Princeton University punishes professor for exercising free speech, shows it doesn’t understand what “free speech” really is.

April 13, 2022 • 10:45 am

I’m always surprised by the high quality of reporting in Tablet, as it doesn’t seem to be a site many people read.  It also has the reputation of being a “Jewish magazine,” which of course puts off some people, but if you look at its articles, you’ll find many of them that don’t have anything to do with Jews or Judaism. One example is the article below. It’s about the increasingly bizarre behavior of Princeton University, which is in the process of “canceling” a professor for some remarks he made about a black student group. Because the remarks were deemed racist by some, the school decided to permanently place Classics Professor Joshua Katz on a list of racist professors and actions—an official site that’s made available to incoming Princeton students as a “teaching document”.

Even if you think Katz’s remarks were unwise (I do, though I don’t see them as racist), they still constitute free speech and an exercise of academic freedom. For the University to demonize Katz for his statement, and to parade him before students as an exemplar of a racist, is a violation of the viewpoint neutrality that Princeton claims it has. Worse, when Katz fought back, supported by many of his fellow professors, Princeton claimed a “right” to add him to the List of Bad People because that was Princeton exercising its freedom of speech. (The President of Princeton also issued a statement officially denouncing Katz.)

Befuddled as Princeton and its president (Christopher Eisgruber) are, they can’t distinguish between free speech and the chilling of speech enacted by making official statements of what is politically unacceptable. That is, they are mixing up the strictures of our University of Chicago’s Principles of Free Speech with our University’s Kalven Report, with the latter mandating that the University and its constituent units make no official statements about ideology, morality, or politics unless they have to do with the functioning and purpose of the university: teaching and learning.  Princeton was in fact the first University to adopt Chicago’s Principles of Free Expression (about 80 universities have now done so). But Princeton doesn’t really understand these principles, and so, as its head goes up its fundament, has decided to make an example of Katz by consigning him to academic perdition.

Click the screenshot to read:

The scenario in short (statements from the Tablet are indented). First, though, I’d ignore Tablet‘s opening screed about what “social justice” is.  To me it’s a confusing discussion and not really relevant to this story except insofar as Katz is accused of being anti-social justice..

1.) Katz made a comment in an article he wrote in Quillette about the “Black Justice League” and about a faculty letter describing pervasive structural racism at Princeton. Here’s part of Katz’s a response to the faculty demands made in their letter (the first quote is from the letter):

“Acknowledge, credit, and incentivize anti-racist student activism. Such acknowledgment should, at a minimum, take the form of reparative action, beginning with a formal public University apology to the members of the Black Justice League and their allies.” The Black Justice League, which was active on campus from 2014 until 2016, was a small local terrorist organization that made life miserable for the many (including the many black students) who did not agree with its members’ demands. Recently I watched an “Instagram Live” of one of its alumni leaders, who—emboldened by recent events and egged on by over 200 supporters who were baying for blood—presided over what was effectively a Struggle Session against one of his former classmates. It was one of the most evil things I have ever witnessed, and I do not say this lightly.

The bit in bold was Katz’s undoing, particularly the phrase “terrorist group”, though the “struggle session” was against a black student and other witnesses say that that usage is accurate.

2.) Princeton put Katz’s statement—missing a crucial bit—on an official document, “To Be Known and Heard“, which recounts the racist background and nature of Princeton. This document is used didactically for new students. Also, via President Eisgruber, Princeton issued statements assailing Katz’s piece in Quillette. Again, this would be a violation of my own University’s Kalven Report: an official damning of a professor for his/her political views.

3.) In the “To Be Known and Heard” document, Princeton left out, in their quote, the parenthetical “(including many black students)”. As Tablet notes,

In order to damage Katz’s reputation as much as possible, the creators of Princeton’s rogues’ gallery of racists, an official document that bears the copyright of the university’s Board of Trustees, omitted the parenthetical words “(including the many black students).” Keep in mind that any student who had doctored a quotation, especially intentionally and with malice, would likely have been suspended.

The gallery omits any mention of Katz’s response when he was asked by The Daily Princetonian to clarify what he meant by “terrorist” and “Struggle Session,” or what he has said about these matters elsewhere. This is what Katz wrote:

… the BJL went after one fellow black student with particular vigor, verbally vilifying her in public at every possible opportunity, calling her all sorts of unsavory epithets and accusing her of “performing white supremacy.” Other students, as well as faculty and administrators, were accused, without evidence, of being “racists” and “white supremacists.”

4.) Katz is thus now a permanent part of an official Princeton “rogue gallery” of racists and racist acts. That gallery would not be allowed at the University of Chicago because it’s an official university document containing arguable contentions as well as implicitly punishing out a university professor for his speech.

5.) Respected organizations defending academic freedom called on Princeton and Eisgruber to rescind Katz’s treatment. From Tablet:

The treatment of Katz in the mandatory freshmen orientation has generated a lot of criticism, most notably from the three most prestigious American organizations dedicated to academic freedom: the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and the Academic Freedom Alliance (AFA). (I am a founding member of the AFA, as is Katz.) In his letter to Eisgruber, Keith Whittington, the chair of the academic committee of the AFA and a professor of Politics at Princeton, writes, “We are not aware of any other example of a university systematically denouncing a sitting member of its own faculty in such a way. … We call on the university to refrain from using its administrative resources to target Professor Katz or other members of the faculty in its official activities and programming.”

The AFA letter (pdf here) is especially good. A quote from it:

The university climate would quickly become poisonous and intolerable if administrative units on campus made it a practice to hold up dissenting members of the faculty for ritual condemnation and if the precedent now being set were followed in the future. If the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life uses its administrative position on campus to organize official university programming for the purpose of heaping opprobrium on faculty for expressing disfavored personal political opinions, the risks of chilling speech on campus are severe. The university can hardly create a climate welcoming of heterodox opinions if it creates an administrative apparatus to target the heterodox and stamp them as campus pariahs.

. . . Professors expressing controversial political opinions should expect criticism from members of the campus community, and if those views are unpopular then no doubt such criticism will be loud. However, professors should not have to anticipate that the university administration will adopt those criticisms as its own and place members of its faculty in the pillory as an object lesson for each class of entering students to learn where the boundaries of acceptable speech can be found.

6.) Did Princeton give any credence to any of these letters? It did not. In fact, it accused these organizations of demanding that Princeton violate its own freedom of speech by withholding official criticism of Katz. This is unbelievable:

The university has not yet responded to the accusations—the latter two of which are especially broad—of FIRE, ACTA, or PFS. Eisgruber did, however, reply speedily to Whittington, feigning concern that what the AFA is asking for is contrary to academic freedom and amounts to censorship.

“Are you asking that I censor the website?” Eisgruber inquired. “If so, I find that request” (which is similar to the requests of FIRE, ACTA, and PFS) ”troubling, and I would need to understand better how you reconcile it with the principles of academic freedom and free speech that you champion. I am certain that you would agree that, on a University campus, censorship, including via the compelled removal of information from a website, is a strongly disfavored response to controversial speech.”

In defending the shameful treatment of Katz though such scholastic gymnastics, Princeton’s president seems to be advancing the bizarre notion that somehow the free speech protections enshrined in the university’s rules and regulations extend to administrators in situations where they exercise their official power in order to denounce, harass, and otherwise discredit and threaten individual members of the academic community.

This is a bit like saying that, in denouncing would-be traitors of the Soviet Union on trumped-up charges, Andrey Vyshinsky, the main prosecutor of Stalin’s Moscow trials in the 1930s, was simply exercising his freedom of speech. Or that Joseph McCarthy was merely exercising his right to free speech when he launched his campaign in the 1950s to unearth hidden Communists in Hollywood. Or that the Cultural Revolutionaries in China who denounced their countrymen for imaginary crimes were free speech heroes.

A University has no “freedom of speech” to officially punish a professor who exercises his own freedom of speech.

7.) Complaints to other Princeton administrators have met with the same kind of pushback. The Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity, Michele Minter, argued that the “To Be Known and Heard” website “is not an official university document” (it is; it’s on a princeton.edu site and has been called “teaching material” by President Eisgruber). Further, Minter claims that Katz isn’t a member of a “protected class”, which is irrelevant, though I think he’s probably Jewish.

And so Princeton, while espousing free speech, has created a climate in which a professor who exercises that right is officially damned by the the University and held up to the students as an example of racism. If that’s not punishment for speech, I don’t know what is.

Two comments. First, Princeton’s twisted construal of free speech appears to be a form espoused by one faculty member quoted in the Tablet article (the professor turns out to be Padilla Peralta, whom we’ve met before):

Instead, freshmen were informed by a professor that he “envision[s] a free speech and academic discourse that is flexed to one specific aim, and that aim is the promotion of social justice, and an anti-racist social justice at that.”

And here’s a reaction to the Princeton mishigass by a fellow academic:

[Eisgruber] is a spineless toady to the woke mob that has taken over Princeton.

You ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie!

Two court cases: Texas charges a women with murder for abortion, and once again, Gibson’s versus Oberlin College

April 10, 2022 • 12:00 pm

This story was reportd by Sophie Kasakove in yesterday’s New York Times and has been reported widely elsewhere (e.g., here). Click on the screenshot to read:

Yes, it’s Texas again, which of course enacted the nation’s most stringent abortion law, and making it enforceable by private citizens instead of the state. Any individual can report others involved in helping a woman get an abortion in Texas (the woman herself can’t be fined), and then can sue those “helpers” for $10,000 each. This case, however, is a bit different, for it involves the state charging a women with murder for the death of a fetus via abortion:

A South Texas sheriff’s official said on Saturday that a 26-year-old woman had been indicted on a murder charge in connection with the “death of an individual through a self-induced abortion.”

The woman, Lizelle Herrera, 26, was arrested on Friday and detained in Starr County, the official, Maj. Carlos Delgado, said in a statement reported Saturday by The Associated Press. Ms. Herrera was released on bail on Saturday, according to a statement from the Frontera Fund, an abortion rights organization. Her bond was set at $500,000.

While circumstances of the case remain unclear — the statement did not say whether Ms. Herrera was accused of having the abortion or aiding one, or how far along the pregnancy had been — the indictment comes months after the Texas Legislature passed several restrictions on abortion.

This apparently is not a violation of the new anti-abortion law, because she’s been charged by Texas and not reported by a private individual for purposes of a lawsuit, but it’s not even clear what law the woman has violated. In fact, the charge itself seems to abrogate the law (my bold below):

It is unclear what statute Ms. Herrera is being indicted under. An abortion ban that took effect in Texas in September, known as S.B. 8, prohibits abortion after six weeks but leaves enforcement to civilians, offering them rewards of at least $10,000 for successful lawsuits against anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion.

The Texas Legislature then enacted another law, S.B. 4, which establishes a criminal violation — a state felony punishable by a $10,000 fine and up to two years in prison — for providing medical abortion pills after 49 days of pregnancy, or for providers who fail to comply with a series of new regulations and procedures. That law also exempts pregnant women from prosecution.

One section of the Texas penal code exempts expectant mothers from being charged with murder in connection with “the death of an unborn child.” Most states instead target abortion providers when an abortion is deemed illegal. In most of the country, abortion is prohibited after fetal viability, generally 22 to 24 weeks, though several states are moving to ban abortions at much earlier stages in anticipation that Roe will be overturned.

According to the statement by Major Delgado, Ms. Herrera was indicted on the murder charge after she “intentionally and knowingly” caused the death of an individual by self-induced abortion.

So if Herrera helped another woman with that woman’s abortion, she must be reported and then a civil case brought against her, which is not what happened. If Herrera had a self-induced abortion, whether through pills or some other method, she cannot be charged with murder. Yet she was.

What we have here, in fact, is a charge brought on the explicit presumption that a fetus is equivalent to a living person who’s been born. I asked reader Ken Kucec about his take on this charge, and got this response:

As for the Texas abortion/murder case, it wasn’t brought under SB8, the Texas citizen-vigilante statute, but is being prosecuted by the Starr County district attorney’s office under Texas’s murder statute. It’s a novel application of the statute, turning on the “personhood” of a fetus, but we’re talking about Texas here (which is far and away the most prolific user of capital punishment) so there’s no telling what may happen.

Indeed. And if the U.S. Supreme Court, as expected, throws out Roe v. Wade, they may leave it to the states to enact their own regulations about abortion. In that case, Texas very well could criminalize abortion at any stage as a case of murder. If the U.S. Supremes deem it proper, the states can pretty much do as they want.

******************

The second article comes from The Bulwark, a centrist or right/center venue with an anti-Trump view.  But its politics hardly matter because I’m not going to deal with that issue. Click to read, though the headline is misleading.

I’ve long been on the side of Gibson’s Bakery against Oberlin College, as Oberlin, under false accusations of racism, defamed the bakery in 2016 and engaged in sleazy manipulations (see my many posts here; but it’s best to read the Wikipedia entry on the case).

In 2019, a jury found the college guilty of “libel, slander, interference with business relationships, and interference with contracts in the Lorain County Court of Common Pleas.” The damage award to the bakery was huge: $44 million dollars in compensation and punitive damages. A judge later reduced the award to $31.5 million, with $6.5 million of that going for lawyers’ fees. That’s still a big bite for Oberlin College, which has been financially constricted since they had to put up security for that amount.

Oberlin didn’t give in but appealed. However, on April 1, the appellate court affirmed the civil verdict. The court’s 50-page finding is here. I haven’t read through the whole thing, but the upshot is that the original verdict stands. Reporter Daniel McGraw, who covered the case from the beginning, says this:

. . .  the presiding judge, John Miraldi, set a high bar for the plaintiffs, ruling before the trial that little of what the students protesting outside the business said or did was admissible, because the plaintiffs could not attach the school to their students, who were exercising their free speech.

The Gibson’s legal team needed to prove two things: (1) that the school’s post-protest actions added fuel to the defamation fire; and (2) that the school knew that these actions were wrong, but kept the racist message going in order to satisfy parts of their student body and faculty.

The appeals court verdict lays out in great detail how Gibson’s satisfied those requirements.

There was testimony that some of the school administrators were themselves at the protest and handing out fliers. Administrators also allowed students to use college equipment to make copies, bought pizza and beverages to feed the protesters, and bought mittens for protesters whose hands were cold. The racism claim from the student senate resolution was emailed to all students and posted on the wall of the student center for a full year.

The second part—proving both intent and what the Oberlin College knew in terms of the veracity of the claims—is the heavier burden.

But the lawyers for Gibson’s uncovered emails and phone messages between administrators which supplied the proof to meet this burden.

Some examples: A text from one administration official said they “hope we rain fire and brimstone on that store.” There were references to that “stupid bakery.” Another email said, “I’m baffled by [Gibson’s] combined audacity and arrogance.” And how, by fighting Oberlin College, Gibson’s “made their bed now.” One administrator suggested that restricting students’ use of their school-issued money cards at Gibson’s would be “another tool for leverage.” The dean of students was confronted with a retired professor who expressed skepticism that Gibson’s was racist. The dean’s response: “Fuck him, I’d say unleash the students.”

Oberlin was hoist with its own petard—administrators’ emails. This is an example of how the vindictivness of the woke, combined with their absolute certainty that they’re on the side of the angels, can lead them into trouble.

The error with the headline is its claim that the Oberlin matter has now “come to an end.” I didn’t see how given that Oberlin has dug in its heels about this case, so why shouldn’t they appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court? Reader Ken answered this query in a comment I didn’t see when I was traveling:

In response to my query on my own brief report on April 3:

If I know Oberlin, they’ll further bankrupt the school by appealing higher up (if they can under the law).

Ken responded:

Oberlin can still seek rehearing by the three judge panel that decided the case or rehearing from all the active judges on Ohio’s Ninth District Court of Appeals sitting en banc. Failing that, the school can seek discretionary review from the Ohio Supreme Court.

If the Ohio Supremes decline to hear the case or if that court affirms the appellate decision, Oberlin’s final recourse would be to seek a writ of certiorari from the US Supreme Court. To do so, it would have to raise a federal issue rather than an issue of Ohio state law — in this instance, presumably an issue arising under the First Amendment. (This was how The New York Times got the defamation judgment awarded against it by Alabama courts before SCOTUS in New York Times v. Sullivan.)

Review before SCOTUS on certiorari is discretionary, too, with the Court granting review of something fewer than a 100 cases a year, out of over 10,000 annual petitions for certiorari. From what I know of the Oberlin case, it doesn’t appear to present a particularly compelling case for consideration by SCOTUS.

In the meantime, the interest on the trial judgment keeps mounting.

And I asked him one more question:

Do you THINK that Oberlin will continue the appeal process?

Ken’s response:

I think Oberlin’s attitude is in for a dime, in for a dollar, so I expect the school will probably run out the string to the bitter end, even though, as a general principle, a party’s chances of success diminish the further up the appellate process it seeks relief, since the standards of review get stricter and the court’s have greater discretion to deny consideration of the case.

In the meantime, two Gibsons have died without getting dime one. As The Bulwark reports:

The coda to this story is that David Gibson and his father, Allyn, owners of the bakery, both died during the intervening years. David Gibson testified in court that his father told him before the trial started that, “In my life, I’ve done everything I could to treat all people with dignity and respect. And now, nearing the end of my life, I’m going to die being labeled as a racist.”

Allyn Gibson survived his son David’s death, but did not live to see his family’s business vindicated. He died just a few weeks ago, on February 12.

So no, this case is not yet at an end. Oberlin has decided to run out its string, and I believe that further interest accrues on the fine that was assessed.

h/t: Ginger K., Steve

 

What on earth is “cancel culture”?

March 29, 2022 • 1:15 pm

In a new piece in the Dailiy Beast, authors Komi German and Greg Lukianoff define what they mean by cancel culture (the best definition I’ve yet seen), show how pervasive cancel culture is (and worsening), and identify the Perpetrators of Cancellation. There is, however, one flaw connected with identifying the perps.

Both authors work for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an estimable organization that fights for free speech on campus, and is too often criticized simply because of their identification of free speech as the most important academic value.  (The Progressive Left, unlike traditional liberals, isn’t that keen on free speech since it’s said to “harm” some people, and by “harm” they mean “offend”.)

The bona fides from the article:

Komi T. German is a research fellow at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). She earned her bachelor’s degree with highest honors at the University of California, Davis, and her doctorate in social psychology at the University of California, Riverside.

Greg Lukianoff is the President and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), co-author of the New York Times bestseller The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, and author of Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate.

I’m not a credentials-promulgator, but one can at least have confidence in these authors’ statistics, which largely support their contentions.

Click on the screenshot to read.

 

While people often argue about whether “cancel culture” is real, you don’t often see that term defined. For example, the writers of the famous 2020 letter in Harper’s decrying cancel culture were criticized because many of them were well off and weren’t in danger of being “cancelled”. But the letter’s point was to defend those who were in danger of professional damage from speaking their minds, not to defend the lettter’s signers.

What is “professional damage”? Well, the very concept of free speech not only allows but welcomes pushback. Very few, despite what the New York Times asserts, thinks that “free speech” means “freedom from criticism”—even harsh and ascerbic criticism. Like German and Lukianoff, I prefer civil dialogue rather than social-media pile-ons, but those pile-ons themselves aren’t “cancel culture.” Rather, the definition I prefer is that given by German and Lukianoff (henceforth “G&L”). The bolding below is mine; the definition is theirs:

But just because the term has been grossly overused doesn’t mean we should give up on its popularly understood definition—which aptly describes a real (and growing) problem. This is the measurable uptick, since around 2014, of campaigns to get people fired, disinvited, deplatformed, or otherwise punished for speech that is—or would be—protected by First Amendment standards. That’s “cancel culture.”

Cancel culture, then, is the culture of trying to harm someone’s career or silence or otherwise punish them professionally for issuing legal speech—speech permitted by the First Amendment. Of course private universities don’t have to allow First-Amendment-protected speech, but they should, and we all should insofar as we’re able.  Cancel culture exists not to promulgate open debate but to effect retribution and punishment. When you see people trying to shut someone up, cancel a speech, or call for someone’s firing because of what they said, that is cancel culture.

I can’t think of a better definition. Here’s where to draw the line: examples from the authors:

We say “would be” because the First Amendment does not apply to private companies. So, while the NFL was free to punish Colin Kaepernick, and The View was free to suspend Whoopi Goldberg, these are still examples of cancel culture under our definition, because the subjects of each controversy engaged in expression that “would be” protected, were the First Amendment standard to apply.

What happened to Ilya ShapiroDavid Shor, and Kathy Griffin? Cancel culture.

I would add to that Don McNeil and James Bennet of the NYT, the University of Chicago’s Dorian Abbot (deplatformed), and any number of professors fired or disciplined for speech that offended the woke.

What happened to Andrew CuomoJeff ZuckerHarvey WeinsteinJan. 6 rioters, and the Russian military? Not cancel culture, despite their cries to the contrary.

If people call for your firing or disciplining because you committed a crime, or are likely to have committed one, that is not cancel culture. And, I suppose, if what you’re accused of involve acts rather than protected speech, and are so serious as to make your job no longer tenable, that, too, could be cancel culture.  But I think the line is fairly clear.

I’m not sure what to do about people whom others want to damage professionally, but who are immune to damage because they’re already wealthy and respected—people like J. K. Rowling and Woody Allen.  It’s okay to try to boycott their books, but not so okay to try to get publishers, as in the case of Allen, not to publish their books.

A few points made by G&L (their quotes are indented)

It’s pervasive. 

But The New York Times’ claim—that “[h]owever you define cancel culture, Americans know it exists and feel its burden”—was not outlandish. Far from it. Our own research corroborates it.

“Since 2015, there have been 163 investigations, 117 terminations, 109 suspensions, 48 resignations, 45 censorship incidents, 33 demotions, 18 retractions, and 13 mandatory trainings—all for ideological reasons.”

survey commissioned late last year by FIRE, where we work, found that 73 percent of Americans are familiar with the term “cancel culture.” Of those, nearly 60 percent believe “there is a growing cancel culture that is a threat to our freedom”; only 25 percent do not. Additionally, 70 percent of those surveyed said they were afraid to say what they believe because they were worried it could impact their job or standing in school.

Other surveys of the American public have produced similar findings.

The UK-based Legatum Institute found that 50 percent of academics in the U.S. feel the need to censor their own political beliefs while on campus. These academics are making a prudent decision; more than one in three faculty admit they would discriminate against conservatives when making hiring decisions. Moreover, nearly one in four social science or humanities faculty—and almost one in two social science or humanities Ph.D. students—surveyed in the U.S. supported at least one campaign to dismiss a dissenting academic.

Simply put, study after study decidedly shows cancel culture not only exists, but also that, in too many places, it is thriving.

Cancel culture is getting worse.   

The authors give a lot of cases, some of which we know about, that involve true cancellation on campuses. But that doesn’t show the problem is getting worse.  The second paragraph below, however, does: in the last two years there have been 283 cancellation attempts, while over the last seven there have been 563 total. That is, almost exactly half of all cancellation attempts over the past seven years have taken place in just the latest two years. If one assumes that cancelation rates are equal over time, that’s surely a statistically significant increase.

Note, however, which direction the cancellations coming from—something the authors downplay in the rest of their article (my bolding below):

Since 2015, we documented 563 attempts (345 from the left, 202 from the right, 16 from neither) to get scholars canceled. Two thirds (362 incidents; 64 percent) of these cancellation attempts were successful, resulting in some form of professional sanction leveled at the scholar, including over one-fifth (117 incidents; 21 percent) resulting in termination.When Greg joined FIRE in 2001, the idea of one tenured professor being fired for protected speech seemed impossible, yet since 2015 there have been 30.

The problem has only gotten worse, particularly over the past few years. Just since the start of 2020, there have been 283 cancellation attempts. Scholars are canceled most often for expressing a personal opinion (338 incidents; 60 percent), encouraging discussion of sensitive material (145 incidents; 26 percent), or presenting a scientific argument (136 incidents; 24 percent).

Actually, it doesn’t concern me too much whether cancellation attempts are getting worse, though they surely are. There are already enough of these attempts to chill speech among a large proportion of college students and professors, not to mention the general public and the media.

But it’s in the next assertion where the authors seem to be a bit evasive.

Where is cancel culture coming from? 

G&L seem to imply that the cancellation attempts come mostly from the Right, while the Left claim to be victims. Only in the paragraph above do they say the truth: that cancellation of scholars is mainly from the left (61.2%), while only 35.8% come from the Right.  (2.8% come from neither side.). Judging from this, at least on campus it’s mostly the Left promulgating cancel culture.

But G&L spend most of their time indicting the Right—mainly for their attempts to pass “muzzling laws” forbidding teaching stuff like Critical Race Theory (I agree with FIRE that these laws are a bad idea).  Here’s what G&L say:

The perpetuation of cancel culture is bipartisan: Conservatives criticize it, while practicing it; progressives deny it, while being victims of it.

Over the past year Republican legislators introduced a series of anti-critical race theory (i.e.,“divisive concepts”) bills seeking to restrict teachers’ ability to teach topics related to race and sexuality. These bills, when applied in higher education contexts, are almost always unconstitutional.

Though conservatives talk a good game about defending “free speech” and decrying “cancel culture,” hypocrisy among the movement is not new. In 2017, three Nebraska Republican legislators sponsored a bill to protect free speech on campus, then called on the University of Nebraska to fire graduate teaching assistant Courtney Lawton for her progressive political activism.

Meanwhile, some progressives remain so committed to denying cancel culture is a problem they won’t even admit it exists even after they themselves are canceled.

But surely the perpetuation of cancel culture rests more on the shoulders of those who cancel others, not those who say they were canceled. It is true that the Right passes most of the muzzling laws, which often prohibit First-Amendment-compatible speech, but G&L blame the Left for perpetuating “cancel culture” only by saying they’re victimized by it. Yet their own data on deplatforming and disinviting given in bold above show that the Left perpetuates cancellation more often than they’re victims of it.

In other words, G&L are downplaying the responsibility of the Left. Why? I have no idea except that The Daily Beast is a Leftist venue that surely doesn’t like to indict its own side.

G&L further give the game away when they talk about the “elites” who really keep Cancel Culture going. Who are the “elites”? Mostly people on the Left:

When elites seek to control the terminology, they often do so for the purpose of signaling in-group membership. Doing so often excludes the vast majority of Americans from the conversation.

For example, although the term “Latinx” is popular within our news mediaentertainment industrycorporationspolitics, and universities, Pew Research found that only 3 percent of Latino adults use the word. It is an example of what James Carville calls “faculty lounge” language. As author Helen Pluckrose points out, modern social justice advocates derive power from controlling language. As the language changes, people who use an outdated term or phrase are quickly dismissed as ignorant or uneducated.

. . . When elites seek to control the terminology, they often do so for the purpose of signaling in-group membership. Doing so often excludes the vast majority of Americans from the conversation.

This is not just an implicit indictment of the Left’s role in cancel culture, but an explicit one. Who are “social justice advocates” but the Left? Who perpetuates the use of “Latinx” but the Left? Who creates “faculty lounge language”? The Left, as James Carville noted in his refreshing diatribe.

In the end, German and Lukianoff have written a very useful article. It gives the best definition of “cancel culture” that I know of, shows that it’s rampant and growing, and that it damages the First Amendment as well as all civilized discourse. We need to take that to heart and stop trying to get people fired for issuing speech that doesn’t abrogate the First Amendment.

But it’s a crying shame that G&L’s article is marred by what I view as excessive deference to the Left and excessive blaming of the Right.  I am not saying the Right is blameless, of course. All the laws they’re passing do perpetuate cancel culture in its true sense. But the Left seems more to blame for the culture as a whole, and at any rate my audience is not on the Righ. I’ve alwaysI see my brief as trying to clean up my end of the political spectrum. Remember, the elections are coming in November. While I can and have called out the Right’s mania to pass laws restricting what can be taught, there are plenty of other people willing to do that. What we need are liberals to keep other liberals from cancellng people.

Two readings on academic snitches

March 25, 2022 • 10:32 am

The internet is moribund on the ship today (It happens), so instead of writing a longer post, I’ll simply call your attention to two pieces worth reading. Both are criticisms of academic culture; one comes from the Left and the other from the Right.

Laura Kipnis is a liberal and a professor of Media Studies at Northwestern University, and she’s has been subject to more Title IX investigations than any academic I know.  This is because she treads dangerous ground: her speciality is writing about relationships on campus and the tortuous nature of sexual harassment policies that monitor them. Because she’s a critic, even though she harasses nobody she gets in repeated trouble simply for writing about what happens to other people. But she’s never been found guilty of anything.

Kipnis’s distinguishing trait (beyond her superb writing skills and dry humor) is that she won’t shut up about these investigations, but turns them her own books and articles. And when she does that, she gets even more Title IX violations for writing about them. In 2017 the New Yorker had an article about Kipnis called  “Laura Kipnis’s Endless Trial by Title IX,” but she’s still clashing with campus authorities, this time for creating an online Google survey about love during the pandemic. For that she got entangled with the campus’s Human Subject Research Board, which ultimately exculpated her. (I wonder if I could get into trouble with my online political-opinion “surveys”?)

Kipnis’s latest piece is in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and you can read it by clicking on the screenshot below:

Here’s the introduction, which is a good example of how to draw a reader into an essay. It also shows one of Kipnis’s appealing traits: weaving her own persona into her pieces, even if they’re about more general topics—like the prevalence of snitching in college.

When I read about the downfall of the University of Michigan’s president, Mark Schlissel, fired after an anonymous complaint about his consensual though “inappropriate” relationship with a subordinate, my first thought was “What kind of idiot uses his work email for an affair?” Then I recalled that I myself am the kind of idiot who persists in using my university email account for everything, despite pledging at least once a year to tear myself away from this self-destructive habit. Schlissel, c’est moi. The next time I get in trouble, will my employer emulate the classy behavior of the Michigan Board of Regents and release troves of my own embarrassing emails for my enemies to savor and mock?

My next thought: Who was the snitch? I knew none of the players, but my inner Hercule Poirot went right to work, assembling likely suspects in the drawing room of my imagination (betrayed spouse, disappointed paramour, assorted foes and rivals, maligned underlings), cleverly disarming them with my continental charm until the culprit was exposed — most likely by the irrepressible look of creepy satisfaction playing across his or her face. To bring down an apparently much loathed and vastly overpaid university president, even for the stupidest of reasons: what ecstasy!

Among the questions prompted by Schlissel’s termination is whether higher education has, on the whole, become a hotbed of craven snitches. From everything I’ve heard and experienced, the answer is yes.

Her question then is why, when the Left used to be dead set against “snitches” (remember the Army/McCarthy trials and Hollywood blacklisting, both vigorously protested by liberals?), now seems to glory in it, creating what Kipnis calls a “carceral campus”? To wit:

. . .First let us pause to consider our terms: Was Schlissel’s narc a “snitch” or a “whistle-blower”? Whistle-blowers are generally attempting to topple or thwart the powerful, and Schlissel was certainly powerful. But the reported offense was, in the words of a lawyer I spoke with, “a nothingburger.” Let us provisionally define snitching as turning someone in anonymously, for either minor or nonexistent offenses, or pretextually. Also: using institutional mechanisms to kneecap rivals, harass enemies, settle scores and grudges, or advantage oneself. Not to mention squealing on someone for social-media posts and joining online mobs to protest exercises of academic and intellectual freedom.

This last is a variant of the “social-justice snitch,” a burgeoning category composed of those who want to defund the police and reform the criminal-justice system but are nevertheless happy to feed the maws of a frequently unprocedural and (many say) racist campus-justice system. There are, to be sure, right-wing students and organizations dedicated to harassing professors whose politics they object to, but that’s to be expected. What’s not is the so-called campus left failing to notice the degree to which the “carceral turn” in American higher ed — the prosecutorial ethos, the resources reallocated to regulation and punishment — shares a certain cultural logic with the rise of mass incarceration and over-policing in off-campus America. Or that the zeal for policing intellectual borders has certain resonances with the signature tactics of Trumpian America, for which unpoliced borders are equally intolerable. But what care social-justice types about fostering the carceral university if those with suspect politics can be flattened, even — fingers crossed! — expelled, or left unemployed and penurious?

The major answer—this is a spoiler alert, but Kipnis also gives so many bizarre episodes of snitching that the article will make your jaw drop—is this: social media, and the responsiveness of universities to social-media complaints or mobbing (even when the accused have done nothing wrong) gives people a way to get back at those they don’t like or who stand for someting they don’t like. This form of revenge is promoted by the swollen bureaucracy that colleges have created to deal with complaints of harassment and bigotry, bureaucracies that often lack work to do and so leap upon specious complaints.

Has anyone stopped to ask whether this is actually what we want the world to look like? Take, for instance, the complaints about gendered-speech missteps that are lately swelling the allegation coffers and occupying the swarms of bureaucrats and deanlets on call to aid every manner of snitch. Title IX offices have become the go-to for reporting pronoun errors or faculty members who accidentally misgender students (even when it involves reading a name off a roster, in one case I know of). Or for using a trans author’s pre-transition name on a syllabus, even when the book in question was published under that name: An older queer art-history professor at Pennsylvania State was turned in by younger queer students for doing just that a few years ago. The phrase “It’s generational” is often heard about this surge of accusation, a cliché meant to reconcile the apparent contradiction of gender-nonconforming progressives deploying the campus carceral apparatus to enforce their ideas of progressivism and queerness.

The lawyer Samantha Harris, who often defends speech-infraction cases, told me that N-word violations are also now a snitch’s paradise on earth. There are still, it seems, occasional old-school types (often leftists) who persist in thinking that there’s a distinction between quoting James Baldwin or Martin Luther King Jr. in full and hurling an epithet. The college-admissions consultant Hanna Stotland, who specializes in “crisis management,” told me that the snitching impulse is taking hold among younger and younger students. She used to have two such cases a year; she’s had 20 in the last two years. N-word offenses are a cottage industry here too. High schoolers squirrel away incriminating texts, or videos of friends at age 15 singing along with rap lyrics, then forward them to admissions committees when the friend (or frenemy, rather) gets an athletic scholarship or is admitted to an Ivy. Colleges are so quick to act on the intel, says Stotland, that they’ll sometimes retract an offer without even giving the accused student a chance to respond.

Of course to want to snitch on somebody like Don McNeil (the NYT writer fired for using the n-word didactically), you also have to claim that what’s been said offends you, causes you palpable “harm.”. But these often faux claims of “harm” are themselves promoted by colleges and by the media willing to take action against the accused. If you can get back at someone whose views you dislike by saying you’re “offended,” even if you really aren’t, well, as Church Lady said, “Isn’t that convenient?”

You can see why, although Kipnis leans Left, she repeatedly gets into trouble. It’s because she Speaks the Truth and also has moxie. She concludes this way:

These are a mere smattering of the hundreds of stories I’ve heard. There are obviously thousands more that people are too ashamed or cowed to disclose. I’m no psychic, but I can predict what will happen when this essay is published. My inbox will be flooded with cases of specious and horrific overblown accusations, sent by people who’ve been warned that if they talk about what they’ve been through, even when accused of verifiably false stuff, they’ll be punished — charged with “retaliation,” then face expulsion or job loss. These effective gag orders mean that administrators will get to keep operating with no public scrutiny, turning ostensibly liberal institutions into cell blocks.

My plan is to feature this new crop of stories in a regular column, or maybe a website, dedicated to the Academic Snitch of the Week. Hey, I know — if we run low on cases, we’ll solicit anonymous reports. Warning: We will be naming names. Of the snitches.

*****************************

A reader called my attention to the story below, reported mainly on right-wing sites that often indict colleges for the same stupidity that Kipnis describes. To find out about this stuff, you more or less have to visit these sites once in a while, for “mainstream media” simply doesn’t care much about injustice done by social-media snitches.

Here’s what the reader wrote me with the links:

I thought you may find this interesting (in a sad way) as it  concerns a scientist having what sounds like serious negative professional repercussions for a party costume.

I can’t find any mainstream media addressing this event. Like most people, I am familiar with the racist history of blackface and believe white folks ought to err on the side of caution. However, in addition to the event being 13 years ago, she was dressed in a costume because (I assume) she was honoring the celebrity [JAC: Michael Jackson], not because she was engaging in racist demeaning mockery. Considering the nature of her life’s work, it sounds sadly ironic that she is being publicly criticized by her employer . She sure sounds like exactly the kind of scientist any research university and university hospital would want on their staff. It appears she has a history of mentoring African scientists. She has so far declined to make a long groveling apology.

There are lots of these stories, but this one is particularly striking because the punishment is way out of line with the offense. The offense, as my correspondent wrote and the articles below report, consisted of wearing a Michael Jackson Halloween costume (including darkening her skin) 13 years ago. Yes, a bad decision, even back then (but much more so now). But worth getting raked over the coals about, and forced to undergo “reflection and reeducation”? No way.

There are two similar pieces about it, one in The College Fix and the other in The Daily Wire. You can ignore them because they’re from the Right, but the story they tell is true. It’s also summarized in Wikipedia. Click on the screenshots to read the tale:

From The College Fix:

and from The Daily Wire:

The scientist at issue is Julie Overbaugh, and she is indeed a top female scientist, a decorated researcher at “The Hutch” and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Her Wikipedia biography, which details her accomplishments and awards, has a section called “Advocacy for diversity in science” immediately followed by a newer section called “Resignation”. This will be a blot on her career forever.

Overbaugh’s is guilty of a single unwise by not “violent’ decision 13 years ago to dress as Michael Jackson in one of her lab’s annual “themed Halloween parties. The theme was the best-selling 1982 album “Thriller”, so it would not have been a stretch for Overbaugh to dress as Jackson. The mistake was the darkening of her skin, not donning a hat and a silver glove.  I’ll let Wikipedia give the details:

In early 2022, Overbaugh was placed on administrative leave from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. A photo of a Cancer Research Center Halloween Party from 2009 was anonymously distributed that allegedly showed her wearing blackface while dressed as Michael Jackson as part of a group “Thriller” costume. While determined to be an isolated incident, and although an interview of her peers and coworkers failed to reveal any pattern of inappropriate behavior “of any kind in the past or at any time while employed at Fred Hutch”, Overbaugh ultimately agreed to step down from her role as a Senior Vice President at the Center. She was also removed from all leadership duties in order to engage “in an education and reflection process” after publicly apologizing for her past action in a town hall meeting. As described by the President of the Hutch in the town hall: “Julie has offered to step down from her role and Senior Vice President of Education and Training and I have accepted her resignation”. “She will continue to be a prominent investigator at the Fred Hutch in the Human Biology Division working on viruses that affect so many people around the world”.

And the reaction by her bosses, taken from The Daily Wire:

As The Federalist noted, the incident didn’t occur at UW Medicine, yet its CEO Dr. Paul Ramsey and Equity Officer Paula Houston sent an email to staff announcing Overbaugh’s punishment for the “racist, dehumanizing, and abhorrent act” of “blackface.”

“Ramsey and Houston claim that the UW Medicine community was ‘harmed’ by the 13-year-old photo that most staff didn’t know existed until reading about it in the Feb. 25 email. ‘We acknowledge that our community has been harmed by this incident and the fact that 13 years elapsed before action was taken,’ they wrote. ‘We are convening a series of affinity group meetings in the next few weeks to provide spaces for mutual support, reflection, and response,’” the Federalist reported. “Neither Ramsey nor Houston explained how the photo ‘harmed’ anyone. Indeed, beyond one confirmed complaint, it’s unclear if anyone even cared about the old photo.”

Forced into re-education because she “harmed” the community! Apparently the community, and Overbaugh’s bosses, have no capacity for even a bit of forgiveness after 13 years. The words and punishment are harsh, way beyond what was deserved.

The statement issued by the Hutch is here, talking about her required “education and reflection process” after having being removed from her administrative posts. (Thank Ceiling Cat she can still do research!)

So, as journalist Jesse Singal noted in a series of seven tweets, her blackface was “not a good idea” (I suspect we all agree about that given the history of blackface), but the punishment was seriously disproportionate to the offense. You can read Singal’s tweets by clicking on any one of them below:

It’s this kind of stuff that makes me think the American academic world has gone off the rails.

Infantile Yale Law students disrupt campus free-speech event

March 17, 2022 • 1:00 pm

A colleague called my attention to this article, which is from a pretty conservative site, the Washington Free Beacon, but who else would print it? The veracity of the report is demonstrated by photos, by a YouTube video that I’m unable to watch but I’ve embedded anyway, and by photos of the event at a Daily Fail article which largely repeats the Beacon prose. You be the judge. Knowing the way these things go, however, I don’t doubt that this happened pretty much as described. (See below; I’ve just found that the event was described in the Yale Daiy News as well.)

Click on the screenshot below to read. And remember, these are students at one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools, attending a debate about free speech that features both a liberal and a conservative looking for common ground (their organizations even worked together on the same side in a Supreme Court free-speech case). You’d think the law students would at least let the event proceed without interruption.

Not a chance.

An excerpt:

More than 100 students at Yale Law School attempted to shout down a bipartisan panel on civil liberties, intimidating attendees and causing so much chaos that police were eventually called to escort panelists out of the building.

The March 10 panel, which was hosted by the Yale Federalist Society, featured Monica Miller of the progressive American Humanist Association [AHA] and Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative nonprofit that promotes religious liberty. Both groups had taken the same side in a 2021 Supreme Court case involving legal remedies for First Amendment violations. The purpose of the panel, a member of the Federalist Society said, was to illustrate that a liberal atheist and a conservative Christian could find common ground on free speech issues.

“It was pretty much the most innocuous thing you could talk about,” he added.

That didn’t stop nearly 120 student protesters from crowding into the event.

The rest is pretty much predictable. About a hundred protestors—most of the audience— stood up when Waggoner was introduced, many holding signs protesting ADF. That organization helped appeal a case you’ll recall—that of Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, when the cakeshop objected to designing a wedding cake for a gay couple. In 2018, the Supreme Court, by a 7-2 vote, decided in favor of the cakeshop, but on the narrow grounds that “that the Commission did not employ religious neutrality, violating Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips’s rights to free exercise.”

Waggoner argued the case on behalf of the cakeshop (the defendant); the two votes against were Ginsburg and Sotomayor, while liberal Kagan and middle-ist Breyer joined the other five in the majority vote.

You can argue about whether the owners of the cakeshop could justify their refusal on freedom-of-religion grounds (I disagree), but it is a debatable issue and, at any rate, not one that was even relevant at Yale given what the debate itself was about.

The debate was moderate by Kate Stith, a professor of criminal law at Yalel, and the protest wasn’t silent:

As they stood up, the protesters began to antagonize members of the Federalist Society, forcing Stith to pause her remarks. One protester told a member of the conservative group she would “literally fight you, bitch,” according to audio and video obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.

With the fracas intensifying, Stith reminded the students of Yale’s free speech policies, which bar any protest that “interferes with speakers’ ability to be heard and of community members to listen.” When the protesters heckled her in response—several with their middle fingers raised—she told them to “grow up,” according to video of the event obtained by the Free Beacon.

The comment elicited jeers from the protesters, who began shouting at the panelists and insisting that the disturbance was “free speech.” Eventually, Stith told them that if the noise continued, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave, or help you leave.”

Bravo for Stith!

The protestors left noisily (and without comment or rebuke by Ellen Cosgrove, the associate dean of the law school who was in the audience), but proceeded to stomp, yell, and shout slogans outside the lecture hall. As the FB reports, “The din was so loud that it disrupted nearby classes, exams, and faculty meetings, according to students and a professor who spoke on the condition of anonymity.” Note that those who spoke about the “din” were so cowed about this that they wouldn’t give their names!

Finally, the panel concluded (I don’t know whether it produced any useful debate given the noise), and the cops showed up and escorted both Miller and Waggoner to safety, as there was some indication that there might be physical violence. (The cops were called by Heather Gerkin, dean of Yale Law School.)

Note too that Monica Miller is theLegal Director and Senior Counsel at the AHA’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center and Executive Director of the Humanist Legal Society,” an organization that many of us support and some even see as too woke. I’ve been at several of their events, and pitting her against Waggoner would have been something to see. But I can find no report about the substance of the debate.

The AHA and ADF were in fact on the same side in a recent Supreme Court case, Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which decided last year by an 8-1 vote that a person whose free speech was violated, in this case a Christian who wanted to proselytize on campus but was prevented from doing so, has a right to sue for nominal damages. As the Beacon notes:

The American Humanist Association was one of several progressive groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, that filed amicus briefs in support of Uzuegbunam. But it was the Alliance Defending Freedom that actually argued the case before the Supreme Court, which ruled 8-1 in Uzuegbunam’s favor.

The one dissenting vote, curiously, was by Chief Justice John Roberts—a conservative who cast the only lone dissenting vote of his tenure to date.

Finally, there were the usual sequelae: a raft of accusatory letters and petitions as the entitled and angry students used the event to air their pet peeves:

In the two days following the panel, more than 60 percent of the law school’s student body signed an open letter supporting the “peaceful student protesters,” who they claimed had been imperiled by the presence of police.

“The danger of police violence in this country is intensified against Black LGBTQ people, and particularly Black trans people,” the letter read. “Police-related trauma includes, but is certainly not limited to, physical harm. Even with all of the privilege afforded to us at YLS, the decision to allow police officers in as a response to the protest put YLS’s queer student body at risk of harm.”

Signed by 417 students, the letter also condemned Stith for telling the protesters to “grow up,” and the Federalist Society for hosting the event, which “profoundly undermined our community’s values of equity and inclusivity.”

Whatever you think, the campus police weren’t there to inflict violence on “Black LGBTQ people,” but to escort the debaters peacefully from the venue.

This is an embarrassment to Yale, but of course Yale has shown itself immune to embarrassment over the last couple of years.  And think of our future Yale lawyers, surely many of them participants in this idiocy. 60% of them signed the letter, noted above, supporting the “peaceful student protestors”! Peaceful my tuchas: they waved placards, interrupted the speakers rudely, and made a big ruckus outside the lecture hall. Do these future lawyers even know the meaning of words like “peaceful”, much less the principles of free speech? I think not.

I just found this tweet by Nicholas Christakis (remember him and the Yale Halloween Costume Brouhaha?):

So the Yale Daily News verifies the gist of what happened as well. It’s amusing that the protestors took Kate Stith to task for telling them to “grow up.” For growing up is exactly what they need to do. If you don’t even realize that you need to grow up, you won’t. It’s just like the realization that one is an alcoholic is necessary to effect a lasting cure.

Here’s the video, which I can’t watch. You can tell me what’s in it. 

University of Massachusetts STEM faculty push back against the politicization of their University and its morphing from research and teaching to social engineering

February 22, 2022 • 10:00 am

Not long ago, according to the “open letter” from faculty below, the University of Massachusetts at Boston issued a new and provisional draft statement of its “Mission and Values”. It’s pretty short, so I’ll put it below (bolding is mine except for the headers)

Mission statement draft:

As an academic community of global and local citizens, we are committed to becoming an anti-racist and health-promoting institution that honors and uplifts the cultural wealth of our students. We intend to engage reciprocally in equitable practices and partnerships with the communities we serve. We support various and diverse forms of knowledge production that enrich the lives of all communities, especially those historically undervalued and underserved. We are a public urban university dedicated to teaching, learning, and research rooted in equity, environmental sustainability, social and racial justice, innovation, and expansive notions of excellence.

Vision statement draft:

We aspire to become an anti-racist and health-promoting public research institution where:

  • Diversity, equity, shared governance, and expansive notions of excellence are core institutional values.

  • Wellness and an ethic of care are embedded throughout our campus culture and all policies and practices.

  • We invest in a resource-rich learning environment to support the development and success of students of plural identities and from diverse socio-economic, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.

  • Climate, environmental, and racial justice align with sustainable economic and planning decisions with local and global effects.

  • Community engaged scholarship, service, and reciprocity are embedded in University practices that promote the economic, social, and cultural well-being of the communities we serve

We hold ourselves and each other accountable to ensure these values drive all decision-making in research, pedagogical innovations, resource allocation, and the development of policies and practices.


if you compare this to the OLDER published statement published here, you’ll see quite a difference. For example, here’s how the old Mission Statement begins:

Mission

The University of Massachusetts Boston is a public research university with a dynamic culture of teaching and learning, and a special commitment to urban and global engagement. Our vibrant, multi-cultural educational environment encourages our broadly diverse campus community to thrive and succeed. Our distinguished scholarship, dedicated teaching, and engaged public service are mutually reinforcing, creating new knowledge while serving the public good of our city, our commonwealth, our nation, and our world.

And while there is a small section on “diversity and inclusion”, note that the diversity refers to “variant perspectives and values” of people of all ages regardless of “national or cultural origins.”  The word “race” or “ethnicity does not appear in the old statement. What you see just below is inclusive, not divisive, and refers to “community building”

Diversity and Inclusion:

Our multi-faceted diversity is an educational asset for all members of our community. We value and provide a learning environment that nurtures respect for differences, excites curiosity, and embodies civility. Our campus culture encourages us all to negotiate variant perspectives and values, and to strive for open and frank encounters. In providing a supportive environment for the academic and social development of a broad array of students of all ages who represent many national and cultural origins, we seek to serve as a model for inclusive community-building.


That’s quite a difference, isn’t it? The old statement gives the main mission to do research, and foster teaching and learning (with both urban and local engagement) This, indeed used to be the main purpose of a University, but in the last two years that’s all changed. Not only has the main mission morphed into this:

we are committed to becoming an anti-racist and health-promoting institution that honors and uplifts the cultural wealth of our student,

but now the University seems to be far more about pushing an ideology and involving its members in social engineering of equity: “anti-racist” is mentioned twice, “racial justice” twice, and “racial backgrounds” once. Further, we see the “other ways of knowing” trope:

We support various and diverse forms of knowledge production that enrich the lives of all communities, especially those historically undervalued and underserved.

In the new draft, “research” appears only in the last sentence of the mission statement, as opposed to in the first in the older draft.

Notice also that they’re now committed to “expansive notions of excellence.” This can mean but one thing: “less meritocracy”.  And that translates to fewer or no standardized tests, less emphasis on grading, and more emphasis on personal qualities like “spunk.”

If you compare the old with the new draft, you’ll conclude that three things have changed:

1.) The mission of the university is now to achieve social justice, and that has become a priority standing above doing research and teaching. In other words, the Universitiy’s mission is ideological and political—a form of social engineering rather than knowledge production and dissemination

2.) What we see is the morphing of of a good university into a large and expensive site of individual and group therapy, promulgating “wellness and an ethic of care.”

3.) New forms of “knowledge production” are to be used, especially forms of “knowledge production” that aid minorities or those historically oppressed. What, exactly, are the “new forms of knowledge production”? Are they those involving “lived experience” rather than facts, or “special ways of knowing” said to be characteristic of different groups?

This is a huge change in the mission of this university, and it’s not just UM Boston, but almost everywhere—even my school. The historical function of the university, outlined in the old mission statement, has now become antiquated.

However, some faculty won’t go gentle into that good night. If you click on the screenshot below, you’ll see a letter signed by (so far) 40 members of the University’s College of Science and Mathematics who oppose the new draft Mission and Vision statements. These are brave people, as surely there are more who feel the same way but don’t want to go public about it.

These faculty (erroneously, I think) attribute the warped new statements as “likely accidental” because “the College of Science and Mathematics only has one representative on the committee [that drafted the statement] despite being the second largest college on campus.”

Well, they may be right, but I doubt it. It is the humanities and social sciences that are most vocal and active in this type of authoritarianism, and why would omitting scientists and mathematicians be an “accident”, anyway?

Do read their entire response, which is a heartbreaking plea for the University of Massachusetts at Boston to return to its traditional mission. That’s not going to happen, and the way things are, in ten years there will be no public (and few private) universities in America who don’t see their main mission as social engineering and therapy.

One quote from the faculty’s response, which at the end calls for a “significant revision” of the draft mission and vision statements. (Bolding is the authors’, not mine.)

We believe the Mission and Vision Statements trample on the fundamental role of the university: to facilitate the creation, curation, and dissemination of knowledge. To elaborate, we believe that the main goals of a university are to empower the pursuit of knowledge, to cultivate lifelong learning, to foster the exchange of ideas, to encourage critical thinking, to unequivocally support free inquiry, and to instill respect for a diversity of ideas and viewpoints.

Under no circumstances can political or ideological activism be the primary purpose of a public university. This is not to say students, faculty, and staff cannot be activists. Quite the contrary: individual people are the agents of social change, and as such they should be encouraged to organize and fight for a better society. Moreover, the public university can play an active role in educating students on pressing issues of social injustice as well as effective methods of activism. However, in this regard the role of the university is to empower people to take action themselves – not to coerce students, faculty, or institutional units to do so.

It is important to emphasize that the fundamental role of the public university can neither be political nor ideological activism. In part, this is due to the illegality of compelled speech in public institutions and our legally binding commitment to academic freedom as outlined in the so-called “red book” on academic personnel policy. Additionally, ideological activism cannot be a central goal of the university because at times it will conflict with education and research. The search for truth can never be subjugated to social or ideological beliefs.

We raise these points about the purpose of the public university because we believe the current drafts of the mission and vision statements radically depart from these fundamental tenets, and instead promote a chilling environment for the pursuit of truth. This is most evident in the Vision Statement which discusses diversity, equity, expansive notions of excellence, wellness, an ethic of care, plural identities, climate justice, environmental justice, and racial justice, and then states that “We hold ourselves and each other accountable to ensure these values drive all decision-making in research, pedagogical innovations, resource allocation, and the development of policies and practices.” That is, these values – which have very distinct ideological interpretations – must drive the direction of every researcher and department on campus, and as a community of scholars we will hold people accountable when their research does not actively promote these values.

  • If your research on quantum computing is not perceived as promoting climate, environmental, or racial justice – will you be held accountable and your resources re-allocated?

  • If your department makes the data-informed decision to support the use of standardized tests as a measurement of student learning or preparation, but the campus views this as being opposed to wellness, an ethic of care, equity, or an expansive notion of excellence, will your department be held accountable and its resources re-allocated?

This is, to me, very sad. The American University is disappearing, and with it its traditional values of research, teaching, and learning. It is now becoming a vehicle for the ideology of the Far Left. I’m on the Left, but wouldn’t want for a minute to make my own politics into a “mission statement” for my universities

And universities should not be the vehicle for ANY ideology. The University of Chicago’s Kalven Report prohibits, with very few exceptions, any official moral, political, or ideological statement by the administration or units of the University, such as departments. This is because those kind of statements involve the chilling of speech—of making university members afraid to speak up if they have problems with “official stands”. (We of course welcome individual or signed group arguments, but not official ones.)

The third paragraph of the excerpt above explicitly echoes the Kalven Report’s statement.  Without such a rule in place, there is nothing to prevent universities from degenerating into units that push their own political beliefs on students and postdocs.  How can you learn to think, or even learn, period, when you are afraid to speak up against official statements issued from on high?

h/t: Anna

A trend explained: why colleges ignore their own free-speech policies

February 8, 2022 • 11:30 am

I’m not going to give any mea culpas for writing about an editorial from the Wall Street Journal, because although their op-ed section definitely leans towards the Right, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it. In fact, I found that the piece below (click on screenshot or make a judicious inquiry for a copy), made sense of something that has puzzled me for a long time. Why do many schools that have such strong official policies favoring free speech nevertheless ignore those policies when it comes to specific instances—especially when the “free speech” being exercised goes against “progressive” Left ideology or heats up a social media mob.

One example of this is the shamelessly hypocritical way that Georgetown University treated two professors who posted inflammatory tweets. The first one,C. Christine Fair, who posted very vicious anti-Brett Kavanaugh tweets during his Supreme Court confirmation, was defended by the GU Law School. The other, Ilya Shapiro, who posted arguably less inflammatory tweets about Biden’s promise to appoint a black woman as a Supreme Court justice, was suspended and forced to apologize. (He’s still suspended; see here and here for the story.)

You can find Georgetown’s policy on speech and expression here, and this is an excerpt:

As an institution of higher education, one specifically committed to the Catholic and Jesuit tradition, Georgetown University is committed to free and open inquiry, deliberation and debate in all matters, and the untrammeled verbal and nonverbal expression of ideas. It is Georgetown University’s policy to provide all members of the University community, including faculty, students, and staff, the broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn.

The ideas of different members of the University community will often and naturally conflict. It is not the proper role of a university to insulate individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive. Deliberation or debate may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or ill conceived.

Individual members of the University community have the right to judge the value of ideas, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting those arguments and ideas that they oppose. Fostering the ability of members of the University community to engage with each other in an effective and responsible manner is an essential part of the University’s educational mission.

In the case of Shapiro, they blatantly violated this. He was punished for tweets that were “unwelcome, disagreeable, and offensive”. He shouldn’t have been. As a private school, Georgetown doesn’t have to adhere to such principles of free expression, but they do and say so. This leaves them open to a lawsuit, and I hope Shapiro brings one.

Why do schools do this? I’m deeply afraid that my own school, The University of Chicago, is walking back its well known free speech policy, with deans and departments making statements that regularly violate our Kalven Principle of taking no official stands on politics, ideology, or morality. (Individuals, of course, are welcome to say whatever they want subject to court interpretations of the First Amendment.)  But official statements act to chill speech, making people self-censor lest they be ostracized for bucking “official” opinion. And, though they’ve been declared illegal here by our last President, they still festoon the websites of several departments. Why are they still up? I had no idea.

Here’s a short explanation, which rings very true to me, about why universities don’t seem to care much about free speech (click on screenshot). The author, John Hasnas, is a professor of Law and Business at Georgetown.

Hasnas’s explanation for why colleges don’t care about free speech is simple:

Regardless of Mr. Treanor’s political views, he has every reason to do this. University administrators get no reward for upholding abstract principles. Their incentive is to quell on-campus outrage and bad press as quickly as possible. Success is widely praised, but there is no punishment for failing to uphold the university’s commitment to free speech.

Short and sweet, and probably true. Now a place like the University of Chicago, which does attract students because of our famous support of free-speech, may have some incentive to keep those policies alive. And it’s my mission to keep those policies not only alive, but enforced.  If they’re not enforced, as I fear will happen, well, what does the U of C have to lose?  A few students, perhaps, but what is that compared to the onslaught of a social-media mob that could put the University in a bad public light?

But I digress.  Hasnas is right, I think, but his solution to the problem seems bizarre and unworkable. Here it is:

The solution is to create an incentive for schools to protect open inquiry—the fear of lawsuits. First, universities should add a “safe harbor” provision to their speech policies stating: “The university will summarily dismiss any allegation that an individual or group has violated a university policy if the allegation is based solely on the individual’s or group’s expression of religious, philosophical, literary, artistic, political, or scientific viewpoints.” This language would be contractually binding. Second, free-speech advocates should organize pro bono legal groups to sue schools that violate the safe-harbor provision. This would make it affordable for suppressed parties to bring suits over the violation of their contractual rights.

University counsel, whose primary job is to protect the institution from being sued, would then have incentive to curb administrators’ behavior. They might require that allegations of harassment be reviewed by a member of the counsel’s office who knows how to distinguish complaints about speech from genuine harassment. They almost certainly would revise the university’s antiharassment training to stress that students and faculty shouldn’t file complaints based solely on the content of the viewpoint being expressed. These and other steps they might take would give universities’ abstract commitments to freedom of speech some real bite.

In the absence of damage awards, university administrators won’t act against their own interests merely to uphold an abstract commitment to free speech. The threat of such awards would make universities like Georgetown put their money where their mouths are.

Why won’t this work? Because what incentive do universities have to make themselves liable for lawsuits by adding this “safe harbor provision”? If you have no incentive to keep free expression alive, what incentive would you have to deliberately make yourself liable to lawsuits for violating such expression? Hasnas is asking universities to modify their speech codes to make them into contracts under which people could then sue the university. Why on would they do that? They’d do it only if they cared deeply about preserving free speech. And they don’t.

True, once such contracts are in place, University Legal could fight any speech-repressing behavior of administrators, departments or other University members. They would have to, for their job is to protect the legal interests of the university. But I still don’t understand, nor does Hasnas explain, why universities could create “the fear of lawsuits” by putting these “safe harbor” provisions into place.

It seems to me that only an attorney specializing in criminal law could make such a suggestion. And sure enough, that’s what Hasnas specializes in. First you get your university to make a law whose violation could prompt lawsuits, and then the threat of lawsuits will keep the university honest. But WHY would a university make such a law when it doesn’t care about free speech in the first place?

Maybe I’m missing something, but this sounds weird.

The world’s Wokest university

February 7, 2022 • 1:00 pm

I would have guessed that the world’s Wokest university would be—given what I know about North American and British universities—The Evergreen State College. But I know almost nothing about the ideologies pervading schools in other countries, especially Africa, Asia, and South America.  From Grania I knew about the “decolonization” movement against science at The University of Cape Town in South Africa (henceforth UCT), a city I’ve always wanted to visit (Grania lived and went to school there). But lately I’ve heard little, for Americans are a parochial people and tend to ignore what happens in other places. This article from Quillette, however, makes the case that no university in the entire world is more “progressive”—and by “progressive,” author David Benatar. means “woke”—then The University of Cape Town.

You may have heard of Benatar before: he’s a South African philosopher—in fact, used to be the head of the Department of Philosophy at the very university he decries.[A commenter below has noted that Benatar probably resigned the chairmanship in 2021.] Benatar also wrote a controversial book called Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence, which makes the case that producing more human beings creates greater harm, for the very fact of existing is a harm. He is thus an “antinatalist.”

Benatar is the son of Solomon Benatar, a global-health expert who founded the Bioethics Centre at the University of Cape Town. Not much is known about Benatar’s personal life as he deliberately guards his privacy. He has held antinatalist views since his childhood.

If he didn’t guard his privacy, he’d probably be killed (see the video he includes with his article.) In fact, there appears to be only one photo on the Internet, but as reader “NG” tells us in the comments below, it’s not Benatar.

We’ll leave biography aside, though, for here we have a rare case of a well known professor in a good university criticizing that university publicly. And what he says is horrifying. 

According to Benatar, the University is rife with bullying and unfounded accusations of racism, many of them by black students against black students. There is deplatforming, harassment, and even suicide caused by the climate of entitlement and the students’ aspirations to “decolonize” everything.  The behavior of some people is even criminal, but UCT overlooks it. The downfall began when UCT started capitulating to student demands and bad behavior around 2015.

Why is this happening? An obsession with race drives much of this, and Benatar describes why:

Post-apartheid South Africa remains obsessed with race. Technically, nobody is racially classified by the state any longer, but the implementation of extensive racial preference legislation presupposes continued acceptance of those categories. So, while people are not officially categorized by race, they are in practice, sometimes against their will. Racial preferences in South Africa have acquired two distinctive features that distinguish them from the forms of affirmative action common in, for example, North America.

First, racial preferences in South Africa are much stronger. Many of the racial preference policies and practices permissible in South Africa, such as quotas, would be illegal in the US or Canada. Some of the racial preferences practised in South African universities may even be illegal under South African law, but are sufficiently covert to avoid legal challenge.

Second, the beneficiaries of South African racial preferences constitute a large majority of the population and of students at the University of Cape Town. Blacks are not yet a majority of the academic staff, but it was always going to be difficult to get the demographics of the professoriate to reflect the demographics of the country after hundreds of years of anti-black racism. This has become an even more challenging task because the quality of primary and secondary schooling has declined since the advent of democracy.

Benatar has written a book about this, which he mentions when he starts listing some of the lunacy inflicting UCT:

In my book, The Fall of the University of Cape Town, I offer a detailed account of what has been happening at (and to) Africa’s leading university since the #FeesMustFall protests began in October 2015. On multiple occasions in 2015, 2016, and 2017, the university was shut down for weeks at a time by a relatively small group of activist students demanding “decolonized” higher education and an end to increases in student fees. In ostensible pursuit of these goals, protesters set fire to historic artworks, university vehicles, and the vice-chancellor’s office, and vandalized university buildings with human excrement.

More worrying still, they intimidated hundreds of people with threats of violence backed by instances of assault. An activist used a sjambok to whip a cellphone out of a fellow student’s hand, a vice-chancellor was punched, students and staff who defied the protesters were pushed and shoved, a security guard was beaten with a steel rod, and another had to be hospitalized after a rock was dropped onto his head. No one was ultimately held accountable, either by the university’s disciplinary system or in the country’s courts. (When charges were laid, they were later withdrawn.)

Furthermore, the behavior of activists indicates that racial abuse is now compatible with the pursuit of social justice, so long as the recipients of such abuse are either pale-skinned and/or insufficiently progressive in their politics. One student protester wore a t-shirt bearing the phrase “Kill All Whites”; a memorial to soldiers killed in both World Wars was daubed with the words “Fuck White People”; a senior academic who referred to a junior colleague as “just another fucking white woman” was appointed to a senior administrative position shortly thereafter. Darker-skinned students and faculty, meanwhile, who do not toe the party line, have been denounced as a “coconuts,” “sell-outs,” “colonial administrators,” and “porch negroes.”

On July 27th, 2018, Professor Bongani Mayosi, Dean of the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences, committed suicide after he was persecuted by activists disrupting the campus. Professor Mayosi’s sister did not hesitate to hold the #FeesMustFall protesters morally responsible for this tragedy. “He was hardly two weeks in his new position and the protests broke out,” she told the Sunday Times. “The vitriolic nature of the students and their do or die attitude vandalised his soul and unravelled him. Their personal insults and abuse cut him to the core, were offensive to his values and were the opposite of everything he was about.”

There’s a lot more, with bullying from both the top down and bottom up, and accusations of racism flying right and left.  What to do about it? All he can do is shake his head and mourn his school:

It may be that the University of Cape Town only seems more extreme because I am seeing it up close. My book offers a detailed account of what has happened here so that others can compare my experience with their own. Those comparisons will be illuminating. I am, however, convinced that concerns about a conservative and liberal moral panic at UCT are misplaced. Such accusations are used to dodge moral responsibility and to justify cruelty, violence, and vandalism in the name of self-righteous indignation.

Well, I’m not sure what the difference is between living in a moral panic and behaving badly because of that panic, but so be it. “Othering” breeds hatred and immorality.  However, Given Benatar’s views of his school and his anti-natalism, I’m surprised he’s still alive. One wonders why the students haven’t done him in, or why he hasn’t done himself in. The good news is that he’s still here, and so can tell us about what’s going on at UCT. Not that it’s especially cheerful.

Benatar’s article contains a video showing a security guard being violently attacked by UCT students, and it’s really scary to see this latent and then overt violence. But I’d prefer to show this well known video from 2016; showing students telling the science faculty that “science must fall”. It has to be scrapped and begun all over again with “folk wisdom”  Sound familiar?

But if you’re a dispirited science teacher in New Zealand, worried about whether you’ll be able to teach your science in the face of ideology, do cheer up a bit. You could, after all, be a science teacher at UCT! The students want to do away with science in toto! What chance do these kids have for a decent education when they come to college already claiming to know everything about everything?

h/t: David

The University of Waikato vows fealty to New Zealand’s only approved ideology

February 5, 2022 • 1:45 pm

This video, narrated by Dr Sarah-Jane Tiakiwai and Professor Alister Jones of the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand, is intended to give “an update on the Taskforce’s work in 2021, and what lies ahead in 2022.” The taskforce was apparently charged with “addressing systemic and casual racism.”

In other words, what we have is a short progress report that outlines “equity” goals for their school.   Although this is not a university especially designed to cater to the Māori in particular, it does sit on Māori land and has been supported by the local subgroup, the Tainui.  At the same time, however, it’s supposed to be a general “research-led” university with aspirations to world renown. As Wikipedia describes it:

The university provides a strong, research-led global contribution in the disciplines of education, social sciences, and management and is an innovator in environmental science, marine and freshwater ecology, engineering and computer science. It offers degrees in Health, Engineering, computer science, management, Māori and Indigenous Studies, the Arts, Psychology, Social Sciences and Education.

But, as the Kiwi who sent me this video noted sadly, “The University is devoted to praising everything Māori”, and is heavily imbued by Māori “ways of knowing”. I think you can see that in the short video report below.

The characteristics of this kind of pandering or “valorization of the oppressed” are manifest, including heavy use of the local language as a sign of virtue. Most Kiwis, much less those from elswhere, don’t know the language, so they should have provided subtitles). The “outcomes” of the task force study are these (the quotes are from the speakers above):

1.) “Systemic and casual racism no longer have a place” But did they ever? And if they did, why? How did they detect systemic and casual racism?”

2.) “The Treaty of Waitangi [1840] sits at heart of the work that we do here at the University.”  This is very strange, for even the interpretation of that treaty varies among people. It seems to be interpreted now as complete equity (not equality) of Māori and non-Māori, and if there is dissent—as thre was with the seven Auckland professors who refused to approve equity in the classroom between science and mātauranga Māori or Māori “ways of knowing”—it’s resolved in favor of Māori.  The attitude that “because of the Treaty, the Māori can do no wrong” permeates NZ education.

3.) “And mātauranga Māori is treated.” (I’m not sure that’s exactly the sentence.)  Later on, Professor Jones mentions finding the best ways to incorporate mātauranga Māori (MM) into the University’s teaching, learning and research.  Increasing the hegemony of MM is a prime goal of the university, as it is in most New Zealand schools.

The more I read these educational plans for the country, whether at the University or at secondary-school level, the less I understand, for they never give specifics; they just keep lauding how great the schools are and planning further “thought groups”. Higher education, or those who write its screeds, are badly afflicted with logorrhea.

Now granted, this committee was formed to address “casual and systemic racism” at the University (which I doubt really exists in extenso). But the combination of regarding the 1840 treaty as nearly a sacred theological document—a “scripture”—combined with the the apparently un-criticizable mixture of legend, fable, tradition, practical knowledge, and theology that is  mātauranga Māori, is a recipe for disaster. This will not bring the University of Waikato into the modern era, much less put it among the first rank of research schools—as it aspires to be. For one thing, the scientists will flee the place in droves.

When I watched these two humorless people regurgitate the doctrine that is “political correctness” in New Zealand, larding it generously with indigenous language, I could only think back on the Soviet times, or the Chinese Cultural Revolution, when all academics had to adhere to the official state ideology. It is as if in this video there is a cadre of people off camera, waiting with dunce caps and one-way bus tickets to farms in the country, ready to dole them out if the speakers didn’t hew to the Official Ideology.  These people are cowed, as are many in New Zealand. I get emails all the time from those who are afraid to speak up against these trends, for dissent is not treated lightly in New Zealand. Professors who don’t toe the official line, for instance, can be penalized or fired. 

Once again, I am not trying to denigrate the Māori, or say that MM is useless (though it is no substitute for modern science and should not be taught as such). The Māori have indeed been historically oppressed, and if there is residual racism, it must be addressed. (I have to say, though, that despite claims of its persistence, nobody gives any examples). But we cannot run a modern university on traditional indigenous principles, nor hold any one group of people to be uniformly and unquestionably superior to any other. 

Here’s the video on the University’s “Why Study at Waikato?” page.to attract students. Academia doesn’t seem to be a big draw here, but the fishing is good!

A trigger warning for Nineteen Eighty-Four !

January 24, 2022 • 10:30 am

First of all, let’s get the title of Orwell’s book straight: it’s Nineteen Eighty-Fournot 1984. And that’s the way Orwell referred to it.

That out of the way, a British University has issued a trigger warning for that book. Click this screenshot from The Volokh Conspiracy, which mis-titles the book, to read Volokh’s take on this warning.

Volokh’s quotes are indented, while the Daily Fail quote is doubly indented. My thoughts are flush left.

Daily Mail (UK) (Chris Hastings) reports:

[S]taff at the University of Northampton have issued a trigger warning for George Orwell’s novel on the grounds that it contains ‘explicit material’ which some students may find ‘offensive and upsetting’.

Volokh:

The advice [was] revealed following a Freedom of Information request by The Mail on Sunday….

[I]t is one of several literary works which have been flagged up to students at Northampton who are studying a module called Identity Under Construction. They are warned that the module ‘addresses challenging issues related to violence, gender, sexuality, class, race, abuses, sexual abuse, political ideas and offensive language’….

I think if individual faculty members want to warn students about particular books this way, they should be free to do so. And I actually support warning students generally about this—preferably in orientation, but perhaps even at the start of a class syllabus—precisely to remind them that studying the human experience at a university necessarily involves confronting the dark sides of humanity.

But I personally think it’s a mistake to offer such book-by-book advice, precisely because it reinforces the presupposition that students in university literature, history, anthropology, law, etc. classes should by default expect nothing offensive, upsetting, or explicit, and are thus entitled to be warned as to departures from this norm. The history of humanity has been in large part the history of tyranny, mass murder, slavery, rape, racism, sexist oppression, and much more. (Thankfully, it hasn’t been only that, but many serious accounts, real or fictional, will include the evil as well as the good.)

Adults who study humanity should recognize that this is so. They should be prepared to deal with it at all times in their studies. Indeed, the more they want to fight such evils, the more they should be ready to deal with it without the need for trigger warnings or other supposed protections. And the institutions tasked with educating such adults ought to seek to inculcate such a perspective, as part of their educational function.

Yes, I agree with Volokh about the book-by-book warning; but I think that professors should always use a light finger on the trigger lest they infantilize students and make them think, as Volokh notes, that anything bad is “abnormal and traumatic.” Further, as studies have shown, trigger warnings don’t work—that is, they don’t reduce the trauma of students who say they are upset by material in a given genre. If anything —and this is like “implicit bias training”—they tend to have an effect opposite to what’s intended. Volokh gives the references to those studies in his article, and dp realize that the data are based on a handful of studies.

When I thought back on the novel, which I recently reread, I scratched my head about what part of its content would require a trigger warning. The furtive sex between Winston and Julia is not at all explicit. There’s a bit of violence when Winston gets caught and tortured, but even that isn’t very graphic.  Fortunately, the Daily Fail gives the trigger warning itself, which actually applies to a module of several works, one of which is Nineteen Eighty-Four.

From the Fail:

Now staff at the University of Northampton have issued a trigger warning for George Orwell’s novel on the grounds that it contains ‘explicit material’ which some students may find ‘offensive and upsetting’.

. . . Yet it is one of several literary works which have been flagged up to students at Northampton who are studying a module called Identity Under Construction. They are warned that the module ‘addresses challenging issues related to violence, gender, sexuality, class, race, abuses, sexual abuse, political ideas and offensive language’.

What is, exactly, “explicit material”? The violence and sex in Orwell’s book is largely implicit—described obliquely rather than graphically.

And for crying out loud: if you are offended by violence, class, race, political ideas, and so on, you should NOT be reading the newspaper! As for the other topics, you shouldn’t be reading serious literature at all.  Madame Bovary: “Warning: contains adultery, sex, and suicidal violence”.  You could use the same warning for Anna Karenina!  And violence, oy! There goes War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, and even the Bible. (Do they give trigger warnings in theology class?) Ulysses and anything by Henry Miller or Cormac McCarthy are of course out completely. In fact, I defy you to think of a great work of literature that wouldn’t require a trigger warning on any of the grounds above.  I just remembered The Great Gatsby, but of course that has death by auto accident, murder, and domestic violence.

There’s a common thread in much wokeness, one first brought up by Haidt and Lukianoff in their excellent book The Coddling of the American Mind, which suggests these three principles (they call them the “Great Untruths”) for understanding the behavior of modern young people:

  1. “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”
  2. “Always trust your feelings”, and
  3. “Life is a battle between good people and evil people.”

It’s time to stop infantilizing people and treat them like adults. (One example: when we wrote our critique of the hit job on Ed Wilson published in Scientific American, several people warned us that we should go easy on the author—or even not criticize her views—because she was black. That outraged me, because if you believe in affirming the dignity of all people, you must treat the arguments of minorities as you would the arguments of anyone else: if you object to them, you do so strongly but civilly. To do otherwise is to be condescending, paternalistic, and, in fact, racist.)

But enough. Yes, professors can dispense trigger warnings if they want, but they should realize that there’s no evidence that they work, and that when they do so they are practicing the first Great Untruth. I don’t know how my generation got through college without mass trauma.

h/t: Anna