Haverford College earns disgrace as FIRE’s “speech code of the month”

July 4, 2021 • 9:30 am

Haverford College, a very ritzy school in the eponymous Pennsylvania town, is one of the wokest (or should I say “most progressive”) schools in America, and not in a good way. Last year I reported how they caved in to ludicrous student demands. Let’s reprise:

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

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

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

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

See here for more. Based on the school’s speech-chilling Honor Code, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) previously rated the school “yellow”, meaning there were restrictions on free speech. Haverford is a private school, and doesn’t have to adhere to the First Amendment, but has an official Academic Freedom policy that guarantees a student’s right to “speak or write freely on any subject.”

It turns out that Haverford doesn’t really abide by that policy. As FIRE discovered, the school also has a new policy whereby “microaggressions” and disrespectful speech are violations of the Honor Code, which puts that Code at odds with school policy. Because of that, FIRE has named Haverford’s policy its “speech code of the month”, and that’s not an honor!

Click on the screenshot to read more, though I’ve summarized the salient stuff below:

Here’s a FIRE video about the new amendment:

Here’s an excerpt from Haverford’s new amendment to its Honor Code, given on the FIRE website:

The prohibition on microaggressions is far clearer in the amended version, with added text bolded:

In particular, we recognize that acts of discrimination, microaggression, and harassment, including, but not limited to, acts of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, tokenism, cultural insensitivity, discrimination based on citizenship status, discrimination based on religion, and discrimination based on national origin, accent, dialect, or usage of the English language are devoid of respect and therefore, by definition, violate this Code. We understand that these discriminatory acts can take many forms, and smaller acts such as microaggressions are also devoid of respect and thus violate the Code. …

We also recognize that a person’s there are a range of political opinions at Haverford College, are necessarily intertwined with their values and outlook, and thus influence their practices. These practices may violate the Honor Code. As such, Thus, we expect that when expressing or encountering others’ political beliefs, students will must be respectful of community standards as befits adherence to this Code. when expressing political opinions. As the Social Honor Code applies to all of our interactions at Haverford, engagement in political discourse falls within its jurisdiction, and political beliefs may not be used to excuse behavior that violates the Code. If we find that our political beliefs perpetuate discrimination, we are obligated to re-evaluate them as we would any of our beliefs that perpetuate discrimination. . . . 

[C]onfronted students weaponizing the Code’s expectation of respect in order to silence and/or invalidate the experiences of harmed parties—including invalidating experiences of harm by claiming discrimination against a privileged identity (e.g., claims of reverse-racism) or refusing to reflect on their actions—is a violation of the Code. Using one’s political beliefs to justify disrespectful or discriminatory words or actions is also a violation of the Code.

Microaggression is of course is a slippery concept, for not only does Haverford not even give a definition of “microaggression,” but, as FIRE says, “the addition of the language that students ‘must be respectful of community standards when expressing political opinions’ turns the Honor Code into a civility code.”  “Disrespect” and beliefs that “perpetuate discrimination”, are not forms of protected speech under the First Amendment, but are slippery. Is criticism of Israel or Palestine now a microaggression? (Even the words “dirty Jew” should be protected!). What about criticism of Black Lives Matter? The tenets of Islam or Catholicism? As we know, what constitutes “harmful” and “violent” speech has expanded beyond all reason, and Haverford’s code has expanded to include much of what we want to be protected.

Further, the body that adjudicates the school’s Honor Code violations comprises entirely students, and, as FIRE adds, “being brought before a jury of your peers to defend your protected speech is punishment in itself.” In other words, the school allows protected speech to be punished, and violates its own promise of adhering in principle to the First Amendment.

In light of this amendment, FIRE says they’re changing Haverford’s rating, once the changes are on the school’s website, to the worst category for free speech, the dreaded “red-light rating.” I wouldn’t send my kid to a $74,000/year school so they would have their speech monitored and regulated by other students.

In the meantime, at the page above (or click below), you can register a complaint with Haverford by filling in the form that goes to Haverford’s President.

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.

U Chicago law professor: Universities need dedicated units and officers to protect academic freedom and free speech

June 17, 2021 • 9:15 am

We all know that both the Left and the Right impinge on free speech and academic freedom in American colleges and universities. Though the Left does it more often, at least judging by the number of speaker deplatformings and disinvitations, the Right is no stranger to censorship. The latest incident from the Right occurred recently when Nikole Hannah-Jones, known for her founding of the NYT’s 1619 Project, for which she won a Pulitzer Prize, was refused tenure by the Board of Trustees for a position in the journalism school at the University of North Carolina. Her position had already been approved by the journalism school itself, and by the UNC administration, but the Board of Trustees, which has ultimate power, put the kibosh on it. Though I’m no fan of Hannah Jones or the 1619 Project, I think the trustees should have rubber-stamped the decision of the school itself and hired Hannah-Jones. It’s pretty clear they didn’t do so because Hannah-Jones is a controversial figure beloved by the progressive Left.

Incidents on the Left are more numerous, and I often describe them here. Some are summarized by my colleague Tom Ginsburg, a professor of law and political science at the University of Chicago, in a new article at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The UNC debacle was not an isolated incident, nor is the threat limited to the political right. Consider other recent examples: the University of Oklahoma demanded agreement from faculty and staff members with certain diversity-related statements as a condition of employment; Chapman University faculty members called for the firing of a professor who appeared at the pro-Trump rally in Washington, D.C., that took place hours before the Capitol insurrection; and Central Michigan University ended the contract of a journalism professor who invited members of the Westboro Baptist Church to class. A recent survey by the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology found widespread self-censorship among U.S. academics.

What to do about this? Ginsburg’s article proposes a solution that seems excellent. Read on by clicking on the screenshot.

The issue is a disparity involving colleges having ample resources and programs for promoting DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), often with policies that can impinge on freedom of speech and/or academic freedom, but lacking programs and resources to ensure those freedoms themselves. Ginsburg describes this disparity:

In recent years, colleges have devoted significant resources to institutionalizing diversity, inclusion, and equity. These efforts accelerated after the murder of George Floyd, and many colleges are now creating vice president- or vice provost-level positions, leading entire bureaucracies devoted to this effort. As a requirement of federal law, colleges have also developed Title IX bureaucracies, which help to ensure that institutions receiving federal money deal with sexual harassment. Whatever one thinks of the implementation (and the implementation of Title IX in particular has been controversial), it is clear that colleges are serious about these important goals.

In contrast, in most institutions of higher learning, issues of academic freedom or free speech have no designated campus officer. There is no emerging profession devoted to it, no mandatory training programs, no resources for faculty members and students who want to understand what it means. There are no job ads posted for vice presidents for academic freedom. Instead, academic-freedom controversies tend to be left to faculty committees, whose membership turns over regularly, or to ad hoc decisions by provosts and presidents. Among students, questions of freedom of expression are left to deans of students or in some cases to the diversity bureaucracy. Without an institutional base to protect free inquiry, standards are applied in an uneven way. The risk is that administrators will simply give in to the loudest voice in the room, which will, by definition, never be someone whose full-time job is to speak up for academic freedom.

Perhaps Ginsburg was inspired by discussions that many of us have had about the Kalven Report, one of the U of C’s foundational principles. I’ve discussed it here many times; the report is meant to ensure that, with a very few exceptions, neither the University, its administrators, nor its departmental units are permitted to take ideological political, moral, or ideological positions.  (Professors and students themselves, of course, are welcome and encouraged to do so.) The purpose of this policy is to avoid chilling speech and intimidating dissenters that could occur when those who disagree with “official” political or ideological stands become fearful of their standing or treatment by the University.

The Kalven principles were affirmed last fall by our President, Bob Zimmer. Despite that, administrators and departments have been posting many “official” political statements on University websites, most of which clearly violate the University’s own Kalven policy. But it’s hard to get departments to remove them (I think all of those at the previous link are still up), and there is no official mechanism for doing so—and no official ombudsperson, group, or unit devoted to protecting our own principles of free speech. This is important, for it is those principles that the school uses to attract students, and advertises them heavily as an inducement to come here. Without enforcement, though, our famous principles, which include “the Chicago Principles” of free speech (copied by over 55 other schools) are in danger of disappearing.

One solution mentioned by Ginsburg is to give incoming students a unit on freedom of speech and academic freedom, comparable to their units on DEI. But the other is the creation of a formal academic system to ensure freedom of thought. To my knowledge, no university in America has such a system, though nonpartisan organizations like the American Association for University Professors, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Academic Freedom Alliance will go to bat for faculty and students if their freedom of expression is violated.

As Ginsburg notes, however, such external bodies “are too removed from the front lines to touch the culture of students and faculty members”. So Ginsburg proposes a way to create or strengthen a freedom-of-expression culture in universities and colleges (remember, public ones must adhere to the First Amendment):

Institutionalization of academic freedom could look something like diversity initiatives, and would have the same goal: to advance core values in the culture of colleges. Staff members would serve as a resource for the faculty, develop basic explanations of core concepts for students, collect data, and advise leaders behind the scenes on how to handle controversies when they arise. While the last thing faculty members need is another online training program, there should at least be materials introducing new faculty members and students to the importance of academic freedom. One might imagine orientation programs where participants wrestle with the idea, perhaps role-playing through tough cases; books on free speech could be considered for pre-freshman summer reading; and students should be invited to ruminate on the fate of academics in places like Turkey, Venezuela, and Hungary, where attacks on colleges were a harbinger of broader assaults on democracy.

Indeed, when the controversy about the Kalven Principles arose in the past year, many faculty members were completely unaware of this policy, even though it’s a critical part of our Foundational Principles. But even when departments are informed that they’re putting up statements that violate these Principles, they ignore the critics and leave them up. This has already caused some chilling of speech on campus.

I would go even further than Ginsburg, though. The “institutionalizaton” of freedom of expression and academic freedom should encompass a formal and permanent unit that will adjudicate reported violations by the University itself or by its departments. The decisions should not be left to the University administration, for, as in our case, they’ve let stand several arrant violations of our own principles—for reasons I can guess but don’t know for sure.

If we can have permanent units to deal with and promote DEI, we can surely have permanent units to promote and enforce academic freedom. After all, our principles are already written down; all we need is a way to ensure that they’re followed. This need not involve Pecksniffian “bias reporting,” but certainly can involve dealing with issues like deplatforming, disruption or abrogation of free speech, and, for the faculty, violations of academic freedom.

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

University College London handles political controversy the right way

May 25, 2021 • 9:45 am

I’ve written in detail about one of the Foundational Principles of Free Expression of the University of Chicago, the one embodied in what we call the “Kalven Report“.

The principle of this report, as summarized yesterday by my Chicago colleague Brian Leiter, is that our University should take no official position on any ideological, moral, or political issue except for those issues that directly impinge on our academic mission. The principle grew out of calls from faculty and students for the University to take positions against Communism, against the Vietnam war, and other issues du jour. The principle is there to guarantee that nobody is cowed from speaking their minds by “official” university statements that might chill one’s speech.

In response to several of us seeking clarification, President Bob Zimmer clarified last October that the prohibition against taking such positions applies not just to the University administration, but to its units: departments, schools, and so on. Nevertheless, many departments and statements from administrators continue to blatantly violent this prohibition (see a list of violations here). For reasons beyond my ken, the administration has yet taken no action to remove these statements. That means that the Kalven Principles are unenforced, are eroding, and may disappear. And if they go, so goes academic freedom at our school. What a pity that would be, since freedom of speech and academic freedom are points the University makes to sell our school to prospective students. It would be a shame if students came here under false pretenses.

Brian’s nice post quotes the Kalven report, and I think all universities should adhere to these words. I’ve put the crucial bit in bold:

A university has a great and unique role to play in fostering the development of social and political values in a society. The role is defined by the distinctive mission of the university and defined too by the distinctive characteristics of the university as a  community. It is a role for the long term.

The mission of the university is the discovery, improvement, and dissemination of knowledge. Its domain of inquiry and scrutiny includes all aspects and all values of society. A university faithful to its mission will provide enduring challenges to social values, policies, practices, and institutions. By design and by effect, it is the institution which creates discontent with the existing social arrangements and proposes new ones. In brief, a good university, like Socrates, will be upsetting.

The instrument of dissent and criticism is the individual faculty member or the individual student. The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. It is, to go back once again to the classic phrase, a community of scholars. To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community. It is a community but only for the limited, albeit great, purposes of teaching and research. It is not a club, it is not a trade association, it is not a lobby.

Since the university is a community only for these limited and distinctive purposes, it is a community which cannot take collective action on the issues of the day without endangering the conditions for its existence and effectiveness. There is no mechanism by which it can reach a collective position without inhibiting that full freedom of dissent on which it thrives. It cannot insist that all of its members favor a given view of social policy; if it takes collective action, therefore, it does so at the price of censuring any minority who do not agree with the view adopted. In brief, it is a community which cannot resort to majority vote to reach positions on public issues.

One school that has just adhered to this principle is University College London, which of course probably isn’t even aware of Chicago’s avowed policy. During the recent fights between Israel and Palestine, UCL’s Provost has rightly decried bigotry of students against each other, but refuses to take a stand on the matter of the war. Click on the screenshot to read Provost Michael Spence’s take:

What he should have said and did say:

The first question concerns why my message of earlier this week called out antisemitic activity when issues of prejudice remain a problem for so many in our community, not least our Palestinian students. The answer to that question is that we had had several incidents involving direct threats of serious physical violence against Jewish students. That was a situation to which the University needed urgently to respond, and for which there was no immediate parallel.

However, it goes without saying that the University takes every form of discrimination with the utmost seriousness. In the last few days, I have been made aware of reports of Islamophobia, of prejudice against Palestinian students, and of some feeling unsafe. I want to be clear again that we unreservedly condemn abuse, harassment or bullying directed at any member of our community. There can never be a justification for this behaviour, and we will take action where necessary.

That’s very good: internecine bigotry of one group of students against another affects the University’s mission and can be properly criticized.

But what makes Spence’s position almost unique is what he says about any University position about the war itself:

The second question that has been raised with me is whether the University should adopt an institutional stance in relation to the current situation. Given that so many of our staff and students feel deeply about the conflict in Israel/Palestine, and some have personal experience of its effects, I understand the desire that we should. But it is my strong conviction that to do so would be incompatible with the purpose of a university in a liberal democracy.

. . .It follows from this conception of the university, which I share, that it is not a participant in public debate, but a forum in which that debate takes place. While our staff and students should loudly argue for their conceptions of truth and value, the university, as an institution, should refrain from doing so lest it chill the exercise of the ethical individualism of its staff and students. This does not mean that we have no strongly held normative positions about our own collective life; we must, and we should, do so. But it does mean that the University, as an institution, ought not to become an advocate in public debate. I believe this to be the case even, perhaps especially, where a majority of UCL staff and students are of one mind on a given issue.

For this reason, I do not think it would be appropriate for UCL to comment on the rights and wrongs of the current conflict in Israel/Palestine. That is a task for our staff and students. It is the University’s role to ensure that we remain a community of respectful debate in which it is possible for them to do so. And on that front, I remain deeply committed.

This is pretty much UCL’s version of the Kalven Principles, and I believe wholeheartedly that Spence is right. I’d recommend reading the rest of Leiter’s take on how the University of Chicago has dealt with the Kalven Principles lately; it’s a short read and you can find it here. I am not aware of any school other than ours that has an official policy of not taking institutional positions on ideological, political or moral issues that don’t affect the mission of the University: to teach, to learn, and to learn to think. If you know of such schools, do let me know.

h/t: Coel

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