- The American Conservative - https://www.theamericanconservative.com -

Resisting The SJW-Dominated Universities

Thomas Kaempfen, a liberal reader, linked critically in a comment last night to this essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education [1], published last year during the protests that roiled Yale. The authors, Kate Manne and Jason Stanley, are professors of philosophy — Manne at Cornell, and Stanley at Yale. You have encountered Stanley’s witty mots on this blog here [2] and here [3]. Stanley’s comment on the distinguished Oxford professor Richard Swinburne’s controversial remarks criticizing homosexuality from a natural-law position at a Christian philosophers’ conference: “F–k you, assholes. Seriously.”

In their Chronicle essay, Manne and Stanley defend the hysterically intolerant progressive Yale mob that set upon faculty members Nick and Erika Christakis over Erika Christakis’s note to students in the residential house they oversaw, in which she gently criticized the Yale administration’s policing student Halloween costumes as a form helicopter parenting. From the text of her letter:

I wanted to share my thoughts with you from a totally different angle, as an educator concerned with the developmental stages of childhood and young adulthood.

As a former preschool teacher… it is hard for me to give credence to a claim that there is something objectionably “appropriative” about a blonde ­haired child’s wanting to be Mulan for a day. Pretend play is the foundation of most cognitive tasks, and it seems to me that we want to be in the business of encouraging the exercise of imagination, not constraining it.

I suppose we could agree that there is a difference between fantasizing about an individual character vs. appropriating a culture, wholesale, the latter of which could be seen as (tacky)(offensive)(jejeune)(hurtful), take your pick. But, then, I wonder what is the statute of limitations on dreaming of dressing as Tiana the Frog Princess if you aren’t a black girl from New Orleans? Is it okay if you are eight, but not 18? I don’t know the answer to these questions; they seem unanswerable. Or at the least, they put us on slippery terrain that I, for one, prefer not to cross.

Which is my point.

I don’t, actually, trust myself to foist my Halloweenish standards and motives on others. I can’t defend them anymore than you could defend yours.

This mild epistle set off days of Social Justice Warrior rage on campus, on behalf of the Oppressed. It eventually resulted in Erika Christakis’s resignation from Yale, and her husband’s decision to leave his role as master of the residential college. The SJWs at Yale took their scalps. So much for free speech at Yale. Read Conor Friedersdorf’s account of the controversy if you have forgotten. [4]

In their Chronicle piece, Manne and Stanley contest the idea that “free speech” was restricted at all. In fact, they say, defenders of the Christakises and of free speech were really oppressors:

The notion of freedom of speech is being co-opted by dominant social groups, distorted to serve their interests, and used to silence those who are oppressed and marginalized. All too often, when people depict others as threats to freedom of speech, what they really mean is, “Quiet!”

Observing that Erika Christakis’s initial e-mail and the tone of her campus defenders was non-hysterical, unlike Christakis’s critics, the pair writes:

But didn’t Erika Christakis, and most though not all of her defenders, express their views in a much more reasonable tone of voice than the students protesting? Yes. But sounding reasonable can be a luxury. Such speech trusts, even presumes, that one’s words will be received by a similarly reasonable, receptive, even sympathetic, audience. Oppressed people are often met with the political analogue of stonewalling. In order to be heard, they need to shout; and when they shout, they are told to lower their voices. They may be able to speak, but have little hope of being listened to.

The Michigan State University philosopher Kristie Dotson describes this predicament as “testimonial quieting,” as the philosopher Rachel McKinnon has helped us to see. When oppressed people speak out — and up, toward those in power — their right to speak may be granted, yet their capacity to know of what they speak doubted as the result of ingrained prejudice. And the way in which they express themselves is often then made the focus of the discussion. So it is not just that these people have to raise their voices in order to be audible; it’s also that, when their tone becomes the issue, their speech is essentially being heard as mere noise, disruption, commotion. Their freedom of speech is radically undercut by what is aptly known as “tone policing.”

You see what’s happening here. Manne and Stanley defend the right of people to curse, shout down, and otherwise intimidate into silence those they disagree with, provided that the shouters are members of a minority group privileged by progressives. Here is a clip of Jerelyn Luther, a black Yale undergraduate yelling at and f-bombing Prof. N. Christakis as he tries to engage her and others in dialogue.  [4] Jason Stanley, a Yale professor, defends this fascistic behavior, because Luther is black. Is there any wonder that he thinks “F–k you, assholes” is a sufficient response to Richard Swinburne and his supporters?

The academy is in the process of committing suicide. But there are some who are not going quietly. If you haven’t seen the academic group blog Heterodox Academy [5], you need to bookmark it. On the site, Prof. Jon Haidt says the “Yale problem” — the intolerance over the Christakis situation — starts in high school. [6] Haidt talks about he gave a talk at “Centerville High,” an elite private school in the Northwest, where he talked about the difference between coddling students and strengthening them. He says that the Q&A turned into the most hostile he had ever experienced in his career. All the questioners but one were female; the males sat mute.

Then:

We talked about what Centerville could do to improve its climate, and I said that the most important single step would be to make viewpoint diversity a priority. On the entire faculty, there was not a single teacher that was known to be conservative or Republican. So if these teenagers are coming into political consciousness inside of a “moral matrix” that is uniformly leftist, there will always be anger directed at those who disrupt that consensus.

That night, after I gave a different talk to an adult audience, there was a reception at which I spoke with some of the parents. Several came up to me to tell me that their sons had told them about the day’s events. The boys finally had a way to express and explain their feelings of discouragement. Their parents were angry to learn about how their sons were being treated and… there’s no other word for it, bullied into submission by the girls.*

And Centerville High is not alone. Last summer I had a conversation with some boys who attend one of the nation’s top prep schools, in New England. They reported the same thing: as white males, they are constantly on eggshells, afraid to speak up on any remotely controversial topic lest they be sent to the “equality police” (that was their term for the multicultural center). I probed to see if their fear extended  beyond the classroom. I asked them what they would do if there was a new student at their school, from, say Yemen. Would they feel free to ask the student questions about his or her country? No, they said, it’s too risky, a question could be perceived as offensive.

You might think that this is some sort of justice — white males have enjoyed positions of privilege for centuries, and now they are getting a taste of their own medicine. But these are children. And remember that most students who are in a victim group for one topic are in the “oppressor” group for another. So everyone is on eggshells sometimes; all students at Centerville High learn to engage with books, ideas, and people using the twin habits of defensive self-censorship and vindictive protectiveness [7].

And then… they go off to college and learn new ways to gain status by expressing collective anger at those who disagree. They curse professors [8] and spit on visiting speakers [9] at Yale. They shut down newspapers at Wesleyan [10]. They torment a dean who was trying to help them [11] at Claremont McKenna. They threaten and torment fellow students at Dartmouth [12]. And in all cases, they demand that adults in power DO SOMETHING to punish those whose words and views offend them. Their high schools have thoroughly socialized them into what sociologists call victimhood culture [13], which weakens students by turning them into “moral dependents” who cannot deal with problems on their own. They must get adult authorities to validate their victim status.

It starts in high school, and it starts in the home. And so you end up with people like this pathetic snowflake at Villanova, [14] who wet the bed over the fact that Milo Yiannopoulos polluted her campus with his presence:

Cierra Belin ‘18 said she went through “the seven stages of grief” upon hearing the news.

“It truly disgusted me that our university would welcome someone like that,” Belin said. “Villanova already has too much work to do in diversity inclusion, that having him validate those micro aggressions would set us back a good 50 years.”

Who knew Milo was so powerful? Seriously, though, what is it about the inner lives of these kids that leads them to want to be weak? It surely comes from the progressive culture represented by Manne and Stanley that valorizes weakness, as well as racializes, genderizes, and queers it.

One hopes that academia can pull back from the brink. I know that I would not send any of my kids to a place like Yale, even if they got a free ride, because I don’t trust the quality of the education they would get in a university where they and their professors risk being made into instant pariahs and punished for saying something that offends the SJW crybullies. I am surely not the only parent who cares more about the quality of education than the credential that allows a young adult to enter into a decadent and corrupt network of nomenklatura [15].

This is a real culture war: a war between culture and anti-culture, the latter represented by militant left-wing bigots who praise racism as virtue, and the liberal fellow travelers who lack the conviction and the backbone to fight back in defense of the university and of liberal ideals. In communist Czechoslovakia, dissident university professors who were dismissed from their posts for being politically unreliable set up underground classes to teach willing students real history, real poetry, real literature, and real humanities — not the politicized garbage the Marxist ideologues pumped into their heads at the universities. Should we lay plans for similar networks here?

I’m not talking about replacing hard-leftist ideology with hard-rightist ideology. Fascists are no more interested in truth than are Communists. We are going to need the support of old-fashioned liberals like Thomas Kaempfen, people who actually care about free expression, free inquiry, and rational discourse. I’m talking about a depoliticized approach to the humanities that emphasizes the quest for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful. What would such an alternative system look like? How would we go about it? Let me know your thoughts.

Advertisement
68 Comments (Open | Close)

68 Comments To "Resisting The SJW-Dominated Universities"

#1 Comment By Mike On September 30, 2016 @ 9:25 pm

Taacitus Christianson,

How telling. Attacking Rod for linking to stories. I get the lefts discomfort with having the mirror pointed back at them. Much easier to keep shouting names at people you disagree with. But the truth is the bubble of academia will soon burst. You can’t keep charging students outrageous fees and sending them out into the world armed with pronouns and gender studies degrees. At some point they will relize they were duped,and Trump won’t be around to distract them from whose to blame. Enjoy your safe space.

#2 Comment By Tacitus Christianson On September 30, 2016 @ 10:57 pm

Mike – That wasn’t an “attack,” which I suspect implies some kind of unreasonable determination to destroy a person, movement or institution. It was, however, a strong critique.

I am not shouting names.

I don’t–and virtually none of my colleauges–teach these “pronouns and gender studies degrees” that folks keep raising as some kind of ritual sacrifice. I will repeat one of my factual points: A MAJORITY OF DEGREES granted are in areas like business, STEM, professional studies and so forth. Asserting otherwise is just wrong.

And for God’s sake, I am not a member of “the left.” This was my point. I am frustrated seeing all “conservative” thought boiled down to oversimplified chatter. It’s exactly like the nonsense flowing from doctrinaire progressives.

It is the same basic set of stylized critiques that get posted on every article related to higher ed.

Let me ask a hypothetical, though: is there any evidence that would lead you to change your positions on this topic? I know I have been willing, if not always happily, to receive contrary information and change my views. As you can see on this forum, I am already under fire for it.

So I put it to you: is there a scenario in which your views have or would change? What is it? You don’t have to change, just set out the criteria of change.

If you are not willing to do that, then by all means, cast your vote, I’ll take my hemlock, and you can continue on the course of all demagogic democracies.

#3 Comment By Tacitus Christianson On October 1, 2016 @ 12:05 am

Charles – I take your points as made in good faith, but I still disagree.

On your first point: “Rod’s stories of the rot in academia are not paranoid lies. The social “justice” nonsense is causing widespread dysfunction in the university system and widespread harm to those who dare to disagree.”

That’s possible, and I fully acknowledge that there is clear harm coming from the left. But (1) where is the systematic evidence of fundamental rot? All I’ve seen are lots of stories. We also have lots of stories of gun violence, but violent crime has, on average, declined over 20 years. Feeling like there is a problem and there actually being a problem are two different things. More generally, who exactly are we talking about? Which students are getting worthless degrees? Where are the numbers? (2) Is it not possible that both the right and left can have a corrosive effect on our society’s intellectual life? If you can’t entertain that idea, then I rest my case that conservative rot–i.e., to paraphrase TS Eliot, an inability to entertain more than one idea at a time — is just as pervasive.

“…your contemptuous dismissal of the intellectual capacities of conservatives.”

I did not do that. I said that I was an earnest conservative with high standards and the conservative movement over the last 15 or 20 years seriously disappointed me. That said, perhaps I do harbor some contempt, but it is the contempt of someone who has been through the painful tempering process of education and growth, only to see his compatriots take the easy road of ideology and polemic.

“you owe the readers here an apology”

For a strongly worded but earnest critique? I don’t think so. In fact, following Socrates, a more querulous version of me might, in fact, demand an apology from these very readers who, like many liberals, have tarnished our public discourse with invective. That, however, would be smug.

#4 Comment By Ron Pavellas On October 1, 2016 @ 2:05 am

Socrates engaged with his students under a tree or in the homes of friends. No university ‘administration.’ No compulsory attendance.

#5 Comment By mvh On October 1, 2016 @ 5:38 am

Chris Cosmos said “This has nothing to do with traditional left wing ideas. Identity politics has largely destroyed the real left that was focused on class struggle, the commodification of everything, war and so on. This BS has no place on the left…”

So true! Identity politics demands that symptoms of the derangement of the concerns of the “real left” identified by Chris Cosmos be accepted as causes while the actual causes are ignored; and of course, my particular identity group’s grievance is the one true cause, to be made top priority by all others. As someone who grew up in the still segregated South, my particular focus has been Civil Rights. Not brotherly love but actual, legally supported civil rights. You can’t legislate “love” but you can legislate, respect, and enforce civil rights, with no distinction between one identity group and another. To get to brotherly love, we have to achieve basic economic security for all – and stop worshiping money, start caring about something else.

Common American culture, whatever that will turn out to be, is still forming from elements of all the various immigrant cultures who have arrived here over the years. Some things remain firmly within a subculture, but other things are taken up by one and all. There is no stopping it, it’s pointless to complain when something from your own subculture suddenly belongs to everybody! Kids of all faiths or none are playing with dreidels during winter holidays now. One of these days we’ll be lighting candles on Diwali. And what would our ancestors have thought of sushi?

#6 Comment By Emblem14 On October 1, 2016 @ 5:39 am

Tacitus,

There’s a quote misattributed to Voltaire that is nonetheless a pretty good aphorism:

“To discover who rules, see who you are not allowed to criticize.”

Can there be any question that open criticism of the Social Justice Left from within academia comes with severe consequences? Sometimes all it takes is expressing an alternative viewpoint that contradicts the SJ narrative.

The response is no longer just harsh rebuttal , counter-criticism or mockery in the marketplace of ideas – it is a concerted effort to demonize, silence and materially punish.

It can be simultaneously true that the SJ cohort is numerically small, relative to the entire student and faculty body, and yet exercises almost total control over “acceptable” discourse and subject matter in the classroom, and the internal policy and politics of the administration. Their raw numbers is a red herring.

They’re able to do this because they have a keen grasp on how to use the (relatively recently acquired) unassailable moral authority bestowed to members of historically marginalized groups to shame and extort concessions from moderates who are terrified of being Scarlet Lettered as an “ist” or a “phobe”, financial/commercial interests terrified of bad PR or boycotts, and ordinary nonpartisans who are terrified of being labeled a bad person or a jerk and subsequently shunned by their friends.

And the reason any of this is even tenable is due to a deeper feminization of the broader culture, which has fetishised values like niceness, compassion, empathy, inclusiveness, self-esteem and the primacy of emotions over intellect more generally, while deprecating more traditionally masculine values like toughness, strength, stoicism, competitiveness, combativeness, independence, self-reliance and the primacy of logical reasoning over emotion.

The underlying reasons for this shift are IMO more complex and I won’t discuss them here.

The tactics of accusation work so well because hurting someone’s feelings, making someone feel unwelcome or worse yet, unsafe, merely causing some kind of generalized ephemeral “pain”, is considered aggression conceptually on par with physical assault. Whether any actual harm was done is irrelevant – only grievance matters. Who is ultimately responsible for one’s emotional state is irrelevant – only grievance matters. We have to give people who claim victimhood the benefit of the doubt or risk re-victimizing them through insufficient empathy.

Personally, I think parents, mainly mothers, have fostered this phenomenon over the past 30 years by embracing a coddle theory of parenting. The modern parent’s nightmare is that their kid won’t be able to cope with upsetting things like bullying or peer pressure and will commit suicide, get addicted to drugs or shoot up the school. They think more coddling, pampering and pandering is the solution. A generation of self-absorbed, self-important, psychologically brittle and emotionally fragile special snowflakes is the predictable result.

#7 Comment By saltlick On October 1, 2016 @ 7:15 am

Tacitus Christianson —

“I will repeat one of my factual points: A MAJORITY OF DEGREES granted are in areas like business, STEM, professional studies and so forth. Asserting otherwise is just wrong.”

Which has nothing whatsoever to do with the environment those degrees were earned in.

I’ve watched that environment change for 30 years into one intolerant of open debate and discussion and anything that questioned the overtly POLITICAL agendas of Women’s Studies, Minority Studies, and Queer Studies and just about anything the campus Left wanted.

Your attempt to minimize the Left’s influence on campus policies and environment flies in the face of actual events in the real world.

Real world events motivated professors in 1987 to form the National Association of Scholars — “to confront the rising threat of politicization of colleges and universities and to summon faculty members back to the principles of liberal education and disciplined intellectual inquiry.” It is still a thriving organization of brave scholars — liberal and conservative — devoted to open discussion.

Likewise, as real world events got worse and worse in academia, classical liberal professor Alan Kors in 1999 started the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — to defend and sustain individual rights at America’s colleges and universities — because they were under attack. Go to their webpage to read of the constant threats to academic freedom that FIRE often squashes with threats of exposure and/or of litigation.

It was a real world event when even someone as well-connected as former Treasury of the Secretary Larry Summers had to resign as president of Harvard for musing there may be biological differences in men and women that affect their studies.

You may not have heard, but a few years ago some universities began announcing they were going to “hire, promote and grant tenure” partly on the basis of whether a scholar’s work promoted “diversity.” And that would apply to those STEM studies you mention. Exactly how does a scholar in mathematics or mechanical engineering or physics promote diversity in their work? Yeah, we know the answer. FIRE threatened a lawsuit and that particular hiring practice has gone underground.

By labeling Rod’s concerns as lies and nonsense, you’ve indicted yourself. Charitably, your attack on Rod can be interpreted as made by someone who just isn’t that clued in to what’s happening around them. Uncharitably, you sound like the many faculty I knew who did not want to risk the comfortable and lucrative sinecures in the nomenklatura they’d finally obtained after many years work, and so they did nothing to challenge the Left; they maintained their self respect by denying there was a problem at all.

#8 Comment By CatherineNY On October 1, 2016 @ 8:56 am

‘“[V]ictimhood” has been valorized.’ Amen to that. I’ve commented before that, in my own “minority group,” adoptees, an entire industry has grown up to coddle people who think they have been victimized by being adopted. If you try to offer a differing point of view on a social media site, watch out! I was thinking about kids today and how they want to live in their SJW bubbles, and reflected on how much better the Victorians handled life. The words, “Life is real! Life is earnest!” popped into my head, and I will therefore share with you all the Longfellow poem from which they are drawn — good stuff, in case you have never read it: [16]

#9 Comment By Mike On October 1, 2016 @ 11:10 am

Tacitus,

I’ve formed my opinion over time. I’m no traditional conservative. The real clue that you are wrong to downplay what’s unfolding is that there is no dissent. No discussion is allowed.Those who write op eds in school newspapers are threatened and face intimidation. Those who voice a different opinion are called racists, or bigots. And not just by students, but by other teachers.

This is power politics dressed up in the language of morals and values. Rod has featured posts from numerous professors discussing how bad things are becoming. I’m sure it’s easier to pretend this is no big deal. Not admitting there is a problem is the best way to avoid dealing with one.

#10 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On October 2, 2016 @ 12:18 am

I am beginning to be reminded of a fictional short story popular circa 1970 about various people walking around campus and visiting each other’s offices prior to a faculty meeting that would vote on whether or not to require a second semester of Criticism, all the protagonists and antagonists seeming to have pistols in their pockets and trying to catch each other by surprise opening office doors and sheltering behind file cabinets, ending in a chaotic piling of chairs and tables on opposite sides of the room while exchanging gunfire. I believe the closing line was “Second semester criticism, OVER HERE!”

#11 Comment By Reader On October 2, 2016 @ 12:23 pm

If you want to carry the advice of a physical therapist outside the hour of treatment, set up a home environment with obstacles and aids conducive to carrying out the recommended exercises, within the framework of daily life. It doesn’t happen by accident.
Look at physical (hardscape) and social infrastructure that encourages learning. E.G., Christopher Alexander’s _A Pattern Language_:
18) network of learning
83) masters and apprentices
84) teenage society
85) shopfront schools
Speech therapists sometimes speak of communication temptations. Consider setting up an environment of learning temptations.

#12 Comment By Mia On October 2, 2016 @ 6:33 pm

“More likely, it means that people have heard what the “oppressed and marginalized” have to say and disagree with it. But by all means, let Black Lives Matter speak more. Maybe someone can ask them why their web site also calls for the normalization of transgenderism and “disrupting the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement.””

You don’t need to ask BLM where any of that comes from if you have been paying attention to the goals of Third Wave Feminism. And I say that as a white victim of police brutality 20 years ago…In one way, BLM has been a godsend because I can finally talk openly about the well-documented case I have been trying to get something done about for years and have been told to shut up and put up all of that time, but to see the desperately necessary conversation being hijacked by people who have no use for it beyond propelling a completely unrelated set of issues is infuriating. There needs to be a high profile organization discussing justice system reform and police brutality – the only viable, credible voices I’ve seen around on the issue are maybe the Cato Institute and Radley Balko at WaPo – but BLM isn’t it.

#13 Comment By David J. White On October 2, 2016 @ 8:47 pm

Socrates engaged with his students under a tree or in the homes of friends. No university ‘administration.’ No compulsory attendance.

Also no credentials awarded to his pupils (who, of course, were for the most part rich and wouldn’t have needed them).

I am a great supporter of learning for learning’s sake, and try to engage in it as much as possible. But any serious attempt to challenge the present university system will have to reckon with the fact that many if not most students attend college not for love of knowledge (or at least not entirely for that reason), but to acquire credentials that, they hope, will translate into jobs. Unfortunately the study of the liberal arts may once again become, as it was for most of history, the preserve of those with sufficient wealth and leisure time to devote to it, or at least those who aren’t counting on it to secure them jobs. Or, of course, those with wealthy patrons.

#14 Comment By Thomas Kaempfen On October 2, 2016 @ 9:22 pm

Rod, you should know that there are still a lot of us old-fashioned tolerant liberals out here. We’re pretty well represented within the mainstream of the Democratic Party; consider how Obama himself has consistently spoken out against P.C.

Though it is true that lately the intolerance has been creeping more into the mainstream; consider [17]. And the tolerant liberals tend to allow the intolerants control over their designated spheres – the academy, the arts, etc. – and designated issues, particularly those concerning identity. And many tolerant and unorthodox liberals are scared to express their dissent, for all the obvious reasons. I’m just a guy with a blog, I don’t have much to lose.

Coming to Rod’s blog has not really changed the content of my politics, but it has somewhat changed its tone. I’m more open to conservative opinions and less dismissive. There are almost no intellectually honest conservative websites (and in my opinion, only slightly more liberal ones) but The American Conservative is one, and reading it has done me a lot of good.

And it has reinforced for me what I have long thought was the most important issue in our public life: intolerant polarization – on both sides! – and the terrible disunity and dysfunction it creates. I think the most important thing we need to do is to nurture respectful and honest discourse.

#15 Comment By Fran Macadam On October 3, 2016 @ 2:29 pm

Every time a country’s intellectuals and leadership go off the rails, the corrective prescription of devastating war is not far behind.

#16 Comment By Will Harrington On October 3, 2016 @ 4:19 pm

MDC

the core requirements of most , if not all, humanities programs have long included both math and science. I don’t think this is part of the problem.

#17 Comment By Will Harrington On October 3, 2016 @ 4:35 pm

EBAJT said
“Unbelievably, even though so many US American whites are lacking in imagination”

Why single out whites for a lack of imagination? This is a chronic condition and is probably worse now than at any previous time since the hard work of imagination has now been replaced by video games and social media. I just see no evidence that there is some racial group doing worse than others.

#18 Comment By Kyle Peterson On October 6, 2016 @ 12:43 pm

For context, watch Dr. Swinburne’s complete lecture: [18]