The University of Oklahoma teaches instructors how to make students shut up and swallow an accepted ideology

June 24, 2021 • 9:41 am

This new article from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) tells a dire tale that is documented with a recording.

On April 14, the University ran a professional development workshop for grad students and instructors dealing with “Anti-Racist Rhetoric & Pedagogies”. In this workshop, the instructors were taught how to make students shut up about certain topics, steer them and bend them to a woke ideology and, most offensively, how to threaten students with lower marks (or reporting to the administration) if they didn’t write the right stuff in their assignments. Click on the screenshot to read (and hear):

Of course it’s not illegal under the First Amendment to prevent students from disrupting classes, nor is it illegal to make them regurgitate material you’ve taught them, even if they don’t accept it. (In my evolution classes here, for instance, I sometimes had some creationist students, but they were graded on their ability to answer questions under the assumption that what I taught them was true. But I never made them accept evolution if they rejected it.)

Here’s the one-hour video of the U of O Zoom session. FIRE has highlighted it with time stamps certain parts that are worrying:

FIRE’s quotes are indented:

The workshop in question trains instructors on how to eliminate disfavored but constitutionally protected expression from the classroom and guide assignments and discussion into preferred areas — all for unambiguously ideological and viewpoint-based reasons. FIRE’s concerns are further compounded by the University of Oklahoma’s brazen and unconstitutional track record of putting individual rights out to pasture.

. . .But it’s not just racism the presenters encourage participants to root out.

One of the workshop leaders, Kelli Pyron Alvarez, explained in the recording how undergraduate students in one of her introductory English courses are “a little bit more emboldened to be racist” (17:17). To combat this, she forbids huge swaths of classroom speech, including “derogatory remarks, critiques, and hate speech,” as well as “white supremacist ideas or sources,” unless the student is using those sources to dismantle racism.

If you are wondering what sources or ideas are off limits because they fall into Pyron Alvarez’s subjective categories of white supremacist sources or “derogatory remarks” — well, she never specifies, so you should be.

Making a mistake can cost you: “If they use any of those things, if any of those come through in their writing or in their comments, I will call them out on it.” (18:20)

And if it happens again, “report them.”

Report them! To whom? Remember, as a state school, the University of Oklahoma must adhere to the principles of the First Amendment, and cannot penalize students for simply believing things that the instructors frown on. But wait! There’s more!

. . . Fairly early in the training, Pyron Alvarez addresses the potential reluctance faculty members might have toward putting a heavy hand on student speech. “One of the fears is that we’re going to get in trouble for this, right?,” she says. “Like we can’t tell students that they can’t say something in class. But we can! And let me tell you how.” (17:45)

Pyron Alvarez’ fellow workshop leader Kasey Woody later goes into some detail on how instructors can “steer” students away from “problematic territory” to accomplish this. (46:01)

“I, in this case, usually look for my students who might be, like, entertaining the idea of listening to a problematic argument. Then I say, ‘we don’t have to listen to that.’” (45:45)

That’s right — even thinking about listening to a disfavored argument is apparently to be discouraged.

Woody later reassures the instructors that they won’t face consequences for censoring students: “You do not need to worry about repercussions at any degree in the university if you are responding to a student who is using problematic language in the classroom.” (49:42)

And who gives them the green light to censor OU students? According to Pyron Alvarez, that permission comes from the highest court in the country.

“The Supreme Court has actually upheld that hate speech, derogatory speech, any of the -isms do not apply in the classroom because they do not foster a productive learning environment. And so, as instructors we can tell our students: ‘no, you do not have the right to say that. Stop talking right now’, right?” (20:05)

Now that is just wrong. The Supreme Court has said that speech on school grounds that causes “material and substantial disruption” of school functions can be punished. But what doesn’t “foster a productive learning environment” now becomes the judgment of the U of O instructors, and “material and substantial disruption” doesn’t seem to be what the OU trainers are addressing here—unless they adhere to the false mantra that “offensive speech is violence.”

Finally,

Some of the responses from workshop participants indicated that they understood how what they were being told to do was out of the ordinary, and expressed reservations about it. One workshop participant asked whether instructors are doing a disservice to their students by censoring certain topics. The participant asked how to identify problematic arguments and whether, for example, a student should be able to examine if the Black Lives Matter movement should refrain from property damage. In response, Pyron Alvarez suggests telling students to “re-adjust” their topic if they’re “bordering” on being offensive. (53:05)

That’s not advice on what arguments might be effective — that’s “advice” on what arguments are politically acceptable.

It goes on, and doesn’t get better. FIRE wrote the University about this, and at first they refused to respond. Finally, yesterday UO Chief Diversity officer Kesha Keith responded, but it was a non-response. Keith asserted that the University “unequivocally values free expression and the diversity of all viewpoints”, but that’s not what the video shows. Keith also says that participation in this session was voluntary, but instructors are required to attend at least two of nine workshops.

On April 8 I reported that when FIRE wanted to see this Zoom session, the U of O stipulated very specific conditions:

The university’s March 23 response — more than four months after our request — said that FIRE would be permitted to view the training materials, but only in person on OU’s campus in Norman, Oklahoma. In other words, in order to view public records, the University of Oklahoma would require a FIRE staff member to fly across the country (FIRE is based in Philadelphia) during a global pandemic. That’s not exactly a transparency-friendly approach to public records, and it all but ensures that public records remain private.

It looks as if the U of O will continue this training—training that is effectively propaganda and also involves lying about student rights.

What can you do about it? At the bottom of the FIRE page is this form, and all you have to do is fill in your name and email address and press “send”, which will send the message at the bottom. I’ve already done that.  Read FIRE’s report, and if you agree that this kind of training  violates the rights of students, fill in the form and click. The only way we can stop the propagandizing of students and the discouragement of “speech” that the instructors don’t like is to speak up!

 

The message that’s automatically send under your name.

I am concerned about the state of free expression and freedom of conscience at the University of Oklahoma. Multiple instructor training sessions indicate that student and faculty individual rights are in jeopardy.

OU is a public institution, obligated to respect student and faculty rights. We call on you to ensure that individual rights are not violated at Oklahoma’s flagship institution.

Demanding ideological uniformity is a violation of students’ constitutional rights.

McWhorter backs off a tad on language requirements for studying classics

June 10, 2021 • 1:30 pm

This week, linguist and writer John McWhorter had a piece in The Atlantic decrying Princeton’s new decision that Classics majors do not need to learn Greek or Latin. He gave some good reasons, too—mainly that the original-language texts contain nuances that can’t be grasped in an English translation.

In a piece on his website today, however, McWhorter backs off a bit, arguing that he’s not 100% opposed to eliminating those language requirements, but is opposed if it’s done to cater to African-American students. Click to read:

McWhorter first notes that he can make a case for translating the archaic words in Shakespeare into modern English. He adds that one loses out going to operas where there’s no simultaneous translation of Italian or German (many operas have electronic translations available).  So why not make the classics more accessible by translating them into English? Well, this will work for people like me who aren’t classics majors, but what about those who are?

Even for those, McWhorter can find exceptions:

Thus I am not entirely closed to the idea that a classics departments stop requiring majors to know Latin and Greek. A part of me has a hard time letting go of the idea that the challenge is a valuable one to the nurturing of a young brain. Yes, Princeton will continue teaching Latin and Greek to students who want to dip their feet in just “because.” But the ones who specialize in actual Latin and Greek texts, if required to get in up to their waists, are the students who will truly know the languages, using them to grapple with entire chunks of work and thought. The new situation will be one basically announcing “Nobody has to really learn Latin or Greek unless they’re a grammar nerd. What we want is for you to come give us your take on what these texts are about.”

Many wonder what’s so bad about that. And someone like me looks back at antique requirements that all students at a college take Latin and/or Greek and sees a peculiar quaintness. One could see Princeton’s decision as simply taking us even further from arbitrary tradition.

. . . except when this is done to cater to black students.  Like his colleague Glenn Loury, McWhorter doesn’t like relaxing requirements only to allow black students to gain “equity” in a field:

And yet, my irritation and discomfort remain. This is for a specific reason. I revile decisions like these when they are made with black people in mind. We can have a conversation about whether standardized tests are fair, about whether there might be other ways of fairly assessing students, about whether classical texts really need to be encountered in the languages they were written in. However, to have those conversations within the context of excusing black students from challenge is, in my view, impermissible and yes, in its way, racist.

The kid who doesn’t know he isn’t supposed to mention the emperor’s nakedness – and there is a little of that kid in most people – will always know, for example, that the reason for pulling the test from requirements at schools like Stuyvesant was “because black kids couldn’t handle the test.” No amount of sermonizing about “holistic” this and “welcoming” that will distract sensible people from this basic fact. And it won’t do. Exempting classics students from amoamasamat out of a misty-eyed commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (i.e. to black students) is the same thing.

The tacit idea is people guilty about their white privilege saying over a Zoom meeting “If we want to have more black students, we can’t be making people learn Greek and Latin anymore.” Ugh – see how that reads when exposed to the sunlight? Revise how those languages are taught. Advertise them differently. Or here’s a compromise – Greek’s harder than Latin; maybe pull it but not Latin? Anything but that patronizing condescension.

It is true that people see through these excuses (in the Atlantic piece, the classics chair justified eliminating language requirements because it would inject “vitality” into the field). Nobody doubts why the language requirements were eliminated. And nobody doubts why college after college is eliminating standardized tests, or even written essays. They might as well admit the truth: this is a form of affirmative action.

Whether you think this form of affirmative action is a good thing to do is up to you. (In some cases, though not these, I think it is good.) But at least give us a little honesty! Otherwise we’re living in a land of Orwellian doublespeak.

Princeton’s Classics Department ditches student requirement for knowing either Latin or Greek

June 9, 2021 • 12:30 pm

According to John McWhorter writing at The Atlantic (click on screenshot below), the classics department at Princeton University has just ditched its requirement for all student to know either Latin or Greek.

And given the way the change was made, it’s clear to McWhorter that it was intended to increase racial diversity in the department and make studying there less daunting.

The official argument for the new policy at Princeton does not explicitly follow racialized lines. Josh Billings, a classics professor who is the department’s head of undergraduate studies, has argued in Princeton’s alumni magazine that “having new perspectives in the field will make the field better.” He further noted, “Having people who come in who might not have studied classics in high school and might not have had a previous exposure to Greek and Latin, we think that having those students in the department will make it a more vibrant intellectual community.”

When I asked Billings what that meant, he wrote back, “A student who has not studied Latin or Greek but is proficient in, say, Danish literature would, I think, both pose interesting questions to classical texts and be able to do interesting research on the ways that classical texts have been read and discussed in Denmark.” This is not entirely a stretch; I recently taught a class on African languages in which one student, as it happened, made useful contributions from his knowledge of ancient Greek. Yet there are reasons to suppose that something more specific is motivating the new direction at Princeton.

Note the use of “vibrant intellectual community.” The term vibrant—which a real-estate agent I once worked with artfully used to describe neighborhoods that someone of my race might want to live in—is often code less for Danish than for Black, and it certainly is here, all evidence suggests. The department had considered the policy change before, the Princeton Alumni Weekly reported, but saw it as taking on a “new urgency” by the “events around race that occurred last summer.” The department’s website includes a proclamation that the “history of our own department bears witness to the place of Classics in the long arc of systemic racism.”

The website also announces that the department wants to “create opportunities for the advancement of students and (future) colleagues from historically underrepresented backgrounds within the discipline.” This will mean “ensuring that a broad range of perspectives and experiences inform our study of the ancient Greek and Roman past.” Let’s not pretend, given the context of modern American academic culture, that the terms here refer simply to diversity writ large. Underrepresentedbroad range of perspectives and experiences—these are buzzwords saying, essentially, “for Black people and Latinos too.”

(I wrote previously about Dan-el Padilla Peralta, a Princeton classics professor who claims the entire field buttresses white supremacy and has in fact called for the abolition of his own field.)

McWhorter addresses other arguments for the change; for example that diverse ethnic groups could give new and interesting perspectives to the study of classics. But he finds those arguments unconvincing. Nor does he believe that classics can be learned just as well if you read them in English rather than Latin or Greek:

All classicists recognize that, really, you need to know the languages to fully understand the texts. This is also true of other literatures. For example, to engage with War and Peace in translation, as many American readers did during the coronavirus pandemic, is often to miss Russian nuances eschewed by the translator. Ancient Greek was bedecked with particle words that got across things that English often does just with intonation or implication; they are not directly equivalent to any single English word or expression, meaning roughly things like “Well …” and “Okay, then …” Such aspects of Greek, in the words of the classicist Coulter George, can “only be made out fuzzily through English-tinted glasses.” You never get a true feel of the flavor of how the people expressed themselves; you have at best stepped upon the threshold of somewhere new. To understand the argument about Augustus in that Classical World issue—even if streamlined in presentation by a teacher for undergraduates—requires one to understand the meanings of various Latin words for or involving “people.”

By the way, you should read McWhorter’s critique (link above) of the recent Russian translation of Anna Karenina (my favorite novel) by Pevear and Volokhonsky (clearly McWhorter is proficient in Russian). I was going to read that one, having been weaned on the earlier Russian translations of Constance Garnett, but decided to stick with Garnett after I read McWhorter’s critique.

At any rate, McWhorter is the only guy who could get away with a conclusion like this:

The Princeton Dlassics Department’s new position is tantamount to saying that Latin and Greek are too hard to require Black students to learn. But W. E. B. Du Bois, who taught both Latin and Greek for a spell, would have been shocked to discover that a more enlightened America should have excused him from learning the classical languages because his Blackness made him “vibrant” enough without going to the trouble of mastering something new.

When students get a degree in classics, they should know Latin or Greek. Even if they are Black. Note how offensive that even is. But the Princeton classics department’s decision forces me to phrase it that way. How is it anti-racist to exempt Black students from challenges?

 

h/t: Greg

Should the government pay for everyone’s college?

June 6, 2021 • 2:00 pm

Here’s Bill Maher’s take on Biden’s new $1.8 trillion plan to subsidize higher education for Americans (i.e., everyone pays for it). According to Forbes, the plan has these provisions:

President Biden today released a $1.8 trillion domestic spending proposal, called the “American Families Plan,” that would transform elements of American safety net programs, with a particular focus on higher education. Here’s what’s in it — and what’s not.

  • $109 billion for free community college. The plan would “ensure that first-time students and workers wanting to reskill can enroll in a community college to earn a degree or credential for free,” without incurring any student loan debt. The White House estimates that 5.5 million students could benefit. Free community college would also be available to DREAMers under the proposal.
  • Expansion of Pell Grant program. Pell Grants are financial aid awards for low-income students that do not have to be repaid. The current maximum Pell Grant award is $6,495; Biden’s plan would increase the maximum award amount by $1,400. The larger award would be available to DREAMers, as well.
  • $62 billion to invest in completion and retention activities at colleges and universities. According to the U.S. Department of Education, students who do not complete their degree programs are three times as likely to default on their student loans. Biden’s proposal would provide significant funding to colleges and universities to keep students on track for degree completion; this funding would include “wraparound services ranging from child care and mental health services to faculty and peer mentoring; emergency basic needs grants; practices that recruit and retain diverse faculty; transfer agreements between colleges; and evidence-based remediation programs.”
  • Two years of subsidized tuition at HBCUs, TCUs, and MSIs. Biden’s plan includes a new $39 billion program that provides two years of subsidized tuition for students from families earning less than $125,000 enrolled in four-year Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). The proposal also includes $5 billion to expand existing institutional aid grants to these schools, and “$2 billion directed towards building a pipeline of skilled health care workers with graduate degrees.”

Note that the program does not, as Maher implies, subsidize college for well off families, like Lori Laughlin’s: it’s aimed at students who are too poor to have access to college, and is thus a good liberal program in every way I can see.

Maher doesn’t like the plan, which he sees as misguided in many ways. First, he doesn’t like it because those without college educations will pay for those who do. That I reject, for all of us pay for secondary education even if we don’t have kids. That’s because we see secondary education as a universal good for society. Those who don’t drive are still taxed for building roads, for having roads benefits us all whether or not we drive. Same for college.

He also sees a college education as not generally worth it, just as “a racket that sells you a very expensive ticket to the upper middle class.” (Maher got his ticket to Cornell University.) He calls colleges “luxury day-care centers”, and criticizes things like college water parks and useless courses, all of which, of course, are risible. But he’s exaggerating what college means to many people. An education that improves us all. After all, the program doesn’t force you to go to college if you don’t want to or don’t have to for your career plans.

Finally, Maher mourns the rising costs of college and the unconscionable grade inflation (from 15% A grades in 1960 to 45% now), a trend that is distressing since it reduces the ability to judge accomplishment.

While Maher points out the pecuniary advantages of going to college—it has a substantial effect on one’s future income—he seems to think that college education is pretty much useless for many professions. As he says “The answer is not to make college free; the answer is to make it unnecessary, which it already is for most jobs”. But even if that were true, that doesn’t eliminate the monetary advantages that already exist. To get rid of those seems nearly impossible, and for some professions—like medicine, chemistry, and engineering—there’s no way to just “learn on the job” without formal training.

I’m not sure what got Maher’s panties in a wad about this, but I can say that this is not one of his better pieces.

h/t: Eli

Stanford University tries to block student from graduating for publishing a satirical post, fails on First Amendment grounds

June 3, 2021 • 10:40 am

Here’s a pretty blatant violation of the First Amendment by Stanford University as reported by Slate. But to know how it’s a violation, you have to know two pieces of law. Click on the screenshot to read:

In short, a third-year student at Stanford Law School, Nicholas Wallace, decided to make fun of the conservative Federalist Society, some of whose members agreed with the January assault on the U.S. Capitol, by publishing some satire on a listserv:

The flyer promoted a fake event, “The Originalist Case for Inciting Insurrection,” ostensibly sponsored by the Stanford Federalist Society. It advertised the participation of two politicians who tried to overturn the 2020 election, Missouri Sen. Joshua Hawley and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. “Violent insurrection, also known as doing a coup, is a classical system of installing a government,” the flyer read, adding that insurrection “can be an effective approach to upholding the principle of limited government.”

Reader Paul found a screenshot of the flyer:

The Federalist society urged Stanford to formally investigate Wallace. When the school did, Stanford put a hold on Wallace’s degree and forbade him from graduating, asserting that Wallace may have violated the University’s code of conduct.  But Stanford, and especially its law school, should have realized two things, which apparently were caught by the estimable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), whose own statement is here.

On Tuesday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education sent a letter to Stanford urging the school to “immediately abandon its investigation and commit to procedural reforms to protect the expressive rights Stanford promises to its students.” FIRE pointed out that California’s Leonard Law requires private universities to comply with the First Amendment, and there is no real question that Wallace’s email is shielded by the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has held that satire, including offensive and hurtful expression, constitutes protected speech, and Wallace’s email is obviously satirical. “No reasonable person familiar with the email’s context would understand it to be sincere,” FIRE wrote, noting that it advertises an event that occurred 19 days earlier and is “laden with figurative language intended to impugn national political figures.”

(FIRE’s own statement is here.)

If you knew about the Leonard Law, and that satire is considered free expression, you’d realize that Stanford shouldn’t have even begun an investigation of permitted speech. Indeed, the Federalist Society itself promotes free speech on campus, so why is it doing this? Wallace suspects, correctly, I think, that this is pure retaliation.

But, as the NBC News ends every evening, “There’s good news tonight!”  Yesterday evening Slate updated the article with this:

Update, 9: 30 p.m.:  Stanford has concluded that Nicholas Wallace engaged in protected speech, dropped its investigation, and lifted the hold on his diploma. Wallace has confirmed that he will be allowed to graduate.

What’s especially ironic is that a left-wing school went after a student for making fun of a right-wing organization, all the while violating the freedom of speech that Stanford is required to adhere to.

h/t: Scott

FIRE’s (bad) speech code of the month: The University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh

May 17, 2021 • 9:15 am

Every month the, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), an excellent organization, names one college’s speech code as standing out for being especially egregious. And this month it’s particularly bad, for the speech code singled out is that of the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh (UWO), a public university. State universities, of course, must abide by the First Amendment because they’re considered organs of the government.

As always, when a college simultaneously tries to promote “mutual respect” and “free speech”, it gets into trouble. Here’s how the trouble emerges at the UWO website (click on screenshot)

Here’s UWO’s avowal of nearly unlimited free speech (below) in the section on “shared principles”

The widest possible range of free inquiry and expression.

          1. The University community provides opportunities for its members to listen and be heard.
          2. Members endeavor to create an environment open and accessible to information, expression and inquiry.
          3. Members express their concerns, opinions or beliefs both publicly and privately without fear of recourse, intimidation or threat.
          4. Members respect the rights of others when they express their concerns, opinions or beliefs.
          5. Students are free to question the data, views or activities in a course on a moral, religious or other basis and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion, yet they remain responsible for meeting the learning objectives of any course in which they are enrolled

Contrast this with another “shared principle”:

An environment that is free of harassment and free of insulting and demeaning comments and epithets based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, military status, socioeconomic status, family status or political views; and consistently enforces federal, state and university protections against discriminatory treatment yet is free from any official speech codes.

          1. Consistent with established rules and policies, all University community members encourage a sense of duty to address harassing, discriminating or demeaning comments or behaviors.
          2. Upon observing discriminatory behaviors or hearing offensive comments, every reasonable effort is made to protect the victim(s) and witness(es) from further harassment.
          3. All members act in ways that allow for a diversity of rights, opinions and cultural characteristics both in and out of the classroom.
          4. No University member misrepresents actual or suspected violations of this right for their own personal gain, advancement or other ulterior motive.
          5. Every University member is informed of applicable University policies and procedures, pursues action against violators, and informs and protects victims and witnesses.

Now the issue of personal harassment and discrimination has already been settled by First Amendment law: you cannot persistently harass an individual in the workplace, nor create a threatening or unpleasant atmosphere for them.But you don’t violate the law by “insulting” someone, and that stricture is therefore unconstitutional.

And then, after averring that UWO has no “official speech code”, it proceeds to set out one, prohibiting “insulting and demeaning comments and epithets based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability.  . . and so on. Even “political views” are protected. Does that mean you can’t say that “Your Republican views suck big time”?

Further, university members are themselves enlisted in an effort to enforce the (nonexistent) speech code, and to “allow for a diversity of rights, opinions, and cultural characteristics”. It’s not even clear what that means.

But what this does mean is that UWO’s speech code palpably violates the Constitution, and I suspect it will have to be modified. Here’s a brief video FIRE made about the issues at play. What she says is absolutely accurate according to the law.

At the FIRE rating page, UWO gets an overall free speech rating of “red”, which is the worst .  Here’s what that means:

A “red light” institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. A “clear” restriction is one that unambiguously infringes on what is or should be protected expression. In other words, the threat to free speech at a red light institution is obvious on the face of the policy and does not depend on how the policy is applied.

And yet UWO says it’s adopted “the Chicago Statement of Free Speech.” Well, no, it hasn’t—not by a long shot.

If you click on the link below, you can quickly send your own message to UWO’s Chancellor asking the school to do the right thing. (To read more about their violation, go here.) You don’t even have to say anything, as there’s a built-in message to Chancellor, Andrew J. Leavitt:

I’m writing to you to discuss University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh’s speech codes. While a commitment to free speech is almost universally embraced in concept, many schools have official policies that restrict speech in practice. Although these policies may be written with the best of intentions, such restrictions violate students’ free speech rights and prevent higher education from achieving its full potential.

I’ve sent in mine, and you can send in yours in less than a minute. Strike a blow for freedom of speech.

Scottish law student persecuted for asserting that women have vaginas and are weaker than men

May 15, 2021 • 10:45 am

Yes, one can argue that transwomen don’t have vaginas, though the strength argument can be backed up with data. Both claims may offend some people, but in the present case they apparently weren’t intended to offend anyone, and, at any rate, nearly all arguments offend someone.

But the assertion given in the title of the Times article below is surely not one that warrants persecution of the speaker. Although the UK doesn’t have a first amendment, the student’s claims do constitute free speech. This being the UK, however, offending someone is illegal.  Click on the screenshot to read:

An excerpt:

Disciplinary action is being taken against Lisa Keogh, 29, over “offensive” and “discriminatory” comments that she made during lectures at Abertay University, Dundee.

The mature student was reported by younger classmates after she said women were born with female genitals and that “the difference in physical strength of men versus women is a fact”. The complaints have prompted a formal investigation into her conduct.

Keogh, a final-year student, fears that any sanction could end her dream of becoming a human rights lawyer. Her case is being backed by Joanna Cherry QC, the SNP MP for Edinburgh South West and deputy chairwoman of the Lords and Commons joint committee on human rights, who described the situation as farcical.

Keogh was astonished to receive an email accusing her of transphobic and offensive comments during seminars on gender feminism and the law. “I thought it was a joke,” she said. “I thought there was no way that the university would pursue me for utilising my legal right to freedom of speech.”

But she also said this in response to some pushback she got:

She was accused of saying women were the “weaker sex” and classmates were “man-hating feminists” when one student suggested that all men were rapists and posed a danger to women.

“I didn’t deny saying these things and told the university exactly why I did so,” she said. “I didn’t intend to be offensive but I did take part in a debate and outlined my sincerely held views. I was abused and called names by the other students, who told me I was a ‘typical white, cis girl’. You have got to be able to freely exchange differing opinions otherwise it’s not a debate.”

Keogh claims that she was muted by her lecturer in a video seminar when she raised concerns about a trans woman taking part in mixed martial arts bouts. “I made the point that this woman had testosterone in her body for 32 years and, as such, would be genetically stronger than your average woman,” she said.

“I wasn’t being mean, transphobic or offensive. I was stating a basic biological fact. I previously worked as a mechanic and when I was in the workshop there were some heavy things that I just couldn’t lift but male colleagues could.”

Even so, when a classmate says that “all men are rapists” and “pose a danger to women”, that is surely at least as offensive as what Keogh is accused of saying. But that classmate isn’t being persecuted, despite that claim also violating University speech codes (see below). And Keogh’s response about “man-hating feminists” can be justified as a response to that statement.

“The weaker sex” argument, though often applied to more than just physical strength, in which case it’s misogynistic, was clearly meant in this case to refer to physical strength and nothing more.

This is exactly the kind of academic issue that can and should be debated in searching for the truth, and certainly not silenced. Yet Keogh (though not the person who said “all men were rapists”) is liable to be prosecuted by the University’s speech code.

The university’s definition of misconduct includes “using offensive language” or “discriminating against gender reassignment”. Punishment can be as harsh as expulsion.

Keogh, a mother of two, fears for her future. “I don’t come from a legal background and have worked incredibly hard to get to where I am,” she said.

“I’m worried that my chance of becoming a lawyer, and making a positive contribution, could be ended just because some people were offended.”

I am baffled why saying that biological women are physically weaker, or have vaginas, can constitute “discrimination”, though we know that there is a strict party line here, and questioning it is more or less taboo.

Keogh has a lawyer on the case:

Keogh, a final-year student, fears that any sanction could end her dream of becoming a human rights lawyer. Her case is being backed by Joanna Cherry QC, the SNP MP for Edinburgh South West and deputy chairwoman of the Lords and Commons joint committee on human rights, who described the situation as farcical.

This case would never stand in a U.S. public university, as persecution of Keogh for speech is clearly a violation of the First Amendment. Nor would any private school be prosecutorial enough to go after Keogh, as they’d find themselves on the wrong end of the stick vis-à-vis FIRE or the Academic Freedom Alliance. Under no circumstance should mere “giving of offense” be construed as “misconduct” unless it is persistent, constituting harassment.  As for “discriminating against gender reassignment”, I can’t see Keogh’s remarks falling into that class, as there was no discrimination, simply an argument.

Chronicle of Higher Ed decries the diversity-driven corporatization of America, suggests some solutions

May 9, 2021 • 11:15 am

An article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Amna Khalid has some information about the “diversity and inclusion racket,” and also some solutions that may help achieve real equality beyond the ubiquitous “diversity training” known to be ineffectual.

Chronicle is a much better venue than, say, Inside Higher Education, and it’s worth paying attention to their pieces. The author of this one is Amna Khalid, Associate Professor of History at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.

Khalid descries the expensive expansion of deans and administratiors involved with diversity and inclusion, which have burgeoned at the expense of other administrators and faculty. It’s not that they aren’t addressing a problem, but are doing so in an expensive and largely useless way, and eating up huge amounts of cash that could go to genuinely advance equal opportunity and affirmative action. Seriously, is “yoga for women of color” a way to achieve equality?

Have a look at the dosh involved here:

. . . . the University of Virginia scholars Rose Cole and Walter Heinecke applaud recent student activism as a “site of resistance to the neoliberalization of higher education” that offers a “blueprint for a new social imaginary in higher education.”

But this assessment gets things backward. By insisting on bureaucratic solutions to execute their vision, replete with bullet-pointed action items and measurable outcomes, student activists are only strengthening the neoliberal “all-administrative university” — a model of higher education that privileges market relationships, treats students as consumers and faculty as service providers, all under the umbrella of an ever-expanding regime of bureaucratization. Fulfilling student DEI demands will weaken academe, including, ironically, undermining more meaningful diversity efforts.

We’ll get to the “more meaningful diversity efforts” in a second, but Klahid has other fish to fry, including the largely performative acts undertaken by colleges to satisfy what they perceive as the public demand for a response to perceived “structural racism”:

The rampant growth of the administration over the years at the expense of faculty has been well documented. From 1987 to 2012 the number of administrators doubled relative to academic faculty. A 2014 Delta Cost Project report noted that between 1990 and 2012, the number of faculty and staff per administrator declined by roughly 40 percent. This administrative bloat has helped usher in a more corporate mind-set throughout academe, including the increased willingness to exploit low-paid and vulnerable adjuncts for teaching, and the eagerness to slash budgets and eliminate academic departments not considered marketable enough.

College leaders, for their part, have been more than happy to comply with the recent demands for trainings and DEI personnel. Nothing is more convenient from an institutional perspective than hiring more administrators and consultants. It simultaneously assuages angry students and checks the box of doing the work of improving campus inclusivity, without having to contend with the sticking points of university policies and procedures where real change could be achieved: tenure-review processes, limited protections for contingent faculty, and student admission and aid policies that produce inequities.

Instead of tackling those challenges, institutions can rally behind quixotic rhetorical goals such as eradicating systemic and structural racism on campuses. They can, as Portland State University has done, pledge to apply “an antiracist lens to every signal we send, every model we create, and every policy we enact.” Or, like the University of Louisville has done, they can announce their aspiration of becoming “a premier anti-racist metropolitan university.”

We all know the money that is going to these efforts is often useless; as Khalid notes,

“The vast majority of college administrations have simply genuflected to student demands for trainings. The most galling aspect of institutional responses, one that is conspicuously neoliberal and anti-educational, is the embrace of the-customer-is-always-right attitude. Evidence and research suggest that diversity-related trainings are not effective. According to the sociologists Frank Dobbin and Alexandra Kalev, diversity training has“failed spectacularly” when it comes to reducing bias. To the contrary, these trainings can reinforce stereotypes and heighten bias. Yet colleges and universities across the country have chosen to disregard the evidence and instead pander to the “customer.”

The fact that colleges are indeed responding to public pressure rather than fulfilling their mission to educate is nowhere more evident than in the investment in diversity training, which actually furthers divisiveness, afflicts “majority” students with deep guilty and “minority” students with a sense of being permanent victims. If diversity training doesn’t work, do not use it. 

Oh and there’s also the money to be made by administrators and the doyens of anti-racism, for example Kendi and DiAngelo:

Hiring executive DEI officers is the primary way in which many colleges have signaled their commitment to antiracism and diversity. More than two-thirds of major universities across the country had a chief diversity officer in 2016. Even in lean times, institutions of higher learning appear to have continued appointing executive diversity officers. Consider the University of California system, where in 2010 faculty and staff had to take up to three and a half weeks of unpaid leave due to a $637-million cut in state funding. Later the same year the San Francisco campus appointed its first vice chancellor of diversity and outreach with a starting salary of $270,000. In 2012, faced with the threat of a $250-million cut in state funding, the San Diego campus nonetheless hired its first vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion, with a starting salary of $250,000.

The other chief beneficiaries are diversity trainers and consulting firms. Diversity training is a billion-dollar industry. A one-day training session for around 50 people can cost anywhere between $2,000 and $6,000. Speaking fees for Ibram X. Kendi, the antiracist scholar at Boston University, are $20,000, and Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility, charges $50,000 to $75,000. Some colleges, I’ve been told, are forking out north of $140,000 for multi-session antiracism and diversity training for faculty and staff.

Imagine charging $50,000 to $75,000 for a lecture that you can skip by paying $8.16 for her book!

So what does Khalid recommend in the place of this cash-bloated waste of time? Here are her solutions:

But instead of asking for bureaucratic solutions such as trainings, students would be better served if they insisted that colleges redirect resources towards things such as increasing financial aid, providing better academic support systems for underrepresented students, and instituting educational initiatives.

A good example is the University of Pittsburgh’s multidisciplinary course “Anti-Black Racism: History, Ideology, and Resistance” introduced in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and which all first-year students are required to take. Drawing on the expertise of Pitt faculty from the humanities, social sciences, public health, sciences, and the arts, as well as Pittsburgh-area activists, the course focuses on the Black experience and Black cultural expression, and it considers the interplay of race with ethnicity, gender, class, sexuality, and nationality.

Other efforts, like tailored coursework, seminar seriesdiscussion panels, student speak-outs, collegewide teach-ins, exhibitions, performances, and common readings allow institutions to harness the knowledge and expertise that their faculty, students, and staff already have on issues of race and inequality.

Alas, such thoughtful responses have been few and far between. The vast majority of college administrations have simply genuflected to student demands for trainings.

First and third paragraphs: I approve completely with her solutions, along with more efforts aimed at affirmative action. Since so many students are roughly equally qualified for admission to universities, especially elite ones, why not choose those who have, by virtue of past racism, deserve a form of educational reparations? But discussion must be free, open, and not guided to achieve certain ends. That isn’t education, but social engineering.

As for the “educational initiatives” like Pitt’s required course in “Anti-Black Racism”, this sounds more to me like propaganda than a real learning experience. It is an attempt to imbue students with a particular ideological attitude, as you can see on the course’s webpage. To wit: it is a precis of Critical Race Theory, and just as likely to be as divisive and ineffective as is diversity training. The objectives:

Objectives

After meaningfully engaging with the content in this course, students should be able to:

  1. Describe and explain key ideas and concepts concerning the social construction of race and ethnicity
  2. Identify historical and current structures of power, privilege, and inequality that are rooted in Anti-Black racism
  3. Explain how anti-Black racism acts individually, interpersonally, institutionally, and structurally
  4. Identify and describe the contribution of scholars and experts on anti-Black racism at Pitt and in the larger community
  5. Articulate and critically examine personal beliefs and opinions about race, antiracism and antiblackness and describe the weight these beliefs and opinions carry.
  6. Explain how institutions and policies contribute to and enable Anti-Black racism
  7. Identify some of the many existing organizations that provide anti-racism programming and opportunities

Does anybody think that these “goals” will be achieved by free and open discussion among the students? No, this is indoctrination pure and simple, and is required of all first-year students. (I, for one, would object to the idea that “ethnicity” is purely a social construction.) The first thing they learn, then, is not to think for themselves, but what  to think, and how to keep your mouth shut if your opinion isn’t an approved one. I’m curious why Khalid things this is palpably superior to diversity training.

Still, there are useful solutions to the problem of inequality, and Khalid limns some. And, if nothing else, she highlights how corrupted American colleges and universities have become by what they see as societal demands.

In the end, I fear there is no going back here. Even my own University is gradually becoming imbued with social justice philosophy to the extent that dissent from received opinion is chilled: something absolutely new to our unique University tradition, in which all discussion is welcomed, even if not agreed on.

In my worst nightmares, I fear that colleges are no longer places to explore ideas, discuss them no matter now contentious or unpopular, and learn how to think and argue. They are instead becoming instruments: instruments of social engineering by administrators who want to turn out students like themselves, with a liberal bent. Not that there’s anything wrong with liberalism—I adhere to it—but you must arrive at it by cogitation, not indoctrination.

 

How college admissions have become a mess, as well as moralistic and intrusive

April 27, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Things have changed a lot in college admissions in the past decade, and I can’t say that it’s for the better—at least as reported in the article below from The Chronicle of Higher Education (click on screenshot).

We’re all aware that indices of merit, including standardized-test scores, have become less important in college admissions, as they’re seen to be “anti-inclusive”. In addition, the number of applications to “elite” colleges have ballooned. The result, as Feeney notes, is that college admissions officers secretly admit that that two or three times as many students who are actually admitted are pretty much just as qualified as the top tier, so one could choose almost randomly from among the “admittable” students.

With the decline of standardized-test measures has come the fuzzy notion of “holistic” admissions. Previously this demanded lots of extracurricular activities, which of course meant that applicants began engaging in these activities merely to pad their application. This in fact was going on when I applied for college.

Now, however, this kind of padding has become so pervasive that colleges have once again changed what they’re looking for. The key word now is “authenticity”: the student should present “their most authentic selves” in their application.  What does that involve?

From Feeney:

But there is a problem with the new authenticity standard. The people who made applying to college an elaborate performance, a nervous and yearslong exercise in self-construction have now decided that the end result of this elaborate performance must be “the real you.” The tacit directive in all this — “Be authentic for us or we won’t admit you” — puts kids in a tough position. It’s bad that kids have to suffer this torment. It’s also bad that admissions departments actually think that the anxiously curated renderings that appear in applications can in any way be called “authentic.” It’s like watching Meryl Streep portray Margaret Thatcher and thinking: Now that is the real Meryl Streep.

Here’s are two bizarre examples of students striving for “authenticity”:

Of course, for the clumsier applicants whose self-presentations are derided by admissions deans, their failures often aren’t ones of authenticity. They are, rather, failures of discernment. In one of his many columns bemoaning the college admissions process, Frank Bruni of The New York Times shared an embarrassing story fed to him by a former Yale admissions officer named Michael Motto. Bruni writes of one application by which Motto “found himself more and more impressed.” “Then” — Bruni says — “he got to her essay.” The essay was about how, during an involved conversation with an admired teacher, the applicant, instead of killing the conversational moment by running to the bathroom, chose to piss herself. Now, if this doesn’t demonstrate commitment, I don’t know what does.

. . . . After all, nervous applicants are assured that, as Joie Jager-Hyman, who worked as an admissions officer at Dartmouth College, told Bruni, “Being a little vulnerable can give great insight into your character.” Remember the application advice of Haverford’s Lord: “Everybody’s imperfect.” Ed Boland, a veteran of Yale admissions, recalls a girl whose essay on how she was a “serial farter” improved her chances at Yale. The serial farter, in Boland’s words, was going for something about “gender and socialization.”

This of course, leads to striving for a faux authenticity, as for you must give the best presentation you can of yourself given what the college demands. There’s a new app for this that you can use to start flaunting your authenticity years before you apply for college:

The other major recent reform is the Coalition App, an online application originally designed by and for a group of 80 of the most selective colleges in America, including every member of the Ivy League, known together as the Coalition for College. It now comprises over 150 institutions. The Coalition App (now branded as MyCoalition) is intended to replace the Common Application, and the declared mission behind it is to apply technology to improve access.

The great innovation of the Coalition App is that it takes the form of an online account that students can open when they reach ninth grade. After they open their Coalition App account, students can start assembling a portfolio of their high-school efforts, uploading papers and image files and other documents both curricular and extracurricular, into their personal master file, called a “locker.”

Of course, “can” start in ninth means “must” start in ninth grade. Veronica Hauad, deputy director of admissions at the University of Chicago (one of the founding schools of the Coalition) explains some of the thinking behind encouraging students to start so early: “The application process shouldn’t be this frenzied process in the fall of your senior year, which is already busy.” To illustrate, she addresses a hypothetical high-school student. “Let’s think long term,” she says, “about my identity and what my application will look like.”

Given that this process is invidious, time-consuming, and intrusive, what solutions does Feeney suggest?  He floats the idea that a lottery might be a “good option”, but that leaves the question about “what information is the lottery based on”? Feeney also sees admissions departments as changing their function from a administration and selection to applying a certain kind of pressure to make students “morally agreeable.” Sound familiar? Here’s Feeney’s peroration:

Setting up a yearslong, quasi-therapeutic process in which admissions goads young people into laying bare their vulnerable selves — a process that conceals a high-value transaction in which colleges use their massive leverage to mold those selves to their liking — is reprehensible. It is terrible thing to do. It renders the discovery of true underlying selves absurd. Sometimes, as we’ve seen, admissions people will admit they have this formative leverage over young people. But they fail to show the humility that should attend this admission, the clinician’s awareness that to use this power is to abuse it. Instead, they want even more power. They want to intrude even more deeply into the souls of their applicants. The name they give these ambitions is “reform.”

I’m just glad I don’t have to apply to college now, nor have to adjudicate among the many applications that flood a school such as mine. And I don’t see things improving as admission becomes more and more “holistic.”

h/t: Luana

Is social-media criticism by professors bullying and a violation of academic freedom?

March 28, 2021 • 1:00 pm

Here we have a back-and-forth in The Chronicle of Higher Education between two professors at Portland State University (“PSU”; a public college). The first piece is by Jennifer Ruth, a professor of film studies, and the second by Peter Boghossian, a philosopher, anti-woke writer, atheist, and one of the three people involved in the “Grievance Studies Affair“.  Ruth complains that critics of Critical Theory have been bullies by engaging in social-media pile-one (does she know how the Woke do that much more often?), and refers specifically to Boghossian and another professor, Bruce Gilley, who has argued that colonialism is good for the colonized, which of course caused a huge fracas.

As far as I can determine, what happened here is that a student (none of the principals already named) took pictures of some slides in a teacher education course which “offended” him/her because they were of the “Math is Racist” genre, and put the slides on Twitter. Boghossian and Gilley retweeted the slides. Apparently, though, some of the first names of students were on the slides, and so the dean asked Gilley and Boghossian to take down the tweets. They did so immediately. But apparently others joined in on the discussion, and that was considered bullying by Dr. Ruth.

Click on the screenshots to read.

Why was this considered “bullying”? According to Ruth:

[The professor who showed the slides] is shocked, then, to find her name and picture tied to the phrase “math is racist” — shorn of any context or any reference to the CNN article — and posted on Twitter by two of her male colleagues. It is picked up by the anti-woke warrior Chris Rufo, who tags the professional provocateur Joe Rogan and Fox’s voluble and influential Tucker Carlson. She has now become the latest exhibit in a national right-wing campaign to frame university professors as the new apparatchiks of a racially motivated totalitarianism. She shares an article with her students, and she is cast as one of Stalin’s henchmen. She is one of the “new racists.”

Anyone who has lived through one of the right-wing rage-gasms of the past decade — and they are disproportionately women and faculty of color — knows how terrifying they can be. All you have to do is say, “It’s true that the Greeks painted their statues,” or, “Hmm, it seems that the far right is appropriating a lot of medieval imagery,” and you can find yourself in the cross hairs, subject to doxxing, hate mail, physical harassment, and death threats.

Note that neither Gilley nor Boghossian engaged in this pile-on and did not encourage it; others took up the issue and (I didn’t follow this) there was a social media pile-on—one of the kind with which we’re familiar but apparently coming from the anti-woke. Nevertheless, Gilley and Boghossian suffer the consequences and take the blame for the mob. Peter, by the way, is a classical liberal, not “right-wing”.

Ruth continues:

The two men who circulated the “math is racist” meme were outsourcing the harassment of a colleague to the legions of trolls flying from Mr. Potato Head to Dr. Seuss to rapping librarians to the next faux-outrage fury-fest. Every time this happens, the targets of right-wing rage can only hope that a shiny new object will come along to distract their tormentors. But there is always the possibility — given the apocalyptic rhetoric that higher education’s attempts to reckon with systemic racism constitute a Maoist Cultural Revolution — that one of these stunts will get someone hurt.

The above scenario is not a hypothetical. It happened at my university, Portland State, and was instigated by our very own anti-woke warriors, Bruce Gilley and Peter Boghossian. Gilley and Boghossian have been working this beat for years now, on Twitter and on blogs. And they claim to be doing so in the name of academic freedom.

No, Boghossian and Gilley—and no, I don’t agree with Gilley’s thesis, but he has the right to his opinion—did not outsource harassment or encourage it. They were simply exercising the right to criticize ideas like “math is racist.” That is both free speech (PSU must adhere to the First Amendment and academic freedom). And the “math is racist” meme certainly does deserve examination, criticism, and, to my mind, a fair amount of ridicule.

As for the worry that “one of these stunts will get someone hurt”, it’s ironic that Ruth is part of the group who is always claiming that speech itself is considered harm. She’s already been hurt!

The details of this kerfuffle are described in a document by the Oregon Association of Scholars. which links to the following resolution of the PSU Faculty Senate which was the result of the two retweets (click on screenshot):

Part of the resolution:

While we all have the right to express our opinions in accordance with The First Amendment of the United States Constitution, there are limitations to free speech when it violates our laws and when it results in a true threat for an individual or a group of individuals or incites actions that will harm others. It is crucial to ensure that the members of our academic community can learn and work in an environment that is free of hate and hostility.

Whereas When faculty become active in, or even endorse or tacitly support, public campaigns calling for the intimidation of individual colleagues they disagree with, or with an entire faculty they disagree with, they are undermining academic freedom. Intimidation and explicit or implied threats to physical integrity are not accepted as academic methods.

. . . . BE IT RESOLVED

As Faculty, we must be thoughtful in our exercise of academic freedom and guard against its cynical abuse that can take the form of bullying and intimidation. This kind of abuse of academic freedom destroys academic freedom by eroding the trust that makes possible open dialogue, which is a central tenet in university intellectual life as well as in the practice of participatory democracy more broadly.

Again, this meeting was occasioned solely by the two taken-down retweets by Gilley and Boghossian who, needless to say, are not greatly beloved at PSU. And the resolution accuses them, though it doesn’t mention them by name, of intimidation, making threats, and academic bullying.

None of that was true; remember that this comes from just two social media posts taken down at the behest of the Dean. This is, pure and simple, chilling of free speech and academic freedom (which, though Ruth claims are not the same thing, are so closely related—identical in this case—that one must be careful about distinguishing them).

At any rate, Peter (full disclosure: he’s a friend of mine) wrote a response to Ruth’s piece in the Chronicle, and it’s quite good. The take-home lesson is in the title, and we should all make this a mantra:

I’ll give two quotes. Given that two retweets brought down official opprobrium of PSU on Boghossian and Gilley, Peter is quite measured in his response (the bolding is mine):

By claiming that criticism of published ideas and pedagogical models is harassment, and by creating institutional mechanisms that erect barriers to wholly appropriate critique, entire lines of scholarship become exempt from scrutiny. The academic process depends on having the freedom not only to state ideas but also to criticize other ideas. Limiting criticism in academia is tantamount to telling potters they can make all the clay pots they want so long as they never use clay. This is particularly disturbing because the claims in question — almost always about race, gender, and sexual orientation — are presented as knowledge and then used to influence public policy.

It is worth noting that criticism is framed as harassment only by academicians working in certain domains of thought that are in Critical Theory’s orbit. Civil engineers are not claiming that criticism of truss bridge design is harassment. Physicists are not claiming they’re being persecuted when their contributions to quantum theory are criticized. Philosophers are not claiming victimization when their arguments about free will are scrutinized. Claiming criticism is harassment occurs when a discipline’s North Star is not Truth, but ideology.

The internal rationale for calling criticism “harassment” is as simple as it is absurd: because these Critical Theories are believed to proceed from one’s “social position” as an occupant of some “identity category,” the person and her ideas are treated as though they overlap. They do not. Thinking they do is a dangerous mistake for anyone to make, not least institutions that are nominally devoted to Truth. The backbone of rational thought is separating people from ideas to protect the dignity of the former while being free to criticize the latter.

Boghossian defends the use of Twitter as a way of alerting people to what’s going on inside the academy, and also as a way of making arguments—not the best venue for extended discourse, though! However, scholarly journals aren’t accessible to the public. Boghossian ends like this:

There’s a dual irony in Ruth’s accusations. First, if there’s an institutionalized rule that criticism of academic work is harassment, how would Critical Theory, which is entirely predicated on criticizing existing systems, have emerged? It would not have. The ability to criticize has enabled the existence of disciplines in which my colleagues work, and from which they have framed criticism as harassment. Second, Ruth is doing to Gilley and me exactly what she claims we are doing to our colleagues — criticizing us. The only difference is, she takes aim at us, while we take aim at ideas.