All posts filed under: Education

The Counterproductive Suppression of Heterodox Views on Race

Between 2000 and 2014, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) documented 257 incidents of left-wing ‘no platforming’ activism on campuses, 111 of which succeeded in preventing the invited speakers from delivering their remarks. The chilling effect this practice has had on free and open discussion has been much discussed. Less discussed, but perhaps even more damaging, has been the more stealthy suppression of heterodox views through hiring policies and the censoring of faculty, and the deleterious effect this can have on the very causes progressive like to stress are of most pressing importance. In a long essay for the Atlantic last year, the liberal journalist Peter Beinart described how this process has succeeded in stifling the free expression of anti-immigration positions on both the Left and the Right. A decade ago, Beinart reminded his readers, liberals “routinely asserted that low-skilled immigrants depressed the wages of low-skilled American workers and strained America’s welfare state.” But attitudes have shifted dramatically in the intervening years. Beinart noted that Jason Furman, a former chairman of President Obama’s Council …

Reflections on the Revolution at Yale

Three years ago this Fall, Yale University descended into what can only be described as a fit of mass psychosis. On November 9, 2015, over 1,000 people—about one fifth of the undergraduate student body—walked out of classrooms and into the quad to participate in a ‘March of Resilience.’ An a cappella group led the crowd in a medley of “We Shall Overcome.” Native Indian performers formed a drum circle. “We are not victims,” a student organizer affiliated with the school’s Latino cultural center declared. “Today, we are on our way to being victors.” Against what sinister forces did Yale’s students feel compelled to summon up their stocks of ‘resilience’ in righteous battle? The first grievance cited by the student protestors was an alleged ‘white girls only’ party thrown by one of the university’s fraternities. Word of this event had gone from a Facebook post to international headlines, tarnishing Yale’s good name in the process. Had such a party actually taken place, it indeed would have been cause for protest. But it’s hard not to be …

The New McCarthyism: Blacklisting in Academia

Blacklisting is back. In the days of Joe McCarthy, Hollywood screen writers and actors were the targets. Today, it is University professors accused of sexual harassment. Being accused is enough to destroy a professor’s career. Even speaking out against a false accusation can be dangerous, as I found out. One of the most widely discussed cases involves the philosopher Colin McGinn, who resigned from the University of Miami after the University accused him of failing to report a romantic, non-sexual relationship with a 26 year old graduate student.  The University did not accuse him of sexual harassment. Yet bloggers accused him and this was enough to get McGinn disinvited from conferences and speaking engagements, and blacklisted in the profession. In 2015, the student making the initial complaint filed a lawsuit against the University of Miami, McGinn, and me. I had commented on the case and was accused of defamation. The Judge dismissed all charges against me with prejudice and none of us were found liable for any of the student’s claims. Despite his legal victory, …

The Decline of the Humanities and What To Do About It

It is edifying to note that recent data published by the National Association of Scholars shows Democrats outnumber Republicans at elite liberal arts universities in the United States by a ratio of 43:1 within Sociology. So intellectual homogeneity is clearly a major issue in the United States, and it is also safe to infer that similar left/right voting patterns are present in the Humanities departments at Australia’s top universities—though data has traditionally been hard to collect. Some academics choose to play down the significance of this, pointing to correlative data regarding education levels and interests, the thought being that this is somehow a suitable excuse for an atrophied attention to foundational subject matter. These problems run deep in the field of sociology. Assessing the genesis of these problems requires a broad historical background understanding, because sociology stands at the nexus of the social sciences and the humanities. The earliest sociologists were usually classed as philosophers. This was because they were theorists interested in drawing out generalisations about the human condition, with a practical/analytical bent—see for …

Unmaking Affirmative Action

On July 3, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama approach to race-based college admissions. This returns the U.S. to the philosophy of George W. Bush’s White House, which argued that race should not be a significant factor. The Trump initiative may have no immediate impact since the Supreme Court upheld race-based admissions policies in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin in 2016. But an impact is surely coming. Consider that Justice Scalia died before he could vote against affirmative action in the Fisher case. Now Justice Kennedy is retiring and Trump’s Supreme Court will certainly tilt against the policy with dissenters like Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito. Previously, Justice Thomas asserted that, “a State’s use of race in higher education admissions decisions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause.” And Justice Roberts is on record as saying that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” The end of affirmative action is a horrifying prospect for many liberals, but it may better reflect …

Through the Looking Glass at Concordia University

It was in a class called Representations of Minorities in Documentary Film, the last elective I needed to receive my BA at Concordia University in Montreal, that I first realized something was very wrong. The class had just watched Sound and Fury, a 2000 Oscar-nominated documentary about deaf culture. The film follows a 6-year-old deaf girl named Heather and her family (several members of whom also are deaf) as they go back and forth on the issue of cochlear implants, a then-new technology that allows some deaf people to hear. Heather wants cochlear implants so she can talk to people and hear lions. Her mother, too, opts for the implants. But when she discovers the implant will not be as effective for her, she changes her mind, and, without consulting her daughter, decrees that neither of them will be undergoing the procedure. After the film ended, our professor asked students for their thoughts. When called on, I said that parents should try to make their children’s lives easier. If I remember my words correctly, I …

Heterodoxy is Hard, Even at Heterodox Academy

Heterodox thinking requires room to be made for different views, different ideas, and different voices to be heard. With sufficient heterodox thinking, it is hoped, the bonds that blind and bind people into groups of tribal moral warriors might wither and eventually allow for truth to replace ideology. However, if the first Heterodox Academy meeting is any indication, heterodox thinking poses substantially more problems than even the hardworking leaders of Heterodox Academy realized. Entering the meeting I was immediately struck by the fact it was held in the New York Times conference center—a beautiful area replete with wait staff, security, and a professional grade lighting and recording area. Everything was well orchestrated, professional, and deliberate. And as Jonathan Haidt took the stage, I felt a sense of respect for a man who has not only deepened our understanding of humanity but who has also worked diligently to make Heterodox Academy a reality. He has, in many ways and sometimes against scathing criticism, popularized the idea of intellectual diversity—making the case that people like me, who …

Bill de Blasio’s Plan to Displace Asians In New York’s Top Schools

New York City has eight elite specialized public high schools, which admit students entirely on the basis of their scores on a standardized test called the Specialized High School Aptitude Test (SHSAT).  Only the top 5% of New York students qualify for admission to the specialized high schools, and admissions are very competitive, particularly for Stuyvesant High School, Brooklyn Technical High School, and Bronx High School for Science. These schools have also become predominantly Asian over the course of the last several decades.  Today, Stuyvesant’s student body is 72 percent Asian, about 22 percent white, two percent Latino only about one percent black, even though black and Latino students together comprise about 70 percent of public school students in New York City. In an editorial on the education news site Chalkbeat, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blasted the racial composition of the specialized high schools as a “monumental injustice,” and proposed eliminating the SHSAT and replacing it with a plan he believes is more fair. De Blasio’s plan to purge Asians The mayor’s …

Shibboleths That Exclude in the Name of Inclusion

The Bible can be surprisingly relevant to academic politics. The Book of Judges tells of an internecine clash between the people of Gilead and their faithless brethren from the Ephraimite tribe, who had refused to aid Gilead against a foreign foe. Gilead retaliated mercilessly against the Ephraimites, first smashing their army and then setting a clever trap for Ephraimite survivors seeking to return home from the battlefield. Any man caught crossing the Jordan had to utter the word ‘shibboleth.’ In ordinary Hebrew, this referred to a part on a stalk of grain, but at those checkpoints it meant the difference between life and death. In the dialect of Gilead the first consonant was pronounced like the ‘sh’ in ‘shelter,’ whereas in the Ephraimite dialect it was pronounced like the ‘s’ in ‘sinister.’ In this way, a linguistic subtlety became a tool to identify and kill 42,000 enemies. The stakes aren’t as high when universities hire faculty, but rhetorical nuances increasingly do stand watch at the gates of the professorial ranks. Many institutions now require aspiring …

Can Heterodoxy Save the Academy?

“When we decided to do a conference, we weren’t sure if we would get 25 people in the audience—and here we filled the Times Center,” says Debra Mashek, executive director of Heterodox Academy during an interview in midtown Manhattan. “There is broad consensus there is a problem on campus in terms of open inquiry and viewpoint diversity.” It’s understandable why Mashek was uncertain about attendance. Academic conferences usually are organized around particular areas of study or well-defined ideological viewpoints. But by its very nature, Heterodox Academy doesn’t provide any such organizing principle. Begun in 2015 as a blog, and now a network comprising over 1,800 academics, HA asks members to endorse the proposition that universities and colleges must uphold and protect political and ideological diversity. But the times we inhabit make championing viewpoint diversity an urgent project. And last Friday’s one-day inaugural conference near Times Square attracted a full house of about 350 academics, university administrators, students, and journalists. The event featured speeches and panel discussions from speakers who addressed the crowd from all points …