Another blow at the meritocracy: California to eliminate all standardized tests for college admissions

January 14, 2021 • 1:15 pm

Part of the Woke Program is dispelling meritocracy, as demonstrations of “merit” are often seen as byproducts of “privilege”, while lower assessments of merit, especially when instantiated by minority groups, are seen as instantiations of bigotry. It’s well known, for example, that the standard ACT and SAT tests show dramatically different average scores among racial groups. Below is a table of 2018 scores from the National Center for Education Statistics, with data drawn from the U.S. Department of Education. The standard deviations in the U.S. overall are about 200; this figure would be lower for separate groups because that estimate comes from combined data of groups having different means.

As is well known, there are big differences between groups—on the order of half to a full standard deviation, with Asians at the top followed by whites, mixed-race students, Hispanics, Pacific Islanders and then Native Americans and blacks nearly tied on the lowest rung.

The ordering is seen as reflecting racism, and that may well be true if you take “racism” as meaning “the historical oppression of minority groups which had created at present an impoverished cultural environment with bad schools.” And that would be my own explanation for the differences. A culture of pushing for achievement and high grades would then account for Asians getting the highest scores on average.

Some people, however, attribute racism more directly, arguing that the questions themselves are racially biased, favoring white and Asian “knowledge” over the knowledge held by other groups.  I don’t think such an explanation holds much water, especially for math; and the SAT company has made efforts to examine the possibility of bias and eliminate those questions that smack of it.

Because of the racial disparities, people have argued successfully to eliminate SATs and ACTs (another standardized test) as requirements for college admission. I can’t see a good reason for that. SATs, in particular, are just as correlated with success in college as are high-school grade point averages, but the latter are specific to schools. Why would you not want to put all students on the same scale, evaluated by the same test, when you’re judging students? The best thing to do, as I’ve argued, is use a multivariate index, combining grades and standardized-test scores.

The reason schools are eliminating tests, of course, is largely because racial disparities in scores don’t look good on their face (I’d argue that they highlight a problem of inequality), and, if used as one criterion for college admission, would reduce the chances of minorities like blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans getting into selective colleges, exacerbating inequities (inequality of representation). But there’s a solution: colleges wanting more racial balance can use various legal affirmative-action strategies, strategies that, in general, I approve of. Also, there’s a benefit for minorities taking standardized tests: it enables colleges to pick out those students who are likely to do well (remember the correlation between SAT scores and college success) but didn’t have high grade-point averages, perhaps because they were bored or not turned on by the curriculum.

But you can only push affirmative action so far before unequal admissions treatment starts getting people upset. That’s why a group of Asian students sued Harvard (and lost, at least for the time being), claiming that Harvard deliberately downgraded their assessments to avoid having too many Asians on campus. If you have standardized-test numbers to attach to different groups, the disparities are glaring and not only can incite resentment, but can lead to lawsuits arguing that schools are using a “quota system,” a strategy ruled out in the Bakke case.

Recently, the University of California decided to eliminate tests like SATs as requirements for in-state applicants, making them optional for the next two years. Then, in 2023, students will not be allowed to even submit those scores. This happened despite the recommendation of both its own Chancellor and a panel convened by the University system itself, both of which recommended that SAT-like tests be retained as mandatory for applicants. The only reason that the University could possibly have for overriding its own panel’s recommendation is that test scores highlight racial disparities and could exacerbate at the U of C if considered in a largely meritocratic admissions system.

For reasons I can’t fathom, the University of California, after ditching the SATs and ACTs, recommended that the system devise its own standardized test, to be implemented in 2025. But according to this article from the Los Angeles Times (click on screenshot, and inquire for a copy if paywalled), they’ve decided they can’t do that in a timely fashion, and so the U of C is likely to ditch all standardized tests—for good.  This has already happened in over 1,000 other colleges and universities (roughly a quarter of higher-education institutions in the U.S.), a wholesale dismantling of the meritocracy. (n.b.: I don’t think that test-scores or grades should be the sole criterion for college admissions, as there are other criteria of achievement that aren’t measured by these statistics.)

See if you can open this, and ask if you can’t:

Because the proposed UC-specific test isn’t practicable, they’ve explored another alternative:

The UC Board of Regents unanimously voted last year to eliminate the SAT and ACT — as more than 1,000 other colleges and universities have done — amid decades of research showing test performance is heavily influenced by race, income and parent education levels.

But the regents accepted a faculty recommendation to explore whether a new UC test without those biases could be developed, saying it would have to be ready in time for fall 2025 applicants.

The UC panels, in their reports released Monday, said it was not feasible for UC to develop its own test because it would take too long and recommended that the university instead explore using a modified version of the state’s high school assessment — but only as an optional “data point” in comprehensive applicant reviews.

The new replacement:

The group of UC faculty, admissions directors, testing experts and other educational and community representatives focused on whether Smarter Balanced, the California assessment given annually to 11th graders, could be retooled for UC use. Any use of a modified state test, however, should be optional and limited so as not to create the inequities and high-stakes pressures associated with the SAT and ACT, according to the recommendation to UC President Michael V. Drake from a second panel.

This is just replacing one standardized test with another, and one that can’t be used to compare in-state applicants with out-of-state applicants who don’t take “Smarter Balanced.” Note the concern with “inequities and high-stakes pressures”.  Well, you’re still going to get those, because Smarter Balanced testing produces the same disparities as does the SAT:

But members from both groups also expressed concerns about racial and ethnic disparities in state test results. For instance, about 70% of students classified as Asian meet or exceed the 11th-grade standard for math compared with 45% of whites and 20% of Black and Latino students, the work group said.

So you’ve still got those substantial inequities in exactly the same direction. Proponents of the California-specific test, however, argue that it has a few advantages over SATs. For one thing, it’s free, while I believe it costs a lot to take the standardized SAT and ACT tests. Also, proponents argue that a California-specific test will somehow “better align [the University of California] with the K-12 system, leading to better educational preparation for university work.”

But do you really want California-wide uniformity of educational desiderata, especially when assessed with a test not available to those outside California? It all sounds too cumbersome to me. 

And, in the end, the committees assessing this issue decided that, for the time being, the University system should not use Smarter Balanced as an admission criterion, instead using the test scores “for related purposes, such as validating GPA [JAC: that is a criterion by the way], providing context about the school’s educational environment or helping determine placement in freshman courses and summer preparation programs.”

In the end, I think that a mandatory standardized test for all applicants, including those from outside the state, is useful, and I can’t see any good arguments against it save the cost, which can be obviated. As I wrote last year, concurring with Scott Aaronson that standardized tests have real value in singling out smart kids who didn’t get good grades (Aaronson was one of those):

If you want greater racial equity, though, it seems to me best not to eliminate test scores, but to calculate a multivariate index of “academic achievement,” and then use other criteria, like “diversity points” to increase racial balance. This is, in effect, what is being done now by schools like Harvard. The reason, as I’ve said before, is as a form of reparations for those held back by their sociopolitical history in America.

You can have greater equity and some meritocratic criteria at the same time. What you cannot have is greater equity and purely meritocratic admissions, assuming that you base the merit on grades, test scores, and criteria like achievements not measured by grades and scores. (I don’t recommend using Harvard’s “personality index”!) Eventually, when equality of opportunity is achieved for all groups—and that is the real goal, but one that will take decades to achieve—there will be no good arguments against using standardized tests as criteria for college admission.

h/t: Luana

Survey of free speech among Wisconsin college students gives depressing results

January 10, 2021 • 9:30 am

I don’t want to make too much of the results of this survey, as it was based on only a small and limited sample of students: 530 undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (UWM) surveyed in 2020. And one could argue that the results are somehow biased because one of the two surveying bodies, the Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership, looks as though it leans toward the right, though not strongly so. (The other partner was the University of Wisconsin Survey Center, which is a data-collection organization that seems pretty objective.)

The upshot is that students are depressingly eager to regulate First-Amendment free speech, and generally favor regulation of “hate speech” and  government restriction of speech. The researchers also found that women are more in favor of restricting speech than are men—sometimes strongly so—and that conservatives are, in general, less in favor of restricting speech than are liberals.

The latter comes as no surprise to me given that liberals are more responsible for deplatforming college speakers, but I wasn’t previously aware of a sex difference. I suppose if I were to impute that result to anything (the authors don’t discuss it), I’d guess that women are in general more compassionate and empathic than men, and thus more in favor of restricting speech that’s assumed to create “harm.”

Click on the screenshot to go to the pdf:

I’ll summarize the results by questions asked:

A.) Hate speech.  The topic broached was “The government should be able to punish hate speech.”  The survey did not define hate speech, but that’s okay because those who oppose it rarely do.

63.2% of all students agreed (either “strongly”, “somewhat” or “slightly”, categories that we’ll use from now on), 30.5% of all students disagreed, and 6.2% had no opinion. In other words, more than twice as many students thought the government (yes, the government, not the school) should be able to punish hate speech than thought otherwise. Here’s the breakdown by sex, showing that women favor punishing more than men (74.9 % of women favor government punishing compared to 46.9% of men).

And a breakdown by politics, showing that conservatives favor less punishment.  Since this breakdown by politics is seen in nearly every question, I won’t discuss it that much. (I will highlight below the difference between men and women, which is new to me):

I suppose some people could argue that conservatives are more often to be “haters,” and that explains the result. Nevertheless, UWM is a public school and the Supreme Court, in a 2016 decision, ruled that what most people consider hate speech is protected by the First Amendment:

“[The claim that the government may restrict] speech expressing ideas that offend… strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, sex, religion, age, disability, or any other similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express ‘the thought that we hate’.”

In other words, the “restrictors” are explicitly violating what federal courts consider to be free speech.

B.) Hate speech #2. The question asked was “A person should be able to prevent another person from speaking if they believe the person’s speech is ‘hateful’.”

In toto, 44.9% of all students agreed, while 56.3% of all students disagreed, and 7.9 had no opinion.  Here the results are somewhat better for free-speechers, but still, almost half of students argued in favor of prevention. And again there was a sex difference: 56.6% of women agreed compared to 29.1%—a substantial difference.

64.6% of students who described themselves as “very liberal” favored the prevention, compared to 14.5% of students who described themselves as “very conservative”

C.) Racially insensitive speech. The question asked was “Should government restrict the speech of racially insensitive persons?” Note that the question is a bit ambiguous, as it could be taken to mean that all speech of bigots should be restricted, but I think it’s clear they’re referring to “racist speech.”

Here the overall result was about 50:50, or rather, 53% of the students thought that the government restriction was appropriate, while 47% though there should be no restriction. Again, we see a male/female divide, with 66.6% of women favoring restriction compared to only 43.3% of men. And there was the conservative/liberal divide: 29.6% of self-identified liberals supported speech restrictions compared to only 9.7% of conservatives.

D.) Holocaust denialism. The question asked was “Should the government restrict the speech of Holocaust deniers?” Although this kind of speech is illegal in sixteen European countries and in Israel, I strongly favor its legality, for it’s a question whose answers (and the supporting data) need to be handed down among generations. Holocaust denialism is of course legal in the U.S.

Nevertheless, 55.5% of all students thought the government should restrict denialism compared to 45.5% who did not.  Here’s a pie-chart breakdown by sex, showing what we see above—a big difference (the data are presented in different forms throughout the document, and they should have been consistent):

Conservatives were again less in favor of such restrictions than liberals.

E. Restriction of speech that discomfits others. The question asked was “Speech should not be regulated even if it makes others feel uncomfortable.” Here, an “agree” answer is in favor of free speech.

Overall,  35.7% of students disagreed, urging some regulation, while 55.3% agreed. Here we have a majority in favor of free speech. But nearly half of the women (47.6%) were in favor of regulation of such speech, compared to 26.6% of the men.

F. Restriction of speech of Climate-Change deniers. The question asked was “Should government regulate the speech of Climate Change Deniers?”  I don’t think most of us would favor government regulation of discussion of a scientific issue, even though the scientific consensus is clear.

The reserachers didn’t ask about creationism, but neither would I ban discussing the misguided ideas of creationism, as they gives us a chance to present the evidence for evolution—just as climate-change denialism allows us to present counter-speech with evidence for anthropogenic global warming. To be in favor of restriction means you’re in favor of restricting discussion of a scientific issue, even if that discussion is tainted with political bias (nearly all on the conservative side).

Again, most students (62.1%) came down on the side of free speech, but 37.9% were censorious, and that’s a hefty portion. And there was a substantial sex differential, with almost half the women but only a quarter of the men urging restriction.

On this one issue, there was not much of a difference between conservatives and liberals, as one might expect given the political connection between conservatism and climate-change denialism.

The survey went on, asking questions about whether public institutions can revoke invitations to speak if the speaker “may offend” the audience, a question about whether the government should be able to restrict biased media, whether social media should monitor and remove offensive speech, whether public schools should set aside 15 minutes of time for private prayer (a lot more agreement than disagreement here!), and whether business owners should be able to enforce their religious beliefs on others, like refusing to sell contraceptives (or, I suppose, gay wedding cakes). But I’ve already gone on too long, and will let you read the results for yourself.

A brief upshot:

1.) A  surprisingly large number of UWM students favor restriction of speech, even though most of what those restrictions violate the First Amendment.

2.) Substantially more women than men favor restriction of speech. I don’t really understand this result, and we should remember that this is a smallish sample from a single college, but if it’s general it would need an explanation. You’re welcome to advance your own hypotheses in the comments.

3.) In general, conservatives favor less restriction of speech than do liberals. Given that the nature of the speech subject to this survey’s questions was on issues where there is already a political divide, I would have liked to see a more general question about restriction of any speech considered legal under the First Amendment.

I agree with the study’s authors, who say at the end that students clearly need education about the First Amendment. They broach a number of possible solutions, including infusing courses with First-Amendment material or giving them an introduction to free speech when they arrive at college.

Given the logistic problems of the former solution, I favor a “free-speech” unit when students enter college. That would be quite fraught now, for the students might interpret this as a college telling them that it’s perfectly fine to utter “hate speech”. (Legally it is, but socially it’s not.) But there could be lively discussion of the benefits of free speech, what “hate speech” really constitutes, and so on. I think it’s best to have these discussions before college students, steeped in an atmosphere of ideological conformity, become hardened in their opposition to free speech.

Oh, I forgot to mention that UWM, as a public institution, is required to abide by the First Amendment.

Jodi Shaw, the gadfly of Smith College: Put on paid leave, nevertheless, she persists

January 8, 2021 • 12:45 pm

I’ve put up two posts (part 1 and part 2 ) about Jodi Shaw, an employee of Smith College who worked as a student support coordinator specializing in “Residence Life”. Shaw had a beef with the College for forcing her to undergo mandatory training in what seems like Critical Race Theory, and in which she was humiliated by the facilitator for her “white fragility”. Read the two links at the beginning for the full story.

Kathleen McCartney, the President of Smith, then responded to Shaw’s first video with a cold-hearted letter to the entire College saying, in effect, something like, “Well, we can’t fire Shaw because of the law, but we’ll ensure that all students of color are protected from harm.”

Shaw, amazingly, continues to post videos, and she’s now up to six (her YouTube channel is here). From the outset it was clear that, at a place like Smith, Shaw would be completely demonized for bucking the established order, even though Smith College couldn’t fire her. Now she gets a profile in the conservative Spectator, which reprises her story—a story that many of you know—but also adds a bit more information. Click on the screenshot:

After her treatment by Smith, Shaw filed a 100-page complaint about her mistreatment in the anti-racism seminar, but, according to the article above, Smith College never responded.  Here’s the new information, which includes the report that she’s been put on paid leave, which is what they do to police who kill somebody. I’ve listened to several of her videos, and I’ll put one of the latest ones below. They’re calm and reasonable, and I’m stymied about why she was taken off her job.

You can get the old stuff by reading either my past posts or the first part of the article above. The following includes her liberal bona fides, her sad plans for a fallback career, and the fact that she’s been put on leave:

She filed a 100-page complaint with the college, alleging multiple individual acts of ‘race-based hostility and discrimination’, as well as examples of ‘a climate of fear, hostility, exclusion and intimidation for  its employees’. The complaint went nowhere.

Shaw is soft-spoken, thoughtful and modest. She’s the opposite of the emotional screamers who post videos of themselves having meltdowns about Trump, or the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She also has serious hipster-woke credentials, having gone to Smith herself in the early Nineties, and lived in Portland and in Brooklyn, both hotbeds of self-loathing white people trying to atone for their race. She laughs at the irony of a person like herself becoming a poster child for speaking out about racism against white people. As a young woman, she was an actual card-carrying member of the Socialist Worker’s Party. At Smith, she called out people who used the word lame. ‘That kind of language policing, I participated in it,’ she told me.

She’s all grown up now, though, and, like most people, has matured beyond the censorious fervor so common among the young. And she has put her job and her credibility on the line, as she was just put on paid leave while the college investigates her actions. Unlike others from academia who have spoken out against critical race theory, Shaw did not have a secure, tenured, prestige job and/or a large platform. Her Plan B, should she lose her position at Smith, is to work for a maintenance company clearing snow and raking leaves. She’s a single mother. When I asked her why she put her neck on the chopping block over this, she replied: ‘because it’s just wrong.’

The staff are on the frontline of this ideological race war. But it’s wrong for everyone involved. The students, who pay exorbitant fees to study at Smith, are being dealt with — at least by the staff who manage the student living quarters, food halls and security — according to their race.

Why is it the very best colleges, places like Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Smith, and Bryn Mawr, that are especially subject to self-flagellation and accusations of system racism? I don’t believe it’s because those places are more racist that other colleges; in fact, I don’t believe they were “systemally racist” (i.e., had in place a structure that perpetuated bigotry against racial minorities) at all.

Her latest video about her own situation has this description:

A population of individuals cut off from their respective moral centers is a population capable of committing great atrocities. In this video I explore some of the psychic damage resulting from my involvement in Smith’s efforts to combat “systemic racism.” Specifically, how a belief in the notion of “white fragility,” combined with the fear of being branded a racist, necessitates betrayal of ones moral compass.

I think Shaw is pretty much alone: I suspect she has almost no allies at Smith. These videos are her way of expressing her feelings to people who will listen. In effect, she’s using the camera as a therapist.

I do not believe she is a racist, but she’s been treated like one because she refused to flagellate herself with the whip of Critical Race Theory. In fact, she seems to have been the victim of racism herself.   But she’s also right about the way anti-racism of a particular stripe is forced down the throats of students, faculty, and staff at many American universities.

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

January 6, 2021 • 12:30 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do listen to this:

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 20, 2020 • 1:15 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few excerpts.

The civil opening:

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

The hammer falls:

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

The spanking of the striking students for not behaving well:

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

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

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

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

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

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

President Valerie Smith

A victory for free speech at the University of Cambridge

December 10, 2020 • 11:15 am

Ten days ago I reported on a kerfuffle at the University of Cambridge, in which a group of faculty, led by philosopher Arif Ahmed, were trying to eliminate the University speech policy‘s stipulation that community members “respect” each other’s viewpoints. Here’s one of the three policy statements to which people objected; emphasis is mine:

The University of Cambridge, as a world-leading education and research institution, is fully committed to the principle, and to the promotion, of freedom of speech and expression. The University’s core values are ‘freedom of thought and expression’ and ‘freedom from discrimination’. The University fosters an environment in which all of its staff and students can participate fully in University life, and feel able to question and test received wisdom, and to express new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions within the law, without fear of disrespect or discrimination. In exercising their right to freedom of expression, the University expects its staff, students and visitors to be respectful of the differing opinions of others, in line with the University’s core value of freedom of expression. The University also expects its staff, students and visitors to be respectful of the diverse identities of others, in line with the University’s core value of freedom from discrimination. While debate and discussion may be robust and challenging, all speakers have a right to be heard when exercising their right to free speech within the law.

Similar restrictions appeared in two other paragraphs of the speech code, and irked writers like Stephen Fry and Nick Cohen, both of whom wrote editorials arguing that “respect” wasn’t the right word. For while one can respect an opponent as a human being to be treated civilly, there is no good reason to be respectful of opinions. Both Fry and Cohen emphasized that the operative word was “tolerance”: one can tolerate both opponents and their opinions—and argue with them if you don’t like the opinions—but you don’t have to give them respect.

As Nick Cohen wrote in his Spectator column today (see below):

As I explained in The Spectator last week, the distinction between respect and tolerance goes to the heart of today’s raging debates on free speech. To tolerate an opponent is to refrain from punishing him or her for their views. You remain free to offend and challenge them. You most certainly have no obligation to respect ideas you regard as ignorant or dangerous or both. ‘Respect,’ by contrast, is a slippery concept that should set off alarm bells. Respect can be hard earned and freely given. Yet gangsters also demand it at the point of a gun. What version of the word did Cambridge mean when when it said staff and students must ‘respect’ differing opinions?

Could Cambridge ban an atheist speaker for refusing to respect religion? Or a feminist for failing to respect transwomen? Should scientists treat anti-vaxxers with respect and hold back for fear of hurting their tender feelings and offending their dignity?

I know from trying last week that no one in the university’s hierarchy could answer these questions. Indeed Roger Mosey, former editorial director at the BBC and master of Selwyn College, later admitted, ‘In retrospect, respectful might not have been the word we should have chosen.’

Well, Cambridge took a vote yesterday on its speech code, and on three amendments that would change “respect” to “tolerance”, as well as to eliminate restrictions that would have made it harder to bring in outside speakers who violated nebulous provisions about “risking the safety” of individuals in the community. As the BBC reports (click on screenshot below), all three amendments—#1 changed the paragraph above, altering “respect” to “tolerance”, while #2 and #3 eliminated free-speech restrictions for outside speakers—were overwhelmingly approved:

Here’s the official vote, as reported by the University, taken among members of the Regent House, the University’s governing body:

Those are all lopsided votes in favor of free speech. In these days of increasing calls for restrictions on speech, this is something to be celebrated.  Although the change of wording from “respect” to “tolerance” may seem trivial, it is in fact important in affirming that views themselves are never entitled to respect just because they’re views. That, in fact, is deeply connected with the misguided idea that you shouldn’t say anything that would cause people “harm”, meaning “offense.” And we don’t want to unduly restrict speakers just because what they say might be considered “harmful.”

In his new column in the Spectator, Nick Cohen also applauds the vote (click on screenshot) but also calls out the Cambridge community for suppressing speech. Click on screenshot below:

Cohen’s approbation:

Academics at Cambridge won a cheering victory for free speech today when they voted by an overwhelming majority to reject plans from the vice-chancellor to change the rules governing debate at the university.

And Cohen’s denunciation:

Yet here is what is telling about [the debate on the amendments]. As soon as anyone chose a side, you knew without needing to be told where they stood in today’s culture wars. The Cambridge branch of the University and College Union showed how hopelessly it has lost touch with its members when it recommended that they should not vote for Ahmed’s amendment. Ahmed said that his colleagues not only had a strong commitment to freedom of expression and academic freedom but were worried about threats to those who spoke out of turn.

Cambridge itself witnessed class-based thought policing recently when students at Clare College damned one of their porters as ‘unfit both to hold public office and to be in a position of responsibility over students.’ Kevin Price was a Labour councillor as well as a porter. His crime was to refuse to accept a motion from his local party that stated ‘Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary individuals are non-binary.’

Students, largely drawn from the middle and upper classes, were trying to get a working man fired because his views, expressed outside the college workplace, did not conform with current left orthodoxy. The right may exaggerate the threat to freedom of speech in the universities, in part as cover for its threats to the BBC. But that does not mean that there aren’t real fears. Academics, public sector workers, liberal journalists and artists can all cite examples of intimidation and censorship and of the cloying culture of fear that follows.

Cohen, whose Leftist credentials are impeccable, is nevertheless standing up for the right to say things that upset “current left orthodoxy.” And that’s the way it should be, for the Left have historically had confidence in the marketplace of ideas. Apparently having lost some of that confidence, they’re now trying to enforce Righthink by fiat rather than debate.

And yes, there are real fears about losing freedom of speech. I’m worried about that in my own university, as various departments and units of the University, contravening official policy and statements by our administration, use authoritarian methods to chill the speech of others. But more on that later.

Just remember that if universities don’t permit, and, indeed, encourage free speech—especially public schools that must adhere to the First Amendment—American society will gradually pull the teeth from that Amendment. And although Britain has no First Amendment, people like Ahmed, Cohen, Fry, and members of the Cambridge governing body must be eternally vigilant against attempts of both Left and Right to silence those whose opinions they dislike.

h/t: Ben, Jody

FIRE’s annual spotlight on college speech codes

December 9, 2020 • 9:15 am

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has a particularly useful new report that gives the annual “free speech” ratings of American colleges and universities (478 of them). There are three ratings; going from worst to best they are red light, yellow light, and green light. You can access the full report here or click on the screenshot below. The ratings are explained below.

As someone who lives on a campus regarded as the bellwether of free speech among American colleges, I found the college ratings particularly useful (spoiler: Chicago again gets an overall green light), but because many college students brought up at these places will take their places among the American elite, it’s useful to know what regimes they experience. Especially useful were the sections explaining what free speech really is (FIRE uses the First Amendment as a guideline), and the various ways colleges try to either ignore it or get around it. If you want to know why hate speech does not violate the First Amendment, or what legally constitutes sexual harassment, you’ll be edified by the discussion. I’ve put FIRE’s summary video at the bottom.

Click on the screenshot for the full report:

Both public (106) and private (372) schools were thoroughly evaluated in several areas for how “free” they allowed speech to be; each school was given one of three colors (a fourth was given rarely) in each of several areas (handbooks, “free speech zones”, etc.), and then assigned an overall color for freedom of speech. Here are the categories from worst to best; the “blue light” category below was given to only eight schools, most of them either religious (Yeshiva University, Brigham Young University) or military (West Point, Annapolis):

Red Light

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.

When a university restricts access to its speech-related policies by requiring a login and password, it denies prospective students and their parents the ability to weigh this crucial information. At FIRE, we consider this action by a university to be deceptive and serious enough that it alone warrants a “red light” rating.

Yellow Light

A “yellow light” institution is one whose policies restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression. For example, a ban on “posters containing references to alcohol or drugs” violates the right to free speech because it unambiguously restricts speech on the basis of content and viewpoint, but its scope is very limited.

Alternatively, a policy banning “verbal abuse” could be applied to prohibit a substantial amount of protected speech, but is not a clear violation because “abuse” might refer to unprotected speech, such as threats of violence or harassment as defined in the common law. In other words, the extent of the threat to free speech depends on how such a policy is applied.

Green Light

If a college or university’s policies do not seriously imperil speech, that college or university receives a “green light.” A green light does not indicate that a school actively supports free expression. It simply means that FIRE is not currently aware of any serious threats to students’ free speech rights in the policies on that campus.

Warning – Does Not Promise Free Speech

FIRE believes that free speech is not only a moral imperative, but also an essential element of a college education. However, private universities are just that—private associations—and as such, they possess their own right to free association, which allows them to prioritize other values above the right to free speech if they wish to do so. Therefore, when a private university clearly and consistently states that it holds a certain set of values above a commitment to freedom of speech, FIRE warns prospective students and faculty members of this fact.

If you want to look up a particular college that has been rated, just go here. You can search by school name, state, or ranking, and the entries it breaks down all the sub-areas for each school.  The report linked above lists only the overall ratings of every college.

I won’t summarize the results in detail, but will give just a few highlights (for me). First, the overall ratings (all colleges) are improving: red-light schools have dropped strongly in the last nine years, mostly replaced with yellow-light rankings. But the greenies are going up slowly but surely, and the rise is statistically significant.

Here’s the breakdown among all colleges. Since nearly all schools profess to promote free speech (but most don’t foster it in practice), the 12% of green-light colleges means that we have a long way to go. But, as shown above, the arc is bending in the right direction.

Since The University of Chicago is widely seen as the model for free speech at a university (we get a “green” in every category), many schools have adopted the “Chicago Principles” of free expression, which you can read here. Two years ago it was 55 schools who aped us; now it’s 78. That’s good news, except that some of those colleges get RED ratings on other grounds: schools like Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and Georgetown University. Go by the light colors, not what the college professes.

Here’s FIRE’s statement about the Chicago Model:

Seventy-six university administrations or faculty bodies have now adopted policy statements in support of free speech modeled after the “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression” at the University of Chicago (the “Chicago Statement”), released in January 2015. (Since this year’s report was written, two more institutions have adopted a version of the Chicago Statement, bringing the total to 78.)

Two more points. Some of the restrictive “red-light” colleges were eminent ones, which surprised me. Here’s a list of the surprising red schools:

  • Georgetown University
  • Harvard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Middlebury College
  • The Evergreen State College (“Where speech goes to die” is my motto for TESC)
  • Northwestern University
  • Portland State University (notorious persecutor of “Grievance Studies” critics)
  • Princeton University
  • University of Texas at Austin

Finally, there’s a long and very absorbing section about the different ways colleges abrogate free speech with their use of “speech codes”, restrictions on “incitement”, “threats and intimidation”, “bullying”, “harassment” (often misconstrued by colleges), “hate speech”, the creation of “free speech zones” that shunt speech off to the hinterlands of schools, the institution of “bias response teams” to intimidate those who practice genuine free speech, and demands for “respect and civility”.

And there’s a list of ways that colleges also try to obviate the new Title IX regulations created by DeVos’s regime. As I’ve said, the institution of the new regulations, which allow a lot more fairness in adjudicating claims of sexual misconduct, is one of the few good things to come out of the Trump administration. FIRE also thinks the new regulations are an improvement, but also notes that some schools have created a “dual-track approach”, which nominally adheres to the new standards but also also incorporates a parallel and broader definition of “sexual harassment” than specified by Title IX, and so can still punish students who engage in speech that conforms to the First Amendment’s definition of “free.”

All in all, while colleges appear to be getting more woke, at least the formal restrictions on speech seem to be improving. But, as FIRE notes, they rate schools only on policy, not on what they actually do, which they can’t keep track of. I’m thus a bit wary. And I’m worried that Chicago will lose its “green light” rating in view of some recently allowed chilling of speech, violations of the Kalven report that have been allowed to stand. Since our school touts its rating as a selling point to students and their parents, losing our green light rating would be a serious matter.

Here’s a short video from FIRE summarizing the report.

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

December 5, 2020 • 1:00 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the administrators proceeded to abase themselves:

The President:

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

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

The Provost:

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

The Interim Dean:

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

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

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

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

They threatened the President’s dog, for chrissake!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ivy League librarians call for an end to all policing

December 4, 2020 • 1:00 pm

My impression of librarians is that they are sensible and anti-woke, at least in terms of their stand on free speech and free expression. After all, they are the guardians and disseminators of all knowledge, the opponents of censoring books, and I have respected them immensely. They’ve also been a huge help to me in my academic work as well as in writing my popular books.  I guess I thought this admiring view would hold for their other opinions as well. But I was sorely disabused this week when I read two screeds by high-class librarians.

The first one, below, is from a group of 13 “Ivy League+” librarians—including one from the University of Chicago—who have signed a document calling for major changes in universities and libraries. The most important of these is a call for the complete elimination of the police. Not just campus police, but all police.  This document, in fact, doesn’t materially differ from the unhinged manifestos and lists of “demands” regularly issued by students at American colleges. I am disappointed.

The Ivy+ manifesto begins with the requisite invocation of George Floyd as well as the required (but unevidenced) claim that their institutions are not only structurally racist, but complicit in sustaining that racism (emphases in the following are mine):

In early June, in the wake of the murders of George Floyd in Minnesota, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, library organizations and directors issued statements condemning racism and racial violence. A statement from the Association of Research Libraries [JAC: see below] implored that “[i]t is incumbent upon leaders of libraries and archives to examine our institutions’ role in sustaining systems of inequity that have left Black communities and other people of color in the margins of every aspect of our profession.”

. . . We recognize that librarianship, an overwhelmingly white profession, has systematically marginalized BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and librarians with disabilities. The conceptualization of our demands would not be possible without the labor and leadership of these very librarians, theorists, activists, and communities. We also recognize the privilege and power held by Ivy+ and other major research libraries, and thus, it is imperative that we use our privilege to speak out against library practices that cause harm. We build from and stand in solidarity with abolitionist movements happening in all library spaces. We believe in order to fully embody the ethics of librarianship it is necessary to align with the practices and aims of abolition. We hope many more voices will join us in signing onto these demands and in this bold and beautiful work of dreaming, demanding, and being in a better world. Reckoning with our own histories of and complicity in white supremacy and anti-Black racism is in the best interest not only of our institutions and patrons but our profession at large. Libraries are not neutral, nor should they be silent — but we’ve heard, seen, and spoken enough — solidarity is not found in statements, but in actions, and the time to act is now.

Have libraries really been this bigoted and nefarious?

And they’re also said to also sustain the police. The group says that they—the librarians themselves—have internalized their bigotry:

. . . we believe libraries have not gone far enough in this examination by refusing to fully consider our relationships with policing, surveillance, and the prison–industrial complex. These library statements do not explicitly name policing itself as the problem — an expression and exacerbation of racial capitalism and violence — despite it being a very real and dire existential threat to Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC), as well as those in the LGBTQIA+ community. Therefore, we find these statements morally and politically insufficient responses. Without naming the specific problem of policing, these statements not only let libraries off the hook for the many ways in which we have internalized the practices of the carceral state in our profession, but also leave the door open for “both sides’’ arguments or appeals to “law and order,” and encourage dangerous and ineffective reforms.

I won’t waste my time attacking this, for, according to Hitchen’s Razor, claims unsustained by evidence don’t need to be refuted by evidence. Perhaps these statements  just constitute the necessary self-flagellation and moral preening needed before they call for the elimination of both campus and regular police . They never, of course, say what will replace the police.

The solution to police violence is not reform but an abolition of policing in all its forms. Therefore, we call on the leadership of our institutions and all of our colleagues to embrace an abolitionist vision of a hopeful, life-affirming future and to immediately begin the work of divesting from police and prisons with the ultimate goal of the complete abolition of law enforcement and surveillance from library spaces, campuses, communities — in short, everywhere.

No more cops! They’re not just talking about campus police, for they want the abolition of law enforcement and surveillance from EVERYWHERE. Who will enforce the law, then? Apparently, nobody.  The attempt of students to disband the campus police at the U of C have already failed, but the librarians’ feeble attempt to adduce “evidence” for the ineffectiveness of campus policing is risible.

Many people will acknowledge the harm done by police and law enforcement but question the safety implications of defunding and divesting from policing on campus. But reporting from police forces shows that law enforcement and surveillance do not keep campuses safe. As Black organizers across the country have been declaring in the streets, “We keep us safe.” Therefore, we demand that library leadership remove any reliance on law enforcement as a means of addressing conflicts that arise in all library spaces by 2022.

I invite you to look at the link they give above. It goes to a Twitter thread from an associate professor at our University’s Harris School of Public Policy, a thread that uses our campus police database to show that black people get stopped disproportionately often by the campus cops, both in person and in traffic, compared to their frequency in the Hyde Park as well as in the University of Chicago student population.

That’s it: those data say nothing about the inability of campus police to keep the campus safe. And the disproportionality doesn’t point to any one cause; there could be more incidents involving black people, it could be genuine bigotry and racism, or it could reflect the fact that we’re surrounded by black communities and the campus police patrol a much larger area of the South Side than just Hyde Park. (Hyde Park extends south for 8 blocks, from 51st street to 59th Street, while the campus cops patrol 27 blocks—from 37th to 64th Street: more than 3 times the area of Hyde Park proper, with almost all of the additional area comprising black residents.)

Is this the best that librarians can do to support their claim? Librarians? They have all the research in the world at their fingertips, and this is what they do?

There are many other demands, of course, including eliminating video surveillance in libraries, divesting from companies that use prison labor, and so on, but I’ll let you read the document itself. (I myself happen to agree that prisons should not be privatized.)

And there’s a similar list of demands representing a much more extensive group of librarians—the Association of Research Libraries:

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 124 research libraries at comprehensive, research institutions in Canada and the United States. ARL member libraries make up a large portion of the academic and research library marketplace, spending more than $1.4 billion every year on information resources and actively engaging in the development of new models of scholarly communications.

You can read their statement below. It’s mercifully shorter than the Ivy+ document, but still makes the unevidenced claim that libraries “sustain systems of inequity”. Some of the “demands” are reasonable, like ensuring that there be an equitable proportion of employees of color, but others, like “highlighting the work of theorists, educators, and other scholars who have been studying about these phenomena for decades,” represent an ideological position that is unseemly for librarians. They want to emphasize Critical Theory. (That alone has taken this group down a notch.)

But that’s just my view. It’s Friday, and I’d rather be walking along Lake Michigan (which I will) than calling out these endlessly circulating manifestos of self-flagellation and insupportable demands. So you can read this one for yourself:

It’s not, of course, that I’m in favor of racism. Rather, I’m against extreme and histrionic statements that included unfounded claims, and against proposals that restrict speech and action but do nothing to help solve the problem of racial inequality in America. And I can tell you one thing: eliminating all police, both campus and public ones, is not going to do what the proponents think it will do.

U of C President Robert Zimmer issues statement supporting faculty’s freedom of speech

November 30, 2020 • 9:00 am

Yesterday I reported on a fracas going on in my university’s Department of Geophysical Science. An associate professor, Dorian Abbot, put up four YouTube videos (now removed) questioning the department’s procedures for diversity and inclusion, as well as the need for affirmative action as opposed to pure meritocracy. A group of students and alums reacted with outrage, demanding in a letter to the Geophys Sci faculty that Abbot be punished and the department undergo all sorts of procedures to ensure that this “bigotry” never happen again—or at least without sanctions on the perp.

In response, a change.org petition addressed to President Robert Zimmer went up, and as of this morning had been signed by 7,123 people (click on screenshot), including Steve Pinker, who tweeted about it (click on screenshot below to see the petition):

As Reader Coel noted in his comment yesterday, Zimmer didn’t lose any time defusing this controversy, for yesterday he issued this statement (click on screenshot), which I reproduce below in its entirety. It doesn’t pull any punches, and renders the petition moot.

Though Zimmer’s statement was clearly prompted by l’affair Abbot, it properly doesn’t mention his name, but simply upholds the principle that faculty members can say anything they want without fear of retribution, unless the statement violates the law or University policy. Abbot’s statements, whatever you think of them, don’t constitute such violations. (Bolding in the statement below is mine.)

To:        Members of the University Community
From:    Robert J. Zimmer, President
Re:        Statement on Faculty, Free Expression, and Diversity
Date:     November 29, 2020

From time to time, faculty members at the University share opinions and scholarship that provoke spirited debate and disagreement, and in some cases offend members of the University community.

As articulated in the Chicago Principles, the University of Chicago is deeply committed to the values of academic freedom and the free expression of ideas, and these values have been consistent throughout our history. We believe universities have an important role as places where novel and even controversial ideas can be proposed, tested and debated. For this reason, the University does not limit the comments of faculty members, mandate apologies, or impose other disciplinary consequences for such comments, unless there has been a violation of University policy or the law.  Faculty are free to agree or disagree with any policy or approach of the University, its departments, schools or divisions without being subject to discipline, reprimand or other form of punishment.

That said, no individual member of the faculty speaks for the University as a whole on any subject, including on issues of diversity. In turn, the University will continue to defend vigorously any faculty member’s right to publish and discuss his or her ideas.

The University is committed to creating an inclusive environment where diversity is not only represented but individuals are empowered to fully participate in the exchange of ideas and perspectives. As University leaders we recognize that there is more work to be done and are strengthening initiatives to attract faculty, students and staff of diverse backgrounds.

Zimmer could not have been clearer or more articulate about defending the freedom of speech of our faculty, which also holds for students and staff.  Note that he defends the right of the faculty to speak about “issues of diversity,” as did Abbot, but also defends the inclusivity of the University.

Although the letter to the faculty from Abbot’s critics doesn’t demand an apology from him, it does mandate a number of actions that clearly represent “discipline, reprimand, and punishment.” Those can no longer be imposed on Abbot, though of course faculty and students remain free to criticize him and to snub him, though they can’t create a workplace for Abbot that is seen as harassment.

What I like about the letter is not only what it says, but that, while responding to a controversy, does not name names, which would represent an unwarranted singling-out of Abbot. If only other university presidents could show this moxie!