Monday, April 29, 2013

Ben Shapiro's Homophobia

The courageous decision of NBA player Jason Collins to come out of the closet got me thinking about Ben Shapiro, the right-wing pundit who tweeted about him: “So Jason Collins is a hero because he's gay? Our standard has dropped quite a bit since Normandy.”

Considering that Shapiro has also tweeted that Newt Gingrich and Mark Levin are heroes, we'd have to say that his standards have dropped quite a bit since Normandy. But Shapiro also tweeted, “@adamcarolla is my hero.” I hope that all us, liberal and conservative, can agree that anyone who regards Adam Carolla as a “hero” has permanently given up the right to defend the word.

But this certainly isn't the first case of Shapiro being homophobic. Back in 2003, Shapiro wrote, “If you pay tuition, you're sponsoring the militant homosexual agenda. If you pay taxes, you're sponsoring the militant homosexual agenda. If your child majors in English, you're sponsoring the militant homosexual agenda.”

I discovered that quote while writing a review of Shapiro's first book, Brainwashed.

Shapiro's book about the evil liberals in academia unintentionally disproved much of what he claimed. Here's what I wrote about Brainwashed:

Shapiro admits, “I don’t believe that large numbers of conservative students are purposefully targeted for grade penalization.” Shapiro, who seemingly cannot write a paragraph without making a factual error, a distortion of a statistic, or a specious argument, somehow managed to get good enough grades from all of his left-wing brainwashing professors to be admitted to Harvard Law School.

Shapiro, to me, reflects why there's a growing gap between left and right on campus. Leftist students who do well in school and score high on standardized tests tend to go to graduate school where they are trained to explain and defend their ideas, and then become professors. Right-wing students who are challenged by their professors reject the criticism on ideological grounds. Conservatives (like Shapiro) with high-level  test-taking talents tend to go to law school, and then are embraced by the world of right-wing commentary and talk radio. Instead of learning how to examine the facts, they are taught how to be outrageous. As I noted in my book about Rush Limbaugh, they realize that facts don't matter as much as assertions, the more over-the-top, the better.

That's partly why conservative intellectual culture in America is becoming so anti-science, anti-reason, anti-education, and openly bigoted. While they falsely condemn academia as being a world of leftist groupthink, conservatives like Shapiro live firmly in the realm of right-wing groupthink. In his most recent, and even dumber, book, Bullies, Shapiro fantasizes about the terrible imaginary repression of conservatives and openly endorses bullying liberals to fight against the victimization of the right.

The immature rantings of Shapiro as a college student weren't something he grew out of. Instead, his dumbest beliefs were reinforced by a right-wing culture that nurtured every nutty idea he had, and pressured him never to stray from a far right ideology. As a result, Ben Shapiro has become a professional idiot. And Shapiro's success in that job certainly inspires other conservatives to reject the difficult path of long years in graduate school with little hope of a faculty job, when it so much easier to rant and rave with little care about the arguments you're making. That's why Shapiro's first reaction to Jason Collins' announcement reflects the bigotry and the idiocy of the far right today.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Campus Copyright as Censorship

Steve Harris of Saint Louis University writes at Academe Blog about his university's threats to sue him if he surveyed faculty, on the bizarre grounds that it would violate the university's copyright over its own survey. This is both censorship and lunacy, since nothing about SLU AAUP's proposed questions would have violated any copyright law. Indeed, since the purpose of the survey was to ask the questions that SLU didn't, no one could imagine that the AAUP chapter was copying the administration. Unfortunately, the threat of litigation works, and the AAUP chapter decided to only ask one question.

Here's a list of the original questions from the SLU survey. Nothing about this survey is particularly original, useful, or valuable.
SLU's Climate Committee Survey
1) Faculty members have adequate opportunities to communicate their concerns to the University.
2) Faculty representatives to the senate, institutional committees, and other representative bodies keep their constituents informed.
3) Faculty representatives to the senate, institutional committees, and other representative bodies solicit constituents' views whenever appropriate.
4) The University regularly communicates with faculty members regarding important University matters.
5) Faculty members are made aware of imminent changes proposed by the University affecting academic matters.
6) Faculty members have access to the information they need to make knowledgeable decisions on academic matters.
7) The University responds to faculty concerns.
8) The University communicates its institutional priorities clearly to the faculty.
9) What are your perceptions of communication from the University?
10) The University appreciates the contributions of faculty.
11) The University fosters an atmosphere of trust.
12) A collaborative decision-making environment exists between the faculty and the University on academic matters.
13) The Mission of the University is reflected in the day-to-day operations of the University.
14) The President is effective in leading the University.
15) Across the University, morale is high.
16) Staff and faculty work together effectively.
17) Faculty and students have effective working relationships.
18) I would recommend Saint Louis University as a good place to work.
19) What are your perceptions of the University climate?
20) The faculty has meaningful input regarding important matters related to faculty.
21) The faculty is able to express dissenting views on University matters without fear of reprisal.
22) In general, the University acts on institution-wide faculty concerns.
23) Faculty members have the resources they need to further their teaching and research endeavors.
24) The University's organizational/management structure fosters participation in academic decision making.
25) The faculty has an influential role in establishing the University's priorities.
26) What are your perceptions of faculty being heard at the University?
27) On which campus do you work primarily?
28) How long have you been employed by Saint Louis University?

Saturday, April 06, 2013

My View of Conservative Studies

Minding the Campus recently asked 10 people, including me, to comment on the appointment of Steven Hayward to a one-year term as Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Here's what I wrote:
There's nothing inherently wrong with the field of conservative studies, or professorships in it. As the author of two books about conservatives (Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh), I'd certainly be happy to see more jobs available to study conservative ideas. Unfortunately, this particular job appears to be nothing more than preferential hiring for right-wingers, and this kind of explicit political discrimination with little regard for academic values is wrong. Talk-show host Mike Rosen, a member of the hiring committee, told the Washington Times that no liberals or even independents would be allowed in the job (or, one presumes, the lecture series). This kind of suppression sends a message not only to applicants, but also to potential students who may feel silenced in the classroom if they fail to toe the conservative line. If, like me, conservatives believe that political discrimination is wrong in academia, then they must uphold this principle for all appointments. Just as Women's Studies must be open to men, and Black Studies must be open to non-blacks, conservative studies must be open to non-conservatives.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Bowdoin's Response to the NAS

On Academe Blog, I write about the new NAS report on Bowdoin College. Here is the response from Bowdoin College to the NAS report:
The National Association of Scholars today released a report titled “What Does Bowdoin
Teach.” We will review the report because we encourage open discourse on the
effectiveness of American higher education and because we support academic freedom,
which is the essence of a liberal arts institution. 
Bowdoin will continue to assess its effectiveness by relying on many factors to evaluate
our academic and residential life programs, including the accomplishments of students,
faculty, and staff, and the achievements, loyalty, and support of alumni. The College will
also look to the informed judgment of foundations, corporations, and other outside donors
that are well versed in assessing the quality and efficacy of the institutions they support,
and we will depend on the rigorous decennial reaccreditation process. Collectively, these
and other internal measures provide us with the qualitative and quantitative means to
consider carefully how we are doing currently and what we must do to prepare for the
We are proud of our students and our commitment to build and support a community that
resembles America and the world. We are proud of our faculty who represent intellectual
rigor across the disciplines and who are both excellent teachers and engaged scholars. We
are also proud of our alumni who are leaders in all walks of life. A Bowdoin education
trains young men and women of varied backgrounds to think critically, solve complex
problems, apply sound judgment, embrace lifelong learning, and make principled
decisions in support of the common good. This is both our mission and our record.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Censorship at the University of Delaware

InsideHigherEd asks in the headline of a short take, "Censorship or Trademark Enforcement at U. of Delaware?" To answer the question asked in the title, this is absolutely 100% censorship, and there is no doubt of this fact. There are two reasons for this. First of all, UD officials threatened "severe" consequences against the students who wanted to sell the T-shirts, implying the use of the campus disciplinary system rather than the civil courts for a trademark infringement case. As FIRE notes, that's a severe threat to free speech and a complete abuse of the campus judicial system, which has no business dealing with civil cases. Second, this trademark claim is simply ridiculous. The UD certainly does not own the letters "U" and "D," and its attempt to regulate every possible reference to its university is absurd. Universities should be more tolerant of free speech than other corporations, especially when it comes to their own students. They shouldn't be threatening their students in absolutely inappropriate ways in order to censor free speech.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The "Right to Work" Myth

The “right to work” laws such as in Michigan are unfair, and hurt not just unions, but all workers. But I'm interested in the rhetoric here, and how this purely propagandistic term “right to work” is commonly used in every news story and even by its opponents. The effect is similar to what would happen if the nightly news routinely referred to attacks on abortion rights as “right to save babies” laws. Who could oppose the “right to work”?

The “right to work” laws have nothing to do with the right to work, because the union doesn't infringes on anyone's right to work. What we're talking about is the right to freeload by not paying union fees, not the right to work.

Under normal law, if you don't want to join a union, you still have to pay, in essence, a tax on your wages for the work that the union does on your behalf. If you don't like the union, you're perfectly free to oppose the union. You're free to urge your co-workers to elect different leaders, or affiliate with a different union, or abolish any union representation altogether. But it should be the collective choice of all the workers. It simply can't work if anyone is free to freeload.

The analogy here is to paying taxes to the IRS. If you don't like Congress, you're perfectly free to urge people to elect different leaders. But no sane person imagines that you have a “right to work” that includes the right not to have a portion of your wages in taxes. So why is your “right to work” violated if a small part of your income is taken away by a democratically-elected body that promotes the common good through a union?

The Republicans pushing for “right to work” don't actually believe in a right to work (after all, it's not written anywhere in the US Constitution). They want to destroy a political enemy by cutting off their funds. The right to unionize—and the right not to be punished for it by being forced to subsidize your slacker colleagues in “right to work” states—is what's truly at stake here. The “right to work” laws violate that fundamental right of association under the First Amendment by burdening pro-union workers with a greater financial burden that anti-union workers don't need to pay. In essence, “right to work” is a tax on people who want to join unions, and Republicans hope to kill unions by forcing their supporters to overcome that barrier to free association.

If you hate unions, then by all means critique them, attack them, and rationally persuade workers to get rid of them. But don't use the power of government to force an uneven playing field as a cynical political ploy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

IL AAUP Fall Meeting on Nov. 3

The Illinois AAUP (American Association of University Professors) is having its fall meeting this Saturday, and you're welcome to attend. It's free and open to everyone:

Illinois American Association of University Professors
Fall Conference

Saturday, November 3, 2012

North Park University, Magnuson Campus Center room 310

5000 N. Spaulding, Chicago, 11am-3pm, Free

Fall Meeting Schedule:

11am: Peter Kirstein, St. Xavier University, “Ten Years On: The Kirstein Suspension Case and Academic Freedom.”

Noon: Lunch (on your own, campus cafeteria)

1pm: Leo Welch, Southwestern Illinois College, “Legislative Initiatives Impacting Higher Education in Illinois.”

2pm: Michael Grossman, past president of the University of Illinois Senates Conference and Ken Andersen, University of Illinois, “Shared Governance in the 21st Century.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

My Debate in DC on Thursday

I'll be in DC this week presenting at the AAUP's annual conference on higher education, but if you can't afford the registration fee, come see me debate at Heritage Foundation on Thursday night:
How Biased Are the Campuses? A Debate in DC
How biased are the campuses? A debate between John K. Wilson & Mal Kline, Executive Director, Accuracy in Academia (AIA)
Thursday, June 14, 2012, 6-8 PM
The Van Andel Center, The Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave., NE, Washington, DC.
The event is free but please RSVP or call (202)364-3085 so that we can get a head count for free pizza.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Footnote Police, Again

Yesterday marked the 5th anniversary of DePaul University denying tenure to Norman Finkelstein, and on Academe Blog we featured essays by Peter Kirstein and Matthew Abraham, as well as interviews with Alan Dershowitz and Finkelstein.

One minor point about Dershowitz's “plagiarism” was raised in a comment by Steve Byrne as well as in Peter Kirstein's piece, where he claims:
the case against Dershowitz included his devious claim to have consulted primary and secondary sources that were lifted from Joan Peters’ Time Immemorial, without crediting the author. In my classes, such cheating would merit an F for the course as it has in the past. In my profession, such plagiarism could lead to dismissal from the academy.
In defense of Dershowitz (yes, I did actually write that), nothing he did should be considered plagiarism. He is guilty only of poor citations and mediocre scholarship. Dershowitz doesn't really deny originally finding the quotes he used from Peters' book In Time Immemorial. He has two defenses: 1) his assistants double-checked all quotes with the original sources. 2) listing the original source and not the secondary source is the proper citation method.

Dershowitz is wrong on both counts. A good scholar gives credit to his sources, even if he personally looks up the original quotes. And the proper citation method generally is to give both the original and secondary source (see this pdf guide). The reason is simple: giving only the original source misleads the reader into thinking that you personally did the archival research that discovered the source, and deprives readers of another interpretive guide to the quote that you made use of.

However, this is among the most minor of academic crimes. It is not plagiarism, and it isn't anything that a student deserves an “F” for doing. It is, at most, something that you inform a student about to help them improve, or that you reveal to show that a scholar is not really an expert in the field (as Finkelstein did).

So I entirely reject Finkelstein's charges of plagiarism against Dershowitz (in a legal, not a moral, sense). Harvard University should have dismissed them immediately (admittedly, they only investigated this at Dershowitz's request and found that he did nothing deserving of punishment). Of course, Finkelstein is completely free to have a different interpretation of plagiarism than me. But I believe the proper place to address almost all scholarly misconduct is in the realm of public debate, not administrative hearings.

When Ward Churchill was fired from the University of Colorado, I wrote an op-ed titled The Footnote Police pointing out how ridiculous it was to dismiss a tenured professor on charges of putting in footnotes that disagreed with him.

Churchill's academic crimes were minor, and deserving of criticism, not punishment. Dershowitz's academic crimes were even more minor. And Finkelstein committed no academic crimes at all (despite Dershowitz's false charges that he was “unscholarly,” since meanness is not a form of scholarly misconduct).

While I reject the false accusation of plagiarism against Dershowitz, we must keep a proper perspective on this. If we lived in a world where academic freedom was protected, then these charges and counter-charges would be part of a vibrant intellectual debate where each of us could judge the quality of the arguments and the scholarship being questioned.

But that's not what happened. Dershowitz is a tenured professor at one of the top universities in the world, who has never suffered the slightest harm because of the false charges made against him. Churchill was fired from his tenured position for political reasons using trumped up charges. And Finkelstein has been banished from academia despite doing absolutely nothing wrong. That's the real danger of setting standards of misconduct so low that almost anyone can be accused of violating them: the inevitable result is that only controversial scholars who express views out of favor with the political establishment will suffer penalties.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Right to Unionize at Private Colleges

Today's features an article about efforts to overturn the harsh limits on faculty unions at private colleges imposed by the Supreme Court in the Yeshiva case. There is one commonly-made error in this article: the assumption that managers are "ineligible for unionization." In reality, managers are only ineligible for enforcement of the right to unionize by the NLRB. Corporations (including colleges) are perfectly free to recognize the unions created by managers; they simply choose not to. In this sense, the right of faculty at private colleges to unionize is identical to their right to academic freedom: there is no government protection for it, but that's no reason why it shouldn't be recognized in campus policies and contracts, and colleges should be condemned for failing to protect these fundamental rights. While the Yeshiva decision was wrong, as a matter of principle and as a matter of fact (the faculty do not actually "manage" Yeshiva or any other college), we do not need to wait and hope that it might be overturned. Faculty at private colleges (and public colleges in states that outlaw the right to unionize) can support campus policies that defend the right of everyone on campus, including full-time faculty, to exercise their right to form a union and require administrators to recognize all democratically-elected unions.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Cheap Guide to the AAUP Conference

How to save money at the AAUP annual conference (June 13-17 in DC). Whether it's your own cash or someone else's money, it's good to save dough. The basic rules to cheapness are this: don't stay at the conference hotel, and don't eat the conference meals. The hotel meal prices at the AAUP conference aren't quite as ridiculous as they used to be, but $53 for lunch and $78 for a banquet is absurd. For food, some nearby restaurants include Axian Food Factory, Penn Grill, St. Arnold's pub, Tabard Inn, Julia's Empanadas, Nando's Peri Peri, and many more. Check for ideas, and look for lunch specials and happy hour deals. Make sure to register for the conference by May 15 to save $50 off the ridiculously high conference registration fee.

Flights: flights aren't very cheap to DC right now. Go to Farecast at Use flexible search to find the cheapest dates to travel, and get guesses on whether fares are likely to go up or down. Take a quick look at fares every day or sign up for an alert, since sometimes the fares go down just for one day. Check nearby airports: flights from Milwaukee to DC are always cheaper than from Chicago, for example, and parking is better and cheaper at MKE. Flying to Baltimore sometimes can save money, but you'll need to take the $7 MARC train (only on weekdays) to get to DC.


The AAUP hotel is the Mayflower for $234 a night (with taxes, $268). For that hotel, it's not a terrible rate, but there are a lot of cheaper alternatives. Do a search by distance from 1127 Connecticut Avenue NW to find nearby hotels that are cheaper on,,, or other sites. The District Hotel 0.5 miles away is $120 a night with taxes, but it gets mediocre reviews. Embassy Row Hotel 0.6 miles away is $166 a night with taxes, and gets decent reviews.

One key fact about DC is that hotels are much cheaper on Friday and Saturday, which is good if you're arriving late or are willing to change hotels midtrip (check rates for different dates). The Quincy Inn is rated about the same as the Mayflower, it's 0.2 miles away, and it's only $169 a night with taxes on Friday and Saturday night, but $240 a night on Thursday and even higher on Wednesday and Sunday night.

For the cheapest option I could find beyond walking distance, the Inn of Rosslyn is only $84 a night (not including taxes), and a short Metro or DC Circulator bus ride (and a little walking) to the conference hotel. It gets decent reviews for its price. The Mayflower is a block from the Farragut North stop on the Red line, and two blocks from the Farragut West on the Blue/Orange lines.

Hotwire and Priceline offer some cheap alternatives if you're willing to prepay and not know your hotel in advance. On a weekend, you can often get a hotel for near $100. Look at to guess what hotel it is by matching the stars/amenities in the location. Right now, Hotwire has a 3 ½ star hotel Tues-Thurs for $193 a night (including taxes and fees). Fri/Sat there's a 3 star for $113 (taxes included) in Georgetown that's probably the Holiday Inn, a 4-star for $120 a night that's probably the Omni Shoreham in Woodley Park, and a 4.5 star hotel for $167 a night (taxes included) that's highly likely to be the very nice Madison Hotel four blocks away.
A cheap alternative to hotels is It's basically people renting out their private homes and apartments for visitors. Sometimes it's just a room (or even a living room couch) and sometimes it's an entire apartment (you can search by room type). Search for the cheapest places that have a lot of good reviews near where you're going. (Don't forget to consider places further out, but near Metro or public transit, too.) Except for Hotwire, Priceline, or Airbnb, never prepay for a hotel, and keep checking for good last minute deals to let you cancel your reservation.

Public Transit in DC:
In addition to the Metro, check out the DC Circulator ( Not as well known as the Metrorail (which is great, but a little pricey on long trips, and crowded during rush hour) but nicer than the Metrobus, the Circulator is a $1 bus that runs along routes in Georgetown, Adams Morgan, and downtown DC. The blue route goes to Georgetown and Rosslyn metro, and it stops a few blocks NW of the Mayflower hotel. The yellow route goes to north Georgetown and Union Station, and it runs a few blocks south of the Mayflower. If you're staying far from the conference, buy a Charm Card online. That's Baltimore's transit card. It works interchangeably with the DC SmarTrip fare card for public transit, but it's cheaper. The Charm Card is $2.50 (plus $7.50 in value) ordered online ( The DC SmarTrip card is $5, by contrast. The Charm Card saves you 25 cents on every Metrorail trip, plus discounts on bus transfers. If you're doing one short trip to DC, it isn't worth it, but it's good over time and saves the hassle of buying paper cards.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Contingent Faculty Meeting May 4 at Labor Notes Conference

National Meeting of Contingent Faculty Activists, in conjunction with

Labor Notes Conference

Solidarity for the 99%

May 4-6, 2012    Chicago, Illinois  

Contingent Faculty meeting will be Friday, 3-5 PM at the conference hotel. Special rate of $15 is available to meeting participants, which includes all workshops Friday, reception with food and evening plenary program. (or register for entire conference, which will include a general campus worker industry meeting Sat. afternoon.

Agenda for contingent faculty meeting includes, subject to revision by group:

Introductions and brief reports of current struggles, especially from Chicago at East-West U, Columbia College and Roosevelt U.

Updates on unemployment benefits reform at state and national levels

Struggles of contingents within unions

Issues related to for-profit institutions:

NEA Academy relationship with on-line and for-profit providers of education for teachers

Proposal circulating for organizing effort among contingents in private institutions, especially for profits.

Reports on:

Recent New Faculty Majority Summit in Washington

Upcoming COCAL  X International Conference in Mexico City, August 10-12

New data on state of union organization among higher ed faculty and grad employees

Other issues as needed.

For further info on contingent faculty meeting or to comment on the proposed agenda, contact Joe Berry or 510-527-5889

Info on Labor Notes Conference

Labor Notes conferences are the biggest gatherings of grassroots union activists, worker center leaders, and all-around troublemakers out there—and this time we’re in Chicago! Don’t miss a weekend of inspiration, education, and agitation.

Join thousands of union members, officers, and grassroots labor activists who are on the front lines in our workplaces, our unions, and our communities. Meet troublemakers from around the country and around the world.

More than 100 meetings and workshops include contract campaigns, creative organizing tactics, beating apathy, running for local union office, bargaining over technology, understanding the economy, and reviving the strike.

Organize with others in your union, industry, or campaign. Face-to-face meetings to share tactics and swap notes are the heart of the Labor Notes Conference. Join an existing industry, union, or caucus meeting—or contact us to set one up.

Register at:

Conference Details

Schedule: Workshops and meetings begin 1 p.m. Friday, May 4, and end at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 6.

Registration: $130. Includes Saturday banquet. Some scholarships are available. Sponsor a low-wage, unemployed, or young worker by supporting the scholarship fund.

Location: Crowne Plaza Hotel at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Near Rosemont CTA train station (blue line).

Air Travel: Fly in to Chicago O’Hare (ORD). There is a free shuttle to the hotel.

For more info: Call Labor Notes at 313-842-6262 •

Plus, members to attend from: ARISE Chicago Worker Center * Autoworker Caravan * Coalition of Immokalee Workers * Farm Labor Organizing Committee * Jobs with Justice * Longshore Workers Coalition * Madison Teachers, Inc. * National Domestic Workers Alliance * National Taxi Workers Alliance * New York State Nurses Association * Portland Cross-Trades Solidarity * Railroad Workers United * Restaurant Opportunities Center United * SEIU Healthcare Illinois & Indiana * Teamsters for a Democratic Union * Transnational Information Exchange Global * Transport Workers Local 100 * United Teachers of Los Angeles and many more.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

IL AAUP Annual Meeting on Sat. April 28

Illinois AAUP Annual Meeting
Saturday, April 28, 2012
 Concordia University, 7400 Augusta St., River Forest, IL
 Christopher Center room 341
 Free to all AAUP members and guests
 Complimentary parking is available in the parking garage on the northeast side of the campus

 Annual Meeting Schedule:

 11am: Leo Welch, Illinois AAUP Legislative Liaison: Legislative initiatives impacting higher education in Illinois and nationally.

 Noon: Lunch 1pm: Robert Kreiser, National AAUP, “Committee A Matters: How the AAUP Maintains Its Credibility in Pursuing Academic Freedom and Tenure Complaints and Cases.”

 2pm: Panel discussion, “Shared Governance and Academic Restructuring: A Viable Process?” led by Dan Tomal, Concordia University, and Todd Alan Price, National-Louis University.

 3pm: Illinois AAUP membership meeting and elections.

 Email for more information.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Liberals and Speech Codes

KC Johnson wonders why liberals don't speak out against speech codes and the recent “Dear Colleagues” on campus due process by the Department of Education. The answer is: we do. In fact, Johnson links to a FIRE article that points out the fact that the AAUP and Cary Nelson wrote two letters to the OCR about the issue of due process on campus.

I criticize repressive aspects of speech codes in my books The Myth of Political Correctness (1995) and Patriotic Correctness (2008). In fact, I go much further than other critics such as FIRE, and point out the flaws in speech codes at colleges that they give a green light to. Just today, I posted an essay on Academe Blog about Liberty University, noting that it has one of the worst speech codes in the country (and one which conservative groups typically refuse to criticize). It's ridiculous to declare, as Peter Berkowitz does, that President Obama was obligated to tell colleges that they must “abolish campus speech codes.” Regulation of speech is a necessary part of any society and any campus. Otherwise, people could shout down speakers, make threats, steal newspapers, and so on, claiming free speech as their defense.

The problem is not that colleges regulate speech with codes; the problem is that their speech codes are badly written, vague, and repressive. We need better speech codes, not a nonsensical ban on speech codes. Unfortunately, it is not so easy to advocate making marginal adjustments in obscure campus regulations in order to reduce (but not eliminate) the likelihood that administrators can abuse it. Nor do I think that the federal government should be dictating speech codes to colleges. If anything, we should be urging President Obama to protect the free speech rights of federal employees in the age of Garcetti, not calling upon him to make uninformed judgments about college campuses.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Michigan House Republicans Threaten Academic Freedom

The Michigan House of Representatives is planning to vote next week on the higher education appropriations bill, which includes this frightening provision:

Sec. 273a. It is the intent of the legislature that a public university that receives funds in section 236 shall not collaborate in any manner with a nonprofit worker center whose documented activities include coercion through protest, demonstration, or organization against a Michigan business.

The aim of this legislation is to target the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, which had picketed and sued a restaurant it accused of mistreating workers. Because a social work graduate student at the University of Michigan chose to do a field placement with the organization, the Michigan Restaurant Association lobbied its Republican friends in the state legislature.

But the real target of this legislation is academic freedom, in a sleazy attempt to try to banish colleges from having any contact with activist groups disliked by certain legislators.

According to the Lansing State Journal, State Rep. Bob Genetski (R-Saugatuck), chair of the higher education subcommittee “said he’s apprehensive about giving students credit for working with organizations 'that will ill affect Michigan businesses.'” It's a clear example of conservative bias: pro-business organizations are to be praised, while organizations critical of any business are to be banned from any connection with a public college.

I emailed Rep. Genetski, asking for him to comment on this legislation and what he interprets its language to mean. So far, I have received no response.

But the wording of this legislation is particularly odd. First of all, it bans the act to “collaborate” with any such group. What, exactly, is a collaboration? Would any voluntary activity by students or faculty count? Would allowing a member of this organization to speak on campus be a collaboration?

The legislation targets any group whose activities include “coercion through protest, demonstration, or organization.” But this literally makes no sense, because there's nothing inherently coercive about a protest or demonstration, and certainly not by organizing. Pickets, protests, and similar organizing are all voluntary activities. So even if this legislation is approved, a public college could not ban collaboration with such a group unless coercion had been proven, which cannot be possible. Considering that no one has alleged illegal activity (and the legislation says nothing about it), the entire legislative language is self-contradictory, and any college that took action to ban a labor organization from campus would not only be violating the First Amendment, it would be violating this bizarre language as well.

Although the Michigan legislature is clearly lacking in English majors (and good lawyers who understand the meaning of the First Amendment), the message of all this is clear. It's an attempt at coercion. Actual coercion, imposed by the government. It's an effort to violate academic freedom by pressuring colleges to remove from campus anyone deemed too critical of corporate America, with the threat of government stepping in to cut funding if they fail to censor left-wingers (hence, the inclusion of the provision in an appropriations resolution).

Todd Gitlin calls it “the demeaning of academic freedom in Michigan,” and everyone, conservative and liberal alike, should speak out against the attempt of big government to engage in thought policing on campus against someone deemed too critical of business. They should contact legislators (see a list here) to remove this attack on free speech on campus. Faculty, staff, and students at Michigan colleges should issue formal invitations to the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, asking the organization to come speak on campus about working conditions in the restaurant industry, and invite Michigan Restaurant Association and the legislators they lobby to come speak about academic freedom and why they oppose it.

Academic freedom is too essential to be subjected to attacks by corporate lobbyists.

Crossposted at DailyKos.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Commencement Speaker Banned at Catholic College

Proving once again that religious colleges are the most repressive institutions in higher education, Anna Maria College has disinvited Victoria Kennedy, widow of Sen. Ted Kennedy, from giving the commencement address this year after the invitation was denounced by Bishop Robert J. McManus, who objected to her liberal views. Predictably, this act of censorship is celebrated by the Cardinal Newman Society.

Meanwhile, at Vanderbilt University, the student group Vanderbilt Catholic has decided to no longer be a registered student organization because they would be unable to impose leadership requirements. However, the ban on Victoria Kennedy, a pro-choice Catholic who supports gay rights, shows why it's a good thing for universities to prohibit ideological restrictions on student leaders and allow the students to choose the leaders they want. Imagine if Vanderbilt Catholics decided to choose a pro-choice Catholic as leader and someone challenged the election for violating a requirement of adherence to Catholic doctrine. Should universities be in the business of investigating the beliefs of students and then removing them from leadership posts that their fellow students elected them to?

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Case of the Censored Poet

The Illinois Wesleyan University AAUP chapter newsletter (pdf) features incisive analysis of a case last fall where a student poet had his microphone at the student center cut off mid-poem in order to avoid possibly offending people during Parents' Weekend. Here is a statement by several IWU faculty criticizing the decision:

We, the undersigned, wish to express our disapproval in the strongest possible form of the recent act of censorship of a student’s artistic performance by the Director of Student Activities, who may not have been aware of the serious academic freedom implications of his action. Censoring the free artistic expression of our students is among the most serious violations of the mission of this university and cannot be condoned. As the American Association of University Professors indicates explicitly in its statement on Academic Freedom and Artistic Expression,

"Faculty and students engaged in the creation and presentation of works of the visual and the performing arts are engaged in pursuing the mission of the university as much as are those who write, teach, and study in other academic disciplines. . . . Artistic expression in the classroom, studio, and workshop therefore merits the same assurance of academic freedom that is accorded to other scholarly and teaching activities. Since faculty and student artistic presentations to the public are integral to their teaching, learning, and scholarship, these presentations no less merit protection."

We insist that the Student Affairs Office issue clear guidelines that comport with the relevant academic freedom statements of the AAUP. Additionally we demand that the administration assure students and faculty of the university’s steadfast commitment to academic freedom and the university’s insistence that all members of the campus community conduct themselves in a manner consistent with the principles of academic freedom.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A False Charge of “Incitement to Violence”

The conservative site, The College Fix, offers up an article by Emily Schrader reporting that students “at the University of Pennsylvania have ignited tensions nationwide with their choice of headliners for their upcoming anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) conference.”

Schrader targets Ali Abunimah for being a keynote speaker at the event: “Abunimah in particular is highly controversial, having repeatedly condemned a two-state solution, and having gone on record with comments that sound a great deal like incitement to violence against Israelis.”

As for the claim that Abunimah is guilty of “incitement to violence against Israelis,” it's an absolutely outrageous lie. The proof Schrader offers is this quote:
In 2002 he told the Washington Post, “If Israel is going to maintain a military occupation over millions of people by nothing but brute force, then no power on earth is going to stop some of these occupied people responding in kind. The only way to end the violence is to end the occupation.”
Nothing in this statement can possibly sound like incitement to violence. In fact, Abunimah declares in this same lengthy interview about suicide bombings, “Such bombings are horrific and need to stop.” He added, “no good can come out of murdering innocent civilians. Palestinians have to stop doing it....” The quote Schrader emphasizes is simply a recognition of the fact that some people under occupation turn to violence. There's no endorsement of violence here, and it's hard to conceive how anyone could call it “incitement to violence.”

At least Schrader does not openly call for censorship of the conference. But incitement to violence is one of the traditional valid justifications for repression of free speech. That makes this utterly absurd claim (quoted with approval at Phi Beta Cons) such a disturbing idea. There are plenty of legitimate critiques a rational person can make against the divestment movement or Abunimah's argument. But “incitement to violence” isn't even remotely close to being true.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NAS Now Claims to Oppose Preferences for Hiring Conservative Professors

In an essay on the NAS blog, Glenn Ricketts proudly declares that NAS' principled opposition to all hiring or admissions preferences: “This means that faculty hiring, student admissions, scholarship awards or any aspect of the academic enterprise should be guided by individual merits without regard to racial, ethnic and sexual criteria, or any other a priori ascriptive criteria. That includes some recent proposals for giving preference to conservatives or to male undergraduate applicants. Nope, no preferences based on group identity however it’s defined, period. That’s been the NAS position since our founding in 1987, and we’re sticking to it.”

This claim of a principled position might be more plausible if it were actually the NAS position. It's not. Less than a year ago, the NAS published an exchange between me and NAS head Peter Wood, in which Wood endorses David Horowitz's proposal for political preferences for conservatives in the hiring of visiting professors. As far as I know, no one in the NAS has ever criticized this stand of affirmative action hiring for conservatives. Wood defended his claim with the absolutely absurd position that visiting professors aren't real faculty. As I pointed out, that's not true, and even if it weren't factually wrong, I'm appalled that Wood thinks politically-based hiring of anyone at a college should be acceptable.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The ROTC Ban Myth Strikes Again

KC Johnson at Minding the Campus is wrong on two points. He is simply mistaken when he writes, "the universities banned ROTC." Neither Brown nor any other university banned ROTC. As I wrote on Academe Blog, the banning of ROTC is a myth.

Johnson claims, "There never was a coherent intellectual rationale for Brown’s policy." This is false. There is a clear intellectual rationale. One issue is equality, and the continuing ban on transgender soldiers is a continuation of concern about supporting bias against Brown students. But the primary intellectual rationale is that the faculty should decide faculty hiring and control the curriculum. In 1969, this was the reason why the military withdrew ROTC from Brown, and the faculty were right then and they're right today.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Misleading Hatchet Job on David Protess

Michael Miner's hatchet job on David Protess is depressing to read, not because it's right, but because it's so wrong. Miner distorts and omits key facts while he presents the prosecutor's case. But worst of all, he betrays the spirit of advocacy journalism that the Chicago Reader is supposed to be celebrating on its 40th anniversary.

Miner notes that Protess' Innocence Project worked with the Center on Wrongful Convictions and declares, “no, it's not the way journalists are supposed to act.”
Why the hell not? Nobody has a problem with law schools advocating for the innocent. Why should journalism schools be any different? What part of the words “Innocence Project” are unclear? It is, by definition, an advocacy project, and a damned good one.

While claiming that the university established that Protess had falsified an email, Miner omits the very important fact that Protess told Northwestern at the time that he had altered the email Miner finds so damning, and that he had urged Northwestern to get the information themselves. Miner reprints at length a series of utterly pointless emails from Protess, which only establish what Protess admits and everyone knows: Protess worked closely with defense attorneys. So what? Beyond unfairly smearing Bryan Smith of Chicago magazine because he had enough sense not to waste his readers' time with such nonsense, Miner implies they prove Protess did something wrong without ever explaining why.

Meanwhile, Miner omits numerous important facts, such as the fact that prosecutors sought grades and emails that everyone knows were never revealed to defense attorneys.

If, due to the failings of our legal system, Protess lost the “journalistic privilege” for his classes by providing information to defense attorneys, then so be it. But it's no reason for a professor to be banned from teaching a class or forced out of a university.

It's particularly disappointing that Miner concludes his article by praising what happened to Protess as “proper” and “necessary”: “The first generation has left the building.” No, the first generation was shoved out of the building. Banned from teaching a class, and then forced out of a job.

If the fuzzy “rules” of journalism are supposed to be sacrosanct, what about the very clear rules of due process and academic freedom in the Northwestern Faculty Handbook, which require any suspension of a faculty member to include a hearing before a faculty committee with actual evidence presented and proof of intentional deception provided? Why has Miner never written a single word about the fact that the Northwestern administration violated its own rules in punishing Protess?

It's particularly appalling that around the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Reader, where Miner has been publishing for 40 years as part of a leading example of (at its best) crusading, advocacy journalism, Miner buys into this nonsense of objective journalism. If the people who forced out Protess had their way, the advocacy journalism in newspapers like the Chicago Reader would never exist. Miner's memo for the prosecution is a betrayal of everything the Chicago Reader ever stood for.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Statistics of Victimization

Ted Gup in the Chronicle of Higher Education repeats some of the usual fake statistics aimed at promoting conservatives as victims on campus: “The American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that almost half of students believed in-class discussions of politics were too one-sided. Almost one-third said they felt they had to agree with the professor to get a good grade.”

I can find nothing in ACTA's 2004 survey about one-sided classroom discussions; 49% did agree that “some panel discussions and presentations on political issues seem totally one-sided,” but even I would agree with that. Anyone with a strong point of view who gives a speech on campus is going to be one-sided.
It's true that 29% did agree, “On my campus, there are courses in which students feel they have to agree with the professor's political or social views in order to get a good grade." However, ACTA surveys never ask students for their own experiences; they always ask students to speculate about whether there are some courses where this happens, which makes them entirely worthless.

In an ACTA survey in Missouri, 51 percent agreed that “On my campus, there are courses in which students feel they have to agree with the professor’s political or social views in order to get a good grade.” Omitted in the report (unless you examine the full list of questions in the appendix) was this question: “On my campus, some professors penalize students because of the student's political or social views.” Only 12 percent of students agreed with this secondhand rumor that “some” professors do this, even though it seems almost identical to the question that got 51 percent support.

A 2008 Georgia study that ACTA did not conduct found much more ambiguous political results. Only 23% of students reported having to agree with a professor to get a good grade. 25.2% of Republicans (vs. 19.3% of Democrats) reported this. For two-thirds of the students, this only happened once in college (and it was less likely to happen frequently to Republicans: 1.8% of Republicans, but 6.2% of Democrats, reported it happened 5 or more times). Part of the party difference may reflect a desire by Republicans not to have their views challenged. Only 40.5% of Republicans (vs. 59% of Democrats) considered it important for instructors to challenge their beliefs. More Democrats (22.8%) than Republicans (16.8%) reported "low" respect for the political views of all students.

Of course, even if we did find more conservatives than liberals report feeling bias, it would not be proof of it. Self-reported bias is highly unreliable, and the fact that creationists might feel uncomfortable in a biology class discussion about evolution is the fault of their own ignorant and unscientific beliefs, not political bias by professors. A student who devoutly believes in astrology is not necessarily the victim of political bias in an astronomy class, even if they feel like they must betray their own ideas and agree with scientific reality in order to get a good grade.

Friday, October 14, 2011

God and Truth at Erskine College

Last month, Peter Wood and Ashley Thorne of the National Association of Scholars wrote an article of extraordinary ambivalence, refusing to criticize Erskine College for firing of Bill Crenshaw because of his outspoken defense of science.

Wood and Thorne write about my earlier criticism of Erskine's firing, “Wilson’s characterization of what happened at Erskine is off the mark. He is vilifying Erskine simply for offering faith-based education. This is not a case of a conservative college repressing a pro-science professor. It is a Christian college attempting to adhere to its own clear values as it struggles with the case of a professor who plainly rejects those values—and apparently carries his dissent to the point of dissuading potential applicants and donors.”

This is absolutely false. This is a case of a conservative college repressing a pro-science professor.

Wood and Thorne are even unwilling to criticize the obvious abuse of the term “harm” in the Erskine faculty handbook used by the administration to justify Crenshaw's firing. Wood and Thorne argue, “Encouraging people not to donate to or enroll at Erskine certainly counts as “harm” to a college. Whether this is the kind of 'harm' originally contemplated in the now obsolete handbook is a rather lawyerly question. The AAUP says no; Erskine College says (via a spokesman to Inside Higher Ed) that there are harms beyond the merely physical that warrant administrative intervention.”

It is notable that Crenshaw declares, “I did not tell anyone to quit donating and I did not tell any parent not to send children to Erskine,” and no evidence has been presented proving he did this. But even if he did, it seems perfectly obvious that “harm to himself or others” in the handbook refers strictly to physical harm. If harm beyond the “merely physical” can now justify firing a professor, then it's hard to imagine anything that could not qualify. A student who receives a bad grade suffers a “harm” from it. A professor who criticizes the administration can be said to “harm” it. A discussion on campus that offends someone can be deemed to “harm” them emotionally. And anyone on campus who says something controversial can be accused of “harm” to college fundraising. This may be a “lawyerly question” in the sense that a lawyer for the college can invent rationalizations that are plainly contrary to any common sense meaning, but why is the NAS embracing the administration's side in firing critical faculty?

Ashley Thorne writes on Phi Beta Cons, “The AAUP and others take it as a given that religious faith is incompatible with scientific inquiry. Peter and I disagree.” This is absurd. Of course religious faith can be compatible with scientific inquiry. Plenty of scientists are religious. But they understand that scientific reality cannot be ignored simply because particularly ignorant fundamentalists imagine that not one iota of their vision of religious dogma must never be challenged. Young earth creationism cannot be defended by any scientific analysis, but that scientific fact is only incompatible with a particularly crazed interpretation of Christianity. It is bizarre to imagine that the essence of Christian faith is the false belief that the Earth was created 10,000 years ago. That's why devoutly religious colleges can and should employ scientists.

It's actually Thorne and Wood who argue that religious faith cannot be compatible with scientific inquiry, and therefore religious dogma justifies the expulsion from religious colleges of those who believe in science.

Now, it is a separate issue as to whether religious colleges should employ people who reject their faith. As an atheist, I'm appalled that hundreds of conservative religious colleges ban me from being hired, while I'm not aware of a single university in America that excludes fundamentalist Christians. I think that a truly religious college is a place where faith is the center of the conversation, not a place where everyone agrees with a particular religious dogma. Therefore, I believe that religious colleges should welcome atheists and encourage religious dissenters who challenge the faith of their students.

However, that argument has nothing to do with the Crenshaw case, because science is perfectly compatible with religious faith. Wood and Thorne argue, “The harsh antipathy between faith and science conjured in some of Professor Crenshaw’s statements is mostly if not entirely a secularist illusion.” Apparently the belief that Crenshaw was fired is a secularist illusion. But as Crenshaw noted in my interview with him, “I do not think, and have never said, that religious faith and scientific inquiry are incompatible.”

Wood and Thorne argue that “the doctrine of academic freedom be conceived as sufficiently capacious to allow room for minds that are open to religious truth.” That's a great idea, and I agree with it. So shouldn't academic freedom allow room for Crenshaw's mind to believe in a religious truth that also allows for scientific truth?

Ironically, Wood and Thorne blame their failure to defend academic freedom in the Crenshaw case on the AAUP: “The AAUP’s 1940 statement, however, was purposely vague. Far from settling the question of how religious colleges can or should protect academic freedom, it set up an ambiguity that has repeatedly led to confrontations.”

That assessment of the 1940 Statement is true. And that's why the AAUP and the American Association of Colleges in 1970 adopted a series of Interpretive Comments, among which was this: “Most church-related institutions no longer need or desire the departure from the principle of academic freedom implied in the 1940 Statement, and we do not now endorse such a departure.”

Everything in the 1970 Interpretive Comments is fully part of the AAUP's fundamental principles (indeed, it's more important than the 1940 Statement because the 1970 Comments supercede the 1940 Statement at any points where they conflict).

There is no ambiguity in the AAUP's 1970 Comments. They clearly state that religious colleges should follow the same principles of academic freedom as secular colleges.

But Wood and Thorne reject this universal idea of academic freedom, preferring to carve out a far more restricted concept for professors at religious colleges: “We should be able to conceive of ideals of academic freedom that can thrive in the setting of creedal communities. If not, the doctrine of academic freedom itself is exposed as a conceit too weak to match the actual circumstances of higher learning.” The fault, dear NAS, lies in yourselves, not in the doctrine of academic freedom. Academic freedom is a conceit strong enough for everyone, except when some people refuse to apply it to actual violations of intellectual liberty.

I can find no other instance where the NAS ever blamed the victim of an attack on academic freedom, as they do when they attack “Crenshaw for his destructive antagonism towards the college.” The NAS has defended plenty of professors who criticize the administration of their colleges. Wood and Thorne are embracing a double standard, refusing to acknowledge repression when it is aimed at a controversial “liberal” professor who supports science.

Interview with Bill Crenshaw

Bill Crenshaw was fired in August from his job at Erskine College by President David Norman. The AAUP wrote a letter in his defense. Since then, Crenshaw has come under attack from groups like the National Association of Scholars, so I decided to email Crenshaw a few questions about his case.

1. It's been reported that you were willing to accept a retirement offer, but Erskine would have required that you not criticize the administration. Is that true? How much were they willing to pay you to stay quiet?

Norman offered to continue my salary and retirement package for two more years. I had to do only two things: retire, and stop criticizing the direction Erskine was going. The total would run about $140,000 over two years, although they had financial contingency clauses built in. I believe Greg has a copy of this agreement. If not, I can send it to you.

I agreed to discuss the offer with my lawyer.

I was tempted to take that offer for several hours. I have been under active attack for six or seven years now, and an hour and a half or so with Norman made it all seem like more than enough grief. But the temptation didn’t last long. It boiled down to my living with myself. What was being offered was hush money. It was a bribe. I’ve spent many years being vocal about the problems facing Erskine. I wasn’t going to be bought off. As I told my wife and lawyer that weekend, I won’t take a dime in hush money, but I’ll take what I can get in compensatory and punitive damages.
2. Norman sent you an email on August 23 saying that, “The College cannot permit you to hold your position on an active basis and while doing so [permit you to] encourage people to quit donating to Erskine and to quit sending their kids to Erskine.” Of course, encouraging or discouraging donations, and advising students about the correct colleges to attend, are fully protected by academic freedom. But did you actually ever tell someone to quit donating to Erskine, or tell a parent not to send their children to Erskine?

I did not tell anyone to quit donating and I did not tell any parent not to send children to Erskine. The quotations he cites are, in context, clearly part of an ongoing discussion with alumni on the Facebook sites that the alumni themselves set up. The discussion concerned the purpose of the Facebook site. I can dig up, I think, the entire discussion for the context. The alumni themselves had already discussed not sending their children and withholding their contributions. I did not suggest the idea; I did not endorse it. I did say, as many alums had already, that using the Facebook merely as a place to complain would not get them a seat at a negotiation table.

As for giving, I donated $3000.00 to Erskine at the end of June by allowing a stipend attached to my chair to roll over unused into the general fund. I had hope to be reimbursed through restricted English department funds, but even then, my expenditures would have been less than $3000.00. In addition, when asked last summer by a colleague about the advisability of sending his children to Erskine, I did not discourage him in any way.

3. Do you reject the values of Erskine College and the religious requirements for faculty, and did you ever seek actively to undermine the college’s mission?
Absolutely not. I am a graduate of Wofford College, a sister school to Erskine (or was when I first came). I’m the son of a Methodist minister.

What I do reject is the recent fundamentalist interpretation of the mission, which was not the interpretation through most of my 35 years at Erskine; I do seek to prevent a more stringent theological litmus test being imposed on new faculty.

When I came to Erskine we had a Jewish professor and Roman Catholic professors on the faculty. Under the current policies, Jews will not be hired and outside of modern languages, Catholics are rarely hired.

4. Ashley Thorne and Peter Wood of the NAS argue, “It is Crenshaw, not Erskine College, who seems to think that religious faith and scientific inquiry are incompatible.” Do you think that religious faith and scientific inquiry are incompatible?

No, I do not think, and have never said, that religious faith and scientific inquiry are incompatible. The idea that you can’t do science and be a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew, or any other believer or a non-believer is insulting on its face.

However, scientific inquiry and a fundamentalist literalism about the Bible are indeed incompatible. In one’s personal life, faith separate from science serves a variety of important functions and meets many needs.

But the question is not one of faith, but dogma: dogma cannot trump fact at a college with the least pretensions to academic integrity and intellectual honesty. Erskine teaches science honestly and does not deny faith, nor does it let dogma dictate what is and is not accept from modern scientific understanding. I want to keep it that way.