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Phi Beta Cons

The Right take on higher education.

Allen Mendenhall Reviews Unlearning Liberty (second edition)



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Greg Lukianoff’s excellent book on the disturbing trend on college campuses toward stifling debate and even innocent expressions that might be offensive to someone now has a second edition. Greg goes back to some of the controversies that hadn’t been settled at the time of the writing of Unlearning Liberty’s first edition and the new edition also includes some photographs. Unfortunately, he can’t report that the hostility to free speech has begun to abate. It hasn’t.

Alabama attorney Allen Mendenhall reviews the book for The Freeman. He writes that universities “have become echo chambers in which certain members seek to enforce a rigid orthodoxy and to promote complacent groupthink.”

I May Have Been Right about Barry Mills



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When Bowdoin College president Barry Mills announced his resignation this week, I speculated that the National Association of Scholars’s scathing report on the school might have played a role. The archly-worded first sentence in this statement by Bowdoin’s board of trustees suggests that, indeed, Mills’s resignation was not entirely voluntary, since it applauds Mills for “his willingness to do what he thinks best for our College, even if it means stepping down from a job that he does so well and truly loves.”

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Pro-Life Group Denied Funding at Yale



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Jennifer Kabbany reports for The College Fix:

A pro-life group at Yale University was denied campus support from the Ivy League institution’s campus-based, student-run service organization, a decision made by secret-ballot Wednesday after Choose Life At Yale was given exactly one minute to plead its case to the group’s leaders…

Read the full story.

Dartmouth and Bowdoin



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Linda Chavez’s column this week is a two-fer, discussing both schools. 

Catholic Univ. Drag Show Features Transvestite Dressed as Satan



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Jennifer Kabbany reports for The College Fix that “A two-hour drag show hosted recently at the Catholic University of San Diego ended with a devilish finale–its transvestite host came onstage in a long black robe and horned headdress.”

Behold–the wonders of modern Roman Catholic education.

Click here for the full story.

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Students Demand Arrest of Condi Rice for War Crimes



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Self-proclaimed “radical” students at the University of Minnesota are demanding that campus police arrest Condoleezza Rice when she visits campus for a guest lecture tomorrow.

Members of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at UofM accuse the former Secretary of State of “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity.”

Julianne Stanford reports the details in her feature story today at The College Fix. According to Stanford, students published an open-letter calling for Rice’s arrest. “The letter goes on to offer a physical description of Rice as “a 59-year-old African American woman, 5’8″ tall, and will be present on Northrop Auditorium’s main stage.”

Personally, I was shocked to read that the liberal radicals of the SDS have resorted to racial profiling. What is the world coming to?

Click here to read the full story.

Why College Presidencies So Often Derail



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A book published last year, Presidencies Derailed by former George Washington University president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and two co-authors, examines the reasons why the individuals chosen to head colleges and universities so frequently run into severe trouble. In this week’s Pope Center Clarion Call, Jane Shaw reviews the book.

Of course, there are a variety of reasons why presidencies derail, but evidently the most common is that the board of trustees made a poor choice. Trachtenberg and his co-authors spend quite a few pages examining the problems that beset boards when they have to perform their most important task. Among those problems is the egalitarian trend in higher education toward ensuring that all “stakeholders” have their say. Therefore, instead of looking for the individual who appears most likely to run a taught ship, the search goes off into a quest for the candidate who appears to best satisfy each stakeholder group.

The Unbearable Being of Whiteness



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It afflicts Western Washington University, and the powers-that-be there are not happy about it.  Read about it here. 

Students Disappointed to get Chris Matthews as Commencement Speaker



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When they heard that MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews would deliver the commencement address at their graduation,students at Ohio State University were short on enthusiasm:

Jennifer Kabbany reports for the College Fix:

“I saw it was him and I was like, ‘Why are they doing this?’” Green, a 26-year-old U.S. Marine Corps veteran who is earning his psychology degree, said in an interview with The College Fix. “I wouldn’t mind if it was a sitting politician, even if it was a liberal. But I don’t want to sit through a political commentator’s speech that I don’t agree with.”

…Ohio State junior Miranda Onnen said in an email to The College Fix, “I’ve heard from many people, and not just conservatives, about their disappointment in this selection.”

CLICK HERE to read the full story.

Greg Lukianoff Reflects on the Brandeis Affair



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Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and author of Unlearning Liberty, writes on Huffington Post about the shameful affair at Brandeis.

He points out that quite a few other schools have seen similar moves — students, faculty, and others ganging up to demand the disinvitation of someone who had been invited to campus because they don’t like what that person has said or done. It’s all part of the absurd notion that people (at least people in certain groups) have a right not to be offended, and thus they’re entitled to demand that anyone whose views might offend them be kept away. He observes that this is “a formula for turning today’s crop of our best and brightest into an echo-chamber generation.”

I take an even darker view. Our “best and brightest” will probably be able to shrug off the demands by the academic equivalent of street mobs that certain voices be silenced if possible. The problem is that the un-bright take this as proof that intimidation and coercion are all right. Those are the people we (or any other society) must worry about.

Univ. of Tennessee System to Ban Outside Speakers Lacking Sponsors: Why?



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The Chattanooga Times-Free Press reports today on the University of Tennessee’s upcoming system-wide ban on outside speakers who lack student group sponsors (read: street preachers):

Free speech, for some at least, soon will require sponsorship on University of Tennessee system campuses.

Though no one ended up in handcuffs like a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student did in November, a group of controversial street preachers returned to the UTC campus recently and reignited the discussion about whether taxpayer-backed universities should be a forum for public demonstration.

The issue is divisive. But the UT board of trustees already has weighed in.

A policy passed by trustees at their February meeting will require parties unaffiliated with UT to obtain the endorsement of a campus organization, faculty member or university faction before coming to any campus in the UT system to spread their message, regardless of what that message is.

This isn’t necessarily unconstitutional, although Tennesseans who support these institutions with their tax dollars may find it quite vexing to be told they have no right to walk onto those campuses and talk to people—especially in light of the fact that neighboring Virginia is moving toward fewer campus speech restrictions, not more.

It’s pretty obvious that the ban on outside speakers coming on campus without sponsorship (and group sponsorship at that—individual students can’t invite people) is directed at the street preachers who arrive on campus to preach anti-gay/anti-promiscuity messages.

My own opinion is that such preachers are obviously and miserably failing in what they’re trying to do while hurting the cause of free speech on campus through engendering pointless antagonism. But the question needs to be asked: Why do colleges persist in infantilizing students by taking steps to shield them from these people? Do they really believe there will be no anti-gay (or anti-whatever) sentiment once these preachers are banned from campus? Do they think they are doing students a favor by leaving them unprepared to deal with dissent?

No. The answer is that colleges wish to make a political statement about how they feel about the message being conveyed, and they are willing to disregard both free speech principles and their job of preparing students to participate in a free society in order to do so. These street preachers might be awfully unappealing, but our real contempt should be saved for those who sacrifice foundational principles for a fleeting political boost.

Bowdoin’s President Resigns



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Barry Mills, president of Bowdoin College, has announced that he is resigning — but that he’s not retiring. So, did the shellacking that the school has gotten – as a self-parody of political correctness — by the National Association of Scholars have anything to do with it?  I don’t know, and I doubt that Bowdoin and Mills will ever admit it, true or not. 

 

“Disinvitation Season” Is in Full Bloom



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In his inaugural Phi Beta Cons post, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Robert Shibley wrote about some of the threats to free speech on American campuses. In recent months and years, a dangerous kind of political correctness has permeated colleges and universities. This brand of PC has stifled open and honest debate by silencing speakers and public figures whose views happen to clash with some (usually left-wing) campus constituency. Rather than listen to “the other side” present his or her point of view, such campus groups want their avowed enemies banned and blacklisted. 

Unfortunately, that barbaric mob mentality was on full display recently when Brandeis University rescinded its decision to grant Ayaan Hirsi Ali an honorary degree.

Hirsi Ali’s story is a remarkable one. Growing up in abject poverty in Somalia, she survived genital mutilation at the age of five and narrowly escaped a life of subservience in an arranged marriage. Eventually fleeing to The Netherlands, she pursued a career in politics and became a courageous supporter of women’s rights and a critic of what she views as Islam’s degradation of women. Her bold words have brought death threats, and she is now accompanied by bodyguards everywhere she goes. Brandeis University officials deemed Hirsi Ali’s life’s work to be worthy of recognition and praise. 

Soon after Brandeis’s announcement, however, a petition surfaced which claimed that some of Hirsi Ali’s work amounted to “hate speech” and that her presence would make other students feel “uncomfortable” because she doesn’t depict Islam as a “religion of peace.” The petition eventually garnered 6,000 signatures (including those of 85 faculty members). Even the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) weighed in, calling Hirsi Ali a “notorious Islamaphobe.” The pressure was too great, and Brandeis University reneged on its decision to grant an honorary degree and to allow Hirsi Ali to speak on campus. 

In today’s Pope Center feature, George Leef blasts Brandeis’s decision to yield to the petitioners. For Leef, the disinvitation “shows that a new and dangerous approach to intellectual conflict is setting in among our colleges and universities – the idea that if a speaker’s statements (or mere presence) sufficiently outrages opponents, that’s a good reason to say, ‘No, we don’t want you here.’ This is worse than allowing the ‘heckler’s veto’ because the mere assertion of hurt feelings and threat of conflict now suffices to silence someone.” 

Leef argues that university officials should ignore intimidation tactics and groups that want to shun someone merely because they disagree with him or her. Officials should instead stand up for free speech and create an atmosphere of open debate and intellectual vibrancy. 

Refreshingly, the biggest critics of Brandeis University’s decision and the biggest proponents of free speech on campus have come from the Right–both conservatives and libertarians, including Phi Beta Cons contributor and Brandeis alumnus Avi Snyder. This is as it should be. As Shibley wrote in his post, “The conservative solution must be the continuous, untiring, and utterly principled insistence that the ‘marketplace of ideas’ must be open to all the intellectual products available.” 

Why We Shouldn’t “Bash” Higher Ed



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You can tell that Hunter Rawlings III is part of the higher education establishment by the way he begins his article in the Princeton Alumni Weekly: “As you all know, higher-ed bashing has become a popular blood sport in the United States.”

Actually, I didn’t know we were that popular, but in any case his article, “Universities on the Defensive,” helps us understand how some thoughtful people defend the status quo. (It’s based on a talk he gave when receiving a medal at Princeton.)

Rawlings recognizes that undergraduate education at research universities has become “a quaint, tiny fraction of these universities’ purpose and function.” And general education is a joke: “a flabby smorgasbord of courses bearing no relationship to each other.” (Sounds like the Pope Center’s assessment of UNC-Chapel Hill’s GenEd program.)

But the real flaw seems to be the legislatures that are sucking the blood out of universities and trying to make them “instruments of society’s will, legislators’ will, governors’ will.” (Yet public universities are supposed to reflect the goals of the state’s taxpayers, aren’t they?) What bugs him most are demands for “specific quantifiable results, particularly economic.”  And because “[q]uantity is much easier to measure than quality. . . entire disciplines and entire academic pursuits are devalued under the current ideology.”

Which disciplines? While he alludes to the humanities by quoting from Emily Dickinson, he is more interested in what he calls “curiosity-driven” research. He claims that the major components of the Apple iPhone were not invented by Apple but came from “government-funded research.” Protecting that research funding seems to be a major driver of his concern, perhaps because that is what is driving universities today.

Hat-tip: A Princeton alumnus

Big, Sloppy Book Tries to Reopen the Duke Lacrosse Case



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The Duke lacrosse team case is a complete smack-down of the leftist narrative about how America is so racist, violent, and “privileges” white males.The prosecution’s case fell apart and the dishonest DA Mike Nifong was disbarred. But it just won’t do for Americans to ever doubt the purity or efficacy of anything done in the name of progressivism, and therefore a new book simply had to be written on this case, one purporting to show that the narrative was right all along. Such a book has just been published and in this piece, Frostburg State economics professor William Anderson tears it to shreds. The book’s author is guilty of the same thing as Nifong and all the commentators who were adamant that the students must be guilty — seeing only what he wants to see and believing only those he wants to believe.
 

Sociology PhD Who Specializes in Zombies Can’t Land a Job



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You’d almost think this was from The Onion, but I believe it’s real. This Inside Higher Ed piece is by a recent PhD who specializes in zombie studies, but can’t find a job. He fancies himself a victim of “an academic job market destroyed by a fledgling economic system.”

Good grief. Whatever gripes this fellow has, the U.S. does not have a “fledgling economic system.” Moreover, sociology PhDs have never had an easy time, especially those who have chosen to specialize in some trendy niche like zombies. He evidently thinks himself victimized by society. I say he was foolish in pursuing his doctorate when it was becoming increasingly evident over the last decade that many degree holders were drowning in a labor market glutted with people like himself.

Scroll through the comments for some good reading.

Hat tip: Jay Schalin

Reflections of an Ashamed Brandeis Alum



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Here at NR, Charles Cooke and Tom Rogan have already written thoughtful pieces on Brandeis University’s shameful disinvitation of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. And many others have editorialized eloquently about the issue. But I’m taking the opportunity to chime in, because this time, it’s personal.

As a proud alumnus of Brandeis University (’13), I was very pleased when I read about the remarkable individuals Brandeis had chosen to honor at this year’s commencement, Ayaan Hirsi Ali among them. Hirsi Ali has overcome almost unimaginable obstacles to become the advocate for women’s’ rights and free speech she is today.

I am aware of Hirsi Ali’s controversial views on Islam; I most certainly don’t share them, and I understand why they deeply offend many. But it spoke well of Brandeis that it did not let these statements undermine the good Hirsi Ali has done. It showed that Brandeis was not afraid to recognize a controversial individual simply because some of her beliefs and values do not align with our own.

Needless to say, I was shocked and dismayed when I read that Brandeis’s highly disingenuous statement rescinding its offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. 

This issue is bigger than one woman and her views. It is about the attitude the academy, ostensibly dedicated to free inquiry, academic freedom, and a fair consideration of all points of view ought to have toward those who express unpopular, even offensive, views.

Over the past few years, college graduations have become what the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s Greg Lukianoff calls “disinvitation season.” The script is so predictable it’s almost a bore to recite. A university honors an accomplished public figure with an honorary degree or the opportunity to speak at commencement. Due to controversial sentiments the honoree has expressed or policies the honoree supports, students and faculty rally to have any invitations rescinded and any honors revoked, and the person is made persona non grata on campus. This has already happened this year at Rutgers and Harvard, where the selections of Condoleezza Rice and Michael Bloomberg as commencement speakers have occasioned student and faculty backlash.

This disturbing trend narrows the range individuals who are able to participate on campus in public dialogue without fear of retribution. Instead of bravely standing against this trend, Brandeis has acted with cowardice and handed a victory to the hecklers. As Hirsi Ali said in her statement on the matter, it is deplorable that “an institution set up on the basis of religious freedom should today so deeply betray its own founding principles. The ’spirit of free expression’ referred to in the Brandeis statement has been stifled[.]”

Of course, there are some views that cross the line. White supremacy, Holocaust denial, and the extreme homophobia of a group like Westboro Baptist Church come to mind. But the range of such views is, and ought to be, small. We should be very wary of expanding the circle of views and individuals we read out of civilized discourse. This is especially true for an institution like a university, which is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of Truth.

Nearly every belief or opinion has the potential to offend. The wider we draw the circle of those with beliefs we deem completely unacceptable, the smaller our own intellectual world becomes. We run the risk of creating a hermetically sealed university bubble, in which no individual who has any values with which the majority of students disagree can receive an honor from the academy.

I wrote earlier that I am a proud alumnus of Brandeis. Not this week. I am ashamed that Brandeis has caved to a hecklers’ veto, ashamed that Brandeis has shown such intolerance for those with whom it disagrees, ashamed Brandeis has shown such cowardice.

This week, I am ashamed to be an alumnus of Brandeis University.

Harvard Professor Claims Jesus had a Wife



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Mrs. Jesus Christ is the latest rage at Harvard Divinity School.

Harvard professor Karen King has doubled down on her claim that a papyrus scroll she discovered that refers to Jesus’ “wife” is an authentic, historical, fourth century document.

Other scholars have rejected it as a fake.

Click here to read more.

A Pitiable Defense of “The Value of the Humanities”



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Oxford University professor Helen Small has penned a book entitled The Value of the Humanities. Alas, if you expect a book offering strong arguments in favor of offering such courses and encouraging students to take them, you’ll be very disappointed.

Monterey College professor David Clemens reviews the book today in this Pope Center piece, and finds that Small devotes her pages to disparaging a number of arguments that are often raised in favor of the humanities, while giving no arguments that she finds worthwhile.

Professor Clemens counters with arguments for the humanities that he (and others) do find persuasive.

Impeached for Doing Your Job?



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What gets you a credible threat of impeachment in Texas? Doing what you are supposed to do.

Wallace Hall is a regent of the University of Texas system. He and other regents discovered that faculty at the University of Texas law school were receiving sizable  ($500,000) forgivable loans. Bill Powers, president of UT-Austin, fired the dean of the law school.

But now Powers and his friends in the legislature are trying to impeach Hall for investigating too much. There is the potential for an Illinois-type “clout list”—powerful people who get their children or grandchildren into the university whether they are qualified or not.

But that and other investigations by Hall incensed Powers and legislators They went after Hall for demanding too many emails. A legislative committee has just issued its report, listing what it claims are impeachable offenses.

These proceedings are ludicrous against someone who is doing what Governor Perry appointed him to do—oversee a sprawling university system that seems to be full of mismanagement.

The press, however, seems to take the side of the legislature. Only Jon Cassidy of watchdog.org is showing that the Emperor (the impeachment committee) has no clothes.

Congratulations to Anne Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) for standing up for Hall.

 

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