May 02 2009
There are monsters, and then there are monsters. The issue of controversial speakers on campus has been renewed recently, and here’s one opinion on the matter, speaking about an occasion when American Nazi George Lincoln Rockwell spoke at Antioch College over 40 years ago:
Although Antioch may not be anyone’s image of a disciplined campus, the 500 students and faculty in the auditorium that day in 1964 were well disciplined indeed. They sat in absolute silence throughout the talk. When the question period came, no one raised a hand. Instead, everyone rose and exited, again in silence. So Rockwell began to curse us all. Still no one reacted. Eventually he gave up and left.
There was, quite understandably, no anxiety before or afterward that these impressionable college students might be persuaded by the talk. It was a chance to see firsthand a monster with a constituency, albeit a relatively small one. College audiences have special reason to see such people in the flesh, so as to try to understand how they might draw people to their cause. Monsters, as it happens, also have a way of showing their true colors, as Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did at Columbia University. His ludicrous assertion that there are no homosexuals in Iran did more to discredit him as a competent leader than almost anything one might say about him.
The notion of a monster with a constituency affords at least some opportunity to avoid emptying all prison systems and hospitals for the criminally insane in search of campus speakers. It suggests instead that students who want to understand their culture might benefit from exposure to both its angels and its devils, along with those not so readily classifiable. What one learns can be surprising. What I learned in 1964 was to value the power of silent, nonviolent witness; that, and the special experience of sharing a moral conviction with hundreds of other people.
So, we can have monsters on campus, as long as it’s clear to everyone that the people who brought them to campus understand and advertise that’s what they are. Although it’s quite a stretch to pretend that Columbia made it’s position about Ahmadinejad so clear.
Of course some whom the public come to consider monstrous may not be so. The media and political groups can combine forces to create monsters where none are to be found. Then it is best for students and faculty to find out for themselves. High on my list of current faux monsters would be Ward Churchill and William Ayers.
Many faculty and students across the country expect Churchill to be a relentless ideologue. If you spend time with him, as I have, you meet a rather low-key, affable fellow, who wears his trials surprisingly lightly. Ayers, billed as an unrepentant radical, is an accomplished education professor who talks about classrooms and books, not bombs. Yet talks by both have repeatedly been canceled, thereby denying our students the chance to form opinions based on direct experience.
So, these guys aren’t really poisonous snakes, because they present themselves well, speak well in public, and seem relaxed and low key? I see.
The American Association of University Professors has repeatedly argued that an invitation is not an endorsement. So far as I remember, no one was silly enough to make the counter claim about the Rockwell invitation. Nor was it necessary for Columbia’s president Bollinger to go to such embarrassing lengths to distance himself from Ahmadinejad. No one thought Columbia was promoting him for the Nobel Peace prize.
Funny how difficult it is for prominent speakers on the Right to get a campus invitation, from anyone other than the Young Republicans, and even then they are likely to be harassed. Isn’t it fascinating that major university faculty are more likely to seriously resist giving a platform to President George W. Bush than to murderous dictators/racists/homophobes?
But then efforts to get an invited speaker disinvited are not necessarily really based on anger at giving the person a platform, especially since real monsters often acquit themselves poorly on stage.
If only it was true. But it’s all in the eye of the beholder.
They are as much as anything else efforts to housebreak American higher education, to establish external forces and constituencies as campus powers. They are about establishing who is really in charge — students and faculty, or politicians, talk show radio hosts, and donors. Get a university to cancel Churchill or Ayers and anyone on the political or cultural spectrum whose views you oppose can be your next target.
This is risible in its ignorance of who, exactly, is blackballed in American higher education. It is solid, mainstream representatives of the Right who are most likely to be blocked by vigorous, shut-down-the-opposition reaction, not the occasional dictator.
Once Hamilton College canceled Churchill and the University of Nebraska canceled Ayers, the playing field was open to all comers. Then state legislators could pressure the University of Oklahoma to cancel a talk by biologist Richard Dawkins. Why? Because the man treats evolution as an established fact. Oklahoma stood its ground, perhaps realizing it would be shamed for generations had it canceled the talk.
Shamed for generations?!? Is he kidding? This kind of hyperbolic rhetoric is hysterically funny, given that the American left university establishment had lots of powerful, loud-mouthed supporters of Stalin in the 1930s, and even the 1940s… and has yet to have a year of shame over it, let alone generations. Some perspective, please.
The most unwelcome trigger may be a donor¹s threat to withdraw a gift. No administrator likes to knuckle under to extortion. But that is not the most efficient way to get a speech canceled in any case. The new weapon of choice is the anonymous threat of violence delivered by a phone call from a public booth.
You mean, like the bomb threats Bill Ayers and the Weatherman Underground made… and then carried out?
Then the president or his spokesperson can cancel a speech in a voice filled with regret, ceremoniously invoking “security” concerns, as Boston College did in canceling an Ayers talk. It is the ultimate heckler’s veto. Place a call and you are in charge. Better yet, call the threat in to a talk show host and give his hate campaign a newspaper headline.
No lefty professor can quite finish an article without mentioning that favorite shibboleth of the left, “hate filled talk radio.”
We either must stand firm against these efforts to undermine the integrity of our educational institutions or agree that academic freedom no longer obtains in America. Boston College tried lamely to say the decision was purely an internal matter, but press coverage appropriately turns each of these incidents into a national test of an institution’s values and commitments. Each institution’s decision about whether to show courage or cowardice helps set a pattern, strengthening or weakening academic freedom everywhere. Thus we all benefited when Pennsylvania’s Millersville University resisted legislative pressure and held an Ayers lecture as planned.
Oh boy, so when Gingrich or Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld or dozens of the left’s favorite demons are protested and blocked by lefty activist faculty, code pink, MoveOn and assorted nutroots, can we count on the author of this screed to be there supporting their right to speak, and sorrowfully decrying the blindness of the institution that wouldn’t have them? SURE we can.
And we are all diminished by Boston College’s incoherent performance. Because the consequences of these decisions are considerable, the campus as a whole must bear the cost of assuring that invitations are not withdrawn.
How about the invitations that are never GIVEN, because the institutions know that their members simply don’t want to hear anything much from the Right?
If a threat requires extra security, let the campus itself — not the students or faculty who issued the invitation — cover the cost. That is the price of retaining academic freedom for a free society.
Cary Nelson is president of the American Association of University Professors.
So, how monstrous do you have to be to be a real monster? I suppose you have to be willing to hide monstrous obfuscations in monstrously bad logic, while engaging in monstrous pretense that there is any kind of parity, any at all, in the monstrously left leaning American university. Prove I’m wrong, Professor Nelson: now write an article where you decry the failure of the American university to fairly balance perspectives of the left and right, in its own faculty, its course offerings, its speaker invitations, the whole nine yards.
Apr 29 2009
April 27, 2009
The Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
University of Notre Dame
Dear Father Jenkins,
When you informed me in December 2008 that I had been selected to receive Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, I was profoundly moved. I treasure the memory of receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1996, and I have always felt honored that the commencement speech I gave that year was included in the anthology of Notre Dame’s most memorable commencement speeches. So I immediately began working on an acceptance speech that I hoped would be worthy of the occasion, of the honor of the medal, and of your students and faculty.
Last month, when you called to tell me that the commencement speech was to be given by President Obama, I mentioned to you that I would have to rewrite my speech. Over the ensuing weeks, the task that once seemed so delightful has been complicated by a number of factors.
First, as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.
Then I learned that “talking points” issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event:
• “President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal.”
• “We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about.”
A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision-in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops-to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.
Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame’s example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.
It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.
In order to avoid the inevitable speculation about the reasons for my decision, I will release this letter to the press, but I do not plan to make any further comment on the matter at this time.
Yours Very Truly,
Mary Ann Glendon
Apr 05 2009
The previous post in this series is here.
The following are culled from discussions with faculty and staff at several Christian colleges and universities.
You know your Christian college or university has gone or is moving Left when:
1) Faculty close their office doors to discuss with other faculty the political changes (to the Left) on campus.
2) People are generally a bit nervous about speaking up to buck the trend, at all levels, from newbie faculty all the way through the hierarchy. In a world where a Left-leaning fellow like Larry Summers at Harvard can speak the plain truth and be pilloried for it, it’s pretty clear that no one is safe. Summers eventually had to resign, too.
3) You can walk through the faculty parking lot and count Right leaning bumper stickers on the fingers of one hand, but you see large numbers of Left leaning ones. (This doesn’t necessarily mean that the Left is a majority… but it means they’re a LOT more vocal about it.)
4) Students start forming groups to promote conservatism and traditional values (because they see so little defense of them on campus). And if no faculty member will stop and talk to such students at booths displaying literature promoting such values, that’s a bad sign, too, not because that proves there are no faculty who agree, but because faculty may fear being seen to agree…. or even being interested. A corollary: faculty who are considering joining the facebook group of conservative students pause for a moment, and count the cost.
5) Every chapel speaker for two weeks straight seems to come from the Left.
6) It is always completely safe, in public discourse (meetings, workshops, councils, etc.), to express your fidelity to the aims of diversity activism, but not to express your commitment to working politically towards a Supreme Court that will overturn Roe v. Wade, or for a Right to Life constitutional amendment.
7) You feel that it’s safer to “feel people out in person” before sending them a document expressing conservative or libertarian values. On the other hand, people from the Left constantly send email to the entire campus expressing their point of view, and appear to feel perfectly safe in doing so.
8) Official college publications begin using the phrase “speech codes” in a non-pejorative manner.
9) Your campus has “justice weeks” in which there is no mention of abortion; anti-Semitism’s rise in the West; out-of-wedlock birth leading to fatherless children (with the inevitably higher rates of crime, time in prison, poverty, etc.); Muslim treatment of women (in Western nations, not just “Islamic” ones); the responsibility of society to care for military veterans and their families, especially disabled veterans, and the families of killed soldiers (a scandal if there ever was one). Huge injustices all, but somehow never in view during campus “justice week.”
10) High level administrators try to suppress student political activism towards the Right. Corollary: the administrators may be forced to apologize via legal action by the students.
11) The cafeteria goes “green” and refuses to give customers “to go” containers even as an extra cost item. There are recycling bins all over campus, but not enough trash cans… or at least, they’re someplace distant from the recycling bins. The cafeteria doesn’t supply trays anymore (to save water), so you have to juggle plate, beverages, utensils, soup bowls, etc., the hard way. Corollary: the cafeteria carpet has more stains than it used to.
The next post in this series is here.
Apr 01 2009
The previous post in this series is here.
The University of Notre Dame has announced that Pres. Barack Obama will be the principal speaker and will receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the university’s commencement on Sunday, May 17. The invitation comes after the president has taken several official actions that directly oppose the Catholic Church’s most sacred teachings. National Review Online asked some of our experts on education and Catholicism for their comments.
At the link, an important discussion on what it can mean for Notre Dame to have invited President Obama to receive an honorary degree and deliver a commencement address, to students who will have been taught (we hope) that abortion is deeply immoral, and who will witness the honoring of a president who supports it.
What, exactly, would a president have to do to be found ineligible for such an honor by a putatively Christian institution? Apparently, supporting abortion in the most radical way possible is not enough.
Perhaps if he actually ate the babies after the abortions? An interesting question: is cannibalism a greater sin than aiding, abetting and encouraging unjust killing in the first place? I think not. After all, they’re already dead, right? It’s a shame to waste them. (And besides, for the pro-abortion crowd, they never did have human rights anyway, did they? I mean, being just lumps of tissue and everything. How immoral can it be to eat something that has no civil rights, anyway? Isn’t that the same as cattle ranching, or hunting and eating what you kill?)
So, I think we have conclusively demonstrated that even if Obama ate aborted babies, he would still get an honorary degree from Notre Dame, a Christian university, since abortion is a greater sin than cannibalism (if someone else did the killing), and promoting abortion did not disqualify him.
Ah, but if Obama was well known as an industrial polluter, shooter of wolves from helicopters, corporate raider/downsizer, Pentecostal snake handler, and believer in young-Earth Creationism, and had still managed to get elected, would Notre Dame have invited him to receive an honorary degree and address impressionable undergraduates ?
Probably not. Some sins really do matter.
The next post in this series is here.
Mar 25 2009
In the traditions of Six Contradictions of Marxism, I present Seven Contradictions of Diversity, because Marxism was invented by dead white men, and what’s so special about the number “six”? Herewith:
Seven Contradictions of Diversity
* Your college has an Office of Diversity — yet it isn’t diverse enough
* It isn’t diverse enough – yet it celebrates diversity constantly
* It celebrates diversity constantly – yet faculty of color are oppressed
* Faculty of color are oppressed – yet they are constantly invited to speak their mind
* They are constantly invited to speak their mind – yet they are marginalized and ignored
* They are marginalized and ignored – yet many are hired as faculty and promoted to important administrative positions to develop “diversity weeks”, “diversity courses”, and “faculty diversity committees” in order to promote people of color.
* They attain unprecedented political clout focused on a single issue – yet they’re still “speaking truth to power”
Mar 24 2009
While I generally try to avoid making too many “inside references,” I recently witnessed a health professional trying to get a feel for how much pain someone was in, and they brought out the Universal Pain Assessment Tool. It didn’t take long to realize the universal applicability of such an assessment instrument, and so, herewith:
Mar 17 2009
The previous post in this series is here.
As has been pointed out previously in this series, “diversity” is not in any sense politically neutral. It always strongly favors the Left, and people who are big fans of “diversity” are almost always strongly committed to the Left in other ways.
Just to analyze one instance in a recent faculty discussion of diversity: a professor of social ethics was disappointed that his students, having finished his course, had not come to the conclusion that the Iraq war is unjust. Let’s unpack this.
First, he seems to believe that his comment is related to the discussion of diversity. How would that be, exactly? What relevance does the justice or injustice of a particular bit of foreign policy have to diversity at his university? It’s clear that in his mind, diversity and general leftist thought are very much related, and since the discussion is about diversity, the floor is open to general leftist discussion. He thinks he is at ideological home with his fellow travelers. He has done this before, almost certainly, and been well-received. This seems more and more common at too many Christian colleges and universities (especially the universities).
Second, he seems to believe that no other position on the matter of the Iraq war can possibly be held by a rational person, in possession of the facts, with a decent heart and Godly intent. So his disappointment makes sense, in his very constricted world-view.
Third, he seems completely unaware that he has just hurled a deadly insult at the parents who pay his salary, because it is likely that his students reflect some of their parents’ perspectives on such matters, and he thinks those perspectives are morally and rationally indefensible. To be blunt, he sees his job as taking parents’ money to teach their children to think that their parents are fools, or worse.
Yet there he is, in the middle of a discussion of diversity, knowing that heads around the table will nod sagely as he fires from the hip, without really having a target, other than those benighted souls of the world who do not subscribe wholesale to leftist thought. Plenty of heads nodded, as if the comment were perfectly appropriate. He is a perfect example of what has been happening in Christian higher education, as we bring in more and more faculty who are so thoroughly indoctrinated by the Left in their graduate programs that they see themselves as being on a mission from God to disabuse undergraduates of their foolish traditional misconceptions.
Translation: these kids’ parents have been doing a miserable job of preparing the kids for polite society, and we have to completely reorient them, as soon as possible.
The next post in this series is here.
Mar 03 2009
At the link, a very interesting description of a debate between a theist philosopher and an atheist philosopher, which sounds very interesting in its own terms, and this revealing confession.
I was at the talk. It was packed with professional philosophers and graduate students in philosophy, most of whom sided with Dennett. I wrote live comments on the debate/session. I prefer to remain anonymous for various reasons, in particular because I am inclined towards Plantinga’s position over Dennett’s and were this to become well-known it could damage or destroy my career in analytic philosophy. This is something I prefer not to put my family through. I almost didn’t publish these comments at all, but as far as I could tell, this would be the only public record of the discussion.
Friends, if you can identify me, I request that you keep my identity secret. I am sharing my thoughts as a service to the philosophical community and all those who have an interest in such debates. But I prefer not to suffer at the hands of my ardently secular colleagues. This is not to say that all secular analytic philosophers are this way; they most certainly are not. But enough of them are that I cannot risk being known publicly.
But wait! I thought the Left was all about tolerance. And DIVERSITY!
SURE it is.
Here’s the link to the exchange between Plantinga and Dennett.
But the “live blog” of the Plantinga/Dennett debate is very interesting.
Feb 21 2009
In a typical profanity laced diatribe, the Daily Kos accuses George Will of lying or ignorance, fielder’s choice:
George Will — “According to the University of Illinois’ ACRC, global sea ice levels now equal those of 1979.”
University of Illinois’ ACRC — “We do not know where George Will is getting his information, but our data shows … [the] decrease in sea ice area is roughly equal to the area of Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined. It is disturbing that the Washington Post would publish such information without first checking the facts.”
This is a reference to a column in the Washington Post by George Will.
And despite all the eco-pagan handwringing, wailing and nashing of teeth, it appears that Will was correct, and the ACRC was engaged in a certain amount of spin in its disingenuous statement.
It’s got to be tough when the public spokesperson for the ACRC can’t read a graph. Check it out yourself: you’ll see the values go up, and the values go down, but they consistently orbit around the same general center.
I share one bit of frustration with the Daily Kos, though for different reasons. I wish WAPO would respond a bit more vigorously to false allegations when it’s one of their few conservative columnists being attacked. But, for now, I guess this will have to do.
The University of Illinois center that Will cited has now said it doesn’t agree with his conclusion, but earlier this year it put out a statement
that was among several sources for this column and that notes in part that “Observed global sea ice area, defined here as a sum of N. Hemisphere and S. Hemisphere sea ice areas, is near or slightly lower than those observed in late 1979,”
It would seem that ACRC’s spokesperson doesn’t read their own website. And it would seem that the eco-pagan global warming panic-mongers simply believe spokespersons without checking the facts themselves… which makes it especially funny that they accuse George Will and WAPO of not doing adequate fact checking.
Next Page »