Another very interesting piece on the issue du jour in American universities.
Another very interesting piece on the issue du jour in American universities.
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.)
From a new paper by psychologist Nick Haslam (Melbourne):
[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."
This piece by philosopher David McCabe (Colgate) is quite interesting, and worth a careful read by everyone (those who agree with me, more or less, and those who disagree). Some excerpts, but only to entice you to read it all:
One ideal, repeatedly invoked by the students, is that of college as a secure, nurturing, welcoming home for all. "It's no longer a safe space for me," says one, while another tells [Yale college master] Christakis that his role is "to create a space of comfort and home for the students." Now it must be admitted that within current conversational dynamics, the claim that one has been denied a safe space functions as a dialogical move to unassailably high ground: it brooks no disagreement. But whatever we think of that, the students' claims here not only point to an urgent and wholly reasonable need, but also implicitly invoke Yale's own policies, which describe college masters as entrusted with their students' "physical well being and safety" and with overseeing each college's "social, cultural, and educational life and character." Whether these were genuinely threatened by the email exchange over costumes is debatable, I think, but it is hardly surprising that the students saw Christakis as someone more than just another professor, that they looked to him to confirm their sense of home.
Christakis shows little concern for that appeal. He repeatedly tries to shift the discussion onto the terrain of pure ideas, thus invoking a competing ideal of college as fundamentally a place of intellectual inquiry. But in this context, of course, such a move cannot help but suggest to the students that he does not register their concerns....
What [Christakis] certainly should do is express regret and convey sympathy, but he is so stuck on the conceptual point involved that he cannot see even this. Right here it's important to say that it's not hard to see why he is stuck on that point. Over the last few years college campuses have witnessed the steady erosion of a distinction that is utterly central not just to their mission but, I'm tempted to say, to the general maintenance of social order at some fundamental level. I mean the distinction between on the one hand what a person thinks about an action (feeling that it was offensive, for example, or deeming it unwelcome), and on the other a reasonable assessment of the act itself (that it was genuinely offensive, say, or a truly wrong thing to do).
Christakis is desperate not to lose that distinction, and his anxiety is understandable. To imagine a world without it is not to imagine a world with fewer acts that harm others, or one where we all magically get along better. It is instead to imagine a world where the mere declaration of hurt thereby amounts to a legitimate claim, where the moral quality of our own actions is a function of something over which we have no control, and where there is ultimately no verdict beyond a person's own feelings about the reality of what has happened. It is also, and probably most importantly, an abandonment of the raison d'etre of a university: the idea that through careful study in a close community with others, marked by respectful exchange, sympathetic imagination, and shared good will, we can come to better views about questions that really matter - questions about not just our place in the cosmos or the causes of World War I, but about what each of us is owed, the causes and hidden structures of injustice, our obligations to the disadvantaged, and so on.
(Thanks to David Dudrick for the pointer.)
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.
The student "demands" are here, and include the following:
We demand visible and administrative accountability for departments and centers that have a tradition of racist hiring and retention policies and anti-Black pedagogy. With regards to accountability, we demand that these departments and centers meet with representatives from graduate organizations that have signed below along with the Vice President of Academic Development, Diversity, and Inclusion, and the incoming Dean of Diversity Initiatives and comply with all prescribed actionable steps provided to them at these meetings. Furthermore, we demand annual public fora and an annual report be made publicly available to assess all racist hiring and retention policies and anti-Black pedagogy. Furthermore, we demand that the university support monetarily and otherwise departments and centers committed to social justice, as evidenced through anti-oppressive pedagogy, and the satisfaction and retention of undergraduate and graduate students and faculty of color. These departments and centers must be incentivized to continue their work with increased departmental resources and faculty hiring lines, like target-of-opportunity hires, cluster hires, postdoctoral fellows, and additional funding for centers....
We demand the introduction of compulsory, in-person, and regular anti-oppression training for faculty, staff, DPS, and administration. Anti-oppression trainings should be led and organized by people of color with significant experience in anti-oppression activism or scholarship. Furthermore, those leading these efforts should be compensated and acknowledged for their labor. This needs to be implemented beginning spring 2016, since many of these key facilitators of anti-oppression training are already present at Brown and in the Providence community....
We demand an in-person and compulsory Title IX training for faculty, staff, DPS, administrators, and students that includes an intersectional framework. The current non-compulsory online Title IX training module is ineffective and does not address the structural racism, queerphobia, economic violence and transphobia that is foundational to sexual violence on campus. Women of color––particularly Black, Brown and racial minority trans* people––are at the highest risk for sexual assault on college campuses, yet the debate over Title IX has thus far been framed as predominantly White. Statistics from across North America show that women of color, and especially trans* women of color, are at a higher risk for sexual assault than their white counterparts on college campuses and beyond.
The Brown economist Glenn Loury responds:
I have found the university to be an extremely warm, welcoming, supportive and open environment to undertake my work. I know well the people who run this institution, and the notion that they are racially insensitive is a shameful slander with no basis in fact. My colleagues, in the economics department and elsewhere at Brown, have shown themselves to be open-minded, decent and on the whole politically progressive scholars. The administration has lavished resources on me, and has enthusiastically supported any number of initiatives that contribute to promoting a just and decent society, both within the United States and throughout the world.
The notion that Brown needs a revolutionary reshaping in order to become hospitable to "students of color", that idea that "anti-black pedagogy" at Brown needs to be countered with some mandatory indoctrination of faculty, the proposal that external student committees should review purportedly "racist" departmental appointment processes, the initiative of creating "specialty positions" in academic departments to ensure their openness to hiring "faculty of color" -- these are all mischievous intrusions on the academic prerogatives of a distinguished faculty which no self-respecting scholar of any color should welcome. They are a step onto a slippery slope that slides down into intellectual mediocrity, and I will have nothing to do with them.
...but putting an appropriate and discerning spin on the "infant" aspect:
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.
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."
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.
Kate Manne (Cornell) and Jason Stanley (Yale) have a piece purportedly on recent events at Yale here. (Some if it invokes some of Jason's ideas about propaganda, discussed here. I won't rehash any of the criticisms made in that review, though it does seem to me this is another case of treating everything as a nail because you have a hammer.) I find it a disappointing and misleading intervention (and I've heard similar comments from other philosophers), and for the sake of the reputation of our discipline, I would urge philosophers to write letters to the editor; feel free to make any of the points, below.
The trouble comes early, when Manne and Stanley write:
More worryingly still, [the students] are held to be attacking freedom of speech rather than exercising it to call for institutional reform....
Rather obviously, they can be, and were, doing both. In spitting on speakers, petitioning for the removal of people from their jobs because of their speech, and heaping vulgar abuse in public on a faculty member in order to shut him down, they are trying to suppress and punish speech. Why pretend otherwise? At the same time, some students (maybe some of the same ones!) were speaking on behalf of institutional reforms. Perhaps someone, somewhere has called for shutting down that lawful speech; if so, they are mistaken too.
There was a funny, if over-the-top piece by a Harvard Law Student, denouncing the "fascist" techniques of some of the students at Yale. The word "fascist" is being abused here: the "fascist" response doesn't involve spitting or cursing, it involves breaking people's head open with bats. But put the hyperbole aside, the author correctly identifies the misconduct at issue (substitute "behavior incompatible with the functions of a university" for "fascist," and "speech compatible with the functions of a university" for "not fascist" and you'll get the point):
|Tactic||Fascist or Not Fascist?||Explanation|
|Blocking people you disagree with on Facebook||Not Fascist||Maybe a bad idea, but you’re not actively transgressing on another person’s right to speech.|
|Calling for people to be fired for expressing their beliefs||Fascist||You are (1) calling for reprisals (2) for people expressing what they believe.|
|Organizing a protest against an editorial you disagree with||Not Fascist||You are condemning a belief you disagree with, but not trying to punish the speaker for saying it.|
|Calling to defund a newspaper for publishing an editorial you disagree with||Fascist||You are (1) calling for reprisals (2) for people expressing themselves.|
|Putting up fliers demeaning people that disagree with you||Not Fascist||Using an ad hominem attack is silly and hurtful, but does not use positions of authority to punish free speech.|
|Spitting on people attending a meeting you disagree with||Fascist||You are (1) committing a crime against someone (2) because they exercised their free speech.|
|Calling for a University to change its seal||Not Fascist||You are not punishing anyone for their beliefs. Not fascist in the slightest!|
|Tearing down fliers that you disagree with||Fascist||You are (1) committing a crime against someone’s property (2) because they exercised their free speech.|
|Condemning people for wearing offensive Halloween costumes on Facebook||Not Fascist||You are expressing indignation at someone else’s choices, but not calling for them to be punished because of their expression.|
|Calling for students to be expelled for wearing offensive Halloween costumes||Fascist||You are (1) calling for reprisals (2) for people expressing themselves (even if in a hurtful, offensive way).|
Manne and Stanley simply obscure what is at issue, not once acknowledging that calling for people to be fired for their expression, or spitting on them, or heaping vulgar abuse on them to shut them up are not behaviors compatible with a functioning university environment--as little as racist abuse and racial discrimination are. But the key difference, of course, is that no one is rationalizing or justifying the latter, whereas lots of people--even philosophers!--are rationalizing the former.
Manne and Stanley repeatedly obliterate the pertinent distinctions throughout their essay, setting up their opponent as a strawman. For example:
Following Christakis’s email, protests erupted among students of color and their supporters. Their political activity has since been written off by many commentators as a silly tantrum thrown in response to a one-off email, rather than a reaction to chronic, structural racial injustice — such as the persistent paucity of black faculty members and administrators at Yale, the common experience of being the only black student in some classes, and being disproportionately likely to be stopped and asked for ID — or worse — by campus police officers, as students have movingly testified. An article in the National Review went so far as to call these students of color "defective people from defective families" — an eyebrow-raising choice of language.
Students responded to Christakis's odd e-mail (see the careful discussion of its actual content here) by calling for her to be fired. When her husband defended her, they called for him to be fired, leading to the now notorious mob scene. This is what is objectionable: that students respond to ordinary speech and a defense of free speech with calls for sanction and vulgar abuse by a mob intent on intimidating the speaker. (Manne and Stanley even manage to misrepresent the absurd National Review piece [a tantrum in its own right]: the "defective families" being criticized have nothing to do with race, rather the author is explicitly attacking "a certain strain of upper-middle-class American culture that cultivates an excess of self-importance that grows cancerous when it isn’t counteracted by a deep understanding that the world is full of things that are much more important than you are...That American striver culture has many invaluable aspects...but in the absence of transcendent values it turns everybody into a miniature Donald Trump.")
This whitewash of the objectionable behavior pervades the Manne & Stanley piece. Describing the reaction to the Associate Master's e-mail opposing the campus-wide e-mail about Halloween, they write: "the students then opposed her opposition--alleging that she ought not to have spoken as she did, given her position as associate master of Silliman College. And many pundits have, in turn, opposed their opposition--holding that the students ought not to be protesting thus..." But the alleged "symmetries" here are fabrications by Manne and Stanley: the students didn't simply criticize or "oppose" the Associate Master, they launched a petition to have her fired; when her husband came to her defense, they added him to the list of people who needed to be sanctioned for their speech. When the husband tried to talk with the students, he was shouted down and subjected to vulgar abuse. That is what sane people are objecting to: some students are behaving horribly and utterly differently than those they are criticizing.
It's true that sometimes "sounding reasonable can be a luxury," but not at a university: it's how the whole place works. And, contrary to Manne and Stanley, it's quite clear the student concerns, despite the absurd misconduct by some, have been met with a "receptive, even sympathetic audience" (contrary to Manne and Stanley's suggestion that the students could not presume such an audience). Witness not only the Master's forced apology, but now this interview with Yale's Dean of the College (who does, tactfully, note towards the end that today's students are less "resilient"). Ivy League students, including students of color, enjoy unprecedented attention and solicitude. (You'll notice there's not even been any talk of disciplinary action against any of the students engaged in the documented misconduct.) 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. Racially tinged rudeness and insensitivity (e.g., so-called "microaggressions") is not the same as murder or beatings: why cheapen the coin of racist "violence" by abusing the language this way? Thank God there are no bodies on the pavement at Yale.
Yale students have legitimate grievances (e.g., the scandal of a college named for an apologist for chattel slavery!). And it's sometimes true that (as Manne and Stanley write) the "notion of freedom of speech is...co-opted by dominant social groups, distorted to serve their interests, and used to silence those who are oppressed and marginalized." But it is an irrelevant point when, in fact, some of the Yale students are trying to suppress the kind of free speech that is part of academic life, and through tactics--calls for firings, spitting, shouting down by a mob--that would spell its end.
It is true that "the protesting Yale undergraduates have become pawns in the culture wars," but it is false that it is a mere "myth" that some of them pose "threats to freedom of speech": they obviously do in the ways noted. Why can't Manne and Stanley acknowledge that? It's mystifying.
ADDENDUM: Several readers point out that Manne and Stanley also, falsely, state that "hate speech" is an exception to the constitutional protection for speech, along with 'fighting words" and slander. Although this mistake is perhaps telling, it's also largely irrelevant to what is so wrong-headed with the argument in this piece. The Constitution does not constrain Yale, and it's constraint on public universities is tempered by Pickering and progency, as we discussed in the context of the Salaita case.
UPDATE: For those interested in reactions to the preceding, see here.
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.
Professor Sanders asked me to share the following:
In an email earlier today to faculty and staff of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Interim Chancellor Barbara Wilson announced the approval of a negotiated settlement with Dr. Steven Salaita, whose offer of appointment as an Associate Professor of American Indian Studies had been revoked last year. Throughout the ensuing controversy, the Department of Philosophy at UIUC repeatedly proved itself a vocal opponent of the revocation of Dr. Salaita’s offer and a strong supporter of academic freedom and shared governance more generally.
Ours was the first unit on campus outside of American Indian Studies to approve a resolution of “no confidence” in the Chancellor, President, and Board of Trustees. Several members of our faculty were deeply involved in efforts in the Academic Senate and across campus to seek Dr. Salaita’s reinstatement and to publicly reaffirm the university’s commitments to core principles of academic freedom and shared governance.
While the university remains under AAUP censure as the result of the actions of its administration and Board of Trustees at the time, it is important to note that the key players in the decision to fire Dr. Salaita no longer occupy positions of power at UIUC. The former Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Chris Kennedy, no longer sits on the Board; former President Robert Easter retired; and former Chancellor Phyllis Wise and former Provost Ilesanmi Adesida resigned their respective positions following the revelation that they had used non-university email accounts for university business in an apparent attempt to evade Freedom of Information Act requests, including ones related to the Salaita case.
Now that Dr. Salaita himself has agreed to a financial settlement, the motivation for the academic boycott of UIUC that arose in response to his case would seem to be entirely gone. Though the pledge that so many of our colleagues in Philosophy signed stated in part: “We, the undersigned, will not visit the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus until Professor Salaiata is reinstated to the position offered him …,” the terms of Dr. Salaita’s settlement effectively preclude the possibility of reinstatement.
While we respect Dr. Salaita’s decision to settle rather than to continue to pursue the matter in the courts, despite the clear merits of his case, a financial settlement of the sort agreed to leaves many of the core issues regarding the university's commitment to principles of academic freedom and shared governance unresolved in a way that his reinstatement would not. The AAUP report on UIUC suggested that a retraction -- or at least clarification -- of certain comments made by Chancellor Wise and the Board of Trustees concerning "civility" in the infamous mass emails of August 22, 2014, will also be a necessary condition of ending censure. Now that the legal issues surrounding Dr. Saliata's firing seem to have been resolved, one hopes that such a retraction will soon follow.
In the meantime, it is my sincere hope that colleagues in Philosophy across the country and around the world will once again feel comfortable accepting invitations to come and speak on our campus. We’ve missed having you here.
Statement from Salaita's lawyers here. Some portion of that settlement will go to legal fees (my guess would be around a quarter million). I'll have more to say later, once I get some more details.
ADDENDUM: The Urbana-Champaign newspaper reports that $275,000 goes towards Salaita's legal fees, and he gets $600,000. Note that that amount will be subject to federal (and probably state) tax. (Damages to compensate for physical injuries--say, in a medical malpractice case--are generally not taxable, but damages in a case like this [breach of contract, violation of constitutional rights) will be.) It's not clear yet whether there is any confidentiality agreement between the parties in place; hopefully not. I'll have more to say about the settlement later today.
ONE MORE QUICK ONE: My own view is that, with the settlement, there is no further productive reason for continuing to boycott the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
SOME FURTHER OBSERVATIONS: Notice that with roughly a year of litigation, just enough to survive the motion to dismiss, the case has already cost over a quarter million in legal fees. If Salaita had gone through discovery, other motions, then a trial and to a verdict, additional legal fees would have easily topped a million dollars (note that, according to the report, above, the University of Illinois has already spent well over a million dollars so far defending itself!). As I've noted previously, institutional actors have the resource advantage in cases like this. In a best-case scenario, if Salaita had gone to trial and gotten a verdict in his favor on some of his claims (as I expect he would), he might have gotten several million in damages and perhaps some legal fees (some of his civil rights claims might have included legal fees, other claims would not). All of this could easily have taken two or three more years. And, of course, there was a chance that instead of getting compensated for 30 years of employment, he might have gotten smaller damages and/or he might have lost. (If this had gone forward, one can rest assured that the University of Illinois lawyers would spend a lot of their time smearing Salaita even further, both by using his tweets and by pointing to his employment status [assuming, as seems likely, that he would not be able to secure permanent employment while the litigation was ongoing]--who knows how that might have played with a jury?)
At the end of the day, the question is: if, say, there is an 80% chance of getting three million dollars after three years, of which half the amount will go towards legal fees, and a 20% chance of a far worse outcome...well, you can see how the calculations would go. Salaita was deprived of a job that paid $85,000/year plus benefits (maybe worth another 25K?). In effect, he has gotten compensation for about six years without having to wait any further. He can hopefully resume his academic work and secure permanent employment, pointing to the legal and non-legal (e.g., AAUP censure) evidence that he was treated wrongfully. I hope a courageous private (or even public?) university will seize the opportunity to make a strong statement in support of academic freedom by hiring Salaita: in doing so they will get someone who was tenure-worthy at a major research university, and someone who also behaved with admirable courage and clarity of purpose when subjected to grotesque malfeasance by now disgraced university officials and Board members.
ANOTHER: Lawyer/philosopher John Bogart writes: "People often forget the appeal process. If the University lost at trial, it could easily afford the appeal bond, leaving Salaita to slog through the appeal. That is another couple of years and more fees. And if he gets a fee award for some but not all claims, then his fees have to allocated among the claims (to the extent reasonably possible)." All good points.
This is really pathetic. Note that a student organizer of the protest acknowledges (with chagrin, at least) that this happened.
(Thanks to Philippe Lemoine for the pointer.)
It examines the e-mail and the reaction (including the petition) in some detail. The author notes:
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.
Prof. Strossen, former head of the ACLU, focused in particular on the implications of the Office of Civil Rights expansive interpretation of speech that can constitute sexual harassment.
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.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM OCT. 30--SOME NEW INFO IN THE COMMENTS
(Thanks to Jonathan Kramnick and David Sackris for the pointer.)
UPDATE: From a knowledgeable source (not a philosophy faculty member):
[The story] does not mention that a number of the faculty who are being fired have tenure (including -- I believe but am not certain -- a philosopher, and including some who have been at the school for decades).
The context for this story is troubling. The new president of the university started this past August. Today's announcement must have been in the works for weeks, at minimum; there's simply no way the president could come in and make a good faith effort at preserving faculty or departments before turning to the task of preparing to fire so many people. It's entirely plausible that he was brought in specifically to gut various departments. He claims the university is struggling financially and needs to cut costs. I'm not a member of the Rider chapter of the AAUP, but my understanding is that they disagree with that assessment. Although time is short, I'm sure the union will attempt to push back. I circulate this story in part because expressions of support from like-minded faculty at other institutions may help roll back these changes.
Comments are open for more information, details, ideas.
(Thanks to Nick Jones for the pointer.)
There's a lengthy account here along with three videos; the third is the most shocking. The student behaving that way should be subject to disciplinary proceedings for her abusive misconduct. The student reader who sent this to me asked not to be named (for fear of repercussions given how nuts philosophy cyberspace is), but offered the following apt commentary:
Note the typical absolutist rhetoric of "acknowledging hurt". One must simply answer the question and acknowledge that one had bad thoughts that need to be corrected. Red Herrings are offered in order to rule out the possibility that there is nothing that needs to be apologized for: "We're not saying that you're intrinsically bad for having the bad thoughts. We just want to help correct you. Even if it wasn't your intent, you still caused hurt and need to apologize." The ideology simply does not provide room in logical space for the possibility that the student was being over-sensitive. The real crux of the discussion occurs about 30 seconds into the third clip. It is the precise moment when Christakis says "I don't agree, I have a different vision than you" that the student explodes in rage. Note also how Christakis has been encircled by a couple dozen students shouting him down and demanding his resignation for not providing them a safe space. No doubt the irony is lost on them.
This account sums things up. What an embarrassment for Yale.
...based on due process concerns. It's not surprising that judges do not look kindly on an adjudicative model in which one person is not only judge and jury, but also investigator!
(Thanks to Neil Tennant for the pointer.)
Les Green (Oxford) has an illuminating discussion of the tempest in a teapot du jour; a taste:
Sex is cluster-concept, a bundle of attributes, some of which do not develop until puberty or later. And gender is another cluster-concept. Gender is constituted by norms and values that are conventionally considered appropriate for people of a given sex. Gender is a lot more vague than sex, and a lot more historically and geographically variable.
But gender has another interesting feature. It is path dependent. To be a woman is for the pertinent norms and values to apply a result of a certain life history. Being a woman is not only ‘socially constructed’, as they say, it is also constructed by the path from one’s past to one’s present. In our society, to be a woman is to have arrived there by a certain route: for instance, by having been given a girl’s name, by having been made to wear girl’s clothes, by having been excluded from boys’ activities, by having made certain adaptations to the onset of puberty, and by having been seen and evaluated in specific ways. That is why the social significance of being a penis-free person is different for those who never had a penis than it is for those who use to have one and then cut it off.
The whole piece is worth reading.
Ironically, in the last paragraph, Green writes,
Greer’s remarks are correct and are neither dangerous nor hateful. The number of critics of students who supposedly want to ‘no-platform’ speakers dwarfs the number of students who want to ‘no-platform‘ anyone. Maybe the transgender tsunami hit the press, not because of some seismic event in our universities, but because commentators want threats to freedom of speech and inquiry to come from a politically safe source.
The second sentence, alas, is unduly hopeful. Nearly 3,000 people signed the petition to cancel Greer's talk, and incidents like this are cropping up all over the U.K. and the U.S. In the U.K., there are certainly other more serious (government) threats to free speech, but that is neither here nor there: at least those threats are recognized, usually, as wrongful, while the "I'm offended" crowd thinks their authoritarian preoccupation with controlling thought and speech puts them on the moral high ground.
As if to make the point how wrong Green is in that last paragraph, note the reaction when one tweeter, Justin Weinberg (South Carolina), quoted only the bit from the last paragraph, ignoring the actual substance of Green's essay. He was denounced quickly and furiously by those purportedly rare "no-platform" folks. Aidan McGlynn (Edinburgh) demands clarification whether Weinberg is endorsing the actual content of the piece. Toby Meadows (Aberdeen) worries that Weinberg is making a "broad endorsement" of the whole piece. Weinberg then tries desperately to deny that he has committed a thought crime: "I was clear in response to Aidan what exactly in Green’s post I was endorsing." And then from Rachel McKinnon (Charleston) there's this: "You're endorsing a post that *agrees* with Greer's transphobic view of trans women. How do you not see that?" And also this:
@DailyNousEditor So if I say "The sky is blue" in a post on "The Nazis were right about the Jews," you'd endorse my post? Seriously?
@rachelvmckinnon Hi. I’ve been on a plane. Can’t engage now but look forward to learning more about this from you soon.
Which produces the following from McKinnon:
I'm not optimistic either, given that these people may be the future of the "profession." In any case, Green's nuanced discussion is worth reading.
UPDATE: It's good to see that Prof. McKinnon has learned from this episode that throwing a tantrum because someone committed a thought crime (or, in this case, a link crime!) and trying to bully them into submission on Twitter is not the right way to behave. Or maybe she didn't?
Argh, I'm too busy writing my second book and 4 new articles to deal with this distraction. Fuck y'all. I'm going back to work.0 retweets 5 favorites
ADDENDUM: Even the metablog is feeling sorry for Weinberg! (For those not familiar, the irony is that Weinberg has repeatedly championed violations of academic freedom and punishment of lawful speech in the name of sensitivity to the children.)
Here. The idea that anything Greer said is "hate speech" is preposterous, but also shows how dangerous that category can be in the hands of zealots.
The response to Greer and her alleged transphobia is just one example of a creeping trend among social justice activists of an identitarian persuasion: a tendency towards ideological totalism, the attempt to determine not only what policies and actions are acceptable, but what thoughts and beliefs are, too. Contemporary identity-based social justice activism is increasingly displaying the kinds of totalising and authoritarian tactics that we usually associate with cults or quasi-religious movements which aim to control the thoughts and inner lives of their members. The doctrine of "gender identity" – the idea that people possess an essential inner gender that is independent both of their sexed body and of the social reality of being treated as a person with such a body – has rapidly been elevated to the status of quasi-religious belief, such that those who do not subscribe to it are seen as not only mistaken and misguided, but dangerous and threatening, and must therefore be silenced.
If you haven't witnessed this first hand, this might sound a touch hyperbolic and overwrought. But in the methods and reactions of those who espouse the doctrine of gender identity, we see many, if not all, of the features of thought control identified by Robert Jay Lifton in his classic study of indoctrination in Chinese re-education camps, to varying degrees:
As with so many of the current high-profile no-platforming cases, Greer is being ostracised and shunned, cast out of our moral community and declared beyond redemption, simply for the crime of believing the wrong things, of holding the wrong thoughts in her head, of defining concepts in ways that run counter to those of the newly-established doctrine of gender identity. It is not sufficient to behave towards trans women in a certain way, to respect their preferred pronouns and to support their right to receive the medical treatment they need. You must also really and truly believe that they are women. And if you cannot be made to hold this subjective mental state in your head, that is sufficient to justify silencing you, in the name of protecting the believers.
What all of this assumes is that we have the right to make these kinds of claims on each other's inner lives. It supposes that I can legitimately demand that you believe the things I believe in order to validate my identity, that I can demand that you share my perception of myself because it would be injurious to that perception if you do not. And from there, it's a quick step to the belief that if you do not share my perception of myself, you are committing an act of psychic violence against me. That by refusing to accept the narrative I tell myself about who I am, you harm me just as much as if you really did incite physical violence against me. Thus I become justified in using any tactics at my disposal to ensure that you see me the way I see myself, in making use authoritarian methods of thought control and indoctrination. Acceptance of the doctrine is the only path to salvation and enlightenment, and dissenting views are not only mistaken, but threatening - both to my understanding of myself, and to the ideology itself.
We're familiar with this in academic philosophy too, though mostly, so far, in the bowels of cyberspace. But if the current offenders actually get academic jobs and/or get tenure, then we will be in real trouble.
"New Infantilism" has clearly touched a nerve, and readers now regularly send me apt illustrations of this unhappy development. A few recent ones:
The attack on lawful speech at UCLA (via Curtis Franks).
South Park makes fun of "safe spaces." (A graduate student, whom I'd best not identify given the censorious atmosphere in certain dysfunctional parts of academic philosophy.)
Reader Michael B. sends along this item from Wales and sums up the stupidity aptly:
By now you know the routine: someone says something that some students don't like, so the students quickly muster their rage and start a petition to have that invited speaker banned. Which makes sense: universities are neither the time nor the place to hear or read, much less discuss, things with which one disagrees...
I remember Bertrand Russell writing that he would get attacked by angry mobs when he tried to talk about equality between men and women. Some of the worst were women who would react dramatically to the planned release of rats by saboteurs with whom these women were in cahoots. I suppose these students are too stupid and arrogant to realise their chosen tactic of silencing unpopular (with them) opinions is exactly what kept - and helps keep - people oppressed.
They belong in a church, not a university.
And here is an interview with Germaine Greer about this latest.
...is forced to resign. (Old news, perhaps, to some, it broke while I was abroad, so I missed it then.)
Part 1 of this series focused on (1) development and (2) pre-college philosophy. In part 2, I’ll focus on identifying the geographical distribution of philosophy to get a better understanding of where access inequality occurs and where we can strategically grow the profession. I am going to focus on comparing HBCUs, Women’s colleges, elite universities, and community colleges to help us determine where we should focus those efforts, which are crucial to the long-term success and health of philosophy. Growth at public and private universities with large enrollments and little to no philosophy should be part of the growth and diversification strategy, too.
So far my posts have revolved around inequity caused by university structure, the lack of accreditation for philosophy, the rise of assessment, and university privilege and the problem of diversity in philosophy. I claim that the only solution to the problem of diversity in philosophy is to grow the discipline and profession. There is a lot to offer, so addressing these topics will be a multiple post affair. Let’s begin with development and pre-college philosophy education. Neither of these topics is new, but they deserve more attention, and so I begin with them.
An Inside Higher Ed article titled, "Upping the Pressure on Accreditors," appeared online yesterday, 20 October 2015.
From the story: The Obama administration is planning new executive action on higher education accreditation in the coming weeks, as part of a push to make accreditors focus more heavily on student outcomes when judging colleges and universities, officials said Monday...
“Accreditors need to do more and need to focus on outcomes,” Under Secretary of Education Ted Mitchell told reporters Monday. He said the department is still hammering out the details of its plans for accreditation, but he added that “there will be three parts: executive action, potential regulatory reform and legislation we feel is needed.”
Philosophy is often criticized as being too white, too male, and too privileged. Yes, to all. Now what can we do about it? I claim the current methods of trying to diversify philosophy, though well-meaning, will not work. Syllabi with readings by diverse philosophers, summer seminars for a small group of students, or roundtables at APA meetings are all terrible ways to achieve diversity in philosophy. Terrible. Before I explain how the diversity problem in philosophy gets solved (and you won’t like the solution), let’s talk about privilege.
When I was in the Boy Scouts, there was a song that we sang at the start of meetings and around campfires: The Announcements Song. It’s a really long song, but to this day, I still remember how it starts:
Announcements, announcements, announcements.
A horrible way to die, a horrible way to die,
A horrible way to start the day,
A horrible way to die…
All you have to do is replace “announcements” with “assessment” and you will begin to learn how I feel about the outcome assessment movement (okay, I have evolved in my thinking on assessment, but only for practical reasons I explain below). I know I am not the only one who dislikes outcome assessments. But as much as I dislike writing them for general education and for the philosophy major, assessment reports are a modern reality on college campuses. If you haven’t read the APA statement on outcome assessments, you should. Thoughtful philosophers have done recent work on the topic (2008), and everyone in the discipline should understand what is being asked of colleges and universities relating to assessment. Sometimes assessment is crucial to accreditation (see my last post), and sometimes it is based on a misguided assumption of OA proponents that learning outcomes can only improve with change. Ultimately, we have to play along with our assessment overlords or we risk losing out on resources and standing in the academy even more than we currently have. This line from the APA statement on assessment is especially revealing:
The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AACU) conducted a survey of business and non profit leaders and came back with some key findings in a 2013 report they titled “It Takes More than a Major.” You can read the full report, but let’s focus on section 5.
“Majorities of employers believe two-year and four-year colleges and universities should place more emphasis on a variety of key learning outcomes to increase graduates’ success in today’s global economy. Few say less emphasis should be placed on any of the learning outcomes tested, but employers overall are most likely to believe there is a need to increase the focus on active skills such as critical thinking, complex problem-solving, communication, and applying knowledge to real- world settings.”
There were 17 learning outcomes surveyed. The five that employers wanted colleges to emphasize most were:
(1) Critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills
(2) The ability to analyze and solve complex problems
(3) The ability to effectively communicate orally
(4) The ability to effectively communicate in writing
(5) The ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings
If only there were majors that develop these skills: philosophy anyone? Assessment data could be used to explain the value of such a major, like philosophy. Speaking of assessment, that’s the topic of my next post.