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March 30, 2004 [feather]
Too close for comfort

Many a campus "conservative" is born in the crucible of the ideological double standard. As students of campus politics well know, conservatism in the ivory tower is a very different creature than conservatism beyond it; outside the ivory tower, if you are pro-choice, anti-death penalty, pro-gun control, and pro-gay marriage, that pretty much certifies you as a liberal. On campus, it's not that easy: you can be all these things on campus, and yet still be labelled "conservative" if, for example, you question the logic or practice of affirmative action, if you think religious and Republican students should have just as many expressive rights as liberal agnostics and atheists, or, even more strangely, if you believe in a traditional curriculum that emphasizes mastery of a defined set of skills and a defined "canon" of content. Bottom line: if you depart from a widely accepted set of institutionalized norms, you are a problem whose name is, in the lexical oversimplifications that define the messier pockets of campus life, "conservative."

Mike Adams is, in campus terms, a conservative thrice over: an institutional gadfly who also happens to be a Republican and a Christian. For the good people at UNC-Wilmington, where Adams is a criminal justice professor, that's just more conservatism than others should have to stand. People were offended by Adams' views; some of his colleagues even found that his open, public expression of those views made them feel "uncomfortable." So Adams' administrative superiors did what they apparently do best: they solved the problem not by reminding Adams' colleagues that he has a constitutional right to express his beliefs, but by forbidding Adams to talk about anything that might make his colleagues uncomfortable while he is at work.

How did they rationalize this? By invoking political uniformity as an institutional ideal. Not everyone sees things the way you do, Mike, they told him; in other words, those who "see things" the way Adams does should keep their visions to themselves. There's that pesky little problem of liberal bias, again. You know, the one that doesn't exist?

Details are here, along with a list of the things Adams' colleagues have said that make him personally uncomfortable. Those of us who have been the recipients of similar administrative directives will feel a certain sympathetic thrill at how Adams unmasks the righteous hypocrisy of his local feel-good censors.

Adams is hoping that the administration will honor his discomfort as swiftly as it honored those who complained about him. After all, since UNC-Wilmington admins have undertaken to violate the law in order to provide the comfiest workplace possible, they should at least take care to violate it in a fair and non-partisan manner.

Thanks to Todd Hartch for the link.

UPDATE: Ralph Luker has more. Don't miss the comments, wherein is discussed an emerging trend in college syllabus creation: the inclusion of an "offensive material" disclaimer. So far, no one has addressed the hypothetical in which a student, colleague, or administrator is offended by the offensive material disclaimer.

Erin O'Connor, 4:44 PM | Permalink | Comments (20)




March 29, 2004 [feather]
Bucknell and the harassing vagina

As long as we are on the subject of how speech codes create the problems they are ostensibly designed to resolve, don't miss the current issue of the Bucknell Conservatives Club's publication, The Counterweight. On page twelve, you will find a telling little piece on how Bucknell's annual production of Eve Ensler's "The Vagina Monologues"--which this year was promoted with vagina-shaped candy and t-shirts that read, "Eat it. Sleep it. Love it. Live it. Bucknell vagina"--amounts to a staged, institutionally endorsed violation of the school's very own speech code. The piece is a fair-minded and effective one; its point is not that Ensler's play, or the in-your-face chocolates and clothing that advertised it, should be banned, but that Bucknell's speech code should be repealed.

The Bucknell Conservatives Club has been campaigning against the school's speech code all year, and has been doing so from a resolutely non-partisan standpoint. Last fall, BCC president Charles Mitchell sent a letter to all incoming Bucknell freshmen advising them of the existence of the code, explaining how that code restricts their free speech rights and chills their educations in advance, and urging all students, of all political persuasions, to take seriously the fact that their school is openly in the business of using censorship to quell debate and to inhibit free inquiry.

I admire the BCC's free speech campaign. And I humbly suggest that their next salvo in defense of free speech on campus include tongue-shaped chocolates and t-shirts that read something like, "Read it. Write it. Say it out loud. Bucknell free speech." You go, you guys.

Erin O'Connor, 9:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (3)




March 27, 2004 [feather]
OCR investigates UNC

In February, bloggers and journalists had a field day with a UNC-Chapel Hill English instructor who slammed a student--publicly, unrelentingly, by name, in writing--for expressing views she found distasteful. Class discussion had roamed onto the subject of how gay and straight men relate to one another, and one student reportedly said that his Christian beliefs led him to disapprove of homosexuality. He related the story of a friend who had found another man's sexual advances "disgusting." Shortly afterward, the instructor, Elyse Crystall, sent an email to the course listserv condemning the student's comments as "violent" examples of "hate speech" and announcing that she would not tolerate more such speech in her classroom. She wrote that he was a "white, heterosexual, [C]hristian male" who thinks he is "entitled to make violent, heterosexist comments and not feel marked or threatened or vulnerable."

After the media got hold of the incident, Crystall issued an apology, declaring, not quite convincingly, that her goal had not been to censor anyone's views, but rather to promote mutual respect. The university responded in an exemplary manner, declaring its commitment to academic freedom and free speech, and announcing that Crystall's class would be monitored for the remainder of the term.

But that's not the end of it. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights is now investigating the incident as a possible instance of--you guessed it--sexual harassment. In a letter dated March 22, the OCR wrote that it would be "investigating whether an e-mail sent by a teacher on or about Feb. 6 ... constituted harassment based on race or sex and whether the university responded appropriately" and announcing that "Our review will include whether any similar incidents had been brought to the university's attention previously, and whether the university responded consistently in those incidents." Read all about it here and here.

Amazing to see the OCR recognizing that the censorious culture of campus liberalism, which routinely enacts official and ad hoc speech codes in order to impose certain values as behavioral and intellectual norms, can itself readily give rise to the very sorts of harassment it claims to work to prevent. The OCR has asked UNC for copies of its harassment policies as well as for copies of all documents pertaining to the Crystall case. This means that the good people at the OCR will have an opportunity to study the manner in which UNC's sexual harassment policy amounts to a speech code, and to consider the ethical problems it posed for Crystall.

I don't approve of what Crystall did by any stretch of the imagination. But at the same time, I will note that her actions were consistent with the school's sexual harassment policy, which explicitly forbids, among other forms of expression, "questions or comments of a personal nature related to a person's sexual interests or experiences" and "unwelcome jokes or pejorative comments about sex or gender-specific traits that demean or denigrate another person's sex as a whole." Orientation is not mentioned here, but it is strongly implied. That implication is in turn bolstered by UNC's Resource and Action Plan for Sexual Orientation, which extends the school's harassment policies to cover issues of sexual orientation. At UNC, derogatory comments about homosexuality fall within the purview of harassment. And in this sense, the university's exemplary response to the Crystall affair was also, quite arguably, hypocritical. It was a lot easier to pillory her as an enemy of academic freedom than it was to address the real problem her actions raised: that they were quite consistent with university policy, and that in condemning the student as she did, Crystall was actively carrying out the school's stated mission.

That's certainly how at least two other UNC professors understood the matter. Scroll down here to read a letter to the editor of the News-Observer from UNC professors Altha Cravey and Trude Bennett defending Crystall's actions as a faithful execution of official school policy.

Thanks as ever to the indomitable Fred Ray for the tip.

UPDATE: The Chronicle of Higher Education is covering this story, and includes a quote from Crystall that corroborates the point I made above:


[Crystall] noted that while the government could investigate her remarks as racist or sexist, it would not investigate the student's as homophobic. "By claiming that there may have been a violation of racial discrimination, that because I called the student white, seems to be a perversion of what the civil-rights laws were meant to protect," she said.

She almost gets it. The point is not that she should be able to regulate what she considers to be homophobic student speech while her own "anti-homophobic" speech should be above reproach, but that no one at UNC-Chapel Hill should be in the business of regulating expression, period. I hope the OCR investigation gets to the root of the problem--that UNC-Chapel Hill has an unconstitutional speech code on the books that is set up to produce just these sorts of debacles.

UPDATE UPDATE: David Bernstein and John Rosenberg have more.

Erin O'Connor, 1:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)




March 25, 2004 [feather]
Wardrobe malfunction at USC

Sometimes black paint is just black paint. But tell that to the folks at the University of South Carolina, where an innocuous black paint incident was recently read as a racist black face incident. On March 2, a sorority fundraiser went awry when a white male student performed a dance number with black paint darkening his legs. The skit was a parody of Janet Jackson's boobalicious Super Bowl performance, and as such it nominally fit the theme of the fundraiser, which was dedicated to raising money for breast cancer research. But the combination of black leg paint and a black female butt-of-joke suggested to some that the Jackson number was a type of minstrel show, and that the object of the skit was to engage in racial mockery. The event went downhill from there.

The black fraternity walked out. Sorority officials issued a formal apology. The Association of African-American Students met with USC's president to demand "minority representation" in the Office of Greek Life and mandatory diversity training for all students. Last week, the university complied with the demand for minority representation in the Office of Greek Life, moving the associate director of multicultural affairs there until that office hires a person of color. And next month, the African-American Studies program will launch a program intended to educate fraternities and sororities about the racial history of minstrel shows.

"This is not just a black or white issue to anyone who understands the history of minstrelsy," said Carl Wells, director of USC's office of multicultural student affairs. "Even if people don't intend to offend anyone, there is a distinction you have to draw between intent and impact."

That would be an understatement. Turns out the student who wore the offending body paint was thus painted because he was scheduled to appear later in the same show in a skit featuring him wearing a painted-on tuxedo. He couldn't put on pants for the Jackson skit, he explained in a public apology Tuesday, because the paint on his legs wasn't dry when it came time for him to go on stage. Besides, the paint represented black cloth, not black skin. I feel like I havent been portrayed as I should be," he said. "Im not a racist."

The offended were unmoved by his explanation. Regardless of his intentions, there was a reaction, said one junior. Its not always about our intentions, but how were perceived. In other words, if someone thinks you are a racist, you are. Even if all you've done is painted pants on your legs.

Justin Williams, president of the Association of African-American Students at USC, has been one of the most vocal proponents of reading the non-episode for all it's worth. "We are in the South, and we have the Confederate flag on the State House grounds," he said initially. "This time they were caught." He adhered to this paranoid stance even after he heard the explanation of how the dancer's legs had come to be black. This is about a sickness that needs to be cured, he told the school paper. He's right about that ... but I don't think the dancer is the one with the sickness.

The moral of the story seems to be that it is less embarrassing to maintain that black body paint is always already racist than it is to admit to a big collective mistake. The subsidiary morals seem to be that misreading can create racism (by creating the appearance of racism) where none exists, and that it's just always best to keep your pants on in public.

No word yet on whether USC's proposed sensitivity training will include a section on the racist connotations of men's formal wear.

I am reminded, perhaps perversely, of a passage from Dickens' Hard Times. The scene is a utilitarian schoolroom, in which an inspector is conducting an impromptu examination of the pupils:


'Suppose you were going to carpet a room. Would you use a carpet having a representation of flowers upon it?

There being a general conviction by this time that No, sir! was always the right answer to this gentleman, the chorus of NO was very strong. Only a few feeble stragglers said Yes: among them Sissy Jupe.

Girl number twenty, said the gentleman, smiling in the calm strength of knowledge.

Sissy blushed, and stood up.

So you would carpet your room or your husbands room, if you were a grown woman, and had a husband with representations of flowers, would you? said the gentleman. Why would you?

If you please, sir, I am very fond of flowers, returned the girl.

And is that why you would put tables and chairs upon them, and have people walking over them with heavy boots?

It wouldnt hurt them, sir. They wouldnt crush and wither, if you please, sir. They would be the pictures of what was very pretty and pleasant, and I would fancy

Ay, ay, ay! But you mustnt fancy, cried the gentleman, quite elated by coming so happily to his point. Thats it! You are never to fancy.

You are not, Cecilia Jupe, Thomas Gradgrind solemnly repeated, to do anything of that kind.

Fact, fact, fact! said the gentleman. And Fact, fact, fact! repeated Thomas Gradgrind.

You are to be in all things regulated and governed, said the gentleman, by fact. We hope to have, before long, a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact, and of nothing but fact. You must discard the word Fancy altogether. You have nothing to do with it. You are not to have, in any object of use or ornament, what would be a contradiction in fact. You dont walk upon flowers in fact; you cannot be allowed to walk upon flowers in carpets. You dont find that foreign birds and butterflies come and perch upon your crockery; you cannot be permitted to paint foreign birds and butterflies upon your crockery. You never meet with quadrupeds going up and down walls; you must not have quadrupeds represented upon walls. You must use, said the gentleman, for all these purposes, combinations and modifications (in primary colours) of mathematical figures which are susceptible of proof and demonstration. This is the new discovery. This is fact. This is taste.

The girl curtseyed, and sat down. She was very young, and she looked as if she were frightened by the matteroffact prospect the world afforded.


We've come a long way from the wilfully unimaginative educational ethos Dickens so harshly condemned. But I think Dickens would roll over in his grave if he knew the uses to which "fancy" is being put on the contemporary campus.

Erin O'Connor, 11:11 PM | Permalink




March 24, 2004 [feather]
An ethical English

In response to yesterday's post, Captain Yips writes to propose a forum on the ethics of teaching English:


It might be interesting to begin a discussion of what you think would be involved in more ethical approach to English. This topic involves approaches to culture, and shakes the tower from kindergarten through graduate school. If we were to rebuild the study of English from the sub-basement to the turret, how? What are the current ethical failings of Big U English, and how widely have they spread? Could be an enlightening donnybrook.

I've touched on this issue a number of times over the past two years, sometimes tangentially, sometimes directly, usually grumpily.

I'd love readers to weigh in on this, and will open comments. Possible topics include:

--the peripheral role of writing instruction in college English

--grade inflation (particularly as it indicates a failure to respond honestly to student writing)

--the conflict of interest that is built into many university writing programs, in which freshman composition is taught by unmentored, untrained graduate students who are placed in the classroom not because they have demonstrated qualifications to teach college writing, but because their contract stipulates that they must teach comp to receive their stipend and because they need teaching experience

--the tremendous reliance of English departments on underpaid, uninsured adjunct teachers

--the vanishing job market

--the overproduction of Ph.D.s and the various exploitations, false advertisings, and malpractices therein

--the politicization of literary study

--the post-structuralization of literary study

--the disappearance of collective disciplinary standards about what constitutes scholarly excellence

--the disappearance of a collective disciplinary sense of mission

--the disappearance of collective disciplinary consensus about what constitutes "English"

--the devaluation of teaching, especially at elite research institutions

--how or whether one may inhabit a discipline that is so rudderless and so ethically compromised in so many ways, without selling one's soul

--how or whether the problems outlined above may be constructively addressed or even resolved

--how we might usefully think--or rethink--the relationships among K-12 English education, college English, graduate English education, teaching English, and "professing" English

And so on.

Erin O'Connor, 9:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)




March 23, 2004 [feather]
Goodbye, IA

Invisible Adjunct is pulling the plug--on one of the best blogs on the web, and on the (invisible, adjunct) academic career that was the occasion for it. I'll miss IA terribly--hers is the first blog I check in the morning and, at the risk of revealing too much about my excessive web use, I'll confess that it's also the last one I check at night. Always smart, ever temperate, able to leap tall issues in a single post, IA has been the wise and witty keeper of one of the blogosphere's most comfortable and canny corners.

I've valued Invisible Adjunct enormously--but I also respect the reasons why the blog must come to an end, and I admire the courage it took for IA to make the decision to leave behind the life academe so abusively doles out to the growing legions of its dispossessed. Though the structural agoraphobia of the academy tries to pretend otherwise, the world is ever so much larger than the ivory tower, and full of opportunities for talented, creative, dedicated people to find meaningful, rewarding work that makes a difference.

I've been chasing a number of those opportunities myself this year, having slowly come to realize, over the last three or four years, that academe is not a place where I can do work I truly believe in and respect. Though the process of deciding to leave was agonal, the decision itself has felt incredibly freeing and right. I still plan to teach; I still plan to write; I still plan to read as much as it is humanly possible for me to read. But I plan to do it in a setting that feels less ethically compromised, more grounded in reality, and thus more likely to permit me to do work that actually matters. The prospect excites me no end, and it gives me a kind of hope that academe never did.

IA, I hope you are feeling hopeful, too. There is a place for you.

Erin O'Connor, 7:06 PM | Permalink




March 22, 2004 [feather]
Keywords for a better campus

Reader Bob Woolley writes to propose an addition to the growing glossary of words describing campus nonsense:


Reading stories on your blog lately has made me think that we need a specific, catchy term for the incidents you chronicle--conservative speakers being disallowed on campus, professors hounded and disciplined for a single politically incorrect word or for criticizing the administration, conservative students' opinions roasted in classes, administrators treating conservative student groups poorly, etc.

I suggest "political harassment."

A Google search tells me that the phrase has been used in lots of different contexts, but nothing consistent. As Alice in Wonderland has it, it means whatever the speaker means it to mean. In the first 50 hits or so, I find one clear use in the campus context--at the very end of this story.

The term "harassment" has become so intensely loaded with shameful and alarming overtones that I find it immensely satisfying to think of all those who have infused it with such potency suddenly finding it turned accusatively against them.

The term certainly fits. The incidents described are every bit as worthy of being labeled "harassment" as the catcalls and open leering that we have come to think of as sexual harassment, or the hateful epithets of racial harassment.


Matters of linguistic coinage should always be subjected to scrutiny and debate. I've opened comments, for those who wish to adjudicate.

Erin O'Connor, 7:19 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)




More fake hate

Kerri Dunn isn't the only actor currently performing hate crimes against herself on the campus stage. Rayan Malik, an international student at the University of New Brunswick's St. John campus, has admitted to faking a racially-motivated assault against himself.


Malik told police and the media that he was attacked by four white men outside the university library on Sunday morning. He said the four men emerged from behind parked cars and called out to him. When he ignored them, he said they grabbed his arms and punched him repeatedly and bloodied his nose, calling him an '[expletive] Middle Eastern brown person.'

Malik then said he was assaulted again on Sunday night, as he was going into another university building to work on a story for the student paper. He claimed a group of men grabbed his jacket, pushed him to the ground and began punching and kicking him repeatedly in the stomach and head.

Saint John Police Cst. Jay Henderson says Malik described the first attack in written and video-taped statements on Sunday afternoon. He then called police again Sunday evening, and made another statement about the second attack.

The media picked up the story on Monday, and Malik conducted lengthy interviews with television and print media about both incidents. Stories about the attacks appeared on the radio and evening newscasts around the province.

Henderson says police became suspicious when they examined Malik for bruises and found none. Investigators checked school security cameras and a security swipe card system students use to enter and leave buildings on campus and discovered Malik was not where he said he was.

Police then found Malik's jacket, which was not torn or dirty, as he claimed it was.

Officers called Malik back on Wednesday, and held him for questioning for approximately five hours, until he admitted he made up the entire story.

The incident prompted the university to promise better security around buildings on weekends.


Last Thursday, Malik pled guilty to public mischief and to misleading police officers. Malik's defense is that he was trying to raise awareness of racism. It's far more likely that he has just increased public cynicism about the very issues he wants people to care about.

But Dunn's and Malik's efforts may not have been entirely in vain. Other aspiring hate crime hoaxers can learn from their mistakes.

Lesson Number One: Don't get caught planting the evidence in broad daylight (Dunn was found out because witnesses saw her drive her already-graffitied car into the school parking lot, and then watched as she proceeded to slash her own tires).

Lesson Number Two: don't report that you have been severely beaten when you haven't got a scratch on you.

Thanks to David Ruddell for the link.

UPDATE: Glenn Reynolds says fake hate crimes should be classified as hate crimes.

Erin O'Connor, 10:43 AM | Permalink




Claremont update

Kerri Dunn, the Claremont McKenna College visiting psychology professor who authorities now believe faked a hate crime against herself has been put on paid leave. Other faculty will take over her courses while the school reviews the results of the police investigation and decides what to do. Dunn denies involvement, though before she became a suspect she did suggest to investigators that they look among her students and their friends for the perpetrator, since they knew she was considering converting to Judaism (though Dunn is a Catholic, anti-Semitic slurs were painted on her car).

Meanwhile, the L.A. Times prints a telling letter to the editor:


Is it possible that life is imitating art? The Laguna Playhouse produced the Southern California premiere of Rebecca Gilman's acclaimed play "Spinning Into Butter" in September 2001, about how hate letters throw a small liberal arts college campus into turmoil, prompting sympathy for the victim and a campus forum on racism. In the play, the victim is discovered to have written the letters himself, upturning political correctness and knee-jerk public reaction.

Sound familiar?

Richard Stein
Executive Director
Laguna Playhouse
Laguna Beach


I often say of campus nonsense that you can't make this stuff up. As Stein points out, there's no need to. The reality of campus life has become its own endlessly unfolding melodrama. Its truth is quite literally stranger than analogous fictions (I am thinking not just of the play cited above, but of David Mamet's Oleanna, Francine Prose's Blue Angel, and Philip Roth's The Human Stain, all works that, in seeking to capture the sheer pathology of campus politics, pale in comparison to the realities they reference).

Erin O'Connor, 9:18 AM | Permalink




March 18, 2004 [feather]
Emory update

Negative publicity has done its work at Emory. A reader reports that Emory president James Wagner has apologized to the College Republicans for Dean Vera Rorie's censorious and punitive behavior, and that, despite being denied funding by the Emory College Council, the CRs have raised enough money to bring David Horowitz to campus next month after all.

UPDATE: David Bernstein reads my mind:


A college administrator who engages in such blatantly biased and unprofessional behavior should be disciplined (I dont think anyone ever gets fired on a university campus unless he does something illegal) (oh, and for those of you who will instinctively cast aspersions, when I heard the story on Tuesday from Prof. Ann Hartle with fewer details, I suggested immediately that Dean Rorie's behavior should have professional repercussions, and at the time I had no idea that she was African American). Is there any indication that Dean Rorie has suffered any negative consequences for her actions? And why hasn't she apologized? And if Emory's president really wanted to square things with the CRs, how about if he offered to use college funds to bring in Horowitz, allowing the CRs to use the money they raised for other purposes?

I was making a rare effort to accentuate the positive yesterday. But I do agree that the real apology should come from Rorie, and that Rorie's behavior, both at the College Council meeting, where she openly tried to pressure students into following her ideological lead, and after, when she lashed out at the College Republicans for something they did not even do, ought to give the Emory administration serious pause. If this is not behavior they condone, then Rorie's record should show that.

Erin O'Connor, 5:47 PM | Permalink




Documenting the hate

In the comments to John Rosenberg's post on the Claremont fake hate crime, Gabriel Rossman asks an important question:


In my selective perception it seems that with the exception of fraternity "ghetto" parties and other acts of hate speech that are grossly insensitive but harm nobody's physical person nor property, a very high proportion of contemporary campus racial incidents are fake. So my question is, does anyone know of any verified hate crimes involving physical violence or vandalism on a campus? Does anyone know the ratio of fake to true serious campus hate crime accusations? How many convictions have been made in the last 5 or 10 years for this sort of thing? These aren't rhetorical questions, I'm genuinely curious since faking a crime to create sympathy for a political cause is rather bizarre behavior, though obviously not without historical precedent (eg. the Reichstag fire).

I'm going to open comments on this thread. Readers should feel free both to document and to discuss.

Erin O'Connor, 4:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (21)




March 17, 2004 [feather]
Faking hate at Claremont

Sunday, I posed a quasi-rhetorical question about double standards in campus hate crimes. My examples were drawn from recent incidents at California's Claremont colleges, where the world essentially stopped turning last week after racial slurs were written on a professor's car, and Cornell, where authorities refuse to classify the brutal November beating of a white student by six black Ithaca residents as a hate crime, despite her reports that they cursed her for being white as they punched and kicked her in the face.

The question gains additional point in light of the new information that the Claremont professor--who has a two-year contract to teach at the school--vandalized her own car, thus faking the hate crime that brought the campus to its knees last week. Claremont McKenna's official statement on the matter notes that the college is "conducting a further investigation into the professors employment relationship with the College for the remainder of this academic year. No decision has been made at this time." Kudos to the college for publicizing the fact that this was a hoax. Too often, college administrations muffle such news, especially when it comes after an uproar as loud at the one that took place in Claremont last week.

For more on faked hate on campus, see this John Leo column.

Thanks to Amber Taylor for the alert.

UPDATE: More at Class Maledictorian, including pictures of the crime scene and the victim perp.

UPDATE: David Bernstein and John Rosenberg have much more, including the information that before she was caught, Kerri Dunn called the vandalism of her car a "well planned-out act of terrorism." Rosenberg links to an article in today's L.A. Times reporting that Dunn may be charged with a felony for lying to federal investigators. The Times also interviews Stanford sociologist Lee Ross, who offers a chilling rationalization for Dunn's behavior:


Lee Ross, a social psychologist on the faculty at Stanford University, said that if Dunn is proven to have committed the vandalism, the professor may still have raised people's awareness about racism. "One ironic thing is that doing this may actually have accomplished some of her goals, if her goal was to make people feel that racism was present and that there was danger of white backlash," Ross said.

Ross also discussed the possible motive of someone perpetrating a hoax.

"Sometimes people invent facts because they believe that the conclusion that it would lead people to is true," he said. "So they convince themselves that, in some deep way, they're not really lying or they're not really being dishonest because the message they're conveying is one that's true."


Ross is dreaming if he thinks faking hate crimes raises people's awareness of racism. It does far more to raise awareness about how often hate is faked, and to encourage a cynical belief that it is faked more often than not.

Erin O'Connor, 9:32 PM | Permalink




False accusations at Michigan

Earlier this month, flyers were posted on the University of Michigan campus accusing Raymond McDaniel, a UM lecturer in English, of deliberately spreading STDs to students. Beware!!! the flyers warned; below the warning was a photo of McDaniel and his name. Beneath that were two accusations--Seduces Students, Knowingly Transmits STDs--and a final warning to Avoid at all costs!

The Michigan Daily covered the story, noting on March 5 that the campus police were investigating the case as an instance of non-criminal harassment and that the university was conducting its own, independent investigation--one that implicitly accepted the flyers' scandalous accusations as statements of fact:


Separate from DPS investigation, the University is conducting its own review of the situation, University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said. Though she said the University couldnt comment on the accusations made on the flyer, she emphasized that the University encourages victims of sexual harassment to report their complaints in general.

The University does not tolerate sexual harassment, Peterson said. The University does not tolerate coercive relationships.

Students with sexual harassment complaints are encouraged to visit Human Resource Development or the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center.

To deal with sexual harassment and relationships between students and faculty, the University has been working on adopting a new policy to better manage such relationships.

The new policy will continue to discourage faculty-student relations, Peterson said. However if the relations exist and if the faculty (teaches or advises) the student, the faculty member will have to disclose the relationship. Our priority is the educational environment. There is an inherent conflict of interest in faculty-student relations.

However, faculty-student relationships will be irrelevant to the University if the faculty member is not teaching, advising or supervising the student in any way, Peterson said.

The new policy is expected to be adopted sometime this semester, she added.


A week later, the Daily reported that both the campus police and the University had closed their investigations. While the police concluded that McDaniel had not been harassed but that further posting of such flyers could constitute stalking, the University concluded--apparently quite reluctantly--that it did not have enough information to initiate disciplinary proceedings against McDaniel:

Its not being investigated as a criminal matter. It appears to be a one-time incident. We have closed the case, said Lt. Robert Neumann, head of criminal investigations for DPS.

Neumann said if the postings continue, it could develop into a more serious case and DPS would resume investigations.

If somebody engaged in a pattern of harassing conduct against somebody, then it could fit the definition of stalking. But at this time, that is not what we have, Neumann said, in reference to the flyers.

University spokeswoman Julie Peterson said the University cannot continue investigation of the case because no students have come forward and the flyers were posted anonymously.

Right now we do not have a complaint from a student besides for the anonymous flyers. That does not give us the opportunity to conduct a formal investigation, Peterson said.

Unless another student complains of harassment by McDaniel, the University will not investigate the incident further, Peterson added.

Theres really no basis on which to pursue it at this time, she said.


The cross-purposes of the two investigations--in which administrators eagerly pursue an undocumented, anonymous accusation while the campus police regard the accusing flyers as themselves potentially harassing--speak to the peculiar obsessions that characterize sexual politics on campus.

So does the reporter's singular omission: nowhere in the second article does the reporter mention that the reason the investigation was closed was because the flyers had been found to be a hoax. McDaniel's name is not cleared in the article, though it ought to have been; the weight of accusation is not lifted, and he is made to continue to bear the burden of a public smear. Instead of noting the most important fact to date--that the accusations against McDaniel were false--the article concludes on a note very like the one that concluded the original article, with information about where to go if you are being sexually harassed, and with quotes from McDaniel's students about how it feels to be taking a class from a teacher who has been labelled a serial sexual predator:


Obviously now that this has happened youre going to think twice about being in his class, just like youre going to think about being in any males classroom. But he doesnt worry me in particular, the student said.

But the student, an LSA freshman, said she had personally not encountered any uncomfortable situation with McDaniel, nor had she heard of any similar encounters with other students.

The overall opinion is being surprised. Now everyone thinks about it in class, but were not uncomfortable now. You still think about it in the back of your mind, she said.

Peterson said if a student feels that they need guidance about a possible harassment, or wishes to file a report, they can do so anonymously at several locations throughout the University.

One resource for students is the Office of Institutional Equity, a part of the Universitys Human Resources and Affirmative Action division, which can provide anonymous assistance to potential victims of sexual harassment. The office which was created by a recent merger of the Sexual Harassment Policy Office and the Office for a Multicultural Community prepares reports and conducts investigations into reported cases of harassment.

Another resource, the Sexual Assault and Prevention Awareness Center, also assists victims and offers advice.

If a student feels they have a concern, they should definitely come forward to one of those offices, Peterson said.


It took a letter to the editor of the Daily from McDaniel's supervisors to point out that the flyers were a cruel hoax:

Last week, the Daily published an article about some flyers that were posted around campus in the early hours of Thursday morning (U, DPS finish flyer investigation, 03/12/04). These flyers contained accusations of sexual harassment by a member of the faculty. Although you included details that might help the readers of the Daily understand that this was a prank you described people wandering around in the bushes at 3:15 in the morning, to which one might add that three women who were connected with the flyers were also seen in Alice Lloyd Hall dressed in dark clothes with masks on you did not make it clear that this flyer was a hoax. Because you named the faculty member, you should also have made it clear that no complaint has ever been filed against this person. By naming him, you were exposing him to unnecessary embarrassment, and, by doing so, simply forwarding the aim of the perpetrators of this cruel hoax.

David Potter

Director, Lloyd Hall Scholars Program

Martha Vicinus

Director, Sweetland Writing Center


"Hoax," I will note, is the kindest word that can be placed on what was done to McDaniel. "Defamation" would be a more precise legal term, and it would be nice to see the university and the Michigan Daily acknowledge this and apologize for their eager collusion in someone's sorry idea of a joke.

Erin O'Connor, 7:24 PM | Permalink




March 16, 2004 [feather]
Much ado at Emory

Emory University has got some pretty serious problems when it comes to free speech on racial issues. Last year, David Horowitz's campus visit made national news when he got into an argument with Candace Bacchus, then-president of the Emory Black Student Alliance, about his views on slave reparations (Horowitz subsequently lampooned her mercilessly on his webzine FrontPage). This year, when the Emory College Republicans sought funding to bring Horowitz to campus again, funding was denied because too many members of the student-run College Council felt that Horowitz's presence on campus would be racially divisive and injurious. The rationale for barring Horowitz was bolstered by the fresh memory of another national-newsmaking fracas last fall, in which Emory anthropology professor Carol Worthman was overheard by Tracey Roe, a black assistant professor of linguistics, describing biological anthropologists such as herself as the "niggers in the woodpile" of the discipline. Roe filed a complaint; Worthman was sanctioned under Emory's speech code; the entire anthropology department was sentenced to racial sensitivity training (which was later, under pressure, made optional); and Emory's speech code became the subject of debate among the faculty, some of whom supported it as a necessary constraint on hate speech, some of whom saw it as a violation of academic freedom, the principle of free inquiry, and the values expressed by the First Amendment. Emory's speech code currently hangs in the balance of a faculty vote that was supposed to take place in January, but was deferred to an unspecified future date. Meanwhile, the notion that offensive racial speech may constitute punishable discriminatory harassment remains enshrined in Emory's policies and in the imaginations of many students, faculty, and administrators.

So do the censorious and intolerant attitudes that the policy--in the name of promoting tolerance--encourages people to adopt. Readers will recall that when the College Council met to decide whether to fund a Horowitz visit, two Emory administrators made the rare move of attending the meeting themselves and delivering speeches discouraging Council members from approving funding for Horowitz. In an editorial published by the Emory Wheel, Ezra Greenberg, an Emory student and member of the College Republicans, described one of the administrators' arguments thus:


Assistant Dean of Campus Life Vera Rorie delivered a speech littered with euphemisms and doublespeak, all but urging the Council to vote against someone who would divide us. Rories statements exhibited classic, anti-free expression duplicity.

We are all for free speech, but ... and We are all for academic freedom, but ..., Rorie said.

She insisted, If we were to take a vote, Im sure everyone is this room would support free speech. Yet supporting free speech in the abstract is meaningless.

The question is whether you will allow someone whom you detest to speak, or if you will boo and hiss, as anti-Horowitz students did last year but campus conservatives have declined to do time and again.

Race, according to Rorie, is a very delicate issue, which she is obviously mature enough to discuss, while campus conservatives are not. Writing in the Wheel a few weeks ago, she said that her white colleagues could not look at race in the same way she could, because the very existence of white privilege and institutional racism frames our experiences differently.


What happened next is little short of astonishing. Rorie received a hostile email from one S. Siles, sent from an aol.com email address. The email was a brutally pointed reminder to Rorie that the internet makes it possible for her actions and words as an administrator to be judged by the world. Quoting her confused comments about free speech and academic freedom, the email condemns Rorie as a censor and a fool:

Here's some free speech: you, madam, are incompetent and a buffoon. The internet is making it more difficult for people like you to hide behind the walls of academia. I also would like to remind you that internet search engines record these articles instantly and forever for posterity to see.

That's not the astonishing part (as any blogger knows, having a public presence, however small, attracts its share of hate mail). The astonishing part is Rorie's response, which is recorded on the Emory College Republicans' web site. After the Horowitz vote, Rorie had agreed to meet with Greenberg and Ed Thayer, the Chairman of the CRs, to discuss alternative possibilities for bringing a conservative speaker to campus. But when she got the email quoted above, she withdrew her offer in an email that effectively blamed them for the fact that S. Siles felt compelled to give her an electronic piece of his mind. She wrote:

Dear Ed & Ezra,
My office had offered to assist the College Republicans in planning an event that would bring a conservative speaker of your choice to campus. In light of the attached email and link it is clear that you are not interested in practing [sic] community. The information you provided to outsiders is the source of the enclosed personal attacts [sic] on me. I am rescinding the offer to meet.I will not participate in email name calling or personal assaults.
Dean Vera Dixon Rorie

Notice the logic of suppression that animates this note (because she is offended, she closes off all communication; refusal to engage in discussion is meted out here as a punishment). Notice, too, the hostility to transparency ("outsiders" should never have learned what she said to fellow "insiders"), the peculiarly censorious concept of causality (Greenberg is responsible for what Siles wrote because Greenberg, in accurately quoting Rorie, made it possible for Siles to write what he wrote; Thayer is responsible because, presumably, none of this would have happened if his group had not wanted Horowitz to come speak), and the predictable equation of words with weapons (not only Siles, but also Greenberg and Thayer, are accused here of perpetrating a linguistically-based "personal assault"). You can read Greenberg's and Thayer's responses, as well as the letters the CRs' faculty sponsor, Harvey Klehr, addressed to Rorie, by scrolling down here.

As of this writing, Rorie has not responded, and the promised meeting has not been rescheduled.

UPDATE: A reader writes:


Is there a generally available email address at whichMs. Rorie could be contacted so that more of us can let her know that she is headed in the wrong direction?

I liken it to the advice that when you're already in a hole, you should stop digging. Her conduct in this matter is further excavation from the depths of the hole. In my (thankfully brief) experience with digging holes, one indication that one should stop is when water starts appearing at the bottom of the hole. If we had a way to pour more emails into her metaphorical hole, she might start to get the idea that she is going in the wrong direction.

Happy to oblige. According to Emory's online directory, Dean Rorie can be reached at vrorie@emory.edu.

UPDATE UPDATE: KC Johnson forwards his letter to Dean Rorie:


Date: Tue, 16 Mar 2004 21:26:20 -0800 (PST)
From: KC Johnson
Subject: horowitz and college republicans
To: vrorie@emory.edu

Dean Rorie,

My name is KC Johnson; I am a professor of history at Brooklyn College.

I have been following the account of your efforts to block student funding for a return visit by David Horowitz to Emory. This evening, I read with some surprise your email to the student leaders of the College Republicans, terminating a meeting with them because your actions have generated public criticism.

It seems to me that any academic administrator would want to bend over backwards to accomodate free speech and intellectual diversity on his or her campus. It disappoints me to see that Emory, evidently, does not follow this approach.

I hope that, if you are not willing to reconsider, at least that you cease objecting when your views become more widely disseminated. It would be good for parents of future Emory students to know that at Emorycertain types of speakers are off-limits for political reasons.

KC Johnson


What he said.

Erin O'Connor, 4:54 PM | Permalink




March 14, 2004 [feather]
Hate crime is as hate crime does

This week, thousands of students at California's Claremont Colleges rallied against the hate crimes that have been plaguing their campuses lately. The crimes themselves consist largely of graffiti: on Tuesday, racial slurs were written on a professor's car; in recent months, racial and homophobic epithets have been scrawled in shower stalls and on public calendars. In January, a group of students who used a dormitory lawn to set fire to a cross they made in art class was put on probation and sentenced to 100 hours of community service. After Tuesday's incident, classes were cancelled Wednesday while the FBI and police launched an investigation. There is a $10,000 reward for information that helps solve the crime.

Meanwhile, things are playing out a bit differently for a white Cornell student who was viciously beaten in a campus parking lot by six black Ithaca residents after a Ludacris concert last November. While they punched and kicked her in the face, the victim reports, they shouted things like, "Get your white hair out my face, and declared that "they were gonna fuck up my pretty white face." She sustained a ruptured eardrum and required thirteen stitches to repair a torn lip. Her wounds will leave scars and doctors estimate that she will not be fully healed for another year. But it's not a hate crime.

Four of the attackers have been identified, and this week they were charged. Those that were underage (14) were charged with assault in the third degree, a misdemeanor. The 19-year-old and 20-year-old who were arrested were charged with harassment in the second degree, a violation. All four were served with notices forbidding them from setting foot on Cornell's campus in future. That's it. According to both the campus police and the Ithaca P.D., there was not enough evidence to support the claim that this was a hate crime (though there was enough evidence to justify filing a "bias-related incident report"). The victim did not agree: "I still believe it was [a hate crime]-- because that was the whole basis of what they were saying to me," she told the Cornell Daily Sun last November. "That upsets me, that the police determined it was inconclusive, since I definitely think it was [racially motivated]." She and her ruptured ear drum and her thirteen stitches ought to know.

I am not a fan of the category "hate crime"--I don't think hate itself is criminal, and I do think that existing laws can handle crimes we might think of as motivated by hatred. But I still wonder how it is that in one instance, racially motivated graffiti can be labelled a hate crime, while in another, a racially motivated beating can't. Why is there a $10,000 reward out for a vandal while the people who punched, kicked, and beat the Cornell student don't even get punished for the crimes they committed? Cornell and Claremont can't answer for what the other does--but it's worth noting the disparity of response all the same. Events at Cornell are the seamy underside of the campus tolerance movement, which readily converts incidents like the ones at Claremont into opportunities for staging communal denunciations of racism, but which cannot accommodate, let alone acknowledge, that hate is not the exclusive property of white people, and that hate's attendant violence can and does go both ways.

Thanks to Fred Ray for the Cornell link.

Erin O'Connor, 9:49 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)




March 12, 2004 [feather]
More on Gerard, USM, and due process

Michael Berube has posted a long and thoughtful piece on whether the Nona Gerard case may be compared to the case at the University of Southern Mississippi. Bottom line: they can't be fairly compared, because Penn State observed the principles of due process in revoking Gerard's tenure while USM president Shelby Thames simply and summarily fired two tenured professors because it suited him to do so. "I have to think that there really isn't any plausible linkage between a Penn State case that respected due process and came to a debatable conclusion, and a University of Southern Mississippi case that involved a peremptory lockout of two professors who were involved in an investigation of a senior member of the administration," Berube writes; "there's a world of difference between a questionable decision and a manifest outrage. The Penn State decision should be pursued, and the grounds for Gerard's dismissal made available for broader review. And the USM decision should be simply and unambiguously denounced."

That strikes me as a fair distinction, though I would qualify the claim that Gerard received due process. Gerard has noted that the structure of her hearing was changed at the last minute, without notice, and that as a result she was unable to present the full case for her defense.

Moreover, it's worth noting how exceptional it is for a university to fire a teacher mid-semester. Unless the teacher poses an actual danger or threat, he or she is typically allowed to complete the term (the idea is that this is what's least disruptive for students). The manner of Gerard's dismissal--she was fired midterm, and substitutes have now taken over her courses--is unusual enough that the AAUP has become involved. "We're very concerned about several issues regarding the dismissal and how it was conducted," Anita Levy, once a Victorianist at the University of Rochester and now an associate secretary with AAUP, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "We don't make a judgment on the substantive issues of the case," she noted, explaining that the AAUP's concern is strictly procedural: "Generally, if there's no such indication of urgency, it is unusual to have a faculty member removed in that manner. ... In this particular case, especially given the level of support Professor Gerard had (among students), there didn't seem to be any indication there was a reason to get her off-campus quickly."

It's important to distinguish among kinds of administrative and academic malfeasance. And, as Berube notes, it's important to recognize when you don't really know enough facts to make an informed judgement about what really happened. But it's also important not to argue real problems out of existence or to allow the lack of transparency surrounding cases like Gerard's to arrest the quest for clear, unambiguous answers about how the decision to fire her was finally reached. As Berube says, "the Penn State decision should be pursued, and the grounds for Gerard's dismissal made available for broader review." I agree completely, though I am troubled by the passive voice construction. Who should do this pursuing? And who is responsible for making public the apparently uspeakable grounds for Gerard's dismissal?

We can all agree that Penn State needs to stop hiding behind claims of confidentiality on this one; Gerard herself has gone to great lengths and great expense to get as much of her case made public as she can. But can we agree on whose job it is to "pursue" Penn State's decision, and how that person or body should ensure that the whole truth becomes available for "broader review"? It's not the AAUP's job to do that, as Levy carefully notes. It could be FIRE's job, if FIRE took up the case--but thus far FIRE has been silent about Nona Gerard, and, besides, it's not practical to expect a tiny, underfunded and overworked watchdog organization to shoulder the entire responsibility for forcing administrative accountability in higher education. It's not the media's job, though the media can help pressure the Penn State administration and has done so. Is it the job of the Penn State faculty? Of Pennsylvania taxpayers? Of Penn State's trustees? Berube's deceptively simple sentence contains worlds of complexity.

I'm going to open comments on this thread. Let the strategizing begin.

UPDATE: There's more interesting discussion at Crooked Timber.

UPDATE UPDATE: KC Johnson takes up my question at Cliopatria.

AND ANOTHER: Eric Rasmusen weighs in here.

Erin O'Connor, 9:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)




March 9, 2004 [feather]
Southern Miss. is not alone

The egregious administrative behavior we are seeing at Southern Mississippi is hardly confined to that institution. As Timothy Burke notes at Cliopatria, "the tinpot dictatorship of [USM's] current president seems to me is widely typical of academic administration once you get past the places where there is wide public scrutiny." Burke is right. Consider the case of Robert Day, who was fired last fall from his job at Cumberland College when he posted a website that criticized the school administration. (Burke and I disagreed about what the defining issues in this case were, but I hope he will forgive me if I group Day's case with those of other professors who have been fired for criticizing the way their school is run.) Consider, too, the case of Gaile Isaacs, who was fired from her faculty position at Shaw University in 2002 after criticizing Shaw's administration. Then there is the case of Jon Davis, an assistant professor of biology at the College of the Ozarks who was fired for exposing the fact that a school administrator had purchased his doctorate from a diploma mill.

Shaw's president ignored FIRE's efforts to remonstrate with him, and Isaacs was never reinstated. Day has retained a lawyer, and the AAUP has become involved. Davis has turned down an offer of reinstatement that would have held him to several unreasonable conditions. As for Larry Cockrum, the dean who bought his degree from a nonexistent school, well, he's still the dean, and he still lists himself as having earned a doctorate from Louisiana's renowned Crescent City Christian College. The college brass say the falsification is all right with them, since a Ph.D. is not required for the job that Cockrum holds.

Erin O'Connor, 10:06 AM | Permalink




March 8, 2004 [feather]
No free speech at Southern Miss.

Nona Gerard is not the only tenured professor to be terminated lately for criticizing colleagues. On Friday, the University of Southern Mississippi began termination proceedings againt two tenured professors for criticizing the school administration and for investigating whether a university vice president had falsified her academic credentials. On Friday, Frank Glamser (who happens to be president of the university's AAUP chapter) and Gary Stringer were suspended with pay and locked out of their offices. Their computers were seized and police escorted them from the campus. The official charge is that they misused university equipment by using it to research the aforementioned administrator's credentials. The school has issued a press release denying that the move to terminate is "the result of either of these two faculty members exercising any form of constitutionally protected speech."

Details are available at Scott Rogers' site, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and all over the local media.

Thanks to both Scott Rogers and John Wilson for the heads up.

UPDATE: Phluaria has more. So does KC Johnson--don't miss the comments.

AND ANOTHER: This one is growing legs. Ralph Luker has an excellent round-up. Ralph calls on FIRE, the AAUP, and the NAS to stand up on this one. I second that. Worth noting: the AAUP has become involved in Nona Gerard's case, which has otherwise inexplicably been left to languish by other watchdog organizations.

AND ANOTHER, ON 3/11: Ralph Luker reports that the USM faculty has passed a vote of no confidence in USM president Shelby Thames. He also points to this "Fire Shelby" site.

Erin O'Connor, 7:56 AM | Permalink




March 4, 2004 [feather]
PSU's official response

A reader forwards along the canned response he got when he wrote to Graham Spanier protesting Nona Gerard's firing:


Thank you for your email. President Spanier is out of the country so I am responding on his behalf. I will be sure he sees your email. I can assure you that there is much, much more to this than you are reading in the papers. I hope you realize that the University is also limited in what it can say publicly about this case at this point in time, especially given that the faculty member has already indicated she plans to file a lawsuit. I can also assure you that the University's hearing process was followed explicitly at every step of the way.

We have never taken away anyone's job for criticizing the quality of a program, and we never will. You should also know that when five members of the University community who heard over 40 hours of testimony in what was a quasi-legal proceeding would vote unanimously that the faculty member was guilty of grave misconduct, there is not just smoke but a lot of fire. For the faculty member to make public statements about due process not being served is understandable in her circumstances, but simply untrue.

What you have been reading in the press has simply not reflected the whole story.

Steve MacCarthy
Vice President for University Relations


Brian Leiter's comments on this insinuatingly vague missive say pretty much all that needs to be said here. I would simply add that in the wake of this note, I would not be surprised to see Gerard add defamation to her list of legal claims against Penn State.

Erin O'Connor, 5:02 PM | Permalink




March 3, 2004 [feather]
Double standards at Penn State

Nona Gerard was fired for creating a "hostile environment" for her colleagues at Penn State Altoona. She created this alleged hostile environment by frankly criticizing some of them--the example most often quoted in the papers is that of an email in which Gerard described a junior colleague as "talentless" and "cold as a fish." Gerard made this comment, it should be noted, in a private email sent to one individual. That individual--who happened to be an administrator--then forwarded the email onto a listserv, where it became public and was seen by numerous people. I'm not big on "hostile environment" claims, but if one were to credit this particular charge, one would have to admit that it was not Gerard who created the hostile environment with her private comment, but the administrator who forwarded the comment on to those who were subsequently wounded by it.

Be that as it may, it's worth noting the double standards Penn State appears to have in place regarding student and faculty speech. I received an email today from Patrick Gibbons, a 2003 PSU grad who has a story to tell. Here's his letter:


Nona Gerard, a former professor at Penn State Altoona, has good cause to sue Penn State for gender discrimination and violating her first amendment rights.

Gerard has been fired for "grave misconduct" and "failure to perform." These stem from "hostile" and "unprofessional" remarks and emails she made. In them she criticized the IA program and faculty with name calling like "Talentless" and "as cold as a dead fish." This name calling was deemed unprofessional and hostile and so she was fired.

But what many Penn Staters do not know is the arbitrary decisions the Administration makes in who they fire and who they defend the freedom of speech with.

Last year a University Park Instructor for Higher Education used curse words while name calling a student via email (I was the student who received the hostile and unprofessional email). Complaints were brought and then ignored. The Administration would later acknowledge the comments but refuse to apologize or take action, thus condoning this behavior.

Penn State sets a dangerous precedent in several areas. 1) You cannot criticize faculty and the University, only students. 2) Curse words are not unprofessional or hostile but "talentless" is. 3) Male teachers do not get in trouble because the administration ignores the events while females get fired.

Thats right, the instructor was a male; he used curse words to describe a student who disagreed and nothing was done; the complaints of unprofessional conduct were ignored!

The Penn State administration must be held accountable for their arbitrary and inconsistent decisions as to what is unprofessional and hostile to warrant discipline and or termination of employment.


What curse words, you ask? You can read Gibbons' entire account at NoIndoctrination.org, whose administrators verified his story before posting it. But the short answer is that a PSU graduate student instructor sent Gibbons emails calling him a "jackass" and a "racist motherfucker" after he published some controversial articles in the student paper. The same individual wrote that Gibbons is a "neo-nazi hatemonger," and asked, "where did you learn to write, in a neo-nazi summer writing camp for the dumb and stupid? You keep writing like this, you should know, when you dish it out, get ready to get it shoved write [sic] back up your ass!"

Gibbons reported the instructor's remarks to several different authorities at PSU, but got nowhere.

I'm not convinced, on the basis of two examples, that gender is a decisive factor in PSU's behavior. But I do think that the contrast between how PSU admins gave Gibbons' interlocutor a free pass while they fired Gerard for her comparatively mild expression suggests that, at the very least, the people at Penn State have a big problem with consistency--one that is ripe for becoming a huge public relations disaster.

UPDATE: The public relations disaster has begun.

Erin O'Connor, 7:19 PM | Permalink




March 2, 2004 [feather]
Penn State professor fired

Penn State president Graham Spanier has spoken: Nona Gerard, the Penn State Altoona theater professor whose outspokenness alienated her colleagues, has been fired. Spanier notified Gerard of the decision yesterday, and gave Gerard until the end of the day Wednesday to clear out her office and turn in her key. Substitutes will be found to teach Gerard's current courses and to take over the campus production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest that she had been directing.

By all accounts, it looks as if Gerard was fired for offending colleagues with her criticisms of their work and for openly questioning the viability of Penn State's new Integrative Arts major, which she found to be ill-conceived and which she believed could not be responsibly staffed. It's hard for me to comprehend how such draconian measures can be considered reasonable at a university that is not only dedicated to the principle of academic freedom, but also obligated to uphold the First Amendment rights of faculty. But perhaps the answer lies within this chilling statement issued by Penn State's Standing Joint Committee on Tenure after Gerard was tried in a kangaroo court last January: "the hostile communications of Professor Gerard go beyond what is permitted as free speech." Gerard never threatened anyone; she never libelled anyone; she never incited anyone to violence or violated reasonable restrictions on the time, place, and manner of expression. She simply voiced her strong personal opinion on matters of immediate professional concern. That Penn State administrators think Gerard's unwelcome speech is not protected speech shows a deplorable willingness to ignore their legal and moral obligations to the Bill of Rights. That Graham Spanier, who has received more than one forceful tutorial from FIRE about individual rights on campus, would agree with them is worse than deplorable: it's actionable. Gerard has made it clear from the beginning that if she is fired she will sue the university for violating her First Amendment rights. I hope she does.

UPDATE: Eric Rasmusen concurs, and offers some additional background and thoughts. So does Eugene Volokh.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Brian Leiter, Kieran Healy, and Ralph Luker have also taken up the Gerard case. Leiter urges readers to email Graham Spanier at president@psu.edu to let him know that "the academic world is watching as Penn State self destructs." It's not only academics who are watching, though, and it's not only academics who ought to write to Spanier.

Erin O'Connor, 9:30 AM | Permalink




March 1, 2004 [feather]
Shakespeare's SATs

Followers of testing will recall that the SAT is being revamped to appease administrative heavyweights at the University of California who are so unhappy with minority students' scores that they recently threatened to drop the SAT entirely as an admissions requirement. Followers of testing will also recall that that this threat had to do with the particular double bind faced by college admissions officers in California: on the one hand, the use of racial preferences in college admissions is not legal in that state; on the other hand, UC scions are bent on ensuring that each year's entering class is a model of ethnic and racial diversity. The SAT in its old form was getting in the way of that goal for the simple reason that blacks and Hispanics tended to do much less well on it than whites and Asians. So, in 2002, the testing folks at the College Board announced plans to re-work the test, dropping, for example, the notoriously difficult verbal analogies section and replacing it with an essay section in which test-takers will have half an hour to respond to a quotation. The writing section of the SAT will be its own discrete unit; when the new SAT format is launched next year, the maximum score will no longer be the 1600 we are all accustomed to, but 2400.

In practice, this means that each year thousands of graders will be hired to score the estimated 2.5 million essays written by aspiring college students. These graders will in turn be trained to mark the essays as efficiently as possible--as in, they will be expected to devote no more than a minute or two to each essay. Essays will be graded "holistically," on a scale of 1 to 6, with due, if very brief, consideration given to "development of ideas, supporting examples, organization, word choice, and sentence structure."

The March Atlantic Monthly contains a pithy and telling piece on the new essay-oriented SAT format, the centerpiece of which is its coverage of how critics of the new test format from the Princeton Review have demonstrated the inadequacies of the College Board's grading template by subjecting the writing of a number of renowned authors to the College Board's "holistic" scoring criteria.

The results are at once hysterical commentaries on the inadequacies of the scoring criteria and disturbing indications of the failure of the College Board to recognize the serious problems inherent in their assembly-line approach to writing assessment.

Hemingway, for example, gets a 3: "Although it displays a solid vocabulary, Mr. Hemingway's essay lacks specific examples and clear topic sentences. Too undeveloped to be good."

Shakespeare gets a 2: "This essay is poorly organized, with only one paragraph (though, to Mr. Shakespeare's credit, the topic sentence does speak to what the rest of the sentences in his one paragraph are about). It is riddled with errors in syntax, incomplete sentences being the most noticeable problem. Although his supporting sentences are vivid in their description, they are vague and general, not true examples. And he unfortunately spells 'honor' with the extraneous 'u.'"

Gertrude Stein gets a 1: "Although Ms. Stein's essay is expressive, it's a bit flaky, lacking any semblance of structure, focus, or examples, and using non-standard syntax to boot."

The Princeton Review people conclude with a few choice tips for people who will be taking this version of the SAT:


To receive a high score a student should write a long essay of three or more paragraphs, with each paragraph containing topic and concluding sentences and at least one sentence that includes the words "for example." Whenever possible the student should use polysyllabic words where shorter, clearer words would suffice. The SAT essay will not be a place to take rhetorical chances. Flair will win no points; the highest-scoring essays will be earnest, long-winded, and predictable.

Ouch. Read the whole thing. Or, more holistically, perhaps I should say, "Intent perusal of the aforesaid article is highly recommended, especially insofar as, for example, one would be additionally edified by the aforementioned article were one to scrutinize it in its entirety."

Erin O'Connor, 7:32 PM | Permalink