Jean Yarbrough, a distinguished political philosopher at Bowdoin College, describes her personal and intellectual journey in a brief, engaging campus talk, published here.
She entered college in the mid-1960s a liberal Democrat, from a “blue collar/middle class” neighborhood on Long Island, the first generation in her family to attend university.
In those heady days on campus, she moved left and eventually joined the Students for a Democratic Society, the most prominent leftist group of the era.
In graduate school, though, she began to rethink her views as she grappled with truly great books.
“Having wasted my undergraduate years protesting,” she said the first peg of her conservatism developed when she began studying the “great texts” in her graduate program at the New School for Social Research in New York City. “I read great books, and these books changed my life. They made me think more seriously about the world around me.” . . .
The books she read during this period pushed her to carefully consider the importance of natural rights, constitutional government, statesmanship, and virtue — its role in society and how it can be cultivated.
She goes on to discuss her changing views about foreign policy, marriage-motherhood-and-feminism, religion, and economics. It’s thoughtful, candid, and accessible.
At a time when students at so many schools refuse to hear alternative views, it’s wonderful to see Prof. Yarbrough given a respectful hearing on her campus and a chance to engage students with serious, often-difficult and controversial ideas. That’s what higher education should be about.
As an addendum, Prof. Yarbrough includes some of her favorite books on politics. A specialist in American political thought, she knows the field well and has written highly-regarded books on Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt. Her list is worth pondering–and pursuing.
The University of Chicago doesn’t hide its defense of free speech and open discourse in the footnotes. It puts free speech front and center, in a video directed at all students thinking of applying to the University. It states our university values forthrightly, explains why they matter, and shows that we have held them since the university was founded, sometimes against rich and powerful opposition.
What’s amazing–and disheartening–is that these same values are not adopted by every college and university. What’s their principled objection to diversity of thought and free speech?
A few may have such principled objections, based on their notions of “social justice.” They know what is socially just; they know what is not; and they know the whole topic is just too important to debate. So, they reason, agree with us or at least have the courtesy to keep quiet.
DePaul is like that. It took away the students’ chalk last year after someone had the temerity to write “Trump 2016” on a sidewalk. This Catholic school banned a poster, “Unborn Lives Matter,” for fear it would upset black students. There’s more robust debate on the back of a cereal box.
But most university administrators have no principled objections to free speech. They just go with the flow, unwilling to face the opposition from students and faculty that would greet them if they urged a hearing for unpopular viewpoints.
The poster boy for this invertebrate position is Peter Salovey, president of Yale. It’s bad enough he fails to defend free speech. He goes further, patting himself on the back for supporting the First Amendment. “Lux et Veritas” may be the university motto, but only if the lux is environmentally-friendly and the veritas is approved by local truth squad. Otherwise, not so much.
Salovey’s stance is similar to most college administrators. They simply do what successful career bureaucrats always do: protect their positions and that of their institutions from any controversy. That may keep the campus quiet, but is that really the highest goal of education?
I’m reluctant to post too much about my own university, despite my great admiration for its intellectual traditions and commitment to free speech.
It seems too much like preening.
(CAVEAT: Even at Chicago, there are some departments and centers that fall well short of the aspiration of diverse viewpoints. They are the same ones that rot and stink in the sun on all campuses.
There are also student groups that are happy to stomp out speech with which they disagree. The misnamed “Students for Justice in Palestine” leads this vile pack, as they do on many campuses. They show no signs of accepting John Locke’s 1689 “Letter Concerning on Toleration,” or the Enlightenment ideals that build upon it and serve as this country’s foundation.
Even with these gaps and missteps, Chicago’s values in principle and in practice are far better than at places like Swarthmore, Yale, or Berkeley, where free speech and discordant views go to die. They are buried in unmarked graves, unmourned by students who fritter away hard-won constitutional freedoms so they can signal their higher virtue.)
This University of Chicago video is exactly what all schools should be saying to their prospective students. The punchline comes in the first 3 minutes, but the whole 10 minutes are worth watching.
Kudos to the university’s faculty and administrators who put free speech and diversity of ideas front and center. Kudos to the Dean of the College and the admissions department for underscoring these principled commitments.
Kudos, too, for adopting the informal motto:
Audiatur et Altera Pars: Listen Even to the Other Side.
Comment: The situation is incredibly dangerous. North Korea’s leader is not only bellicose. He may well be mentally unstable. No one is sure.
South Korea’s capital and largest city, Seoul, is very close to the DMZ, and very vulnerable to attack–including a nuclear attack by Pyongyang.
China could put the squeeze on North Korea, but that does not mean it has control over the Kim regime’s actions. Beijing knows that China’s population is also threatened by North Korean weapons and that the two countries have a complicated, sometimes fraught history.
My hunch is that Beijing would prefer to engineer a change of leadership that is friendly to China, less bellicose, and willing to pursue a Chinese-style market opening. But trying to achieve that is very risky.
An embattled student group at Wichita State University is finally free to engage in on-campus activism as a registered student organization. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of the Wichita State University Student Government overturned the Student Government Association’s unconstitutional decision to deny recognition to Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian student group, because of the group’s belief in First Amendment principles. –FIRE, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education
Comment: If you support free speech and don’t already know about FIRE, you’ll be happy to learn about it. It is truly even-handed, defending right and left alike.
◆Related Story: Meanwhile, at Wellesley, a very selective liberal arts college, the student newspaper writes:
Wellesley is certainly not a place for racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia or any other type of discriminatory speech. Shutting down rhetoric that undermines the existence and rights of others is not a violation of free speech; it is hate speech. (The Wellesley News via HotAir)
These students actually say that the “Founding Fathers” (a phrase that must stick in their craw) “put free speech in the Constitution as a way to protect the disenfranchised . . . [and] suppressed, not to protect a free-for-all where anything is acceptable, no matter how hateful and damaging.”
Comment: The First Amendment does not mean “anything is acceptable.” As everyone knows, you cannot yell fire falsely in a crowded theater. Nor can you take a bullhorn and wake up the whole neighborhood at 3 am with your rendition of “I did it my way.” There are, in other words, some legal restrictions on the time, place, and conditions for speech. There are legal remedies for “damaging” speech, if it is false and defamatory (and perhaps known to be false when uttered).
But for Wellesley students to actually defend their speech suppression as being true to the First Amendment is either disingenuous or historically clueless. Either way, it is wrong.
◆ Two data-driven opinion pieces on wealth disparities between blacks and whites with college degrees
There were the obvious crazy things happening like the website melting down, Ukraine, and the horrible ISIS beheadings; these sort of manufactured press stories that hopefully you all have forgotten about. –Daily Caller
Comment: Those manufactured stories were nothing compared to that fake moon landing.
Many thanks to Christopher Buckley for the Wellesley story
Hand-picked and farm-fresh– ⇒Linked articles in bold purple
◆Brexit bill nears final Parliamentary passage(BBC) The Lords made changes to the Commons’ bill, but those are expected to be reversed when Commons reconsiders. When the EU Withdrawal Bill finally passes with an agreed text, expected this week, Britain is expected to quickly trigger “Article 50,” starting the formal Brexit process.
◆ Democrats’ answer to replacing Obamacare. No, No, and Hell No.
⇒ They have opted for the Groucho Marx Strategy: “Whatever It Is, I’m Against It”
Quartz adds that the leaks show how powerful new encryption methods are.
While Snowden revealed that telcos handed over data about their customers to the NSA in bulk, there is no sign in the Vault 7 documents that the CIA can hack into encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp or Signal and use that to carry out mass surveillance. To see what’s on your phone, the agency must get access to the phone itself. –Quartz
Comment from Michael Lipson: Maybe the most revolutionary thing was that the CIA needed to have physical contact with a lot of the target devices. I would have suspected that they’d master alternative delivery methods. (Michael Lipson is Director of Technology for the web-based company, Swappa.)
Fortunately, state legislatures, alumni and philanthropists are planting little academic platoons that will make campuses less intellectually monochromatic. One such, just launched, is Arizona State University’s School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership. . . .
Some academics who relish progressivism’s hegemony on campuses, and who equate critical thinking with disparagement, will regret and resist things like ASU’s new school. . . .
Here and around the country this purpose is being advanced by entities such as ASU’s new school, teaching the history of ideas and statesmanship. This growing archipelago of excellence will leaven academia with the diversity that matters most. –George Will
You can credit — or blame — progressives for this enthusiastic embrace of censorship. It reflects, in part, the influence of three popular movements dating back decades:
the feminist anti-porn crusades,
the pop-psychology recovery movement and
the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses. –Wendy Kaminer
Comment: All correct. I would add one more: Embracing the Creed of Victimization, which comes with the pernicious idea that designated victims groups can declare their injuries based on whatever they subjectively feel and these issues are beyond serious debate. To debate them is to “blame the victim.”
Question: If you were to design policies to help with deaths of despair, what would you do?
Deaton: I’d tackle opioids for a start. I mean, that’s the easy bit. I don’t think think a lot of those deaths would have taken place anyway. People who die of opioid overdoses are not trying to kill themselves. It really is this business where if you relapse, you die. And that’s not true for alcohol or other things. –Angus Deaton
Hand-picked and farm-fresh– ⇒Linked articles in bold purple
◆ Comment:The Trump presidency will be in deep trouble if it cannot pass a repeal-and-replace bill.
Right now, the White House and Congressional leadership face real problems from the right in House (which doesn’t want to keep Obamacare’s big subsidies to the poor, locking in an entitlement) and centrist Republicans in the Senate (who fear they cannot be reelected in moderate states if they repeal these subsidies). Think: small fairway with a water hazard on the right and thick bushes on the left.
The House Freedom Caucus expresses principled opposition to entitlement expansion. Basically, they want repeal without replace. The members are all in safe districts that Trump won, so the members may be reluctant to oppose a president popular among their voters. It’s hard to know if these members can be pressured by Speaker Ryan and the White House to sell out their principles.
The moderate Senators are harder to pressure because they fear a wrong vote could cost them their seats. In the past, they could be coaxed by side-payments. That’s what Pres. Obama did with the “Cornhusker Kickback” and “Louisiana Purchase.” Those backfired and they won’t work this time.
This is sausage-making at its bloodiest. It’s not even clear the pig is dead yet.
Comment: Although Turkey is a NATO member and the lobbying work was not illegal, it is stunning that he did not register as a “foreign agent” contemporaneously (he is only doing so now) and that the Trump vetting team didn’t catch this advance. He can’t say he forgot. The check was for $500k. It is a very good thing he’s already gone.
◆ Top Democrats’ tech aide, now under criminal investigation, had access to their private emails, including DNC emailsThe details are here. (Daily Caller)
Imran Awan — the lead suspect in a criminal probe into breaches of House of Representatives information security systems — possessed the password to an iPad used by then-Democratic National Committee Chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz when DNC emails were given to WikiLeaks. . . .
The FBI requested access to the DNC’s server to find out who was responsible, but the DNC refused, FBI Director James Comey said, according to The Hill.
Politico reported that New York Rep. Gregory “Meeks and, to a larger extent, Wasserman Schultz, are said to have a friendly personal relationship with Awan and his wife, according to multiple sources.”
House authorities set their sights on the Awans while investigating the existence of a secret server that was funneling congressional data off-site.
They also suspect Imran of stealing money and equipment. –Daily Caller
The University of Chicago could soon implement new policies that would severely limit “those engaged in disruptive conduct” from preventing “others from speaking or being heard.”
A recently-released faculty committee report also suggests establishing “free speech deans-on-call” trained to “deal with disruptive conduct” in order to ensure students are not prevented from expressing themselves on campus. –Anthony Gockowski at Campus Reform
Parini and Callanan, the distinguished scholars who have headed up this effort, deserve high praise for it.
At the bottom of this blog post, I quote the exemplary principles they lay out.
◆ Let’s go beyond praising the free-speech petition and use the signatures to show where support free speech comes from and where the opposition lies.
◆ So far, 63 faculty members have signed on. More might join in the next few days.
◆ They come from a broad variety of departments–but not all.
In fact, it is worthwhile to examine the departmental affiliations of who signed up for free speech and, on the other side, those who signed the counter-petition (prior to the speech), demanding Murray stay away and then sliming him with false allegations about his views and scholarly findings.
Most (but not all) of Allison Stanger’s colleagues in political science signed the pro-free speech petition, as did she. That’s not surprising. She was, of course, injured in the riots, and some of her friends and colleagues undoubtedly wanted to show solidarity with her.
Parini’s colleagues in English and American Literature signed in larger numbers than most departments. Support from literature departments would not happen at most universities. That it did at Middlebury may reflect the kind of department Parini helped build or simply his colleagues’ friendship.
Who signed the petition beyond faculty in Political Science and Literature? The bulk were in the “hard social sciences” (Economics, Psychology), History, Russian, Math, Chemistry, Geology, and, surprisingly, Religion.
(By “hard social sciences,” I mean those, like economics and psychology, that aspire to be sciences, emphasize large data bases, mathematical models, and empirical testing of causal models. Fields like anthropology and history certainly use data, but they are generally more interested in the actors’ mentalities, intentions, and meanings. Thus, “hard” does not mean difficult, and “soft” does not mean squishy.)
Who refused to sign? There were zero signatures from the following departments and minors:
African American Studies, African Studies, American Studies, Arabic, Comparative Literature, Dance, Education Studies, French, Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies, Global Health , Greek, Hebrew-Classical, Hebrew-Modern, International and Global Studies, International Politics and Economics, Latin, Linguistics , Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Physical Education, Physics, South Asian Studies , Spanish and Portuguese, Studio Art, and Theatre
That is based on the stated affiliations of the signatories, compared to Middlebury’s official list of its departments and majors. It is possible, of course, that some signatories have “affiliate appointments” in these departments or that the departments have no exclusive faculty of their own.
The data show
Supporters of free speech come disproportionately from the physical sciences, “hard” social sciences, and, to a lesser extent, the biosciences.
Opposition comes from the Humanities, Arts, and softer social sciences. Because social justice.
That distribution reflects my own experience across multiple universities (but is not based on systematic data).
On nearly every campus, the staunchest opponents are professors of gender, sexuality, women’s studies, race, Native American studies, education, and social work, all highly-politicized bastions of the left. American Studies is now essentially the same and so are most literature departments. (Middlebury is an outlier.)
They always lead the opposition to free speech. Because social justice.
If students don’t agree with the dominant political ideology of these departments, they leave or never enter in the first place. (It is snarky but true to add that students don’t enter them if they are thinking about building skills for future employers. My point is that they are not building skills for open-minded, critical thinking, either.)
These departments never hire professors who vary from the party line. Never.
Here, for example, are the three full-time faculty in Middlebury’s gender studies program. All three signed the “Keep Murray Away” petition. NONE signed the free speech petition. That is anecdotal, of course, but it is repeated on campus after campus. You would be hard fixed to find professors of Gender Studies, Sexuality, Race Studies, Education, or Social Work who take a strong position in favor of free speech. And they are pretty thin on the ground in theater or comparative literature. All think it would permit “oppressive” speech that hurts the weak, poor, and vulnerable.
The dominant ideology of departments like these is:
America is an exploitative country and a malevolent force in the world;
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren on the right track but too willing to compromise, too willing to work within “the system”
America and our college campuses are composed of two main groups: the oppressed and the privileged. Our departments stand with the oppressed. They are simultaneously powerful and vulnerable, needing “safe spaces” to express their views unchallenged. A space is unsafe not because of any physical threat but because certain views (or even the presence of certain people) can produce psychic injury.
As professors are activists, inside the classroom and outside. Our teaching is explicitly designed to improve the situation of the oppressed and to assign blame to the oppressors.
Designated oppressors should feel guilty and can partially absolve themselves by following our movement, not by leading or questioning it.
Put differently: February is “Black History Month” only because it is the shortest month.
Their viewpoint is summarized in Bernie Sanders’ angry rejection of the idea that America is a compassionate country. His fury is brief and telling.
Turning to the brighter side:
⇒ The Middlebury Principles are excellent.
It is hard to see why all faculty and students don’t endorse them enthusiastically.
That they do not is the tragedy of our time on campus.
Middlebury’s Political Science department, however, has agreed to promote and co-sponsor the event [featuring author Charles Murray]. Department chair Bertram Johnson says he asks two basic questions when considering whether to sponsor a lecture: “Is it related to political science and is there sufficient interest that it would generate student interest and attendance?” Meanwhile, Middlebury College President Laurie Patton plans to attend the lecture because, as her spokesman put it, “Our view is that if we stand for anything, it’s the free exchange of ideas.” –Harry Zieve Cohen, writing in The American Interest
Comment: Kudos to Middlebury. The department chair and university president said exactly the right thing. Other colleges should follow their lead.
◆ Kellyanne Conway’s feet. That’s what the media and Twitterverse are interested in.
She tucked her feet under herself on top of the Oval Office couch. The media went crazy attacking her. (Here’s the NYT story.)
They said nothing–nor should they have–about Pres. Obama putting his feet on the desk in the same office.
By the way, far and away the dumbest comment comes from Marc Lamont Hill. As usual, you can’t make up stuff this dumb.
Comment: Give it a rest. It’s not discourteous or wrong. What is discourteous is downplaying what was really happening in the room. The President was meeting with the heads of many historically-black colleges, all gathered around his desk.
With VR it’s about you being convinced that you’re physically in another space. VR is an embodied medium: creators are taking that detached eye and reattaching it to someone’s face. VR reminds us of the nuances of experiences, what connects people with each other, with places, with things in the real world. And that to me is the key to really understanding what kind of storytelling could even exist in a VR space. –MIT Technology Review
♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions: ◆ Tom Elia for Middlebury College free-speech issue
Fed officials predicted in December that they would raise the benchmark rate three times this year. But they have cautioned that changes in fiscal policy could alter those plans. If Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans seek to increase growth, for example by cutting taxes or spending a lot on infrastructure and the military, the Fed could raise rates more quickly.
If Mr. Trump’s policies weigh on growth, the Fed could move more slowly. –NYT
The focus is on British philosophers, who once appeared regularly on the BBC and could speak plainly about big issues. They have disappeared from the landscape, to Britain’s loss, says the New Statesman. Now, they say, philosophers only write for each other in obscure journals.
Comment: No philosopher has ever been seen on American television, except for Homer Simpson.
◆ Quote of the Day: Theresa May knee-caps Labour leader (and all-round doofus) Jeremy Corbyn:
He can lead a protest. I’m leading a country. –Theresa May
Comment: May’s strength and total self-confidence in destroying Corbyn during Prime Minister’s Question Time was reminiscent of another PM three decades ago
◆ Comment: Senate Democrats now caught between “fight” and “flight” over SCOTUS nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
The base wants blood and a measure of revenge for Republicans’ refusal to vote on Pres. Obama’s nominee for the Court. That makes opposition easy for Senators from Deep Blue states, led by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, who has already promised to lead a filibuster.
But there are a half-dozen Democrats facing races in states Trump won easily, and Gorsuch himself has all the right credentials for the appointment.
♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions: ◆ Bob Lipson for the article on free speech at the University of Washington ◆ Shlomo Dror for the Theresa May quote
◆ Israel is most visible on college campuses when it is being blackballed. But there is quiet pushback from serious scholars.
The anti-Israel movement is known at “BDS,” which stands for “Boycott, Divest, and Sanction” Israel.
It means boycotting not only Israeli products, but severing cooperation with Israeli universities and the faculty who teach there. The goal is to delegitimate the Jewish state, and it is pushed non-stop by Palestinian students and their allies among activist Muslims and student leftists.
◆ Comment: BDS has largely failed. The movement has garnered plenty of attention, but it has failed in its more ambitious goals, at least in the US. (In Europe, the picture is grimmer. Anti-Israeli sentiments and full-blown anti-Semitism have risen to toxic levels, on both left and right.)
In the US, the BDS movement has gained some traction among left-wing students and faculty in the humanities and some social sciences, as well as Muslim activists. These groups constantly harrass pro-Israel students, demonstrating whenever there is an “evil Zionist speaker,” a benign Israeli birthday celebration, and so forth. Beyond that, the movement has accomplished little. They embrace defeat and futility as marks of honor. Every spring on college campuses across America, they hold “Israel Apartheid Week” and attempt to build broader opposition to Israel.
They are not gaining much support beyond the committed left and self-proclaimed Social Justice Vigilantes.
No universities or corporations have agreed to boycott investments in Israel.
Corporate investments in Israel are very strong, especially in the high-tech areas where Israel is a global leader.
Many universities have also increased their collaboration with Israeli counterparts.
The highest number of joint U.S.-Israel publications are in the field of Medicine, followed by Physics and Astronomy, Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology, Computer Sciences, Mathematics, Engineering, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, Social Sciences, Material Sciences and Earth and Planetary Sciences. –study by Dr. Daphne Getz of the Samuel Neaman Institute
There is also extensive cooperation in information technology and cyber-security, fields where Israeli scientists are among the world’s leaders.
The study also shows a 78% increase in the number of American students attending Israeli universities between 2004 and 2014.
The leading Israeli research universities are
Technion: Israel Institute of Technology
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Weizmann Institute of Science
Tel Aviv University
University of Haifa
Comment: The rising numbers of research collaborations and international co-authorships reflect the strength of Israeli academic institutions and much lower costs of communicating among co-authors around the world. They also show that street demonstrations by aggressive anti-Israel activists mask a rising connection among serious scholars.
♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
◆ Ron Hassner for the news item
◆ Send interesting stories to Charles (dot) Lipson at Gmail (dot) com