When Students Kill Important College Courses

The Abolition of Man is the best refutation of moral relativism that has ever seen print (aside from the Bible, of course). In this short and cogent book, C.S. Lewis ponders what happens when human beings abrogate transcendent moral law and objective truth and begin to fashion their own guidelines for living. One argument that he refutes is that “Man” needs not to observe old, time-encrusted commandments handed down from the Year One, but can decide the course of his own future through reason and deliberation.

Lewis responds, simply, that “Man” will not make such decisions, but a certain number of men who have the power in any given generation will do so, depending on the technology available to them, and that these decisions will then bind the generations afterward. “For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases,” Lewis explains, actually means “the power of some men to make other men what they please.”

Furthermore, Lewis argues, these powerful men will not necessarily act out of reason and deliberation, but, bypassing objective standards of truth, will be governed by their own “impulses.”

Lewis particularly faults the moral relativists for not considering, as physicists routinely must, the dimension of Time in their actions and calculations. Lewis is thinking in terms of generations. When we consider curricular changes propelled by students at a university, we are dealing with a much shorter timeline, four years really, the amount of time it takes most students to earn the degree–the ones who will earn the degree, that is, and not drop out altogether. So, at present, we are talking about changes demanded by, say, members of the Class of 2022, that will affect all future students in that particular college through the 2020s and into the 2030s and even the 2040s, some of them now obliviously playing video games, some toddling about their playgroups, some not yet even born.

This prospective scenario may be playing out now at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. As Peter Wood writes at Minding the Campus, “a slow-motion protest” is being mounted at Reed by the “Reedies Against Racism,” who are

waging war on the college’s core humanities course, Humanities 110, “Greece and the Ancient Mediterranean.” The students seem to have gained the upper hand in their attack on Reed’s only required freshman course. Classes have been canceled; a day-long boycott was launched; a Black Lives Matter group presented the president of the college with a list of demands, and President John Kroger capitulated to many of them.

As Wood explains, “The humanities course in question has been a cornerstone of a Reed education since 1943 and is the successor to a requirement that goes back to the college’s founding in 1908.”

While the outcome of the Reedies’ disruptive activism is not yet known, the whole protest seems to illuminate Lewis’s point. Some members of the present student body at Reed are seeking to overturn a required course that has instructed generations of students before them, and to eliminate it from the education of cohorts of students after them because these activists feel that studying Ancient Greece, foundational to Western civilization, is ipso facto “racist.”

Related: Our Colleges Are Getting Worse-3 Proposals to Help Save Them

I thought about this while at a New York Philharmonic concert featuring two works by Leonard Bernstein, inspired, respectively, by Plato’s Symposium and the Lamentations of Jeremiah. I saw a young couple there, perhaps in their early thirties, who would be about the right age to have graduated Stanford in, say, 2006, long after the “hey-hey-ho-ho-Western-Civ-has-got-to-go” movement removed any required courses there on Western culture, and sparked similar movements at other colleges. Obviously, this couple is interested in concert music, but they might have been surprised to find that a modern composer such as Bernstein, who also composed the popular musical West Side Story, drew inspiration from ancient texts.

I could imagine them wondering as they busied over the program prior to the entry of the conductor, “Who are Plato and Jeremiah and why would Bernstein find them inspirational?” Or perhaps, alternatively, “Too bad, but the courses in which these ancient figures were taught were no longer required at Stanford when we were there.”

Yes, those infinitely wise students of the Class of 2002, barely out of braces and acne ointments, had decided that my couple, Class of 2006, were not to be required to study these writers, supposedly tainted somehow by the purported racism of the West.

Thanks to the actions at Stanford, which started the whole anti-Western-courses crusade throughout American higher education, students are missing out on the likes of Plato and the prophets in favor of diversity writers such as bell hooks and Sandra Cisneros.

The Founding Fathers who fashioned our system of government set it down for generations to follow but they provided a mechanism of checks and balances and a procedure for amending the Constitution. Today’s student militants don’t think very far ahead.

Some students are daring to think differently, however.  In 2016, close to twenty years after the hey-hey-ho-ho-ing, the staff of the Stanford Review, the student newspaper founded in 1987 by Peter Thiel and Norman Book as a conservative/libertarian alternative, drew up a petition to the Faculty Senate to require a two-quarter freshmen course in Western civilization.

Related: Hey, Stanford: Western Civ Has Gotta Grow

It may be protested that a requirement should not be necessary, that students could individually and separately seek out courses in the great figures, assuming that these are somewhere still available, and in relatively unpoliticized form, somewhere in the university, but some students might actually like the guidance of a designed, thought-out curriculum. As the little girl in a free-form, progressive school asked her teacher, “Could we just for one day not do whatever we want?”

The petition garnered enough signatures for the request to be put to a school-wide student vote before it could get to the Faculty Senate. It was defeated, 342 in favor, and 1992 against. It is evidently too late to reverse the actions of previous generations of students. As Lewis says, some men and women get to decide what other men and women can have.

Photo: Painting of a scene from Plato’s Symposium (Anselm Feuerbach, 1873) at Google Cultural Institute

Campus Left: ‘Not OK to Be White’

“It’s OK to Be White” signs have been popping up on campuses apparently to show that any similar slogan ending in a reference to any other racial, ethnic or gender group would be welcomed by college students, but not one ending in “White.” Sure enough, the “White” signs have been pulled down rapidly, apparently by the campus left, with some students saying the motto is a clear attack on diversity or a hateful expression of “white supremacy. “

Since Halloween, the signs have turned up at Princeton, the University of Iowa, Tulane, Harvard, the University of Maryland, Purdue, Concordia College in Minnesota and the University of Alberta and the University of Toronto in Canada.

More than a dozen handmade stickers reading “It’s Okay to Be White” surfaced around Harvard Square last Wednesday, prompting Cambridge officials to remove them and the Dean of Harvard Law School, Marcia L. Sells, to denounce the signs as “provocations intended to divide us.”

The Harvard Crimson reported that the stickers appeared to be part of a campaign started on the controversial forum website 4chan, which called upon followers to put up posters with the message in their area on Halloween night. The author of the original post on the site wrote that they hoped the “credibility of far-left campuses and media get nuked” as a result of the incident, adding that they could help achieve a “massive victory for the right in the culture war.”

Some campuses worked hard to spin the news as they reported it. The University of Kansas student newspaper ran the news of the signs as “white supremacy posters found around campus.”

John Hinderaker, writing at Power Line, reported that “A group of students at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, did something so outrageous, so transgressive, that it has roiled the campus and led to newspaper headlines: they posted signs on campus that say, “It’s OK to be white.”

You might think that in a campus environment where a thousand genders are blooming, you could finish a sentence beginning “It’s OK to be…” in just about any possible manner. But you would be wrong.

Concordia students said the whole “plan” goes against the diversity message at the school.

Leftists divined that those who put up the signs are not entirely on board with the bullying zeitgeist of 21st-century education:

Senior Micah Ferden said, “(I) was really shocked that someone had the guts to do this because we try to promote diversity so much, and seeing this is saying ‘Hey, we still have students who aren’t fully invested in this diversity message.’”

A naive observer might have thought the message of the signs was anodyne. Moorhead, Minnesota, where Concordia is located, is 90.4% white, according to Wikipedia. So, a naïve observer might assume, it had better be OK to be white. But some thoughts must not be spoken. Concordia’s President has announced an “open forum” to discuss the radical sign.

Unsurprisingly, the campus left was generally prone to seeing the posters as out of bounds and illegitimate, though whites, particularly white males, have been the unofficial punching bags as oppressors in movements against “white privilege and “white fragility,” With campus leftists in recent weeks instructing whites to move to the back of lecture halls.

U. of Wisconsin Will Suspend or Expel Campus Disrupters

Following a spate of controversial protests on college campuses across the nation that sought to silence mostly conservative speakers, the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents has adopted a policy that mandates punishment for students and other campus citizens who willfully seek to disrupt speakers.

The policy, resulting from pressure by the state legislature, calls for mandatory suspension of students who disrupt a speaker for the second time, and expulsion for a third offense.

This is one of the two most controversial aspects of the policy; the other is the potential for the “chilling effect” of those who want to properly protest a speaker. The disruption standard comes from a famous Supreme Court student free speech case (Tinker v. School District of Des Moines, 1968), which covers those who “materially and substantially” disrupt a lawful speaker on campus — a valid concern if the standard is not applied conscientiously. Ultimately, the courts may have to weigh in on how to draw a legitimate line between protest and disruption.

In addition to the disruption standard, the main features of the policy include requiring the following:

  • An annual report on the status of free speech and the application of the policy by the system’s campuses to the Board of Regents.
  • Orientation on free speech principles to all freshmen and transfer students.
  • That the University not in any way discourage students or employees from expressing or harboring their own views when the University takes a public stand on a policy issue (the so-called “Neutrality” policy.)

Supporters of the policy claim that it is a necessary response to the spate of disruptions that have beset higher education over the course of the last few years, epitomized by the physical attacks on American Enterprise Institute political scientist Charles Murray and his faculty host last March at Middlebury—a disruption heard around the academic world, though it was hardly the only such noise.

Related: Middlebury Sounds an Alarm

At Middlebury, where protestors injured a liberal faculty member who was scheduled to debate Murray after his talk, dozens of students were disciplined, but no one was suspended or expelled.

At Berkeley, where preventing people from speaking has become routine, the protests exceeded their goals and became violent and destructive. Property was destroyed, businesses in the area were looted and fires were set in the streets. It’s hard to say how many were students and how many were from outside groups. The growth of these university protest movements with little or no consequence to those who disregard the first amendment of the Constitution must have prompted the Wisconsin State Legislature to act.

The only way to adequately restore the free speech integrity of the campus is to appropriately punish those who do the disrupting. Reasonable people can argue over what punishment is proper, but sanctions need to be meaningful to work. Claremont McKenna provides a recent positive example: it suspended the students who shouted down Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute to stop her from speaking last spring.

Several intellectual and constitutional harms arise when a rightful speaker is disrupted: the rights of the speaker; the rights of the person or group who brought the speaker in; the rights of the audience to listen to the speech—listeners do not always agree with a speaker; the right of the institution to be an “open university;” and even the obligation of the republic’s fundamental commitment to intellectual freedom. (The First Amendment does not apply to private schools, but most of them provide similar protections to students and faculty through contractual agreements or official campus policy.)

Implementing free speech counseling during freshman orientation is a good and necessary idea in today’s environment.  The lack of civics education and American history, including a basic understanding of the Constitution, requires at least this effort.

Swinging the Pendulum Too Far the Other Way

So why are there critics? Several reasons. First, as FIRE pointed out on its website, the policy does not provide for disciplinary discretion to mete out different penalties based on the degree of one’s level of disruption. Those who shout down speakers or physically intimidate them are one thing; those who provide minor assistance in some other way other are another. Criminal law usually makes such distinctions. Should not higher education as well?

Another concern is the academic freedom of the institution itself, which has traditionally included sufficient institutional autonomy. This is the first time in history that the legislature has dictated to the University how it must punish its students. As mentioned, there are reasons to be distrustful of higher education’s will to apply sufficient sanctions in this context; but empirical evidence of the problems at UW System institutions would be good to substantiate these concerns in relation to the actual institutions the policy covers.

Just last week the legislature introduced a policy that FIRE claims would directly interfere with the UW Medical School’s academic policy and training of physicians when it comes to abortions. The proposed law does not allow training of UW Medical School personnel at places like Planned Parenthood. According to the medical school dean, Robert N. Golden, this training is required for the medical school to keep its national accreditation for OB-GYN training. As Golden said in testimony reported in the Wisconsin State Journal, the policy could leave medical school residents “with no place to be trained,” which would “’destroy the program and result in residents going to other states. Allowing them to leave Wisconsin would only worsen the state’s shortage of OB-GYN doctors, particularly in rural areas.’”

“It is disappointing to see members of the Wisconsin state legislature attempt to interfere with the academic policy and decision-making of UW’s medical school. The legislature would do well to avoid such intrusions into the academic freedom of faculty teaching at the state’s public universities,” FIRE wrote.  Some observers of the free speech policy see it in the context of this and other legislative interventions into UW academic policy that have taken place in recent times.

Many people worry that this external intervention will set a precedent for other cases, especially given past legislative actions that have negatively affected Wisconsin’s national standing. And as conservatives have long maintained, government action is often meted out with a hammer, not a scalpel.

Another unfortunate feature of the policy is that is has been construed by many sources—including those with no political ax to grind and are even champions of campus free speech—to be a partisan effort. The reasons for this are twofold. First, the policy is ultimately the fruit of a legislature that is highly partisan and has its own agenda with a university system that it considers, not unreasonably, to be clearly tilted toward the left. Second, the legislature’s actions were modeled on a blueprint for such policies presented last January by the Goldwater Institute in Arizona, which leans right. Such pedigree does not mean that the policy is unprincipled per se, but the political background plays into the hands of those who see partisanship behind the scenes.

Supporters of the policy may properly reply that the legislative left and their allies have exacerbated the partisanship problem by refusing to acknowledge that free speech and other issues that marginalize the right have endangered higher education. (Interestingly, this lack of acknowledgment is not matched at UW-Madison and other national campuses, where numerous faculty members on the left share genuine concern for the status of campus free speech.) Amazingly, some have even asseverated that no such problem exists on campus nationwide. As it is, the politics of free speech remains as divided and partisan as our national politics more generally.

Accordingly, rather than helping the cause of free speech, the regent policy and its links to the legislature may ironically be harming the cause of free speech in certain respects. One of the lessons I have learned during my long tenure as a pro-free speech campus activist is that being perceived as partisan undermines the credibility of erstwhile valid free speech claims. Sadly, this misstep has taken place in Wisconsin.

To be sure, higher education has opened the door to such intervention by its failure to protect its most important principle, which is intellectual freedom. But the need for remedial action still leaves open the question of the most prudent way to proceed, especially when empirical evidence of disruption is lacking for the institutions the law targets.

Harvey Weinstein and Higher Ed

Harvey Weinstein—priapic, smug, and richly honored—has been losing his degrees. The University of Buffalo is rescinding his 2000 honorary degree. Harvard is revoking his Du Bois Medal, awarded in 2014 for his contributions to black culture. France is rescinding his Legion of Honor. These take-backs come despite Mr. Weinstein’s long record of standing up for progressive causes. Back in 2009, as he petitioned on behalf of a convicted rapist, Weinstein explained to the Los Angeles Times, “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion.”

After the New York Times and the New Yorker began to document Weinstein’s sordid career as a sexual harasser who frequently purchased the silence of his victims, his reputation collapsed, and with it his value to the institutions that honored him. Weinstein’s fall, of course, also ignited “Me too” accusations against Weinstein and many others.

Related: Occidental and the ‘Rape Culture’ Hysteria

The Weinstein-inspired spotlight on male sexual predators in the entertainment industry abruptly changes the narrative. Until the Weinstein story broke on October 5, most of the concern about sexual harassment focused on campus “rape culture.” Indeed, as recently as mid-September, feminist critics were battling over a review in the New York Times Book Review that disputed some of the assertions in Vanessa Grigoriadis’ book, Blurred Lines: Rethinking Sex, Power, and Consent on Campus. The reviewer, Michelle Goldberg, quibbled with Grigoriadis over details. They agreed that college campuses are in the midst of an epidemic of sexual assault and rape. Other observers, such as Christina Hoff Sommers, strongly dispute the widely reported claims that 1 in 5 college women are sexually assaulted, or even 1 in 4, according to a 2015 New York Times story.

Motel California

The high numbers generally result from surveys with trick questions and tendentious ways of interpreting the answers as well as “rape culture” propaganda that primes students to see their experiences through a distorting lens. But never mind that right now. The intriguing development of the last month is the discovery that there really is something like a “rape culture” to be found in one precinct of American society—not on the college campus, but in the movie industry.

And it may extend well past the movie industry. If the New York Times is to be relied on, sexual harassment also flourishes 378.4 miles from Hollywood in the California legislature.

There are, to be sure, many instances in which sexual harassment and assault do occur on campus. It could hardly be otherwise, and the cases that do emerge tend to get a great deal of attention. The dean of the University of California Law School, Sujit Choudhry, resigned in Spring 2016 after being accused of sexual harassment. He was plainly guilty of giving his assistant “kisses to the cheeks, bear hugs and repeatedly rubbing her shoulders and arms.” This was not wise, though by most accounts his touching was not intended to be sexual. Later in the year, a University of Southern California Medical School dean, Rohit Varma, resigned after the revelation that fifteen years earlier the university had reached “a financial settlement with a female researcher who accused him of sexual harassment.”

A little searching will turn up dozens of such stories over the years. But they seem to point to something other than a “rape culture.” Dean Choudhry and Dean Varma don’t even come close to the starting line of Harvey Weinstein’s reckless career. Higher education just isn’t a place where adult men who grab, harass, or assault can expect a free pass.

Me Too? No.

My own experience over the last forty-some years in higher education colors my views. I’ve known of a fair number of extra-marital affairs among faculty members, some of them involving students, but students who were consenting. Some of these resulted in the break-up of marriages and a few in the professors marrying their new love interest. By some of the current expansive definitions, these are instances of “harassment,” but they aren’t really. They are instances of men and women giving into mutual temptation.

But worse things do happen. I saw one case close up in the 1990s. A male professor lured an undergraduate student to a hotel restaurant where he drugged her and attempted to get her into a room. The university held a formal investigation. The accused professor had his own lawyer. But he was fired in short order. Had he done the same thing to other students? We never found out, but we did turn up evidence of other kinds of misbehavior, and once he was fired, the professor fled the country.

Attempted rape was one thing. We had other cases of faculty members going off other sexual deep ends: a peeping tom, a professor who used a toilet stall for gay assignations with students, and professors who stashed pornography on their university computers. Generally, the university came down hard on faculty members who paid the wrong kinds of attention to their students.

Students of course prey on each other far more than faculty members or deans prey on students. The hook-up culture and the readiness of many college students to drink to excess are parts of a recipe for sexual misadventures. Campus sexual assault outside that context appears to be rare.

Related: The Washington Post Joins the Rape Culture Crusade

Why then have feminists focused on the college campus as the center of “rape culture?” Because the term and the ideology that lies behind the term are tools of recruitment. The goal is to convince young women that they are in constant peril; that the college or university has little interest in protecting them; and that their “safety” lies in joining the larger effort to dismantle “patriarchy.”

What radical feminism offers young women on campus in exchange for their intellectual and personal independence is a sense of shared victimization and the sharp pleasures of resentment. These are based on nothing much. Feminist theory generally repels critical examination and has no use for facts that contradict its just-so stories.

Most but not all women who are initially attracted to the misandry of radical feminism in college eventually drift away from it. The theory is deeply at odds with actual human experience, including our deep need for life partners who complement us sexually and emotionally. A doctrine grounded in fear and promoting an ethic of shrill accusation isn’t very conducive to a good life.

Nor is marinating students in a make-believe world of sexual harassment good preparation for the day, if it comes, in which a young woman encounters a man who does harass or attempt to assault her. Harvey Weinstein and his ilk are out there. Theories of patriarchy, take-back-the-night marches, and pussy hats won’t stop them. Harvey Weinstein, after all, was a self-proclaimed “liberal feminist” accepted as such by the feminist establishment.

Disrupting Campus Speakers Is Not Just A Free-Speech Problem

From kneeling football players to campus shout-downs to professors and a president Tweeting out malignancies, America now has a new problem.

Taken out of its Christian context, to witness is to make an emphatic assertion to someone else who doesn’t share your view that your view is right. That assertion, moreover, doesn’t aim to persuade by reasoning, logic, or evidence, or even by quiet confidence. It is, rather, an assertion of will that draws on a sense of external power.

The shouters-down of Charles Murray or Heather Mac Donald were, for sure,  invoking a different external power that might best be called “Social Justice.”  To them, Social Justice authorizes shout-downs, mob actions, and beatings as acts of piety that display “not the wisdom of men” but the power of the movement.

Will to Power

I introduce this idea as a new way to think about the breakdown in free expression in our society. We usually talk about that breakdown as a crisis of free speech: a matter of Constitutional rights and the sudden loss of respect for letting the other guy have his say. That’s true as far as it goes. Both ordinary civility and the special decorum we used to expect in public events have taken some hard knocks.

But every violation of free speech and every departure from civility is also an expression of a kind of piety. Superficially these outbursts are expressions of animus against “fascists,” “white supremacists,” and the like.

Those labels are so misapplied as to be nothing more than incantations in which a revulsive name is fixed on a designated target.  “Hey hey, ho ho, Charles Murray has got to go,” has no substance except as witness. By repeating it in unison, a crowd expresses its will-to-power.

The Rudeness of the Right

On college campuses, the rudeness has appeared mostly among members of the progressive left who have lately adopted tactics such as shouting down speakers they don’t like, invading classrooms, and barging uninvited into private meetings. But rudeness is bipartisan. And to make the phenomenon of political witnessing clear, it helps to consider examples of conservatives doing it. For example, populist supporters of President Trump recently attempted to shout down a talk by the California Attorney General, a Democrat, at Whittier College.

The “You lie!” moment of nearly a decade ago stands as the outburst that defined the American political right’s temptation with rowdiness. “You lie!” is what Joe Wilson (R—SC) yelled out during a September 9, 2009, address by President Obama to a joint session of Congress. Wilson, as it happened, apologized and was rebuked by the House, but he left a benchmark. Such things aren’t forgotten. As recently as April 2017, Wilson was assailed by angry Democrats at a town hall in his home state, chanting in derision, “You Lie.”

Wilson’s outburst, which came during the early days of the Tea Party movement, pointed in a confrontational direction that, as it happened, the Tea Party movement did not take. Rowdiness, rudeness, and confrontation proved alien to the spirit of those protesters. But their suppression by the IRS and other instruments of President Obama’s government boomeranged. The campaign rallies for Donald Trump were much more boisterous and the rhetoric more bloody-minded. “You lie!” seems tame in comparison to what followed.

The Weirdness of the Left

The rudeness of the right has become an object of contemplation for many on the left. Contemplation at least for some intellectual doyens. More often voices of protest on the right are simply denounced as racist, white supremacist, or neo-Nazi, or attributed to the crudity of “populism.” But it is important to pay attention to liberal and leftist thinkers when they try to go beyond this.

Bill Moyers, a reliable register of orthodox progressive opinion, has just published a conversation with Joan Scott, a historian and gender theorist, and professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. In “Academic Freedom in the Age of Trump,” Moyers and Scott see the problem entirely through the lens of “attacks on the Academy” from right-wing conservatives, a group outnumbered in the Northeast by 28 to 1, where presidents, policies, and primetime television news comes from.  In Scott’s view, these conservatives are in the grips of an anti-intellectual “bloodlust.” It is aimed at “supposed tenured ‘radicals’” and is meant to undermine “free thought” and “critical thinking.”

Scott occasionally argues points that are important and valid. Like her, I have long argued that free speech and academic freedom are profoundly different. Scott quotes Stanley Fish:

“Freedom of speech is not an academic value. Accuracy of speech is an academic value; completeness of speech is an academic value; relevance of speech is an academic value. Each of these is directly related to the goal of academic inquiry: getting a matter of fact right.”

Fish’s term, “accuracy of speech,” is his work-around for the straightforward word “truth.” Fish is a kind of post-modernist (he says “pragmatist’) who rejects the concept of truth, but we can meet him (and Scott) on the close-by summit of “accuracy.”

The Saga of Mattress Girl

The shout-downs, speech codes, bullying of conservative students, efforts to intimidate faculty members who defy the edicts of political correctness, are all breakdowns in civility. The governing principles of intellectual exchange collapse as the rancor rises. But these events are also eruptions of ego. They display a particular kind of self-assertion that merges the individual into a collective will. This isn’t always immediately apparent. Mattress Girl, Emma Sulkowicz, lugging her mattress around the Columbia University campus for a year to protest how the university handled her rape accusation against a fellow student would seem outwardly to be engaged in a completely individualized spectacle—and one that didn’t touch the freedom of anyone else’s expressive rights.

But in fact, Mattress Girl’s spectacle depended entirely on the active collaboration of the Columbia University community, which implicitly and often explicitly supported her vilification of the student she accused of rape, Paul Nungesser. The student newspaper and fellow students made Sulkowicz’s campaign into a collaborative enterprise aimed at shaming Nungesser, who in the end was exonerated and who successfully sued the university for its treatment of him.

So, the individual act of witness may look like a personal statement, but it rides like a surfboard on a wave of collective resentment. The many egos of the protesters join in a chorus of derision and deviation from this group will is harshly punished. But as in other romantic movements, behind this collective conformity lurks a great deal of individual torment.

Clouds Above, Rocks Below

Moyers and Scott provide a genteel version of this kind of witness. They write with the assurance that their attacks on conservatives will meet the smiling approval of their in-group because, after all, they are testifying to the validity of a set of beliefs. They do so in a thoughtful, discursive manner that is not intended to outrage anyone or draw special attention to themselves. As someone who is not part of their intended audience, I do find some of their confident assertions false to the point of outrageousness, but my outrage is stilled by the realization that Moyers and Scott are denizens of an imaginary place, a cloud continent, remote from the actual world.

The students, on the other hand, pose a problem that deserves very serious attention. They are doing their part—consciously and deliberately—to destroy a civilization. Ultimately, they won’t succeed. Civilization has resources beyond their understanding. But in the short term, as in a generation or two, they will do a lot of damage.

Reedies Against Racism

Consider Reed College where a slow-motion protest under the name Reedies Against Racism is waging war on the college’s core humanities course, Humanities 110, “Greece and the Ancient Mediterranean.” The students seem to have gained the upper hand in their attack on Reed’s only required freshman course. Classes have been canceled; a day-long boycott was launched; a Black Lives Matter group presented the president of the college with a list of demands, and President John Kroger capitulated to many of them. The humanities course in question has been a cornerstone of a Reed education since 1943 and is the successor to a requirement that goes back to the college’s founding in 1908. The problem, in the eyes of Reedies Against Racism, is that a course on Ancient Greece is by definition a course on Western civilization. It is thus ethnocentric and “racist.”

I don’t know whether the course at Reed will survive, but the will to oppose the protesters seems weak. The Reed alumni magazine quoted one of the student critics:

Hum 110 should include a history of the Western canon as racist and anti-black; Hum 110 lecturers should restructure delivery and analysis of content, in an understanding that the texts are not familiar with everyone and their backgrounds. Or made non-mandatory given options of other Hum courses with books outside of the Western canon.

Options for “compromise” like this amount to an evisceration of the course in favor of contemporary identity politics and grievance theatre. The alumni magazine, however, frames the debate entirely according to the protesters’ premises:

The protest has ignited a respectful but passionate campus debate over the scope and structure of the course and whether it represents a vision of intellectual life in which all students feel included. At a deeper level, the debate is about race, power, culture, and the nature of education itself.

The debate is really about whether Reed students will learn something about the deep history of western civilization or instead be immersed in something else.

Reed College, of course, has a well-earned reputation for its leftist leanings. Remarkably, Humanities 110 survived the general purge of Western Civilization courses in American higher education. A few years ago, the National Association of Scholars published a study, The Vanishing West, which tracked the dismantling of this course at elite colleges and universities from 1963 to 2010. At the beginning of that range, a two-semester Western Civilization requirement was almost universally required, and it provided the backbone of general education. By 2010, they were all gone, except for fragments here and there.

The Reedies Against Racism movement is about ending a very old legacy—not the legacy of racism, but the legacy of learning how Western civilization invented itself. When I say the iconoclastic movement on campus today will do a lot of damage, this is the damage I expect: loss of historical depth, subordination of knowledge of the past to the political preoccupations of the present; and the ever-inflating assertions of group grievance and grievance-based personal identity. Who has the courage to tell the Reedies Against Racism that their complaint is trivial and that they should get over themselves? I suspect it won’t be President Kroger.

Saying Rude Things

Students protesting to prevent Charles Murray from speaking, or Heather Mac Donald, do plenty of damage. But students organizing to silence Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides may well be the greater threat. Their efforts, extending back to the culture wars of the 1980s, have already stripped American higher education of much of its coherence as well as its ability to teach students about the hard-won nature of our freedom. That ignorance is part of what licenses today’s eruptions of protest against “privilege,” racism, and the like. The targets of the protest are not wholly imaginary, but they are wrongly imagined. The protesters often say they are fighting “structures of oppression” when they are really witnessing against their own exile and confusion.

Attempts to silence speakers or forestall speech are the most conspicuous part of the crisis in free speech, but they are not the heart of the matter. Every effort to talk over someone else (“You lie!”) is also an effort to say something in its own right. It is the saying of rude, outrageous, and provocative things that is the essence of the crisis.

As a culture, we are accustoming ourselves to interruption. We’ve invented justifications for this: an ethic of interruption. The interruptions are more than just shouting down or talking over. They are also the interruptions of civility and thought that could be achieved all on one’s own with a Tweet or some act of solitary protest. The intention in such cases is to interrupt and arrest the flow of things. To demand attention to oneself by means of peculiar pronouncements is part of the new cultural warfare.

A Medal Not All Are Eligible for

LL Cool J was one of eight winners this year of the Hutchins Center’s W.E.B. Dubois Medal, Harvard University’s highest honor in the field of African and African America studies. It is awarded to individuals “in recognition of their contribution to African American culture and the life of the mind.”

We notice that many expected names are missing from the list of 165 winners since the medal was first bestowed in 2000. Thomas Sowell, a clear overachiever and perhaps the best-known African American scholar, has never won. Neither have noted black scholars Shelby Steele, Walter Williams or John McWhorter. Former Attorney General Eric Holder won a DuBois medal, but not Condoleezza Rice or Colin Powell, both former secretaries of state. Talking head Donna Brazile won, but not talking head Michael Steele. Oprah won, as has Harry Belafonte, but not James Earl Jones. Harvey Weinstein won in 2014, presumably for his fund-raising skill, rather than for his contributions to the life of the mind, but that award was rescinded this year.

What can explain all those omissions? Our current theory is that the medal goes only to the left and that most moderates and all conservatives just don’t qualify as contributors to black culture. LL Cool J supported President Obama, but he also backed NY Republican Governor George Pataki for a third term.  “Nobody should assume that I’m a Democrat either. I’m an Independent, you know,” he said. Clear enough, but one more rightward lurch and he may have to be rescinded.

Free Speech–Where Are the Adults in the Room?

Almost two years have passed since the Halloween imbroglio at Yale in 2015, which launched the current era of student mobilizations against speech that some students don’t want to hear.  Whatever their ideological stance, these protests aim to intimidate controversial speakers and those who would invite them to campus, to prevent others from hearing them, and to banish certain ideas and terms from campus discourse.

College leaders invariably denounce violence and affirm their unflagging commitment to robust speech and debate on campus. They invoke the standard tropes of liberal education: to cultivate students’ curiosity, knowledge, imagination, and critical thinking by exposing them to diverse ideas about the world. They routinely genuflect before the First Amendment’s protection of academic freedom and provocative and unsettling speech. (Private institutions, while not legally bound by the First Amendment, subscribe to the same doxology).

Backing up this free-speech rhetoric is anything but free. Security is very costly. It cost Berkeley an estimated $600,000 merely to protect one conservative speaker’s visit recently, a drop in the UC system’s $7.3 billion budgetary bucket. But at smaller schools, protecting such speakers competes with scarce resources for teaching, financial aid, housing, and other essential functions.

Colleges run other serious risks when campus turbulence threatens to blight the school’s reputation with its trustees, major donors, and potential applicants. Presidents who lose control may lose their jobs. Knowing this, they mollify the student groups which threaten to wreak this havoc. Having long ago abandoned the traditional in loco parentis role, their power to shape student conduct is now very limited. Leftist orthodoxy in the classroom is especially prevalent on more elite campuses and in academic departments (the social sciences and humanities, for example) where almost the entire faculty is liberal. (This is evidenced not only by what they teach and assign but also by their campaign contributions). And even if some professors present a range of perspectives, students probably prefer an unvarnished version of conservatism from true believer outsiders to liberal professors struggling to appear “balanced.”

The fuel for the speech-related disorder is inexhaustible. For many students, especially conservatives, these speakers also help to correct for a perceived leftist orthodoxy in the classroom. Scoring outside anti-establishment speakers with wide name recognition, rhetorical flair, and a taste for provocation revs up student interest and magnifies the organizers’ status and recognition on campus, their ideological and militant chops, and their feelings of accomplishment. Some schools even provide student organizations with a budget to support these and other “enrichment” activities. Some politically active outside groups such as the Federalist Society and its counterparts on the left may also subsidize them.

The protesting students can almost always count on some faculty sympathizers with similar motivations as well as a desire to embarrass the equivocating, temporizing administration. At the highest-ranked schools, professors often have great bargaining power due to global reputations and frequent job offers. At lower-ranked schools, many faculty have low status, poor pay, and little job security. Their estrangement encourages solidarity with protesting and disaffected students. And a new study from Brookings suggests that intolerance of unpopular views – and even support for violence to suppress them – is remarkably common among today’s college students.

These incentives and conditions help explain why the adults nominally in charge often seem so feckless. More eager to pacify their protesting student and faculty critics than to protect the abstract intellectual values which they claim to revere, they equivocate. As for students, most surely oppose the extremists — but like most silent majorities, they exert less influence than their numbers might warrant.

What is to be done?

  1. A counterforce consisting of trustees and major donors – the off-campus people who have invested the most in the institution and care most about its reputation and welfare should make clear to the administration that their future financial support will depend on a clear affirmation that (a) academic values and intellectual diversity are paramount; (b)academic freedom does not protect those who try to stifle other viewpoints; (c) students, faculty, and administrators who do not respect these norms do not belong there; and (d) serious sanctions will attend duly-adjudicated violations of those norms — including expulsion or long-term suspension of students who actively encouraged those violations. Similar sanctions should apply to even tenured faculty who promote them. (This last is easier said than done, of course). The public statement on freedom of expression issued by the University of Chicago in 2012 can serve as a good starting point.
  2. More student riots and speech-impeding mobs are likely to end up in court. Several of the most publicized confrontations, such as the intimidation of Professor Bret Weinstein by Evergreen students who wanted him and all other Caucasians off-campus for a whites-free day, ended in settlements, in Weinstein’s case for $500,000. Jay Weiser, associate professor of law at Baruch College, points out that the post-Civil-War anti-Klu Klux Klan laws still have power, one of them covering private conspiracies and masked conspirators (the Klan originally and presumably masked Antifa attackers now). Weiser writes:

“The statute applies most clearly to racially motivated physical attacks or efforts to exclude persons. Evergreen State is a classic case: After disrupting Mr. Weinstein’s class, students detained the college president and apparently posted photos of themselves brandishing baseball bats on Facebook. Some faculty members demanded disciplinary action against Mr. Weinstein and later assembled with masked Antifa members who attacked counter-protesters.” As Weiser notes, Colleges are subject to anti-discrimination statutes such as Section 1981, an anti-KKK act that would cover student and speaker contract rights. If they accept federal funding they are also subject to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and if the crowd attacked white “supremacy” or “privilege,” and if private universities act with deliberate indifference to racially motivated attacks, they may be liable to students or speakers.”

While affirming the right to protest peacefully against speakers with whom some disagree, the administration should inform the community about various federal and state law remedies (including reimbursement of attorney fees in some cases) to would-be listeners whose civil rights are violated by speech-impeding or violent protesters, especially those wearing masks or other disguises. Indeed, those in such disguises should not be admitted to such events in the first place.

  1. The agencies that accredit universities require them to demonstrate, among other conditions, a commitment to academic freedom, intellectual freedom, and freedom of expression.  Defenders of these values on campus can threaten to invoke dis-accreditation remedies for recurrent violations on their campuses.
  2. Diversity-talk on college today’s campuses is obsessed with gender, race, sexual orientation, and other constructions of identity. In excess, these obsessions degrade intellectual discourse, interpersonal civility, and campus life generally. Colleges now emphasize and promote these often divisive identities rather than fostering the civility, candor, and thicker skins necessary to sustain a robust and competitive diverse society. Colleges’ highest educational priority should be intellectual, methodological, and socioeconomic diversity, not a campus peace based on a patronizing co-optation of sullen groups.

Recently, a wealthy donor offered Yale a large matching grant to promote intellectual and viewpoint diversity, especially in faculty hiring. The offer was designed to parallel Yale’s $50 million fund for identity diversity, established immediately after the Halloween incident. Yale acknowledged the need, especially in law and certain humanities departments, but declined the gift. Evidently, it has other priorities. Columbia’s recently-announced $100 million faculty diversity initiative will likely reinforce its current obsession with ethnic, race, and gender identities rather than augment them with genuinely discordant, conservative voices that might challenge their students’ preconceptions.

Opposition to conservative voices is in the DNA of the radical left, inflamed by apocalyptic “Antifa” activists. The radical right’s uncompromising contempt for the left is a mirror image. Colleges have a tough job in keeping these clashes on the side of the line that protects speech and promotes genuine viewpoint diversity. These measures would go a long toward holding that precious line.

Brooklyn College Stifles Pro-Israel Voices

A few weeks ago, the David Horowitz Freedom Center caused a stir at Brooklyn College by placing posters on campus labeling two of the college’s professors “terrorist supporters.” The college’s president, Michelle Anderson, issued a statement condemning the posters as “targeted intimidation” designed to “defame and silence specific individuals,” claiming those targeted were “at risk for further harassment and abuse.” She further noted that “robust discourse” on public policy issues is central to the college’s mission and, thus, that those in the college community have a right to express opinions in an atmosphere “free from hate.

Related: How Soft Censorship Works at College

But the charge leveled by the Freedom Center is arguably true. In 2014, both of the accused professors, Samir Chopra and Corey Robin, were arrested outside the Israeli mission in New York for protesting the Israeli bombing of Gaza. The Israeli bombing at issue was the culmination of a series of events: Hamas members kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. During its operation to find the teens, Israel arrested a number of Hamas leaders. Hamas retaliated by launching 80 rockets from Gaza into Israel, and that prompted Israel to launch a major military operation into Gaza. The two professors were arrested protesting this operation.

By demonstrating against the Israeli bombing of Gaza, but not the rocket attacks against Israel that prompted that bombing, Professors Robin and Chopra clearly sided with the Hamas-led government in Gaza. Hamas has long been designated as a terrorist organization by both the European Union and the United States. Thus, a reasonable person could conclude that by publicly siding with Hamas, the two professors are indeed supporting terrorists.

Because the Freedom Center’s accusation against the two professors is arguably true, it is not “defamatory,” as President Anderson alleges. Indeed, labeling those who support the Hamas-led government as terrorists could catalyze useful discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Among the questions to be debated are: do rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel constitute terrorism, and at what point does Israel’s defense against these attacks become disproportionate and therefore unjustified?

Thus, the Freedom Center’s posters – provocative as they were – were not defamatory, and they might promote healthy debate. As such, they fall well within the realm of constitutionally protected speech

Related: How Colleges Promote Censorship and Undermine Free Speech

Further, President Anderson’s use of the term “hate” to describe the posters stifles the “robust discourse” she claims as central to the college’s mission. Opposing the strongly held view of the head of a college isn’t easy under any circumstance, but it would be especially risky in this case. Why would a student or faculty member even bother to seriously examine a college-condemned viewpoint if coming to accept its validity might get you shunned as a “hater.” Simply put, President Anderson’s argument is a rhetorical ruse designed to chill speech with which she disagrees.

Unfortunately, this incident is not an aberration: Brooklyn College has a history of suppressing the voices of Israel’s supporters. In 2013, Brooklyn College security officers removed four pro-Israel students from a campus forum featuring opponents of Israel, claiming later to the press that “official reports” had indicated that the students were disruptive. In fact, a subsequent independent investigation proved (based on audio tapes) that there was no disruption and, thus, no justification for removing the students. The so-called official report of that disruption was based on a false account of the incident given by a college vice president. That the college apologized to the students – over a year after the event – is small compensation for stifling their voices and defaming them to the press.

Protecting Academic Freedom Through All the Campus Smoke

Once many years ago I spoke to an Army recruiter who tried to convince me that I would learn many valuable skills in the military, including how to jump from helicopters. I was puzzled. How exactly was learning to jump from a helicopter a valuable skill? He explained that I could then qualify for a career as a flame jumper fighting wildfires.

I passed up that career in favor of the far more practical training in social anthropology. But sometimes it seems I still ended up in the business of jumping into burning terrain. Attempting to make sense of the claims and counterclaims in the debates over free speech strikes me as something like smokejumping. The destination is often obscure, the heat is intense, and the goal keeps changing.

I have good friends in Santa Rosa and don’t mean my metaphor to diminish the awful reality of the devastating California fires. But the image has some purpose. Here, there, and then suddenly over there on a distant ridge, the wildfires burst to life. So too the assaults on intellectual freedom.

I have been working on a larger project in which I attempt to reframe many of the current controversies about free speech by looking at the psychological and anthropological aspects of verbal defiance and transgression. As part of that project, I have been looking over recent examples and attempting to draw distinctions between what we should, perhaps with gritted teeth, accept as provocative speech that still must be tolerated, and speech that “crosses the line” into what should not be tolerated. Not everyone will agree with the lines I’ve drawn. It is easiest, of course, to draw fire from those who profess a doctrine of “no lines.” But as an anthropologist, I know that “no lines” is a fiction. All societies have them. The real questions are Where are they drawn? Who draws them? How are they maintained?

Heckling Democrats at Whittier

On October 5, Whittier College in California hosted an event titled, “A Conversation with the Attorney General,” which was intended to be an hour-long Q & A session with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. The event, open to the public, had been organized by Ian Calderon, a Democrat and majority leader of the California State Assembly. Becerra has been in the news for his public opposition to President Trump’s positions on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which deals with the legal standing of the approximately 800,000 individuals in the United States who arrived here illegally as children.

The Q & A session took an unexpected turn. About a dozen pro-Trump hecklers showed up and attempted to shout down Becerra and the other speakers. They didn’t succeed in derailing the event, but they impeded it. This is apparently not the first time that pro-Trump protesters have disrupted events put on by elected officials, but it is, as far as I know, the first time it has happened as part of an organized campus event. A key figure and possibly the organizer of the Whittier protest is Arthur Schaper, who has publicly boasted of his role in disrupting other public events involving Democratic speakers. FIRE, which reported the Whittier incident, quotes Schaper as saying:

“I am prepared to be an uncivil civilian, and I don’t care who’s offended. Civility, accommodation, and playing nice with Republican and Democratically elected officials is over. … Making America great again is not about placating and pleasing everyone, but standing up for what is right, even if it means disrupting a few tea parties.”

Stanley Kurtz, writing at National Review Online, responded to the FIRE report and the accompanying video of the protest with distress. Kurtz noted that many have warned that the “leftist campus disruptors” were endangering their own rights by creating a precedent that right-wing activists could copy. That’s exactly what happened at Whittier on October 5. A small consolation is that the protesters included few if any students. This was a mob of partisans from off campus. That doesn’t absolve the college for its failure to maintain order, but it means that the eventuality of heckling from both political extremes among students hasn’t yet materialized.

Lest there be any ambiguity about this, the National Association of Scholars strongly condemns the shout-down of Attorney General Becerra at Whittier College. The actions of Mr. Schaper and others in his group are an assault on academic freedom, the integrity of higher education, and the civility on which our republic depends.

Diatribe at Drexel

On the morning of October 2, Drexel University professor of political science George Ciccariello-Maher offered in a series of tweets his explanation for the mass shootings in Las Vegas on October 1. According to Ciccariello-Maher, the underlying cause was “the narrative of white victimization” and “Trumpism.” “White people and men are told that they are entitled to everything,” the professor wrote. “This is what happens when they don’t get what they want.”

Police have still not determined the motive of the Las Vegas shooter, but there is no evidence of any sort that substantiates Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s assertions about a link to Trump or to white identitarianism. Public reaction to his Tweets was swift and full of condemnation. On October 9, Drexel University put Ciccariello-Maher on paid administrative leave. The New York Daily News reported Drexel’s explanation:

“Due to a growing number of threats directed at Professor George Ciccariello-Maher, and increased concerns about both his safety and the safety of Drexel’s community, after careful consideration, the University has decided to place Professor Ciccariello-Maher on administrative leave,” the university said in a statement.”

The AAUP declared this a “unilateral suspension” and said it was “at odds with normative academic procedures.” Theodore Kupfer, writing in National Review, headlined an account of the affair, “No, George Ciccariello-Maher Doesn’t Believe in Academic Freedom. But He Still Deserves It.” Kupfer describes Ciccariello-Maher as “the angry white man with a violent fantasy,” to wit, armed communist revolution everywhere. But, says Kupfer, “he is not a criminal. And the Drexel administrators have made a mistake.” He says Ciccariello-Maher’s words are “obnoxious, easily refuted and deserving of mockery,” but not of suspension.

Again, lest there be any ambiguity about the National Association of Scholars’ position, it is the same in spirit as Mr. Kupfer’s. Drexel University shamed itself by appointing and eventually tenuring someone of Professor Ciccariello-Maher’s low quality of mind and ideological zealotry. But appoint and tenure him it did, and that has the consequence of protecting him from adverse administrative actions based on the content of his views. Drexel University’s claim to have suspended him to protect his safety and that of the campus is transparently a pretext.

The National Association of Scholars does not uphold an absolute version of “free speech” or “academic freedom.” Neither exists as a free-floating right. We value free speech as an instrument to promote political debate and good republican government. We value academic freedom as indispensable to the pursuit of truth within the academy. Both concepts can be and often are abused by those who disavow political debate according to civilized norms and the pursuit of truth as the organizing purpose of the university. On the evidence, Ciccariello-Maher is among the abusers, but that doesn’t absolve the university of its obligation to live up to its own commitments.

What, then, can a university do about professors or students who radically undercut the spirit of academic freedom while claiming its protection? (The spirit of academic freedom is the pursuit of truth or the gaining of new knowledge. Acts that are intended to distract, mislead, or purvey un-truths are outside that spirit.) Ciccariello-Maher’s intemperate accusations in an essay in The Washington Post, “Conservatives Are the Real Campus Thought Police Squashing Academic Freedom” provide an extended example of this malicious use of speech. The university is not, however, without resources to deal fairly with those in the academic community who intentionally undermine the principles of respect for truth, civility, and what might be called scholarly temperance.

What might those resources be? Criticism. Judicious distancing. In extreme cases, a university may choose to buy a faculty member out of his contract. If a faculty member persistently misuses university resources, his access can be curtailed. No rule or law says that a university must assist a faculty member in spreading falsehoods.

Professors Targeted by Progressives

The National Association of Scholars is, of course, better known for defending academics who have come under attack for promoting ideas that run against the grain of the domineering campus left. We have recently, for example, defended Dennis Gouws, a professor of English at Springfield College, whose research and teaching interests on “men in literature” have brought down the wrath of his college’s feminists, including his department chair and his provost. We have defended Amy Wax, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania, who along with Larry Alexander of the University of San Diego School of Law, published an op-ed in which they extolled mid-twentieth century America for upholding the value of marriage, hard work, obeying the law, patriotism, neighborliness, civic-mindedness, charity, clean language, steering clear of addictive substances, and respect for authority. Professor Wax was excoriated by many of her fellow law professors at Penn and by her dean. And we defended Bruce Gilley, professor of political science at Portland State University, after his publication of an essay, “The Case for Colonialism,” unleashed an international torrent of abuse against him, including death threats.

We will continue to defend individuals against such abuses, and not all those individuals are or will be “conservatives.” In general, we are drawn to cases where faculty members have made legitimate use of their academic freedom to pursue substantive research on important topics but who have met with ferocious attacks as a result. Gouws, Wax, and Gilley didn’t land in hot water because of outrageous tweets. They presented reasoned arguments and defended those arguments with genuine scholarship. My use of the word “legitimate” here will no doubt bring libertarians up short. What could possibly be illegitimate when it comes to speech? I part ways with libertarians on this. There may be no illegitimate speech in the public square, but higher education is and always has been about the search for truth, and speech that impedes that search—such as scientific papers based on fraudulent data—is illegitimate. Illegitimacy can and does take other forms as well. Using academic freedom as a tool of political propaganda is illegitimate.

Tweeting Murderous Thoughts

The behavior of Ciccariello-Maher is but one example of a new kind of abuse of academic freedom. After James T. Hodgkinson shot and wounded a Republican congressman at a baseball field in Arlington, Virginia, Trinity University professor Johnny Eric Williams adopted the hashtag #LetThemFuckingDie. It was a reference to anonymous blogger’s call on emergency medical personnel to leave white victims of shootings to bleed to death. Professor Williams expanded his opinion with other vitriolic and racist declarations. Trinity College briefly suspended him but followed that with a ringing declaration that he had acted within the bounds of academic freedom. My colleague Dion Pierre and I wrote about the Williams case offering our assessment that Williams’ call for negligent homicide really did cross the line. Our verdict: not a protected case of academic freedom.

On August 23, Michael Isaacson, an adjunct member of the faculty of the department of criminal justice at John Jay College, tweeted “Some of y’all might think it sucks being an anti-fascist teacher at John Jay College but I think it’s a privilege to teach future dead cops.” National media, including Tucker Carlson on Fox News, picked up the story, as did the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. Under pressure, John Jay College suspended Isaacson, but the president of John Jay, Karol Mason, justified the suspension as a response to “threats” to the faculty and concern for the “safety” of students.

David Gordon, a CUNY professor, speaking on behalf the National Association of Scholars’ New York Affiliate, posted to the NAS website a statement criticizing the basis of President Mason’s decision. Gordon and his colleagues wrote that Isaacson “had acted in a disrespectful and unprofessional way,” but that Mason’s rationale for suspending him created a precedent for suspending any professor who became “the center of controversy.”

These three cases— Ciccariello-Maher, Williams, and Isaacson—are by no means isolated. They are just examples of the growing phenomenon of faculty radicals across a spectrum of issues who tweet or employ some other social media to pronounce views that they hope will shock and offend. If their statements grab the attention of critics, they may be in for a season of abusive emails, and if the provocation is strong enough, they may face temporary suspension or firing. They can almost always, however, count on the AAUP and some other organizations such as FIRE to defend their pronouncements as legitimate exercises of academic freedom.

I have been willing to engage these matters on a case-by-case basis, but I am always looking for the principles that govern all of them. “Extra-mural utterance,” as the AAUP named it in its foundational 1915 Statement of Principles, has plainly become one of the most vexed areas within the realm of “academic freedom.” What people have a First Amendment right to say is not the same as what they have a privilege to say within the community of scholars. The AAUP itself has long lost this distinction, and it sees no need to ground the exercise of academic freedom as conditioned on the pursuit of truth. Partly that is because the AAUP has politicized itself, but it is also because so many of its members have absorbed postmodernist doubts about whether there is such a thing “truth,” or at least a truth that can be disentangled from the welter of subjectivities and opinions that make up so much of human experience. So we are left to wander. The extra-mural utterance is where we wander into the outrages of Ciccariello-Maher, Williams, and Isaacson, and the paradox that those who purposely subvert the ideals of intellectual freedom are also those who often most eager to claim the protections offered by those ideals.

Marcuse without Marcusians

In speaking of shout-downs and other forms of mob censorship, we are used to observers describing these as part of a crisis in free speech. Americans have plainly grown less tolerant of the expression of views they dislike. We indeed have an epidemic of college students who are ready to suppress opinions they disagree with and even facts that are in discord with their favored views. And while college campuses are the center of this epidemic, it has now spread to other milieu.

Observers have explained this hostility to free speech in various ways. Among those explanations is the view that we have a generation so coddled in its upbringing that it feels “unsafe” when it hears a view it disagrees with. Other branches of explanation emphasize the intensification of political and cultural polarization; the rise of Black Lives Matter as a radical rejection of some of the deep premises of our liberal republic; the prevalence of identity politics; and the porousness of American education to the ideas and attitudes of those who are profoundly hostile to our traditions of civil exchange in the public space.

All of these explanations have merit, and most of them have become familiar as cultural commentators continue to wrestle with the problem of college students, who should know better, mobilizing to prevent invited speakers from having their say. The problem doesn’t stop, however, with shout-downs, speech codes, bias-reporting systems, and the wide assortment of formal and informal techniques aimed at ensuring conformity to prevailing progressive opinions. It doesn’t stop there because, first, it has spread to other cultural domains: Facebook, the National Football League, and the mainstream media, among them. And it doesn’t stop there, second, because the New Censoriousness has been ready for some time to jump the divide between the political left and right, as it did at Whittier College.

The left has championed the tactic of suppressing the free speech of those it classifies as enemies, and it has developed a small set of concepts that provide a rationalization. “Free speech,” according to those who bother to explain themselves, is an illusion promoted by the “privileged” few who have to power to enforce their opinions on everyone else. Genuine free speech, according to this view, is the freedom of oppressed minorities to dissent, and genuine dissent includes the right to impede the ability of the privileged few to speak at all. The concept of “hate speech” is added to this critique of “privilege,” because the views of the privileged are said to express deep hatred of the despised minorities. Whatever meager regard still might be granted to “free speech” in the traditional sense, the principle of uninterrupted expression cannot be permitted to extend to allowing the expression of “hate.” Such speech is psychologically damaging to the vulnerable minorities it is directed against, who experience “hate speech” as “violence.” And such speech also subtly reinforces the unjust power structure of the United States by reinforcing “white supremacy,” “patriarchy,” and other forms of unjust privilege.

Most of this ideology was laid out by Herbert Marcuse and his acolytes in the 1960s but left to ripen like a very old vintage whiskey for a couple of generations. The radical fringe of the American political scene never forgot the Marcusian idea that “real tolerance” consists of silencing those you disagree with and imposing your own revolutionary creed on everyone else. This is the “liberation” offered by Marcuse that simmers at the bottom of much of today’s anti-free speech rhetoric, although plainly the vast majority of students who have imbibed this poison have no idea where it came from or what totalitarian purposes it is meant to serve.

The Marcusian “theory” of why free speech should be suppressed is repugnant. At bottom, it is just another attempt to recruit unwary individuals to the murderous vision of the Soviet system of mass murder and rule by an ersatz revolutionary clique. The Twentieth Century provided as much evidence of the horror of Marxist utopianism as we should ever need. But, of course, the proponents of such views always contrive to find a difference between what happened the last time (or the two hundred times before that) and what will happen next time. Without such wishful thinking, Venezuela would still be one of Latin America’s most prosperous nations, rather than a place where ordinary people are barbecuing their pet cats to stay alive.

To mentioning the Marxist premises of the current anti-free speech movement is, of course, to invite a certain kind of derision. While some campus radicals are avowedly Marxists, most are not, and more importantly, the Marxist premises of the anti-free-speechers are generally invisible to their champions. They think this is all new. Their naiveté was on display in 2016 when Bernie Sanders was winning campus support for his candidacy for president. There seemed no glimmer of understanding of the regimes which Senator Sanders admires and from which he still draws inspiration.

Repugnance as a Starting point

The view that prevails among today’s radicalized faculty members and students is not a hard-core Marxist formulation but a tissue of glib rationalizations about “privilege” and “power.” The great text of the moment isn’t The Communist Manifesto but Ta Nahisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Coates is in fact even more of a materialist than Marx. He believes the United States exists as a conspiracy to control “black bodies,” and he means this with utter literalness: bodies as physical objects.

To express repugnance towards such views is plainly not an argument, as such. A good argument, however, might find its orientation in repugnance. Repugnance at the beheading of the innocent and the use of rape as a tool of terror might be good starting points to find compelling arguments against radical Islamist doctrines that justify such things. Likewise, repugnance at mob action against speakers on campus might be a good starting point for why we need arguments that favor traditional liberal tolerance for the expression of unpopular views.

Having led up to the need for such an argument, however, I will leave off for now. Others, of course, have already developed such arguments, including the framers of the U.S. Constitution and philosophers such as John Stuart Mill. The real work lies in defending their ideas against the various assaults of postmodernism, radical feminism, and other ideologies that aim to undermine the foundations of our liberal republic.

The troubling events at Whittier College show that the principles of free expression have abusers across the political spectrum. Some of those abuses may be of the sort we need to tolerate in light of a greater good, but we must always remain ready to see the difference between merely scabrous language and actual incitements to violence. Those differences won’t necessarily be self-apparent. One thing that links the misbehavior at Whittier and all the other colleges and universities I have written about here is the fecklessness of the academic administrators, who either do not know how to control crowds or how to respond to individual faculty members who make irresponsible use of their academic freedoms. We need better administrators, not least ones who have some sense not to appoint to their faculties in the first place individuals who have no respect for the guiding principles of their institutions.

Jerry Brown Vetoes Unfair State Bill on Campus Sexual Misconduct Rules

A pleasant surprise: Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed the California bill designed to protect the unfair procedures of the Obama Education Department’s guidance on how to deal with sexual misconduct on campus. His decision was explicitly based on due-process grounds. The Obama-era policies discouraged cross-examination, suggested that accusers (but not the accused) be allowed to appeal decisions and lowered the burden of proof of misconduct to “a preponderance of evidence” — slightly over 50% or 50.0001% likelihood of guilt.

Brown wrote in a statement:

“Thoughtful legal minds have increasingly questioned whether federal and state actions to prevent and redress sexual harassment and assault—well-intentioned as they are—have also unintentionally resulted in some colleges’ failure to uphold due process for accused students. Depriving any student of higher education opportunities should not be done lightly, or out of fear of losing state or federal funding.”

Betsy DeVos, the new secretary of education, is revising the Obama guidance, which was never subject to public notice and comment as new rules are required to be. The Obama education department argued that the new rule was a clarification of existing rules, though many of the recommendations were clearly new.

The Diversity Takeover of Science and Tech Has Begun

The director of UCLA’s Women in Engineering program trotted out the usual role model argument for gender-and race-conscious decision-making. Audrey Pool O’Neal told the Daily Bruin that she never saw anyone who looked like her (black and female) when she was an undergraduate and graduate student. “When I do teach classes, the female students let me know how much they appreciate seeing a woman in front of their classroom,” O’Neal said.

Why not appreciate seeing the best-trained scholar in front of your classroom? Any female who thinks that she needs a female in front of her in order to learn as much as she can, or to envision a career in a particular field, has declared herself a follower rather than a pioneer—and a follower based on a characteristic irrelevant to intellectual achievement…. Marie Curie did not need female role models to investigate radioactivity; she was motivated by a passion for understanding the world. That should be reason enough to plunge headlong into the search for knowledge. — From “Standing on the Shoulders of Diversocrats” in City Journal.

David Horowitz: Battlefield Notes from a War Gone Unnoticed

I have been reading essays by David Horowitz for nearly fifty years, starting when he became an editor of the radical new-left magazine, Ramparts, in 1968, and I was a high school student prepping for debates about the Vietnam war. David famously moved beyond his red diaper origins, his Marxist enthusiasms, and his admiration of Huey Newton and the Black Panther Party. In time he became a self-professed conservative. The “Second Thoughts” conference he co-hosted in Washington, DC in 1987 came at a crucial moment for me.

Though I had long since lost any respect for the academic left, and I was strongly anti-communist, I had trouble recognizing the deeper character of my own political views. The forthright stand that David took alongside other formerly radical intellectuals opened my eyes. They made conservative thought thinkable for me: a plausible way to ground my sympathies in a living tradition.

Related: The Roots of Our New Civil War

My debt to David Horowitz came home vividly to me in reading his new volume of collected essays—volume eight in a series collectively titled “The Black Book of the American Left.” This volume, The Left in the University, bears the hefty burden of gathering his significant writings on American higher education, 1993 to 2010. A fair number of the 53 essays collected here, I’d read before. Reading them afresh and as part of a whole, however, is to see them in a more valedictory light.

Horowitz—I’ll retreat to the patronym from this point on—has plainly failed at that part of his intellectual project represented by this book. He has not arrested the radical left’s takeover of the university, let alone restored the ideal of a university that teaches “how to think, not what to think.” The diversity of ideas and outlooks that he has tirelessly promoted as the sine qua non of higher education is less in evidence today than it was when he started. Repression of conservative ideas and highhanded treatment of the people who voice those ideas has grown steadily worse. The dismal situation brought by the triumph of the progressive left on college campuses has darkened still further as a new generation of even more radicalized identitarian groups has emerged.

Related: The Long Plight of the Right on Campus

It is not that Horowitz is unaware that he has fought a losing battle. He understands that keenly, and a fair number of his essays ponder that fact. The reader may wonder why, with this failure so evident, Horowitz continues to fight. Surely, he has the motive to collect these essays other than simply documenting twenty-some years of futile campaigning on behalf of a lost cause? Horowitz has seldom lacked for constructive ideas to reform the university. Much of the book consists of his efforts to advance “The Academic Bill of Rights” and other measures that would have improved the situation. The book even ends with a “Plan for University Reform,” accompanied by the plaintiff note, “Written in 2010, before the AAUP eviscerated Penn State’s academic freedom policy.”

Horowitz never holds out hope that his proposals will at some later point leap back to life, as a smoldering coal might with a fresh breeze return to flame. To the contrary, his introduction includes a disavowal of the possibility: I publish it [that last essay] now because I have given up any hope that universities can institute such a reform. The faculty opposition is too devious and too strong, and even more importantly there is no conservative will to see such reforms enacted.”

Why No Greater Success?

What then? Why read this record of failure? One answer is that we can reject the author’s own judgment. Yes, his specific proposals failed, but Horowitz has done heroic work in building a conservative movement that will, I expect, one day prevail in re-establishing a form of higher education centered on the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. There are those of us who look to his work not just with admiration but for practical help in building this movement. The recent Pew poll that found 58 percent of Republicans saying that contemporary higher education has a negative effect on the country is testimony to the existence of this movement and to Horowitz’s actual legacy.

It may be fair to ask why Horowitz didn’t have greater success in the short term. The reasons may be many, but I will mention two. First, Horowitz framed his fight largely as a matter of combatting the Marxist premises of his opponents. He was surely right about those premises, and his collected articles are a gold mine of instances he which he calls out named individuals for their allegiance to the discredited ideas of that revolutionary. The trouble with this framing is that it flies over the heads of most ordinary Americans. To say that a professor is an acolyte of Stalin or an apologist for tyranny in some far-away place registers with only a fringe of Americans who take such things seriously. Who cares if some Ivy League English professor thinks that bourgeois American society is to be scorned and that Lenin or Mao was right? Maybe we should care—and indeed I care—but I also recognize that this point seems meaningless to most Americans who see themselves as “conservative.”

A Thunderbolt in 1983

The oldest essay in the book is a version of a speech Horowitz gave to the Modern Language Association in December 1993. It was a thunderbolt then, and it remains an astonishing tour de force. Horowitz calls out the MLA for “its assault on literature and its abandonment of the educational task,” and for “its burial of the literary subject under a mountain of feminist, Marxist, deconstructionist Kitsch.” He invokes the “empty files of ideological poseurs like [MLA presidents] Catherine Stimpson and Houston Baker to measure its descent into intellectual mediocrity and political attitudinizing.”

But back then, Horowitz was an optimist. His MLA address ends with the observation that “the demonization of American culture” was part of the “lowest ebb” of the American university in its 300- year history. Looking back at 1993 from the high Sahara-scape of academe in 2017, we know that that ebb tide didn’t turn. Its “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” (as Matthew Arnold might put it) is now so withdrawn as to be barely audible. But perhaps that is what it took for Americans to begin to wonder whether higher education devoted to crackpot utopianism and un-freedom is really what we want from our colleges and universities.

He Frightened Many People

Horowitz’s anti-Marxist combativeness was one reason his movement stalled. It hit home against the radicals but not with the parents. The other reason his movement stalled, I suspect, is that he is characteristically a warrior and that he frightened many a good soul who might easily have been won over by someone with a lighter touch. Higher education is a context where students and parents want to believe the best. The best about the character and intelligence of the students. The best about the faculty, the campus, the teams. The best about what will come after college. The fierceness of Horowitz’s attacks frightened many who preferred the wish-fulfillment of the colleges and universities. A Jeremiah among critics of higher education, Horowitz’s voice was indispensable, but it was not destined to win large numbers of converts.

I cannot end even a short review of one of Horowitz’s book without acknowledging the quality of his writing. He is a superb essayist who excels at telling compelling stories without deviating a jot from the larger compelling ideas he is arguing. The Left in the University is valued as a preciously detailed account of how the radicals have despoiled American higher education, but it is also a collection of superbly written and argued accounts from the battlefield. Horowitz’s book might be thought of as war correspondence from a war most Americans didn’t realize was being fought.

Our Colleges Are Getting Worse—Three Proposals to Help Save Them

American colleges have been celebrated as the best in the world. But in fact, they have been getting worse – and something must be done about it.

The greatest value of a college education is in enhancing a student’s command of critical thinking and analytical reasoning. The educated person can think. Among other things, she can evaluate arguments from politicians, pundits, salespeople, business associates and others. She may not know whether a particular claim is correct, but she has a meaningful capacity to gauge whether a claim makes sense and to figure out how to investigate it.

For decades, researchers have been measuring how much college enhances these skills. A standard yardstick has been Collegiate Learning Assessment, or as it is known in its current iteration, the CLA+. That test is designed to measure critical thinking, analytical reasoning, problem-solving, and writing. For decades, it has been given to undergraduate students at the beginning of their freshman year and at the end of their sophomore year to see how much their analytic skills have improved.

‘Barely Noticeable Impact’

The CLA+ is an open-ended test; students are given performance and writing tasks, not multiple-choice questions. In one section of the test, students are asked to read a set of documents and write a memorandum presenting their conclusions about questions relating to the material. For example, students may be told they are working for a city mayor who plans to combat rising crime by increasing the number of city police officers. The mayor is running for reelection against a candidate who advocates spending available resources on a drug education program for addicts instead of on more police. Students are asked to read a set of newspaper articles, statistics, and research briefs about crime and drug addiction and then write a memorandum for the mayor that evaluates the validity of both the opponent’s proposal the opponent’s criticisms of the mayor’s plan. The CLA+ does not test general knowledge. Its designers claim that the only way to successfully prepare students for the test is to teach how “to think critically, reason analytically, solve problems, and communicate clearly.”

In one study, researchers administered the CLA in 2005 and again in 2007 to 2,322 students at 24 colleges that varied in admissions selectivity and other factors. Students increased their CLA scores by the equivalent of only seven percentile points over their first two years of college. Thus, on average, students who entered college at the 50thpercentile on the CLA scored at the 57th percentile near the end of their sophomore year. That is considered anemic progress. As the researchers put it, the first two years of college today “have a barely noticeable impact on students’ skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.” By contrast, students in the 1980s increased their performance by the equivalent of 34 percentile points – rising from the 50th to the 84thpercentile. Other data confirm those findings

Why Have Colleges Gotten Worse?

Researchers suspect that the principal reason is that colleges have become less rigorous. Colleges more readily tolerate students doing little work, and more readily give good grades for mediocre performance. In the 1960s, students studied, on average, more than 24 hours per week outside of class. Even that is rather low. Undergraduates should be studying at least two hours outside of class for each hour of class. That would mean that for the average load of fifteen hours of class time they should be spending at least 30 hours on homework. But students today study only twelve hours per week on average. More than a third of students report studying less than five hours per week.

Moreover, 20% of students say they frequently go to class unprepared. Yet the average GPA in colleges today is 3.2. According to one recent study, 43% of all grades awarded in American colleges today are A’s. Meanwhile, the percentage of C’s has declined from 35% decades ago to 15% today. Grades and GPAs have become almost entirely meaningless.

Researchers also believe that a factor with a great impact on critical thinking skills is whether students take classes from instructors with high expectations. They define “high expectations” as assigning more than 40 pages of reading per week or more than 20 pages of writing per semester. Half of the students who took the CLA in their sophomore year reported that in the preceding semester they did not take a single class that required more than 20 pages of writing, and a third did not take a course requiring more than 40 pages of reading per week. Researchers observed: “If students are not being asked by their professors to read and write on a regular basis in their coursework, it is hard to imagine how they will improve their capacity to master performance tasks – such as the CLA – that involve critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.”

After controlling for many differences, including the selectivity of the college attended, students who reported they had taken high-expectation courses scored 27 points higher on the CLA than did students who had not taken such courses.

Do Away with Letter Grades

What should be done? I have three proposals. First, colleges should designate high-expectation courses in their catalogs and on student transcripts so that graduate schools and employers can see how many of such courses applicants have taken. As someone who often sits on my law school’s admissions committee, I know we would find this information extremely useful. It would indicate both how intellectually ambitious an applicant is and how well his studies prepared him for law school and for a career in the law. Making this information publicly available in the college catalog will also encourage colleges to increase the number of their high-expectation offerings. No college – and few instructors or academic departments – would want to be known as a purveyor of low expectations. Colleges must, of course, adopt mechanisms for ensuring that the designations are honest, and those mechanisms should be reviewed by accrediting agencies.

Second, instead of receiving a letter grade in courses student should receive a number designating the quartile of the class in which the student ranked. Students whose performance placed them in the top quartile of the class would receive a 1, students ranking in the second quartile would receive a 2, and so on. This is would be far more meaningful than our current system. It would also end grade inflation; after all, 43% of students could not be awarded the top grade of 1. Instead of GPAs, colleges should employ AQRs – average quartile ranks. For example, a student who ranked in the top quartile in half of her classes and in the second quartile of the other half her classes would have an AQR of 1.5. Colleges might also consider giving grades earned in high expectation courses a boost for AQR purposes, just as some high schools give a mathematical boost to grades earned in AP classes for the purpose of calculating GPAs.

Third, so-called output assessments are all the rage in education today. What could be a better measure than an instrument such as the CLA+? Colleges should require at least a significant cohort of their students to take such a test both on upon entering and again perhaps two years later, and should be making that information publicly available.

Do I think colleges will leap at my proposals? No, I don’t. Colleges will be resistant to adopting AQRs because doing so will make many students and their families unhappy. Letter grades hide a multitude of sins; performance by quartile is brutally transparent. However, graduate schools could pressure undergraduate colleges to provide quartile ranks and AQRs, if not instead of, then at least in addition to, GPAs. And for their own sake in being able to effectively evaluate applicants, graduate schools have good reason to do so. If graduate schools preferred students from programs that provided this information, undergraduate schools would be pressured to comply.

Designating high-expectation courses should be a bit easier. Some instructors will not like it. There may be something of a tacit agreement between some instructors and their students: the instructor demands little and awards high grades; in return, students reward the instructor with high student evaluations. However, colleges and departments that pride themselves on their rigor will see a competitive advantage in designating high expectation courses. Once some begin doing that others will have a hard time not following suit.

Accrediting agencies could require colleges to use a test like the CLA+ to assess their performance. And if U.S. News began using that information in its ranking calculations, colleges would be scrambling to figure out how to perform better.

Carl T. Bogus is Distinguished Research Professor of Law at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island. He is the author of Buckley: William F. Buckley, Jr. and the Rise of American Conservativism and Why Lawsuits are Good For America: Disciplined Democracy, Big Business, and the Common Law.

Contrarian Librarian vs. Dr. Seuss

News item:  Massachusetts Elementary School Librarian rejects First Lady’s gift of Dr. Seuss books, calling them “racist propaganda.”

 

The things that you learn when you go back to school
Some of them hard, but a lot of them cool
Like ways you can measure the height of a tree
And who first established the land of the free

And how many elements go into steel
And why breakfast is our most meaningful meal
And what you should never put into a freezer
And who wrote the powerful play Julius Caesar

Plus, alas, a new subject that won’t tax your brain
Because it’s so totally numb and inane
The good Doctor Seuss has now given offense
To a school librarian shorn of all sense

She finds that his works, which enthralled generations
Are filled with the very worst kind of sensations
They’re not about Grinches or Hortons or Whos,
They’re not about Elephants, Tigers or Zoos

They’re not about Loraxes, Yertles or Hats
They’re not about Green Eggs or Zebras or Cats
No, they’re chock full of racism, bias and worse
If only you know how to decode his verse

Theodore Geisel was the name of the Doc
In life he was found in the liberal bloc
But that was back then, when his books were adored
Not now when those works are reviled and abhorred

Of course, it just might be the source of the rift
Is the First Lady’s try at a whimsical gift
What better way is there to get back at Trump?
So what if some kid lit winds up in the dump,

Along with a poet enjoyed to the max
Whose rhyming will soon be expunged from the stacks
Replaced by some paranoid partisan chatter?
And what of the students? Since when do they matter?

A Challenge to Harvard’s Social Club Crackdown

Harvard’s new policy on social clubs, penalizing student members of single-sex clubs, has run into faculty opposition. Under the policy, students in the class of 2021 and beyond cannot simultaneously be a member of a single-sex final club or Greek organization and hold club leadership positions or athletic team captaincies, or be recommended for Rhodes Scholarships or certain postgraduate fellowships. The statement and motion below by Harry R. Lewis, former Dean of Harvard College and an opponent of the new policy, was delivered October 3 at a meeting of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. The motion will be put to a vote on November 7.  –Editor

I move: Harvard College shall not discipline, penalize, or otherwise sanction students for joining, or affiliating with, any lawful organization, political party, or social, political, or other affinity group.

This is a simple motion. It says Harvard College can’t punish students for joining a club. It does NOT say that students who belong to clubs can’t be punished for bad things they do. It does NOT take away any tool that has been used in the past to discipline students for their behavior. It would, however, block several social club policies that have been proposed over the past year and a half.

I cannot find a single case prior to May 2016 when Harvard said it would punish a student for joining any organization — a club or anything else. To the contrary, when Harvard barred ROTC from campus, we explicitly rejected the idea of punishing ROTC students for joining a discriminatory organization. And in the 1950s, when Senator McCarthy called on Harvard to fire Wendell Furry of the Physics Department for being a member of the Communist Party, President Pusey refused to do so, on principle, in spite of enormous political pressure and his own anti-Communist sentiments. Harvard today holds the moral high ground. We would give it up if we were to adopt any policy that would punish students for joining a club.

Some who are concerned about my motion have asked me, “but what if a student joins X”—and then names some particularly odious national organization. Well, we have survived a long time without any rules against joining hated organizations. This is not the time to institute such a rule in order to crush some off-campus sorority.

Students should not give up their rights to assemble peaceably off campus when they enroll here any more than they give up their rights to read, write, and say what they wish. Indeed, by becoming students, they do not give up their rights to have private lives. All these freedoms are fundamental to our educational mission.

I beg you; this is not a trivial matter. Students engaged in unlawful or violent behavior should pay the price for what they do. But nobody should be punished just for joining a club. Not us, and not our students. Thank you.

Students Push Georgetown Toward Ideological Diversity

The editorial board of the Georgetown student paper is pushing the university to adopt ideological diversity by acquiring a few conservative teachers. In September, the board of The Hoya ran this statement in their September editorial:

“One of the hallmarks of higher education is the opportunity to understand and grapple with a wide range of ideas. Yet, Georgetown falls short on its commitment to this ideological diversity in the makeup of its instructional corps. The university must work to remedy its lack of politically conservative professors by considering a diversity of viewpoints when hiring instructors, from assistant professors to those with tenure, and by ensuring that no bias exists against conservative educators in the hiring process.”

The editorial referred to a March 2016 op-ed in The Wall St. Journal by John Hasnas — a professor at the McDonough School of Business at the Georgetown University Law Center. It said faculty search committees were never instructed to increase political or ideological diversity but were in fact often told the opposite. Hasnas described episodes in which a job description was altered to mitigate the number of conservative applicants and candidates were removed from consideration due to their affiliations with libertarian or conservative institutions.

The Student editorial said, “A robust exchange of ideas requires students and faculty to have the greatest possible variety of backgrounds, to expose ourselves to myriad viewpoints. Only by having our views challenged can we refine our own stances, learn how best to justify our arguments and hone our critical thinking abilities.”

The Long Plight of the Right on Campus

On both sides of the Atlantic, complaints are frequently raised about the relative absence of intellectual and political diversity in the Academy. The main emphasis of these criticisms is that teachers holding conservative and right-wing views are seriously underrepresented in university departments, particularly in the social sciences and the humanities. Responsibility for the feeble state of political diversity is often attributed to unconscious and sometimes conscious discrimination.

Related: Pollyannas on the Right–Conservatives OK on Campus

Earlier this year, a report by Ben Southwood, published by the Adam Smith Institute titled Lackademia: Why Do Academics Lean Left? argued that teachers with left-wing and liberal attitudes were overrepresented in relation to the views held by the population at large. The report stated that in the UK, while around 50 percent of the public supports parties of the right only 12 percent of academics endorse conservative views. Moreover, Lackademia claimed that it is likely that the overrepresentation of liberal views in universities has grown since the 1960s. It suggests that the proportion of academics who identify as Conservatives may have declined by as much as 25 percent since 1964.

The claim that conservative academics are an embattled minority is even more frequently asserted in the United States. For example, a study published last year ‘Faculty Voter Registration in Economics, History, Journalism, Law, and Psychology’ found that liberal professors outnumbered conservatives by a ratio of 12 to 1. Recently one conservative professor from the University of South Florida wrote that he doubts that he would have been hired ‘if my conservative views were known.’  A recent study of 153 conservative professors indicated that about a third of them adopted the strategy of concealing their political ideals prior to gaining tenure.

Related: Times Says Conservatives Unwelcome in Academia

Some American politicians have taken up this issue and demand that universities adopt a more ideologically diverse hiring policy. Iowa State Senator Mark Chelgren has filed a bill designed to equalize political representation on the faculties of state universities. The Bill aims to introduce a freeze on hiring academics until the number of registered Republicans ‘comes within 10 percent of the number of registered Democrats. It is likely that supporters of the Trump Administration will use this issue in order to change the political culture that prevails on American campuses.

During the past seven decades, concern with the ideological imbalance between left and right on campuses has been a recurrent theme in the conservative critique of higher education in the United States. Throughout the Cold War the domination of higher education by “liberal professors” was a concern that was constantly raised by conservative critics of the Academy.  As two conservative professors, Jon A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn recently noted the crusade against the allegedly liberal-dominated university was launched in 1951 with the publication of William F. Buckley’s book, God and Man at Yale. Buckley claimed that the university had become a haven for anti-Christian, atheist and liberal professors.

Alarmist accounts of the threat posed by college radicals dominated the headlines in the 1960s and 1970s. In recent times, protests against allowing conservative speakers on campuses – Charles Murray, Condoleezza Rice, Suzanne Venker, John Derbyshire – has re-raised interest in the precarious status of conservatives within academic culture.

On the Defensive

There is little doubt that in many academic disciplines conservatives face difficulty in gaining employment. The leftist historian Robin Marie has criticized liberal academics who refuse to acknowledge that they have a double standard towards the practice of academic freedom. Drawing attention to the double standard that prevails in higher education regarding the employment of conservative academics – a double standard which she approves- Marie wrote;

“Academic institutions, moreover, are spaces that are morally policed – it is not a coincidence, nor due solely to the weak evidential basis of their positions, that only a minority of professors in the liberal arts are conservative. Declining to hire someone, publish their paper, or chat them up at a conference are exercises in exclusion and shame which those in academia, nearly as much as any other community, participate in.”

Marie’s allusion to the practice of marginalizing conservative academics in the social sciences and the arts serves her purpose of reinforcing her claim that academic freedom is a liberal shibboleth. Most of her colleagues would be reluctant to go on record and acknowledge their anti-conservative bias.

However, it would be wrong to attribute the marginal position of conservative academics in the humanities and social sciences simply to self-conscious acts of discrimination. Since the end of the Second World War, conservative ideas have become marginalized within the key cultural and intellectual institutions of western society. In a frequently cited statement, the American literary critic Lionel Trilling declared in his 1949 Preface to his collection of essays that right-wing ideas no longer possessed cultural significance:

“In the United States at this time liberalism is not only the dominant but even the sole intellectual tradition. For it is the plain fact that nowadays there are no conservative or reactionary ideas in general circulation. This does not mean, of course, that there is no impulse to conservatism or to reaction. Such impulses are certainly very strong, perhaps even stronger than most of us know. But the conservative impulse and the reactionary impulse do not, with some isolated and some ecclesiastical exceptions, express themselves in ideas but only in action or in irritable mental gestures which seek to resemble ideas.”

Though Trilling’s boast about the dominant status of liberalism contained an element of exaggeration there is little doubt it corresponded to developments in the 1940s.

It was the experience of the inter-war years and of Second World War that served to discredit the influence of right-wing and conservative intellectual tradition in Western Culture.  The 1930s depression, followed by the rise of fascism significantly diminished the appeal of right-wing ideas. It also solidified the association of intellectuals with left-wing philosophies. From this point onward, conservative thought became increasingly marginalized within the humanities and the social sciences. Which is why today it is difficult to recollect that until the second half of the last century right-wing thinkers constituted a significant section of the western intelligentsia.

Its Cold War rhetoric aside, McCarthyism can be interpreted as a belated attempt to discredit the moral authority of the liberal intellectual by equating its nonconformist ethos with disloyalty. However, despite the significant political influence enjoyed by McCarthy within American society, he could not defeat the liberal political culture that prevailed in higher education.

In her essay on ‘The New Class’(1979), the Conservative thinker Jeanne Kirkpatrick observed that the inability of McCarthy to make serious headway against liberal intellectuals meant that this group was able to strengthen its authority over cultural life in America. Kirkpatrick concluded that McCarthy’s demise and the growing authority of his intellectual critics was a “precondition of the rise of the counterculture in the 1960s.” Since the 1960s conservatives within the Academy have been more or less constantly on the defensive. One often unremarked symptom of this trend has been the growing trend towards the pathologization of the conservative mind.

The Presumption of Intellectual Inferiority

The marginalization of the conservative academic has been paralleled by the pathologization of the conservative mindset. Claims that conservatives are intellectually inferior to their opponents originated in the 19th century when the British Tories were frequently derided as the “stupid party.” Arguments about the supposed intellectual inferiority of conservatives claimed that those who remained wedded to outdated traditions lacked imagination and an openness to new experience. Since the defense of the status-quo did not require mental agility or flexibility, it was suggested that conservatives were likely to be left behind in the intellectual stakes. Only those who were prepared to criticise and question the existing state of society could be expected to develop a capacity for abstract and sophisticated thought.

From the 1940s onwards the insult of being labeled as stupid was often justified on intellectual and scientific grounds. Intelligence became a cultural weapon used to invalidate the moral status of conservative minded people. Inevitably this was a weapon that was most effectively used by those claiming the status of an intellectual. As Mark Proudman stated:

“The imputation of intelligence and of its associated characteristics of enlightenment, broad-mindedness, knowledge and sophistication to some ideologies and not to others is itself, therefore, a powerful tool of ideological advocacy.”

Ridicule as Moral Superiority

Making fun of the “outdated” views of conservative people and exposing their traditional ways to ridicule was one way of assuming the status of moral superiority. In this way, those with a monopoly over the possession of intellectual capital can present themselves as possessors of moral authority.

Often assertions about the intellectual inferiority of conservatives ran in parallel with claims about their psychological deficits. In the 1950s, Theodor Adorno’s classic Authoritarian Personality served to validate the dogma that the internalization of prejudice and the disposition for intolerance is a psychological issue. From this point onwards the conservative mind was increasing portrayed as authoritarian, inflexible, prejudiced and disposed towards simplistic solutions to the problems facing society.

Usually, the weaponization of intelligence to discredit groups of people tends to be challenged by the academic community. For example, Charles Murray’s, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life(1994) has provoked outrage on campuses. Riots broke out at Middlebury College earlier this year, leading to the cancellation of a speech by Murray. But though Murray has been criticised for linking people’s IQ to their predicament, such concerns are rarely raised when conservatives are the target of the weaponization of intelligence.

The representation of conservatives as less intelligent than their left-wing foes is frequently communicated by ‘research’ on the so-called conservative syndrome. The hypothesis of this syndrome is that conservatism and low cognitive ability are directly correlated. Such claims are frequently promoted by studies such as “Bright Minds and Dark Attitudes–Lower Cognitive Ability Predicts Greater Prejudice Through Right-Wing Ideology and Low Intergroup Contact.” The authors of the study claim that low intelligence in childhood serves as a marker for racism in adulthood. Moreover, poor abstract-reasoning skills are closely correlated with anti-gay prejudice. From studies such as this, it is tempting to draw the conclusion that simple children with low cognitive abilities grow up to be prejudiced conservatives.

The pathologization of the conservative mind inevitably influences attitudes and practices in universities. This sensibility not only calls into question the ideas that conservatives uphold but their moral and intellectual status. Instead of offering an intellectual critique of conservative ideology it simply devalues the integrity and intellectual capacity of the person holding such views. Consequently, many conservative academics experience the critique of their views as not part of an intellectual exchange of views but as a mean-spirited insult.

Not surprisingly many conservatives have become defensive when confronted with the put-downs of their intellectual superiors. In many societies – particularly the United States – some have become wary of intellectuals and hostile to the ethos of university life. Anti-intellectual prejudice often constitutes a defensive reaction to the pathologization of conservatism. In the United States, the unrestrained anti-intellectual culture of sections of the right, which sometimes appears as the affirmation of ignorance serves to reinforce the smug prejudice of their opponents.

There is little doubt that some of the complaints made by conservative academics about the unwillingness of sections of the academic community to tolerate their views are not without foundation. However, it is important to note that many would-be conservative intellectuals were accomplices in the marginalization of their views on campuses. Certainly from the 1960s onwards they did little to stand their ground in the social sciences and the humanities. Many of them opted to join conservative thinks tanks and became critics of the Ivory Tower from the outside. There is also something opportunistic about the way in some conservatives have embraced the status of being victims of the campus culture wars. Shield and Dunn get the balance right when they write

“As two conservative professors, we agree that right-wing faculty members and ideas are not always treated fairly on college campuses. But we also know that right-wing hand-wringing about higher education is overblown.”

They point out that after interviewing 153 “conservative professors in the social sciences and humanities, we believe that conservatives survive and even thrive in one of America’s most progressive professions.”

Of course, conservative academics should not have to adopt a survival strategy any more than left-wing ones. The maintenance of intellectual diversity is one that all sides of the academic community have in interest in upholding. Openness to a diversity of views and genuine academic freedom is the foundation of a liberal academy. As Steven Holmes observed in his important study, The Anatomy of Antiliberalism, “Public disagreement is a creative force may have been the most novel and radical principle of liberal politics.”

Chart: Courtesy of Heterodox Academy. 

The Article that Made 16,000 Ideologues Go Wild

Portland State University scholar Bruce Gilley drew a lot of attention with his August 29 article on Minding the Campus, “Why I’m leaving the Political Science Association.” A week or so later, he provoked an even greater controversy by telling readers of the Third World Quarterly what they don’t want to hear.

The Case for Colonialism” was by ordinary academic standards a straightforward opinion essay: well-reasoned, well-informed, and cognizant of conflicting views. It had passed peer review and the judgment of the journal’s editor.  A contemporary scholar arguing the case in favor of a positive judgment of the history of Western colonialism, however, was clearly venturing into territory that carried the risk of adverse reaction among his peers.  It wasn’t long before that reaction arrived.

Bruce Gilley happens to be the head of the National Association of Scholars’ Oregon affiliate. I know him through that connection and have seen him take strong stands in defense of academic and intellectual freedom on several previous occasions.

The Onslaught

Professor Gilley’s cordiality, however, proved of little avail in the weeks that followed the publication of “The Case for Colonialism.”  Both the article and the author came under ferocious attack. Soon the journal that published the article also came under attack.  Opponents:

  • Demanded that the journal retract the article.
  • Insisted Bruce Gilley apologize for writing it.
  • Circulated a petition, drafted by Jenny Heijun Wills (associate professor of English and Director of the Critical Race Network, University of Winnipeg) and signed by 6,884 others, which begins, “We insist that you, Third World Quarterly, retract and apologize for the publication of Professor Bruce Gilley’s appalling article…”
  • Circulated another petition, drafted by Maxine Horne (a dancer who has a master’s degree in project management from the University of Salford in the U.K.) which garnered 10,693 signatures.
  • Attacked Gilley ad hominem, in the words of Farhana Sultana (associate professor of Geography & Research Director for Environmental Conflicts and Collaborations, Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University) claiming the article promotes “white supremacy,” purveys “shoddy scholarship,” is based on “racist or violent ideologies,” and caricaturing Gilley for publishing “drivel.” Sultana also co-signed Horne’s petition.
  • Wished for Princeton University to revoke Gilley’s Ph.D.

Fifteen members of the 34-member editorial board of Third World Quarterly resigned in protest of its publication of Gilley’s article.

A Limp Reaction from Academia

The publisher Taylor and Francis responded to the furor by issuing a document where it recounted step by step the review of Gilley’s article before it was accepted for publication.  The accusation that the article was not peer-reviewed or properly vetted by qualified scholars proved to be without foundation.

The Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs at Portland State University, Margaret Everett, responding to calls from recent graduates that Gilley be fired, issued a bland statement declaring, “Academic freedom is critical to the open debate and free exchange of knowledge and argument. Because of Portland State University’s commitment to academic freedom, we acknowledge the right of all our faculty to explore scholarship and to speak, write and publish a variety of viewpoints and conclusions. The university also respects the rights of others to express counterviews and to engage in vigorous and constructive debate about the faculty’s work.” The retiring president of the university, Wim Wiewel, likewise declared that “The bedrock principles embedded in our educational mission as a public university are to value robust debate of ideas and to protect academic freedom,” but took no action to defend Gilley from the personal and professional attacks. Those attacks included death threats.

The temporizing defense of Professor Gilley as the rhetoric and threats escalated, apparently left Professor Gilley to decide that the better part of valor was to withdraw the article and mouth the apology that his critics demanded.  He did so under what he calls the “onslaught,” but now regrets it. He is back in the fight.

The Cork

I’m not eager to turn dissenting professors into martyrs. I understand the considerable pressures that can be brought to bear on nonconformists in academe, including those like Professor Gilley who have tenure.  But there is nothing in the article either in its substance or its tone that warranted its withdrawal. Professor Gilley retracted it in the hope of quieting a destructive tempest.  It didn’t.

It wasn’t enough for the “critics”—though calling them critics is to cheapen the term. What has emerged is a clique of radicals who are ready to resort to violence to silence views they don’t like.  The editor of Third World Quarterly, Shahid Qadir, who stood by his judgment of the value of Gilley’s article, has been met with death threats from Indian nationalists.  After Gilley “withdrew” it, the publisher left it available in electronic form. That infuriates those who would like the article to disappear entirely.

Because of the controversy, “The Case for Colonialism” has surely garnered far more readers than anything else that Third World Quarterly has ever published, and far more readers than it would have absent the controversy.  We need not lament that Professor Gilley’s views on the merits of colonialism will be buried in obscurity.  The problem lies elsewhere.

It lies in the successful deployment of professional opprobrium and actual threats of murder to kill the article. That success was ultimately aimed at ensuring that other scholars who dissent from the contemporary orthodoxy of anti-colonialism will keep their mouths shut. It is further aimed at ensuring that generations of students will see no whisper of dissent from this orthodoxy in the published literature, and hear no hint of it from their instructors.

The desire of the anti-colonialist faction to reach beyond Gilley to intimidate other scholars who might pick up his thread is a backhanded acknowledgment of Gilley’s credibility and the force of his argument.  Numerous scholars in the field are saying things to the effect that recognition of the positive effects of colonialism is long overdue. Such accolades are circulating widely but not—or not yet—openly.  The anti-colonialist faction knows this and is desperate to keep the cork in the bottle.

Feckless College Presidents

One way the cork is kept in place is by intimidating college and university authorities. If the dean, provost, and presidents were living up to their responsibilities, they would be opening misconduct investigations in instances where faculty members have sought to intimidate, threaten, or censor views they disagree with.  If academic freedom is to mean anything at all, it has to be enforced. We are in a period where college authorities frequently do nothing in the face of shout-downs of invited speakers and actual campus riots.  Mizzou, Yale, Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, and Evergreen stand out in the public eye as the exemplars of such nonfeasance on the part of college presidents.

The whip of public scorn was enough to convince the presidents of Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, and Evergreen to take token actions against a handful of the student rioters—and no action at all against the faculty members who instigated them. But the general picture remains that college authorities do as little as they possibly can to maintain public order on campus when that order is threatened or violated by progressive activists.

And they do even less when it comes to faculty activists who engage in behavior wholly at odds with academic freedom. More often than not, college presidents offer a false equivalence between the right of a faculty member to say something “controversial” and the spurious “right” of other faculty members to threaten and intimidate that person.  There is no such right.  In the context of higher education, disagreement must be grounded in arguments and evidence, not in menace.

The framing of these issues as matters of “controversy” is itself misleading.  Academic freedom exists to give knowledgeable individuals scope to pursue the truth. It is not a license to pursue controversy for its own sake. Professor Gilley’s arguments about colonialism are presented entirely in the framework of promoting “human flourishing” and respecting “the consent of the colonized.”  His essay says something unexpected—that, in some circumstances, Western colonialism was good and might still be considered a viable choice—but Gilley’s aim is morally serious and ought not to be trivialized as merely seeking after controversy.

Thus the Gilley affair is yet another reminder of the hollowness of the university’s leaders. Confronted with a straightforward example of academic thuggery, they stand perplexed, unwilling to draw a meaningful line anywhere between legitimate expression of ideas and mob rule.

Determinations

Will the publisher Taylor and Francis give in to the threat that the editor of Third World Quarterly will be murdered if Gilley’s article is not made to disappear?  At this writing, we don’t know.  I’ll assume that the publisher will summon the courage to stand its ground.

But the academics who made such a threat deserve our outrage, and so too the numerous academics who did not themselves make the threat but who escalated the rhetoric and the abuse to the point where the threat was but a small step further in the direction of academic thuggery.

But outrage at the follies in higher education is a devalued currency these days.  Professor Gilley, in fact, has found many who support his right to publish his views, regardless of whether they agree with his points.  Notably, Noam Chomsky has come to his defense.  Many others see the sense of Gilley’s main arguments:  that Western colonialism eventuated in better conditions in many parts of the world and that anti-colonial ideology in many cases ruined newly independent nations.  The record of health, education, and welfare in the Third World testifies to these theses to anyone who is not constrained by radical anti-Western beliefs to ignore the facts.

No one denies that colonialism sometimes had dire costs, including the sense of humiliation that often was inflicted on the colonized.  The colonizers themselves paid a stiff price as well, not least in their unearned sense of superiority.  Yet there is plainly a strong argument to be made that, on balance, the legacy of colonialism has been positive.  Agree or disagree with that view; it ought to be well within the compass of ideas that can be debated in academic journals and on campus.

What then ought to be the path forward for those who truly support academic and intellectual freedom—and who want to do more than mouth the piety that these are “critical” to the university?

The answer isn’t a single action but a single determination.  The Gilley affair is, of course, only one of many instances in the last few years in which the progressive left has shown its willingness to bully, to censor, and sometimes physically attack those it designates as its enemies. College presidents and trustees must cease to pretend that this is a matter of competing forms of free speech.  The freedom of one side to be vilified and the freedom of the other side to launch outrageous personal attacks are not moral equivalents.  No university can long survive this kind of intellectual dissipation, no matter how eagerly it masks itself as protection of the weak and marginal.  It has become its own form of tyranny, and the public will not long stand for it.

Public universities such as Portland State have vulnerabilities in the form of state and federal funding as well as enrollment. In time, politicians and the public will act in default of campus authorities who do not act. And perhaps we should not forget the names of those thousands who signed the petitions.  It might be a good exercise for deans and provosts who have received from academic search committee recommendations to appoint candidates for academic positions to match those names against the list of signatories. Signing such petitions, after all, is a public declaration of hostility to the very principles that the university say are “bedrock.” A candidate’s name on such a petition at least raises a question of whether such a person is to be relied on to uphold the standards of a free intellectual community.

What can be done?  At the minimum, Portland State University should call on Taylor and Francis to keep the article and defend the editor, Shahid Qadir.

Stanford’s Many Dubious Sexual Assault Claims

While Yale is the only institution required by the Federal government to outline its campus sexual assault adjudications, (albeit in an increasingly limited way), a second university — Stanford — has now started to do so. As with Yale, these reports unintentionally reveal the moral panic over sexual assault on many of the nation’s leading campuses.

The current Stanford report appeared over the pen of Stanford University spokesperson Kathleen Sullivan. It contends that Stanford is an extremely dangerous campus (about at the level of danger as Yale)—with 30 rapes listed in the 2016-2017 academic year. For comparison’s sake, this means that the Stanford campus had more rapes in one academic year as did the city of Palo Alto in the last four years combined. Stanford isn’t an island: if these figures were anywhere near accurate, it would mean the Stanford campus should be the Palo Alto Police Department’s number one priority.

Sullivan’s report later suggests, however, that passing outside of the campus walls might yield a different understanding of rape. Five of Stanford’s cases were reported to police. According to the report, “No charges and/or convictions resulted from those five investigations.” (The wording is odd here: did each of these cases not even rise to the level of probable cause necessary for prosecutors to bring a charge? Or did some yield not-guilty verdicts at trial? Sullivan doesn’t say.) Regardless, the zero-for-five ratio shows the difference between a campus system that too often presumes guilt and a criminal justice system that provides the defendant with protections of due process.

Beyond these five cases, fourteen others featured no adjudication at all. In ten cases, the accuser wouldn’t or couldn’t identify the alleged perpetrator; in four other cases, Stanford handled matters informally, at the request of the accuser. That is: in 14 of the 30 rape allegations, the sole issue was accommodations for the accuser, not adjudication.

That left 11 rape allegations that Stanford investigated. Six of these didn’t go to a hearing. Two or three of the accused students pled guilty (and were either expelled or received long suspensions). But at least a few of these allegations resulted in a formal decision not to charge, and other cases where the resolution suggested no admission of guilt (education or no-contact orders). Five cases, meanwhile, went to hearings; three yielded guilty findings, two not-guilty.

So, of the 30 rape allegations at Stanford in 2016-7, none of those reported to police yielded guilty findings, and only five or six guilty findings came in a university system that’s less unfair than it once was but still is no paragon of due process. Yet even though at least 80 percent of the rape allegations didn’t produce a guilty finding, not one of these 25 was listed at Stanford as an unfounded claim in its Clery Act report—a good reminder of the unwillingness of universities to make such a designation in the context of sexual assault, lest they generate protest from accusers’ rights groups or their faculty allies, such as Stanford Law Professor Michele Dauber. Even Harvard, whose adjudication process is so notoriously one-sided as to generate public dissent from more than two dozen Harvard Law professors, listed two unfounded claims in 2016-2017.

The Sullivan Report has another odd component: it appears to use “rape” and “sexual assault” interchangeably, despite the differences between the two types of offenses. Sullivan offers no explanation for this decision.

Another report, from Stanford Provost Persis Drell, offers a little more insight into the situation at Stanford. Drell’s report covered allegations from March 2016 through May 2017, thus including four months of cases that Sullivan’s did not, and excluding around two months of cases (June 2017 and some portion of May 2017) that made Sullivan’s report.

Drell portrayed conditions even more apocalyptically than had Sullivan: “In any given room of women,” said she, “80 percent to 90 percent of us have either personally experienced sexual violence or have witnessed its devastating effects first hand on a very close friend or family member.”

Yet Drell’s statistics painted a quite different story. Of the eight Title IX tribunals that met during the 15 months covered in her report, four yielded not-guilty findings (three unanimously, one by a 2-1 vote). And of the four guilty findings, none yielded expulsions—suggesting that the offense was somewhere short of forcible rape. In addition to the four not-guilty findings, seven more allegations never even went to a hearing, presumably due to insufficient evidence, after an investigation by the Stanford Title IX office.

There were fourteen additional allegations. (At least six, and perhaps all fourteen, of these allegations also appeared in the Sullivan Report.) In three of these cases, the accused student clearly pled guilty. But the other eleven cases were resolved with “no-contact directives and other remedies”—outcomes, in short, that carried no implication of guilt.

This data suggests not an epidemic but instead, a campus environment in which students (perhaps understandably, responding to a radicalized campus culture) bring allegations that are so dubious even Stanford’s procedures can’t justify a guilty finding.

These figures, it’s worth noting, coincided with Stanford’s decision to create a slightly fairer system—to define rape as California does in its criminal code, to allow guilty findings only by a 3-0 hearing vote, and to give accused students some trained (legal) assistance. These changes altered the ostentatiously unfair system created by Dauber, which existed from 2010 through 2015. Based on the material from Drell’s report, one can only imagine how many wrongful guilty findings occurred under the Dauber system.

The Drell Report challenged prevailing accusers’ rights narratives in two other ways. First, it found no over-representation of either athletes or fraternity members among accused students. (Athletes, in fact, were underrepresented.) And 75 percent of cases involved alcohol or drug use by one or both parties, suggesting that attention to these matters could help reduce campus crime.

As with the Spangler Reports at Yale, material from the Drell and Sullivan reports suggests that Betsy DeVos is on the right track in her efforts to move beyond the use of Title IX tribunals as de facto kangaroo courts.

Editor’s Note: The first paragraph was revised for clarity on October 13, 2017. 

Same Old College Rankings—What Did You Expect?

Shocking news: the new Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education college rankings say that Harvard is the best school in the United States. So does Forbes in its rankings, while US News ranks it second. Some eight schools (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, Penn, Duke and Cal Tech) are in the top 10 in all three rankings. The top schools are like 17th century English landed aristocracy: all are old (the newest, Cal Tech, was founded over 120 years ago), with half of the top 10 in the WSJ listing beginning even before the nation in which they reside.  Indeed, none of the top 50 WSJ colleges was founded after 1950. All the top 10 are rich, with multi-billion investments –some, like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton, have about two million dollars of endowment for every student.

Related: What I’d Add to College Rankings

There is a monotonous stability to the rankings –some embryonic assessments in the first half of the last century all placed Harvard, Yale, and Princeton at or near the top. Indeed, college rankings dramatically demonstrate how rarely healthy and innovative Schumpeterian “creative destruction” comes to higher education. I located a 1994 Fortune Magazine with its list of 500 leading American corporations. Of the top 10 1994 companies, six have changed dramatically, now have different names, and a seventh (General Motors) has gone through bankruptcy. Only three of the top 10 in 1994 (GE, IBM and Ford) are the same companies they were in 1994. At least one of them, Ford, was on life support once in the intervening 23 years. The new corporate leaders as measured by stock valuation, Apple and Google, did not even exist a half-century ago. The top American universities resemble far more the old British aristocracy than the business institutions that ultimately provide them with most of their wealth and resources.

According to the WSJ rankings, state universities are the junior varsity of higher education —not one of them makes the top 20 (that is true for most other widely used rankings). There are only eight state schools in the top fifty (for some reason, the military academies seem to be totally excluded). I would also note that the oldest and still probably the most popular rankings, those of US News, show a considerable decline in the number of state schools at the top over time.

Related: The Problem with College Rankings

How did the Wall Street Journal and the British-based Times Higher Education do their rankings? They used 15 factors, heavily emphasizing outcomes (40 percent), and resources (30 percent). Another 20 percent reflects student “engagement, ” and 10 percent is a diversity component.

Let’s analyze “resources” more closely. A school that spends more on instruction per student gets higher rankings or has a higher faculty-student ratio. It does better if the faculty publishes a lot of papers in top-flight academic journals. In other words, if a school is wealthy, it is better, since rich or high tuition schools can buy faculty and even research. Quality is measured here by inputs, not outputs. If a school gives its faculty all 10 percent raises, rankings go up —but does institutional effectiveness rise?

That problem, though, is minor compared with the diversity component, rhetorically disguised as an “environmental” factor. The University of Michigan could improve its already respectable 27th placement by replacing students from Michigan by those from Iran and by replacing white students with those from presumptively better races. While I believe having students of diverse backgrounds is useful in promoting a full learning experience, there are few American schools that do not largely achieve that already (although the number of poor students at top schools is typically relatively small).  The WSJ diversity component to me is not measuring quality but rather is catering to political correct racist instincts (and I bet a majority of the WSJ’s editorial board, not involved in this undertaking, would agree).  Campus tolerance and support for a diversity of ideas, of course, is what is really important, and it is not considered in the rankings (although it would be difficult although not impossible to do so).

Preventing the Public From Knowing

Stealing (as many do) from Winston Churchill, college rankings are the worst way to evaluate colleges —except all others. I know, because I began and directed those of Forbes for nine years. There are two huge problems: information and varying human preferences. Universities are supposedly in the business of creating and distributing information and knowledge, but when it comes to themselves, they do everything possible to prevent the public from knowing much. Some of them fought the Department of Education from creating the College Scorecard, providing some of the data used in the WSJ rankings (and which was just updated and expanded to make it more useful). College lobbyists have successfully kept us from knowing things like how much did students learn while at school? Or, what are post-graduate earnings of all graduates (not just those taking federal student aid) by university and major field of study? The college lobby in 2008 successfully outlawed efforts to get a better student outcomes database. Politicians as diverse politically as Elizabeth Warren and Orrin Hatch have proposed a College Transparency Act to lift restrictions allowing for better consumer information.

“Variety’s the very spice of life” William Cowper opined in 1785, so the best college or university for an individual varies with personal interests, academic performance, geography, income, sometimes race or religion, accessibility to friends or relatives, etc.  Published college rankings reflect some generic set of values that need to be modified to fit individual circumstances. Still, given the difficulty in getting really good objective information about colleges cheaply and quickly, published rankings serve a good purpose. Even though the criteria vary a fair amount amongst the top rankings, usually the schools considered the best are pretty similar. When I did the Forbes rankings, I would experiment with a variety of different weights on a large number of factors, but almost never could get Princeton out of the top ten. The nation could use a website with data about 10 or 15 important factors (graduation rates, earnings immediately after graduation, earnings 10 years after graduation, costs before financial aid, probability of getting financial aid, student attitudes towards instructors, etc.) that would allow people to concoct their own “do it yourself” rankings using personalized weights on the various measured factors.

Just Another Good or Service

For some reason, the WSJ rankings rekindled in my mind a recurring thought for almost six decades: why do we treat colleges different than any other good or service? Why do we subsidize them rather than taxing them? The reality, of course, is the so-called “private schools” dominating the rankings are very highly publicly indirectly subsidized by the federal government through its financial assistance programs, and the modest but real retreat by state governments from funding “state” universities has been offset by enhanced federal funding, having the unintended consequence of helping so-called private schools that are traditionally heavily tuition financed relative to state schools that traditionally depended very heavily on state subsidies. With very small exceptions (e.g., Hillsdale College) all higher education is government supported. Considering campus spending excesses, mediocre learning outcomes, and assaults on free expression, I am increasingly asking myself: why?

The Rising Danger of Left-Right Tribalism

Ignore the unfortunate headline (“America Wasn’t Built for Humans”). This is a   brilliant essay by Andrew Sullivan from the September 19 issue of New York Magazine, sure to irritate both the right and left, on the dangerous tribalism Americans have fallen into.

An excerpt:

Not all resistance to mass immigration or multiculturalism is mere racism or bigotry; and not every complaint about racism and sexism is baseless. Many older white Americans are not so much full of hate as full of fear. Equally, many minorities and women face genuine blocks to their advancement because of subtle and unsubtle bias, and it is not mere victim-mongering. We also don’t have to deny African-American agency in order to account for the historic patterns of injustice that still haunt an entire community. We need to recall that most immigrants are simply seeking a better life, but also that a country that cannot control its borders is not a country at all. We’re rightly concerned that religious faith can easily lead to intolerance, but we needn’t conclude that having faith is a pathology. We need not renounce our cosmopolitanism to reengage and respect those in rural America, and we don’t have to abandon our patriotism to see that the urban mix is also integral to what it means to be an American today. The actual solutions to our problems are to be found in the current no-man’s-land that lies between the two tribes. Reentering it with empiricism and moderation to find different compromises for different issues is the only way out of our increasingly dangerous impasse.

The Roots of Our New Civil War: Tocqueville vs. Gramsci

As intellectual historians have often had occasion to observe, there are times in a nation’s history when certain ideas are just “in the air.” Admittedly, this point seems to fizzle when applied to our particular historical moment. On the surface of American politics, as many have had cause to mention, it appears that the main trends predicted over a decade ago in Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History?” have come to pass — that ideological (if not partisan) strife has been muted; that there is a general consensus about the most important questions of the day (capitalism, not socialism; democracy, not authoritarianism); and that the contemporary controversies that do exist, while occasionally momentous, are essentially mundane, concerned with practical problem-solving (whether it is better to count ballots by hand or by machine) rather than with great principles.

What Will America Be?

And yet, I would argue, all that is true only on the surface. For simultaneously in the United States of the past few decades, recurring philosophical concepts have not only remained “in the air,” but have proved influential, at times decisive, in cultural and legal and moral arguments about the most important questions facing the nation. Indeed: Prosaic appearances to the contrary, beneath the surface of American politics an intense ideological struggle is being waged between two competing worldviews. I will call these “Gramscian” and “Tocquevillian” after the intellectuals who authored the warring ideas — the twentieth-century Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci, and, of course, the nineteenth-century French intellectual Alexis de Tocqueville. The stakes in the battle between the intellectual heirs of these two men are no less than what kind of country the United States will be in decades to come.

Refining Class Warfare

We’ll begin with an overview of the thought of Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), a Marxist intellectual and politician. Despite his enormous influence on today’s politics, he remains far less well-known to most Americans than does Tocqueville.

Gramsci’s main legacy arises through his departures from orthodox Marxism. Like Marx, he argued that all societies in human history have been divided into two basic groups: the privileged and the marginalized, the oppressor and the oppressed, the dominant and the subordinate. Gramsci expanded Marx’s ranks of the “oppressed” into categories that still endure. As he wrote in his famous Prison Notebooks, “The marginalized groups of history include not only the economically oppressed but also women, racial minorities and many ‘criminals.'” What Marx and his orthodox followers described as “the people,” Gramsci describes as an “ensemble” of subordinate groups and classes in every society that has ever existed until now. This collection of oppressed and marginalized groups — “the people” — lack unity and, often, even consciousness of their own oppression. To reverse the correlation of power from the privileged to the “marginalized,” then, was Gramsci’s declared goal.

Power, in Gramsci’s observation, is exercised by privileged groups or classes in two ways: through domination, force, or coercion; and through something called “hegemony,” which means the ideological supremacy of a system of values that supports the class or group interests of the predominant classes or groups. Subordinate groups, he argued, are influenced to internalize the value systems and world views of the privileged groups and, thus, to consent to their own marginalization.

Delegitimate Belief Systems

Far from being content with a mere uprising, therefore, Gramsci believed that it was necessary first to delegitimize the dominant belief systems of the predominant groups and to create a “counter-hegemony” (i.e., a new system of values for the subordinate groups) before the marginalized could be empowered. Moreover, because hegemonic values permeate all spheres of civil society — schools, churches, the media, voluntary associations — civil society itself, he argued, is the great battleground in the struggle for hegemony, the “war of position.” From this point, too, followed a corollary for which Gramsci should be known (and which is echoed in the feminist slogan) — that all life is “political.” Thus, private life, the workplace, religion, philosophy, art, and literature, and civil society, in general, are contested battlegrounds in the struggle to achieve societal transformation.

It is perhaps here that one sees Gramsci’s most important reexamination of Marx’s thought. Classical Marxists implied that a revolutionary consciousness would simply develop from the objective (and oppressive) material conditions of working-class life. Gramsci disagreed, noting that “there have always been exploiters and exploited” — but very few revolutions per se. In his analysis, this was because subordinate groups usually lack the “clear theoretical consciousness” necessary to convert the “structure of repression into one of rebellion and social reconstruction.” Revolutionary “consciousness” is crucial. Unfortunately, the subordinate groups possess “false consciousness,” that is to say, they accept the conventional assumptions and values of the dominant groups, as “legitimate.” But real change, he continued to believe, can only come about through the transformation of consciousness.

Use the Intellectuals

Just as Gramsci’s analysis of consciousness is more nuanced than Marx’s, so too is his understanding of the role of intellectuals in that process. Marx had argued that for revolutionary social transformation to be successful, the world views of the predominant groups must first be unmasked as instruments of domination. In classical Marxism, this crucial task of demystifying and delegitimizing the ideological hegemony of the dominant groups is performed by intellectuals. Gramsci, more subtly, distinguishes between two types of intellectuals: “traditional” and “organic.” What subordinate groups need, Gramsci maintains, are their own “organic intellectuals.” However, the defection of “traditional” intellectuals from the dominant groups to the subordinate groups, he held, is also important, because traditional intellectuals who have “changed sides” are well positioned within established institutions.

The metaphysics, or lack thereof, behind this Gramscian worldview are familiar enough. Gramsci describes his position as “absolute historicism,” meaning that morals, values, truths, standards and human nature itself are products of different historical epochs. There are no absolute moral standards that are universally true for all human beings outside of a particular historical context; rather, morality is “socially constructed.”

Historically, Antonio Gramsci’s thought shares features with other writers who are classified as “Hegelian Marxists” — the Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs, the German thinker Karl Korsch, and members of the “Frankfurt School” (e.g., Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse), a group of theorists associated with the Institute for Social Research founded in Frankfurt, Germany in the 1920s, some of whom attempted to synthesize the thinking of Marx and Freud. All emphasized that the decisive struggle to overthrow the bourgeois regime (that is, middle-class liberal democracy) would be fought out at the level of consciousness. That is, the old order had to be rejected by its citizens intellectually and morally before any real transfer of power to the subordinate groups could be achieved.

Gramsci’s long reach

The relation of all these abstractions to the nuts and bolts of American politics is, as the record shows, surprisingly direct. All of Gramsci’s most innovative ideas — for example, that dominant and subordinate groups based on race, ethnicity, and gender are engaged in struggles over power; that the “personal is political”; and that all knowledge and morality are social constructions — are assumptions and presuppositions at the very center of today’s politics. So too is the very core of the Gramscian-Hegelian worldview — group-based morality, or the idea that what is moral is what serves the interests of “oppressed” or “marginalized” ethnic, racial, and gender groups.

What, for example, lies behind the concept of “jury nullification,” a notion which now enjoys the support of law professors at leading universities? Building on the Hegelian-Marxist concepts of group power and group-based morality, jury nullification advocates argue that minorities serving on juries should use their “power” as jurors to refuse to convict minority defendants regardless of the evidence presented in court, because the minority defendants have been “powerless,” lifelong victims of an oppressive system that is skewed in favor of dominant groups, such as white males.

Indeed, what is called “critical theory” — a direct descendant of Gramscian and Hegelian-Marxist thinking — is widely influential in both law and education. Critical legal studies posit that the law grows out of unequal relations of power and therefore serves the interests of and legitimizes the rule of dominant groups. Its subcategories include critical race theory and feminist legal theory. The critical legal studies movement could hardly be more Gramscian; it seeks to “deconstruct” bourgeois legal ideas that serve as instruments of power for the dominant groups and “reconstruct” them to serve the interests of the subordinate groups.

Or consider the echoes of Gramsci in the works of yet another law professor, Michigan’s Catharine MacKinnon. She writes in Toward a Feminist Theory of the State (1989), “The rule of law and the rule of men are one thing, indivisible,” because “State power, embodied in law, exists throughout society as male power.” Furthermore, “Male power is systemic. Coercive, legitimated, and epistemic, it is the regime.” Therefore, MacKinnon notes, “a rape is not an isolated event or moral transgression or individual interchange gone wrong but an act of terrorism and torture within a systemic context of group subjection, like lynching.” Similarly, MacKinnon has argued that sexual harassment is essentially an issue of power exercised by the dominant over the subordinate group.

Such thinking may begin in ivory towers, but it does not end there. The United States Supreme Court adopted MacKinnon’s theories as the basis for its interpretation of sexual harassment law in the landmark Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986). This is only one example of how major American social policy has come to be based not on Judeo-Christian precepts nor on Kantian-Enlightenment ethics, but on Gramscian and Hegelian-Marxist concepts of group power.

Hegel among the CEOs  

Quite apart from their popularity among academics and in certain realms of politics, Gramscian and Hegelian-Marxist ideas are also prominent in three other major sectors of American civil society: foundations, universities, and corporations.

As laymen and analysts alike have observed over the years, the major foundations — particularly Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and MacArthur — have for decades spent millions of dollars promoting “cutting edge” projects on racial, ethnic, and gender issues. According to author and foundation expert Heather Mac Donald, for example, feminist projects received $36 million from Ford, Rockefeller, Mellon, and other large foundations between 1972 and 1992. Similarly, according to a Capital Research Center report by Peter Warren, a policy analyst at the National Association of Scholars, foundations have crowned diversity the “king” of American campuses. For example, the Ford Foundation launched a Campus Diversity Initiative in 1990 that funded programs in about 250 colleges and universities at the cost of approximately $15 million. The Ford initiative promotes what sounds like a Gramscian’s group-rights dream: as Peter Warren puts it, “the establishment of racial, ethnic, and sex-specific programs and academic departments, group preferences in student admissions, group preferences in staff and faculty hiring, sensitivity training for students and staff, and campus-wide convocations to raise consciousness about the need for such programs.”

Alan Kors, a history professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has described in detail how Ford and other foundation “diversity” grants are put to use. As he noted in “Thought Reform 101” in the March 2000 issue of Reason, “at almost all our campuses, some form of moral and political re-education has been built into freshmen orientation.” A “central goal of these programs,” Kors states, “is to uproot ‘internalized oppression,’ a crucial concept in the diversity education planning documents of most universities.” The concept of “internalized oppression” is the same as the Hegelian-Marxist notion of “false consciousness,” in which people in the subordinate groups “internalize” (and thus accept) the values and ways of thinking of their oppressors in the dominant groups.

Training the Freshmen 

At Columbia University, for instance, new students are encouraged to get rid of “their own social and personal beliefs that foster inequality.” To accomplish this, the assistant dean for freshmen, Katherine Balmer, insists that “training” is needed. At the end of freshman orientation at Bryn Mawr in the early 1990s, according to the school program, students were “breaking free” of “the cycle of oppression” and becoming “change agents.” Syracuse University’s multicultural program is designed to teach students that they live “in a world impacted by various oppression issues, including racism.”

Kors states that at an academic conference sponsored by the University of Nebraska, the attendees articulated the view that “White students desperately need formal ‘training’ in racial and cultural awareness. The moral goal of such training should override white notions of privacy and individualism.” One of the leading “diversity experts” providing scores of “training programs” in universities, corporations, and government bureaucracies is Hugh Vasquez of the Todos Institute of Oakland, California. Vasquez’s study guide for a Ford Foundation-funded diversity film, Skin Deep, explains the meaning of “white privilege” and “internalized oppression” for the trainees. It also explains the concept of an “ally,” as an individual from the “dominant group” who rejects his “unmerited privilege” and becomes an advocate for the position of the subordinate groups. This concept of the “ally,” of course, is Gramscian to the core; it is exactly representative of the notion that subordinate groups struggling for power must try to “conquer ideologically” the traditional intellectuals or activist cadres normally associated with the dominant group.

The employees of America’s major corporations take many of the same sensitivity training programs as America’s college students, often from the same “diversity facilitators.” Frederick Lynch, the author of the Diversity Machine, reported “diversity training” is rampant among the Fortune 500. Even more significantly, on issues of group preferences vs. individual opportunity, major corporate leaders tend to put their money and influence behind group rights instead of individual rights.

After California voters passed Proposition 209, for example — a referendum outlawing racial and gender preferences in employment — Ward Connerly, the African-American businessman who led the effort, launched a similar anti-preferences initiative in the state of Washington. The Washington initiative I-200 read as follows: “The State shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, or public contracting.” This language was almost identical to California’s Proposition 209. Atlantic Monthly editor Michael Kelly reported in the Washington Post on August 23 that when asked his opinion on Proposition 209 during the referendum debate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman replied, “I can’t see how I could be opposed to it. . . . It is basically a statement of American values . . . and says we shouldn’t discriminate in favor of somebody based on the group they represent.”

However, Washington’s business leaders disagreed. In his autobiography Creating Equal, Ward Connerly wrote that the “most important significant obstacle we faced in Washington was not the media or even political personalities, but the corporate world. . . . Boeing, Weyerhauser, Starbucks, Costco, and Eddie Bauer all made huge donations to the No on I-200 campaign. . . . The fundraising was spearheaded by Bill Gates, Sr., a regent of the University of Washington, whose famous name seemed to suggest that the whole of the high-tech world was solemnly shaking its head at us.”

Interestingly, private corporations are also more supportive of another form of group rights — gay rights — than are government agencies at any level. As of June 2000, for example, approximately 100 Fortune 500 companies had adopted health benefits for same-sex partners. According to the gay rights organization, Human Rights Campaign, the companies offering same-sex benefits include the leading corporations in the Fortune 500 ranking: among the top 10, General Motors (ranked first), Ford (fourth), IBM (sixth), AT&T (eighth), and Boeing (tenth), as well as Hewlett-Packard, Merrill Lynch, Chase Manhattan Bank, Bell Atlantic, Chevron, Motorola, Prudential, Walt Disney, Microsoft, Xerox, and United Airlines. Corporate reaction to gay activist attacks on Dr. Laura Schlessinger is another indication of how Hegelian-Gramscian the country’s business leaders have become. Sears and EchoStar have lately joined a long list of advertisers — Procter and Gamble, Xerox, AT&T, Toys R Us, Kraft, General Foods, and Geico — in pulling their advertising from the popular talk show host. Whether these decisions favoring gay (read: group) rights were motivated by ideology, economic calculation, or an opportunistic attempt to appear “progressive,” they typify American businesses’ response to the culture war.

The Tocquevillian counterattack

The primary resistance to the advance of Gramscian ideas comes from an opposing quarter that I will call contemporary Tocquevillianism. Its representatives take Alexis de Tocqueville’s essentially empirical description of American exceptionalism and celebrate the traits of this exceptionalism as normative values to be embraced. As Tocqueville noted in the 1830s (and as the World Values Survey, a scholarly comparative assessment, reaffirmed in the 1990s), Americans are different from Europeans in several crucial respects. Two recent books — Seymour Martin Lipset’s American Exceptionalism (1997) and Michael Ledeen’s Tocqueville on American Character (2000) — have made much the same point: that Americans today, just as in Tocqueville’s time, are much more individualistic, religious, and patriotic than the people of any other comparably advanced nation.

What was particularly exceptional for Tocqueville (and contemporary Tocquevillians) is the singular American path to modernity. Unlike other modernists, Americans combined strong religious and patriotic beliefs with dynamic, restless entrepreneurial energy that emphasized the equality of individual opportunity and eschewed hierarchical and ascriptive group affiliations. The trinity of American exceptionalism could be described as (1) dynamism (support for equality of individual opportunity, entrepreneurship, and economic progress); (2) religiosity (emphasis on character development, mores, and voluntary cultural associations) that works to contain the excessive individual egoism that dynamism sometimes fosters; and (3) patriotism (love of country, self-government, and support for constitutional limits).

Among today’s Tocquevillians we could include public intellectuals William Bennett, Michael Novak, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Marvin Olasky, Norman Podhoretz, and former Clinton White House advisor and political philosopher William Galston, and scholars Wilfred McClay, Harvey Mansfield, and Walter MacDougall. Neoconservatives, traditional conservatives of the National Review-Heritage Foundation stripe, some students of political philosopher Leo Strauss, and some centrist Democrats are Tocquevillian in their emphasis on America’s special path to modernity that combines aspects of the pre-modern (emphasis on religion, objective truth, and transcendence) with the modern (self-government, constitutional liberalism, entrepreneurial enterprise). The writings of neoconservative Irving Kristol and National Review-style conservative Charles Kesler clarify this special American path to modernity. Like thoughtful scholars before them, both make a sharp distinction between the moderate (and positive) Enlightenment (of Locke, Montesquieu, and Adam Smith) that gave birth to the American Revolution and the radical (and negative) Enlightenment (Condorcet and the philosophes) that gave birth to the Revolution in France.

Like their ideological opposites, Tocquevillians are also represented in business and government. In the foundation world, prevailing Gramscian ideas have been challenged by scholars funded by the Bradley, Olin, and Scaife foundations. For example, Michael Joyce of Bradley has called his foundation’s approach “Tocquevillian” and supported associations and individuals that foster moral and religious underpinnings to self-help and civic action. At the same time, Joyce called in “On Self-Government” (Policy Review, July-August 1998) for challenging the “political hegemony” of the service providers and “scientific managers” who run the “therapeutic state” that Tocqueville feared would result in “an immense and tutelary” power that threatened liberty. As for the political world, a brief list of those influenced by the Tocquevillian side of the argument would include, for example, Sen. Daniel Coats of Indiana, Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, and Gov. George W. Bush of Texas. All have supported Tocquevillian initiatives and employed Tocquevillian language in endorsing education and welfare measures that emphasize the positive contributions of faith and responsibility.

There is also a third category to be considered here — those institutions and individuals that also oppose the Gramscian challenge, but who are not Tocquevillians because they reject one or more features of the trinity of American exceptionalism. For example, Reason magazine editor Virginia Postrel sees the world divided into pro-change “dynamists” and anti-change “stasists.” Postrel’s libertarianism emphasizes only one aspect of American exceptionalism, its dynamism, and slights the religious and patriotic pillars that in the Tocquevillian synthesis provide the nation’s moral and civic core.

Similarly, paleoconservatives such as Samuel Francis, a leading Buchananite intellectual, oppose modernism and the Enlightenment in all its aspects, not simply its radical wing. Likewise, secular patriots such as historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. embrace a positive form of enlightened American nationalism but are uncomfortable with the religious and entrepreneurial (including the antistatist) traditions that complete the Tocquevillian trinity. Catholic social democrats like E.J. Dionne accept the religious part of the Tocquevillian trinity but would like to curb its risky dynamism and deemphasize its patriotism.

A few years ago, several conservative and religious intellectuals writing in a First Things magazine symposium suggested that American liberal democracy was facing a crisis of legitimacy. One of the symposium writers, Judge Robert Bork, suggests in his book Slouching Towards Gomorrah that “revolutionary” upheavals of the 1960s were “not a complete break with the spirit of the American past,” but inherent in the Enlightenment framework of America’s founding principles. Bork and others — including Paul Weyrich and Cal Thomas — appear to have speculated that perhaps America’s path to modernity was itself flawed (too much dynamism and too little morality). What could be called a partial Tocquevillian position of some conservative intellectuals and activists could be contrasted with the work of American Catholic Whigs — for example, the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Novak and the Faith and Reason Institute’s Robert Royal — who have argued, in essence, that America’s founding principles are sound and that the three elements of the Tocquevillian synthesis (entrepreneurial dynamism, religion, and patriotism) are at the heart of the American experience and of America’s exceptional contribution to the idea of ordered liberty.

At the end of the day, it is unlikely that the libertarians, paleoconservatives, secular patriots, Catholic social democrats, or disaffected religious right intellectuals will mount an effective resistance to the continuing Gramscian assault. Only the Tocquevillians appear to have the strength — in terms of intellectual firepower, infrastructure, funding, media attention, and a comprehensive philosophy that taps into core American principles — to challenge the Gramscians with any chance of success.

Tocquevillianism: Mores Count

Writing in Policy Review in 1996, Adam Meyerson described the task of cultural renewal as “applied Tocquevillianism.” In explaining one of his key points, Tocqueville writes in Democracy in America that “mores” are central to the “Maintenance of a Democratic Republic in the United States.” He defines “mores” as not only “the habits of the heart,” but also the “different notions possessed by men, the various opinions current among them, and the sum of ideas that shape mental habits” — in short, he declares, “the whole moral and intellectual state of a people.”

One of the leading manifestos of the Tocquevillians is “A Call to Civil Society: Why Democracy Needs Moral Truths,” published by the Council on Civil Society. It outlines the traditional civic and moral values (Tocqueville’s “mores”) that buttress the republic. The document (endorsed by, among others, Sens. Coats and Lieberman, in addition to Don Eberly, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Francis Fukuyama, William Galston, Glenn Loury, Cornel West, James Q. Wilson, and Daniel Yankelovich) states that the “civic truths” of the American regime are “those of Western constitutionalism, rooted in both classical understandings of natural law and natural right and in the Judeo-Christian religious tradition. . . . The moral truths that make possible our experiment in self-government,” according to this statement, “are in large part biblical and religious,” informed by the “classical natural law tradition” and the “ideas of the Enlightenment.” The “most eloquent expressions” of these truths are “found in the Declaration of Independence, Washington’s Farewell Address, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address, and King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail.”

The Tocquevillians, then, emphasize “renewing” and “rediscovering” American mores, suggesting that there is a healthy civic and moral core to the American regime that needs to be brought back to life. Moreover, if the first task is cultural renewal, the second task is cultural transmission. Thus, the “Call to Civil Society” declares that the “central task of every generation is moral transmission.” Religion, in particular, “has probably been the primary force” that “transmits from one generation to another the moral understandings that are essential to liberal democratic institutions.” Moreover, “[at] their best . . . our houses of worship foster values that are essential to human flourishing and democratic civil society: personal responsibility, respect for moral law, and neighbor-love or concern for others.” In addition, the statement declares that a “basic responsibility of the school is cultural transmission,” particularly “a knowledge of [the] country’s constitutional heritage, an understanding of what constitutes good citizenship, and an appreciation of [this] society’s common civic faith and shared moral philosophy.”

In the matter of practice, the past few years have also witnessed what could be called “Tocquevillian” initiatives that attempt to bring faith-based institutions (particularly churches) into federal and state legislative efforts to combat welfare and poverty. In the mid-1990s, Sen. Coats, working with William Bennett and other intellectuals, introduced a group of 19 bills known as the Project for American Renewal. Among other things, these bills advocated dollar for dollar tax credits for contributions to charitable organizations, including churches. Coats’s goal in introducing this legislation was to push the debate in a Tocquevillian direction, by getting policymakers thinking about new ways of involving religious and other civic associations in social welfare issues. Coats and others were asking why the faith community was being excluded from participating in federal social programs. At the same time, there are other Tocquevillians, including Michael Horowitz of the Hudson Institute, who favor tax credits, but worry that by accepting federal grant money the faith institutions could become dependent on government money and adjust their charitable projects to government initiatives.

In 1996 Congress included a “charitable choice” provision in the landmark welfare reform legislation. The charitable choice section means that if a state receives federal funds to provide services, it could not discriminate against religious organizations if they wanted to compete for federal grants to provide those services. The section includes guidelines designed simultaneously to protect both the religious character of the faith-based institutions receiving the federal funds and the civil rights of the individuals using the services. However, in 1998 the Clinton administration attempted to dilute the “charitable choice” concept in another piece of legislation by stating that administration lawyers opposed giving funds to what they described as “pervasively sectarian” institutions that could be inferred to mean churches doing charitable work.

Besides activity at the federal level, some states have started similar projects. Faithworks Indiana, a center sponsored by the state government, assists faith-based institutions with networking. In Illinois state agencies are reaching out to faith-based institutions through the “Partners for Hope” program. In Mississippi Governor Kirk Fordice launched the “Faith and Families” program with the ambitious goal of linking each of the state’s 5,000 churches with a welfare recipient.

Both Gov. George W. Bush in Texas and Sen. Joseph Lieberman in Congress have been friendly to some Tocquevillian approaches to legislation. Bush has promoted legislation to remove licensing barriers to church participation in social programs. He has also supported faith initiatives in welfare-to-work and prison reform projects. Lieberman supported the charitable choice provision of the welfare reform act and co-sponsored the National Youth Crime Prevention Demonstration Act that would promote “violence-free zones” by working with grassroots organizations, including faith-based organizations.

Legislative battlegrounds

Gramscian concepts have been on the march through Congress in recent years, meeting in at least some cases Tocquevillian resistance and counterattack. For example, the intellectual underpinning for the Gender Equity in Education Act of 1993 (and most gender equity legislation going back to the seminal Women’s Educational Equity Act, or WEEA, of the 1970s) is the essentially Gramscian and Hegelian-Marxist concept of “systemic” or “institutionalized oppression.” In this view, the mainstream institutions of society, including the schools, enforce an “oppressive” system (in this case, a “patriarchy”) at the expense of a subordinate group (i.e., women and girls).

The work of Harvard education professor Carol Gilligan, promoted by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), was influential in persuading Congress to support the Gender Equity in Education Act. Professor Gilligan identifies the main obstacles to educational opportunity for American girls as the “patriarchal social order,” “androcentric and patriarchal norms,” and “Western thinking” — that is to say, the American “system” itself is at fault.

In speaking on behalf of the bill, Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine made a Gramscian case, decrying “systemic discrimination against girls.” Democratic Rep. Patsy Mink of Hawaii likewise attacked the “pervasive nature” of anti-female bias in the educational system. Maryland Republican Rep. Connie Morella declared that throughout the schools “inequitable practices are widespread and persistent.” Not surprisingly, she insisted that “gender equity training” for “teachers, counselors, and administrators” be made available with federal funds. As noted earlier, one of the remedies to “systemic oppression” is “training” (of the “re-education” type described by Professor Kors) that seeks to alter the “consciousness” of individuals in both the dominant groups and subordinate groups. Thus, Sen. Snowe also advocated “training” programs to eliminate “sexual harassment in its very early stages in our Nation’s schools.”

In a related exercise in Gramscian reasoning, Congress in 1994 passed the Violence Against Women Act. According to Democratic Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the “whole purpose” of the bill was “to raise the consciousness of the American public.” The bill’s supporters charged that there was an “epidemic” of violent crime against women. Echoing Catharine MacKinnon (e.g., rape is “not an individual act” but “terrorism” within a “systemic context of group subjection like lynching”), the bill’s proponents filled the Congressional Record with the group-based (and Hegelian-Marxist) concept that women were being attacked because they were women and belonged to a subordinate group. It was argued by bill’s proponents that these “violent attacks” are a form of “sex discrimination,” “motivated by gender,” and that they “reinforce and maintain the disadvantaged status of women as a group.” Moreover, the individual attacks create a “climate of fear that makes all women afraid to step out of line.” Although there was no serious social science evidence of an “epidemic” of violence against women, the almost Marxist-style agitprop campaign worked, and the bill passed.

In 1991, the Congress passed a civil rights bill that altered a Supreme Court decision restricting racial and gender group remedies. The new bill strengthened the concept of “disparate impact”; which is a group-based notion that employment practices are discriminatory if they result in fewer members of “protected classes” (minorities and women) being hired than their percentage of the local workforce would presumably warrant.

Nine years later, in June 2000, the U.S. Senate passed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would expand the category of hate crimes to include crimes motivated by hatred of women, gays, and the disabled (such crimes would receive stiffer sentences than crimes that were not motivated by hatred based on gender, sexual orientation, or disability status). In supporting the bill, Republican Sen. Gordon Smith of Oregon declared, “I have come to realize that hate crimes are different” because although they are “visited upon one person” they “are really directed at an entire community” (for example, the disabled community or the gay community). Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts supported the legislation because, he insisted, “standing law has proven inadequate in the protection of many victimized groups.”

In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Dorothy Rabinowitz penned a Tocquevillian objection to this Gramscian legislation. Rabinowitz argued that hate crimes legislation undermined the traditional notion of equality under the law by “promulgating the fantastic argument that one act of violence is more significant than another because of the feelings that motivated the criminal.” Using egalitarian and anti-hierarchical (that is, Tocquevillian) rhetoric, Rabinowitz declared that Americans “don’t require two sets of laws — one for crimes against government-designated victims, the other for the rest of America.”

The Supreme Court and the White House

Like the Congress, the Supreme Court has witnessed intense arguments over core political principles recognizable as Gramscian and Tocquevillian. Indeed, the court itself often serves as a near-perfect microcosm of the clash between these opposing ideas.

A provision of the Violence Against Women Act, for example, that permitted women to sue their attackers in federal rather than state courts was overturned by a deeply divided Supreme Court 5-4. The majority argued on federalist grounds that states had primacy in this criminal justice area. In another 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court in 1999 ruled that local schools are subject to sexual discrimination suits under Title IX if their administrators fail to stop sexual harassment among schoolchildren. The case, Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, involved two 10-year olds in the fifth grade. Justice Anthony Kennedy broke tradition by reading a stinging dissent from the bench. He was joined by Justices Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas. Justice Kennedy attacked the majority view that the actions of the 10-year-old boy constituted “gender discrimination.”

American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers in The War Against Boys noted that the court majority appears to accept the position of gender feminist groups that sexual harassment is “a kind of hate crime used by men to maintain and enforce the inferior status of women.” Thus, Sommers explains, in terms of feminist theory (implicitly accepted by the court), the 10-year-old boy “did not merely upset and frighten” the ten-year-old girl, “he demeaned her as a member of a socially subordinate group.” In effect, the court majority in Davis endorsed Gramscian and Hegelian-Marxist assumptions of power relations between dominant and subordinate groups and applied those assumptions to American fifth graders.

Recently, a similarly divided Supreme Court has offered divergent rulings on homosexual rights. In June 2000 the court overturned the New Jersey State Supreme Court and ruled 5-4 in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale that the Boy Scouts did not have to employ an openly gay scoutmaster. The majority’s reasoning was quintessentially Tocquevillian — the First Amendment right of “freedom of association.” Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Rehnquist declared that “judicial disapproval” of a private organization’s values “does not justify the State’s effort to compel the organization to accept members where such acceptance” would change the organization’s message. The law, Rehnquist continued, “is not free to interfere with speech for no better reason than promoting an approved message or discouraging a disfavored one, however enlightened either purpose may strike the government.”

The dissent written by Justice Stevens, by contrast, declared that the states have the “right” to social experimentation. Stevens noted that “atavistic opinions” about women, minorities, gays, and aliens were the result of “traditional ways of thinking about members of unfamiliar classes.” Moreover, he insisted, “such prejudices are still prevalent” and “have caused serious and tangible harm to members of the class (gays) New Jersey seeks to protect.” Thus, the dissenters, in this case, agreed with the New Jersey Supreme Court that the state had “a compelling interest in eliminating the destructive consequences of discrimination from society” by requiring the Boy Scouts to employ gay scoutmasters.

In 1992 Colorado voters in a referendum adopted Amendment 2 to the state constitution barring local governments and the state from adding “homosexual orientation” as a specific category in city and state anti-discrimination ordinances. In 1996 in Romer v. Evans, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 ruling struck down Colorado’s Amendment 2. The court majority rejected the state of Colorado’s position that the amendment “does no more than deny homosexuals special rights.” The amendment, the court declared, “imposes a broad disability” on gays, “nullifies specific legal protections for this class (gays),” and infers “animosity towards the class that it affects.” Further, the majority insists that Amendment 2, “in making a general announcement that gays and lesbians shall not have any particular protections from the law, inflicts on them immediate, continuing, and real injuries.”

Justice Anton Scalia wrote a blistering dissent that went straight to the Gramscian roots of the decision. He attacked the majority “for inventing a novel and extravagant constitutional doctrine to take victory away from the traditional forces,” and for “verbally disparaging as bigotry adherence to traditional attitudes.” The court, Scalia wrote, “takes sides in the culture war”; it “sides with the knights,” that is, the elites, “reflecting the views and values of the lawyer class.” He concluded that: “Amendment 2 is designed to prevent the piecemeal deterioration of the sexual morality favored by the majority of Coloradans and is not only an appropriate means to that legitimate end, but a means that Americans have employed before. Striking it down is an act, not of judicial judgment, but of political will.”

Finally, Gramscian and Hegelian-Marxist concepts have advanced in the executive branch as well. In the 1990s, the federal government attempted both to limit speech that adversely affected subordinate groups; and to promote group-based equality of result instead of equality of individual opportunity.

In 1994, for example, three residents of Berkeley, Calif., protested a federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) plan to build subsidized housing for the homeless and mentally ill in their neighborhood. The residents wrote protest letters and organized their neighbors. HUD officials investigated the Berkeley residents for “discrimination” against the disabled and threatened them with $100,000 in fines. The government offered to drop their investigation (and the fines) if the neighborhood residents promised to stop speaking against the federal housing project.

Heather Mac Donald reported in the Wall Street Journal that one lawyer supporting HUD’s position argued that if the Berkeley residents’ protest letters resulted in the “denial of housing to a protected class of people, it ceases to be protected speech and becomes proscribed conduct.” This is classic Hegelian-Marxist thinking — actions (including free speech) that “objectively” harm people in a subordinate class are unjust (and should be outlawed). Eventually, hud withdrew its investigation. Nevertheless, the Berkeley residents brought suit against the HUD officials and won.

In 1999, to take another example, the Wall Street Journal reported that for the first time in American history the federal government was planning to require all companies doing business with the government to give federal officials the name, age, sex, race, and salary of every employee in the company during routine affirmative action audits. The purpose of the new plan, according to Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman, was to look for “racial and gender pay disparities.” The implicit assumption behind the Labor Department’s action is that “pay disparities” as such constitute a problem that requires a solution, even if salary differences are not the result of intentional discrimination. The Labor Department has long suggested that the continued existence of these disparities is evidence of “institutionalized discrimination.”

Transmission — or Transformation

The slow but steady advance of Gramscian and Hegelian-Marxist ideas through the major institutions of American democracy, including the Congress, the courts, and the executive branch, suggests that there are two different levels of political activity in twenty-first century America. On the surface, politicians seem increasingly inclined to converge on the center. Beneath, however, lies a deeper conflict that is ideological in the most profound sense of the term and that will surely continue for decades to come, regardless of who becomes president tomorrow, or four or eight or even 20 years from now.

As we have seen, Tocquevillians and Gramscians clash on almost everything that matters. Tocquevillians believe that there are objective moral truths applicable to all people at all times. Gramscians believe that moral “truths” are subjective and depend upon historical circumstances. Tocquevillans believe that these civic and moral truths must be revitalized in order to remoralize society. Gramscians believe that civic and moral “truths” must be socially constructed by subordinate groups in order to achieve political and cultural liberation. Tocquevillians believe that functionaries like teachers and police officers represent legitimate authority. Gramscians believe that teachers and police officers “objectively” represent power, not legitimacy. Tocquevillians believe in personal responsibility. Gramscians believe that “the personal is political.” In the final analysis, Tocquevillians favor the transmission of the American regime; Gramscians, its transformation.

While economic Marxism appears to be dead, the Hegelian variety articulated by Gramsci and others has not only survived the fall of the Berlin Wall but also gone on to challenge the American republic at the level of its most cherished ideas. For more than two centuries America has been an “exceptional” nation, one whose restless entrepreneurial dynamism has been tempered by patriotism and a strong religious-cultural core. The ultimate triumph of Gramscianism would mean the end of this very “exceptionalism.” America would, at last, become Europeanized: statist, thoroughly secular, post-patriotic, and concerned with group hierarchies and group rights in which the idea of equality before the law as traditionally understood by Americans would finally be abandoned. Beneath the surface of our seemingly placid times, the ideological, political, and historical stakes are enormous.

This essay, which originally appeared in the  February 2001 issue of the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review, is published here with permission.

Eight Ideas Forbidden on Campus

Heather MacDonald, writing in The Wall St. Journal, says there is a new list of forbidden ideas that can’t be mentioned on the modern college campus. Scott Johnson at Power Line cites the same list but says that even thinking the guilty thoughts puts you at risk of saying them out loud, and they must not be said.

These dangerous thoughts by two law professors, Amy Wax of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and Larry Alexander of San Diego University Law School, were published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in an August op-ed, “Paying the Price for the Breakdown of the Country’s Bourgeois Culture.”

Please remove small children and all heart patients from the room so we can print the unmentionables list. Ready? Brace yourselves—here it comes:

  • Get married before you have children and strive to stay married for their sake.
  • Get the education you need for gainful employment, work hard, and avoid idleness.
  • Go the extra mile for your employer or client.
  • Be a patriot, ready to serve the country.
  • Be neighborly, civic-minded, and charitable.
  • Avoid coarse language in public.
  • Be respectful of authority.
  • Eschew substance abuse and crime.

Alert readers will note that this is essentially a list of ordinary middle-class behaviors in the generation or so that preceded the cultural revolution of the 60’s, a point that many surveys and studies have made since.

Scott Johnson points out that Charles Murray, who cannot be heard on many campuses without massive police protection, made much the same point in his book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. Murray urged what he calls “the new upper class” to drop its condescending non-judgmentalism: “Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.”

But it is not what the campus left wants to hear. Half of the University of Pennsylvania Law faculty denounced the Wax-Alexander column without bothering to make any arguments against it.

“University of San Diego Law President Stephen] Ferruolo’s schoolwide letter was one of the worst examples,” writes Mac Donald. “The dean simply announced that Mr. Alexander’s “views” were not “representative of the views of our law school community” and suggested that they were insensitive to “many students” who feel “vulnerable, marginalized or fearful that they are not welcomed.” He did not raise any specific objections to Mr. Alexander’s arguments, or even reveal what the arguments were.” USD Law faculty member Thomas A. Smith, who blogs under the title “The Right Coast” suggested that the dean should resign as a result of his content-free reaction to the column.

In The Federalist, George W. Dent, Jr, noted that several academics at the University of Pennsylvania chose not to debate Wax and Alexander but to ignore what they said and, instead, to vilify them for things they did not say. The critiques are stunning in their dishonesty.

“Penn Law Dean Ted Ruger responded in a column that tied the Wax-Alexander item to the events in Charlottesville. This was ethically troubling since it associates a Nazi rally with a totally unrelated social analysis. Much worse, however, he said, “I reject emphatically any claim that a single cultural tradition is better than all others.”

“Wax and Alexander made no such claim. What they said is, ‘All cultures are not equal.’ That statement seems not only defensible but axiomatic; would anyone claim that China during the Cultural Revolution is morally equal to China today? If all cultures are equal, then nothing we do can make our culture either better or worse. Is that what Dean Ruger believes?”

DeVos’ New Focus on Rights of the Accused

In her speech last week on how colleges handle accusations of sexual assault., Education Secretary Betsy DeVos promised to “end the era of rule by letter” begun by the Obama administration. The reference was to the “Dear Colleague” letter sent to colleges and universities by the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights on April 4, 2011, offering “guidance” but in effect mandating new procedures notably harsher toward the accused. Hundreds of schools were placed under federal investigation for failing to treat allegations of sexual assault more vigorously. Schools responded quickly—building a campus “court system” that venerated victims, villainized the accused, and sometimes disallowed evidence pointing to the innocence of the accused.

The deck was quickly stacked against the civil rights of the accused by discouraging cross-examination of witnesses, and in many cases, refusing legal representation for the accused. A lower standard of evidence was created to determine guilt as nearly all campuses quickly adopted the “preponderance of evidence” basis for guilt rather than the “clear and convincing” standard they used in the past.

While a handful of Republican female lawmakers like Senator Kelly Ayotte has promoted harsher penalties for campus sexual assault, there is a dramatic difference between the ways in which the Republican Party platform differs from the Democratic Party platform.  The Republican platform clearly supports due process for all those involved by stating that “Whenever reported, it must be promptly investigated by civil authorities and prosecuted in a courtroom, not a faculty lounge.

Questions of guilt or innocence must be decided by a judge and jury, with guilt determined beyond a reasonable doubt.”  In contrast, the Democratic Party platform demands “comprehensive support for survivors and sexual violence prevention programs in colleges and in high schools. And although they promise a “fair process for on-campus disciplinary proceedings,” they want to keep the proceedings “victim-centered” in what for most of the accused is a hostile environment on campus.

Demanding that colleges and universities comply, the OCR threatened the withdrawal of federal funds from schools that failed to set up an elaborate—and costly—Title IX bureaucracy on each campus—replete with full-time Title IX coordinators. A recent Atlantic article by Emily Yoffe pointed out that Harvard now has 55 Title IX coordinators, and Wellesley College has a full-time Title IX coordinator to oversee sex discrimination on its all-female campus. According to The New York Times, the OCR currently has 496 open sexual assault cases, and the average length of a case is 703 days. The longest pending higher education cases against the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and Arizona State University have been open for more than five years.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) recently issued a “Spotlight on Due Process 2017,” a rating of the top 53 universities in the country based on 10 fundamental elements of due process. The report describes the findings as “dire.” Nearly three-quarters (74%) of America’s top 53 universities do not even guarantee students that they will be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Fewer than half of the schools (47%) require that the fact-finders – the institution’s version of judge and or jury—be impartial. Forty-five of the 53 universities studied received a D or F rating from FIRE for at least one disciplinary policy, meaning that they fully provided more than 4 of the 10 elements of a fair procedure that FIRE rated. Seventy-nine percent of the 53 rated universities received a D or F for protecting the due process rights of students accused of sexual misconduct.

Some of the most prestigious Catholic colleges in the country received the lowest ratings for providing due process rights to individuals accused of sexual misconduct. For example, Boston College received one of the lowest ratings of the 53 schools—an F-rating—for failing to provide a clearly stated presumption of innocence, adequate written notice of allegations, adequate time to prepare for the disciplinary process including notice of the hearing date, and a prohibition on conflicts of interest that could compromise the integrity of the process. The University of Notre Dame received a D rating. Neither Notre Dame nor Boston College provides the accused with the right to counsel. But, both schools fared better than Washington University in St. Louis which received a zero—the lowest score of all 53 schools rated – providing none of the procedural safeguards.   Of the 53, none received an A grade. Two institutions (Cornell and UC Berkeley) received a B for their policies to protect students, and an additional six received at least a C rating.

Senator Kamala Harris is correct when she states that Title IX protections are a civil rights issue. But, she fails to understand that the civil rights of an entire class of individuals have been ignored. Worse, there is an emerging concern that race may appear to play an important role in the denial of due process. A 2015 article by Harvard Law School Professor Jeannie Suk Gerson, published in The New Yorker, found that “in general,” the administrators and faculty members she has spoken with who work on sexual misconduct cases indicate that “most of the complaints they see are against minorities.”

Earlier this month, Emily Yoffe’s essay, “The Questions of Race in Campus Sexual Assault Cases,” was published in The Atlantic. She asks, “Is the system biased against men of color?” And although the data to answer this question with certainty is not available, Yoffe provides preliminary data that are certainly suggestive—and she provides a clear direction for further research. For example, Colgate was recently investigated by OCR for potential race discrimination in its sexual assault adjudication process. Although the university was cleared, there are significant disparities in the numbers. In the 2013-14 academic year, 4.2 percent of Colgate’s students were black, but in that year black male students were accused of 50% of the sexual assault violations reported, and they made up 40% of the students formally adjudicated.

From 2012-2015, black students were accused of 25% of the sexual misconduct reported to the university and comprised 21% of the students referred for formal hearings. Yoffe lists several other schools involved in civil lawsuits filed by accused male students with what she calls “racial aspects” including Amherst, Butler University, Drexel, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore, the University of Findlay in Ohio, University of Pennsylvania, and William Paterson University in New Jersey. Yoffe points out that “Each lawsuit states that the student or students were subject to specious charges and in some cases abrupt expulsions because they were minorities.”

The denial of due process protections to the accused—whatever their race—is certainly a civil rights issue and demands systematic data collection and public scrutiny. Secretary DeVos knows it is time to end the real violations of the civil rights that have been occurring in campus kangaroo courts. We should all be grateful to her for having the courage to do just that.

Critics Slam DeVos for Being Fair

Nearly 60 Democratic legislators tweeted criticism of Education Secretary Betsy Devos’ speech, which advocated a fairer approach and more respect for due process in campus Title IX tribunals. The preferred adjectives included “terrible,” “despicable,” “insulting, “perverse,” “appalling,” “disgraceful,” “shameful,” and “dangerous. No congressional Democrat, in any way, praised her remarks, which insisted on the rights of both accusers and accused.

Most of this commentary showed little or no awareness of what goes on in these hearings and how unfair many are to the males involved. Former Vice President Joe Biden went even further than most, telling accusers’ rights activists that they needed to continue to speak up, offering an “analogy” to critics of the “Nazis marching” in Virginia: “When we’re silent, we give a rationale, an excuse to people who are the very people we’ve been fighting all along.”

Twenty-nine Democratic or Democratic-affiliated senators (three-fifths of the Senate Democratic caucus) followed this activity with a letter to DeVos. The senators demanded that the Secretary keep in place the Dear Colleague letter, the symbol of Obama-era unfairness, even as their document didn’t mention the presumption of innocence, due process, or fairness. Their letter’s only mention of “justice” came in a section that spoke of “survivors [emphasis added] in obtaining justice.” It seems, alas, that even-handed justice is no longer a goal for congressional Democrats.

Accusers’ Rights Activists

If Democratic legislators chose vitriolic, over-the-top rhetoric to respond to DeVos, the preferred approach of the accusers’ rights movement was an affirmative attempt to mislead. The pattern began during DeVos’ speech itself; as the Secretary recounted cases of students being denied due process, Know Your IX co-founder Alexandra Brodksy tweeted that these abuses of fairness all somehow violated the Dear Colleague letter. It should go without saying that in the 180 or so due process lawsuits, Know Your IX has never filed an amicus brief making such a point. That’s no surprise coming from an organization whose other co-founder, Dana Bolger, had celebrated perhaps the single most unjust of any of the post-Dear Colleague campus cases, the Amherst one.

In an article saying that DeVos’ speech was “profoundly stupid,” Know Your IX Sejal Singh fantastically claimed that the Dear Colleague letter “affords students accused of sexual violence with more procedural rights than . . . the Due Process Clause of the Constitution otherwise provides students in campus discipline.” (Her citations for this remarkable assertion were two pieces by Know Your IX’s Brodsky.) Singh’s op-ed would have come as news to judges in the recent Penn State and Miami decisions, both of whom cited the Due Process Clause in cases dealing with a refusal to provide exculpatory evidence to the tribunal (not mentioned in the Dear Colleague letter at all) and refusal to allow cross-examination (discouraged by the Dear Colleague letter). It’s hard to know whether Singh and her Know Your IX colleagues are being deliberately misleading, or are simply ignorant of an issue with which they have been involved for several years.

Higher-Ed Status Quo

The third group of DeVos critics came from within the higher-ed establishment itself. Wesleyan president Michael Roth, for instance, tweeted, “We must #StopDeVos from pushing us back 2 an era when assault and harassment were acceptable parts of campus culture.” (He was responding, it’s worth noting, to a speech organized around a theme that due process served all sides.) Roth recalled for the New York Times “‘the times when men, with impunity, would throw their weight around,’ sexually harassing and assaulting women . . . ‘Changing that culture over the last decade, as the Obama administration tried to do, was an enormous contribution.’” The Obama guidance was issued four years after Roth took charge at Wesleyan. There’s no evidence he informed prospective parents of the extraordinarily dangerous situation that purportedly existed on his campus between 2007 and 2011.

Then there was a Chronicle piece (celebrated by accusers’ rights activists) by higher-ed lawyer Scott Schneider, former associate general counsel at Tulane who provides what he describes as “expert witness testimony on matters dealing with institutional response to allegations of sexual misconduct and designs and delivers training programs on a host of education issues, including Title IX compliance obligations.”

As Scott Greenfield has pointed out, Schneider left the erroneous impression that 1997 OCR guidance and the Supreme Court adopted the same “definition” of sexual harassment, for a period of “almost 20 years.” The 1997 OCR guidance speaks of sexual harassment that is “sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a student’s ability to participate in or benefit from the education program.” By contrast, the Supreme Court, in 1999, used the following formulation: “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive, and that so undermines and detracts from the victims’ educational experience.” (The emphasis in each instance is added to show the differences between the two “definitions,” with the Supreme Court’s notably tighter than the OCR guidance Schneider elected to quote.) Perhaps Schneider simply assumed (likely correctly) that most Chronicle readers wouldn’t bother checking on the precise wording of Davis to note the differences between it and the 1997 OCR guidance he quoted.

For the most part, Schneider’s approach to DeVos’ speech was to interpret the Secretary’s words divorced from the context of the six years since the Dear Colleague letter. After, for instance, quoting DeVos’ concerns that witnesses might not be cross-examined and evidence might not be presented to both parties, Schneider asserted, “In its 2014 ‘Questions and Answers on Title IX and Sexual Violence,’ the department’s Office for Civil Rights, or OCR, also noted that ‘in all cases, a school’s Title IX investigation must be adequate, reliable, impartial, and prompt, and include the opportunity for both parties to present witnesses and other evidence.’”

There have been dozens of lawsuits since the issuance of the Dear Colleague letter dealing with these themes. Moreover, the whole thrust of the single-investigator model is to eliminate any form of cross-examination and minimize the amount of evidence that an accused student sees. During her nearly four years running OCR, Catherine Lhamon ignored the lawsuits as the White House spoke positively of the single-investigator model. Lhamon refused to meet with groups advocating for accused students (SAVE and FACE); she initially refused (in writing) to even meet with FIRE. The Obama administration spent four years in one-sided publicity portraying the nation’s college campuses as awash in violent crime, with Lhamon publicly threatening to pull funds if they didn’t do enough. And it’s Schneider’s argument that pulling out a line OCR showed no interest in enforcing—while ignoring what OCR actually did during the Lhamon years—showed that DeVos had misstated the guidance?

Similarly, in a passage quoted by Greenfield, Schneider chastised DeVos for saying that “even lawyers” found Obama-era guidance “confusing” to navigate. The expert witness would have none of it: “In the event that there was any confusion about that guidance,” he reasoned, the 2014 “Questions and Answers” document provided the needed “straightforward” answers.

Consider just one sentence from the 46-page 2014 guidance: “Of course, a school should ensure that steps to accord any due process rights do not restrict or unnecessarily delay the protections provided by Title IX to the complainant.” Is that sentence “confusing”—or, as Schneider claimed, “straightforward”? Given that multiple courts (not to mention myriad filings from lawyers on both sides of the issue) have come to dramatically differing conclusions on due process and Title IX tribunals, it does seem as if some lawyers—that is, federal judges—don’t consider the guidance to be “straightforward.”

But Schneider’s article served a purpose—not necessarily persuading people, but muddying the waters enough for defenders of the status quo to present a tenable claim that DeVos was wrong. After all, they can say, the Chronicle published it.