Author: Nicholas Wolfinger

Happiness and Academic Malpractice

In two popular books about happiness, Professor Paul Dolan of the London School of Economics has established himself as a public scholar. Dolan writes very clearly—an unusual attribute for an academic—and brings a fresh approach to the study of happiness. Quillette founder Claire Lehmann captures it well in a review of Dolan’s first book, Happiness by Design: When we think about our “happiness” we may think about the goals we have achieved, how much money we have in the bank, or how prestigious our job is. We may not think about our commute to work, our dreary co-workers or the fact that days at the office seem to drag along, uninspiringly. In doing so, Dolan argues, we privilege our evaluative self over the experiential self. Dolan’s exploration of the experiential self isn’t intended just to be a theory: he presents statistical data from numerous sources in support of his hypothesis. Unfortunately, Dolan’s data provide very little support for his theory, and are marred by serious errors of both analysis and interpretation. Dolan first caught my …

I Know what Intersectionality Is, and I Wish it Were Less Important

Having gestated in academia, Intersectionality has escaped into the broader world. It’s a foundational doctrine of third-wave feminism. It’s long had its own study group—the section on race, gender, and class—within the American Sociological Association, with an intellectual heritage in works by Patricia Hill Collins and Evelyn Nakano Glenn that preceded Kimberlé Crenshaw’s 1989 coinage of the i-word. Intersectionality has garnered increasing attention in the past few years, but its big coming out party occurred in December of last year when Senator Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY) tweeted that “our future is … intersectional.” Our future is: FemaleIntersectional Powered by our belief in one another. And we’re just getting started. — Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) December 5, 2018 So it was timely that Anne Sisson Runyan published a primer in the November-December 2018 issue of Academe entitled “What Is Intersectionality and Why Is It Important?” Runyan does a good enough job of defining Intersectionality, but I honestly wish it were a little less important: as it’s typically practiced, Intersectionality is an intellectual straitjacket and an albatross for activism. …

Pursuit of Injustice: Further Adventures Under Title IX

A specter is haunting American colleges and universities, the specter of Title IX. Originally the portion of the Civil Rights Act concerned with gender equity on campus, the previously laudable Title IX was twisted beyond recognition by the infamous 2011 “Dear Colleague” Letter and the new regime of federal compliance it created. The Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued the DCL with the intent of reducing sexual harassment and assault, but instead it ushered in ivory tower McCarthyism. Last year, I endured a Title IX investigation (detailed in a previous article for Quillette) over trumped-up allegations made by a colleague seeking to settle a decades-old score. I was acquitted, but the ensuing investigation led to an entirely new set of administrative charges originating from a different office on my campus, the University of Utah. This article tells the story of how a Title IX case metastasized into a protracted and expensive ordeal. So, how did the Dear Colleague Letter turn universities into star chambers? It lowered the burden of proof for a guilty finding …

How I Survived the Title IX Star Chamber

In recent years higher education has been roiled by new challenges. We hear constantly about threats to free speech, typically originating from students protesting right-leaning (or putatively right-leaning) speakers or professors. Fanned by conservative pundits, altercations at Evergreen, Middlebury, and other schools have consumed the lion’s share of media attention. Yet something equally corrosive to higher education has flown under the radar: the wanton abuse of Title IX of the Civil Rights Act. This has cost universities and taxpayers untold millions of dollars, and destroyed many lives in the process. Yet institutions of higher education have been largely successful in keeping Title IX cases out of the spotlight. Public scrutiny has finally arrived, most prominently in the work of Northwestern University scholar Laura Kipnis. Her April 2017 book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus, is a sweeping indictment of how Title IX, originally intended to remedy campus sexism, has become a blight on American higher education. Most people think of Title IX in relation to women’s access to college sports, but in fact it …