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October 28, 2005 [feather]
Ward Churchill does DePaul

Last week, Ward Churchill spoke at DePaul University. His visit caused enormous controversy, in part because Churchill causes controversy wherever he goes, but also because the visit highlighted what looks to be an institutional double standard about who does and does not get to speak at the school.

Last year, DePaul suspended adjunct professor Thomas Klocek after some Palestinian students with whom he had disagreed filed a complaint against him. Denied due process and defamed in the student press, Klocek has sued the university. His case is pending, and he remains suspended from his job at DePaul. The message DePaul sent in suspending Klocek was that some views are more valid than others at the school; that students have the right not to be offended by the awareness that some of their professors disagree with their views; that it is somehow hurtful or harassing to be disagreed with; and that DePaul will do what it takes to "protect" students from the real-world truth that thinking people may arrive at vastly different conclusions about why the world is the way that it is and what ought to be done about it.

When DePaul subsequently invited Ward Churchill to speak--at a hefty fee--the university complicated the disturbing message it had sent with the Klocek affair by exposing itself as a bastion of hypocrisy. There is, perhaps, no other American academic working now who is more controversial, more deliberately incendiary, and more wilfully offensive, than Ward Churchill. And yet Churchill is welcome at DePaul while Klocek is not.

Perhaps even more to the point: While students who complained about Klocek succeeded in getting Klocek removed from the classroom, students who objected to Churchill's visit were themselves punished. The College Republicans were forbidden to post flyers protesting Churchill's visit--even though the flyers did nothing more than reprint one of Churchill's own publicity photos and quote some of his more outrageous words. When the College Republicans sought an explanation for why the school had paid good money to bring Churchill in, they were peremptorily dismissed by Harvette Gray, who directs the Cultural Center, and banned from the Cultural Center itself. They were also blocked from attending a scheduled follow-up discussion designed to allow students to talk informally with Churchill.

The talk itself sounds like a fiasco. DePaul mathematics professor Jon Cohen provides a detailed account of it here, replete with information about how the audience was led through a guided chanting session before the talk, how Harvette Gray introduced Churchill by criticizing those who had opposed his visit and by noting that McCarthyism is alive and well in contemporary America, and how Churchill comported himself during what sounds less like a planned talk than an angry display of ideological free association. According to Cohen, Churchill defended the 9/11 attacks, argued that he really is Native American and that "no white reporter is going to define whether or not I am an Indian," argued that white people use definitions of race to control people of color, demanded that all the "pure" white people in the audience raise their hands, and compared American capitalism to the Holocaust. During the question session, Churchill was so angered by one person's question about whether exporting jobs to the third world assists development through investment that he called people who are willing to entertain this question "Nazis." He also refused to address another audience member's question asking what he would do about "illegal immigration" by playing his own worn and highly contested race card: "illegal immigration," he snapped, began in this country in 1607.

Cohen reports, too, that after the talk ended, the audience members were addressed by Jim Doyle, DePaul's vice president for student affairs. Doyle delivered platitudes about the value of debate and controversy, and then chastised those audience members whose body language had informed him that they were not receptive to Churchill's views.

Cohen concludes with a series of questions that DePaul ought to answer, but won't:


1. Why was Churchill invited?

2. Why was the Human Rights Workshop open only to Cultural Center-funded student groups?

3. Why shouldn't the College Republicans be resentful of the fact that they have been effectively excluded from being funded by the Cultural Center?

4. Why was no media allowed to attend Churchill's talk?

5. Why were no recording devices allowed in the room?

6. Who is funding this event?

7. How much was the speaker paid?

8. Why should the students at DePaul who are white have their tuition dollars used to pay to have a demagogue like Ward Churchill incite hostility towards them simply because they are white.

9. Why are students being given extra credit for attending?


Another account of Churchill's talk is available here.

Both reports cite Churchill as saying that Hitler ought to have focussed his attentions on the audience's grandparents rather than on Jews. Churchill denies that he said this, noting that the reports confuse his reading of a piece of hate email he received with a statement he himself made, and calling those who reported those comments "not the brightest bulbs in the world and not the most honest." It's worth noting that Churchill's own academic honesty is presently under review at the University of Colorado, but it is also worth noting that an illicitly-made recording of the talk confirms Churchill's claim on this point. The recording also confirms the accuracy of the rest of Cohen's report.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the links.

Erin O'Connor, 10:38 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)




October 27, 2005 [feather]
More on speech at Syracuse

Two comments deep in the thread on Syracuse University's suppression of the student-run television station deserve foregrounding.

The first is from Noah Leavitt, a Syracuse student who was also a member of HillTv:


I am a HillTV member...a sports producer in fact. If there are any specific questions I can clarify, feel free to ask. I will say that the bigger issue, is Nancy Cantor's violation of HillTV's due process rights, according to the SU Studen Code of Conduct. Again, any questions, throw them my way.

The second is from a commenter who questions the ethics of defending the free speech rights of offensive students and student groups:

While I'm against speech codes and stupid grandstanding, I'm not quite sure how this is a black and white free speech issue. I think we can all agree that the first amendment has "good" uses and "bad" uses. Making the claim that laissez-faire treatment of free speech will ultimately allow "good" ideas to float to the top is disingenuous. I know I don't have a solution, but there's definitely a problem.

First, allow me to define "good" and "bad" because these terms are relative for anyone not living inside an Ayn Rand novel. In this scenario: by good I mean promoting human cooperation, understanding, progress and learning sound decision making. By bad I mean promoting misunderstanding, hate, narrow-mindedness, and accepting whatever happens to be said by peers. Obviously good and bad mean a whole lot more, but this is where I'm coming from. Now, unless you are an economist or behaviorist that still desperately clings to the rational model of human motivation and decision making, you will admit that people choose the bad way all the time, regardless of influence from those who "know better." I don't claim to be innocent. I laugh at jokes that parody racial, cultural, and gender differences, exploit these differences and the misunderstanding or naive thinking that goes along with them...I'm human after all and I laugh before I consider further implications.

I don't laugh all the time, though.

People, regardless of age, are most influenced by their peers, by those around them, when it comes to everyday motivation and action. If a group of students is using a University sanctioned television network to propagate misunderstanding, myth, and stereotyping (whether the intentions are bad or not), and to make a joke out of it all on top of that, at the expense of other students on campus and at the expense of the university, and in a larger sense, society trying to combat these attitudes (also, at the financial expense of the University), tell me what then does the university do? If they simply try to propagate opposing ideas, trust me, they won't win, even if those ideas are good rational arguments. The students (and plenty of adults) just go with what is funny or what others seem to do, without any further thought into the consequences of that behavior. If the University sanctions the tv network, do they, by implication, sanction what is done on the network? Again, one can rationally think no, they're just allowing free speech, but does everyone think that way? Do the majority of people reason that? In regards to the H.O.M.E. group and the professor's response: His response was good when it was underming the very pillars the group stands on, but then disintegrated into a mess. I don't know the details about H.O.M.E., but for the sake of the argument, if they are like many intolerant groups, they don't attempt to win people over through rational, information-rich pamphlets. These type of groups (again, I'm characterizing for the sake of the argument) are often insidious proselytisers looking for converts, and students can be easy targets.

I don't see anyone on this comment thread actually throwing out any answers about how to deal with free speech that undermines learning. Instead, these comments reflect the fact that you know better and seem to believe that others know better as well. It's easier to trust that students will here all the arguments for different points of view and choose the "best" one. However, people believe all sorts of non-sense that is simply told to them, and they believe it in spite of other, more tenable ways of thinking.

Is this acceptable in the name of absolute free speech? Can no lines be drawn? Is a television show making fun of other people for the different way they live simply a matter of fun and free speech? How about when you're the target? Do we stick to our nationalist guns in a world in which it is increasingly more likely to be in contact with people 1000s of miles away? Or do we attempt to spread the idea that we're all people regardless of arbitrary flags and geo-political demarcations?


Readers are, as ever, invited to comment.

Erin O'Connor, 11:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (57)




October 24, 2005 [feather]
Activist experiment in Missouri

Students at the University of Missouri at Kansas City wanted to test the school's commitment to First Amendment rights. So they devised an over-the-top student organization called Students Against Conservative America and the Military (SACAM) and submitted the organization for review by the Student Government Association Senate. Though the group had deliberately outrageous terms--its charter declared that the group's goal would be to "oppose the growing number of conservatives on campus and local communities"--it fulfilled its procedural obligations and ought to have been granted recognition as a group.

The law is quite clear on the First Amendment rights of student groups; indeed, the Supreme Court has ruled on the issue in three separate cases: Widmar v Vincent (1981), Rosenberger v University of Virginia (1995), and University of Wisconsin Board of Regents v Southworth (2000). But UMKC's student leaders appear to be ignorant of their obligations under the law. They don't realize that they have no right to determine a prospective group's viability in terms of that group's politics; they do not understand that their decisions about what groups should and should not be recognized must, under the law, be content-neutral.

So it is that SACAM, which was never really going to be an actual group, and which only existed on paper to test the university's legal awareness, was not given recognition. SACAM's application was instead tabled by the student senate because the group's mission was so upsetting to student senators. For example, one student senator called SACAM a "hate group." Another called it "discriminatory." Another argued that to recognize SACAM would be to support a group that was probably anti-homosexual. Still another argued that recognizing SACAM might pave the way for a Knights of the Aryan Race chapter to be founded on campus. After delaying a decision on SACAM for a month, the student senate passed the buck. It tabled SACAM's candidacy indefinitely, pending formal review by the university's Legal Council.

The president of the student government both does and does not seem to get it. He feels that it is wrong to evaluate student groups according to their content, but he did not stop the senate from violating the rights of SACAM's founders by doing just that: "It's not the role of the senate to make content calls and say 'yes' or 'no' to student organizations coming into fruition," he said, but noted that "certain senators thought punishment before the crime is committed was the best course of action." He acknowledges that "rights delayed are rights denied," but he led the student senate in denying-by-delaying anyway. The university likewise both acknowledges that the student government's actions were unconstitutional, and is practicing denying-by-delaying itself: Administrators have yet to correct the senate's wrong.

Austin Case, who conceived the SACAM experiment, feels he has proved his point. "Our student senate is a non-representative body and they are willing to put political ideologies ahead of students," he says. "And our administration is slow to act because they are worried about their jobs and appearances." Case is hoping that the SACAM experiment will help secure the rights of real controversial student groups in the future. But it may also be the case that all the SACAM experiment has taught the good administrators and student leaders at Missouri is the political efficacy of institutional inaction.

Erin O'Connor, 8:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)




October 22, 2005 [feather]
Still thinking pink

The University of Iowa has responded to allegations that the football program's pink-colored visitors' locker room is a sexist and homophobic slur by announcing that the locker room will retain its rosy color scheme.

Usually, uproars of this sort don't get quashed so definitively--university administrators tend to employ appeasement tactics when someone on campus begins levelling accusations of racism and sexism (consider the recent case at Syracuse, in which administrators are violating the school's own policies on open expression in order to dramatize its distaste for politically incorrect commentary). But, then, the rules may be different when Division One football is involved. Iowa president David Skorton will anger a number of faculty members with his decision--but he may have calculated that it would cost far more to anger Hawkeye fans, alumni donors, and corporate sponsors.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 12:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)




October 21, 2005 [feather]
English professor wishes ugly death for conservatives

Here's what Harry White, an English professor at Northeastern Illinois University, had to say when two local members of H.O.M.E. (Heterosexuals Organized for a Moral Environment) came to campus to pass out literature promoting their anti-homosexual views:


O.K. H.O.M.E. Boys. If you know so much about sex and morality, can you tell us ignorant sinners what sexual offense is found in the Bible to be worse than all others?

A few hints: It is a capital offense punishable by death. It is so offensive that it makes up 20% of the Ten Commandments. And here's the big surprise, boys. It is not, I repeat, not homosexuality. Give up? It's violating the marriage contract: 'Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.' Exodus does not warn us to 'not covet thy neighbor's well-hung son.' It says 'wife.' It's the kind of thing heterosexuals shouldn't do. Of course the Tenth Commandment also tell [sic] us not to covet thy neighbor's 'ass.' And I know this will come as a big disappointment, but the reference is to the donkey....

As for the New Testament: Jesus Christ (remember him?}, he said all sins are forgiven. What a wimp! You certainly wouldn't want someone like that to be a member of H.O.M.E. And by the way, there is no passage where Jesus adds, 'All sins are forgiven, except for homosexuality.' And guys, why didn't he ever marry? Or St. Paul for that matter. Could it be ...? Who knows? Who cares?...

Of course we do know, 'cause the Good Book tells us so, that David (remember him, the king from whose loins the Messiah is supposed to be descended), apparently utilized his God-given loins in more ways than one. For the Bible tells us, David loved Jonathon with a love surpassing that of a woman. Have you ever seen Michelangelo's statue of David? If David looked anything like that, Jonathon probably had a surpassingly great time being loved by the king-to-be. And you do know about Michelangelo, whom the Pope told, 'Go paint me a ceiling,' well, he was a Christian, a painter, and a you-know-what.

How 'bout: 'Down with David, Jesus, Queers and the Sistine Chapel?'

One of the consequences of politically correct speech is that hate groups like H.O.M.E. are allowed on campus (which they shouldn't be!) because they offer 'polite' information as a way of making their hateful agenda appear respectable....

There has to be something more appropriate that we, as members of the Northeastern community, can say in response to H.O.M.E.'s message. Let me offer these words which I believe to be more to the point. What H.O.M.E. says is [expletive]!

And they should all go **** themselves--and I hope it hurts when they do and that they catch a disease and puke all over themselves and die, horribly, somewhere near Clark and Diversey [in Chicago] where four off-duty male nurses, all clad in black leather, remove their bodies to a nearby hospital where they are cleansed, disinfected, dressed in women's clothing and dumped into a sewer


White published his sentiments in the campus newspaper.

I don't support H.O.M.E.'s views by a long shot. But I do support the group's right to peacefully promote its views, which it has the right to do on the campuses of public colleges and universities. White also has a right to express his views. But he seems not to realize that in using the student paper to express his views in such a nasty and vituperative way, he discredits himself, his colleagues, and his school. He has not modelled reasoned discourse or rational dissent, but has instead exemplified the very sorts of unthinking intolerance he thinks he is fighting.

Erin O'Connor, 10:32 AM | Permalink | Comments (21)




October 20, 2005 [feather]
Syracuse professors shout students down

At Syracuse University, an irreverent student-run television show has offended students and faculty who find its content to be "racist" and sexist." That's to be expected; so is the campus-wide forum that took place last night where angry students demanded that the student perpetrators of the offensive show apologize, be punished, be silenced, etc. "We're angry, and we demand change," one student allegedly yelled. "To me, you're no different than the Klan," another student told the show's creators. The show has made light of such touchy issues as date rape and has, some say, been insensitive to women and minorities. Apparently, it has also disparaged individual students and administrators.

Also fairly typical, if disappointing, is the manner in which the show's student staff abjectly accepted the criticism for daring to engage in offensive expression. "As executive producer, I take full responsibility for all the content on my show," said the show's executive producer. "That said, I truly apologize from the bottom of my heart for all the content you've seen." Another student involved with the show said, "Tonight really brought home the damage that we have done."

No one appears to have pointed out that the show's expression was fully protected under the law; that no one has the right not to be offended; or that censorship is hardly the way to ensure either a tolerant or an intellectually vital community. Many, however, argued that the university should not be funding such offensive student projects (in other words, that speech codes are desirable and that the university should be applying a political litmus test to all student projects, funding only those that are ideologically acceptable). Many also demanded that the students who made the show be expelled. Meanwhile, the show has been cancelled, and efforts are under way to dissolve the student-run TV station.

This is all outrageous, but it's also par for the course at higher education institutions where no real value is placed on unfettered expression and free inquiry. The students who made the show--whose motto was, "watch, get informed and get offended"--tried to explain that their intention was to broach hot-button issues in a humorous way that would facilitate discussion and debate. But as one member of the show staff tried to deliver a statement about the show's intentions, he was shouted down by a professor:


Interrupting Gaetjens--and despite objections from Gaetjens and moderators of the event--Winston Grady-Willis, associate professor of African-American studies, grabbed a microphone and berated Gaetjens and HillTV for trying to justify their actions.

"I wouldn't have to leave quite yet, but I'm trying to make a statement," Grady-Willis said, explaining why he was walking out of the forum. "For you to sit condescendingly in front of people you hurt is profoundly offensive."

When Gaetjens made objections asking to be allowed to finish his statement, he was shushed by the audience. Grady-Willis and Paula Johnson, professor at the College of Law, then walked out of the room to applause.


In this instant, two members of the Syracuse faculty destroyed their own credibility and damaged that of the university that employs them. They also transformed an important opportunity to model genuine tolerance--by defending free expression and demonstrating how the proper response to "bad" speech is more and better speech--into an occasion for censorious and punitive bullying. The anti-intellectualism of Grady-Willis' and Johnson's behavior, as well as Grady-Willis' apparent belief that being "profoundly offended" allows him to abandon both professionalism and the principles of free speech, are telling indeed.

Syracuse's chancellor, Nancy Cantor, was out of town last night and missed the gala display of intolerance on her campus. She is allegedly looking into whether the students associated with the offending show have violated the school's student code of conduct. But she would do better to put a full, definitive stop to the mob mentality that is arising at Syracuse, and to teach both students and faculty there a much needed lesson in civics. So far, though, she's just hedging her bets. "Of course I believe in the First Amendment and the independence of student media," she said. "But at some point you need to think about the painful impact on others. . . . At the end of the day, we are all interdependent."

Thanks to Maurice Black for the link.

UPDATE: Clarification: Syracuse is a private university, and thus has the right to impose speech codes if it wishes. However, the university also has an obligation to maintain truth in advertising, and to adhere to its own stated policies. According to the Syracuse student handbook, "Students have the right to express themselves freely on any subject provided they do so in a manner that does not violate the Code of Conduct. Students, in turn, have the responsibility to respect the rights of all members of the University to exercise these freedoms." The Code of Conduct touches on expression only in its clause on harassment, which forbids "Harassment, whether physical or verbal, oral or written, which is beyond the bounds of protected free speech, directed at a specific individual(s), easily construed as 'fighting words,' and likely to cause an immediate breach of the peace." In other words, Syracuse voluntarily espouses the principle of free speech, and has an obligation--which it is not presently meeting--to uphold its stated policies on speech.

UPDATE UPDATE: Nancy Cantor announced yesterday that Syracuse has "de-recognized" the TV show. A "task force" has been formed to create a new, presumably more sensitive and politically correct, student-run TV station. Nancy Cantor has really dropped the ball on this one.

Erin O'Connor, 11:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)




October 17, 2005 [feather]
Too rich for the public good?

Over the past five years, the average in-state tuition for four-year public colleges and universities has risen 36% (during that same period, other consumer prices rose 11%). Higher education enrollment rose by over one million students--or nearly 12%--during these years, though state appropriations for higher education increased only slightly for the same period: In 2001, $67 billion were appropriated nationwide; in 2002, $70 billion; in 2003, $69 billion; in 2004, $69 billion. In other words, though the overall amount of state funding for higher education has risen in recent years, per-student appropriations have dropped sharply, from an average of $6,874 to an average of $5,721. These numbers are reported in this morning's New York Times (thanks to Maurice Black for the link), which also cites Penn State president Graham Spanier's thesis that what the numbers ultimately indicate is "public higher education's slow slide toward privatization."

In the past fifteen years, public revenues have made up a diminishing percentage of public college and university operating costs: Whereas in 1991 state and local taxes paid 74%, in 2004, they only covered 64%. At some state schools, the numbers are strikingly counterintuitive: At the University of Virginia, for example, only 8% of operating costs are supplied by taxpayers; at the University of Michigan, 18%. Private donors and corporations are supplying an ever greater proportion of public college and university costs--and with that shift comes the tough questions of whether public schools are really public, of who really calls the shots at these schools, and of whether and where it is possible to cut costs in such a way that the schools become more affordable and more genuinely public without sacrificing the quality of education they offer.

Skyrocketing tuition is the subject of a similarly intriguing piece in this week's Chronicle of Higher Education, which notes that the current cost of a four-year education at a private college or university is upwards of $120,000. The article reports that the number of student loans has doubled since 1993, that in 2004 alone banks granted over $11 billion in student loans, and that the median income of people with bachelor's degrees has fallen steadily for four straight years. The point of the piece is that higher education may well be reaching its tipping point--the moment at which parents, college-age students, and the general public decide that college is just no longer worth it.

An excerpt:


Gen Xers also were told by one academic report after another how poorly educated they were as a generation, what a "rising tide of mediocrity" they and their schools represented.

Married Gen Xers with children are among America's most conservative voting blocs. They are fiercely protective of their children, in school and elsewhere. On their own and through PTA's, they are doing all they can to make sure that schools don't fail their own sons and daughters the way (they were told) their schools had failed them. Hence, at the grass roots, Gen Xers have propelled school choice, vouchers, charter schools, home schooling, and the standards-and-accountability movement.

And now they are coming, with their children, to college.

When we have raised the issue, we have found that, far more than boomers, Gen Xers are likely to recall college in hindsight as a waste of time and money. Their recollection of their own college years has morphed into a profound skepticism bordering on cynicism, a demand for standards and accountability, and a keen interest in the bottom line. Considering what they have done as school parents, it's not hard to predict how they will behave as college parents. This get-real generation will focus on standards, transparency, measurable results, accountability, and (especially) cost. They will ask, perhaps very pointedly, whether courses and the professors who teach them are worth the money. After carefully checking out the college dorms, food, gyms, and career-counseling services, they will ask about "ROI" (return on investment). Some will wonder whether class discussions focusing on issues of the 60s and 70s, still so intriguing to many boomer professors, teach anything their kids need in the workplace.

Many will ask why, in recent decades, whatever the economic climate, higher education has relentlessly risen in cost relative to inflation. At colleges with large endowments, many will ask why, especially in those years that endowments have grown significantly, keeping tuition low hasn't been given a high priority in the use of endowment funds. Many will ask whether student loans are, in fact, "financial aid" or rather just an inducement to enroll--much as car loans are not "car aid" but a mere inducement to buy a car.


The authors conclude with a warning to higher education administrators: "You should do whatever it takes to hold the line on tuition. Today's colleges are walking a tightrope on tuition, and the rope is getting thinner every year. The longstanding assumption about the collegiate earnings premium is due for a high-stakes reassessment in this new era of high tuition, high debt, and parents with a keen eye on the bottom line."

We are due for a major, nationwide reassessment of higher education. The question is, will Margaret Spellings' national commission, which will hold its first meeting this week, do that responsibly and well?


Erin O'Connor, 1:41 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)




October 10, 2005 [feather]
Common app conundrum

The father of a high school senior who is applying to college has written with a conundrum. Like thousands of other high school seniors, his son is currently filling out the common app, a standardized college application that is in use at 277 colleges and universities across the country. As part of the common app, he must choose among several prompts and craft a short--250-500 words--essay in response. One of the essay prompts is immensely leading. It runs: "A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you." This particular applicant has chosen to respond to this prompt--but to do so by questioning its premises and posing some of the problems that the applicant believes are created by our culture's increasingly unquestioning acceptance of diversity as an unqualified good and an end in itself. The conundrum: Should the applicant actually submit this essay? Or should the applicant respond to another, less loaded prompt--like the one asking the applicant to write about a person who has influenced him, or the one asking him to reflect on a matter of national or personal concern--with a less inflammatory essay? At what point does the importance of writing a memorable, pointed essay cede to the imperative of not writing an essay that rashly destroys one's chances of admission? Should the applicant even be concerned about expressing unorthodox opinions about diversity in his application? If he should, what should his concerns be, and how should he think them through?

Readers are invited to comment below.

Erin O'Connor, 8:57 PM | Permalink | Comments (25)




October 9, 2005 [feather]
For what it's worth

Last August, I wrote about the case of Sean Flaim, a student who was expelled from the Medical University of Ohio after pleading guilty to charges of felony drug possession. Here's my summary of how the expulsion worked:


...two days after his arrest, the Medical University of Ohio suspended him until such time as all "external investigations/hearings [were] completed." Flaim was informed that regardless of what the legal system determined, he would not be allowed to resume his studies until he agreed to an internal investigation conducted by the school. Flaim requested this internal investigation after pleading guilty to the lesser felony charge. The university held a hearing at which Flaim was allowed to have counsel present, but was not allowed to communicate with his lawyer during the hearing itself. Flaim was also prevented from cross-examining witnesses, which included the arresting officer. At the end of the hearing, Flaim was informed that the investigating committee would prepare a recommendation for the dean. That report was never written, but Flaim nonetheless received a notice of expulsion for "violation of institutional standards of conduct" from the dean shortly afterward. When he met with her, he was told that the school had a "zero-tolerance policy" for drugs. No more particular reason for the expulsion was offered, and Flaim was told he would not be allowed to appeal. When Flaim tried to pursue the matter, he was told he no longer had rights at the university because he was no longer a student there.

Flaim subsequntly sued the university for denying him due process during expulsion proceedings, and lost--though his case did move the judge to comment that the university, while within the strict boundary of the law, had employed a decidedly stingy concept of due process to Flaim's case, and that this was "perhaps less-than-desirable for an institution of higher learning."

Sean Flaim saw the post, and wrote to request an opportunity to comment. I invited him to do so, and here is what he has to say on the subject of due process, felony convictions, and academe:


A careful review of the case is revealing, in many ways, of how courts view disciplinary actions in an academic context.

The central argument of the case was that the reasoning for school disciplinary hearings is two-fold, an issue that was decidedly side-stepped by the Circuit Court. The first point of a hearing is to determine guilt or innocence, the second is to determine punishment. In a criminal trial, due process is provided for both reasons and thereby a just result obtained both in terms of guilt, but also in terms of punishment. Recent decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court (Ring v. Arizona and U.S. v. Booker) bear out the importance of proving beyond a reasonable doubt not only guilt or innocence, but also the elements of the offense, which if proven, will justify the sentence.

In the educational context however, the Sixth Circuit has basically ruled that guilt or innocence is the only factor requiring due process. By starting from the assumption that Flaim's (my) guilt for a criminal offense automatically justified the abrogation of normally required due process procedures, the court sidestepped the central issue that guilt or innocence was never a factor in the original disciplinary hearing, or for that matter, the lawsuit itself. The only issue raised was the ability of myself to present the case for a lesser punishment than expulsion. In that context, the process received by me was decidedly substandard, something which the Sixth Circuit alluded to again and again during the decision. While due process required in an academic setting will never be that of a courtroom, there is something to be said for allowing a student to make an effective argument in his or her favor, something which even the court admitted, I was denied.

The decision is so narrowly drawn from the factual scenario laid out in the original complaint that the case can almost be read to state that in all cases OTHER than criminal conviction on felony drug charges of a medical student, a fairly substantial amount of due process would be due a student being disciplined. In retrospect, this was the result I desired most if I were to fail at the appellate level. I lost the case, but I think in the end, I won the battle for my soul. I know what I did was wrong, but I am damn sure what MUO did was equally as wrong.


Readers are invited to respond in the comments.

Erin O'Connor, 5:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (51)




October 8, 2005 [feather]
Light as a feather

Arizona State was in the news this week for offering two sections of ethnically segregated freshman English--and did the right thing by telling the professor offering the two Native American-only "rainbow sections" of composition that he can't do that: "All of our classes are open to all students," said a university spokesperson. "That was a mistake by a faculty member. That was not the university's position." But that's not the end of the story--or it shouldn't be. Journalists who have looked into Lynn Nelson's course offerings have found additional cause for concern. A peace activist who seeks to "teach English in such a way that people stop killing each other," Nelson's writing pedagogy appears to be far more focussed on therapeutic consciousness-raising than on the nuts and bolts of composition.

The New York Sun prints a typical Nelson writing assignment:


Tell me a story--and then tell me another--and I will tell you mine--and we will sit in the feather circle and listen carefully to each other. And then we will write thank-you notes to each other for gifts given in these stories. And then we will do it again, anew. And we will continue doing this--until we heal ourselves, until everything begins to become properly precious, until we stop killing each other and destroying the Earth, until we care for it all so much that we ache, until we and the world are changed.

The "feather circle," if you are wondering, is formed when class members sit in a circle and pass a feather from person to person. The person holding the feather tells a story while the others listen.

The feather circle is central to Nelson's teaching philosophy. In an essay called "Writing from the Feather Circle," Nelson explains how, in essence, the feather circle has helped him abandon traditional concepts of composition: "I must confess, I have come to care little for the kind of writing--critical, left-brained, technical writing--that I was primarily trained to teach and to produce." Instead, Nelson is devoting his composition classroom to Native American advocacy--"We're turning around what's been done historically for 400 years"--and to violence prevention: "Mr. Nelson describes himself as a force for peace because he encourages his students to share personal stories in writing assignments that he believes relieve tension and encourage social harmony. Untold stories, he argues, translate themselves into violent acts."

Nelson's penchant for segregation--which he claims to have been doing with composition courses at ASU for ten years--appears to be part of a larger problem, one that involves the unapologetic abandonment of academic rigor for an embarrassingly pseudo-scientific and anti-intellectual sort of group therapy, and that abuses the college classroom by opportunistically substituting an activist agenda for an educational one. That Nelson has been happily going about the business of the feather circle for years now in turn raises questions about the overall seriousness and integrity of ASU's writing program. ASU's dean would do well to look more closely at the department that supported and sustained Nelson's suspect pedagogy so unquestioningly for so many years.

UPDATE: A reader whose graduate work centers on cognitive psychology writes:


He lists among his research interests as "right-left brain differences." Needless to say, anyone involved in neuroscience research would have difficulty suppressing a chuckle at this. I'd love to know what this research consists of.

His thinking to me is embarrassingly unscientific. Not in the "science is the supreme discipline sense," but merely with the idea that any academic should offer a hypothesis, find data that support it, explain contradictory data, and honestly advocate his or her argument. He seems to offer merely bland cliche assertions, and to mistake vanity for a real sense of purpose.

Erin O'Connor, 9:31 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)




October 6, 2005 [feather]
What's wrong with this picture?

The fifteenth annual Cultural Studies Conference will be held this spring at Kansas State University. In honor of the event, KSU English professor Don Hedrick has issued a provocative call for papers. His panel will be entitled "The Secret Lives of the Conservatives," and he welcomes submissions on the following topics:


Papers can be on a wide variety of topics related to the conference theme of privacy and secrecy and the public sphere.

Papers on specific instances are welcomed, and papers considering a variety of issues and concerns: tabloidization and the neutralization of the political; the personal as political; hypocritical Puritanism; the defense by offense; vast right wing conspiracies; "outing" as a political tactic; scandal amnesia; "spin" and tactical framing; true evil beneath the compassionate, Christian front; why nothing makes a difference; left tactics and despair; the politics of denial and shame; business secrecy vs. personal secrecy; liberal vs. conservative secret lives; sexual dysfunction in conservatives; Laura Bush's private life; scholarly muckraking and shockjocking.

Send brief, 200 word abstracts by email, not attachment, to Don Hedrick, along with a very brief bio, to Don Hedrick, Department of English, Kansas State University, at hedrick@ksu.edu, by October 24. Inquiries welcome.


Maybe it's just me, but this doesn't strike me as a particularly scholarly panel. It does strike me as a distinctly egregious example of the anti-conservative bias that has become acceptable on campuses in recent years. There is no quest for balance in the proposed topics--or fairness, for that matter; there is no concept of inquiry, but there is a palpable desire to pillory. Hedrick's is a thesis-driven, extraordinarily narrow and intolerant attempt to stage a public academic moment in which, in the name of scholarly endeavor, people who hold conservative views are objectified into caricatures of moral hypocrisy and even--these are Hedrick's own words--"true evil."

Via Winston's Diary.

Erin O'Connor, 8:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (36)




October 5, 2005 [feather]
Only Native Americans need apply

FIRE's latest case centers on Arizona State, which is presently offering two "rainbow sections"--ASU's word, not mine--of freshman composition for Native Americans only:


TEMPE, Ariz., October 5, 2005--State-sponsored racial segregation has found a home at Arizona State University (ASU). ASU's ironically named "Rainbow Sections" of English 101 and 102 have been advertised on flyers and on the university's website as being open to "Native Americans only."

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has written to the university to demand that the classes be opened to all students. Shockingly, this marks the second time in less than four years that FIRE has been forced to protest a racially segregated course at ASU.

"It is appalling that ASU would resurrect segregated classes five decades after Brown v. Board of Education," stated David French, president of FIRE. "The idea that a class can be 'separate but equal' was discredited long ago."

The "Rainbow Sections" of English 101 and 102, ASU's freshman composition courses, were advertised as "restricted to Native Americans only" on the faculty webpage of Professor G. Lynn Nelson, the course instructor. A flyer addressed to "Native American Students" states that they "are invited to enroll in special Native American sections of ENG 101 and 102." It also discusses some of the differences between the special sections and the "standard First Year Composition classes," making it clear that the special sections offer a different educational experience.

"These sections don't allow non-Native American students to be part of the unique learning experience they provide," remarked Greg Lukianoff, FIRE's director of legal and public advocacy. "If ASU believes that some Native Americans may benefit from a different kind of writing course, surely the same goes for students of other backgrounds."


ASU has a history of offering segregated classes. In 2002, the university offered a Navajo history course that was limited to Native Americans. FIRE protested the arrangement, and ASU opened the course to all. But no lessons seem to have been learned--ASU has made the same mistake again, and has compounded it this time by ignoring FIRE's September 13 letter alerting it to the legal and moral problems with discriminatory pedagogy.

UPDATE: ASU has told the "rainbow sections" professor that he may not limit enrollment in his classes to Native Americans.

Erin O'Connor, 12:33 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)




October 4, 2005 [feather]
Open wide for diversity

The Tunnel of Oppression has been a campus fixture for years. Now, Cornell has added a new structure to the collegiate architecture of tolerance: diversity arches.

Five years ago, Cornell published a statement on diversity and inclusiveness that it regards as a watershed moment in the university's movement toward a utopian state of free expression, open inquiry, and multicultural awareness. To celebrate five years of "Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds," Cornell has planted a series of red metal arches on its campus. Each arch bears the "Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds" slogan, and each arch is a challenge to all who pass: Walk through the arch (which is apparently a metonymy for a door) and display your open heart and open mind, or walk past it and declare your closed mind and shrunken heart.

Officially inspired by Christo and Jean-Claude's Central Park installation "The Gates" (and unofficially reminiscent of McDonald's trademark Golden Arches, with their all-inclusive announcements of billions served), Cornell's diversity arches have sparked some striking commentary. Some see the arches as an attempt to whitewash the fact that racism and intolerance still exist at Cornell; others see the arches as a callow and infinitely mockable stunt that cheapens its own message. As the associate editor of the Cornell Sun put it:


I am here to attest to the campus that the red arches contain a transformative power that could only be described as religious. The students who deliberately bypass these arches, refusing to pass underneath them, have no idea how slammed-shut their hearts, minds and doors really are. Just this week, I passed through the threshold of the arch in front of Uris. I can say that I have seen the light, and it is good.

Initially I was timid, more afraid of what wouldn't happen than what would. What if I passed over to the other side of this arch, this arch that I had looked to with such faith and trust, and found that there was nothing there?

Well, I was not to be disappointed. As soon as my body moved into the liminal region between the arch's front and rear, the change was immediate and graceful. Benevolent rays of open-mindedness wrapped me in swaths of healing energy, and my very spirit was filled with warmth and nourishment, as if I had been submerged into the amniotic fluids of the womb of political correctness. A glorious vision came to me in that moment. Descending like angels, Hunter Rawlings, Susan Murphy, Peter Meinig, Tommy Bruce and Kent Hubbell came to me, clad in white with bright aureoles around their heads, and sang to me, "Zachary, open your doors, open your heart and open your mind." And I did.

My heart exploded with compassion for all living and non-living things. My doors didn't just open, they flew open. All of my openings opened. I mean, I was open. I can say that I've never felt so open in my life as I did at that moment, and I hadn't felt so happy since the time somebody spiked my mojito with ecstasy! And I can speak with such open openness about my openness because I am now so openly open.

And now that my mind has been opened, I've realized what a horrible, callous person I was before. All of my former contempt has been erased and replaced with an unquestioning love for all. I no longer light spiders on fire simply because they are ugly. I now answer my brother's calls and do not tell him that he is a failure. I take every quarter card I am offered on Ho Plaza with a smile. The daily chimes concert, which I used to think sounded as pleasant as a hand grenade exploding in an aluminum trash can, now sounds as delicate as Bach.

In fact, I feel that as an opened individual, I can no longer write this column. Having an opinion inevitably denounces another viewpoint, and that it is not a very open way to think. Adieu, unopened newspaper. Adieu.


The arches (depicted here) remind me of airport security detectors. If they suggest the possibility of religious--or political--conversion, they also imply an institutional desire to pass each student through some sort of penetrating moral inspection, one that can expose those who are carrying unacceptable ideas, beliefs, and sensibilities within their hearts and minds. Surely that's not the message Cornell wants to send--or is it?

Thanks to Maurice Black for the tip.

Erin O'Connor, 10:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)




October 2, 2005 [feather]
Pretty in pink

At the University of Iowa football stadium, the visitors' locker room is painted pink. The color scheme has been in place for decades, dating back to the coaching days of Hayden Fry, a former psych major who believed that pink has a calming effect on people. His idea was to ease the nerves of competing teams by surrounding them with a mellow shade of pink. And that was that.

Now, however, heated controversy has arisen about the visiting locker room's decor. The stadium is presently undergoing an $88 million refurbishment, and the remodellers have carried Fry's think pink concept into the new millennium with relish. There are still pink walls--and there are also now pink showers, lockers, sinks, and even urinals. With the intensification of the locker room's rosy outlook has come harsh criticism from a visiting feminist law professor--and with that has come equally harsh criticism of the law professor's attempt to turn Iowa football into a feminist issue.

Last week, Erin Buzuvis criticized the pink scheme on her website. Her criticisms, which centered on her conviction that painting a men's locker room pink "is equivalent to painting the word 'sissy' or 'girlie man' all across the walls," drew heated commentary and even, amazingly and deplorably, brought death threats. Buzuvis has taken her web site down, but she is still talking to reporters and she is still fighting what she sees as the "sexist" and "homophobic" message of the pink locker room. "What you're really saying is you're weak like a girl. That belittles every female athlete out there," she told a local paper.

Other faculty have joined Buzuvis in her protest of the demeaning color scheme: "I want the locker room gone," says law school professor Jill Gaulding. "Research shows brains pick up stereotypes like sponges soak up water. ... One solution to reducing stereotypes, especially negative ones, is to not have them around." "There is no question that it sanctions the use of epithets like sissy and faggot," said American studies professor Kim Marra. "It's the 21st century and times change."

Current Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz has been caught entirely off guard by the accusations--which amount to an accusation that he is himself attempting to unman opposing teams in an entirely underhanded and unfair way. "I wish I had enough time to think about it," he said. "The idea is that it was supposed ... to have a calming effect. But I really haven't burned a lot of brain cells on it."

Fry burned a few brain cells, though, to interesting effect. In his autobiography, Fry describes both the aim of painting the visitors' locker room in neutral colors, and the fits opposing coaches sometimes had trying to protect their athletes from the terrible, emasculating connotations of pink:


One thing we didn't paint black and gold was the stadium's visitors' locker room, which we painted pink. It's a passive color, and we hoped it would put our opponents in a passive mood. Also, pink is often found in girls' bedrooms, and because of that some consider it a sissy color. It's been fun to get the reaction of visiting coaches to the color of their locker room. Most don't notice it, but those that do are in trouble. We've had some coaches--Bo Schembechler of Michigan and Mike White of Illinois to name two--who had their managers cover the walls with white paper so their players couldn't see the pink paint. When I talk to an opposing coach before a game and he mentions the pink walls, I know I've got him. I can't recall a coach who has stirred up a fuss about the color and then beat us.

For Fry, there was nothing inherently effeminate about a pink locker room--but there was a strong psychological advantage to be gained over coaches who thought there was. Buzuvis might be chagrined to learn that she has fallen into the same trap Schembechler and White fell into; for Fry, those coaches' assumptions about pink marked them as paranoid and insecure and hence given to hysterical reactions to perceived slights upon their gender. Fry might smile to see Iowa professors who pride themselves on being incomparably enlightened about gender falling into the same conceptual trap.

Hawkeye fans are showing their support for Iowa football tradition, as well as their contempt for Buzuvis and Co.'s efforts to cast the football program as a homophobic and misogynist enterprise--by wearing nothing but pink during the Hawkeyes' Homecoming Weekend. Political controversy, local vendors are happily discovering, is very good for business.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the tip.

Erin O'Connor, 12:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)