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February 27, 2004 [feather]
Bates College update

Tuesday, I reported on an egregious instance of anti-conservative bias at Bates College in which an officer in the Bates Media Relations Office not only failed to publicize an upcoming campus event sponsored by the Maine State College Republicans, but also sent an email to his supervisor referring to the Bates College Republicans as a "bunch of thugs." Since then, a lot has happened.

Doug Hubley, author of the unfortunate email, has apologized in writing. The Bates Media Relations Office has publicized the event. The president of Bates has expressed a willingness to sit down with Oliver Wolf, the Bates student and College Republicans officer who received Hubley's email, to address any concerns he may have about anti-conservative bias at the school. The Bates College Student Government along with various deans came up with funds totaling over $2,500 to help to defray the costs of bringing Andrew Sullivan (who has inexplicably not picked up on this story!) to campus to speak.

Wolf reports that he has been contacted by Accuracy in Academia, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), NoIndoctrination.org, David Horowitz's Students for Academic Freedom, the Young America's Foundation, the Leadership Institute, and a filmmaker working on a documentary on political correctness on campuses. Many Bates alumni, students, staff, faculty, donors and concerned citizens have written to the Bates College Republicans to express their support; others have contacted Bates administrators to voice their concerns.

Here is Hubley's letter of apology, written at his supervisor's behest:


Doug Hubley, Staff Writer
Bates College Office of Communications and Media Relations
141 Nichols St.
Lewiston, ME 04240

Feb. 25, 2004

Mr. Oliver Wolf, Vice Chair, and the Bates College Republicans
45 Campus Ave., Room 7
Bates College
Lewiston, ME 04240

To Mr. Wolf and the Bates College Republicans:

I'm writing to express to you and to the Bates Republicans my sincerest apologies for the hurt and distress that I caused through my stupid, callous use of humor in an e-mail on Monday, Feb. 23, 2003.

Please know that I do not in any way regard the Bates Republicans as "a bunch of thugs." I am very sorry for having misspoken, and that my words were presented to you in such a hurtful way. Feb. 23 was my return to work after a week's vacation, and it was a very busy and difficult day. As sometimes happens, my anxiety with events led to my flying off the handle in what was intended as a private communication from me to my supervisor.

People who know me well know that my sense of humor tends, sometimes unfortunately, to take the form of sarcasm and irony, impacting all in sight regardless of political affiliation. My comment was intended only in that sense.

The policy of this office is to present a fair and balanced picture of all political activities at Bates. Indeed, an analysis of news releases on the Bates Now Web site for this academic year shows an even split between Bates Republican and Bates Democrat events. Our office made a special request to the Bates Republicans this year asking for all of your press releases. As you know from the work we have done together previously in publicizing Bates Republican events -- you may recall a very amicable meeting between the two of us during the 2002-2003 academic year -- I have always done my best to represent your organization fairly in CMR publications. I truly regret this lapse in professionalism that has created the opposite impression.

In addition, there's one other point I'd like to clarify. Because we are so busy in this office, we often have to perform triage on which events to publicize. When I expressed to my supervisor the possibility that the Youth Leadership School was "far afield" for this office to publicize, I meant solely that it was not, strictly speaking, a Bates event, but rather one sponsored by an outside group, the Maine College Republican Organization, and as such might be lower in priority than one sponsored solely by a Bates organization.

As inadequate as this letter may seem, I very much hope that it can start the process of healing the relationship between the two of us, and between this office and the Bates Republicans. Once again, please accept my strongest apologies and my hope that we can continue working together productively in the future.

Most sincerely,
Doug Hubley


As an example of ass-covering, this letter isn't bad. But make no mistake that this is what this is. Hubley's is a letter written by a guy who will say what he needs to say in order to keep his job.

It's nice to see Bates working so hard to undo the damage Hubley did. But it would be much nicer if the sort of casual, petty discrimination that motivated Hubley in the first place were not such an accepted component of campus culture in the first place. It's worth noticing that if Hubley's email had not found its way into Wolf's inbox,and if Wolf had not gone public with his outrage, the "thug" comment would have passed unremarked, as would Hubley's failure to publicize a campus event held by a group whose politics he abhors. It's worth reflecting, too, on whether Hubley would still have a job if he had behaved similarly toward a campus women's group or an association of minority students.

UPDATE: Here is the Bates College formal statement on the Hubley debacle.

AND ANOTHER: NoIndoctrination.org has picked up the Bates story.

Erin O'Connor, 12:07 PM | Permalink




February 26, 2004 [feather]
Pictures from an Institution, by anon; IX

While ruminating on campus sexual mores, Captain Yips wonders where the next installment of Pictures from an Institution is. Ever happy to oblige, I hereby publish chapter nine of Critical Mass' ongoing serialization of anon's study of academic life. Earlier chapters are available here.

*******

"The Metamorphosis"

Friday, December 28: Erwin R. Sackville nurses a drink in the lobby of the Sheraton New Orleans. He settles back into the same big bulky armchair he sat in that morning, closes his eyes against the sharp orange glare of the late afternoon sun, and sighs as whiskey seeps warmly through his veins. He needs the whiskey. It has been an unsettling afternoon.

Erwin R. Sackville lets a sip of Jack Daniels slide down his throat and contemplates the nature of his agitation. There was more to it than the annoyance of being dragged to the interviews against his will by Michiko Fry. After all, he had not had any pressing plans for the afternoon. And he knew from experience that in missing the panels on "Contested Closets: Passing, Coming Out, and Disability" and "New Wave Shakespeare," he had not missed more than the dubious pleasure of a chuckle at his profession's expense. The talk on mahogany had indeed looked good for a laugh, but laughter was cheap and plentiful at the MLA, where righteous pontification frequently impaled itself on the spoke of its own pointed irrelevance. Besides, he could enjoy the foibles of his colleagues just as well by watching them conduct job interviews as he could by attending their talks.

No, the agitation came from the interviews themselves. It came, he carefully admitted to himself, swirling the golden liquid in his glass, from a sensation he had not felt in many, many years; from a sensation he had, in fact, devoted his entire career to evading: the feeling that he was wholly and utterly insignificant, that his presence, his opinions, and his judgement mattered not at all to the business at hand.

Continual, committed metamorphosis had been Erwin R. Sackville's method of self-preservation in a profession that prided itself on its eternal newness, its capacity for discarding ideas and approaches with astonishing, even reckless speed. Erwin R. Sackville had made a career out of staying ahead of the field's steep curve of philosophical abandonment. He made sure that he would never become obsolete by anointing himself with the power to declare the obsolescence of others. His commitment was not to an idea, or a genre, or a method, or even a politics, but to being among the first to embrace every new trend and to being among the first to leave old ones behind. He was a sort of scholarly hit man. He liked to nail a coming thing when no one was looking, make a quick getaway, and then watch from afar as people flocked to the scene and tried, always unsuccessfully, to copy the grace and power of his early, definitive statements. It was endlessly diverting. It kept him sharp in a world where it was all too easy to stagnate. It kept him young where most of his colleagues were, intellectually speaking, prematurely old.

Toes tingling with the strong proof of sour mash, Erwin R. Sackville confessed to himself that his pride had been assaulted that afternoon. He had been able to steer the postcolonial and feminist interviews with ease--and it was a good thing, too, since Chairman Stan couldn't run a decent interview if his life depended on it. Hell, that festive bastard couldn't run a pencil sharpener if his life depended on it. Erwin R. Sackville smiled behind his sleepy lids and took a moment to appreciate his wit. But the new media candidates--they had caught him completely unawares. He had not known what to ask them, had not been able to follow their descriptions of their work, had been, he owned, shocked to discover that there was such a thing as "new media," amazed to learn that the computer he had hitherto regarded as a gray, serviceable box whose chief virtue lay in its elimination of the need to hire a typist could in fact form the basis for a whole new theory of reading and an entirely new set of debates about the value of the book.

Agitation had been Erwin R. Sackville's initial reaction to these realizations, which arose from the depths of his discomfort at finding himself speechless in a space where he was accustomed to shine. His soul had been suffused with resentful shame as he watched the likes of that bean-counting hack, Michiko Fry, and that vitae-thumping charlatan, Delbert Jett, quiz the candidates about hypertext, cyborgs, and something called "radiant textuality." Now his cheeks burned with alcoholic regret at the memory of how he had sat silently by while lesser men did what he ought to have been doing, and did it so clamorously, so combatively, with so much ego and so little style. Oh, he ached to think of it.

But he also sensed, like an inkling of an itch, a familiar feeling beginning to well up beneath the annoyance and embarrassment that had shaped his afternoon. Always, this feeling took him by surprise. Always, he resisted it. Always, it made him feel exhausted in anticipation of the effort it was about to require of him. And always, it took him over. Metamorphosis was to Erwin R. Sackville as it was to Gregor Samsa, sudden, violent, total, complete. First he changed, and then he had to make sense of the change by belatedly creating the conditions for it.

Erwin R. Sackville's head sinks forward onto his chest and he sleeps.

Time passes.

Erwin R. Sackville's head snaps up off his chest and he wakes with the full and certain knowledge that he is a cybertheorist.

The Planckton Hall faculty would be joined in the fall by a young man fresh out of school, eager to embark on the arduous process of transforming his dissertation, "The Political Economy of the Link," into a book. Erwin R. Sackville was certain that he could have a monograph on new media ready by early summer. He would call it "The Cyberspace Manifesto." And with it he would emerge as the authority on Marxist approaches to the internet before the ink on that young bounder's diploma was dry.

He sprang from his chair, downed the dregs of his whiskey, adjusted his Armani tie, and strode out into the coming New Orleans night. Hailing a cab, he ordered the driver to take him straight to the airport. He would have his belongings sent to him. There was no time to pack. There was no time to lose.

to be continued

Erin O'Connor, 9:01 PM | Permalink




February 25, 2004 [feather]
Due process and domino effects

Here's an extreme example of how the "guilty until innocent" approach to campus sexual misconduct accusations can play out for the accused.

In this unfolding tragedy, Shaoqiang He came to the U.S. from China in the 1990s in order to undertake graduate studies at the University of Memphis. He was expelled in 1998 after a female student accused him of fondling her. Having lost the graduate stipend they were living on, He and his wife then entered such dire financial straits that they surrendered their daughter to foster care, thinking they could get her back when their circumstances improved. The Hes supported themselves by working in Chinese restaurants while they awaited trial. At the trial, He was acquitted. But that is not a happy ending to an awful story.

Not only has He's career been destroyed by an accusation that proved baseless, but the foster parents are moving to adopt the Hes' daughter. The Hes are now embroiled in a nasty custody battle, which in turn is the only thing staving off their imminent deportation.

Had officials at the University of Memphis accorded Shaoqiang He due process, had they held firmly to the tenet that in this country a person is always innocent until proven guilty, he would not have been expelled on the basis of an accusation. He would not have been deprived of his education, he would not have had his career prospects ruined, and he would not have lost his daughter.

One hopes He's accuser is satisfied. And one hopes the Memphis administrators who trampled He's rights in their eagerness to prove their commitment to women's safety will take a moment or two out of their busy days to reflect on what they have done.

The Hes plan to return to China after the dispute about their daughter is settled.

Thanks to Steven Den Beste for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 8:50 AM | Permalink




February 24, 2004 [feather]
Behind closed doors

This story begins unremarkably enough. Last week, Oliver Wolf, Vice Chairman and Media Correspondent of the Maine State College Republican Organization and student at Bates College issued a press release announcing that the Maine State College Republicans would be hosting a Youth Leadership School at Bates. Among the recipients of the press release was Bates' own Media Relations Office. Local media quickly picked up the story, and scheduled interviews with Wolf. But no thanks to the Bates Media Relations Office, which refused to help Wolf locate contact information for his release and which also failed to publicize the event. Thanks to the vagaries of email, Wolf knows why. Here's a copy of an email that appeared in Wolf's inbox shortly after he contacted the Bates Media Relations Office. The sender is Doug Hubley, Wolf's contact person there. The recipient is Bryan McNulty, also of that office.


----- Forwarded message from Doug Hubley -----
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2004 09:22:40 -0500
From: Doug Hubley
Reply-To: Doug Hubley
Subject: Re: Maine College Republicans Host Youth Leadership School at Bates
College
To: Oliver Wolf

Hi Bryan,

Hope you had a good week last week!

For me to edit/distribute, Oli Wolf has drafted a press release for a GOP training institute his bunch of thugs is hosting at Bates next week. It follows. This really seems pretty far afield for an event that we would publicize, but that may just be my socialist tendencies talking. What do you think?

Thanks,

D


It goes without saying that Bates' Media Relations Office exists not to promote or suppress any particular viewpoint, but simply to ensure that potentially newsworthy events on campus get properly publicized. According to the MRO website,

In the area of media relations, the office generates publicity for Bates and disseminates news and information to the media and the general public through news releases and the monthly calendar. The Communications office helps members of the College community publicize campus events, scholarly achievements, and other news of general interest, which may be targeted to appropriate local, regional, or national media outlets through press releases, the monthly calendar, and the semi-annual cultural calendar.

All news and information to be released to the media from the College should be coordinated through the Communications office.


In other words, Wolf's request for publicity assistance was not only entirely appropriate, but also met the office's own requirement that press releases generated from within the College should go through its office. Hubley's contempt for a campus group got in the way of his willingness to do his job fairly and impartially, however. The "socialist tendencies" he cites in his email appear to have won out, and he indulged his desire not to help a group he considers to be a "bunch of thugs."

Wolf's response is a model of reasoned but withering tact. It consists of a letter addressed to Bryan McNulty, who was the recipient of Hubley's email, and William Hiss, Bates' vice president for external and alumni affairs. I print it below in full, as it speaks eloquently for itself:


Dear Mr. Hiss and Mr. McNulty,

I thought you would be the most appropriate people to address here because Mr. Doug Hubley and his office are under your auspices. Below is an e-mail Mr. Hubley sent me about a press release I had written for the College Republicans hosting a Youth Leadership School. This was an apparently deliberate action by Mr. Hubley for I don't know how he could have logistically sent it to me by mistake.

I sent Mr. Hubley and Mr. McNulty this press release last Tuesday so they could help with timely publicity for this event. Last month Mr. McNulty also requested that we add this office to our distribution list for our activities. Only yesterday have I received a reply after this press release I sent out. At best, it offends me that Mr. Hubley would react to me in this manner. Referring to my "bunch of thugs" is hardly a professional way to conduct business with a student group seeking assistance. At worst, it proves our worst assumptions that the College and its staff are actively working against the interests of College Republicans because of their political agenda.

Moreover, it is difficult for us to do any business at Bates on a professional basis if we are to be treated with contempt and scorn because of our political beliefs. Our event is intended to involve more college students in the political process with the help of the Leadership Institute, a nationally recognized and established organization based out of Washington, DC. If the College imposes a political litmus test on events it wishes to publicize, this demonstrates a fundamentally flawed system where certain activities are promoted and funded simply because the College agrees with the political message. How can Bates proclaim to be tolerant of all when they claim that their "socialist tendencies" impair their ability to work with students who hold divergent political beliefs.

In addition, at the risk of sounding overtly political, I find it hard to believe that a seminar on Conservative politics is somehow too "far afield" for the Bates Media Relations office to publicize. Last month, the office created a press release of a student film production showing Bates students protesting the FTAA in Florida and getting arrested for the front the Bates homepage. I was unaware that this seemingly objective news office had a political agenda.

On Thursday, February 26th, I will appear in a special weekly interview section in the Portland Press Herald partly because of my work in organizing this event. They contacted me less than an hour after I sent this press release to all the Maine media sources via e-mail. They are also sending a staff photographer to Bates today to take a photo of me the section. I had to research for all these e-mail addresses on my own for the Maine College Republicans because Mr. Hubley refused to give them to me after I asked him since I knew he had them on file. If I had only gone the route of the Bates Media Relations office with publicizing the event, this interview in publicizing the work of a Bates student would never have occurred or worse.

Mr. Hubley's e-mail makes me uncomfortable to be a student at Bates. I have never openly complained or have been antagonistic about the institutional liberal bias at Bates, but many do not realize the extent of its problem.

Incidentally, this e-mail comes in the midst of six weeks of going through great pains to raise funds to defray the costs to bring renowned journalist and gay marriage advocate Andrew Sullivan to Bates because of a lack of communication and at times frustrating rationale of academic offices and departments. I have had a relatively cordial working relationship with the Bates Media Relations office in the past. However, Mr. Hubley's e-mail to me makes it very difficult for that relationship to continue, if at all. I am available to meet with you to discuss this matter at your convenience if you would like. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Oliver Wolf


I'll post updates as they become available.

For more on discrimination behind closed academic doors, check out UNC-Wilmington professor Mike Adams' recent piece on religious discrimination at his school.

UPDATE: Here's another one that won't do much to improve Bates' public image: the sentencing of Linda Williams, who was a tenured professor of music at Bates until October, to five years in prison for her involvement with a local crack cocaine ring. Thanks to Mike Socolow for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 7:24 PM | Permalink




February 23, 2004 [feather]
Update on Nona Gerard

You may be wondering whatever happened with Nona Gerard, the Penn State Altoona theater professor who may lose her job because she criticized colleagues too vociferously and staged a campus play that a major donor found offensive (I wrote about Gerard's case here, here, here, and here). Two days of hearings were held last last month to determine whether the charges against Gerard were reasonable and to arrive at a recommendation regarding her future employment at Penn State. Now the results are in, and they are not favorable.

I publish below Gerard's statement about the hearings and the decision.


The report from the Standing Joint Committee on Tenure has recently been made available to me.

Unanimously they concluded, "The University failed to prove that Professor Gerard failed to perform the functions required by her appointment." I am gratified they rejected the failure to perform charge; this was a preposterous charge from the onset.

Unanimously the committee also concluded "the University did prove that Professor Gerard committed grave misconduct." I conclude that the real problem is that the committee did not hold the University to its burden of proof. I believe the committee couldn't have possibly found that they did provide this proof. Indeed, we were able to rebut most of this charge quite confidently. As a matter of fact, 3 witnesses testified that my "hostile e-mail's" were no different than the climate of e-mail's on their own Division List Serves. In addition, we were able to prove absolutely that nepotism, favoritism, old boy network, people in power with a lengthy complaint record (and in one case Sexual Harassment records), poor management, abusively tempered staff, extremely poor hiring practices, half truths and fabricated qualifications were indeed some of the many errors on the side of the Altoona Administration. The committee severely limited our time to present our evidence and during the final two days of hearing cut both sides down to 5 hours of presentation from 9. As a result, my lawyer and I scrambled to decide what proofs to let go of in the sake of time. In all, we had 25 witnesses to present (in comparison to their 7) as well as to cross-examine their witnesses and to enable me to have time on the stand. This was a great disservice to the presentation of truths and documentation. This hearing was to be my due process and it was severely compromised on numerous regards. As this was an internal hearing, I was never counting on fair play, but I expected more than this from a University I have given my excellent service to for 15 years.

The committee concluded by a majority vote 3-2: (The committee was made up of 2 Administrative Deans and 3 faculty) "It is the recommendation of the Standing Joint Committee on Tenure, that Professor Gerard be terminated for adequate cause based on grave misconduct."

This was a very close decision and should give President Spanier pause. That one charge was unanimously dropped and that it was the basis for the other charge should be a huge consideration for him.

It is also disturbing that the committee has fully ignored the complaint against me by a large money donor to the campus and the compelling circumstances and "coincidental" timing of the complaint and Dean Cale's attempt to revoke my tenure.

I am very disappointed in the decision of the Joint Committee. I do not think that Penn State University in any way proved its case that my tenure, for which I worked so long and hard deserves to be revoked. Moreover, I am concerned that the process before the Joint Committee was not full and fair, and that it was compromised by a lack of even-handedness. I think that this is a regrettable decision and that it does not well serve the cause of academic freedom or Penn State University. I intend to fight it in the Courts where I am confident where I will receive justice and that my position will be restored.

I remain concerned by the attack mounted by the administration at Penn State Altoona. It has been extremely disruptive to my life and career and has forced me to expend great amounts of my personal resources. In addition, I had to devote huge amounts of time to this matter that could have better have spent on serving the students at Penn State. Nevertheless, I hope that by making this stand that I will in some way prevent the University from unfairly attacking the academic freedom of other faculty in the future.

President Spanier received the report/recommendation from the committee on Thurs. Feb. 19. He now has 30 days with which to make his final decision. I can only hope that he cares enough about Academic Freedom and fairness to adjust this. Perhaps he will also take the time to read the over 150 letters of support that have been sent in favor of me. After all, it is an extremely small number of people at our campus that wish to see me terminated. The larger population is outraged and as a result of this attack, frightened. Not the ideal way to run an institution of freethinking and Higher Ed.

I thank you all for your continued support.

Most sincerely,

Nona Gerard


I urge readers who believe that Gerard is being wronged to write Penn State President Graham Spanier to tell him so. Since he has the final call on Gerard's case, reasoned, respectful, powerfully argued letters to him may make a difference.

Erin O'Connor, 10:58 AM | Permalink




February 22, 2004 [feather]
Plusieurs scandales

Invisible Adjunct is following the shockadelic stories of Matthew Richardson, the Oxford engineering student who faked his way through most of a lecture series on global economics after the organizers of a Beijing conference invited the wrong Matthew Richardson to come speak; and pop feminist icon Naomi Wolf, whose penchant for presenting tales of her adolescent angst as liberatory discourse has led her to pen an article accusing renowned Yale English professor Harold Bloom of traumatizing her when he put his hand on her thigh more than twenty years ago.

Absurdity loves company, so I thought I would proffer a few more instances of academic nonsense for readerly delectation. For the fiscally minded, there is the story of the Korean student who launched a kill-for-hire website in order to pay off his loans. For animal lovers, there is the story of the University of Georgia fraternity brother who has been charged with animal cruelty after killing a rabid raccoon with a pellet gun. The fraternity brother who then skinned and ate the raccoon has not been charged. For those looking to shore up arguments against faculty-student relationships, there is the murder/suicide of a Cal State education professor and graduate student. First he stabbed her and decapitated her, then he stripped naked and threw himself in front of a truck--and all for love. Donna Tartt's creepy campus fiction pales in comparison.

Finally, for those who enjoy the spectacle of university administrators whose principled positions vary as the wind does, here's a Time piece on how Harvard admins first decided to approve a sex-based student magazine (trumpeting the First Amendment and denying that the magazine's intention to feature nude photos of Harvard students would make it pornographic) and then changed their minds after the world laughed at them for refusing to admit that they had given a group of Harvard students official permission to publish porn on campus. While Harvard administrators twist and turn, the founders of H-Bomb are unflappable. Whether the magazine is approved or not, they plan to publish it--and distribute it at this spring's commencement.

UPDATE: Via Fenster Moop, the moment critics of academic double standards have all been waiting for: white professors charging a black colleague for creating a hostile environment with her racist remarks. Particularly worthy of note is the shameless intellectual dishonesty of the accused, who denies there were KKK allusions embedded in her comment about "pull(ing) the white sheet or hood off your head and expos(ing) you for who you really are." "Sheets and hoods are also used by children at Halloween," she explained. "I have nothing to defend."

ANOTHER UPDATE: John Bruce has more on the murder/suicide.

Erin O'Connor, 9:17 PM | Permalink




February 20, 2004 [feather]
The politics of sensitivity at Emory

Emory University is becoming an unwittingly excellent example of why campus speech codes are an awful idea. You'll recall how exercised the campus became last fall when anthropology professor Carol Worthman described herself and her fellow biological anthropologists as the "niggers in the woodpile" of the profession. Worthman was charged with harassment under Emory's discriminatory harassment policy, found guilty, and formally sanctioned. So was the entire anthropology department, which was sentenced to sensitivity training, presumably for the crime of having Worthman in their midst. When some cried foul, arguing that Worthman's comment fell within the bounds of academic freedom and deploring the punishment of an entire department for one professor's protected if offensive speech, Emory administrators backed down a bit and made the sensitivity training voluntary. You'll also recall how, as a result of the Worthman flap, the Emory faculty determined to revisit the question of whether the university should have a speech code--and then tabled the issue at the meeting where the vote was supposed to take place. And you'll recall how the Emory Wheel undercut its courageous coverage of the Worthman incident by secondguessing its judgment, apologizing for printing the "n-word" twenty-five times, and promising not to engage in such harmful and offensive reporting again.

So it's been a bad year for Emory on the race front, and it's just getting worse. Last week, after a three hour debate, the Emory College Council voted not to grant the College Republicans the $5000 it would cost to bring David Horowitz to campus to speak. Why? Because the last time Horowitz spoke at Emory, he hurt people's feelings by disagreeing vociferously with them, and that kind of threatening behavior cannot be allowed to happen again. The Emory Wheel's detailed coverage of this remarkable meeting is worth quoting at length:


During the Council debate, members of the audience and legislators weighed the conflicting merits of free speech and protecting studentsí intellectual ìsafety.î The dissension was fueled by incidents that occurred during Horowitzís last visit to campus, in October 2002. During a question-and-answer period following his speech in Glenn, then-Black Student Alliance President Candace Bacchus (í03C) and Horowitz argued about his opposition to slave reparations and the fact that Emory students are only ìhalf-educatedî because of the Universityís alleged liberal bent. Black students interpreted the remark as an attack on Bacchusí intelligence.

After his talk, Horowitz attacked Bacchus on the Internet and in the Wheel.

Members of the Council were concerned that without proper restrictions on the structure of Horowitzís speech, something might be said that would ignite studentsí rancor again.

Wearing a blue pinstripe suit, Thayer stood firm in his belief that the first amendment should be upheld at all costs.

ìIím sorry, but Iíd rather go straight to hell than ... muzzle anybody,î he said. ìSpeech is not negotiable ó never forget that.î

But some people were concerned about a repeat of controversy surrounding last yearís visit.

ìItís about the safety of the people who go to this school,î Junior Representative Heather Cole-Lewis said.

Emory is like a family, she said. If a man comes into your house and assaults one of your kids, you wouldnít bring him back, ìeven in a straitjacket.î

Other Council members were opposed to the choice of Horowitz himself and not his opinions.

ìIt is the person, not his ideology,î Senior Representative Priya Bhoplay said.

Many legislators also raised concerns about the possible negative effects of Horowitzís visit on the Universityís reputation, which may also affect admissions.

ìIf you want bad PR, vote this bill down,î Junior Representative Ezra Greenberg said. ìEmory will be labeled as a ëcensorship school.í You think that will help admissions?î

Christopher Grey, assistant director for Admissions, said April is a bad time for a speaker like Horowitz because his speech would coincide with visits by high school students who are making final decisions about where to attend college. To ignite such a controversy at that time may have ìadverse effectsî on their perceptions.

ìThey are expecting Disney World,î he said. ìThey are expecting roses. Thatís what theyíre making their decisions on.î

BSA President Samuel Wakefield said his group did not officially oppose the bill, but it was against bringing Horowitz because of last yearís race-related controversy resulting from his visit.

ìThe Black Student Alliance is a cultural organization, not a political one,î he said. ìHorowitz was a racial issue; thatís why the Black Student Alliance got involved.î

Thayer said legislators were intimidated by having 35 black students in attendance and were ìpanderingî to their minority constituents.

Since the Council voted down the request, Thayer said the College Republicans may try to raise the $5,000 themselves.

ìControversy is a two-way street,î he said. ìVoting it down, the perception is of a muzzling, anti-speech campus. Voting it forward will probably make some people feel uncomfortable.î


You don't have to like Horowitz to see what's wrong with this picture. Notice how the language of assault is used to describe Horowitz's opinions. Notice how even the prospect of Horowitz returning to campus is described as a "threat" to black students' "safety." Notice how the rhetoric used to argue down Horowitz's visit collapses the different between confrontational speech and physical violence, and how that tactical collapse is used as a technique of repression. No, the College Council does not have an obligation to fund Horowitz's visit, and no, in refusing to fund his visit, they did not censor either Horowitz or the College Republicans, who are free to raise the money to bring him to campus themselves. But at the same time, the argument used to deny funding the the CRs is an argument ratified by and contained within Emory's speech code, which itself makes unwelcome speech the actionable equivalent to the threat of assault:

Harassment of any person or group of persons on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability, or veteran's status is a form of discrimination specifically prohibited in the Emory University community.Ý Any employee, student, student organization, or person privileged to work or study in the Emory University community who violates this policy will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including permanent exclusion from the University.

Discriminatory harassment includes conduct (oral, written, graphic, or physical) directed against any person or group of persons because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, disability or veteran's status and that has the purpose or reasonably foreseeable effect of creating an offensive, demeaning, intimidating, or hostile environment for that person or group of persons.Ý Such conduct includes, but is not limited to, objectionable epithets, demeaning depictions or treatment, and threatened or actual abuse or harm.


By defining Emory as a "family" with an obligation to keep out intruders who threaten the "safety" of its members, and by frankly acknowledging their fear of controversy, opponents of Horowitz's proposed visit expressed the mindset that speech codes like Emory's are almost guaranteed to produce. There is no notion here that the point of a university education is to encounter challenging ideas and to experience multiple viewpoints. There is no notion here that this process will be difficult and even, at times, painful. There is no notion that there is great intellectual and even spiritual value in that. As for the administrator who said Horowitz should not be on campus while prospective students are visiting, who thinks that it's the duty of the school to put forth an idealized image of college life ("Disney World," "roses"), and who imagines that there might be "adverse effects" if prospective students encounter the shocking spectacle of Emory going about the everyday business of being an energetic, intellectually diverse campus where many viewpoints collide with one another and where heated debate exists as a valued norm ... well, that sort of attitude speaks for itself.

So does the behavior of administrators once they learned Thayer and the College Republicans were interested in bringing in Horowitz to speak. According to Thayer,


Beyond the Dean of Multicultural Affairs addressing the College Council, along with some minor student life administrators, an official from the admissions department was allowed to take the floor during the Horowitz discussion, and testify to the fact that if Hoodwink spoke at Emory in April, it would lower minority enrollment. When challenged to present statistical data to back up his bold assertion, he couldn't present anything but empty rhetoric about "tolerance." I wished I had asked him if white enrollment would drop if a minority speaker addressed the University in April.

I would also like to inform you that prior to last Wednesday's College Council hearing, I was summoned to a meeting with five administration officials, including the Dean for Student Life, the Dean for Multicultural Affairs, and their respectiv subordinates. Because I felt I was outgunned and the meeting itself inappropriate, I brought a Professor who is the advisor to College Republicans along with me to ensure their honesty. However, during this closed door session, the Dean for Student Life repeatedly compared Horowitz to David Duke and Louis Farakhan, and the Dean for Multicultural Affairs asked me why I believed in bringing hate to Emory's campus.

The NAACP and BSA also circulated a petition claiming that the College Republicans wanted to bring a racist to Emory. I emailed a representative from the BSA before the Horowitz bill was made public informing her that I was willing to mediate their concerns and address their issues, however, my two emails were never responded to.


That's speech code culture in action. It's anti-intellectual, it's intolerant, it reeks of double standards, it's censorious, and it's also thuggish. But if it prevents Horowitz from coming to campus and "assaulting" the intellectual "safety" of those who dislike him, it has done its job.

UPDATE: Ralph Luker responds. He disagrees with my post, and suggests I have shown poor judgment in taking the stance that I have--but I think that's because he thinks I am defending David Horowitz. I'm not. I'm defending the idea that political games should not be played in decisions about what speakers will be funded, and I'm particularly defending the idea that when a student group proposes to bring a controversial speaker to campus (be it Horowitz or Michael Moore), the members of that group should not be subjected to administrative intimidation. If we want campuses to be principled places, we can't allow our own political preferences to color our decisions about when we stand up for fair process and when we don't. Do I think the $5000 it will cost to bring Horowitz to campus would be better spent bringing in a more temperate conservative? Absolutely. Does that change my thinking about Emory's conduct in this instance? Not at all.

AND ANOTHER: Tim Burke writes in the comments to Luker's post:


There's really two issues here. The first is, are the reasons against a return visit by Horowitz at Emory being offered by many on the Emory campus sound? The answer to that is no--Erin O'Connor is perfectly right about that.

The second problem is this: how should a deliberative body (say, a student council) decide how to respond to requests from student groups for funding? Do you allocate money based on a strict formula of proportionality (the more members, the more money) or on other grounds (merit of proposed spending, fiscal responsibility of past spending, efficiency of services or value delivered to the campus as a whole, desire to fund a wide range of activities and interests).

The latter is the more typical set of logics used. If the College Republicans and all other political groups have tended in the past to receive a set amount of funding and been regarded as autonomous in their decision to spend it however they like, it's wrong for anyone to intervene in their decision to invite Horowitz for a second round. I might view them as unbelievably boring in that desire, but if the tradition is that groups make those decisions themselves, then you have to stick to that. If on the other hand, student groups always have large funding requests examined on their merits, then I think you could say there is a strictly non-political merit assessment here where you can say, "Listen, we just had this guy here: go back and find another speaker you want who costs the same amount of money." I can't see how anyone could quarrel with that, if there was precedent at Emory for that kind of case-by-case assessment of merit for these sort of events.


My understanding--from an email exchange I have been having with Andrew Ackerman, the editor of the Emory Wheel--is that the Emory College Council is supposed to be an entirely non-partisan body. That's part of why the debate and decision about Horowitz smell bad to me. I also understand--and this is from email exchanges with Thayer--that after voting not to fund Horowitz, the same Council voted unanimously, after a mere three minutes of discussion, to approve funding to bring in Jello Biafra, the leftwing activist who used to sing with the Dead Kennedys. Thayer also tells me that the Council voted not to bring in Dennis Prager last winter because he's pro-Israel (that one is documented by a Wheel article and a follow-up letter to the editor). Finally, Thayer reports that "a former College Council President told me that when he attempted to bring Ann Coulter to balance Ralph Nader, his decision was axed before he could take it public." Of course, I'm not in a position to verify what happens at College Council meetings at Emory. But a pattern does seem to be emerging here, and it's not a pretty one.

Erin O'Connor, 9:04 AM | Permalink




February 19, 2004 [feather]
The student has no clothes

This one speaks for itself.


Mars Hill College has accepted the resignation of a longtime professor after he challenged students to disrobe in exchange for an A in his sociology class and one of them took him up on the offer.

College President Dan Lunsford said the professor didn't expect the student would actually take off his clothes during the class last Thursday evening. The instructor's offer was intended to illustrate cultural differences and that public nudity is unacceptable in American society, he said.

"He did not expect it to happen," Lunsford said. "The professor realized that this had gone much beyond what he ever anticipated, and he was shocked and dismayed."

Lunsford said he would not release the name of the professor or student because of privacy concerns. The student will not be punished, he said.

The incident has been the talk of the campus at this Madison County school affiliated with the Baptist Church. Senior Kat Marotta said it disturbed her.

"I feel a lot of the responsibility is on the professor in how he handles his classroom," she said. "I'm very disappointed.

"People were very upset about it. It's probably the juiciest thing that's ever come out of this campus."

But students such as senior Josh Dye do not believe it was that serious.

"As part of the classroom setting, I don't think it should have been done, but it really didn't affect me," he said.

Lunsford said the professor, who has been with the college for more than 25 years, acted professionally by resigning. He has tenure and is eligible for retirement benefits.

"The professor has requested to activate his retirement, and it has been accepted with my expression of appreciation of his service to the college in the past," he said. "I am concerned about the negative perception it may generate, and the professor was equally concerned in his conversation with me. However, it was a mistake."

The professor apologized in an e-mail to students in the class. Lunsford said the student will not be punished because the incident would not have occurred if the teacher hadn't issued the challenge. However, the student will not receive an A for accepting the offer, he said.

"In my view, in American society and in an academic environment, public nudity is not acceptable to illustrate a point," he said.


I've said it before, and I'll say it again: you can't make this stuff up.

Thanks, as ever, to Maurice Black for the link.

UPDATE: Since we are on the subject of who's misbehaving in class and who should take the fall for it, consider this UNC English professor's censorious and demeaning response to a student who spoke about homosexuality in a manner she deemed unacceptable. The good news is that she got called on it, has apologized, and won't be allowed to impose speech codes on her class in future.

AND ANOTHER: The UNC incident--which is an instance of that "liberal academic bias" that some say does not exist--has been picked up by the Raleigh News & Observer. Thanks to Fred Ray for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 6:42 PM | Permalink




February 18, 2004 [feather]
And more....

Responding to my discussion with Tim Burke about speech codes at Swarthmore, reader Jason Kakazu writes,


I've been reading your blog with interest for the past few days and wanted to comment on the topic currently being discussed, Swarthmore's speech codes. Generally speaking I agree with your stance. Swarthmore's policies are too vague regarding the precedence and importance of its various speech policies and their relationship to each other. While Timothy Burke interprets the general harassment policy as taking precedence over the other policies this is by no means explicit. As indicated by the continuing discussion on this matter there are a variety of plausible interpretations that can be made regarding what the aggregate affect of the policies are. This ambiguity leaves Swarthmore's speech codes vulnerable to abuse by misguided but well meaning administrators.

However, having sided with you in principle I believe Timothy does have a point when he notes that practicality must be considered. Liability is an important issue that an academic institution would be foolish to ignore. I humbly suggest then, under the assumption that the purpose of debate is to further constructive action and thought, that three additional questions which should be asked and answered are:

1. How does a university adequately protect itself
from on campus harassment (of whatever nature)
liability that does not impose on the first amendment?

2. What principles or examples should a university
follow when creating it's campus harassment policy if its intent is to unambiguously denote the precedence and importance of its various policies in relation to each other as well as how they are enacted in practice.

3. What specific actions can Timothy Burke (or other faculty and students) reasonably take with regard to Swarthmore's speech codes in order to correct the current ambiguity?

I have enjoyed reading your blog. Keep up the good work.


Good questions. The answers to all of them can be found at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's companion site, speechcodes.org. Particularly worth reading: FIRE's "About the Issues" page, which explains in detail how colleges and universities hide speech codes within mission statements and harassment policies, and which goes on to debunk the notion that schools must restrict speech in order to protect themselves against lawsuits:

Many administrators claim that federal law actually requires them to adopt harassment codes that restrict free speech. Specifically, they usually appeal to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (which bans workplace discrimination) and Title IX of the Civil Rights Act (which bans sex-based discrimination in higher education). While these policies do have limited applicability on campuses (in limiting a university's actions as an employer, for example), they in no way require universities to ban offensive speech, let alone constitutionally protected offensive speech. Even if there were laws requiring such bans, those laws themselves could not withstand scrutiny in the courts any more than a law mandating religious belief. No statute can trump the First Amendment. Read an official communication from the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights for further guidance here.

True harassment or discrimination, of course, cannot be defended by an appeal to free speech and indeed should be prohibited by universities. No one has a right to engage in unwelcome, severe, and persistent behaviors that unlawfully interfere with another person's rights, and no one has a right to discriminate invidiously and unlawfully. Many university administrators, however, have gone far beyond the requirements of the law and the constraints of common sense. Far from taking true harassment seriously, they make a mockery of it.


It's a common misconception that educational environments are and ought to be subject to the same strictures on speech that inhere in contemporary employment law. Not so. Ironically, though, the fallacy that there is a liability issue facing schools that do not restrict offensive speech directed toward protected groups often produces its own liability issue. A private school such as Swarthmore has no obligation to uphold free speech. But when a private school such as Swarthmore advertises itself as a place where open, unfettered exchange exists, and then places limits on the content of student and faculty speech, then there does emerge a potential liability issue centered not on discrimination, but on fraud.

Speechcodes.org is worth careful perusal. Among other things, the site publishes a list of court decisions that pertain to questions of campus speech, some recommendations about what you can do to protect individual rights on campus, and a searchable database that lets you examine how nearly three hundred colleges and universities alternately respect and betray the First Amendment rights of their students. FIRE's forthcoming Guide to Free Speech on Campus also promises to be an excellent primer on the history and theory of individual rights in academe.

UPDATE: Prue Schran writes,


Thanks for making the distinctions about liability - I think it's very important.

In my humble opinion, the argument that speech restrictions are required to protect the institution from lawsuits is weak at best. Even if a student or employee of the college engages in harassing or discriminatory speech, that does not automatically make the college responsible or liable.

On a related note, we've also worked ourselves into a tricky corner - somehow on campuses we've equated "harassment" and "offense." Just because we find an opinion offensive, doesn't necessarily mean we're being harassed - even if we hear it multiple times from many people around us. I hear and read many comments from people nearly every day that I find personally offensive - but that doesn't mean I'm being harassed. I'm just spending a lot of time with people with different views from my own.

While I find it at times wearisome, I have no inclination whatsoever to try and control what my students and colleagues can and cannot say.


Thanks, as ever, for writing in.

AND ANOTHER: Tim Burke wants to know where I get the idea that a private college that advertises itself as a bastion of free speech can be liable for fraud if it does not make good on that claim. The short answer is, that idea is everywhere in libertarian-oriented discussions of campus speech. A more precise answer is: for a good primer on how contract law applies to private colleges and universities, see Alan Kors and Harvey Silverglate's The Shadow University, pps. 344-351. Kors and Silverglate explain there how private colleges and universities are, like other private entities, obligated to fulfill the contracts that they make. One source of those contracts is the statements about policy and mission these schools make in their brochures, promotional booklets, and other published materials. When a private school represents itself to current and prospective students as an institution committed to free speech, and then fails to uphold that commitment (by, for example, having one or more speech codes on its books), then it is very arguably guilty of fraud.

FIRE has been coordinating--and winning--lawsuits against speech codes at public universities for the past year. In its second phase of speech code litigation, it will coordinate suits against private schools that violate their contractual obligations to students by claiming to offer free speech and then failing to fulfill that claim. It goes without saying that a private school that is up front about its restrictions on speech is in the legal clear.

Here's the relevant language from speechcodes.org:


Eventually, FIRE will file lawsuits against speech codes at public institutions in every single federal appellate circuit.

This strategy focuses first on public colleges and universities, because the Bill of Rights obtains there, and because most private institutions that censor claim an alleged legal obligation to censor unpopular speechóa claim that is undone by settling the constitutional issues. Ultimately, though, the repercussions from these lawsuits will spread far beyond public institutions. Most private colleges and universities are unwilling to state that they have chosen to offer their students fewer freedoms and protections than are available to students at public colleges and universities. If one ends the reign of partisan censorship in public higher education, it will change the dynamic of academic freedom everywhere.

FIRE's legal challenge to speech codes at public institutions is only the beginning. Soon to follow will be legal challenges against private universities that commit fraud and that violate their contractual obligations by promising free speech and delivering only censorship. Of course, private institutions are not bound by the First Amendment, but they are bound by how they sell themselves to prospective students, and by the promises they make in their brochures and student handbooks. Private universities will be forced to end the fraud of promising free speech but delivering selective oppression. ÝIn the second phase of litigation, FIRE and its allies will hold private institutions to these standards.

UPDATE: KC Johnson concurs:


...almost all colleges, I've discovered, have tucked away in their college Bulletins some sort of provision guaranteeing academic freedom, free speech, or both to students. Obviously the former is almost never implemented, and free speech only when forced. Legally, however, the Bulletin constitutes a contract between the individual student and the institution, and a college theoretically could be liable for not upholding the commitments made in the Bulletin.

Erin O'Connor, 1:58 PM | Permalink




Still more speech about speech at Swarthmore

In response to my ongoing discussion with Swarthmore history professor Tim Burke about speech codes at Swarthmore, Prue Schran, a Swarthmore physics and astronomy lecturer, writes:

I have been reading your thread on Swarthmore with great interest. I am one of a very few conservative-minded people on this campus. (In fact, I've started calling myself the "Token Conservative" on campus.)

Do I believe that there is a movement on this campus to restrict free speech on this campus? Absolutely. Do I think those who support this movement consider themselves infringing on a basic right of their fellow citizens? Absolutely not.

However, even though I think there is a drive to restrict free speech, I also think the statement that there "is no free speech at Swarthmore" is extreme.

Since I began working here, I have discovered a culture that considers these restrictive policies to be on the order of a moral imperative - not as an infringement of rights. They have internalized this moral code to the degree that it doesn't even occur to them that anyone should find them oppressive or disturbing. It's not so much that they want to restrict speech - they just assume that decent and intelligent people will for the most part, agree with their viewpoint. It's not meanness or vindictiveness, it's certainly not a lack of intelligence - it's a cultural divide so deep it simply doesn't occur to them that a colleague would think otherwise.

When I first came to work here, I never expressed my political views - I knew I was working in an extremely liberal institution, and I wanted to keep my job. (No, no one has ever even implied that I would lose my job - but I thought, why take the chance?) After a while, I started to express some opinions, but nothing too controversial. But one day I was with a group of my colleagues and someone expressed some political viewpoint (frankly, I've even forgotten exactly what it was), and everyone just stood around and nodded in agreement, as if the viewpoint was a fundamental truth. It struck me that no one in that group expected any other opinion on the subject - after all, we were all good and intelligent people, weren't we? It was that moment that I decided I couldn't remain silent any longer, that my colleagues needed to understand that there were good and intelligent people - even their co-workers! - who held very different viewpoints.

So I try to offer my own two cents when the moments come around. I don't try to evangelize - I don't think I'll change their political cultural views any more than I expect them to change mine. But I think it's healthy for them to understand that not everyone is in agreement.

My ultimate point is, I don't think I've suffered recriminations for expressing my viewpoints. ... Then again, I haven't been open about my political views for a very long time. So, while I do sometimes get those "distasteful" looks from my colleagues when I speak frankly, I CAN still speak frankly - at least so far.


Thanks for writing.

Erin O'Connor, 12:19 PM | Permalink




More and more speech about speech

Timothy Burke has responded to my response to his response to my original post about Swarthmore's speech code. Meanwhile, Ralph Luker looks on, reminding us of the value of the debate we are having. It's a good reminder, for both of us. Just because we are both aware of how the modern academy acculturates its inhabitants to place their sensitivities above reasoned argument (with, among other things, speech codes), that does not mean that we don't both feel sometimes like our toes are getting stepped on by the other. We are both, whether we like it or not, creatures of campus speech code culture. So, thanks, Ralph.

Tim's response to me is actually an elaboration of an email exchange we had last night. It distills things we each said, and it poses the three main questions that Tim sees emerging from an exchange that has been just as substantial off line as on. They are:


1) How do we resolve contradictions in policies where one part says one thing and another part says another thing? Doesnít Swarthmore's sexual harassment cancel out or make actively irrelevant any statement anywhere else about protecting speech?

2) Isn't trusting in grievance procedures dangerous given that they tend to violate due process concerns? Is there any reason to think that Swarthmore's procedures are any more protective of due process than most colleges? Hasnít that already been a slippery slope elsewhere? Isn't Burke concerned about that?

3) What about this little section on discriminatory harassment? Doesn't that cancel out the general harassment policy? Can we talk about how to read those two in relation to one another?


Tim goes on to explain how he resolves the contradictions that emerge when one compares Swarthmore's various statements on speech, ultimately suggesting that he believes the school's general harassment policy takes precedence over all the others and that the admins at Swarthmore can be trusted to apply Swarthmore's speech-restricting codes fairly and with an eye to the larger institutional goal of preserving free expression on campus.

That's where we differ. As I wrote to Tim last night,


Yes, as you say, good things are said [in the policy on non-harassing speech]. And yes, compared to other schools, and even compared to policies Swarthmore had on its books in the late 1990s (which get repeatedly described as "the speech code" in The Phoenix), it's an enlightened policy. But it just isn't worth the pixels its printed in when there are a whole host of subsidiary policies that undercut it, that create loopholes in it, and that effectively make it possible for administrators to prosecute offensive speech at their own discretion. You object that I don't take the policy more seriously, and insinuate that there is a degree of dishonesty in the fact that I don't cite it at length in my posts. To that I would say, I cannot take seriously a policy protecting speech that is so drastically and systematically undermined by other school policies and that even in places undermines itself (the phrasings about shame, self-respect, and so on). If Swarthmore wants me to hold up its speech protection policy as a wondrous thing that all colleges should emulate, then it should get rid of its hidden restrictions on sexual speech and on speech that offends groups. As it is, I see the policy on free expression as a dangerously disingenuous trojan horse.

... I think we also disagree about how much trust we are willing to place in college administrators, especially when it comes to adjudicating questions of expression and to ensuring due process. The news that Swarthmore administrators will carefully adjudicate complaints about expression to determine whether that expression is actionable is not at all reassuring to me, particularly when I learn from the fine print of school policies that these admins will adjudicate not only time, place, and manner issues, but also issues of content. Add to that that admins are no better on due process than they are on free speech. Perhaps I unfairly malign the good people at Swarthmore, but from where I sit there is no more reason to trust them than there is to trust any other college administration that purports--hubristically, if well-meaningly--to be able to outthink and improve on the First Amendment. To you, the contradictions in Swarthmore's many policies are interesting wrinkles to be analyzed; they do not in themselves discount the sweeping statement in favor of free expression. To me, the contradictions are evidence that Swarthmore is not as committed to free speech as it says it is; they absolutely do discount the larger statements about free expression because their existence speaks quite bluntly to the school's interest in preserving the capacity to punish speech that the Constitution protects.


As for Tim's questions about whether I am a free speech absolutist: I am certainly not defending the rights of Swarthmore students to commit defamation, or to incite violence, or to violate reasonable, content-neutral restrictions on the time, place, and manner of speech. I am merely stating that I think Swarthmore, as an institution committed to education and free inquiry, should scrap those parts of its various harassment codes that ensure that Swarthmore students have less free speech than students at state schools.

Tim wonders aloud in his post about where Swarthmore's Discriminatory Harassment policy came from, and acknowledges that its language about protecting "groups" from offending speech is disturbing. That's a question it would be well worth researching, and I hope Tim does decide to pursue it.

Erin O'Connor, 9:02 AM | Permalink




February 17, 2004 [feather]
More on Swarthmore's speech code

Timothy Burke, who teaches at Swarthmore, is outraged that I call Swarthmore's speech code a speech code. In a long post, he explains why to his mind Swarthmore's sundry restrictions on speech are not speech codes. It's worth reading, if only to see how the defense of a speech code can be made to look like a defense of free speech.

Several points.

Swarthmore has two codes that are at issue here; one is a general harassment policy and one is a sexual harassment policy. Burke quotes extensively from the general harassment policy, which does indeed, in general, attempt to distinguish harassing behavior from the content of a person's expression, in order to argue that I have mischaracterized Swarthmore's commitment to free expression. He then denies that Swarthmore's sexual harassment policy amounts to a speech code--even though it expressly sets out to regulate certain forms of speech, and even though it places the power to determine whether someone's statement is harassing squarely in the hands of "the victim." Under Swarthmore's sexual harassment code, you could, conceivably, get in trouble for complimenting a member of the opposite sex for her looks, or for asking for dates, or even for making comments like "Men are pigs," or "A woman's place is in the home," or "I believe that homosexuality is a sin." Swarthmore's sexual harassment policy is a speech code, though it is not convenient for Burke to define it as such.

Burke insists, too, that Swarthmore's restrictions on speech cannot be considered unreasonable or chilling--cannot in other words be called a speech code--because Swarthmore stresses that offensive expression must be repeated in order to be considered harassing. Again, that's mostly true but not wholly true. It's also not quite the knockout punch he makes it out to be. First, if you read over the restrictions on speech contained within the sexual harassment policy, you will find that sometimes the policy states that a behavior must be repeated, but at other times it quite clearly does not. There is some disturbing wiggle room there. Swarthmore's policy on general harassment does state that for behavior to be harassing, it must be repeated. But it also allows for an entirely subjective assessment of what kinds of speech may be considered harassing by suggesting that the shame or pain of the complainant will be a deciding factor in determining whether certain speech is harassing.

In other words, maybe I can't file charges against you for that first affirmative action bake sale you hold. But when you do it again, after you've been warned that I feel this way about your expression, and I feel doubly belittled by it, then I may be able to claim that I have been harassed by you. After all, you made me feel bad multiple times, and you knew you were doing it, and my ability to do my work has suffered as a result. My point: the wording of the policy makes it abusable. It also amounts to a policy of prior restraint by allowing the wholly subjective issue of personal offense to play a role in adjudicating harassment claims. In order to stay out of trouble, a person must think before he or she speaks, and may find him- or herself censoring comments that could possibly cause offense.

Also not entirely true is Burke's insistence that Swarthmore's code is not a code because it states that only deliberately harassing speech will be prosecuted as harassment. That may be what the general harassment code says, but it's not what the sexual harassment policy says. In fact, that code says quite the opposite, that speech may be sexually harassing if the person at whom it is directed, or, even more chillingly, if a person who witnesses it, decides it's harassing. That's not an environment in which free expression can thrive. That's an atmosphere of intolerance designed to chill expression surrounding gender and sexuality and geared to produce a continual feeling of sexual paranoia, particularly among men. Burke may be cool with a code like that, and he may believe that never in a million years would he find himself on the wrong end of a patently absurd or even trumped-up harassment claim, but his complacency about the policy does not mean the policy itself is sound. There are dozens, if not hundreds, of male students and professors across the country who can testify to my point.

Burke states, too, that Swarthmore does not attempt to protect members of historically marginalized groups from offensive speech. That's also wrong. Swarthmore defines discriminatory harassment as "conduct, including speech, relating to a protected classfication, which has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual's or a group of individuals' academic work performance, or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive academic or working environment." See bake sale example above. Other campuses have defined affirmative action bake sales--a wholly protected form of political expression-- as harasssing. There's no reason to think the same sort of thing could not also happen at Swarthmore.

So, to make a long entry short: Burke and I appear to disagree about what you can and cannot call a speech code on a college campus. To my mind, a speech code is any policy that restricts or chills the content of an individual's expression (beyond the basic legal barriers of defamation and incitement to violence). For Burke, such restrictions are sometimes called speech codes (as when the faculty is nobly voting not to impose one) and sometimes not called speech codes (as when one faculty member does not want to acknowledge that Swarthmore's sexual harassment policy amounts to a backdoor method of placing restrictions on student speech without having to admit that this is what the school is doing). Colleges and universities have become quite expert at having it both ways: they claim to uphold free expression by pointing to their carefully worded encomia on the value of debate and inquiry (Burke quotes Swarthmore's at length) while at the same time they smuggle speech codes in on the backs of other sorts of policies. That's what Swarthmore's sexual harassment policy does, and it's also what Swarthmore's statement on discriminatory harassment does. It's just not responsible to pretend otherwise.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has given Swarthmore a "red light" designation on speechcodes.org, FIRE's database that charts the state of free speech on campuses across the country. The "red light" designation is defined as follows:


A "red light" university has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. A "clear" restriction is one that unambiguously infringes on protected expression. In other words, the threat to free speech at a red light institution is obvious and does not depend on how the policy is applied. A "substantial" restriction on free speech is one that is broadly applicable to important categories of campus expression. For example, a ban on "offensive speech" would be a clear violation (in that it is unambiguous) as well as a substantial violation (in that it covers a great deal of protected expression). Such a policy would earn a university a red light.

Perhaps Burke would like to take up the issue of Swarthmore's status as a civil liberties red light district with the folks at FIRE.

UPDATE: A reader writes, "I'm afraid that you are in error regarding the Bake Sales in your scenarios. If they're bold enough to have two sets of books right out in the open, what's stopping that second act of 'harassment' being defined as the second cookie sold at the one, only and last bake sake before the "Oh, THAT speech code" is pulled out?" Touche.

Erin O'Connor, 4:55 PM | Permalink




February 16, 2004 [feather]
Irony of the Day

Last week, historian Arthur Schlesinger spoke before an audience of 700 at Swarthmore College. His subject: what he sees as the Bush administration's hostility to public expressions of political dissent.


Schlesinger, 86, said he believed that more debate was needed before the United States commits American lives to fighting on foreign soil, and that public dissent is essential to democracy.

"Going to war does not abrogate our freedoms of conscience, speech and thought," the prize-winning author and former foreign-policy adviser told those who attended the first in a series of American history lectures Tuesday.

"We have no obligation to bow down before an imperial presidency," he said.

Schlesinger was referring to a speech that Attorney General John Ashcroft gave before the Senate Judiciary Committee in December 2001. Ashcroft lashed out at critics of the Bush administration's response to terrorism. The critics contended those actions undermined the U.S. Constitution. The actions in question included President Bush's decision to have military tribunals try aliens suspected of terrorism; the detention of hundreds of aliens at the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without bringing formal charges; and the questioning of thousands of Middle Eastern men living in the United States.

"To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this," Ashcroft said. "Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies and pause to America's friends."

Schlesinger said what he called Ashbrook's attempt to "rally around the flag" was actually a move to discourage free speech.

"Presidents are never infallible," Schlesinger said, using humor to make his point. "They may even pick up a good idea or two from the dissent."


Where lies the irony, you ask? In the simple, shameful fact that there is no free speech at Swarthmore.

Students at Swarthmore can go down for "sexual innuendoes, comments or jokes; the persistent use of irrelevant references or remarks to a person's gender, sexuality or sexual orientation; sexist remarks about the target's clothing or body; expressions using sex stereotypes whether or not they were made about or directed to the grievant and whether or not intended to insult or degrade" (emphasis added). Swarthmore students can also be disciplined for "well intentioned but unwelcome remarks, when repeated, about one's personality or appearance might be interpreted as sexually suggestive," "Derisive, mocking, ridiculing, or jeering expression," and "Subjecting one to public shame that normally cause feelings of inferiority or loss of self-respect." In other words, if John Ashcroft were a Swarthmore student, he could conceivably file charges against Swarthmore for allowing Schlesinger to speak so critically and derisively of him.

Question: if an argument for free speech is made on a campus that does not itself enjoy free speech, is there anyone there to hear it? Only time will tell, I suppose. According to the Philly Inquirer, an audience member asked Schlesinger what he would advise young people to do to bring about change. He told them to go into politics. A good first campaign, if any Swarthmore students were so moved, would be to insist on free speech at their own school.

Thanks to Fred Ray, as ever, for the links.

UPDATE: A reader writes:


Loved the commentary on Swarthmore. I transferred there in 1993 as a junior in college from Duke and quickly realized that it was the wrong decision. The defining moment for me was when Phyllis Schlafly came to speak (sponsored by the Republican Club, consisting of 6 members). The whole campus was in a tizzy about it -- flyers posted on the trees all over campus calling her "anti-woman." My favorite poster, though, read, "We will not tolerate intolerance." Kind of summed up the Swarthmore experience. Funny thing was, I was a liberal til I went there and saw what a liberal world looked like in practice.Ý

I worked things so that I spent the spring semester in Rome with a study abroad program -- the best thing I ever did in college. Then I transferred back to Duke for my senior year. Hard to believe Duke was such a bastion of normalcy and reason!

Thanks for writing.
Erin O'Connor, 5:38 PM | Permalink




Tales of liberal bias

Andrew Sullivan is inviting readers to contribute stories of the liberal bias they have encountered in academe:


EMAIL OF THE DAY: "It isn't just Duke. I just wanted to pass along this anecdote from my days attending Indiana University. It was the fall semester of 1994 and it was also the evening of the midterm elections which brought the Republicans to majority status in the House. My prof strolled into class (a class on the Beatles) and began to spew left wing hate in all directions. He said he could not belive a country was so naive as to elect the Nazis (how I tire of this comparison) to head the House of Representatives. Then, as an aside, he smiled and winked at the class, and said, "well, at least I know no one in here contributed to the end of America as we know it". I wanted to stand up and scream, "I did!! I am bringing about a revolution in American governance and I am damn proud of it". But, feeling a little ostracized, I did not. I am not one who normally gets "offended" by other people and the things they say but, I have to say I was on this occasion." Readers are hereby invited to send in any reminiscences - past or present - of blatant professorial political bias in today's academia. Not just expressions of opinion, but attempts to intimidate or exclude opposing opinions.

I'm looking forward to the responses. Meantime, I'll just note that Critical Mass has been soliciting and publishing such tales for the better part of two years now.

Highlights include: last fall's discussion about what is really meant by the term "conservative" in academe, a series of letters from readers about the pros and cons of going to graduate school, a reader's firsthand account of Brown's minority orientation, and the letter from a SUNY student defending the infamous Tunnel of Oppression. Most recently, there was last week's discussion of the seminar as a mechanism of ideological policing.

There's more where those came from. Just use the search function to dig them up.

Erin O'Connor, 8:29 AM | Permalink




Welcome Fenster Moop

Critical Mass has a new blog child (an honor this site shares with Andrew Sullivan, Terry Teachout, 2Blowhards, and Mark Steyn).

Fenster Moop's latest post centers on the breaking scandal at Roger Williams University, where a student paper, The Hawk's Right Eye, has taken the emerging trend of conservative agit prop to a new level by offering a "whites only scholarship" (thanks to Steven Den Beste for that last link).

Critical Mass readers will recall that The Hawk's Right Eye was at the center of a censorship flap last fall. It will be interesting to see how those events shape these.

Welcome, Fenster Moop! May you blog long and prosper.

Erin O'Connor, 8:00 AM | Permalink




February 14, 2004 [feather]
Happy V-Day

In response to my request for information about how V-Day is being celebrated this year, readers have sent in loads of links. I still think Syracuse's festivities--which included a decorate-your-vagina booth and giant six-foot vagina sculpture--take this year's prize for most ridiculous celebration of female sexuality. Cornell's vagina-shaped lollipops, submitted by Maurice Black, were right up there, too. But the race was close.

Mark Allen forwarded this post by an Oregon blogger who captured his school's V-Day celebrations--on the form of an anatomically detailed vagina chalked on a campus walkway--on camera. Don't miss the author's plan for how to get your grandmother to shed her false sexual consciousness and commence celebrating hardcore sex acts.

And Cameron Wood informs me that Brandeis University actually has a Vagina Club. Every year, the Vagina Club performs Ensler's The Vagina Monologues in honor of V-Day. In recent years, the cast has promoted the production by posing nude, their vaginas and other delicate parts tastefully hidden behind a big Vagina Monologues banner.

Mr. Wood's submission was accompanied with his own rendition of a Penis Monologue:


Do a single one of these chicks realize that the men who are actually committingÝviolent actsÝagainst women are not the kind of men who would even attend the Vagina Monologues, let alone go and experienceÝa life-changing epiphany resulting in tears and repentence and a vow to allow women to somehow "own" their vaginas without fear of penis-centered brutality, or whatever?

One more question: Now that women have taken over ownership of their vaginas and all attached ancillary rights and privileges, does this mean I have to stop calling Al Franken a pussy? Just curious.

Me? I'm gonna go own my penis and take a leak. Probably I'll scratch myself somewhere, and belch. I'm very patriarchal, and not too proud to admit it.

It's wonderful to see that V-Day truly contains something for everyone.

Thanks to everyone who wrote in, and a happy V-Day to all!

UPDATE: On some campuses, V-Day is every day. At Vassar, for example, you can join the Vassar Sex Avengers, a student club "dedicated to Sex Positive Theory and Action." Among other things, the Vassar Sex Avengers hold an annual "Masturbate-a-thon."

AND ANOTHER: A reader takes the thought out of my brain:


Technically, the vaginaÝ[sheath]Ýis the canal extendingÝfrom the introitus [opening or portal orÝentry point]Ýto the region into which the cervix "invaginates" itselfÝor enters from the remainder of the uterus.. The vagina does not include the labia or the clitoris. How is a vagina then "pictured"? As a cave-like structure with a one-eyed knob at its far end? I don't think these vaginites know what a vagina is.

Yup. That would be why I cannot picture the lollipops.

Erin O'Connor, 9:39 AM | Permalink




More on Duke

Duke philosophy professor Robert Brandon has responded to those who criticized him for his glib invocation of J.S. Mill's comment about stupid people being conservative. It's still self-discrediting, especially the part about how, if conservatives want to see more conservative academics, they should study hard, get Ph.D.'s, and get jobs as professors (that's not just insulting to the people whose politics weed them out of academic careers in or before grad school, but,in its failure to acknowledge that there are no academic jobs, not even for those who toe the ideological line, it's also insulting to all aspiring and contingent academics). Read it anyway, and don't miss the comments, which include this gem from an English major named Courtney:


Professor Brandon,
I think you may have missed one explanation for the very real left-liberal dominance of academia -- avoidance by moderates and conservatives looking for a career. As a moderate Republican studying English in a large university, I find myself hiding my political preferences after coming up against intolerance within the department. Many professors, not realizing a Republican voter was in the classroom, have made comments that did not invite debate and left me feeling like a pariah. All in all, I've decided never to go into academia since I don't plan to suffer this environment for the rest of my career. I would have to hide my beliefs or become the odd man out. I'd rather find a job where politics REALLY don't matter. Academia, despite your protestations, is an ideal workplace for left-liberals, and uncomfortable for moderates and conservatives.

Right there, in that little note, lies the truth disingenuous rationalizations such as Brandon's deny. Love of learning, a scholarly impulse, a desire to teach--none of these things is inherently liberal. But when a systematic, unacknowledged contempt for conservative, or even moderate, views filters through enough courses, and when those courses cluster in distinct disciplines, you do have a situation in which some students receive a very loud message that they are not welcome in those disciplines, and that the price of participating in them, even at the undergraduate level, is thus going to be unreasonably high. So they take themselves elsewhere, and leave behind them only those whose beliefs fit nicely into the biases of the field. And so the field perpetuates itself as a bastion of left-leaning folk where the scholarship that gets done and the ideas that get debated always presume a certain set of shared beliefs. And so it starts to look like liberals just naturally are more scholarly and more inquisitive and more invested in the selfless work of educating others than conservatives, who in turn get cast as greedy dullards out to make a buck and protect their own interests. At least it looks that way to those who are benefitting from a system that favors them and excludes those they don't like.

It's astonishing to me that this simple and obvious phenomenon--one my partner in academic cant-spotting, Maurice Black, and I have been endlessly remarking for years--is not being acknowledged and addressed on campuses across the country. Behind all the rhetoric about nurturing student minds and exposing them to new vistas and encouraging intellectual exploration lies an institutional arrogance that places its own comfort high above the wellbeing of students. In Brandon's comments, we can see how personal smugness trumps both reason and humane concern even in the moment of trying to seem to be both reasonable and humane.

Worth reading: John Rosenberg's analysis of Brandon's response (included as an update to this post). Michael Friedman has some comments, too.

Erin O'Connor, 9:10 AM | Permalink




February 13, 2004 [feather]
Conservative diversity at Duke

When the Duke Conservative Union cross-checked the faculties of several humanities departments against voter registration records, discovering that in the softer fields Democrats outnumber Republicans by about 17 to one, the Duke faculty and administration roundly denied that the numbers were in any way meaningful. The disingenuousness of that response earned Duke a great deal of criticism and even ridicule in the blogosphere, as everyone from Andrew Sullivan to yours truly felt called to comment. What no one, to my knowledge, did, though, was to cross-check the Duke response against Duke's policies on diversity to see just what the school's refusal even to discuss what the massive onesidedness of its faculty's political affiliations might mean in terms of Duke's responsibility to uphold its own commitments. Now that gap has been filled.

In a long, thorough, and thoughtful post, John Rosenberg reads the uproar at Duke through the lens of Duke's various policies on non-discrimination and diversity. What he finds is that Duke, in refusing to address the issue of faculty political homogeneity, is quite arguably in patent violation of its own policies. How can that be? Because Duke's diversity policies, like those of most schools, don't really say what they mean or mean what they say. The policies exist to increase the presence of under-represented minorities on campus. But they say they are about increasing the variety of "perspectives" on campus. The racism of assuming that skin color or ethnicity equals a personal outlook on the world is obvious; so is the vulgar social engineering of recruiting minority students and faculty because increasing the numbers of minority students and faculty makes the school look more progressive and welcoming. So, like many other schools, Duke couches policies designed to increase demographic diversity in the language of intellectual diversity: the reason the school needs more minorities, the argument goes, is that minorities offer a special perspective and possess special knowledge that enriches the campus culture.

Of course this is transparently racist and illogical hogwash. But, as Rosenberg points out, what is both ironic and fascinating about that language is that it speaks, accidentally and quite against its will, to the particular claims of the Duke Conservative Union. And in so doing, that language proves the hypocrisy of faculty and admins who won't consider what it means for teachers and scholars to be overwhelmingly liberal, and who cannot imagine that vastly outnumbered conservative students might very reasonably feel intellectually marginalized and devalued at their school. The logic of diversity tells us we should expect this to be so. Duke's refusal to recognize this, and to address it respectfully and promptly, speaks volumes.

By this I mean just what I say: Duke should address the issue. It should acknowledge it, and it should invite and encourage open discussion and debate about what, if anything, the broad political homogeneity of its faculty means. That's quite different from instituting affirmative action hiring policies for conservatives, which would be ridiculous and, I think, hypocritical, considering that an opposition to affirmative action is a lynchpin of contemporary conservative thought. The form of address I am envisioning would be much less policy-oriented, and much more focussed on inquiry. It would ask whether there is any meaningful correlation between faculty political affiliation and the kinds of scholarship and teaching being done at Duke (Duke's flat denial of a correlation is a cheap attempt to short circuit a true consideration of that question). It would ask what faculty political homogeneity might mean for the quality of education and variety of intellectual opportunity on campus. It would seek to discover where conservatives drop out (or are weeded out) of the academic system (I think it is technically true that in the academic humanities there is not much, if any, discrimination at the hiring level, simply because at that point there are precious few left who don't conform to the left-leaning methodologies that prevail there). Such a debate would, in other words, seek to get the issues out in the open and to create an atmosphere of collaborative analysis and problem-solving that would involve people from all political persuasions in the project of determining how Duke can improve on its mission to be as inclusive an institution as possible. Why is that a discussion Duke does not want to have?

UPDATE: Though the obfuscation is still coming fast and furious from some quarters, debate at Duke has begun. Thanks to Maurice Black for the link.

AND MORE: Duke philosophy professor Robert Brandon has responded to those who criticized him for his glib invocation of J.S. Mill's comment about stupid people being conservative. It's still self-discrediting, especially the part about how, if conservatives want to see more conservative academics, they should study hard, get Ph.D.'s, and get jobs as professors (that's not just insulting to the people whose politics weed them out of academic careers in or before grad school, but,in its failure to acknowledge that there are no academic jobs, not even for those who tow the ideological line, it's also insulting to all aspiring and contingent academics). Anyhow, John Rosenberg takes Brandon's response apart in an update to this post. Michael Friedman has some comments, too.

Erin O'Connor, 9:19 AM | Permalink




February 12, 2004 [feather]
The seminar hoax

In response to my post, "The Seminar Has No Clothes," a reader sends this fond reminiscence of a partially unclothed seminar she attended while in grad school. The irony: the seminar was about the phenomenon of how some forms of academic work have no clothes. She writes:


This puts me in mind of a hilarious (to me and those of the math dept) panel discussion.

You may have heard of the Sokal affair. I had the great luck to be a math grad student at NYU when the brou-ha-ha was in full roil. So the major players and some interested parties decided to have a panel discussion for the NYU community. Alan Sokal was there as was the guy who edited Social Text (or whatever it was called). I believe there was a journalism person there and somebody else.

But the beautiful part was the audience participation. I went with a bunch of math students decided for entertainment (and I had sat in on some seminars Sokal did on percolation theory, which I was interested in at the time.) The audience was mainly faculty and students, from all research departments. The language used by different groups was quite the study in contrasts.

When someone from the hard sciences spoke, they used plain English and would illustrate their points with concrete examples. This has been a while, so I can't remember the full details, but an example was something like an Indian post-doc explaining the difficulties women had in the sciences in other countries, and the blatant sexism in some countries. Some other science people mentioned that the subject of science itself wasn't chauvinistic (in that it was using a way of thinking that women or non-white people couldn't follow), but that the practice could be very discriminatory (in particular, the inflexible nature of the run for tenure.)

When the humanities majors decided to take the floor, well, it was painful. I actually fell out of my chair laughing at the inarticulateness of one particular grad student. He was so earnest, and so desirous of having the proper opinions, but for the life of me, I could not tell what he was saying. I believe the grammar didn't work, much less the vocabulary, a welling of the modern inkhorn. He wasn't the only one, but as we of the math department didn't care about our collegiality with those of the Social Sciences, we laughed at every dribble of gooble-de-gook.

An interesting epilogue -- from further reading of Sokal, I discovered that he was a Marxist who thought the pomo people were destroying the movement with their inanities. In reading his stuff on Marxism, though, he came across as illucid as those grad students I remember from way back. I'm sure none of his Marxist colleagues would dare point out such a shortcoming in their comrades... especially as they had the same shortcomings.


Thanks for writing. Readers who would like to learn more about the infamous Sokal Hoax should peruse the immense collection of links on Sokal's own NYU web page.

Erin O'Connor, 4:42 PM | Permalink




February 11, 2004 [feather]
Playing dumb at Bowdoin, too

In response to yesterday's post about the responses of Duke faculty and administrators to the news that a strikingly disproportionate number of Duke's humanities professors are registered Democrats, a reader writes that similar events have been unfolding at Bowdoin:


First, I want to thank you for writing your weblog Critical Mass. My daughter is a junior in high school beginning her college search, and what I learn from Critical Mass and other sources on the web helps me better to counsel her. (Whether she appreciates this counsel is another story.)

One of the things I have been doing is read college newspapers, many of which appear online. Your posting about "Playing Dumb about Intellectual Diversity" reminded me of an issue of the Bowdoin Orient.

That issue has, in consecutive headlines, "Faculty voices add to campus diversity debate" and "Republican professors are scant at Bowdoin."Ý

I found the juxtapositionÝhilarious. No one is quoted as saying anything as, well, stupid as Robert Brandon did at Duke, but one history professor is just as clueless:Ý

"I think it'd be unethical to consider a person's political point of view when recruiting faculty. If someone's talking about history it doesn't matter. The changing perspectives in European history are not going to change based on a teacher's political affiliation."

So is the dean of academic affairs:

"We do not ask job candidates about their political affiliations or views, so they play no role in our selection of candidates. It would be inappropriate to have them play a role in my view. Our focus is on the capabilities of potential faculty as teachers and as scholars [or] artists. In the hiring process, we make every effort to insure that we have a wide pool of candidates drawn from all over the world."

Lacking a Ph.D., the president of the student Democrats has better sense:

"If the numbers are accurate, I certainly think it is a problem that there is such a bias within the faculty. School should be about letting students know all sides of issues and informing them on how to make their own choice. A Democrat to Republican ratio of 23 to one really interferes with such a process...if the numbers are true, there would need to be changes made."

One of my professors in law school warned us not to let our legal education separate us from our common sense. Apparently that is a hazard in the humanities, as well.Ý


Thanks for writing.

UPDATE: Another parent writes:


My daughter is a junior in high school so, like the posted letter writer, I really appreciate the insight your blog effort provides.

As for Bowdoin, imagine if the same things were said by the faculty but with the word "race" replacing "political affiliations or views"! Oh the howls would be racing down the coast like a Nor'easter!

It's wonderful to know parents find this site useful. Thanks again for writing.

Erin O'Connor, 11:25 AM | Permalink




February 10, 2004 [feather]
Playing dumb about intellectual diversity

The Duke Conservative Union placed an ad in yesterday's student paper deploring the lack of intellectual diversity among Duke's faculty. Designed as an open letter to Duke president Nan Keohane, the letter declared that the humanities faculty had become "increasingly politicized over the past few decades" and argued that this has had "a significant impact on the daily workings of their faculty members." It then reported the results of checking the faculty of eight humanities departments against North Carolina voter registration records: 142 of those surveyed are registered Democrats, 28 are unaffiliated, and 8 are registered Republicans.

"The purpose of the ad was basically to bring to light the fact that the faculty in many humanities departments are completely skewed toward the left," DCU executive director Madison Kitchens told the paper. "Their viewpoints don't represent a broad, diverse intellectual balance of opinions, but rather a monochromatic look at certain subjects."

Today's Chronicle details the reactions of Duke faculty and administrators to the DCU findings. The reactions were disturbing--predictably so.

In essence, the responses took the form of almost total unwillingness to admit that the DCU's correlation of hiring pattern and political affiliation is in any way meaningful:


John Burness, senior vice president for public affairs and government relations, said the data presented in DCU's advertisement is largely irrelevant to intellectual diversity within the classroom.

"I know faculty members who are conservative and faculty members who are liberal. When I've talked to students about being in their classes, I am struck repeatedly by how often the fact of where a faculty [member] may stand in his or her own political views does not govern what goes on in class," Burness said. "In some cases, faculty members even take a different position than what they believe, just to challenge students to think differently."

Burness added that it would be difficult to adjust an imbalance in political affiliations among faculty members because the University's hiring processes do not take such affiliations into consideration. "When departments are making choices about whom they select as members of the faculty, I don't think party registration is a litmus test," Burness said.

[...]

"My sense is that a University community represents all opinions, and somehow just your party affiliation seems a very odd way of sampling it," said Maureen Quilligan, chair of the English department, noting that she has never received any complaints of professors' bias in her department. "Besides, there are many differences within Republicans and within Democrats, and Republicans certainly are not the only conservatives."


Bear in mind that the DCU knows that correlation is not causation, and is not claiming that it is. Bear in mind, too, that academic humanists believe, as a matter of principle, that EVERYTHING is meaningful, that there is absolutely nothing that cannot be interpreted, nothing whose significance is not deeper and more profound than surfaces may suggest. Everything, that is, except the overwhelming correlation between humanities faculty hiring and political affiliation.

In fairness, the denial approach documented above is not a response that is unique to the good people at Duke. It's become a standard form of dismissal on just about every campus where party affiliations are cited as indices of the faculty's political homogeneity. In its unapologetic refusal to admit that there is an ideological elephant in the living room, it's a willfully obtuse response--brilliantly, brazenly so. Its power is such that it can withstand even the most reasonable argumentation. As Kitchens himself explains,


"The University isn't looking at party registration when it is hiring, but it is looking at what faculty members' research interests are, where they fall on certain issues, and whether they toe the ideological line .... I don't think it's a coincidence that 32 Democrats are in the history department, and zero Republicans. We're not saying the University needs to hire more Republicans, but rather that it needs to be open to conservative perspectives in the hiring process."

Kitchens noted that DCU had not intended to advocate an absolute balance between Republicans and Democrats in the faculty. Rather, he said, the group wants to be sure that both sides of political argument are given heed in classes that deal with political matters.

Furthermore, he said, though the imbalance in political views may not show up in any particular classroom, it is evident in the University's course offerings.

"Certainly there's been an incredibly disproportionate focus on race, gender, class consciousness and post-modern thought in Duke's course offerings," Kitchens said. "We're not saying there should be conservative classes to take their place, but we are saying the University should look at the subjects it offers in a more objective manner.... The University does not necessarily need to offer a course in conservative thought, but it does need to provide some balance so that students can decide for themselves which they choose to take."


I think that's reasonable. Kitchens and his group are not demanding reverse partisanship, or an ideological quota system for course offerings, or anything of that nature. They are simply asking that the Duke faculty acknowledge a glaringly obvious fact, that there are entire areas of study where the university's ostensible commitment to the pursuit of truth has been supplanted by a one-sided style of inquiry that too often and too easily slides into political advocacy.

More reasonable, apparently, than DCU's understanding of the situation, is that of Duke philosophy chair Robert Brandon:


"We try to hire the best, smartest people available," Brandon said of his philosophy hires. "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire."

"Mill's analysis may go some way towards explaining the power of the Republican party in our society and the relative scarcity of Republicans in academia. Players in the NBA tend to be taller than average. There is a good reason for this. Members of academia tend to be a bit smarter than average. There is a good reason for this too."


It says something about a department--if not the university as a whole--when its leader will come right out and say that the reason there aren't more conservatives teaching college is that conservatives are stupid. Among other things, it rather beautifully confirms the DCU's point about anti-conservative bias being structurally central to higher education as we presently know it.

Not all were so glib, so dismissive, or so ready to dissemble. Michael Munger, chair of the political science department, acknowledged that he knows of at least one department chair who "has said they thought the function of Duke was to rid conservative students of their hypocrisies." Munger does not believe there is a widespread problem--but neither is he trying to prevent a problem from being discovered and openly discussed. He also acknowledges that if the problem truly is widespread, then corrective action would be warranted.

I'm fascinated by episodes like this one--not because the numbers shock me (they are well known, and have been documented over and over again), but because the reactions faculty and administrators have to the numbers are so deeply, troublingly telling. They have been taken by surprise--not just at Duke, but at many schools across the country--and they have revealed a great deal about their attitudes in their response to confrontation with facts. Whether "liberal bias" is poisoning the classroom is a matter for public inquiry and open debate. But whether those who are implicated in the accusation of bias are willing to be accountable for their hiring and teaching practices--to subject them to scrutiny, to examine (in the favorite moralistic phrase of academic humanists) their own assumptions, to explain themselves to their students and to the general public, to declare themselves to be truly concerned with both the responsibility and transparency of their behavior--seems already to have been settled.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the link.

UPDATE: Tom P. writes:


John Stuart Mill himself had something to say about the Philosophy Chair's quote:

(5) John Stuart Mill, letter to the Conservative MP, Sir John Pakington (March, 1866)

I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.

(Quotation found here:Ý http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/PRmill.htm)

The quotation does justify the Chairman's rather carefully phrased following claim, "then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire," (i.e. the stupid ones). But it does not justify his following paragraph (which implies that conservatives are generally stupid, a claimÝwhich does not follow from Mill'sÝstatement that stupid people are generally conservative).Ý


Good one.

UPDATE UPDATE: Ralph Luker has more, including a round-up of related posting across the blogosphere.

AND ANOTHER: Reader John M. writes:


I've been involved in the process for 40 years and I've never heard intelligence discussed as a criteria. Like every place else, Duke hires people on the basis of educational accomplishments thus far, so presumably what Brandon really means is that educated people aren't stupid and uneducated people are. Duh! A tautology.Ý

The fact that he passes this off as a great insight says it all.Ý

Counter factual 1: as I'm sure you're aware film actors are grossly undereducated. Very few of them ever even went to any college at all, and a surprisingly high number didn't ever make it out of high school. A good example of stupid people who aren't conservative.

Counter factual 2: I doubt Mill's understanding of the term 'conservative' can easily be equated to the word as it is used today by liberals. The classic instance of this word shift would be theÝconnotation of the word 'patriot' in the 18th and 19th centuries. QED, the real "stupid" person in the room is Brandon.

By the way, isn't the professorate supposed to be aghast at stereotyping?

Thanks for writing in.

AND STILL ANOTHER READER WRITES:


If this quote is accurate, Professor Brandon seems to have forgotten that "p implies q" is not equivalent to "q implies p".Ý

But I also have a small caveat: I believe that not every democrat at Duke is on the left of the political spectrum. Professor Peter Feaver of the Poli Sci department is, I believe, a democrat, but his politics are more on the right than the left. His columns appear frequently in The Weekly Standard.

This is not to contradict the DCU: I think on probabilistic grounds they are correct. Thanks for bringing attention to this.

And Maurice Black writes:


It's worth noting that Duke philosophy chair Robert Brandon's invocation of John Stuart Mill to deem conservatives "stupid" relies on disingenuous terminological sleight-of-hand. In Mill's nineteenth century Britain, conservatives were those who protected inherited privilege, defended class-based inequality, and justified the established societal order. Self-described liberals (such as Adam Smith, John Locke, and Mill himself) argued for political pluralism, individual rights and responsibilities, and laissez-faire capitalist enterprise. But in their modern incarnations, the terms "conservative" and "liberal" have mutated to the point where Mill, Locke, and Smith would probably find themselves deemed too "stupid" to hold Duke faculty positions in political theory, philosophy, or economics.

Thanks to all for writing in. And don't miss the additional commentary at Tightly Wound and Photon Courier.

ONE LAST UPDATE: A reader writes, "If I can add another of Mill's thoughts that seems relevant given Professor Brandon's remarks -- 'He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.'" Touche.

Erin O'Connor, 6:23 PM | Permalink




February 9, 2004 [feather]
The seminar has no clothes

Margaret Soltan recalls a Stepfordesque seminar in which a standard-issue unintelligible talk was greeted with an equally unintelligible rote refusal on the part of the audience to recognize that the talk was unintelligible:


One of the most surreal experiences Iíve had occurred after a well-known feminist theorist gave a talk to the summer faculty seminar I attended (I mentioned this seminar in my recent Prolegomena post) many years ago. The talk - delivered in the Mitford girls patois of British-educated academic Marxists - was, although heartfelt, unintelligible. When our seminar group reassembled a bit later to discuss the talk, we did not, given its inexistence as discourse, discuss it. Instead around the seminar table a drama staged itself in which excited shared knowing grins and breath-gulping wide-eyed nods mixed with bits of dialogue (ìBrilliant...blew me away... marvelous...sheís incredible thatís all I can say...transformative...î) to create a hypnotic mise-en-scene... The pleasant immateriality of the moment made me feel light... ethereal... a Rosetti painting floated in front of my eyes...I saw... silken hair .... Juliaís clothes .... liquefaction... sweetly flows...sweet Afton... swee-ee-ee-eet FORgiveness...

Julia of Winston's Diary publishes a friend's story of a similarly bankrupt exercise in intellectual lockstep, replete with the author's announcement that seminars of the ideological policing sort have played a large role in her decision to flee academe:

Here's a story from just three days ago: One of the characters in a book by a Vietnamese-American author was indicted by the class for her phallocentric American "desire to know" (I guess vaginocentric non-Americans just want to loll around in loose shoes and ignorance--exactly how is this bullshit supposed to promote tolerance and human happiness?). The character discovers that her mother's life in Vietnam had been brutal rather than idyllic, and that the Vietcong were as lousy as the feudal overlords, if not worse. I pointed out that it wasn't the character's "American need to know" that uncovered the truth, but her mother's unprompted confessional letter. Was that evidence, then, of a "Vietnamese need to tell"? One woman sitting next to me nodded enthusiastically (she hasn't been fully indoctrinated yet) and said, "That's great" but everyone else glared at her until she looked at her shoes, suddenly knowing she'd made a gaffe. The woman across from me said (rolling her eyes, neener-neener voice), "Yeah, well, I'm really uncomfortable with her mother's 'story' [makes scare quote hands] about the Vietcong. Doesn't that just reproduce American ideology about the supposedly savage, evil North Vietnamese?" The professor nodded and agreed it was "uncomfortable," and several other heads nodded, but I wouldn't give up (fuck it; I'm out of here anyway). I said I didn't understand why it was good for Americans to de-mythologize their golden past, but bad for Vietnamese to do it. Isn't it the same thing? Isn't it better to know the truth than to gild the turd? And if the "need to know" is American, then what explains all that American mythologizing about the Frontier? Isn't that the same kind of turd-gilding?

The professor looked extremely concerned--it was one of those furrowed-brow looks that says, "Do you need your medication?" She made a few remarks about how those were, um, interesting points, but that maybe we should move on to the issue of the author's portrayal of Vietnam as a raped female body (for which, of course, there was only the flimsiest textual "evidence"). That led to more pointed questions from me, but I'll stop the story here.

I just can't do this for seven more years. I'll start yelling. I'll start insulting people. I'll get kicked out, so I'm leaving before they bounce me.


Emma Jane shows how the blinkered me-tooism of the seminar translates into the hesitant hypersensitivity of the faculty meeting:

If you want to make a room full of well-meaning faculty trying to write a "mission statment" all sit up, use the word "bias" in an unexpected way. A quiet "Actually, I think there's some humanities bias in what you've written so far," induced near panic.

Then, of course, there is the classic of this genre of reportage, Helen Echlin's essay on "How Yale Strangles English."

I often say you can't make this stuff up. But of course you can, and writers like Francine Prose, David Lodge, and Richard Russo have become the faithful anthropologists of the self-parodying aspects of academic culture. Russo's Straight Man in particular is hilarious. But to say that academic activity is often a joke is not to say that there is anything particularly funny going on. Quite the opposite.

Dorothea Salo comments today on the sunk human cost of grad school gone wrong, offering some particularly wrenching, if veiled, thoughts on the moral opportunism of those academics (i.e., most academics) who manage never to acknowledge their own role in the massive exploitation that is the academic labor system. And John Bruce continues his ongoing analysis of how the tenure system is a cartel--begun months ago at Invisible Adjunct--with an absolutely devastating post on the pyramid scheme that is academic work. Both are worth reading in full.

Erin O'Connor, 10:26 PM | Permalink




The Vagina Decorations

It's Vagina-Friendly Week at Ball State. No word yet on when they plan to hold Pro-Penis Week.

Meanwhile, students at Syracuse University are promoting their annual production of "The Vagina Monologues" with a giant six-foot vagina and other vagina-themed displays:


Their booth flows with glitter, glue and pipe cleaners for a "decorate-your-vagina" activity, but its main attraction is a 6-foot vagina.

Passers-by and vagina aficionados can donate a dollar to stick their heads through a hole cut near the top of the decorative, cardboard creation and have their pictures taken.


Additional information about the "decorate-your-vagina" activity was not available at the time of this posting. If you are a Syracuse student who has engaged in or witnessed such decorations, please do write to explain--especially the part about the glue. No word yet on when the good people at Syracuse plan to stage a "decorate-your-penis" day, or whether the student activities fund will pay to erect a six-foot photogenic penis in the student center. (If the reaction of certain Harvard women to the nine-foot snow phallus erected in Harvard Yard last winter is any indication, there won't be an analogous erection in the Syracuse student center any time soon)

Events at Ball State and Syracuse are part of an emerging national trend. Each year, colleges and universities across the country celebrate V-Day, as opposed to Valentine's Day, with productions of Eve Ensler's "Vagina Monologues" and a variety of related activities loosely centered on ending violence against women. Each year, too, coordinated campus efforts to "celebrate" female sexuality reach new heights of self-defeating absurdity. I suspect the Giant Syracuse Vagina cannot be topped. But I'm willing to be proved wrong. Send in your tales of campus V-Day festivities, I will post them accordingly, and then we can all judge for ourselves.

UPDATE: Maurice Black sends word that at Cornell, V-Day festivities include selling vagina-shaped lollipops and clothes-pins to raise money for the Ithaca Advocacy Center. So far, over 700 lollipops have been sold. I confess I am having trouble picturing these items. If anyone has pictures, please send them on.

Erin O'Connor, 11:03 AM | Permalink




February 8, 2004 [feather]
Academic as troll

Reflecting on Invisible Adjunct's recent bout of reader-induced crankiness, Margaret Soltan makes some trenchant observations about how closely some academics resemble internet trolls:


Years ago I took part in a summer seminar for English professors. I came to call one of the participants The Lighthouse. A punishingly doctrinaire feminist, The Lighthouse would swivel her eyes from one discussant to the next the way the lights of a lighthouse circle a harbor. All utterances were subject to her harsh surveillance, and when she spotted heterodoxy she came down on you like a ton of bricks.

That trigger-happy hyper-irritability has become pretty endemic in the profession, which is why everybodyís busy not stepping on anyoneís toes. Reason not the need to be offended; rather count the ways: race, class, and gender, to be sure, but ooh la la... body size, disability, accent, piercings, age, sexual orientation, nationality... The act of taking personal offense - rather than accepting in a calm way sometimes harsh but nonetheless impersonal criticism of ideas you may cherish - has become the way humanities professors deflect actual argument about something. Oneís identity trumps any subject.

Being petulantly offended as a way of shutting someone up whose ideas confuse or challenge you is an act of passive personalizing; deciding to go on the attack is often a gesture of active personalizing of the other. Thus IA complains that sheís tempted to shut down her site not because of forceful but non-personalized disagreements from readers, but rather because of ìanother type of response altogether: the kind of comment that seems to take issue with the very existence of this weblog. This type of comment generally combines wholesale dismissal of the site and its purpose with heavy-duty psychologizing about the motives of anyone who would run, and of anyone who would participate in, a site called Invisible Adjunct.î

As Vladimir Nabokov was among the earliest to complain, being psychologized by other people is maddening for two reasons:

1. The content of the analysis is numbingly stupid.

2. The act of psychologizing another intends to be superior, intimidating, and chilling of further discourse.

All thoughtful reflective people doubt their own motives, question their intellectual clarity and their moral virtue, have a certain healthy degree of dislike for themselves, see themselves as sort of cheap and ridiculous in a lot of ways, etc. Youíd have to be strong as an ox - someone like Christopher Hitchens or Andrew Sullivan, say - to sustain all the damage that wounding, searching words from the blogosphere that target very precisely your self-doubts and self-dislikes can do to you. You want to retain your vulnerability, your openness to being wrong or small-minded or whatever; you also want to assert the privilege of making some moral judgments, despite your own lack of moral perfection. The claim of others that because you are such and such a type of person (the act of psychologizing you, that is) you cannot make moral statements, or that you are condemned to false moralizing, can have a powerfully undermining effect on your confidence in your own perceptions. Itís your very seriousness, your very willingness to consider that you may be wrong or out of line, that Palcontents recognize and exploit terribly.


The point here, as I see it, is not that the blogosphere is basically similar to academe (insofar as they both contain and even sustain trolls), but rather that a behavior that is regarded as beyond unacceptable in internet debate (hence the fetching term "troll") is in some corners of academe the approved manner of interaction. What's recognized as pathological bullshit on blogs can be a career-making style in academe; the famed failure of academics to police themselves has produced a decadent, increasingly anti-intellectual culture in which the shrill survive--even thrive--by trolling malleable others into compliance and by driving everyone else away.

Perhaps that's an overstatement, but there are many, many days when what I read about academe and what I live within it make it seem otherwise. Just one of the many reasons I'm looking for nonacademic work.

Erin O'Connor, 9:40 PM | Permalink




Penn's codes decoded

It's been a rough week for the University of Pennsylvania, at least in the blogosphere (no thanks to me). Now John Rosenberg has taken up the analytical cudgels, applying his considerable talent for picking apart affirmative action policies to my noble employer. The result is a picture of an institution thoroughly committed to discriminating in order to prove its commitment to ending discrimination. In fairness to Penn, it is far from alone in arraying its preferential policies against its declarations of equality and fairness in the way it has. But that doesn't make it any less interesting as a case study in what John aptly calls the guiding "hypocrisy" of the modern university.

Erin O'Connor, 8:58 PM | Permalink




John Leo on campus speech

Writing for U.S. News & World Report, John Leo delivers an excellent summary of the current state of campus speech. Particularly good is his summary of the groups that have been using litigation to press schools to respect the constitutional rights of their students:


The litigation is being handled by groups such as the Center for Individual Rights, the Alliance Defense Fund, and--most spectacularly--by the Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which is now a major player in the campus wars. These groups have been winning free-speech cases one after another, creating momentum that is forcing many censorship-minded administrators into a defensive crouch.

For most of the 1990s, speech restrictions met little resistance. After the courts struck down campus speech codes, universities simply (and dishonestly) recast the speech codes as behavior and antiharassment policies, using extremely broad language to forbid expression that annoys, embarrasses, or ridicules. The language made almost every accused student guilty as charged. The mainstream press ignored the issue, and students generally held their tongues, fearing retaliation. Now the students know how to call FIRE, and FIRE knows how to call Fox News. "The difference is that students now know they can win," said Thor Halvorssen, who recently stepped down as the chief executive officer of FIRE. Sometimes the victories are astonishingly easy. When FIRE sued Citrus College in California, the college quickly yielded, lifting its policy banning all "offensive . . . expression or language" and eliminating its policy of confining student protest to three small areas on campus.

The Center for Individual Rights is working out a settlement in the case of a white student punished for "disruption" after quietly posting a flier at the multicultural center of California Polytechnic State University. There was no disruption. The black students who complained simply didn't like the flier, which promoted a speech by a black conservative author. Cal Poly's action seemed clearly unconstitutional but typical of what many colleges got away with when nobody was watching. Terry Pell of CIR says his friends, left and right, are appalled when they hear about the Cal Poly case. CIR's attorney in the case, Carol Sobel, frequently works for the American Civil Liberties Union. And Pell says that judges of all political persuasions are appalled when CIR brings them cases like this, too.


Read the whole thing, as they say.

Erin O'Connor, 10:31 AM | Permalink




February 7, 2004 [feather]
Profiling Chairman Stan

As promised, here is anon.'s portrait of Chairman Stan, the not-so-lovable, not-so-bright administrator in Critical Mass' ongoing unsigned serial academic fiction project:


Chairman Stan insisted that everyone call him Chairman Stan. Whenever anyone addressed him more formally, as Dr. or Professor Drain, he always said, "Let's not stand on ceremony. Call me Chairman Stan. My friends always call me Chairman Stan." Everyone Chairman Stan met was, by virtue of having met him, a friend.

Chairman Stan was the embodiment of cordiality. He always shook the hands and punched the arms of his male colleagues. He always embraced his women colleagues and kissed them on their cheeks.

So cordial was Chairman Stan that he created a party atmosphere wherever he went. He served heady champagne at faculty meetings, kept a dish of nuts on his desk and a well-stocked minibar behind it, and peppered his memos with spirited congenial phrases playfully culled from a range of festive languages: Vamos! Alors! Aloha! Chairman Stan just loved meetings and memos.

But meetings and memos were not enough for a chairman who saw the department as a great ongoing cocktail party and saw himself as its host. During his time as chairman, Chairman Stan had launched several initiatives to enhance departmental culture. There was a weekly happy hour on Thursday afternoon (it had originally been slated for Fridays, but had to be moved since no one, including himself, came to campus on Fridays). There was a fortnightly wine and cheese lecture colloquium designed to display the brilliance of Planckton Hall's prolific faculty to itself and to whatever admiring, awestruck graduate students chose to attend. And once a month there was a dinner party for the faculty and its significant others--Chairman Stan had drawn up a detailed rotating schedule for these dinners, so that one could see at a glance who would be cooking dinner for the department when, and so that one could see when one would oneself be expected to feed the full complement of one's departmental colleagues.

As with any edifice, however, there were certain cracks in Chairman Stan's cordiality. Drinks from his office minibar were only offered to deans and to those endowed chairs whose cooperation could smooth the course of his chairmanship. His handshake was disconcertingly limp; his lips strangely cold. He botched the festive phrases in his festive memos: Basto! he would write at the end of a long memo; Bon journo, he would write at a memo's beginning. He made frequent reference to zeitguest and to tutti frutti, which he seemed to regard not as a flavor, but as a synonym for "asap": "Let's get on this tutti frutti," he would exhort.

These cracks were disturbingly unrevealing, however. Though they exposed some hard truths about Chairman Stan's languid physique and linguistic limitations, they told the observer nothing about his motives, opinions, abilities, or beliefs. They were cracks to nowhere, fissures in a facade so substantial that nothing, not even the sharpest most skeptical scrutiny, could penetrate it.

Chairman Stan was certainly sincere, but no one was sure what he was sincere about. He was definitely in earnest, but about what--besides being earnest--it was hard to say. As such, Chairman Stan was maddening to even his most bureaucratically adept colleagues. He was always around and yet never fully present; he was totally available to meet but unable or unwilling to focus once there. People would have been more comfortable with him if he was simply, clearly false.

No one knew if Chairman Stan was good at his job or bad at it. He acquired the job because no one else wanted it and he kept it because he was willing to keep doing it. What they did know was that whether or not he was capable or competent, he wielded cheer as others would wield a weapon.

Chairman Stan's special administrative genius was to use congeniality not to create a truly warm, welcoming departmental atmosphere, but as an instrument of repression. Complaint and criticism were impossible under his merry regime. The rule of bright smiles and kissy faces made it more than impossible to identify either a lack of leadership or a flagging morale--the rule of bright smiles and kissy faces made it impossible to imagine that such things even existed.


Reader Mark Allen writes, in response to Douglas Bass' uncertainty about who should play Chairman Stan in the movie, "the perfect actor to play Chairman Stan is the late, great Phil Hartman." By George, I think he's got it.

UPDATE 2/10/04: Douglas Bass agrees about Phil Hartmann, and offers further thoughts on casting and genre. Stay tuned for further installments.

Erin O'Connor, 8:40 AM | Permalink




February 6, 2004 [feather]
Casting Pictures from an Institution, by anon.

Douglas Bass has sketched out the opening scenes of a film based on Pictures from an Institution, Critical Mass' ongoing unsigned serial academic fiction project (chapters--or scenes--one through eight of which are available here). He writes:


The first scene I saw as the opening credits were rolling, was of Erwin and his wife Louise leaving a holiday party. Erwin is slightly deconstructed, and Louise is trying to talk him out of going to MLA this year, but knowing she will not succeed. It's not like Erwin has a paper to present, or a job to interview for, or people with whom to make alliances. He's just enjoying the feeling of not being a lemming in a sea of lemmings. He's just enjoying not having to mightily strive in a room of people who are mightily striving.

I crumpled that up in my mind's eye and started over. Now as the opening credits are rolling, we see Erwin going through all the pre-MLA preparations. It is my observation that as I get older, the length of my eyebrows has a significant impact on how old I look. If they're well-trimmed, I look younger and crisper; if they're out-of-control, I look older and more decrepit. I was thinking about that when I was thinking about Erwin R. Sackville getting his eyebrows waxed. Anyway, as the opening credits are rolling, Erwin is getting his nails trimmed, his hair (what's left of it) styled, his Prada suit tailored to perfection. The opening music is something light, happy and bouncy, something that conveys the sense of purposeful activity, but is yet at the same time frolicsome. Like that little bit from Rossini's The Thieving Magpie that got used in A Clockwork Orange, and then a million other places, or bits from L'Italiana in Algeri (The Italian Girl in Algiers) or The Barber of Seville by Rossini. Somehow there should be pictures as the opening credits are rolling of some of the main players getting ready for their trip to New Orleans.


I've mentioned that the MLA scenes I've been posting for anon. are excerpts from a longer manuscript. That manuscript contains sketches of each of the characters that ought to be helpful in moments of imaginative exigency such as this. Anon. has graciously granted me permission to publish these when and as I am inclined, and it is thus that I bring you Erwin R. Sackville, profiled:

Erwin R. Sackville's telescope was but the most recent item in a long series of fancy pieces of equipment acquired in the name of research. As the Franz Kafka Professor of Metamorphosis Studies, Erwin R. Sackville enjoyed considerable professional privileges, including a substantial annual allowance for "research-related expenses." Erwin R. Sackville availed himself of his allowance as fully as he knew how: each year, he spent it all, and each year he successfully petitioned the deans to increase his allotment to reflect the rising cost of scholarly living. Such a frequent buyer was he that he had his own university-issued acquisitions ID # (these were usually reserved for entire departments) and his own stack of yellow purchase orders (to these he signed the Planckton Hall business administrator's name with the signature flair of a born forger).

Such purchasing power was essential to a professor whose scholarly interests changed as frequently as did those of Erwin R. Sackville. Hired as a Kafka scholar, he had quickly transformed himself into a Marxist theorist. From there he had become, in rapid chameleonic succession, a deconstructionist, a feminist theorist, an African-Americanist, a Foucauldian critic, a queer theorist, a body critic, a material culture critic, and an ecocritic. Over the course of his career, Erwin R. Sackville had in fact metamorphosed so many times into so many things that the department created an entire subfield in his honor. Whereas Erwin R. Sackville had at various times been a world-class expert on gender and sexuality; green criticism; differance; jouissance; slave narratives; power and resistance; the politics of embodiment; and the materiality of such culturally significant items as oakum, dust, and bakelite; his true calling lay in the cracks between these specializations, in the swift and decisive conversion from one area of expertise to the next. No one knew better than Erwin R. Sackville how to reinvent himself academically, and nobody did it better, with more alacrity, cunning, and speed. For sheer force of methodological will Erwin R. Sackville was unmatched. Many people had many things to say about Erwin R. Sackville's studiously trendy approach to the life of the mind. But the insinuation that he did not live up to the title "Professor of Metamorphosis Studies" was not one of them.

Erwin R. Sackville's research acquisitions were as numerous and varied as his research interests. Over the years he had acquired a set of fiberglass skis (for researching the impact of winter sports on mountain ecology), custom-fitted leather pants (for researching the impact on animal rights activists of politically incorrect dressing), handmade hemp pants (for appeasing the animal rights activists, who set his leather ones on fire), and a state of the art stereo system (for conducting simultaneous inquiries into pop culture, the history of technology, and the political phenomenology of sound).

But Erwin R. Sackville's first love, when it came to research spending, was equipment that allowed him to *look.* He started with a pair of gold wire glasses by Armani, and gradually worked his way across the optical spectrum. He collected antique monacles and procured a satellite dish. He bought countless old daguerreotypes in worn velvet cases and a pair of Russian binoculars used during World War II. There were opera glasses, a Nikon camera, and an electron microscope; there were an opthalmoscope, a video camera, and kaleidoscopes from across the ages. Erwin R. Sackville justified these acquisitions by filling out purchase orders that announced their necessity to his ongoing inquiries into the male gaze.

Though Erwin R. Sackville had not yet officially declared himself to be a Lacanian analyst of oppressively eroticized looking, he was nearing the moment when he felt ready to do so. The optical equipment had helped him ease the phenomenally unpleasant process of reading Lacan. And during the many hours of respite required to recover from his brief forays into the convoluted world of mirror phases, eccentric selves, and linguistic unconsciousness, Erwin R. Sackville had used his growing collection of specular tools to observe his own scopophilic phallocentrism firsthand. Technologies of looking, Erwin R. Sackville had discovered, encouraged one to look. He tested this theory on the girl in the apartment across the way, purchasing with research funds a state of the art telescope to determine whether being able to look at her up close made him spend even more time looking at her than he already did.


I think Erwin R. Sackville is large and pink and cultured, with a glint in his mannered eye and just a trace of something untoward in his otherwise impeccable demeanour. I see him as an aging bachelor-aesthete, and I think that, when he is not wearing his garnet silk smoking jacket, he is always wearing a suit. He makes me think of Anthony Hopkins, or perhaps Jack Nicholson.

Bass also writes that Chairman Stan thus far eludes him:


I'm having a hard time getting a fix on Chairman Stan in my mind. Not just what he might look like, but what kind of person he is. Is he just oblivious to some people's feelings, or is he really vicious and cruel underneath that thin veneer of jollity? And if he is, how did he ever get to be Chairman? And what's with all the Latin quotes? Does he think he's actually impressing anyone, or is he simply amusing himself? I could understand the latter.

I've got a sketch of the good chairman that may help clear up--or at least explain--some of the confusion surrounding him. More anon, with thanks to anon.

Erin O'Connor, 7:53 AM | Permalink




February 4, 2004 [feather]
Pictures from an Institution, by anon; VIII

Douglas Bass thinks "Pictures from an Institution" should be a movie (which compliment flattered "anon" when I passed it on). He's already at work on the casting.

If you are new to Critical Mass' ongoing unsigned serial academic fiction project, you can catch up on the first seven chapters here. Below, please find the eighth, "The Horror."

******

Friday, December 28: Carol Mann sprawls face down on her hotel bed, trying to work up the energy to attend the Planckton Hall cocktail party that is being held in Chairman Stan's suite. She has spent all day in Chairman Stan's suite and does not want to return.

Today has been Carol Mann's induction into the mysteries of the academic hiring process. She has never served on a search committee before, and has never been to a job interview that was not her own. Today she has spent nine consecutive hours observing twelve consecutive interviews. What she has seen has exhausted her. She can't breathe with her nose crushed into her pillow, but neither can she move.

From ten in the morning till six at night, Chairman Stan's suite was a veritable assembly line of academic assessment. Although twelve different people interviewed for three separate jobs in three distinct fields, not one of them stood out as either a scholar or an individual. They looked the same--they wore short chic hair and dark new suits. They talked the same--they gave convoluted, overlong descriptions of something called "my work," and their speech was studded with words like "hegemonic," "political," "social construction," "institutionalization," "radical," and "interrogate." Not only did they talk the same, they sounded the same--behind the rhetoric, their voices were tentative, nervous, at once embarrassed, proud, and eager to please. They even sat the same--perched on the edge of the straightbacked chair set aside for them by Chairman Stan, rigid and clenched, trying not to move or take up space.

When Carol discovered, in the middle of the third interview, that she could not tell the candidates apart, she chided herself for letting her mind wander. But when close, dedicated attention yielded no better result, when even taking notes failed to differentiate them, Carol realized that what she was witnessing was not a gross lapse in her own concentration, but rather a disturbing feature of the hiring process itself. There were not really twelve candidates for three jobs, she realized. There was one candidate, multiplied by twelve. These interchangeable shades passing through Chairman Stan's suite at forty minute intervals were not people, but profiles. They were not scholars with unique perspectives and original ideas, but subtle variations on a closely circumscribed, familiar theme.

They came and they went and came and went and ran together as they came and went and when there were none left, the people who had watched them come and go all pretended to know who should be hired and why. They held a conversation that was premised on the thesis that the candidates were not only extraordinarily varied, but phenomenally well-qualified, and they spoke about them in terms that were every bit as generic as the candidates themselves.

Carol groans and squeezes her eyes shut as she remembers how they had decided who to hire.

Delbert Jett narrowed the new media studies candidates down to one by pointing out that the other three had all failed to consider what cyberspace might mean for the future of the book. "They were far too awed by their own subject matter," he argued. "They had no concept that the internet is inherently hostile to our field of study. People like them will be the death of English departments." And thus was the only remaining new media candidate elected, by unanimous default, to the job.

More discussion was needed to narrow down the candidates for the positions in women's literature and postcolonial performance studies.

"I did not feel," said Michiko Fry, "That the last candidate's position on the place of spectacle in postcolonial performance was adequately problematized." And the last candidate was eliminated.

"The first candidate did not have a properly inclusive understanding of women's literature," said Elinor Crisp. "I was troubled by the manner in which her dissertation, which focussed solely on white women writers, replicated the historical racism of the women's movement in the name of empowering all women." And the first candidate was crossed off the list.

"We should consider the politics of hiring a white South African for a postcolonialist position," commented Arabella Martineau. And the white South African candidate was crossed off the list.

And so the discussion went, until, by process of discrimination, only one candidate remained for each position. The chosen three would be offered jobs that evening at the Planckton Hall cocktail party, where they would be in attendance along with faculty, grad students, and the nine nearly identical candidates that had just been crossed off the list. Horatio Sample had suggested that this might not be the most sensitive course of action. But Chairman Stan was of a decidely different opinion.

"What could be more festive, my good friends," Chairman Stan had crowed, popping the cork off an anticipatory bottle of champagne and pouring toasts for all, "or more welcoming, than the announcement that we have made three stunning additions to our departmental family? I hereby toast ourselves, for our magnificent efforts and our unerring good taste. De gluteus!" he had cried, and drank.

Now, wincing into the airless privacy of her pillow, Carol thinks of the candidates gathering in Chairman Stan's suite, accepting glasses of white wine and making polite unsuspecting small talk with the people that have just decided their fates in such summary form. She pictures what will happen to their expressions when Chairman Stan makes his announcement, and she squirms face down in the dark.

to be continued

Erin O'Connor, 8:34 PM | Permalink




February 3, 2004 [feather]
Where the speech code roams

Ten years ago, the University of Pennsylvania became a national laughing stock when it unfairly prosecuted an undergraduate student for yelling at a group of noisy black women beneath his dorm window, "Shut up, you water buffalo!" There was nothing racist about Eden Jacobowitz' remark, which was in fact an unconscious translation of a common, racially-neutral Hebrew term of insult. But the women thought it was racist, and complained. Jacobowitz was charged with verbal harassment under Penn's racial harassment policy, and it was not until the national media tore Penn and its policies to shreds that the school backed down. The fallout included the repeal of the speech code, the ignominious end of Penn president Sheldon Hackney's reign, and the hiring of current Penn president Judith Rodin. Rodin has strenuously upheld the commitment Penn made to free speech in the wake of the Water Buffalo Incident ... mostly.

As Rodin enters the final five months of her presidential career (she is stepping down in July and will be replaced by Princeton provost Amy Gutmann), Penn is reaffirming its sexual harassment policy--even though that policy contains a speech code.

Here are the vital passages:


For the purposes of University policy, the term "sexual harassment" refers to any unwanted sexual attention that:

1. Involves a stated or implicit threat to the victim's academic or employment status;

2. Has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual's academic or work performance; and/or;

3. Creates an intimidating or offensive academic, living, or work environment.

The University regards such behavior, whether verbal or physical, as a violation of the standards of conduct required of all persons associated with the institution. Accordingly, those inflicting such behavior on others are subject to the full range of internal institutional disciplinary actions, including separation from the University. Likewise, acts of retaliation will be subject to the same range of disciplinary actions.

As noted in the Handbook for Faculty and Academic Administrators, Policies and Procedures, the Academic Bulletin, and other University publications, persons engaged in such harassment within the University setting are subject to the full range of internal institutional disciplinary actions, including separation from the institution.

Not every act that might be offensive to an individual or a group necessarily will be considered as harassment and/or a violation of the University's standard of conduct. In determining whether an act constitutes harassment, the totality of the circumstances that pertain to any given incident in its context must be carefully reviewed and due consideration must be given to the protection of individual rights, freedom of speech, academic freedom and advocacy.


Yes, lip service is paid here to free speech and individual rights. But the code also defines sexual harassment as verbal behavior that offends, intimidates, or interferes with one's work. As a woman (note the accomplished use of the language of identity politics, as honed through many years of academic life), that's just about anything I want it to be. It might include, for example, the graduate student who once called me a shrew on a large university listserv; the administrator who questioned me, in a professional setting, about my sex life; and the colleague who has been known to describe me to students as a "crazy bitch."

Think I'm over-reaching? Think again. Penn publishes a list of behaviors that qualify as sexual harassment under its policy. They include:


* Continuous idle chatter of a sexual nature and graphic sexual descriptions
* Sexual slurs, sexual innuendoes, and other comments about a person' s clothing, body and/ or sexual activities
* Offensive and persistent risquÈ jokes or jesting and kidding about sex or gender-specific traits
* Suggestive or insulting sounds such as whistling, wolf calls, or kissing sounds
* Sexually provocative comments or compliments about a person's clothing or the way their clothes fit.
* Comments of a sexual nature about weight, body, shape, size or figure
* Comments about the sensuality of a person, or his/ her spouse or significant other
* Distribution of written or graphic materials that are derogatory and are of a sexual nature
* Repeated unsolicited propositions for dates and/or sexual relations
* Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences or history

Penn also considers certain non-verbal behaviors to be harassing forms of expression. They include:

Sexual looks such as leering and ogling with suggestive overtones
* Licking lips or teeth, winking, or throwing kisses
* Holding or eating food provocatively
* Lewd gestures, such as hand or sign language to denote sexual activity
* Persistent and unwelcome flirting
* Staring at an individual or looking a person up and down (elevator eyes)
* Giving personal gifts
* Displaying sexually suggestive pictures calendars posters, statues, etc.

At Penn, the sexual speech code is so comprehensive that it even includes body language.

Is Penn a more civil place because I can file charges against any fool who calls me a name or, for that matter, sucks his straw the wrong way in my presence? No. Penn's sexual harassment policy--which has been in effect since its companion speech code, the racial harassment policy, fell in the mid-90s--adds to the already considerable problem of academic incivility by encouraging members of the Penn community to respond to inappropriate or offensive speech not with more and better speech, or even with dignified silence, but with an equally inappropriate and highly vengeful quest for censorship, prior restraint, and institutionally imposed punishment for those who cross a listener's invisible line.

A sexual harassment policy that is also a speech code promotes a victim mentality, inviting women to see themselves as helpless in the face of insult, as fragile beings so vulnerable to wounding words that they cannot cope with them on their own. It implies that the school is placing a commitment to protecting women's sensibilities above its commitment to learning. And it converts the atmosphere of the campus into an absurd parody of threat--one where danger is created by the code, rather than controlled by it. Reaffirming such a policy--rather than revising it to bring it into closer conformity with Penn's stated commitment to free expression--is a sad way for President Rodin to conclude her career at Penn.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 7:14 PM | Permalink




February 2, 2004 [feather]
Tenure scandal brewing at Penn

Today's Daily Pennsylvanian is running an op-ed from assistant professor of psychology Francisco Gil-White alleging that his tenure review has been corrupted by colleagues who wish to see him fired for political reasons. In addition to his academic work, Gil-White edits and contributes to the web site "Emperor's New Clothes," which is dedicated to investigative reporting on alleged U.S. war crimes in Yugoslavia. According to Gil-White, his involvement with the site so disturbed the senior colleague who was assigned to "mentor" him through his assistant professorship that it led to an email "advising" him that he should give the work up if he wanted to keep his job. The email also suggests that Gil-White inappropriately commandeers class time to hector students with his politics--a claim Gil-White refutes on his site.

Gil-White's department recently voted to give him tenure--but the vote was mixed, and the handwriting is now on the wall. Mixed departmental votes almost always spell a negative tenure decision at Penn (and elsewhere). Gil-White has as good as received his walking papers. His publication, service, and teaching records are strong, however, and he remains convinced that political bias has brought about the impending end of his Penn career. Gil-White has documented his case on his faculty home page, reprinting the correspondence with departmental colleagues that he believes is relevant to his case. Read it and see what you think.

At the very least, what we are looking at with Gil-White's case is a prime example how hopelessly flawed the tenure process is. Notoriously non-transparent and eminently abusable, the tenure process can readily be used by people with grudges or agendas to damage the careers of those they dislike. For this reason, even when the process proceeds "fairly" (I put the word in quotes because I don't believe that a process that allows careers to be destroyed anonymously and without accountability can ever be called fair), it is always open to the sorts of accusations Gil-White makes here. This is not to discredit Gil-White, but rather to note the difficulties someone in his position faces. When your career hangs in the balance of a secret, ultimately subjective review process, you are always essentially conjecturing--and essentially stating the obvious--when you claim the process has been corrupted.

Penn tends to be a pretty quiet campus when it comes to the sorts of scandals I regularly write about on Critical Mass. But Gil-White is going public in a way that promises to draw some awfully unpleasant media scrutiny. One can't really blame him--that's the only way he stands a chance of exposing what he believes is happening to him. But one notes, too, that the publicity is something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If his colleagues did not hate him before, they will certainly hate him now. And if they had mixed feelings about retaining him before, now they will become passionate about wanting to be rid of him.

I'll post more as more becomes available.

UPDATE: KC Johnson, who knows whereof he speaks when it comes to persecutorial tenure reviews, has more.

UPDATE, 2/6/04: Arutz Sheva has picked up the story, suggesting that Gil-White's problems began when he stopped voicing pro-Arab opinions and began supporting Israel. Thanks to reader Fred R. for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 9:15 AM | Permalink




February 1, 2004 [feather]
Alumni tactics

Dartmouth alum Thurman Rodgers is unhappy with the direction the school is taking--and so he is petitioning to be made a member of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees. John Bruce has the details, along with some observations on what alumni can and should be doing to ensure that their schools continue to live up to their missions.

One thing is clear: higher education is not going to reform itself from within. There is simply no motivation to do so. The haves want to keep things as they are; the have-nots don't get a say in how things are run. If you are concerned about the state of higher education, if you believe that reform is necessary, if you read this site or other ed-blogs with a sense of horror at what the American educational system is becoming, then it is incumbent on you to act. How you do so is up to you. Rodgers' efforts are noble--but they are only those of one man. Imagine what an impact entire cadres of concerned, informed citizens and alumni could have.

UPDATE: A reader writes to caution me against "the type of academic reform represented by the likes of Thurman Rodgers," noting that


while I'm only familiar with the case via your blog (and its links), several things worry me about this type of person assuming a position of power at any university.

On his campaign page, Rodgers tells us that he's a CEO of a high-tech firm and not much more. What is telling is that his primary goal in seeking a Trustee position is to alter curriculum so that students can "assume their responsibilities in a 21st century information society."

This sounds to me like the absolute opposite of the liberal arts model that you seem to laud, and my experience in the California State University system and at USC suggests to me that people like Rodgers simply bring "business models" to higher education but little more. Students become "tuition-paying units" and what should be a sacrosanct institution (a university) becomes an "enterprise."

Now obviously what you deride every day cannot be denied, but I think that what Thurston Rodgers represents is simply a different kind of problem and not a viable solution.


All points well taken. The goal of alumni activism should not be for alums to hijack their former schools, and it should not be for them to use personal clout to force curricular or structural change.

At the same time, I think Rodgers' goals are quite reasonable, and I don't find them at all inconsistent with the goals of a responsible liberal arts education. Rodgers' platform urges Dartmouth to ensure that its graduates are competent writers and reasoners with solid grounding in history, economics, math, science and civics. Add a bit of literature to that and what you've got is a liberal arts education. In other words, what Rodgers believes will prepare students for adult life in the information age involves not a betrayal or replacement of the liberal arts curriculum, but a recommitment to it.

Rodgers also wants to see greater transparency in Dartmouth's governance, open debate about the school's goals and direction, and a repeal of the school's speech code. These are all unexceptionable demands that are both essential to the principle of free intellectual inquiry and absolutely consistent with the values of a liberal society.

Erin O'Connor, 5:22 PM | Permalink