Dueling essays that come to the same conclusion about wokeness

January 29, 2021 • 12:45 pm

“We are all on campus now.”
—Andrew Sullivan

Here we have two editorials purporting to say different things, but in the end reaching nearly identical conclusions.

The first, published at Persuasion (click on screenshot), is by a young writer, Sahil Handa, described by Harvard’s Kennedy school: “a rising Junior from London studying Social Studies and Philosophy with a secondary in English. At Harvard, Sahil writes an editorial column for the Crimson and is a tutor at the Harvard Writing Center. He is the co-founder of a Podcast Platform startup, called Project Valentine, and is on the board of the Centrist Society and the Gap Year Society.”

The title of Handa’s piece (below) is certainly provocative—I see it as a personal challenge!—and his conclusion seems to be this: most students at elite colleges (including Harvard) are not really “woke” in the sense of constantly enforcing “political correctness” and trying to expunge those who disagree with them. He admits that yes, this happens sometimes at Harvard, but he attributes wokeness to a vocal minority. The rest of the students simply don’t care, and don’t participate. In the end, he sees modern students as being similar to college students of all eras, especially the Sixties, when conformity meant going to “hippie protests.”  His conclusion: modern “woke” students, and those who don’t participate in the wokeness but also don’t speak up, are evincing the same “old borgeois values” (presumably conformity). And we shouldn’t worry about them.

It’s undeniable, and Handa doesn’t deny it, that Wokeism is pervasive at Harvard. He just doesn’t see it as universal:

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve heard of the woke mob that has taken over college campuses, and is making its way through other cultural institutions. I also suspect you aren’t particularly sympathetic to that mob. While I’m not writing as a representative of the woke, I do wish to convince you that they are not as you fear. What you’re seeing is less a dedicated mob than a self-interested blob.

I recently finished three years as a Harvard student—a “student of color,” to be precise—and I passed much of that time with the type you might have heard about in the culture wars. These were students who protested against platforming Charles Murray, the sociologist often accused of racist pseudoscience; these were students who stormed the admissions office to demand the reversal of a tenure decision; these were students who got Ronald Sullivan—civil rights lawyer who chose to represent Harvey Weinstein in court—fired as Harvard dean.

. . . . Nor are most students even involved in campus protest.

There are almost 7,000 undergraduates at Harvard, yet the tenure protest was attended by fewer than 50 students, and a few hundred signed the letters urging the administration to fire Sullivan. Fretful liberals do not pause to think of all the students who didn’t join: those who talked critically of the activists in the privacy of their dorm rooms; those who wrestled with reservations but decided not to voice them; or those who simply decided that none of it was worth their time.

But Sullivan was fired as a dean. The Harvard administration itself engages in a lot of woke decisions, like punishing students from belonging to off-campus single-sex “finals= clubs” (probably an illegal punishment), and giving them “social justice placemats” in the dining halls to prepare them to go home for the holidays. The woke students may not be predominant, but they are vocal and loud and activist. If that’s all the administration sees and hears, then that’s what they’ll cater to.

But why aren’t the non-woke students protesting the woke ones? Well, Handa says they just don’t care: they’re too busy with their studies. But it’s more than that. As he says above, the students who have “reservations” “decide not to voice them.” Why the reticence, though?

It’s because voicing them turns them into apostates, for their college and post-college success depends on going along with the loud students—that is, acquiescing to woke culture.  The Silent Majority has, by their self censorship, become part of woke culture, which creates self-censorship. (My emphases in Handa’s excerpt below):

The true problem is this: Four years in college, battling for grades, for résumé enhancements and for the personal recommendations needed to enter the upper-middle-class—all of this produces incentives that favor self-censorship.

College campuses are different than in the Sixties, and students attend for different reasons. Young people today have less sex, less voting power and, for the first time, reduced expectations for the future. Back in the Sixties, campus activists were for free speech, and conservatives were skeptical; today, hardly anybody seems to consistently defend free speech. In 1960, 97% of students at Harvard were white, and almost all of them had places waiting in the upper class, regardless of whether they had even attended university. Today, fewer than 50% of Harvard students are white, tuition rates are 500% higher, and four years at an Ivy League college is one of the only ways to guarantee a place at the top of the meritocratic dog pile.

It would be strange if priorities at university had not changed. It would be even stranger if students had not changed as a result.

Elite education is increasingly a consumer product, which means that consumer demands—i.e. student demands—hold sway over administration actions. Yet most of those student demands are less a product of deeply understood theory than they are a product of imitation. Most students want to be well-liked, right-thinking, and spend their four years running on the treadmill that is a liberal education. Indeed, this drive for career success and social acquiescence are exactly the traits that the admissions process selects for. Even if only, say, 5% of students are deplatforming speakers and competing to be woker-than-thou, few among the remaining 95% would want to risk gaining a reputation as a bigot that could ruin their precious few years at college—and dog them on social media during job hunts and long after.

It seems to me that he does see a difference between the students of then and now. Yes, both are interested in conforming, but they conform to different values, and act in different ways. After all, they want to be “right thinking”, which means not ignoring the woke, but adopting the ideas of the woke.  And that conformity extends into life beyond college, for Harvard students become pundits and New York Times writers. This means that intellectual culture will eventually conform to the woke mold, as it’s already been doing for some time.

In the end, Handa’s argument that we should pretty much ignore Woke culture as an aberration doesn’t hold water, for he himself makes the case that many Harvard students exercise their conformity by not fighting Woke culture, and even becoming “right-thinking”.  After tacitly admitting that Wokeism is the wave of the future, which can’t be denied, he then reiterates that college Wokeism doesn’t matter. Nothing to see here folks except a war among elites, a passing fad:

The battle over wokeism is a civil war among elites, granting an easy way to signal virtue without having to do much. Meantime, the long-term issues confronting society—wage stagnation, social isolation, existential risk, demographic change, the decline of faith—are often overlooked in favor of this theater.

Wokeism does represent a few students’ true ideals. To a far greater number, it is an awkward, formulaic test. Sometimes, what might look to you like wild rebellion on campus might emanate from nothing more militant than old bourgeois values.

Perhaps Stalinism didn’t represent the ideas of every Russian, either, but by authoritarian means and suppression of dissent, all of Russia became Stalinist. The woke aren’t yet like Stalinists (though they are in statu nascendi), but even if they aren’t a majority of the young, the values of the Woke can, and will, become the dominant strain in American liberal culture. For it is the “elites” who control that culture. Even poor Joe Biden is being forced over to the woke Left because he’s being pushed by the woke people he appointed.

***********

Michael Lind has what I think is a more thoughtful piece at Tablet, which lately has had some really good writing. (They’ve been doing good reporting for a while; remember when they exposed the anti-Semitism infecting the leaders of the Women’s March?). Lind is identified by Wikipedia as “an American writer and academic. He has explained and defended the tradition of American democratic nationalism in a number of books, beginning with The Next American Nation (1995). He is currently a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.”

Lind’s thesis, and I’ll be brief, is that the nature of American elitism has changed, and has become more woke. It used to be parochial, with each section of the country having its own criteria for belonging to the elite (i.e. attending the best regional rather than national colleges). Now, he says, we have a “single, increasingly homogeneous national oligarchy, with the same accent manners, values, and educational backgrounds from Boston to Austin and San Francisco to New York and Atlanta. He sees this as a significant social change: a “truly epochal development.”

Click on the screenshot to read his longer piece:

In some ways, avers Lind, society is more egalitarian than ever, and what he means by that is that there is less obvious bigotry or impediments to success for minorities. And he’s right:

Compared with previous American elites, the emerging American oligarchy is open and meritocratic and free of most glaring forms of racial and ethnic bias. As recently as the 1970s, an acquaintance of mine who worked for a major Northeastern bank had to disguise the fact of his Irish ancestry from the bank’s WASP partners. No longer. Elite banks and businesses are desperate to prove their commitment to diversity. At the moment Wall Street and Silicon Valley are disproportionately white and Asian American, but this reflects the relatively low socioeconomic status of many Black and Hispanic Americans, a status shared by the Scots Irish white poor in greater Appalachia (who are left out of “diversity and inclusion” efforts because of their “white privilege”). Immigrants from Africa and South America (as opposed to Mexico and Central America) tend to be from professional class backgrounds and to be better educated and more affluent than white Americans on average—which explains why Harvard uses rich African immigrants to meet its informal Black quota, although the purpose of affirmative action was supposed to be to help the American descendants of slaves (ADOS). According to Pew, the richest groups in the United States by religion are Episcopalian, Jewish, and Hindu (wealthy “seculars” may be disproportionately East Asian American, though the data on this point is not clear).

Membership in the multiracial, post-ethnic national overclass depends chiefly on graduation with a diploma—preferably a graduate or professional degree—from an Ivy League school or a selective state university, which makes the Ivy League the new social register. But a diploma from the Ivy League or a top-ranked state university by itself is not sufficient for admission to the new national overclass. Like all ruling classes, the new American overclass uses cues like dialect, religion, and values to distinguish insiders from outsiders.

And that’s where Wokeness comes in. One has to have the right religion (not evangelical), dialect (not southern) and values (Woke ones!):

More and more Americans are figuring out that “wokeness” functions in the new, centralized American elite as a device to exclude working-class Americans of all races, along with backward remnants of the old regional elites. In effect, the new national oligarchy changes the codes and the passwords every six months or so, and notifies its members through the universities and the prestige media and Twitter. America’s working-class majority of all races pays far less attention than the elite to the media, and is highly unlikely to have a kid at Harvard or Yale to clue them in. And non-college-educated Americans spend very little time on Facebook and Twitter, the latter of which they are unlikely to be able to identify—which, among other things, proves the idiocy of the “Russiagate” theory that Vladimir Putin brainwashed white working-class Americans into voting for Trump by memes in social media which they are the least likely American voters to see.

Constantly replacing old terms with new terms known only to the oligarchs is a brilliant strategy of social exclusion. The rationale is supposed to be that this shows greater respect for particular groups. But there was no grassroots working-class movement among Black Americans demanding the use of “enslaved persons” instead of “slaves” and the overwhelming majority of Americans of Latin American descent—a wildly homogenizing category created by the U.S. Census Bureau—reject the weird term “Latinx.” Woke speech is simply a ruling-class dialect, which must be updated frequently to keep the lower orders from breaking the code and successfully imitating their betters.

I think Lind is onto something here, though I’m not sure I agree 100%. This morning I had an “animated discussion” with a white friend who insisted that there was nothing wrong with using the word “Negro”. After all, he said, there’s the “United Negro College Fund.” And I said, “Yeah, and there’s also the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, but you better not say ‘colored people’ instead of ‘people of color’!” In fact, the term “Negro” would be widely seen as racist now, though in the Sixties it wasn’t, and was used frequently by Dr. King, who almost never used the n-word in public. “Negro” was simply the going term for African-Americans then, but now it’s “people of color”, or, better yet, “BIPOCs. And that will change too”. “Gay” has now become a veritable alphabet of initials that always ends in a “+”. “Latinx” isn’t used by Hispanics, but by white people and the media. It’s an elitist thing, as Lind maintains.

But whether this terminology—and its need to constantly evolve, 1984-like—is a way of leveraging and solidifying cultural power, well, I’m not sure I agree. Weigh in below.

University of Chicago student says that the purpose of our school’s free-speech policy is to perpetuate white supremacy

January 26, 2021 • 10:45 am

I’m suffering vaccine side effects today, so posting will be light. But I should be right as rain by tomorrow. I am at work, but not firing on all cylinders. Bear with me.

The University of Chicago is famous for its principles of free expression, which include the Report of the Committee on Free Expression pledging “commitment to free and open inquiry.”  The Chicago Principles, as they’re called, have been adopted by about eighty American universities, and are a point of pride for our school. (They simply mirror the courts’ construal of the First Amendment on our private campus, which needn’t adhere to that Amendment.) The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) ranked our University #1 in the 2020 Free Speech Rankings.

But lots of students aren’t too keen on the Chicago Principles. The one below, who wrote an op-ed in the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, would have us abandon those principles. It’s the usual argument: “free speech” enables “hate speech” and racism.  But the problem with the anti-free-speech stand, so prevalent these days, is glaringly obvious in her piece. Click to read it:

Ms. Hui is in fact a rising student leader, even as a first-year student. She interned for Elizabeth Warren, worked for Planned Parenthood, and is part of an organization on campus that connects students to politicians. In other words, she’s likely to be influential after she graduates. She’s clearly on the Left, which makes it even more worrisome that she is so adamantly opposed to free speech, which is traditionally a position of the Left.

And yet Hui’s also fallen victim to the anti-First-Amendment virus, seeing students as malleable automatons subject to being swayed by “hate speech” and bigotry. Her solution: make herself (or someone like her) the arbiter of acceptable speech, ban those who purvey “hate speech”, for students should not be allowed to hear that stuff, and scrap the Chicago Principles—and probably the First Amendment as well.

Were I an undergraduate here, I would resent the implication that I’m so pliable to argument that I can’t be allowed to hear speakers like Steve Bannon (you can, after all, skip their talks). I would resent the notion that Hui, or others like her, should be allowed to determine which speech should be heard. And I would resent the idea that she thinks that the First Amendment enables bigotry, and its implementation in liberal colleges is a deliberate attempt to turn students into white supremacists. (I am not making this up.)

Like most liberal arts schools, the University of Chicago is liberal, with, I’d guess, 90% of the faculty falling on the Left end of the spectrum.  But, observing that both Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz went to Ivy League schools (Stanford and Yale Law for Hawley, Princeton and Harvard Law for Cruz), Hui concludes, for reasons that baffle me, that these two quasi-insurgents were the product of a liberal education deliberately designed to turn young people into Nazis and Klan members. Do I exaggerate? Read this (my emphasis):

It is not that [Hawley and Cruz’s] education failed them—their education did exactly what it was meant to do. It prepared two budding conservative minds to go forth into the corridors of power—to disguise bigotry as love of country, hate speech as meaningful debate. You see, despite constant claims to the contrary, elite institutions are not liberal bastions that engender “woke” minds; rather, they propagate white supremacy by justifying racism as intellectual discourse. The University of Chicago is no stranger to this phenomenon—in fact, with its “Chicago principles,” our school has become a leader in framing hateful rhetoric as par for the course in the pursuit of free speech. These principles bolster and enable the next Ted Cruzes and Josh Hawleys and harm marginalized students, who are told that their rights—their very humanity—are up for debate.

If Chicago is turning out people like Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, it’s escaped my notice. Yes, we have a beleaguered titer of conservative students (they’ve founded their own newspaper, the Chicago Thinker), but they’re not white supremacists. I haven’t seen any “hateful rhetoric” on campus so long as I’ve been here—that is, unless you construe speech about abortion or the Israeli/Palestine situation as “hate speech.”  If Hui is simply objecting that our school produces conservative students, well, my advice to her is to live with it. Not everybody is going to turn out like Hui, which is why we have politics in the first place.

And here, avers Hui, is the result of the Chicago Principles, which itself mirrors the First Amendment. Note her low opinion of our malleable students and the view that people like Steve Bannon simply shouldn’t be given a platform because they might influence students.

By following the Chicago principles, the University effectively legitimizes and encourages students who may share similar bigoted ideologies. When a Booth professor invited noted white supremacist Steve Bannon to participate in a debate on campus, President Robert Zimmer stood by the invitation, withstanding pressure from student protests outside Booth and a widely circulated letter signed by 122 UChicago faculty members urging him to rescind it. Thankfully, Bannon never stepped foot on campus, though the University certainly made their stance on hate speech clear. Acknowledging that the antisemitic, homophobic, alt-right nonsense Bannon has espoused throughout his life has some academic worth or intellectual merit is categorically absurd. For a young person with hate in their heart to see a man like Bannon espousing his intolerant views behind a podium with the UChicago coat of arms is dangerous and potentially radicalizing. For an immigrant, for a person of color, for a member of the LGBTQ+ community to see that, it is devastating, an assertion that their personhood is not natural, but something to be “debated.” When elite institutions treat people like Bannon as academics—with something to teach, with something valuable to say—it not only validates and potentially propagates such bigoted thoughts, but also signals that the University’s commitment to academic inquiry is more important than the safety of marginalized students an

Yeah, President Zimmer should have banned Bannon, for Bannon purveys “hate speech”. That should keep our students from being molded into little Nazis! (In fact, suppressing conservative speech doesn’t make it go away, it just drives it underground.) Zimmer did exactly what he should have: adhered to the Chicago Principles and refused to ban a speaker who was not violating the First Amendment (n.b., Bannon never came). See my 2018 op-ed in the Chicago Tribune, defending Bannon’s right to speak, though I despise the man: “Hate speech is no reason to ban Bannon”.  Truly, Hui seems to have no idea that students can think for themselves—that they can hear a man like Bannon, or a woman like Christina Hoff Sommers—and come to their own judgments. She wants to force them to think her way by banning speakers she doesn’t like.

The problem, of course, is that one person’s “hate speech” is another person’s free speech—speech worthy of debating. Even if you think Bannon is odious, exactly why should we censor him? And who else should we censor? And who should be the censor? It’s clear: someone who has Hui’s values. In the end, her views boil down to the old saw, “Free speech for me, but not for thee.”

Finally, Hui conflates speech that directly and predictably incites violence (Trump’s speech before the Capitol siege falls into this class)—speech not falling under First Amendment protections—with “hate speech” that doesn’t incite such violence. The conflation arises because Hui, like many on the far Left, sees speech as violence:

My peers at the Thinker may think me hypocritical, then, for wanting to reimagine free speech on campus. It is, after all, these very principles that affirm my ability to openly criticize the administration, or, say, call for the abolition of the University. But my words—radical as they may be, disagreeable as they certainly are to some—do not do any harm. They do not inspire hate or fear. In short, they have no capacity for violence. And now, more than ever, we are seeing how the latent violence wrought in language can speak (or tweet) violence and death into the world.

And so we see that Hui’s definition of “hate speech” is “speech that inspires hate or fear”, in other words, speech that some find odious and offensive. (Note that she sees words as a form of “latent violence.”)

Hui ends her piece with the “yes, free speech is good, but. . . ” trope.  Safety before speech! But I’m not aware of a single student at my University who has been physically hurt or objectively rendered unsafe by somebody else’s speech:

What is so-called “intellectual intolerance” compared to the kind of intolerance that incites hate crimes? It is no longer a matter of students feeling comfortable—now, after an insurrection at the Capitol, after a year marked by racial injustice and police brutality, it is a matter of students being safe.

We’ve seen the consequences of elevating hateful rhetoric—we have seen it now in the highest echelons of power. It begins in our classrooms, where the Trumps and Cruzes and Hawleys are given the tools they need to acquire and keep power, even if it means promoting fascism and white nationalism. The next Ted Cruz could be walking through the quad right now. The future Josh Hawley might be playing devil’s advocate in your Sosc class. We can prevent such radicalization by reexamining the Chicago principles and prioritizing safety over absolute free speech.

When you hear the word “safe,” run for the hills, because censorhip is following close behind.

What I find ineffably sad about Hui’s piece is that I admire her Leftist activism, and because she’s clearly smart and committed to causes I favor. But along the way she’s come to think that the First Amendment, and the foundational principles of her own University, are not only harmful and violent, but designed to create bigots.  If our University instituted an orientation seminar on free speech and the meaning of the Chicago Principles, perhaps Ms. Hui wouldn’t have such a negative take on the foundational tenets of her own University.

I end with a question for Ms. Hui:

“Who would you have decide which people are allowed to speak at the University of Chicago, and which should be banned?”

Bryn Mawr: “The world’s most expensive anti-racism YouTube training program”

January 6, 2021 • 12:30 pm

We now have a female version of George Bridges (the spineless President of Evergreen State): she is Kim Cassidy, President of the ritzy Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. At that school, tuition, room and board will run you a cool $74,000 a year. (I just found out that Bridges has resigned and will be gone by June.)

As I reported in early December, there was a strike among students at nearby Haverford College after an October police shooting in Philadelphia of a black man, Walter Wallace, Jr., that led to demonstrations and riots in the city (see my reports on Haverford here and here). The student strike was inevitably accompanied by a laundry list of demands, to which Haverford caved (granted, some demands were reasonable, but most weren’t given that the institution was not racist).

There’s no evidence that Bryn Mawr was racist, either. Until the killing of George Floyd, the Philadelphia shooting, and then the strike at nearby Haverford, there were no accusations of “systemic racism” at Bryn Mawr or demands for institutional change. In solidarity with Haverford, most Bryn Mawr students also went on strike on October 28, not attending classes and shaming or bullying those students who wanted to go to class and those professors who still held them.

The story of this strike and its sequelae is recounted by the mother of a Bryn Mawr student, who understandably used the pseudonym “Minnie Doe” when she wrote the piece for Quillette below (click on screenshot). It is the usual story, but related eloquently, of entitled students using racial unrest to leverage power, turning a non-racist school into a Critical-Theory-oriented antiracist school in which dissent is brutally suppressed. Doe says her child will be leaving Bryn Mawr now that it’s become toxic. The title of my own piece above comes from Minnie’s angry characterization of the school (see below).

Just a brief summary.  At first, President Cassidy showed some spine, announcing that classes would resume quickly and that students were expected to attend them. She also decried the “shaming” and “acts of intimidation” against faculty and staff by the student strikers. But she later apologized for those words when she and her administration completely capitulated to the student demonstrators.

The students produced a 23-page list of demands (it took over an hour to read them to the President), and then had a Zoom meeting with administrators in which the students’ faces didn’t appear but the administrators’ did.  As you can see from the video below, President Cassidy, faced with a bunch of angry students, simply crumpled and said she’d meet all their demands. She added that she would resign, along with the Provost and another dean, if they didn’t meet the demands to the students’ satisfaction.

Do listen to this:

 

Below are the University’s response to the student demands (click on screenshot to see full document), listing each demand, how Bryn Mawr would meet it, when it would be met, and how much it would cost. Some of the demands aren’t totally wacko, like removing the picture of a former President who was indeed a racist and anti-Semite, but most of the others are an incursion of critical theory into a University, stifling the spirit of inquiry of once-admired institution.

I’ll highlight some of the demands as well as the timeline and budget allocated by Bryn Mawr to meet them.

First, the customary requirement for courses in diversity and equity:

 

 

These “reparations” may be illegal, as they bestow preferential resources on black and indigenous students:

 

Labor acknowledgments. But how does the college determine whose labor is “unseen”, and isn’t there labor of non-black people that’s also unseen?

The striking students who abandoned their paid jobs at the college nevertheless demanded to get paid. The school agreed:

There were the usual calls to abolish the police, which the university is studying. Further, those students who do community work on racism as part of their studies will now get paid for it, though presumably “outreach” students who don’t work on racial justice don’t get paid:

There’s other stuff that I won’t list, but the final one is a demand for “grade protection”: that is, students didn’t want to get lower grades if they didn’t do their classwork during the strike. And yes, the administration caved on this one, too. Minnie Doe said this about the demand below:

Far from facing consequences for ruining the fall, 2020 semester, strikers have been lavishly praised by the school’s president and continually assured that their grades won’t be impacted. Some professors have even agreed to accept what they call “strike work”—conversations with friends and family about racism, diary entries, time spent watching anti-racism documentaries, and so forth—in lieu of actual course work, even in math and science programs. Additionally, the college has instituted a credit/no-credit policy that will allow all students to choose up to four courses this year that won’t factor into their GPA.

 

The strike lasted 16 days. In its aftermath, and amidst the wreckage that is now Bryn Mawr College, “Minnie Doe” wrote this assessment:

As for the majority of students who came to Bryn Mawr to actually receive an education that goes beyond anti-racist bromides, they’re out of luck. The same goes for parents who ante up $54,000 a year for tuition (and another $20,000 for room and board). Kim Cassidy now presides over what is essentially the world’s most expensive anti-racism YouTube training program. Putting aside the disgrace associated with her cowardice, not to mention the outright abdication of her educational mandate, this also happens to be a massive rip-off for families, many of whom are spending their life savings so that a child can attend this once-esteemed institution.

What these students have learned—at a Quaker-founded institution no less—is that might makes right, that discussion and debate are for racists, and that the middle-aged elites who run society’s most prestigious institutions will sell them out for their own public-relations convenience, all the while publicly thanking the social-justice shakedown artists who engineered their own humiliation, thus incentivizing more tantrums in the future.

“We’re all gonna be here for only four, maybe five years, so nobody really gives a damn about Bryn Mawr in the long run,” said one anonymous strike leader at a November 9th sit-in event. It’s an appalling sentiment. But unlike President Kim Cassidy’s groveling communiqués, it at least has the benefit of being honest.

Here’s a sign, which I’ve shown before, pasted on the entrance to Bryn Mawr’s Park Science Building in November. Cultural revolution, anyone?

Disinvitations and disinvitation attempts, 2019-2020: 70% of the censorship comes from the Left

December 30, 2020 • 9:45 am

I decided to go back through the last two years of the Disinvitation Database from FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) to see how free speech and its suppression was faring on campus.  Their records of deplatformingsdisinvitations, and censorship attempts began in 1998, and now number 465.

FIRE’s “disinvitations” fall into three categories:

The term “disinvitation incident” is used to describe the controversies on campus that arise throughout the year whenever segments of the campus community demand that an invited speaker not be allowed to speak (as opposed to merely expressing disagreement with, or even protesting, an invited speaker’s views or positions). We make a distinction between an attempt to censor a speaker and the actual end result of a speaker not speaking. “Disinvitation incidents” is the broadest category, including “unsuccessful disinvitation attempts” and “successful disinvitations.”

Not only are unsuccessful disinvitation attempts increasing, but so too are successful disinvitations, which fall into three categories:

  1. Formal disinvitation from the speaking engagement, such as the revocation of Robin Steinberg’s invitation to address Harvard Law School students.

  2. Withdrawal by the speaker in the face of disinvitation demands, as demonstrated by Condoleezza Rice at Rutgers University.

  3. Heckler’s vetoes,” in which students or faculty persistently disrupt or entirely prevent the speakers’ ability to speak, illustrated by the case of Ray Kelly at Brown University. These incidents are labeled as “substantial event disruption.”

For each incident, FIRE gives the year, the school, name of the speaker, the kind of campus event, what the controversy was about, whether it was true “disinvitation” rather than an attempt to censor the speaker (i.e., a petition to disinvite), whether the impetus for the censorship came from the Right of the Left of the speaker (or information wasn’t available [“N/A”), and a link to the details. As I’ve reported before, when the data began in 1998, there was a fairly even distribution of censorship attempts from the Right versus the Left. That has now changed: the bulk of disinvitations come from pressure by the Left. But, as I show below, if you look at all the data, the last two years seem to mirror the overall 22-year fact that the Left exerts the bulk of campus censorship.

For the records from 2019 and 2020, go here, here, and here.

Here are the overall data beginning in 1998 (465 incidents):

Disinvitations from the Left:  283
Disinvitations from the Right: 129
Disinvitations whose origin was politically unidentifiable: 53
Percentage of politically identifiable disinvitations from the Left: 68.7%

The 2019-2020 data follow recent trends:

Disinvitations from the Left:  35
Disinvitations from the Right: 15
Disinvitations whose origin was politically unidentifiable: 10
Percentage of politically identifiable disinvitations from the Left: 70%

I guess, then, that, contrary to my impression, the degree of censorship coming from the Left hasn’t changed much.

As in most recent years, the Left is the end of the spectrum trying to censor speakers, but of course most students and faculty on American campuses are on the Left.

Here are a few instances of people you might know of, mostly involving disinvitations. (Go to the original entry and click on “view” to get the details.)

A few notes on reasons for disinvitations and censorship:

Stanley Fish: “Faculty committee cancelled speech by author Stanley Fish in the wake of student protests demanding that the university English department focus more on racial issues.”

Bob Kerry: “Former Nebraska Democrat Senator and governor Bob Kerry withdrew from commencement speech at University of Nebraska-Lincoln after the Nebraska Republican Party called for his disinvitation over his support of abortion rights.”

Jane Fonda: “Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose calls on Kent State University to disinvite actress Jane Fonda from giving commencement address over her criticism of the military.”

Ivanka Trump: “University president Jay Golden canceled commencement speech by Ivanka Trump in response to calls criticizing her selection as speaker in the wake of President Trump’s comments on protests over the homicide of George Floyd.”

Elizabeth Loftus: Given the nature of the reasons, I suspect that “From the Left” is probably more accurate than N/A: “Cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Loftus disinvited from New York University lecture series by NYU administration after serving as an expert witness for the defense during the Harvey Weinstein trial.”

Lori Lightfoot: This surprised me as she is our liberal black mayor of Chicago, and yet the Left at Northwestern tried to censor her. Reason:  “Petition to disinvite Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot over alleged misconduct of Chicago’s police officers.”

Note that many of these schools are public universities, and thus are legally required to abide by the First Amendment. That means that they cannot cancel speakers or disrupt their talks. The fact that this happens means that the speakers either aren’t trying to sue the schools or can’t be arsed to do so. (Of course some speakers withdrew before speaking.)

Beyond that, the data are embarrassing to all of us who consider ourselves on the Left. We are supposed to be the side in favor of free speech. But if you’ve learned anything from this site, censorship flows largely from The Woke, who constitute a moiety of the Left.

Haverford publicly caves in to its entitled students

December 21, 2020 • 1:30 pm

On December 5 I described the meltdown happening at ritzy Haverford College (tuition: $57,000 per year, total expenses $76,000 per year) following a police shooting of a black man in nearby Philadelphia. The students went on strike and issued a long series of demands to the College, as outlined in my article and in an informative piece in Quillette by Jonathan Kay.

What was remarkable about the Haverford protests was how readily the administration caved in to the student demands, which comprised the usual laundry list of no punishments for strikers, more money for diversity initiatives, defunding the police, changing the curriculum, the institution of pass-fail grades, the creation of ethnically segregated spaces, and getting rid of the President (he’s now resigned). It seems that the students suddenly discovered the university’s “systemic racism”, which wasn’t a problem before the shooting (see Kay’s article about the harmony that used to reign at Haverford), and used this discovery to try getting everything they wanted.

The response of Haverford administratores, who cringingly abased themselves online, was in strong contrast to the response of nearby Swarthmore College (equally ritzy), whose black President, Valerie Smith, basically told the students to bugger off and stop making anonymous demands instead of engaging in civil discourse.

And, by and large, the Haverford students won. An article at the Haverford Clerk, the College’s independent student newspaper (click on screenshot below) recounts the administration’s surrender and links to a list of the students’ demands and the administration’s item-by-item responses, with the vast majority of those responses being “yes, we will.”

I’ll give only one excerpt from the newspaper piece, which saddens me since it’s about the Biology Department. Heretofore science departments have been resistant to or not interested in changing themselves to fit student demands for a social-justice curriculum, but that’s changing (it’s also changing at the University of Chicago). The excerpt:

Without any overarching guidance from the administration, faculty members took a number of different approaches to respond to the two-week interruption in classes caused by the strike and finish the semester.

One notable response came from the Biology department. Before the strike had even ended, the department had discontinued classes for the remainder of the semester in order to focus on redesigning the curriculum with equity and inclusion in mind. All classes, including thesis sections, were canceled outright. The department adjusted thesis requirements and deadlines to reflect this change.

Yet students in most biology classes still completed the entirety of their coursework for credit—just without traditional in-class hours. Instead, students learned from classes recorded in-person last year. Students requiring in-class hours for visas, alongside all students interested in participating, were able to participate in a credit-bearing seminar entitled “Crafting an Inclusive Biology Curriculum”.

No in person biology classes at all! You can get credit for last year’s classes, but they’re old ones, and online. Instead, the biology department retreated to develop a curriculum centered on “equity and inclusion”. And, for students who needed in-person classes to meet visa requirements, they could take—no, not evolution or genetics or physiology or molecular biology—but “a credit-bearing seminar entitled ‘Crafting an Inclusive Biology Curriculum’”.  What a waste of a chance to learn biology! The purpose of a biology department, which I shouldn’t need to recount here, is to teach students biology, not inculcate them with the tenets of Critical Race Theory. And you just know what that new curriculum will be like!

Oh, one more excerpt, which involves those professors who decided to keep having classes and giving assignments during the strike:

On the other hand, some professors never canceled class during the course of the strike and pushed ahead as they originally planned. If and how students were allowed to make up work varied from class to class.

“There was no guidance and no support,” said one student, who found themself [JAC: is that an error or a new pronoun? I suspect the latter, but shouldn’t it be “themselves”?] weeks behind their classmates who didn’t participate in the strike after their professor chose not to cancel class and move deadlines for assignments. “I felt that not only had I missed materials presented in lectures, but in independently making up materials, I was unable to analyze it at the same level,” they explained. “The quality of education that I received drastically fell because of the professor’s unwillingness to support the strike.”

That last sentence would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. If the professor supported the strike by canceling classes and exams, the plural student would also have a lower quality of education, for there would be nothing to learn! As it is, there were classes, the student decided not to attend, and the student is beefing because of their own decision. At least there was a chance to learn something!

Anyway, it’s useful to read the list of student demands and the administration’s responses. Here’s the first one—one of the few the administration refused (click to enlarge):

Below are the demands I find especially scary, for they involves ideological policing of the faculty by the students, who get paid to monitor the faculty’s ideological purity:

The demands (note the claim that “this body will not be punitive”):

The administration’s response (white background for white-background demand above, grey response for grey-background demand. “FAPC” is the “Faculty Affairs and Planning Committee”.

Good Lord! If I were looking for a job as a biology professor now, I sure as heck wouldn’t consider Haverford—knowing that the students would constantly be watching me to ensure that I wasn’t an ideologically “problematic professor.”  Nor would I want to have to center my class around “inclusivity”: I’d just teach evolutionary biology the way I’ve always taught it, giving the best view of current knowledge I could.  If that’s not inclusive enough, I’m not sure what would be. But maybe that already makes me “problematic”. I teach everyone the same, and I treat all my students the same. To me, that’s the best I can do to adhere to inclusivity and equality.

But do parents really want to fork out nearly a third of a million dollars to buy this kind of “education” for their students?

 

h/t: Luana

Swarthmore College’s president has the moxie to resist ridiculous student demands

December 20, 2020 • 1:15 pm

In early November I reported on the meltdown at ritzy Haverford College in Pennsylvania in response to an October 16th police shooting of a black man in Philadelphia. From then on the scenario is familiar: the Haverford administration responded with a message of solidarity and social justice, but they didn’t phrase it exactly as the disaffected students wanted (they told the students to “stay safe” and not venture into Philly). The students protested, accused Haverford of structural racism, and issued a list of demands. They then went on strike. The Haverford administration immediately folded, abasing themselves in a cringeworthy way and promising to accede to all the students’ demands.

In solidarity with Haverford, other nearby schools, also ritzy ones, also went on strike, including Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore.  Swarthmore students also issued a long list of demands (I’ll quote a few below), which included another familiar one: that students who didn’t go to class and missed their academic assignments because of the strike were not to be penalized in any way. Unfortunately, Swarthmore didn’t agree to that, and students began failing assignments. At that point they stopped their strike.

You can read the list of demands by clicking on the screenshot below:

The demands begin with the familiar land acknowledgment, but with a twist: the students want to give the land back! I still maintain that these are examples of moral preening with no salutary effects:

We would like to first acknowledge that Swarthmore College resides and operates on stolen land from the Lenni Lenape. With this acknowledgement of the stolen Lenni Lenape land, we also bear witness to Swarthmore College’s longstanding history of racism, violence and continual oppression of Indigenous people. We recognize that our fight for Black wellness and safety at Swarthmore is happening on desecrated land, which means we are also implicated in the violence that the College enacts against Indigenous peoples. It is not acceptable to offer empty condolences without a concrete plan for reparations. Let us be clear: we are fully committed to creating a future where Native people everywhere get their Land Back.

That would, I suppose, mean the end of Swarthmore. But no matter. Here are a few of the many student demands (indents are direct quotes, emphases are as in the original)

We demand that there be no punitive actions and/or repercussions for the students involved, whatsoever. This includes BiCo students from Haverford and Bryn Mawr currently taking Swarthmore courses. This includes the guarantee that no student will fail this semester, fail to receive credit, or be hindered from completing their degree plan in any way, as a result of any involvement with this organizing.

And this is rich: the students who wrote the demands want to be paid for it!

In alignment with the demands of Bi-Co students, we demand that Swarthmore recognize, credit, and financially compensate the Black and Brown, gender-oppressed, and FLI people involved in the creation of this open letter and demands. 

Here’s a good way to kill a liberal education and chill speech at the same time:

We demand that Swarthmore faculty across every department incorporate and center the work of Black, Indigenous, Disabled, and Queer writers, scientists, and activists beginning with the 2021-2022 Academic year. 

  •  For too long, the syllabi of Swarthmore faculty have been Eurocentric, and have erased the contributions of disabled, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ communities. We demand that the revised syllabi of Swarthmore faculty be looked over by a committee of LGBTQ+, BIPOC, and disabled students who will be financially compensated for their labor. 

How are you going to do that in a chemistry class? And, of course, there must be no dissent in these courses, for they’re structured around Critical Theory.

Naturally, the campus police have to be defunded in favor of social workers and therapists:

We demand that Swarthmore College reduces its Public Safety officer workforce over the next two years. We demand that funding from those vacated positions be re-allocated to CAPS for the hiring of new counselors as aforementioned. 

Public Safety is not in the service of protecting Black students, who are frequently stopped and asked what their business is on campus. Pubsafe is not an essential service. Counseling for Black students, for whom this political and historical moment is incredibly traumatic, is essential and funds should be reallocated accordingly.

There is the request for lowering academic standards, but only for students of color:

We demand that all academic expectations are significantly modified to meet the needs of the most marginalized students. Beginning with the Spring of 2021, all coursework deadlines should be adjusted to prioritize student wellness. This will require professors to rework their syllabi in order to meet the needs of the students that are struggling the most in their courses. It is violent to expect students to disregard their well being in order to meet academic expectations.

Finally, there’s the call for mandatory brainwashing, clearly is not an opportunity for discussion, but for the authoritarians to instill RightThink in the students:

We demand that Swarthmore fully fund workshops on cultural competency and intersectionality that are mandatory for all first-year and transfer students beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. These workshops should be taught by marginalized people. Too many of our peers are able to graduate without having to reflect on systems of oppression and how they are implicated within them.

On November 19, two weeks into the strike, Swarthmore’s President, Valerie Smith, wrote to the protestors and the whole college. Her letter is remarkable in both its civility but also its flat-out rejection of the students’ petulant demands. Click on the screenshot:

A few excerpts.

The civil opening:

I am grateful to be part of a community united in its commitment to make the institution we share a more inclusive, equitable, and welcoming place. While I’m proud of the work we’ve achieved together, that work is far from complete; in fact, it may never truly be “finished.” But I want to reiterate that I am eager to engage with students as we continue to build a more diverse and just community together.

The hammer falls:

In my experience, however, the type of large gathering you’ve described, particularly one organized by an anonymous group that requires attendance of certain individuals to discuss the specific demands you’ve put forth, isn’t conducive to meaningful and productive dialogue. I am thus declining the invitation, because I believe that to bring about enduring change, we must engage in a more genuine, focused, nuanced, and sustained interaction and exploration of the issues at stake. My colleagues in the administration and I welcome engagement with any members of our community who are willing and able to participate in this difficult and necessary work.

The spanking of the striking students for not behaving well:

But while we share some of the same aspirations, our vision for the path toward achieving them differs. Some of your demands and aspects of your latest response take liberty with the facts. Students and faculty alike have raised serious concerns about feeling pressured into supporting the strike. And there is an undercurrent emerging that those who do not fully subscribe to your demands or your approach somehow fail to support the Black Lives Matter movement, which would be, of course, a false equivalency. I am sure that you do not intend for others to feel this way, but it is, nevertheless, the way that some in our community — who are deeply committed to racial justice — are feeling.

Smith’s polite rejection of further dialogue with the letter writers, who were of course anonymous:

At this point, it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that I see further engagement with an anonymous group and a set of demands that do not reflect the serious and ongoing efforts of those in our community as the most effective way of addressing issues critical to the entire College community. As I said before, I greatly appreciate that you have highlighted the need for me and members of the administration to find new and more effective ways of communicating, connecting, and working with students, in the service of meaningful change. I am committed to doing so and am even now working to develop new structures and strategies for conflict resolution, change, collaboration, and communication.

And lest you think President Smith is an old white racist woman, no she’s not. Her photo is below; she’s also described as “a distinguished scholar of African-American literature” and an advocate of social justice:

Smith’s significant priorities at Swarthmore include attracting more low-income and first-generation students, innovating the curriculum, increasing diversity, and strengthening relationships between the College and the region.

But she’s going to do it her way, not at the point of a gun held by a bunch of entitled students. I can’t say she has “cojones,” for she’s a woman, but she’s surely, as the kids say, “badass.” Kudos to her.  She knows how to walk the line in these troubled times, and that doesn’t mean truckling to the students. It means being a leader, not a craven follower.

President Valerie Smith

Editors of Princeton student newspaper: dump the school’s policy of free speech when it protects hate speech

December 8, 2020 • 11:00 am

It’s time for both universities and their students to recognize that the principle of free speech can and often will conflict with the principle of “inclusivity”, for any time someone is offend by what another person says—or if a statement  conflicts with someone’s ideology or values—that person feels “excluded”. Nowadays, of course, exclusion in this way, synonymous with “offense”, is equated with “harm”—or even “violence.” That’s a false equivalence, degrading the meaning of the latter two terms.

And when we have a conflict like this, most thoughtful people have decided that freedom of speech must trump “inclusivity”, most often abrogated by what students call “hate speech.” For anybody can claim offense about anything, and, as I’ve often said, one person’s “hate speech” is another person’s “debatable speech”, i.e., free speech.  A few examples: criticism of abortions, of Islam, of affirmative action, and of the claim that transgender people are absolutely identical to members of the biological sex whose gender they’ve adopted. All of these have been deemed “hate speech.” Should they be banned? Not on your life.

Now I hasten to add that I find racist speech abhorrent, and would do what I can to counteract it, but through counter-speech, not through banning speech I don’t like. Should a student be able to call Jews “Hebes” or “Yids” and accuse them of being money-grubbing power-mongers seeking to take over the world? Yes, of course they should be allowed, even though I’m a secular Jew. Those words are offensive to me, but I wouldn’t for the world suggest that the person who said them be punished. I’d just say he’s an idiot. Ditto with someone saying “Gas the Jews.” That is legal speech, for it doesn’t present an imminent and predictable danger of real harm.

But the editors of the Princeton student newspaper, The Daily Princetonian, don’t agree. They say that a university that fosters diversity and inclusivity must ban “racist speech” (which is of course undefined). The editorial is signed by all the members of the Princetonian editorial board save a brave dissenter: one Zachariah Sippy.

Their intent is clear: punish people who exercise their free-speech rights to say things considered racist by others. (All quotes from the paper.)

We have received many messages professing the University’s commitment to the ongoing fight for racial equality in the United States. But actions speak louder than words. What does it mean to increase faculty and staff diversity, as President Eisgruber announced he intends to do, if the community they join does not stand against racism they may encounter?

. . .These ideas cause demonstrable harm to students of color who make up the University community. They force students to question their place on our campus, because they suggest Black people’s intellectual or behavioral inferiority make them incapable of succeeding in higher education.

. . . Those who use free speech to defend racist ideas are essentially saying that it is acceptable for Black students to exist in a perpetual state of discomfort, leaving them vulnerable to numerous traumatic experiences, in the name of an abstract principle that is prioritized over the well-being of our community members.

I would suggest that any time you see the word “harm” in a piece like this, you should mentally substitute the word “offense”.

Read the editorial, published a month ago, by clicking on the screenshot:

To try to sneak around freedom of speech, the editors suggest that Princeton already bans hate speech in its own regulations.  From the paper:

Time and time again the University has acted as an enemy to justice, abusing its powers by deploying free speech language when addressing charges of racism. So it is time for a shift in power. Written in the free speech policy is the stipulation that speech “directly incompatible with the functioning of the University” can be restricted.

But if you look at that free speech policy (which isn’t by the way, linked to the article, you find that speech incompatible with university functioning is the same type of speech that courts have ruled is not protected by the First Amendment.

From Princeton’s Statement on Freedom of Expression:

The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. The University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University. In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.

This is in fact word-for-word identical to the University of Chicago’s Principles of Free Expression:

The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish. The University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantial privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University.In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place, and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University. But these are narrow exceptions to the general principle of freedom of expression, and it is vitally important that these exceptions never be used in a manner that is inconsistent with the University’s commitment to a completely free and open discussion of ideas.

So no, just as Chicago wouldn’t ban racist speech, or any legal speech, so Princeton wouldn’t, either. This has gotten the editors’ knickers in a twist.

To further underscore the editors’ misunderstanding of free speech, they conflate sit-ins that block Princeton’s access to buildings, and are against University regulations, with free speech:

Yet, Nassau Hall’s [the Princeton administration building] supposedly unwavering conviction that free speech — even that which makes one uncomfortable — is our institution’s lifeblood fell apart when administrators were made to feel uncomfortable. In the fall of 2015, the University threatened student activists from the Black Justice League  with disciplinary consequences. The administration further denied these students secure accommodations, even when they received death threats. That is the very definition of suppressing speech.

No, you chowderheads! The activists were threatened not because they were saying anything particular, but because they were illegally staging a sit-in in Nassau Hall. You have the right to say what you want, but you don’t have the right to occupy University space against regulations. That is known as civil disobedience, and comes with the stipulation that you have to suffer the legal or disciplinary consequences. I have a right to protest Donald Trump’s policies, but I don’t have the right to do so by entering the Capitol and expatiating from the Senate floor.

The students don’t seem to understand that a University can be opposed to racism, and enact policies to prevent it, and to foster inclusion, diversity, and equality of opportunity, yet at the same time foster a strong policy of free speech. The university doesn’t promulgate racism (I seriously doubt that Princeton is “structurally racist”), but it doesn’t punish speech deemed racist—unless it constitutes personal and repeated harassment. But that kind of harassment is already illegal.

I thought Princeton students were supposed to be smart. I guess they are, but these editors are also ignorant. One would think that, of all people, editors of a newspaper would understand the meaning of “freedom of speech.”

 

Social-justice turbulence at Haverford, self-abasing administrators, and some lessons

December 5, 2020 • 1:00 pm

I see that Quillette is now being demonized by many Leftists as some sort of “alt-right” or conservative website. And although some of their articles are indeed too Right-wing for me, most of the articles seem to be doing what I do—calling out the excesses of the Left, the same excesses that, I suspect, held back the predicted Blue Wave in November’s election. Further, it’s not a good idea to denigrate an entire website as a way of avoiding—or urging others to avoid—reading anything published there. Regardless of what you see as Quillette‘s overall ideology, you will benefit from reading some of its pieces, if for no other reason than some of the follies of the Left, which threaten a liberal government, simply can’t be found in mainstream media.

Here is one piece that will repay reading, although it’s long (my printout, in 9-point type, occupies 14 pages). This should keep you occupied on a cold December Saturday:

In some ways it’s nothing really new: the piece describes a meltdown at Haverford College, a posh and expensive school near Philadelphia. What’s unusual about this is that the students went on strike for several weeks, refusing to go to classes or, indeed, do anything college-related. What’s not new is that they issued a set of demands to the administration: the usual mix of the ridiculous to the tame. And the administration, to placate the outraged students, accepted nearly every one of those demands.

To me it’s a scary harbinger of my own school which, despite holding the line on some aspects of free speech, is showing worrying signs of encroaching wokeness. I’m worried that the University of Chicago will go the way of Yale, Middlebury College, Harvard, and now Haverford. But more on that in weeks to come.

The author of the piece, Jonathan Kay, is the Canadian editor of Quillette, and has cobbled together a thorough and engrossing summary of Haverford’s meltdown.  I’ll try to be brief, as I want to discuss his views on the future of fulminating college wokeness.

Earlier this year, before the death of George Floyd on May 25, Haverford was pretty much a school of comity. While there was discussion about various issues, there was not much about race, and a college committee in 2019 noted that there was, as Kay says, “little indication of mass discontent or ideological conflict.” This contrasts markedly with the many statements in the next few months, including some by administrators admitting that Haverford had long been a bastion of systemic racism.

All that changed with the death of Floyd and then the police shooting in Philadelphia on October 26 of another black man, Walter Wallace, Jr., who was bipolar and carrying a knife.  Because it wasn’t clear that the cops had a good reason to fire on Wallace, this predictably led to rioting in Philadelphia. Earlier, the racial unrest of the summer had led the College’s President, Wendy Raymond, to issue a statement of support for the black protestors, and the students began protesting the alleged racism of Haverford and issuing lists of demands.

After Wallace’s death, President Raymond and Interim Dean Joyce Bylander (the latter a black woman) issued a joint letter of anti-racism, but made the mistake of saying that students shouldn’t go to Philadelphia to protest because they could get infected with Covid-19 or “play into the hands of those who might seek to sow division and conflict especially in vulnerable communities.” (It’s not clear whom they meant.)

This statement (like others, reproduced in the article), urging students not to put themselves in “harm’s way”, enraged those students, who saw in it a line drawn between the poor black residents of Philadelphia and the entitled bubble of Haverford students.  A Zoom call ensued on November 5 in which the President, the black Interim Dean, and the black Provost, Linda Strong-Lee, talked to many of Haverford’s 1350 students. The students proceeded to revile the administrators in the call, as usual, but did so anonymously.

And the administrators proceeded to abase themselves:

The President:

Raymond presented herself as solemnly apologetic for a litany of offenses. She also effusively praised and thanked the striking students for educating her about their pain, while “recognizing that I will never understand what it means to be a person of color or be black or indigenous in the United States. I am a white woman with considerable unearned privilege.”

Not only did Raymond announce that she would be acceding to many of the students’ previously listed demands, she also reacted positively to the new requests that students put forward during the call. “All of the recommendations you’ve made here sound spot on and are excellent,” she said. “We can do those—and go beyond them.”

The Provost:

“I’ll just share that I hear your pain, and I know that this is something that rings hollow for you, but I am a black woman who has lived in a black body for 56 years,” responded Strong-Leek, in carefully measured tones that, among all the responses from administrators, seemed closest to escalating into something approaching candor. “My husband is black. My children are black. Every day, I worry about them and myself. Every day, I confront racism. [I’m] Looking forward to working with you and looking forward to making Haverford a better place.” She seemed to be fighting back her own emotions, but ultimately kept her composure.

The Interim Dean:

“I continue to listen and learn, and try to understand the ways in which the college has failed you and how I have failed you,” Dean Bylander calmly responds, ticking off seemingly well-rehearsed talking points. “[I] continue to be committed to trying to work to change and improve the experience of BIPOC students at Haverford.” Her face is a mask of deadpan professionalism. Or maybe she’d simply gone numb.

Eventually, the College acceded to virtually all the students’ demands. But by then the students had gone on strike, refusing to attend classes or extracurricular activities, with the intent being to disrupt the college, make them see how valuable people of color were in running the College, and to spend their time doing teach-ins and reading anti-racist literature. The strike lasted three weeks.

It wasn’t enough that there was a strike, for the striking students tried to punish those “scab” professors who insisted on holding classes during the strike as well as those students who opposed the strike, the latter keeping quiet lest they be forever demonized. Alumni banded together threatening to withhold donations to Haverford unless the students’ demands were met (this is a particularly effective way to effect college change: smack them in the pocketbook).

Social-media statements like this circulated (“Peanuts” is President Raymond’s dog, for crying out loud, and the poor mutt was threatened multiple times with death):

They threatened the President’s dog, for chrissake!

All of a sudden, where comity had reigned, the students, administration, and alumni discovered that all along the school had been a bastion of racism and bigotry:

The students appeared on Zoom under pseudonyms plucked from a list of past Haverford presidents and benefactors. The idea, a strike organizer self-identifying as “Henry Drinker” is heard to say at the 12:20 mark, was to co-opt the names “of the old white men who have made Haverford the racist institution that it is today.”

. . . These details help contextualize the mass email that Dean Bylander and President Raymond sent to the school community on October 28th, a six-paragraph message that student strikers would cite in the days that followed as proof of the “long tradition of anti-Blackness and the erasure of marginalized voices that have come to characterize the experiences of students of color at Haverford.”

From an article in the college newspaper by a student named Soha Saghir:

This campus has failed its Black students (especially Black women and Black nonbinary people), its students of color, and its FGLI [first-generation low-income] students—the very people whose labor is the backbone of this campus. These emails [from the administration] were just one more way in which you and this institution neither feel nor understand how tired, angry, and ready for change we are… In this pandemic, that labor has intensified in unimaginable ways… We are no longer asking for inclusion or diversity since that gives more power to the institution. Instead, we will disrupt that order. We will be going on a strike from our classes, our jobs (which we need), and any extracurricular activities. This campus can’t run without BIPOC. This is not just a reminder that we are valuable to you on campus, but that our lives, minds, and bodies matter.

There’s more, but what’s clear is that all of a sudden students discovered that the school, once peaceful and inclusive, was really a hotbed of racism. Did the school change in such a short period of time, or did outraged students confect a “structural racism” that didn’t exist.

I opt for the latter, having long lived on a liberal campus where such recent accusations fly in the face of the facts.

What bothers me about Kay’s piece is what looks like a correct diagnosis of why the administration caved completely to the students, abasing themselves, losing their dignity, and admitting to an institutional bigotry which didn’t exist. It’s because the administration has nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by standing up to the students. If true, that doesn’t give me much hope:

When campus meltdowns of this type occur, you often see conservative culture warriors demand that administrators take a hard line, demonstrate backbone, “grow a spine,” and so forth. But what is their incentive for doing so? It was once the case that a university president was able to balance different constituencies against one another as a means to achieve some kind of policy equilibrium—liberal students versus more conservative professors, administrators against alumni, this department versus that. But that doesn’t happen anymore: Thanks to the homogenizing effects of social media, all of these constituencies tend to be drinking the same bathwater from the same troughs, and so get caught up in the same social panics at the same time.

And Kay’s solution seems lame: “eventually the trend will reverse itself, and that will be prompted by the students themselves.”  Dream on, Mr. Kay: I don’t see this happening:

The process of sifting through these events at Haverford has convinced me that the ideological crisis on American campuses can’t be solved by administrators—not because they are beholden to critical race theory, intersectionality, gender ideology, postmodernism, or any of the other bugbears of conservative culture critics, but because they simply have no practical inducements for doing so. Ultimately, this is a crisis that is going to have to be addressed, if at all, by students themselves. And in this regard, I do see some green shoots of hope. Nick Lasinsky, a white undergraduate student at Haverford, wrote a beautiful and thoughtful piece called Why I’ve Chosen Not to Strike. And a black student named Khalil Walker wrote an amazing series of comments in which he demolishes the idea that Haverford is a hive of systematic racism. Our culture moves in cycles, and I predict that you will see more of these brave voices in months to come.

I predict otherwise. These woke and outraged students will, since they come from elite colleges, get positions of leadership in the media as well as in other colleges, for many of them will go on to become academics and administrators. And that will make colleges even more woke, and so on. There’s nothing on the horizon to break that cycle.

As I worry about this fate for my own university (our hard-line President, Bob Zimmer, will resign at the end of this academic year), I spend too much time—especially for an emeritus professor—fretting about the University of Chicago. For decades, we were the beacon of freedom of speech and academic freedom among American colleges. This uniqueness was in fact a selling point of the University, who advertised it to potential students and their parents. But it’s crumbling.

Now we stand on an equipoise that could easily turn us into Haverford, especially because many of our students are just as woke as theirs. While I still fight for freedom of speech here, it’s getting harder and harder, and the opposition gets louder and louder. What’s freedom of speech compared to the “harm” you cause by speaking your mind?

Before too long, we may see the time when the University of Chicago is no longer the model for colleges that want to encourage all sorts of discussion and discourage none. And I find that prospect discouraging.

Cornell’s student assembly votes against disarming campus police; outraged students vow to remove from office those who voted the wrong way

November 22, 2020 • 1:00 pm

It’s possible that Cornell University doesn’t need a campus police department, much less one with armed officers, but the University itself clearly decided they needed one (parents like to know that their kids have their own “security guard force”). This isn’t my call, though I would maintain that, due to my own school’s location on the crime-ridden South Side, the University of Chicago does need cops with guns.

But, as we know, students at almost every campus with its own police have called for defunding them or for disarming those cops who carry weapons. (This includes the University of Chicago.)  What’s unusual is what happened at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where the student government voted down a resolution to disarm the cops. Click below to see the article in the student paper, the Cornell Daily Sun:

You can see the long resolution below that decries the cops for three pages with “wheras”s concentrating on racism, and then proposes the short resolution:

Be it therefore resolved,

Supporting data and trends overwhelmingly show that police on college campuses should not have access to lethal weapons as it is unnecessary and proves to increase the likelihood of danger/use of lethal force rather than decrease;

Be it finally resolved,Cornell University must take action by immediately disarming the Cornell University Police department of all lethal weapons.

There is no data that convincingly show that disarmed campus police reduce crime (or harm) more than armed police, though the resolution adduces data showing that unarmed security patrols reduce crime compared to no patrols.  The way to deal with this issue, if you want a good study, is simply to disarm the Cornell Police for several years and see if there is less crime or less harm. That is not going to happen, though, as the students have no say in whether the police are armed or not. While it is possible to do a sort-of-controlled study, that one would be polluted by possible temporal changes in crime. All it would take to settle the issue, though, is one school shooting to which campus police couldn’t respond in kind.

After a fractious three-hour meeting, the student assembly, the SA, voted down the resolution 14-15-1. I’m stupefied not only that the vote was against disarming, but was such a close vote (these things are usually lopsided on the Woke side).

Immediately, a group of protesting students accused the SA of racism. From the Daily Sun:

While the protest occurred at the CUPD headquarters, the other target of organizers was clear: Recalling the 15 Student Assembly voting members who voted against the resolution.

Why are old white men so much worse than young white men?

November 13, 2020 • 9:30 am

When I open the latest issue of our student newspaper, The Chicago Maroon, I often get similar feelings as when I read HuffPost: “This rag is way too woke.” It’s especially depressing here because of the big gap between the students’ wokeness and the University’s ideals, which are to promulgate nearly complete free speech and to refrain from the University making any official statement about politics, morality, or ideology beyond those necessary to ensure that the University functions as an equal-opportunity venue for learning and exploring ideas. (See our list of “Foundational Principles”.) Both of these principles are meant to promote free discussion, in hopes that the clash of ideas brings knowledge, awareness, and learning how to learn.

Here’s an example from the Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on Protest and Dissent:

In our view, dissent and protest are integral to the life of the University. Dissent and protest should be affirmatively welcomed, not merely tolerated, by the University. Especially in a university community, the absence of dissent and protest—not its presence—is a cause for concern. The passionate expression of non-conforming ideas is 2 both a cause and an effect of the intellectual climate that defines this University in particular. In addition, dissent and protest—and public demonstrations by groups and individuals—play a role in the University’s educational mission: being a member of an educational community that values dissent and protest is, in part, how people develop as citizens of a democracy.

In contrast, many (but by no means all) of our students want repression of “hate speech”, deplatforming of speakers, the right to avoid punishment for disrupting speech, and, of course, defunding and eliminating the campus police. A major editorial in the new Maroon, for instance, bemoans the possibility that after our current President—Robert Zimmer—steps down at the end of this academic year, the committee chosen to select his replacement consists of uniformly wealthy and overwhelmingly white males. (That isn’t true: there are two women, one Hispanic man, and one black man on the committee of 12, in addition to Zimmer himself). The students are afraid that Zimmer’s replacement will be just like him, and want “faculty, staff, students, and community members” to be on the search committee lest the policies of Zimmer (including retaining the campus cops) be continued.  With a committee like that, we’d wind up getting somebody like George “Can I Pee Now?” Bridges, the invertebrate president of The Evergreen State College. In fact, the committee should strive to get someone like Zimmer, as he’s fought hard to keep the University of Chicago a bastion of free speech and unrestricted inquiry (he’s also been hugely successful in the President’s other job: raising money for the University).

It’s not the disparity of age, sex, and color between students and trustees or President that worries me (our Provost, by the way, is an Asian woman)—it’s the disparity between these two groups in what they think a university is for and how it should be run. The students want the purpose of our University to be social engineering, and preparing students to be social engineers; the faculty and administration want the students to learn and learn how to think; to bathe in and ponder rarified ideas. We don’t see the university as a way to inculcate students with certain societal values, but as a way to get them to think about and arrive at their own values.

Contrast the Founding Principles above, for example, with a booklet produced by our Leftier students, the Dis-Orientation Guide for 2020: 59 pages of wokeness that begins by repudiating our principles of free speech as inconsistently applied (they’re not) and rejecting the Kalven Report’s admonition for the University to avoid taking official political stands. In my view, if our President is replaced by pliable, woke, and invertebrate Presidents like those of Evergreen State, Yale, and Smith, the unique aspects of the University of Chicago will be gone. Every class would begin with a land acknowledgment, and the faculty would have to “get in the canoe”. (Do watch that video for a horrifying dose of faculty and administrative self-abasement.)

Zimmer and some of the trustees are, of course Old White Males, a trope that appears in the same issue with an editorial with the customary critique of “core curricula” everywhere:

Placing readings in relation to current world events would not only deepen students’ understanding of content, but it would widen the context under which we could apply it later on. Untangling the pages of dense theory written in the 17th century generally does not do wonders for student engagement—it is when what we read is made relatable that it becomes interesting to us, and it is then that we become motivated to push our reading further.

The solution could be as easy as including more authors of different races and backgrounds: namely, less [sic] old white men.

I’d have some sympathy with this—after all, diverse voices emit diverse ideas and viewpoints—if the core hadn’t already been revamped to be diverse in many ways. Check out some of the courses offered, and I’ve put part of a pdf below.  You can explore more sample courses and sample texts by starting here (the “general education requirement” of 15 courses that constitutes the Core), and clicking around. Check out “Civilization Studies” for a panoply of courses that will appeal to those who want more ethnic and gender diversity. The Core is superb, and is one reason many students come here.

So I absolutely reject the idea that the core, which comprises considerable and diverse courses, is heavily conditioned with too many “old white males.” Of course if you’re interested in Western Civ or Western Literature, you’re going to find it OWM-heavy, for Western civilization developed at a time when women and minorities were shoved to the margin. Come back in 200 years.

But what I don’t understand is why the denigration of OLD white males? Are YOUNG white males better? Shakespeare had already produced some of his finest work by age 40, and I could name many pillars of literature and art, who, even though white, made their contributions when young.  Is the underlying idea that old white males are more conservative than young ones? Well, maybe now, but if you go back a few hundred years, even young white males would be seen through modern eyes as not only conservative, but often bigoted.

What we have here is again a conflict between two ideals of liberalism: diversity and anti-ageism. If it’s racist and sexist to denigrate authors because they’re white and male, then it’s triply pernicious by being ageist and adding that they’re bad because they’re old.

And to those who dismiss white men because they’re old, I have two words in response: Bernie Sanders.