--whether real or faked--are wonderful boons. They facilitate an agenda. They prove that racism, sexism, and homophobia really are the defining issues of our moment. They justify throwing money at campus advocacy groups, hiring minority faculty, establishing ethnic studies departments and creating diversity course requirements. They are useful tools for demanding universal mandatory sensitivity training on campus; useful, too, for convincing administrators to institute speech codes and draconian harassment policies. Student activists may be misguided at times, but they are not stupid. They see very clearly that a hate crime on campus equals a powerful lever for them. They understand that it does not matter whether a given "crime" is real or imagined, actual or staged: both are rewarded equally, sometimes even after a hoax has been exposed. Campus administrators love to mouth the platitudes of tolerance; they do so cynically, often without regard to fairness or facts. And in so doing, they have created a strong motive for student activists to produce the appearance of the hate they want so badly to fight.
Daisy Lundy's assault was either the work of a dumb bigot or a clever provocateur. The facts remain to be seen, and her story remains to be disproved: just as it would be wrong to leap to the conclusion that she is faking, so, too, is it wrong to assume automatically that her situation is simply the inevitable result of the festering racism of UVa campus culture. All that's fair to say right now is that her case is worth watching closely. And if that seems to add insult to Lundy's injuries, Lundy has the long list of campus hoaxers to thank for it.
March 6, 2003
Faking the hate?
Some people are saying that the recent alleged hate crime at UVa, in which a candidate for student council president was attacked at 2 in the morning by a heavyset white man who told her that "no one wants a nigger to be president," is just that: alleged. John Rosenberg has more on the skepticism some are showing about Daisy Lundy's allegations, along with a number of links to articles about the popularity of hate crime hoaxes on college campuses.
March 5, 2003
Give piece a chance
Asparagirl says all that needs to be said about the Lysistrata Project, the anti-war campaign that asks women to protest the war by swearing off sex. On Monday, over 1000 readings of Aristophanes' play about women who withhold sex in order to coerce their men into stopping their war were staged around the world. Campuses were of course a prime scene of impassioned dramatic activism, as these write-ups in The Michigan Daily, The Yale Daily News, USC's Daily Trojan, and The Stanford Daily attest.
The earnestness surrounding the readings is remarkable. ěReading the play in this context of conflict with Iraq is a way to raise consciousness,î said Stanford professor Richard Martin, Classics Department chair and event organizer. "Our purpose is to make it very clear that President Bush does not speak for all Americans," Sharron Bower, one of the project's founders, told the Yale Daily News. "Our message is simple: If you oppose this war, then speak up!" (And, she might have added, don't put out!)
The fervor surrounding the Lysistrata Project, particularly on campuses, should not surprise us: it is a living, breathing, vagina monologue, an activist's enactment of the ever-popular Eve Ensler's radical vision of how a vagina-loving populace can avert war and inaugurate a new, harmonious "V-world," a vagina-loving era of peace that is, in her unforgettable words, "creative, sexy, delicious and fabulous." Insofar as the Lysistrata Project takes seriously the idea that mental masturbation--which is what this impractical and self-satisfied project is--can solve the world's problems, it is also a parody of itself.
Thought experiment: Compare the Lysistrata Project--which is deadly serious about its desire to stop the war--to the Masturbate for Peace initiative. Embracing the slogan, "Using self-love to end conflict," Masturbate for Peace is a satire of the notion that self-indulgence of any sort, erotic or intellectual, can do anything other than pleasure itself.
Now ask yourself: If you did not already know which campaign was for real and which was a joke, could you tell the one from the other?
Some things never melt
All signs of Harvard's martyred snow phallus may have melted away by now--but the issue still looms large in our collective imagination.
Disappointingly, Brian Carney has sided with the phallus breakers (or, as I like to call them, organ-grinders) in a shallow Wall Street Journal op-ed suggesting that the First Amendment ends where prudery begins: "Was this destruction a shocking attempt to stifle artistic expression? A callous act of censorship?" asks Brian Carney; "No, it was the right thing to do."
The Washington Times's Wesley Pruden takes the opposite view, mocking snow censors everywhere and adding an important corrective to Harvard professor Diane Rosenfeld's statement that the nine foot phallus built by members of the Harvard crew team was but the latest indignity in the long history of men's symbolic phallic intimidation of women, a history that includes ballistic missiles and the Washington Monument: "The Washington Monument, as anyone who has seen its pointy white head and beady red eyes at night could tell you," Pruden suavely reports, "is actually a representation of the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan."
Most recently, an editorial in USC's aptly named Daily Trojan argues that any feminism worth its name is a feminism that respects free expression.
A long and complex debate about whether it is reasonable to describe the smashing of the snow phallus as an act of censorship, or, less dramatically, as an assault on free expression, was also conducted in the comments section of Critical Mass. It's the fullest discussion of that question that I have seen so far, and well worth checking out.
March 4, 2003
Funding double standards at Dartmouth
Dartmouth faculty are now in the business of paying students for their politics. The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscribers only) reports that both the sociology department and the department of Spanish and Portuguese used college funds to help students finance trips to Washington to participate in antiwar rallies. Several weeks ago, faculty in both departments voted to allocate small sums--between $100 and $200--to assist students in their antiwar activities.
As a tax-exempt institution, Dartmouth is legally barred from financing political campaigns. Dartmouth lawyers are consequently conducting a review to determine if its zealous professoriate broke the law. Meanwhile, Dartmouth's dean of faculty is denouncing the funding decision for the unethical behavior it was: "I think the university is a community built to allow the discussion of all points of view," he said. "When you start migrating to a place where the funds intended to create that community are going to support one particular point of view, that's where things get a little dicey, in my opinion."
Most department chairs understand this--and so declined the request of Dartmouth's "Why War" initiative to sponsor student protesters: "We don't fund things that are straight political activism," said government department chair Michael Mastanduno. "We would certainly fund an academic approach to the topic -- for example, we might fund a panel."
But Spanish and Portuguese chair Marsha Swislocki saw things differently:"We feel that we're encouraging student participation in the democratic process," she told the Daily Dartmouth. Swislocki's view would be more credible--if still legally indefensible--if her department had also allocated money to help pro-war students advance their effort. But as it stands, the notion that she led her department in a celebration of students' participation in the democratic process rings self-servingly hollow. It would be more accurate to say that Swislocki led her department in an opportunistic display of advocacy, one that rewarded students with "the right" perspective on Iraq without regard for the message that reward sends--not just to students who do not oppose the war, but also to those who do.
Students should never feel that their political views have any bearing on their academic prospects. But in today's hyper-politicized academy, students' academic prospects are increasingly determined by their politics. America's overwhelmingly left-wing professoriate swears up and down that this isn't true. But in moments like this one--where two Dartmouth departments deliberately blur the line between their institutional academic mission and their personal political positions; where whole faculties imagine that it is their business to adjudicate the relative value of their students' political views--we can glimpse the depth of their insincerity, the breadth of their arrogance, and the extent of the problem they deny exists.
NoIndoctrination.org on O'Reilly
Wright founded NoIndoctrination.org after her son encountered courses at UC San Diego that were more concerned to disseminate ideology than to educate students. Administrators would not listen to her concerns. So she took matters into her own hands and founded a web site where students can publish reviews of courses they believe were unfairly slanted toward the professor's politics. Wright has been attacked for founding the site. There are quite a few academics out there who feel that their academic freedom has been "chilled" in a McCarthyite manner--as if giving students a place to voice their opinions were an act of censorship rather than an exercise of free speech. But Wright is providing an important and necessary service, and she is running it with scrupulous care (vetting all student contributions for accuracy before posting them, for example).
Critical Mass has written about NoIndoctrination.org several times since it was founded last fall (here, for example, and here, and here, and here). But the best way to get a feel for the site it to check out the growing case archive yourself.
UPDATE: Wright's appearance has been moved. She'll be on The O'Reilly Factor this Friday instead of tonight.
March 3, 2003
All the news that's fit to steal
What do you do when the campus paper prints something you find threatening or offensive? Why, steal the papers before anyone can see what's in them, of course.
Last week, the Framingham State College student paper, the Gatepost, ran an expose of athletic hazing on campus. But lots of people didn't get to read about it, since two students--one of whom plays on the football team--stole over half the 4,000 copy press run in order to suppress the story.
Also last week, 9,000 copies of the University of Connecticut's Daily Campus--90% of the press run--were stolen by two unidentified women. It is thought that the papers were taken in response to a column that criticized campus cultural centers for doing more to divide students than to unite them. The day before the papers were taken, staff writer Josh Levinson accused the school of "propagating ... racism" and promoting segregation by sponsoring separatist student organizations. This is not the first time UConn students have used censorship to express their outrage at the paper's willingness to print racially provocative commentary. Two years ago, The Daily Campus ran David Horowitz's notorious anti-reparations ad. The paper was stolen then, too.
Two weeks ago, a run of Georgia State's The Signal was removed from newsstands and dumped in trash bins along with a note that read, "Are you looking for the Signal? The people have spoken." It is not yet known who "the people" are, or what they have "spoken," but it seems clear enough that whoever they are, they confuse theft with speech. One suspect stands out, however: The Signal has been taking a lot of heat lately from a student group that feels the paper prints racist stories.
Less is known about who took 2300 copies of the South Dakota State Collegian last week, or why they turned up in a trash bin. But odds are it had to to with content that some person or group just had to suppress.
Berkeley tends to be thought of as the place where self-appointed censors trash student newspapers. Even the mayor gets into the act there. But as these examples show, the problem is widespread and common; at more and more campuses, it seems, angry students take it upon themselves to censor ideas and information that they don't want others to see. They don't even understand their actions as censorship: they see themselves as justified in attempting to suppress expression that offends them, and they understand their actions as noble protests rather than as despicable acts of cowardice. Sometimes, they even think of their censorious, felonious behavior as acts of free speech. And , too often, university faculty administrators agree with them.
This is what happened at Brown when the Brown Daily Herald ran David Horowitz's anti-reparations ad. A coalition of student groups stole papers and stormed the offices of the Herald. They demanded that the word "Brown" be removed from the paper's name and that the paper no longer be distributed on campus. They also distributed a flyer announcing not only that their actions were justified but that they were consistent with the principles of free speech: "Members of the coalition do not regret the necessary removal of the papers in protest and self defense. ... The Herald's decision to run the ad ... was a direct assault on communities of color and their allies at Brown. ... The coalition has never opposed free speech."
The president of the university backed up the specious claim that the theft was an act of "civil disobedience," abandoning her initial, poorly received response--that the coalition's actions were "unacceptable"--in favor of a more properly conciliatory hypocrisy. "Even as we uphold our principles, we cannot deny the impact the publication of this advertisement has had on the Brown community as a whole. It was written to be inflammatory. In addition, it was deliberately and deeply hurtful," she wrote. "We have an obligation to look out for each other and to treat each other with respect," she added. "In this particular instance, supporting those members of the community who feel most hurt must also be one of our defining values." Faculty concurred with the proposition that coddling hurt feelings is more important than debating controversial views. As the Director of Brown's Afro-American studies program put it, "This is not a free speech issue. It is a hate speech issue."
The spurious distinction between hate speech and free speech is taking hold on campuses, where opportunistic administrators and intellectually dishonest professors conspire to teach young adults that the proper way to settle their differences is to attempt to silence viewpoints they find offensive. Speech codes send that message, as do sensitivity training seminars, hostile environment harassment policies, and the coercive pegagogical techniques of professors like South Carolina's Lynn Weber.
So we shouldn't be surprised at the complete disregard for freedom of speech and freedom of the press that students display when they steal newspapers. They are being taught to do just that, and they have learned their lesson well. But we should be worried, very worried, about the fact that the future will soon be in their illiberal, ignorant, and misguided hands.
March 2, 2003
Two faces of hate at UVa
At the University of Virginia, it's a hate crime if a white person attacks a black student because of his or her race--but it's not if a black person attacks a white student because he or she is white. John Rosenberg explains in a long and thoughtful post. Read the whole thing--but don't be too hard on UVa. They're just going with the flow, doing what many schools do nowadays to demonstrate their racial sensitivity.
Compare events at UVa to the recent uproar at the University of Mississippi, where there is one standard of punishment for whites who paint racist graffiti and another for blacks who paint racist graffiti in order to frame whites as racist. Consider, too, Michigan State, where it's a racially-motivated crime for white students to criticize black separatism as racist and where double standards of definition and of discipline are firmly in place. Last month, the charred head of a mannequin was found in a tree outside a dorm. Assuming the mannequin had been black and that the perpetrators were white, the campus was up in arms about hate crime and even the NAACP got involved. But when it turned out that the mannequin was white and the perpetrators were black, the event was redefined. No longer a hate crime, the police downgraded it to "just merely three individuals goofing around."
So you can see that Virginia is in good company. You can also see how it is that university administrators are using the concepts of racial sensitivity, hate crime, tolerance, and inclusion to institute a new form of racism on their campuses. That racism is instituted under the misguided notion that it is somehow reparative; in the name of making up for past injustices it creates an eminently abusable situation in which white students--particularly straight white male students--have fewer rights and more responsibilities than minority students, in which they are expected not only not to offend others, but never to take offense when they are the targets of hateful words and deeds.
The great irony of this hypocritical system is that it casts whites in that old, discredited role as the Great Protectors, the chivalric noble souls who dutifully sacrifice their own comfort and convenience for the sake of weaker, lesser mortals. In the disciplinary double standards of schools such as Virginia, Ole Miss, and MSU, we can see how the selective pursuit of tolerance infantilizes minority students (as incapable of taking care of themselves or of behaving appropriately to others) while casting white students as inherently superior (they are not only capable of taking care of themselves, but must also take care of those less capable; if they are frequently found guilty of racial insensitivity, this shows merely that they are--unlike minority students--expected to demonstrate consideration for others). In other words, we can see very clearly in the behavior of such schools how the hot, new concept of diversity actually reinvents patronage as progress and how, in the name of engineering a new order, these schools are perpetuating the very patterns they say they want to end.
March 1, 2003
Tunnel of Oppression
The Tunnel of Oppression--a grassroots diversity program that originated at the University of Western Illinois at Macomb a decade ago and has since sprung up on campuses across the country--has found its way to lovely Muncie, Indiana. This week, Ball State opened its very own custom-built tunnel, complete with a racism scenario in which "two actors portrayed Ku Klux Klan members who yelled obscene phrases at the audience" and a body image scenario in which "two female actors worked out, casually talking about drinking milk to help them throw up." Upon exiting, students passed by a comments board where they could post reactions--one student wrote simply, "Welcome to Hell." They were then led to an insta-therapy session to debrief: "When they go through this event, it's such an emotional event that they need to talk through it," said an organizer.
Ball State joins a growing list of schools that have staged their own interactive tunnel visions of "hate" (defined in terms of the usual -phobias and -isms). Some of the more ambitious Tunnels of Oppression have been put on at Arizona, where tunnel-goers were cast as Jews in a Nazi gas chamber (some were cast as gay Jews); Maryland, where false sexual assault statistics were presented as true and where white students were handcuffed to a wall to simulate the experience of slavery; and Regis University, which also disseminated false sexual assualt numbers and where tunnel-goers confronted their "ableism" by trying to do tasks while blindfolded or while sitting in a wheelchair.
The Tunnel of Oppression is a good example of what passes for enlightenment on today's campuses. It is not about disseminating information (not about disseminating true information anyway), or about providing historical context for understanding the conflicts that define our age, but about oversimplifying those conflicts through a disingenuous appeal to our emotions. The Tunnel of Oppression--which proudly casts itself as a "sensory experience"--encourages students not to think rationally about what ails the world, or to inform themselves by learning facts and studying context, or even to take reasoned, principled action against injustice, but to react viscerally to images of violence, to become hysterical on cue.
The Tunnel of Oppression takes the concept of shock value to extremes, using overblown melodrama as an agent of social change, and recruiting people to its cause by subjecting them to simulated short-term trauma--which it then conveniently tells them how to understand in the handy group therapy session that forms the final stop of the tour. It's manipulative, it's anti-intellectual, and it's--paradoxically--every bit as cynical and consumerist as the society it claims to deplore. In a world where instant gratification is all, the Tunnel of Oppression models consciousness-raising on the drive-thru window: offering one-stop awareness for students on the go, it sells convenience as substance, and even packages their reactions in school-sponsored "shrinkwrap." The only question remaining is, Do they include fries with that?
UPDATE 3/3/03: The University of Nevada at Reno opened its second annual Tunnel of Oppression yesterday. It includes a scene of spousal abuse and a skit in which a father responds to his son's confession that he is gay by shouting, "Donít tell me Iíve been raising a faggot for the last 18 years." According to one organizer, the purpose of the Tunnel of Oppression "is to get people out of their comfort zone. ... To just know that there still is a lot of oppression out there ó in the classroom, in the workplace, everywhere." According to another, "You can think about diversity. You can think about sex crimes and hate crimes, but this program helps us feel or experience some of the consequences or damage of behaviors stemmed from hate." See meme. See meme go.