Saturday, December 21, 2002
ACADEMIC ARROGANCE AND THE SUPPRESSION OF FREE SPEECH
An extremely strange and disturbing series of events has occurred at St Cloud State University, in Minnesota. Earlier this month, the College Republicans set up a booth expressing their support for Israel. They had an Israeli flag, a list of Israelis killed by terrorists, and also some literature from an organization called Jews for Preservation of Firearms Ownership.
Two professors approached the booth. They reportedly identified themselves as Jewish, and asserted that the College Republicans had no right to fly the Israeli flag because they were not themselves Jewish. The debate evidently became somewhat heated. One of the professors asked a College Republican (who had a small camera) to stop taking pictures because, she said, she didn't want to be photographed in front of "anti-Semitic material." (This may well be the first time in history that an Israeli flag, combined with documents supporting Israel and documents provided by a Jewish group, has been referred to as "anti-Semitic material.") There was a further verbal exchange (the professor says the student "taunted" her), after which some sort of altercation took place. The student says that the professor tried to snatch the camera from his hand and then grabbed him by the neck and shoved him up against a wall. The professor denies any neck-grabbing or shoving, but admits that she did grab for the camera. The student has filed a complaint with the St Cloud Police Department. (See article here.)
The university's vice president for student life and development, Nathan Church, then approached and said he "had to ask (the College Republicans) to take down the flag" because some people were offended. He reportedly also reiterated the opinion that the College Republicans had no right to fly the Israeli flag because they were not Jewish themselves. Church also said that the professor involved in the altercation had become upset because she felt that the flying of the flag implied that the College Republicans had the support of the Israeli government and people.
Prior to writing this article, I e-mailed Church and asked him to clarify his and the university's position on this matter, and specifically to cite what he thought was the legal basis for his claim concerning the right to fly the Israeli flag. I have received no response, nor have I received a response to my follow-up e-mail to the President of the University.
1) Two professors asserted that students had no right to fly a particular flag, because of their ethnicity/religious background
2) A professor attempted to grab a student's camera
3) A university official denied, or at least questioned, the right of students to fly a particular flag, again based on their ethnicity/religious background..and also based on a totally spurious theory about flag display implying governmental endorsement
4) Two officials of this state university failed to respond to communication on this matter from a member of the public, even after being advised that their response or non-response would probably be published
There's one word for all of the above. Arrogance. And increasingly, it's a defining characteristic of the way in which universities in this country are being run.
Tuesday, December 17, 2002
MERCHANTS OF DEATH
According to respected columnist A M Rosenthal, chief weapons inspector Hans Blix stated his intent to delete from UN documents the names of companies that have sold supplies and equipment to Iraq and thereby have turned up in the Iraqi submission relating to weapons of mass destruction. This is confirmed, with a slightly different twist, by NPR:
NORRIS: Those who've seen the table of contents also say that it provides information about foreign suppliers who assisted what Iraq describes as its past chemical weapons program. Are the names of those companies or individuals likely to be made public?
O'HARA: Hans Blix says that the practice in the past, you know, during previous declarations by Iraq to the United Nations was to put that kind of information in the category of being sensitive and not to release it. He pointed out that sometimes, you know, the suppliers who were involved with Iraq, you know, in the chemical weapons program might not have realized how their technology, their products were actually being used, and you know, they don't want to, you know, sort of blacklist people. But he said the decision actually will be made by the Security Council.
It appears that some of the names are already out, however. A German newspaper has reported that German companies are extensively implicated in these transactions. It seems very likely that companies from other European countries are also implicated. Certainly one factor in Europe's posture on Iraqi regime change is their reluctance to give up profitable business deals.
For many years, American "progressives" have denounced companies that profit by selling weapons to our own military. Will we an outpouring of anger from them on this issue? It seems unlikely. Their rage is reserved (a) primarily for American companies, and (b) for those who sell to the American military (and lately also the Israeli military) -- not for those who sell to regimes such as Iraq.
Ours is the golden age of hypocrisy. By comparison, the Victorians were amateurs.
Saturday, December 14, 2002
EDUCATION OR INDOCTRINATION?
Over at Chronicle of Higher Education, there's a lively discussion of the new web site noindoctrination.org. This web site, in case you're not already familiar with it, provides a forum for students to air their complaints about excessive political indoctrination in college courses.
Actually, I think the site is a bit misnamed...nointimidation.org might capture the spirit better. What most of the students seem to be objecting to is not just having to listen to a lengthy exposition of the professor's own political views (sometimes relating only vaguely if at all to the stated subject of the class), but to instances of completely one-sided presentation, refusal to present alternative viewpoints when requested, and in some cases a professor's unwillingness to hear opposing views expressed in discussion...indeed, several students report that professors actually became quite angry at the expression of dissenting views. If you haven't already done so, go read the entries on the site. It's certainly possible that some of the incidents are exaggerated..but still, the overall pattern should be very disturbing to anyone who believes in freedom of expression. Indeed, some of the incidents reported can only be described as frightening.
The discussion at Chronicle has been, for the most part, well-balanced. There is understandable concern that the anonymity of posting could lead to unfair comments being distributed; on the other hand, most seem to feel that given the student-teacher power imbalance, anonymity is an understandable if regrettable necessity.
Some of the Chronicle commenters, though, seem to feel that any students posting on noindoctrination.org must be doing so because the they (or their parents) feel threatened by having their own ideas challenged. It's a worldview of the American public as something out of American Gothic, from which the youth can be rescued only by the intecession of bold college professors. But it should not be assumed that the only alternative to the enforcement of one orthodoxy is the enforcement of another orthodoxy. And, in many of the cases reported on the site, it would seem as if it's the professors who feel threatened by having their ideas challenged.
It's interesting to speculate as to why so much college instruction today seems to take the form of political indoctrination. More than 50 years ago, C S Lewis wrote a book ("The Abolition of Man") which is relevant to this question. In the book, he reviews a high school textbook, which (to protect the guilty) he refers to only as "The Green Book." The book purported to be an "English" book, but, in Lewis' opinion, was instead primarily an attempt to inculate a particular set of social and philosophical beliefs. The following quote is interesting:
"But I doubt whether Gaius and Titus (the authors) have really planned, under cover of teaching English, to propagate their philosophy. I think they have slipped into it for the following reasons. In the first place, literary criticism is difficult, and what they actually do is very much easier..." (emphasis added)
It's much easier to denounce "oppression" than to really analyze the thought of Karl Marks and, say, Friedrich Hayek.
I've previously speculated that the vast expansion of higher education has swept into the ranks of academia a number of people who aren't really that interested in or qualified for the intellectual life (much as the great proliferation of public companies in the late '90s brought many people into CEO roles who arguably weren't up to the job.) If this speculation is true, then perhaps many of these people focus on indoctrination rather than education partly for the simple reason that Lewis suggests--it's easier.
No doubt, there are some dedicated and hard-working scholars who also engage in excessive political indoctrination--but I bet they're a distinct minority among the visibly politicized professoriate.
The Chronicle discussion also surfaced another issue. Increasingly, people don't feel that an opinion is something that has to be based on logical argument and defended against other logical arguments--it's "just the way I feel and you don't have any right to challenge that." This trend is connected to other trends in our society, from the excessive worship of "self-esteem" to the pseudo-psychological programs on daytime TV. It is also tied up with the whole notion of cultural relativism--if there is no ground for criticizing the actions or beliefs of people from another culture, then there soon is no ground for criticizing the beliefs of another person (since we all, to some degree, have different patterns of cultural background). Nothing is left but "I think this way and you think that way"..no way to exists find a common ground. On campus, this view seems increasingly common among both students and professors.
Tuesday, December 10, 2002
MOUTH RUNNING, BRAIN DISENGAGED
When "talking pictures" first came along, Harry Warner (of Warner Bros) was not enthusiastic about the prospects. "Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?" he reportedly asked.
Now, a group of Hollywood types has favored us with their thoughts (if that word can be applied) on Iraq.
Maybe ol' Harry had it right, after all.
Monday, December 09, 2002
I first saw this on a blog, and thought it must be a misquote...no former U.S. President could say such a thing. So I tracked down the source (CNN), and it seems that Jimmy Carter really did say it. In a speech given prior to his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize, he spoke of "the inability of Israel to live in peace with its neighbors."
Specifically, he said: "One of the key factors that arouses intense feelings of animosity in the world is the festering problem in the Holy Land, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the inability of Israel to live in peace with its neighbours. I think this is the single most disturbing element in animosities and misunderstandings and hatred and even violence in the world." (emphasis added.)
Read the whole article here.
Saturday, December 07, 2002
DECEMBER 7, 2002
Today is Pearl Harbor Day, and there is remarkably little coverage in the major newsapers. As I've said before, this country is in serious danger of losing its sense of its own history.
Read an article about one man's experiences here.
Update: Pearl Harbor comments and pictures at The Angry Clam.
EDUCATION, CHINESE AND AMERICAN
In today's New York Times, Gao Zhan writes about his experiences in the Chinese educational system. Excerpts: "..the Chinese education system, tightly controlled by the government, is by no means a success. It is, above all, hopelessly politicized, a vehicle of propaganda." He continues: "Perhaps the biggest problem is that the system discourages intellectual inquiry, especially in the humanities...(a friend told him that) in one political studies class, her son questioned the teacher's claim that "capitalism is bying out." The student gathered his courage, raised his hand and said, "It doesn't seem to me that capitalism is dying out." To this the teacher responded, "Capitalism will die out." The student again raised his hand and said, "That doesn't seem to me the case, either." The embarrassed teacher burst into a rage and accused him of trying to wreck the class."
Note how similar this is to the University of Michigan incident, discussed below. There is the same pattern of rage at anyone who dares to express an opinion departing from the official line; the same explicit or tacit threats of retaliation. In recent years, hundreds of similar occurrences have been reported in American schools and universities.
In China, "Kids who raise questions and demand satisfying answers are usually branded as problems," Gao continues, and also discusses the consequences. "By squashing questions and stigmatizing curiousity, Chinese schools suffocate independent thinkers."
Independent thought, of course, has been a major factor in American success, in economics and in other spheres of life. What impact must the increasingly crushing emphasis on intellectual conformity--from kindergarten through graduate school--be having on the future of independent thought in our own society?
Friday, December 06, 2002
Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates has admitted responsibility for stealing and trashing about 1,000 copies of The Daily Californian, a student newspaper. The newspaper carried an endorsement of his opponent. Several students said they saw him take the newspaper, and the UC police have now recommended to the District Attorney that he be charged with petty theft. Shockingly but unsurprisingly, some City Council members believe he should continue in office.
I recently wrote about the rise of political violence and intimidation in America. "Although not limited to the college campuses, the current wave of violence and intimidation has largely originated there. University presidents have often allowed leftist and "progressive" groups to take clearly illegal actions, such as stealing and destroying opposition newspapers, and to get away with it...indeed, they have sometimes acted as if their campuses were extraterritorial jurisdictions, in which the laws of the United States did not apply." If this kind of thuggish behavior continues to be tolerated, the consequences will be far worse than stolen newspapers.
HUMAN RIGHTS, EUROPEAN-STYLE
Gretta Duisenberg, wife of European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg, has been awarded the 2002 Prize for Human Rights by the Flemish League for Human Rights. She is known for her anti-Israel statements, and has been quoted as saying that "the rich Jewish lobby in America" is perpetuating Israel's "injustice" against the Palestinians. It is also reported that when Ms Duisenberg was asked how many signatures she hoped to collect for a petition, she said: "Oh, perhaps six million" and started laughing loudly. This would seem to be a clear reference to the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust.
The Flemish group giving the award commends Ms Duisenberg for committment to "the principle of an antiracial and therefore multicultural society."
Could American liberals please just shut up with their claims about the superior moral standing of European as compared with American society?
Thursday, December 05, 2002
DARK SATANIC MILLS
Musings on Higher Education
From the world of higher education come two items. The first is sad, the second is horrifying.
In this past week's colloquy on Chronicle of Higher Education, an anonymous adjunct professor submits a comment which is painful to read. Excerpts: "The reason I am an adjunct is that giving my life fully over to this industry of higher education would destroy my spirits; I am not interested in a tenure-track position. I am too aware of the deception--institutions claiming to be about learning are in fact about anything but....A non-university colleague told me last year that he thinks that teaching is part of my spirit, and he was right. Now, working in universities even as an adjunct is threatening to kill that spirit. I get a lot of energy from working with students, but the contradictions are damaging me now too deeply to ignore. I am not going to be able to teach in universities much longer because of the damage it is doing to my spirit." (Emphasis added.)
That's the sad one...now for the horrifying one. At noindoctrination.org, a female student writes about a recent experience. She wanted to become a Residence Hall Assistant, and those who want this job are required to take Psychology 405, "Social Psychology in Community Settings." In the class, students were required to go around and talk about "at least one way in which we have been/are oppressed. When my turn came up, and I answered that I have never been oppressed, the instructor corrected me, saying I must have been, as I'm female. I persisted, saying that being female has never been anything short of a blessing for me. The instructor was relentless..." He asked to speak to her after class. "He was visibly shaken and angry," she reports. "He told me that my classroom behavior was disruptive..and that I would be kicked out of class and would thereby lose my job and my housing for the next year unless I learned to be more cooperative." If this report is true (and no rebuttal has appeared, as of this posting date, on noindoctrination.org), then this student is being threatened with damage to her academic career, and termination of her employment, based soley on her personal opinions and her expression of them.
Writing in Yale Daily News about another matter, a student has expressed concern that "the age of the professor-thug" may be upon us. At the University of Michigan, it certainly sounds like it may already be here.
The above are only two data points, of course, but they are far from unique. Something is seriously wrong with America's universities. Many of these institutions seem to function increasingly for two reasons: to hand out credentials (which are valued for the circular reason that...they are valued), and to indoctrinate students in a particular set of social and political opinions. Independent thought and love of learning are being devalued; in their place, students develop both a sense of grievance and a sense of entitlement. What sane society would establish and support institutions whose primary mission was to produce such feelings? Meanwhile, among the faculty, there seems to be an increasing class distinction between the tenured professors and the untenured (and, apparently, increasingly resentful) who do much of the actual teaching.
William Blake wrote of the "Dark Satanic Mills" of the early industrial revolution. It seems that increasingly, our universities are becoming "Dark Satanic Mills" of the mind, damaging to the spirits of both those who operate them and to those who are "processed" in them...but also without many of the redeeming values that were possessed by the original mills to which Blake referred.
Tuesday, December 03, 2002
VIVA RACHEL LUCAS
Blogger Rachel Lucas has embarked on a new project--she's going to be collecting stories from veterans and civilians from the WWII era. She's been motivated in part by the stories of her grandfather, who was killed in the war--and in part by her negative reaction to a professor who said that the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nakasaki was the moral equivalent of the Holocaust.
I've written before about the sorry state of history education in America's schools (also see here)...if we count on the education system as presently structured and managed, then America's historical knowledge will reach disastrous levels of ignorance. It's great that people like Rachel are willing to step in and help fill the gap. To once again (approximately) quote C. S. Lewis: If you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its adjoining units—and if you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from knowledge about previous generations. Much of our educational establishment has been acting as if this was indeed their objective. Thanks to highly-motivated people like Rachel, they hopefully will not accomplish it.
Sunday, December 01, 2002
SUPERHEATED 'STEEM III
A law firm practice manager in the UK writes as follows: "The apparent self-esteem and expectations of some candidates render them unemployable." She is speaking particularly of recent college graduates. (Link is from Brian's Education Blog; letter appears in The Daily Telegraph.)