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December 20, 2007 [feather]
Thanks to Erika Dreifus

... for the good words--and the good company!

Erin O'Connor, 6:32 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

December 18, 2007 [feather]
For the record

Faked hate crimes are pathetic and unconscionable no matter who does them. Usually when they happen on campus, they are the provenance of left-leaning students--and occasionally faculty--who have surrendered all ethics to identity politics, and have convinced themselves that they can raise awareness of discrimination by staging versions of the hate crimes that they believe (wish?) are ubiquitous.

The most recent, highly publicized version of this happened earlier this fall at George Washington University, where a Jewish freshman harassed herself with anti-semitic symbols and epithets, to the great concern of campus scions of tolerance, and, once she was caught, to the great detriment of her own reputation. Another hall of famer is Kerri Dunn, the psych professor at Claremont McKenna who slashed her tires, broke her windows, painted slurs on her car, and used the ensuing panic to deliver impassioned lectures to the campus community on the dire racism in their midst.

Now there is a new twist on an old pattern--a Princeton student who has just been exposed as having faked hate crimes against himself for being a conservative. Clearly, this kid has bigger problems than his warped sense of political justice, and I hope he gets help.

But let's just get something said: Faking hate crimes is not a tactic conservative campus activists should be copying from the campus left's playbook. This sort of crap distorts the real issues, discredits people who really do experience viewpoint discrimination, and does nothing but harm.

Unfortunately, we've seen so much faked hate in recent years that the first instinct of many people--myself included--is to suspect the veracity of reported hate crimes. I didn't believe Kerri Dunn for a minute--and I was right not to. I didn't think the GWU swastika epidemic smelled right, either. I was right about that, too. And let's just say I didn't exactly leap into action when I heard about the alleged hate crime against the conservative Princeton student. Experience says it wasn't likely to be true--and it wasn't.

We should not have to be so cynical about hate--we should be able to believe that when it is reported it is real, and we should be able to approach it with integrity and sincerity. But to do so in today's climate is to be a sucker.

UPDATE: A reader questions my characterization of fake hate crimes as something out of the campus left's playbook. I understand that on the surface that looks like an overdetermined phrasing, one that locates the intent behind the crime within a movement rather than in a disturbed individual. But I stick by the phrasing, since these events are deeply overdetermined by the movement they invoke.

Look at how campus hate crimes spark such immense activist energy--even when they are found to have been faked. Those who wish to parlay these events into policy changes, hiring mandates, and so on don't care that they are faked--and will pursue their agendas even after the falseness of their premises has been exposed. And they have good reason to do so--often, they really do get somewhere with administrators, who would rather appease the high-flying emotions of the moment than insist on a sober assessment of facts. And certainly they contribute to an overall campus climate of fear, which also serves their interests.

John Leo touches on these points at Minding the Campus:

This turns out to be a popular rationale for faking hate crimes -- the need to create a fictional outrage adequate to express the feelings of an angry student. The more campus voices are raised against "institutional racism" and the alleged sexual dangerousness of all males, the more fake race crimes and fake rapes there will be. Look into the hoax reports and you will see an endless parade of students painting racist graffiti on their own cars, tearing their clothes and writing hate phrases on their own bodies or sending themselves politically useful death threats.

Many campus hoaxes turn out to be teaching instruments of a sort, conscious lies intended to reveal broad truths about constant victimization of women and minorities. At a "Take Back the Night" rally in Princeton in the 90s, a female student told a graphic story of her rape on campus. When the alleged rapist threatened to sue, she recanted the story and a spokeswoman for the Women's Center said, "Listen we can't hope to find truth in all these stories," meaning that the story line was important, not the truth of any one rape.

After the Tawana Brawley case, an article in The Nation said about the faked kidnapping and rape: "in cultural perspective, if not in fact, it doesn't matter whether the crime occurred or not." If it helps the cause, who cares if the story is true?

Until campus communities put truth ahead of inflammatory fictions, the "playbook" phrasing is fair and accurate and correspondingly unfortunate.

Erin O'Connor, 7:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack (0)

December 15, 2007 [feather]
What are they thinking?

KC Johnson and Stuart Taylor's Until Proven Innocent should be required reading for anyone who wants to comment on the Duke non-rape case and its aftermath. Ironically, though, the academic blogosphere has shown a reluctance to read the book and to grapple with it--preferring, if one pursues the links that make the rounds periodically--to demonize the academic half of the writing partnership, suggesting that the book can be dismissed as agenda-driven and that the academic malfeasance Johnson uncovers in it and at Durham in Wonderland can be dismissed as trumped up. Not everyone has done this, mind you. But I've been surprised by some of the people who have, and who really should know better.

Anyhow. Part of the joy of reading the book is its systematic analysis of Duke president Richard Brodhead's non-handling of the scandal. This guy--who began as an English professor at Yale specializing in American literature, who rose through the administrative ranks to a deanship (where he made some prophetically bad decisions regarding due process and false accusations), and who then found himself leading Duke--had no idea what to do when all hell broke loose at Duke and in Durham. He responded with a combination of passivity, false promises, appeasement, scapegoating, finger-in-the-winding, and head-in-the-sanding. And he has never fully taken responsibility for his actions and inactions. You'd think he'd be out of a job. After all, other university presidents have been ousted for far less. Just ask Lawrence Summers.

But denial is a funny thing, and it can result in affirmations where censure is far more appropriate. That might explain why Duke's Board just issued a positive performance review of the troubled president.

Here's John Leo:

The Alice-in-Wonderland view of Duke University received yet another boost: a committee of the board of trustees has affirmed President Richard Brodhead's "compelling vision" for Duke and found "general support, overwhelming support, for the leadership that the president is providing."

The obvious question here is "What leadership?" Brodhead's performance during the Duke non-rape crisis was surely a disgrace large enough to get him fired immediately on any moderately alert campus.

Let's review Brodhead's dismal handling of the case. He fired the lacrosse coach without any hearing or finding that the coach had done anything wrong. He took no action and made no relevant statement when some of the hard-left professors harassed lacrosse players in class, and when one professor punitively reduced the marks of one player. (Imagine how he would have sprung into action if a gay person or a woman had been treated this way.) He refused to look at the overwhelming evidence, offered to him by defense counsel, that the boys were innocent. He made no comment when the racist black professor Houston Baker bitterly and falsely denounced the three white players. He said nothing and did nothing when death threats were made against the three. Instead of offering protection, he and his administration appointed a committee to examine "persistent problems involving the men's lacrosse team, including racist language and a pattern of alcohol abuse and disorderly behavior," a statement clearly implying that the players were racists while an out-of-control prosecutor was issuing the same untruths to voters and jurors.

Still Brodhead knows how the game is played and he surely judged his strategy by what happened to President Lawrence Summers at Harvard. Summers told many unwelcome truths and leftist professors forced him out. Brodhead told some welcome untruths and therefore kept his job. Brodhead 's performance was "a moral meltdown" of a cowardly man, in the words of Stuart Taylor Jr. and K C Johnson in their book, Until Proven Innocent. But given the moral climate of the modern university, cowardice was probably his safest course.

I'm not sure cowardice is quite the word here, though. That implies that a person knows very well what is right, but lacks the spine to do it. I think the issue with Brodhead is one that affects many, many academics and administrators, and that is the absence of a moral compass that would make such a thing as cowardice possible. Brodhead behaved like the lifelong academic he is. Marinated in moral relativism, identity politics, and petty bureaucracy, he made decisions that, in the moment, ensured that he would not be eaten by ideologically rabid academic wolves, and he did so instinctively, reflexively, with an inbred cynicism whose lack of principle is most likely masked--to him and to others--as a sober moral seriousness.

Just guessing.

Erin O'Connor, 7:39 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

December 13, 2007 [feather]
Academic freedom at UC

I have some thoughts on academic freedom at the University of California up at MindingtheCampus.com.

Erin O'Connor, 10:04 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

December 11, 2007 [feather]
A reader writes

Doug Giebel, a former adjunct faculty member at Montana State University, writes to share his story and to invite readers with advice or similar experiences to contact him. He writes:

I'm a former adjunct professor seeking input regarding my current adventure as a victim of false harassment allegations AND hoping to contact others who have been falsely accused of harassment.

For the past four years I was employed as an adjunct professor at Montana State University, Great Falls: College of Technology. By all accounts my work was successful, and I was officially listed to teach a summer session class and fall semester 2007 classes. My name appears as an adjunct faculty member in the 2007-08 college catalog.

In an earlier dispute, I was invited to argue (successfully) before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and that dispute generated a modest amount of national attention. See Giebel v. Sylvester, 244 F.3d 1182 (9th Cir. 2001)

Spring semester 2007, I assisted one of my students: a very bright, impoverished 27-year-old single mother with a lifetime history of being neglected and abused. For 7 or 8 years she was heavily involved in the drug scene, using, cooking and selling "meth." The student is on court probation for a variety of drug-related felonies, but she has determined to turn her life around.

The student expressed a desire to visit New York City for a week, and so friends and I raised the funds so I could take her on the trip. I had lived in Manhattan for many years and had taken others (including students or former students) for such educational trips. The student agreed to have a thorough medical evaluation in NYC if it could be arranged. The trip was scheduled for late May 2007.

Before the student could make the trip, however, she needed permission and I needed assurance from the student's probation officer. The student assured me she would make the trip, convinced the probation officer she would go, and the officer wrote to tell me I should make arrangements, buy the plane tickets, etc. I did so.


My spring semester contract had expired, my summer contract had not yet begun. After the semester ended, however, the student stated she could not make the trip at the appointed time. When I tried to encourage the student to take the trip and to learn why she had decided "the time is not good right now," I was met with silence.

The probation officer told me the student was not going on the trip and that I should have no further contact with her. I told the officer I would comply with the request, but that I was concerned about the loss of the funds we had raised.

A few days later, mistakenly fearing I might sue the student and/or the officer to recover the money, the probation officer contacted campus administrators, made false but alarming statements about me. Then the student filed a complaint against me for "sexual harassment." (I was informed by an EEOC representative that the complaint would not pass muster with the EEOC.)

Shortly after the student filed her complaint, my scheduled summer and fall classes were cancelled. At the time, however, I was UNAWARE of the officer's statements, the student's complaint, the class cancellations (and thus my termination).


Eventually I was contacted by an administrator and asked to attend a meeting on campus. I was repeatedly assured the meeting was simply over "a student matter" and to my inquiries I was twice told that I did not need to "bring anything" with me to the meeting. Assuming I was still in good standing, I drove the 80 miles to the campus for the meeting. When I arrived I was ambushed by three top administrators and told I would not be rehired in the future.

I asked why, and after some strange, deceptive maneuvers aimed at tricking me, I was told of the student's complaint, although the terms "sexual harassment" and "hostile environment" were not mentioned.


The administrators decided that the student had missed a few class meetings because she could not tolerate me. ALL evidence, however, proves she was having boyfriend problems or health/emotional related problems that had nothing to do with me.

Because I had allegedly created a "hostile environment" (there was no sex or romance alleged by the student), investigators decided the student had supposedly missed out on a valuable education benefit when she chose to miss class. The student, however, passed the class with an A minus after very successfully completing her final assignment.

Dissatisfied, the Dean ruled that there is more to a class than the grade one receives, and the alleged "hostile environment" meant that the student might want to RE-TAKE THE CLASS because of what the administration claimed she had missed! And she should not have to retake the class from me. Therefore, I had to go.


Are there others whose contracts have ended who have been summoned through deception into entering into an administrative investigation process?

This aspect seems to me rather unusual.


Has an accused individual ANY rights when accused of harassment?

Recently William Glaberson reported in the New York Times that a Guantanamo detainee must be denied knowing the names of witnesses against him. In my case, I have been denied knowing the names of witnesses listed by the complaining student and have also been denied the right to see the original complaint as filed by the "transcripted" copy of the complaint with the names of witnesses (and who knows what else) redacted. This may be the first case of an Unlawful Enemy Professor.

The college has no published policies/rules governing the process for conducting sexual harassment investigations. This is the FIRST time these administrators have held such an investigation, and they worked overtime to make sure I was found guilty of something.

Clearly the administration set out to advocate FOR THE STUDENT rather than to conduct a reasonably-impartial investigation, an approach that seems to be standard in many institutions.


An unbiased tribunal.

Sufficient, accurate notice of the proposed action and the grounds asserted for it.

The right to present evidence, including the right to call witnesses.

The right to see the original complaint or a copy of it. (Only a revised/redacted version was made available.)

The right to know opposing evidence.

The right to face and question the accuser.

The right to cross-examine adverse witnesses.

A decision based exclusively on the evidence presented.

Opportunity to be represented by counsel at the initial meeting /interrogation.

The right to be present when adverse evidence is presented to the fact-finder.

The right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.


The administration seeks to control/censor the private speech of employees/professors in consensual off-campus friendship communications with adult students. The administration argument is that professors and students may not have "friendship" relationships. Once the student/professor relationship exists it is somehow permanent and exclusive.

The administration's position appears to violate the right to freedom of association.


I was "terminated" because the student filed her complaint (at the beginning of the investigation), although I was never given notice of the termination. I learned of it by accident.

I had four years of very successful employment at the college, so my employment was beyond any "probationary" stage required by Montana's unique Wrongful Discharge law.

Furthermore, I was lied to about the reason for the termination since administrators do not want to link my loss of employment to the student's complaint.

In and e-mail, I was told the summer class was cancelled because 10 days before the start of class only 5 students were enrolled, and policy required a minimum of 7 students. When I challenged this excuse, I was told there IS NO "7 student" policy, and many classes go forward with fewer than 7 students.

I was not given any adequate reason for the fall semester class terminations.

The administration alleges that the student's witnesses did not need to be interviewed. However, the (anonymous) witnesses WERE interviewed, and they declined to become involved.

It now appears the student and her best friend (also a single-mother and recovering addict) planned this "scam" quite early on in our relationship. It seems the student also manipulated the probation officer into making the initial contact with the administration, so if the thing backfired the student could blame the officer.

I am now in the later stages of the university system's administrative appeals process. I have repeatedly requested a meeting with administrators to resolve the dispute informally. So far my requests have been denied. The system's chief legal counsel told me that they had never held such a meeting, noting my wish that the proceedings be recorded for accuracy.


My interest is in having the university system set for SPECIFIC POLICIES stating both what rights are guaranteed to the accused and the procedures to be employed when conducting an official sexual harassment investigation.

Of course it has been well documented that many campus policies and such terms as "hostile environment" and "uncomfortable" related to sexual harassment allegations are far too vague.

There's much more to this epic, and I will be happy to discuss the details with any who find the story of interest.

The parameters here are familiar enough--colleges and universities routinely deny due process to those accused of harassment, and contingent faculty don't have the same protections that tenured faculty and students do. People like Giebel--or Thomas Klocek, a DePaul adjunct who also lost his job after the administration indulged a spurious harassment complaint--just don't have much recourse, a fact that is only underscored if organizations such as the AAUP or FIRE don't take up their cases (FIRE did defend Klocek, and I hope they are looking into Giebel's). Daphne Patai amasses a horrifying series of cases very like Giebel's in Heterophobia; what she shows is a pattern and a program, but that is not pragmatically useful for people who find themselves cast--for murky reasons, without due process--in the role of harasser.

Comments are open.

Erin O'Connor, 7:12 PM | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

Feeling the tunnel

David Foster channels Neal Stephenson--and arrives at a fascinating analysis of the Tunnels of Oppression that are dotting campuses across the country. The gist: Tunnels of Oppression are sensory interfaces that seek to reach their audiences through emotional and visceral means rather than cerebral ones. Foster asks the necessary question: What is such an anti-intellectual endeavor doing on campuses? And what does it suggest about our commitment to thinking hard and well about some of the most pressing issues of our day?

Erin O'Connor, 8:38 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

Welcome to the Church of Harvard

Harvard has taken a lot of flak for stockpiling such a huge and growing endowment. It's become commonplace to note that Harvard is so rich it could cover all its students' tuition and never feel the pinch. But people don't value what they don't have to earn, and Harvard should be charging--and should be striking a saner balance between what it costs (about $45,000/year) and what people can actually pay.

And so it is:

BOSTON, Dec. 10--Harvard University announced on Monday that it would significantly increase the financial aid it offered to middle-class and upper-middle-class students, seeking to allay concerns that elite colleges are becoming too expensive for even relatively well-off families.

The move, to go into effect in the next school year, appears to make Harvard's aid to students with household incomes from $120,000 to $180,000 the most generous of any of the country's prestigious private universities. Harvard will generally charge such students 10 percent of their family household income per year, substantially subsidizing the annual cost of more than $45,600.

Officials said the policy would cut costs by a third to 50 percent for many students and make the real costs of attending Harvard comparable to those at major state universities.

They said the initiative would increase financial aid spending by the university to $120 million annually from $98 million. A little more than half of Harvard undergraduates get some form of aid, including many from families earning $120,000 or more.

The new aid policy is part of a broader effort by elite universities to ease the financial burden of rising tuition and ward off the perception that they have become unaffordable. Amherst, Williams, the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton are among those that have increased aid and substituted grants for loans to some students in recent years.

The ten percent figure is a nice touch--reminiscent of medieval tithing, and as such a reminder that institutions seeking to lift far more than that figure from most of the students they serve have far exceeded what even history's most accomplished extortionists viewed as fair.

Erin O'Connor, 7:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

December 10, 2007 [feather]

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Evan Coyne Maloney details Indiana University's outrageous efforts to cripple Indoctrinate U:

Early in November, On The Fence Films received a letter from an attorney representing Indiana University. The letter stated that university was claiming that a portion of the logo used for "Indoctrinate U" looked similar to the university's logo.
From a design and typographical standpoint, there were readily apparent differences between our graphics and the university's logo. There is also no likelihood of consumer confusion because our product is a film whereas theirs is four years in Bloomington. We're in totally different markets.

But in an act of good faith, we voluntarily took the Indoctrinate-U.com site offline while we reviewed our options and decided how to proceed.

Taking down the Web site of a film that we've been working on for four years was painful. We got lots of e-mails from people wondering what was happening, wondering whether some school was trying to shut us down because of the content of our film.

At the time, it didn't seem like Indiana University was trying to shut us down. I disagreed with their claim, but they didn't seem like they were being vindictive. To me, it appeared that they were just going through the legal motions required by our often clumsy intellectual property laws.
So we decided against releasing the name of the university that was threatening us with legal action; naming names would have caused needless controversy and made it harder to reach a mutually agreeable resolution to the dispute.

Even though we felt our graphics were completely defensible from a legal standpoint, we very quickly recognized that the cost of changing our graphics would have been much less than the cost of fighting the university. Besides, the graphics weren't central to the film, so going with the pure cost/benefit analysis made sense.

It took a couple of weeks to settle on a new design and change the graphics--we changed not only the Web pages, but the three videos we have online, and of course the film itself--but eventually we were able to bring Indoctrinate-U.com back online.

I assumed the matter was over. We showed good faith in taking the site offline immediately and changing all the graphics even though we were not required to do so. And while we were fielding press inquiries about Indoctrinate-U.com being down, we kept quiet, we kept the university's name out of it, and we didn't try to exploit the whole thing as a public relations stunt the way a more rotund filmmaker might.

I never imagined this would become a story. We did everything that could possibly be done to address the concerns of Indiana University. So the basic story line up until now has been pretty dull: A legal letter was received and its requests were addressed quickly, end of story. That sort of thing happens thousands of times a day in this country; it's not exactly newsworthy.

Unfortunately, the university now seems to want more than just changes to some graphics. The university is now demanding we hand over a sum of money that would essentially bankrupt On The Fence Films.
I have to say, I'm a bit stunned. I understand that some academics might have a problem with our film; it covers academia's dirty little secrets. Nobody likes to be criticized. But Indiana University is not mentioned in the film at all! So their heavy-handedness seems a bit extreme.

Rather than ascribe negative motives to Indiana University, I'd rather assume it's just a matter of ignorance about our film: "Indoctrinate U" hasn't been screened within a six-hour drive of Indiana University, so perhaps their legal team is just unaware of its content. Maybe they're worried that we snuck our cameras onto campus once or twice. If that's the case, then I hope everything can be resolved by my personal assurance to the Trustees of Indiana University: You can breathe easy. Your school isn't in the film. So please--call off the dogs.

If you care about academic freedom, free speech on campus, higher ed reform, and robust debate about these issues, you might want to express your opinion of IU's actions to the trustees.

Their contact information is here.

UPDATE: Indiana has dropped the suit.

Erin O'Connor, 10:28 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

December 6, 2007 [feather]
My review

... of Brink Lindsey's Age of Abundance is online at Knowledge@Wharton.

Erin O'Connor, 7:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

December 3, 2007 [feather]
The politics of symbolism

Hopefully we can all agree that it shouldn't be a punishable offense to name a teddy bear Mohammed. Can we also all agree that it's a waste of time and resources to sue the University of Iowa for the pink visitors' locker room in its football stadium?

UPDATE: More at InsideHigherEd.com.

Erin O'Connor, 5:52 PM | Permalink


Many of academe's problems are ideological in origin. And many are procedural. Both kinds of problems are endemic, and they are profoundly intertwined. But they are also distinct. Debate about higher ed reform often founders on this complexity, and at its worst you'll see standoffs in which critics cancel one another out ("Politics is the problem!" "No! Process is the problem!" "Is not!" "Is too!") or in which an idealized mischaracterization of the one is used to discount the partial critique offered by the other ("People who say ideology is a problem in academe are stupid and uninformed because academic process is noble and good and guards against abuses!" "Political imbalance among faculties is a false positive signifying nothing because academic procedures ensure professional behavior!"). And on and on. It's tiresome, and, if you care about the culture of higher education, maddening.

So it's a heartening thing to see Donald Downs working toward a more synthetic analysis. He's operating from two cogent critiques of higher ed, one from Stephen Balch (who focusses on the ideology side of things) and one from Harry Lewis (who focusses on structural imperfections in the academy), and he's moving toward something smart and useful:

A panel discussion/debate in October between Stephen Balch and Harry Lewis at the Pope Center in North Carolina highlighted this disagreement. The panel dealt with the problems besetting liberal education, focusing on education's aimlessness and failure to instill knowledge and respect for free institutions. Balch and Lewis agreed on several things, but offered two different slants on the ills of higher education. Comparing the views of Balch and Lewis can help us to clarify and refine the problem of politics in higher education today.

Balch, the distinguished president of the National Association of Scholars who recently was awarded the National Humanities Medal in the Oval Office, blamed the ills of liberal education on politicized faculty. According to Jay Schalin's report of the panel, Balch argued that higher education is failing "because it has adopted a left-wing ideology that is at odds with our traditions. The university system, with its population of impressionable young people, is naturally attractive to people with 'an inclination toward visionary and utopian thinking,' and these utopians feel that the purpose of education is to 'move people toward their visions."

Lewis, a former dean of Harvard College and recent author of the noteworthy book, Excellence Without a Soul, contested Balch's assessment. Lewis agreed that liberal education is failing to train citizens who are knowledgeable about the strengths and weaknesses of free institutions, and that this state of affairs constitutes a crisis for the nation. But he does not believe that the fault lies with a politicized left that disdains liberal democracy and American institutions. "The aimlessness problems are not the result of evil faculty or evil presidents, or even left wing conspiracies," he declared. Rather, they are the "unintended consequence" of the overwhelming emphasis on the production of research at the nation's leading institutions. "The root cause is the nature of the faculty who have been appointed in deference to research extremism." With so much attention devoted to research, there is neither time nor inclination to pay attention to the quality of education and academic freedom.

Normally, I disdain splitting the difference between two opposing arguments. But this time both thinkers are onto something in their own ways. If so, then higher education has more than one problem with which to contend.

During the 1990s, I saw things only from Balch's point of view. Surely political ideology had a lot to do with the prevalence of thought control programs on campus, as personal experience and the accounts of others revealed. But events at my own school, the University of Wisconsin, compelled me to look for further explanations. In 1999, after a long and concerted effort, a coalition of faculty and students succeeded - seemingly against all odds - in convincing the faculty senate to abolish a speech code that applied to faculty speech in the classroom. Further victories for free thought on campus followed in the wake of this pioneering effort. (I have written about this movement extensively elsewhere, and use it here only to make a point.) These successes took place despite the fact that the University of Wisconsin was a pioneer in the pro-speech code movement, and despite the fact that the University is well-known as a redoubt for the left. Indeed, in a widely read October 2005 cover article in the Weekly Standard, James Pierson proclaimed UW the paradigmatic example of the type of institution he called the "Left University": an institution dedicated to social outreach and activism based on progressive causes.

Whatever successes the Wisconsin movement might have achieved, they required, almost by definition, the cooperation of liberals and other members of the left. It became evident to me that many members of the progressive left believed in academic freedom - often strongly. So ideology was not necessarily the sole problem. The problem was that faculty members who believed in academic freedom were unorganized and, therefore, lacked a public voice. It took a movement engineered by the independent Committee for Academic Freedom and Rights (with members on the right, left, and center) to give shape to this voice, to bring members of the progressive left on board, and to take back a measure of intellectual freedom on campus. (In essence, we split the pro-academic freedom left from the PC left.) In other words, the problem that existed before the movement’s rise was the absence of a sense of campus citizenship. Faculty members who knew better were not minding the campus, leaving a vacuum into which people with agendas flowed.

The absence of a sense of citizenship lies at the center of Lewis's analysis of liberal education's woes. There are many causes of this lack, a fact that merits a separate discussion. They include the overarching emphasis upon research, the presence of external obligations in the form of grants and contractual agreements, and the rise of what Lewis (in Excellence Without a Soul) calls the "marketplace university," which has followed on the heels of what Clark Kerr in the 1960s called the "multiversity." At so-called major universities, tenure-track faculty members are rewarded primarily for their research efforts, and they are often just too busy to worry about agendas pushed by various administrators and students. (To be sure, research should not be disparaged. Society needs the best research, and somebody has to produce what others teach.) Minding the campus takes time and effort, and it is seldom rewarded financially. When the cat is away, the mice will play.

Stephen Karlson of Northern Illinois University raises a further point in responding to my last essay on his blog Universities are divided between senior faculty members with tenure and faculty members without tenure (most of whom are not even on the tenure track at all). These are the people who usually teach large courses, as many senior faculty disdain reaching out to large numbers of students - another problem of citizenship. Without the protection of tenure, they are more vulnerable if they resist the pressures of staff and others who promote politically correct agendas. At Wisconsin, for example, teaching assistants - perhaps the most vulnerable of all campus citizens - are exposed to sensitivity training that even my most liberal graduate students find exceedingly insulting and bullying. They complain to one another and to associates, but are reluctant to speak too loudly. (Alas, this is an area academic freedom advocates have not dealt with at Wisconsin or elsewhere.)

If Karlson is right, this situation is another structural reason for the lack of citizenship. It is tempting or easy to ignore affronts to freedom and common decency when other peoples' oxen are being gored, not one's own. Notably, when Wisconsin administrators tried to impose sensitivity training on all tenured faculty members a few years ago, the faculty senate resisted, and the measure failed. Don't gore our oxen!

So faculty members' indifference to minding the campus in matters of free thought is at least partly a function of broader forces that are separate from ideology. But while Lewis deserves his due, so does Balch. Lewis's book is well worth reading, courageously taking on many campus pieties and teachings that have undermined the character that is necessary for constructive citizenship. But he does not deal with intellectual freedom per se, and a reader is left wondering why he has ignored this 800 pound gorilla in the room. Second, while his analysis supplies an explanation of faculty indifference, it does not explain the motives of those individuals (faculty or staff) who have actively sponsored programs that are detrimental to freedom. Whereas Lewis' approach might be better at explaining faculty indifference to minding the campus, Balch's approach is better at explaining the activism that fills the vacuums created by the decline of citizenship among the faculty. Lewis deals with the crimes of omission, whereas Balch deals with the crimes of commission.

Also, there is the problem of political suppression at small liberal arts schools that do not emphasize research, and which are less affected by the broader forces discussed above. No one has conducted a serious empirical study of the status of academic freedom in liberal arts colleges, so we just do not know how extensive the problem might be. But many commentators have written chilling accounts of political correctness run amok on individual campuses. If faculty indifference plays a role at such schools, this indifference is more likely to be based on fear or reluctance to offend activists than on the emphasis upon research and related pressures.

Finally, Balch raises a concern that is related to freedom, but also distinct: the problem of intellectual diversity on campus. The NAS website provides links to several studies that have consistently found a decidedly leftist bias of faculty members in the social sciences and humanities. (See, e.g., the work of Daniel B. Klein and Charlotta Stern) The lack of intellectual diversity need not be a problem for academic freedom per se, for a leftist faculty may still strongly support such freedom. (But political one-sidedness makes suppression more likely, for repression typically will be one-sided.) Regardless, decided political imbalance is very likely to affect the quality of intellectual diversity and education inside and outside of class. This problem certainly weakens liberal education, making the campus much more closed-minded than in the world beyond academe's gates.

In conclusion, Balch's and Lewis's analyses of the problems of higher education supplement each other. Senior faculty indifference to campus citizenship leaves a vacuum into which questionable and damaging agendas by those who do care can flow. In the end, Lewis's depiction is somewhat more optimistic than Balch's, for it implies that academic freedom can be retrieved by the right kind of political organization and action on campus. (Whether this can affect the curriculum, which is Lewis's main concern, is another matter.) If the problem is incentive-based and structural, work to change the incentives and structures. If the problem is largely ideological, however, that would be a different matter, and we might be confronting Sisyphus's mountain.

The only way to test who is right is to start building constructive networks on campus, and then see what happens.

That last sentence tends to sit a bit mouselike coming after so much prose. But it does contain an understated agenda--one that proposes the importance of internally generated, consensus-based reform. That's certainly the ideal. The question is whether reality can approximate it--and what to do if, and when, it can't.

Erin O'Connor, 8:51 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)