Pretty damning editorial; I'm surprised they weighed in, but the NYT does tend to take a strong interest in Ivy League matters, given the class structure it represents. (I was a residential adviser in "Wilson College" [always known simply as Wilson College] long ago; I didn't realize it was named for Woodrow Wilson until this latest controversy, however! I just assumed it was named for some wealthy white guy of the past.)
[M]any concepts that refer to the negative aspects of human experience and behavior have expanded their meanings. These concepts increasingly extend outward to capture qualitatively new phenomena (‘horizontal’ expansion) and downward to capture quantitatively less extreme phenomena (‘vertical’ expansion). I illustrate these forms of semantic creep by reviewing changes in the concepts of abuse, bullying, trauma, mental disorder, and prejudice over recent decades. In each case, the concept’s boundary has stretched and its meaning has dilated. I argue that this pattern of ‘concept creep’ reflects a dominant moral agenda within social, developmental, and clinical psychology, involving an escalating sensitivity to harm.
Hmm, this sounds familiar, doesn't it? Haslam further explains the two kinds of "expansion" as follows:
The first, ‘vertical expansion,’ occurs when a concept’s meaning becomes less stringently defined, so that it encompasses quantitatively milder variants of the phenomenon to which it originally referred. For example, the concept of obesity would have undergone vertical expansion if the critical body mass index threshold was lowered, thereby swelling the number of people defined as obese. The second form, which I call ‘horizontal expansion’, occurs when a concept extends to a qualitatively new class of phenomena, including application to a new semantic context. For example, the concept of ‘refugee’ has expanded to include people displaced by environmental catastrophe, whereas it originally referred only to those displaced by conflict.
Interesting piece at IHE about campuses (not, yet anyway, UVA) about student protesters targetting statues of Thomas Jefferson. The piece concludes with a long quote from Harvard historian Annette Gordon-Reed (who has famously written about Jefferson's sexual relationship with one of his slaves):
"I understand why some people think his statues should be removed, but not all controversial figures of the past are created equal," Gordon-Reed said. "I think Jefferson’s contributions to the history of the United States outweigh the problems people have with aspects of his life. He is just too much a part of the American story … to pretend that he was not there. This conversation about statues and symbols really got going with calls to take symbols and figures from the Confederacy out of the public sphere. Then it shifted to every famous person who was an enslaver and/or white supremacist, basically letting the Confederates off the hook. That's a lot of people to be disappeared. There is every difference in the world between being one of the founders of the United States and being a part of group of people who fought to destroy the United States."
She added: "It’s a line-drawing function, but we draw lines all the time. Statues and buildings for Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun? No. Statues and buildings for Thomas Jefferson? Yes, but with interpretation and conversations about all the meanings of his life and influences -- good and bad. The words of the Declaration of Independence that blacks have made use of over the years and Monticello, his home, a slave plantation that has now become a site for substantive discussions about race and slavery, exist together as a part of our history, just as he was. He drafted the declaration, he was a president, he founded a university, he championed religious freedom. The best of his ideals continue to influence and move people. The statues should be a stimulus for considering all these matters at William & Mary and the University of Missouri."
An interesting study, though it's still the case that Americans are more tolerant of offensive speech than citizens elsewhere: "our global survey found that a majority of Americans say that people should be able to say offensive things about minority groups publicly. Two-thirds of Americans say this, compared with a median of 35% among the 38 nations we polled." It is unfortuante that this was framed in terms of "offense," which is usually not part of the definition of hate speech in countries that do regulate such speech.
Now you can find out in one place! My suspicion is the proliferation of demand lists is going to dilute their impact, but we'll see. The lists vary a good bit. Duke's, I thought, was especially interesting (both in terms of concreteness, but also in recognizing the interests of people other than students), though I've not read all of them by any means, just sampling.
ADDENDUM: As one reader points out, the Duke students' definition of "hate speech" is crazy and dangerous, but this kind of stuff appears in a lot of the documents. No serious university is going to adopt such a rule, and I expect the students who draft these things are too inexperienced to know how to craft credible proposals regarding speech.
Many observers of the student protests of the nineteen-sixties noted those movements’ Oedipal aspects. That generation of student activists was seen as killing the father (figuratively) in their organized political resistance to university faculty and administration, and, more broadly, to war and oppression. Today’s student protesters are certainly directing anger at faculty and administrators, but this time the parental dynamic is notably different.
Particularly in the way things have unfolded at Yale, students’ social-justice activism has been expressed, in part, as the need for care from authority figures. When they experience the hurt that motivates them to political action, they’re deeply disappointed with parental surrogates for not responding adequately or quickly enough to support and nurture them. The world in which it’s not bizarre for a young person to rebuke someone for failing to “create a place of comfort and home,” or to yell, “Be quiet … You’re disgusting!,” and storm away, is the world of family, where a child in pain desperately desires empathy and understanding from a parent. The online scorn heaped on the student who was filmed behaving this way represents an unproductive refusal to compassionately translate her behavior across the generational divide. In a piece called “Hurt at Home,” another Yale student wrote, “I feel my home is being threatened,” and contrasted her comforting relationship with her father to the care she felt students emphatically did not receive from the master of Silliman College. Yale tells its students that the residential college is their “home away from home,” but this generation might be the first to insist so literally on that idea.
I've noted some related aspects of this phenomenon, but Prof. Suk puts it quite well. (And note these caveats about the "infantilism" label.) The neediness of these students is quite real, and it's not clear universities are going to be able to meet all those needs in ways consistent with the ideals of freedom that make intellectual life possible.
(Professor Suk, some will recall, was an early entry into these discussions, recounting the difficulties she was encountering teaching rape in criminal law.)
Philosopher Lionel McPherson (Tufts) writes with an interesting perspective on the recent debate about events at Yale:
I wanted to call (or recall) your attention to this:
"Then he left to walk back to his dorm room. He says he saw an officer 'jogging' toward the entrance of another building across the grounds from the building he’d just left.
'I did not pay him any mind, and continued to walk back towards my room. I looked behind me, and noticed that the police officer was following me. He spoke into his shoulder-mounted radio and said, "I got him."’
'I faced forward again, presuming that the officer was not talking to me. I then heard him say, "Hey, turn around!" — which I did.
'The officer raised his gun at me, and told me to get on the ground.
'At this point, I stopped looking directly at the officer, and looked down towards the pavement. I dropped to my knees first, with my hands raised, then laid down on my stomach.'
"...Now, don’t get me wrong: If indeed my son matched the description of a suspect, I would have had no problem with him being questioned appropriately.... The stop is not the problem; the method of the stop is the problem.
"Why was a gun drawn first? Why was he not immediately told why he was being detained? Why not ask for ID first?"
[end of excerpt from piece by Times columnist]
You write, "Manne and Stanley go so far as to write that the racism that exists at Yale 'is not the sort of racism that is generally considered newsworthy...There are no black bodies on the pavement to focus on. The violence being done is subtler...' It's so subtle, in fact, that it's not clear how it constitutes 'violence' at all."
But there were black bodies "on the pavement" at Yale recently--Charles Blow's son, at least. Manne and Stanley are mistaken on that front (and I find it somewhat disturbing that they would miss or ignore a recent incident of this kind). Their strong claim, then, about the "subtle" violence being done is also mistaken. Being ordered to the ground at gunpoint, I would think, clearly does constitute violence. The incident involving Blow's son helps to provide a fuller sense of the "racial climate" at Yale, among other PWIs.
(As an undergrad, I was stopped at Princeton and asked to produce ID when walking to the library while Black. A few years ago, as a professor, I was asked to produce ID when working in my office at night, with music playing at moderate volume, while Black. I wouldn't call these campus police encounters violent, since I wasn't ordered to the ground, nor was a gun drawn. I would call them hostile and not "subtle.")
My own view is that it's generally a mistake to look at what's been going on with black (and brown) students on college campuses, post Ferguson, through a skeptical wide lens on "identity politics," "the new infantilism," "trigger warnings," and the like.
I find myself in agreement with almost everything Prof. McPherson says. Racial stereotyping by police (and disproportionately ominous behavior by the police in connection with that [e.g., drawing a firearm!], even when it stops short of killing people) is wrongful and harmful behavior, and to the extent police harassment of students of color at Yale played a role in recent events, that is an important fact that has not, so far, figured in the public descriptions. Unlike so-called "micro-aggressions" (what I had in mind as an example of "subtle violence") police conduct is subject to meaningful regulation and disciplinary oversight, and with no cost to any other academic values. (Police misconduct is sufficiently serious that even if there were costs to academic values, that's a cost universities ought to bear.)
I also agree with Prof. McPherson's last paragraph, with one small caveat: the phenomena I've lumped under the heading of "the new infantilism" are various, but what they have in common is the idea that certain kinds of lawful speech are verboten lest it cause hurt or offense. I would not class complaints about racist abuse and threats in Missouri, or police misconduct as described by Charles Blow and Prof. McPherson, in that category: to be free of that kind of treatment is required by the rule of law and a commitment to equal citizenship regardless of race. My own view (shared, I'm reasonably confident, by Prof. McPherson) is that a residential college named after an apologist for chattel slavery is also an embarrassment for a university and an affront to its students--not an act of "violence," subtle or otherwise, but a wrong that should be remedied.What I call the New Infantilism is largely a phenomenon at "elite" universities, and is primarily, I suspect, an artifact of class (see for example). I do not have the impression that this phenomenon is limited to white students, but I believe Prof. McPherson is correct that it's probably mistaken to look at recent events, even at Yale, through that lens. (The mindless "identity politics" I've criticized is manifested by those [usually posturing faculty] who purport to speak for the students, and usually on social media. I agree "trigger warnings" are also irrelevant, but still a bad idea for a reason I gave long ago.)
My thanks to Prof. McPherson (whom I've never met, alas, but have been fortunate to correspond with for many years) for this contribution.
A brief comment about the legal restrictions governing the regulation of speech on campus, since correspondence suggests there are some significant misunderstandings of the legal landscape. A few quick observations:
1. Private universities can, legally, do quite a lot of regulating speech if they want--especially of students, a bit less so of faculty due to contractual protections for academic freedom. But even with respect to faculty, private universities have considerable latitude.
2. Public universities are subject to some constitutional limitations, but they are always subject to the legal regime of Pickering and progeny that I discussed awhile back in connection with Salaita and the University of Illinois. To simplify,in the post-Pickering world, a state university can regulate speech if doing so is neecessary to discharge its central functions, e.g., teaching and research.
3. What that means is that even if it is generally unconstitutional in the U.S. to regulate "hate speech," a suitably tailored hate speech prohibition in a public university would likely be constitutional. So, for example, a prohibition on racist, sexist or simply vulgar abuse in the classroom, between students, or students and faculty, would be defensible on Pickering grounds: students can't learn, and faculty can't teach, if the classroom is disrupted by these kinds of verbal assaults. (A private university could do the same thing, and it seems to me any sensible concept of academic freedom should allow for this.)
4. By contrast, a state university could not issue a blanket ban on "racially insensitive" speech on campus; they could not even issue a blanket ban on "hate speech" on campus. The latter isn't sufficiently tailored to promoting pedagogical or research functions to survive legal challenge I suspect.
5. Most discussion of appropriate and inappropriate restrictions on speech on campus are not based on legal requirements, but on ideals of freedom of thought and inquiry that universities are (often uniquely) thought to stand for. (Recall that even Marcuse, in his critique of "repressive tolerance" for harmful expression, thought universities should be bastions of unbridled expression. [It would be fair to say he was not thinking about the Pickering issues, however!]) This is true, for example, of the widely cited University of Chicago commitment to freedom of expression: a university could provide less protection than Chicago without violating the law, and many do. Yale could, for example, forbid any students from shouting curse words at any faculty member. I would oppose such a blanket rule, because campuses include public spaces where discourse need not be tidy, polite or civil. But with respect to the ideal of freedom of expression on a university campus, speech and actions that have as their purpose to suppress or punish other speech or expression are incompatible with the Chicago-style ideal.
That was the title of a lunchtime talk I gave today for law students here, organized by our OUTLAW* chapter, and also sponsored by the Labor & Employment Law society. There was a lot of talk about some themes from my book, as well as constitutional doctrine, the federal RFRA, state RFRAs, Kim Davis, Title VII, Hobby Lobby (basically following my discussion in this paper), and a few other things. But the main theme was that we are on the verge of a ton of litigation in which the new anti-discrimination norms against LGBT people, reflected in the gay marriage decision of the Supreme Court, as well as many state laws, are going to come up against claims of "religious liberty," the liberty in question being the liberty to discriminate on the basis of LGBT status. We no longer have that kind of litigation seeking religious exemptions from laws prohibiting race discrimination, and my expectation is that in a generation, norms against anti-LGBT discrimination will be sufficiently entrenched to make such litigation unviable in that context too. But until then, or until an authoritative resolution by higher courts, we are going to see lots of anti-gay bigotry seeking validation through America's (generally misguided, in my view) scheme for "protecting" religious liberty. The important case out of New Mexico a few years ago illustrates what's in store; the New Mexico High Court reached the sensible result on behalf of equality values, but I'm sure other courts will not do as well.
*"OUTLAW" is the usual name of the LGBT student group at American law schools.
Julie Lythcott-Haims noticed a disturbing trend during her decade as a dean of freshmen at Stanford University. Incoming students were brilliant and accomplished and virtually flawless, on paper. But with each year, more of them seemed incapable of taking care of themselves.
At the same time, parents were becoming more and more involved in their children's lives. They talked to their children multiple times a day and swooped in to personally intervene anytime something difficult happened.
From her position at one of the world's most prestigious schools, Lythcott-Haims came to believe that mothers and fathers in affluent communities have been hobbling their children by trying so hard to make sure they succeed, and by working so diligently to protect them from disappointment and failure and hardship.
Such "overhelping" might assist children in developing impressive resumes for college admission. But it also robs them of the chance to learn who they are, what they love and how to navigate the world, Lythcott-Haims argues in her book "How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success."
"We want so badly to help them by shepherding them from milestone to milestone and by shielding them from failure and pain. But overhelping causes harm," she writes. "It can leave young adults without the strengths of skill, will and character that are needed to know themselves and to craft a life."
He returned unharmed, and his brief comments are worth quite a bit more than most of the punditry blather:
What do I think of the events? I will leave geo-political analysis to those who know more about the Middle East and Islam. My overwhelming feeling is one of world-weary sadness. Human beings are the only mammals who regularly kill large numbers of their own species, not for food or sex or territory, but simply out of anger or despair or boredom or religious ecstasy. The communicants of the great Abrahamic religions have been slaughtering people for centuries -- indeed, for millennia -- and when their enthusiasm for blood wanes, secular mass murderers step forward to fill the void. Perhaps it is because I will soon be eighty-two, but I am weighed down by the fragility and brevity of our insignificant moment of life. So many of our greatest works of art are either explorations of this blood lust or celebrations of it. "Make love, not war," we said in the Sixties.
ADDENDUM: It appears they revised #5, if anyone has a copy of the original version, send it to me. (It's still pretty bad.)
ANOTHER: Philosopher David Merli (Franklin & Marshall) kindly sends along the November 13th versions of #5 and #6:
5. President Martin must issue a statement to the Amherst College community at large that states we do not tolerate the actions of student(s) who posted the “All Lives Matter” and “Free Speech” posters. Also let the student body know that it was racially insensitive to the students of color on our college campus and beyond who are victim to racial harassment and death threats; alert them that Student Affairs may require them to go through the Disciplinary Process if a formal complaint is filed, and that they will be required to attend extensive training for racial and cultural competency.
6. President Martin must issue a statement of support for the revision of the Honor Code to reflect a zero-tolerance policy for racial insensitivity and hate speech.
I can't wait to read the definition of "racial insensitivity" for which there is zero-tolerance. This spectacle could be the end of Amherst College.
I was corresponding with philosopher Lionel McPherson (Tufts) about some of the stuff going on at Yale, and he called my attention to the fact that one of the residential colleges at Yale is still named after a champion of chattel slavery, who happened to be a Yale graduate. How could that still be, one might wonder? Perhaps the bequest that created the college bound Yale legally to the name? In fact, the story of the naming is much worse. As is right there on the Yale webpage, the residential college was named after this "alumnus, statesman, and orator" in 1932! In other words, some sixty years after the end of the Civil War and chattel slavery, no one thought twice at Yale about honoring the leading theorist of the Southern cause, that cause being chattel slavery. Of course, at that time, Blacks still lived under a regime of white terror throughout the South and the Ku Klux Klan was still a national political presence, though heading into its gradual decline. But still, it's telling about the complicity of elite institutions of "higher learning" with wickedness that even in the Northeastern United States in 1932 no one apparently had doubts about honoring one of the preeminent defenders of the chattel slavery of human beings.
One might think that if South Carolina can take down the Confederate flag, then Yale University could change the name of a college that honors someone on the wrong side of the moral arc of the universe.
None of which, let me add, excuses the bad behavior by some students at Yale in recent weeks. But seriously: who exactly is going to object to changing the name? And how could it not have happened already? (I'm opening this for comments, in case anyone knows more about the history here.)
As I continue to watch in amazement otherwise intelligent people say very foolish things on social media, especially Facebook, it occurs to me that now would be a good time for everyone to re-familiarize themselves with a real psychological phenomenon, group polarization, about which Brit Brogaard (Miami) wrote helpfully here. Remembering this phenomenon is real may help some people think twice before clicking "like" or (worse) weighing in with blather, but it will certainly help the silent observers understand what's going on.
It may come as a shock that a candidate for President in last night's Republican debate, said something false, but as it happens Senator Rubio asserted falsely that welders make more than philosophers, but it isn't true. Average salaries for welders well into their careers are in $37,000-$39,000 range, far below the starting salary of assistant professors of philosophy at research universities ($65,000 and up) and at other colleges and universities (a wider range, but I've yet to see a salary for an assistant professor lower than $45,000 in recent years). Amusingly, even the popular media has called him out on this noting that even the average B.A. in philosophy earns more than welders. It's a shame, though, that this point had to be made at the expense of welders.
Feel free to links to more pertinent data.
In any case, with the facts clarified, it is good to know that at least one Republican candidate will now champion the cause of philosophers.
Is there anything of ethical (or legal) interest in the VW scandal, from the perspective of a potential consumer?
I was ready to buy one of their cars (not diesel). My initial reaction to the revelations was that I would never buy a product from them again. Is there a principled ethical basis for this? The deception has been revealed and the company will pay billions in penalties, though that will not undue the damage that has been done to health and environment. Would giving them my money be a principled but meaningless token gesture? Would it be foolish because so many large corporations engage in deeply harmful practices? If people keep buying VW products would that be negative because it would mitigate the seriousness of their offense? Or would it be positive because, say, factory workers who were not complicit in the scheme might be less likely to be affected?
VW was founded by the Nazis and many Jews of my parents generation would not buy German products for many years. Boycotting them now seems almost petty in comparison.
I do not have to buy a car from VW but want to make a principled decision in any case. I would have no car if that were an option but it’s not.
Now, maybe there is some obvious principle involved that I don’t know, but others of your less-sophisticated readers might not either.
Christakis believes that he has an obligation to listen to the views of the students, to reflect upon them, and to either respond that he is persuaded or to articulate why he has a different view. Put another way, he believes that one respects students by engaging them in earnest dialogue. But many of the students believe that his responsibility is to hear their demands for an apology and to issue it. They see anything short of a confession of wrongdoing as unacceptable. In their view, one respects students by validating their subjective feelings.
Dramatic and quick development! The student hunger strike was obviously a national embarrassment for them, but one suspects the threat by the football players not to play is what really changed the dynamics.
UPDATE: A good timeline of how things went in Columbia, Missouri. It certainly looks like the football team's protest did the trick. I imagine a lot of college athletes who play on high-powered college teams are going to take note.
UPDATE: Philosopher Alan White (Wisconsin) tells me that officially they only want submissions from those in the STEM fields. Prof. White submitted an entry anyway, but just in case, philosophers are welcome to post answers in the comments here, which are now open.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)