Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 Top 10 Outrageous Assaults on Academic Freedom and Education in General

 Seems like just about everybody wants to get in on this list-making thing at this time of the year. People look forward and make lists of resolutions. Others look backward and make lists of the “best of” or “worst of” the year. That being said… it does seem like an awfully appropriate time to consider the most egregious, chilling examples of academic censorship on our nation’s campuses.

Why? Because our campuses are a place where free speech should be MOST revered, most protected. Unfortunately, that is hardly the case. We’ve got colleges threatening students, firing professors, and implementing all manner of underhanded tactics in order to censor (mostly conservative) free speech.

A special shout-out to the good folks at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), who generously offered their insights during the making of this list. FIRE is 100% committed to academic freedom – they will defend Bill Ayers’ right to speak at a college campus (and they have), but clearly a disproportionate amount of their energy is spent battling people like Ayers who would like nothing better than to silence all dissent against the Left.

These ten cases that follow all had developments in 2010. But how about we kick off with a couple bonus “oldies but goodies” that may not be from this year, but are still a lot of fun to consider. I have a soft spot for college conservatives who are bravely telling the truth about Islam, so I’m particularly fond of this case, from San Francisco State University in 2007, as reported by FIRE President Greg Lukianoff:
“… members of the College Republicans who stomped on hand-drawn Hamas and Hezbollah flags during an anti-terrorism protest were brought up on charges of “incivility” by the campus judiciary. When San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders called SFSU to ask how it could be possible to punish the students when the Supreme Court has held that even burning an American flag is protected expression under the First Amendment, university spokesperson Ellen Griffin responded, ‘I don’t believe the complaint is about the desecration of the flag. I believe that the complaint is the desecration of Allah.’ This response has always struck me as remarkable, as it is the first time I can remember that a public university official tried to explain away a violation of the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment by violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.”
Ha ha! (For more California-based education fun, see my recent article The Top 8 California Schools that Are, Like, Totally Wasting Your Money.) Anyway, any time something ludicrous comes out of California, you can bet that something equally ludicrous is coming out of Massachusetts. And Tufts University proves my point! Administrators at that august institution found that the conservative student paper was guilty of harassment – for publishing a satirical advertisement to ridicule Tufts’ “Islamic Awareness Week.” The ad was actually pretty light on satire, as it consisted of quotes from the Koran and factual statements about Islam. Never mind! It made Muslims feel bad. So, stating facts=harassment, which is why Tufts continues to be on FIRE’s shortlist of schools that are really, really crappy in the “individual rights” department.

Oh, we could go on and on. There’s the guy who was accused under his university’s discrimination/harassment policy because he was seen reading an anti-Ku Klux Klan book (from the university library)… and the book had the word “Klan” on the front… and a black co-worker was offended. Yeah, it really happened.

But let’s get to THIS year’s outrages!

10: Temple University – jacking up bogus “security fees” on “controversial” speakers

A student group at Temple hosted an event featuring Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician on trial in his own country for speaking out on Islamic terrorism. Hey Mr. Wilders, here in America we believe in free speech, so we’ve got your back.

Or, maybe not. After the event (and after the university had agreed to cover all security costs), Temple hit the student group with a bill for $800 “to secure the room and building.” After group members protested, the university pretty much told them to shut up and be thankful the bill wasn’t far higher – Temple claimed they could have charged the kids $6000 for security that night.

Now, other than the university reneging on its agreement, you may think this isn’t so bad. The group brought the speaker; why shouldn’t they foot the bill for security?

Because – robust debate must be welcomed on campuses, not burdened. The U.S. Supreme Court struck down a local government’s increased police fees for controversial events because “speech cannot be financially burdened, any more than it can be punished or banned, simply because it might offend a hostile mob.” Regarding the Temple case, FIRE notes:
“As a public university, Temple is bound by the Supreme Court’s decision. Four other public universities—the University of Colorado at BoulderUniversity of Massachusetts AmherstUniversity of California, Berkeley; and University of Arizona—abandoned such security fees after being contacted by FIRE in separate incidents…”
The potential for abuse of such “security fee” policies is obvious. Who gets to say what’s “controversial”? One man’s Geert Wilders is another man’s Bill Ayers – so who decides which student group has to pay which extra fees, and how will that impact which student groups get to invite speakers of consequence?

(I must point out, in the interest of fairness, that Geert Wilders has never, to anyone’s knowledge, bombed anything. So putting him in the same category with Ayers is kind of insulting. Sorry, Geert.)

Next: Keep your laws off my holster…

9. Tarrant County College – banning student protests altogether

If you can’t silence the Right by jacking up their fees, take a tip from the administrators at Tarrant County College in Texas, and just ban the kids’ protest. With utter disregard for students’ rights to free expression and assembly, this college forbid their school’s chapter of “Students for Concealed Carry on Campus” from holding an “empty holster” protest on campus. Supposedly, the sight of those empty holsters would scare the other students. Also, Tarrant County College insisted that any discussion of this topic be carried out in a tiny “free speech zone” the college had carved out on campus (so-called free speech zones are a Leftist commonality in academia, allowing the rest of the campus to be, apparently, fascist-friendly).

Gun rights aren’t particularly popular with Leftist academics, even at little colleges in the Bible Belt (maybe especially at little colleges in the Bible Belt). But this myopia on the part of Tarrant County College administrators ended up costing the school almost a quarter of a million (taxpayer) dollars when a federal district court sided with FIRE (and the ACLU, which was actually working with FIRE on this one) – expense that all could have been spared had the college simply respected student rights.

Hey, public schools! How about you stop fighting against the First (and Second) Amendment?

Next:  Students aren’t the only victims of campus political correctness…

8. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign – longtime prof fired for mentioning Catholic thought in a course on… Catholic thought

Yeah, you read that correctly. Professor Kenneth Howell, a teacher who had been highly rated by students, was dismissed after some of his course materials were characterized as “hate speech” by one student (a student not enrolled in the class). The professor had sent an email to his students, part of which discussed the Catholic view of homosexuality. The student in question felt this was “inflammatory and downright insensitive.”
So the university dumped him. The teacher, not the student.

Now, after intervention by FIRE and the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), the university relented and reversed its decision. But as ADF attorney Jordan Lorence noted, the case is troubling in relation to the future of the wider marketplace of ideas that should be thriving in a university setting:
“The bigger picture problem is that this is teaching students—the next generation of American leaders—that you don’t respond to opinions you disagree with with more debate, but by feeling offended and then complaining to some school authority so that the person is disciplined in some manner and censored. We are teaching students they can have an environment cleansed of opinions that they disapprove. That’s shocking.”
And kind of nauseating.

Next: Sometimes it’s not complaining students that get a prof in trouble…

7. UCLA – don’t mess with the envirowacks or they will mess with you

We travel back to the land of fruits and nuts for this one, to my personal most-hated school anywhere (as an alumna and parent of its private, crosstown archrival). Professor James Enstrom is learning the hard way that it does not pay to piss off environmentalists, even if they’re your colleagues.

Professor Enstrom has been at UCLA for some 34 years, with no complaints from the university for his “research output” as he toiled away in the department of Environmental Health Sciences. However, his research has apparently shown that the danger from diesel emissions and other “particulate air pollution” may not merit the level of government intervention we have here in California – or at least, that seems to be the problem. That, and the fact that he acted as a whistleblower in exposing that some members of the California Air Resources Board were serving long beyond their legally-allowed terms. One can speculate that perhaps the board members thus exposed were not in agreement with Dr. Enstrom on certain air pollution issues – but we know for certain that one of those members, who was finally kicked off the Board after Enstrom’s exposure, was a fellow UCLA prof who subsequently voted against Enstrom in these proceedings.

The whole case smells worse than a smoke-belching truck, anyway. They didn’t just up and fire Dr. Enstrom. They started using his research grant accounts to pay his salary (without his knowledge) so that, all of a sudden, his grant money was gone, and thus UCLA told him he was being let go due to lack of funding. These gross accounting irregularities, and what happened to the account that was supposed to be paying his salary – these are questions yet to be answered. Currently, Dr. Enstrom is on a “reprieve” of sorts, until the end of March, while his appeals are being resolved.

In another stinky development, the UCLA chancellor issued a letter denigrating Dr. Enstrom as “not a professor or member of the faculty” but merely a “researcher.” Of course, this is a blatant falsehood, as UCLA campus directories, emails, and copious other evidence all prove that the university did indeed consider him an “Associate Resident Professor” as well as “a faculty member in good standing.”

But the most repellent part of the case is that after the university’s accounting sleight-of-hand, Enstrom’s department voted against his reappointment on the grounds that his research, on issues pertaining to diesel emissions regulation in California, “is not aligned with the academic mission of the Department, and that [his] research output and other contributions do not meet the [Environmental Health Sciences] department minimums.”

No other faculty member in that department seems to be under evaluation based on “research output,” and in any event, Dr. Enstrom has written a statement defending his robust output. But how can anyone argue that research into air pollution “is not aligned with the academic mission” of an environmental science department?

Unless – the mission of that department is not so much science-based as politically-based.

Nah. That couldn’t be it.

Next: Attention, all freshman rapists (and by that we mean, all boys)…

Keith Edwards, the "She Fears You" guru

6. Hamilton College – She Fears You!

That’s the spectacular name of a seminar which all freshman guys at Hamilton College are required to attend, to learn why they are all (potential) rapists, and how they can stop being such masculine scum. This brainwashing apparently involves the young men acknowledging their personal complicity in a “rape culture” on campus, and changing their “rape-supportive” beliefs and attitudes. “She Fears You” is presented by one Keith Edwards, described by the college as “a national speaker and trainer on diversity and social justice and college men’s issues.” He also speaks on “whiteness and white privilege”!

I know. You’re thinking – where do I sign up for that!? Well, you can check out Edwards’ Web site here, but suffice to say his seminar is based on an entirely questionable theory that all men need a “combined cognitive and emotional intervention” to stop being such Neanderthals. The college guys are also told they need to make the campus an environment where it is no longer acceptable, in any way, to objectify women or define masculinity as sexual conquest… or to allow racism, classism, and homophobia to go unabated.

Huh? What does racism and classism have to do with rape, anyway? Well, a whole lot, if you’re a member of the Leftist Thought Patrol and some dumb college has given you a clear shot at indoctrinating young minds! But even if this required seminar wasn’t a shoddy cover for a smorgasbord of Leftist propaganda, it would still suck. Samantha Harris of FIRE explains:
“Imagine, for example, if Hamilton required all of its first-year Muslim students to attend a presentation telling them that any failure to proactively support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and challenge those who do not contributes to a ‘terrorism culture’ on campus that puts other students at risk. People would rightly be outraged. Again, preventing violence on campus is of utmost importance, but requiring students to submit to blame for contributing to campus violence simply by virtue of their identity and beliefs would clearly be a violation of their fundamental rights. Yet this is exactly what Hamilton is requiring of its first-year male students… Moreover, if Hamilton administrators truly believe that Hamilton is a place where women’s intelligence, capability, and humanity are subordinated, and that racism, classism, and homophobia run rampant, why are female, minority, and gay applicants not informed of these crucial facts in advance? As a woman, if I found out after arriving on campus that my college’s own administration believed the campus was openly hostile to and dangerous for women, I would want my money back to say the least.”
Students were repeatedly told this was a required event and that they would need to swipe their student ID to register their attendance. But when it became clear at the event that the ID cards were not being swiped, apparently a “mass exodus” ensued. What? The boys didn’t want to spend their evening hearing about rape culture, class warfare, and whiteness? Go figure.

Bernard Chapin of Chapin’s Inferno weighed in on the Hamilton debacle:

Next: Back to the alternate universe in which all things Islam are sacred…

5. Penn State – art as hate speech

Admittedly, this case started well before this past year, but FIRE just released a nifty video called Portraits of Terror (below) which tells the story.

Student artist Joshua Stulman is actually the one who came up with the name “Portraits of Terror” – it was the name of his exhibit that was supposed to go on display at Penn State. Ah, but that was before a couple of professors decided that his cartoon drawings were in fact hate speech, and the whole exhibit was tanked. Again, let’s hear from FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff:
“The exhibit ‘Portraits of Terror,’ the entirety of which may be seen here, explores the promotion of terrorism and anti-Semitism in the Palestinian territories. Stulman, who is Jewish, focuses on the origins of anti-Israeli terrorism, and in a previous project had focused on the ‘appropriation’ of Nazi imagery by Hamas and Hezbollah. For this, according to a lawsuit later filed by Stulman against Penn State University and the two professors who censored him, he was called into a meeting with his art professor, Robert Yarber, where he was told that he was a racist, that his art was racist, that it promoted Islamophobia, and that he ‘was calling all Arabs murderers and deliberately misleading uninformed university students to promote the idea that all Arabs are terrorists.’ Perhaps in order to highlight the fierce political disagreement between Yarber and Stulman, Stulman’s complaint goes on to allege that Yarber also said that ‘Israel is a terrorist state’ and that Israel had ‘no right to exist.’ Indeed, the Daily Collegian, Penn State’s student newspaper, reported at the time that the university had justified canceling the exhibit by claiming that it ‘did not promote cultural diversity’ or ‘opportunities for democratic dialogue,’ and that another professor claimed it ‘did not mesh with the university’s educational mission.’
Ah, there’s that tricky “mission” talk again (see #7, above). If college administrators can craft a good “social justice” mission statement, they can pretty much dictate what speech is allowed in the pursuit of that mission.
The rest of the story on Stulman’s art – another college planned to mount the exhibit, but canceled due to threats of violence (you know, from those peace-loving Islamists).

Next: We go the heart of “neo-nazi” land only to discover the fascists aren’t who we were told…

4. University of Idaho – student charged with harassment and discrimination… for saying something

I used to live in Idaho and know many wonderful people who still live there. We were all tarred by the media’s focus on Idaho, particularly northern Idaho, as a haven for neo-nazis. Of course, there are undoubtedly a few more disturbed racists wandering around the streets of any major city than there are in the entire state of Idaho, but that didn’t stop the media portrayal, which of course intensified after Janet Reno botched the Ruby Ridge incident.

In any event, perhaps that’s why the administrators at the University of Idaho, located up there in Idaho’s northern panhandle, are themselves mighty trigger-happy when it comes to accusing people of harassment and discrimination. Student Alex Rowson certainly found that out the hard way.

Young Alex didn’t take too kindly to a loud musical performance being staged in honor of Cesar Chavez Day. (Unlike a real holiday, Cesar Chavez Day is all about pushing the Leftist ideas of, well, Cesar Chavez, of course.) Anyway, Alex thought the music had disrupted his nearby class, and he was probably a bit out of sorts anyway, due to the fact that he’s a conservative kid. So, in between songs, he took the microphone – for about 30 seconds – to make a political statement of his own, describing “how illegal immigration destroyed my home state of California.” Then, the music and general Cesar Chavez Day frivolity continued unabated.

For this, the fascists who run the University of Idaho charged Alex with thought crimes. I mean, they charged him with “violating the rights of the university community” (apparently, the right to hear nothing but Leftist propaganda) and “interrupting a sponsored cultural event and making statements denigrating an ethnic group.” How pointing out that ILLEGAL immigration is a problem denigrates a specific ethnic group was not explained. However, due to this grievous violation of Leftist Thought, Rowson was also charged with violating the school’s discrimination policy.

Oh, but you can’t keep a feisty conservative youngster down. A few weeks later, the university was hosting a “she fears you” type “Take Back the Night” parade, purportedly to protest sexual violence. As the parade passed him, Rowson shouted comments to the group indicating his opinion that “liberalism is destroying America.”

For stating THAT truth, which the university then classified as “hostile and offensive statements,” Rowson was again charged with violating the school’s harassment policy. The school also charged Rowson with “intimidation, specifically by intentionally walking into a participant in an aggressive manner.”

The identity of the individual who claimed Rowson “walked into him” was never revealed, and Rowson says he didn’t touch anyone. But it’s important, when you’re trying to harass and intimidate a conservative student, that you throw in some outright lies just to spice things up, right?

The good attorneys at FIRE had a field day with this one. They  explained to the constitutionally-retarded U of I administration (probably very, very slowly, so they could understand), that saying something is protected by the First Amendment. It is not discrimination. What’s more, yelling something is also protected by the First Amendment. It is not harassment.

U of I eventually dropped the discrimination and harassment charges, but still made Alex perform “community service” for his crime of “walking into someone” which he supposedly did while standing and watching the parade go by.

This is probably the most egregious violation of an individual student’s rights that I saw this year. But it’s not the most dangerous.

Next: The Supremes do a number on First Amendment rights…

3. University of California Hastings College of Law – you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends. Wait — you CAN’T choose your friends

With astonishingly misguided reasoning, the majority (5-to-4) of our nation’s highest court ruled that Hastings law school had not violated the First Amendment by denying recognition to a student Christian group. The group, Christian Legal Society (CLS), has chapters all over the country. It requires its voting members and leadership to sign a statement of faith, and those practicing a homosexual lifestyle would indeed be excluded.

Hastings says every student group should be open to “all comers,” and refused recognition to the local chapter, which meant that the group was barred from meeting space, funding, and communication channels. The High Court agreed with Hastings. But the High Court is wrong. Writer Nat Hentoff, a board member of FIRE, puts it this way:
“Writing for the dissenters, Justice Alito charged that the majority had thereby decided that there is ‘no freedom for expression that offends prevailing standards of political correctness in our country’s institutional of higher learning.’ There are, he observed, ‘religious groups that cannot in good conscience agree in their bylaws that they will admit persons who do not share their faith.’ He added that the court’s ruling had given universities ‘a handy weapon for suppressing the speech of unpopular groups.’ Did the American Civil Liberties Union rushed to the defense of the First Amendment in this case? No. The triumphant legal director of the ACLU, Steven Shapiro, crowed in a leading law journal: ‘Today’s ruling sends a message that public universities need not lend their name and support to groups that discriminate. A public university has the right to enact policies that refuse to officially recognize and fund groups that deliberately exclude other members of the student body.’ Thus, the (still indispensable) ACLU favors the suspension of a crucial component of the First Amendment!”
But as Hentoff goes on to note, this decision is a loss for diversity and pluralism, not a win. The First Amendment also gives us the right of “expressive association” – the right to associate with other like-minded individuals – but that right has been stripped away with this ruling.

Of course, the ruling also ignores certain facts that are not Left-friendly, as FIRE’s William Creeley stated early this year:
“CLS does not prohibit gay students from voting membership or leadership positions if the gay student shares CLS’s view of homosexuality. CLS believes that effectively expressing the group’s view of homosexuality (or adultery, or premarital sex) requires those students who do engage in this conduct to be repentant about their actions, per CLS’s religious beliefs. That means that CLS isn’t discriminating based on a student’s immutable status, but rather that CLS is ‘discriminating’ based on a student’s changeable beliefs and conduct. In a nutshell, CLS asks that its membership and leadership be comprised of students who actually believe in the group’s core tenets, in the same way that the College Democrats want their membership and leadership to be Democrats and the College Republicans expect their membership and leadership to be Republicans.”
Do the liberals on the high court not see that a campus majority that finds the views of a small group to be “offensive” can now effect a hostile takeover of said group, thereby negating its existence? Again, how does this ruling grant more freedom, more diversity?

It doesn’t.

Next: The dumbest case of the year…

2. University of South Florida – conservative group, libertarian group: surely we don’t need both!

Demonstrating ignorance both broad and deep, administrators at the University of South Florida denied recognition to the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), one of the largest and oldest conservative student organizations in the country – because they already had a chapter of Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian group founded a couple of years ago after Ron Paul’s presidential campaign.

Hey, those dumb conservative/libertarian kids don’t need more than one group.

FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff responded with some humor:
“Let me get this straight: USF recognizes over 60 multicultural groups, no fewer than 20 engineering clubs, and even a group solely devoted to appreciation for Nerf products, but a conservative group was considered too similar to a libertarian organization to be allowed on campus?”
After FIRE’s intervention, university administrators reversed their decision. You’d think being in Florida, they would have known better. After all, a few years previous to this incident, nearby University of Miami tried to pull the same lamebrained stunt in denying recognition to a group called Advocates for Conservative Thought – because the campus already had College Republicans. (FIRE intervened in that one too, with the same happy outcome.)

This issue may not come up again, however, since the Supreme Court has paved the way for the College Democrats to simply take over the College Republicans (see #3, above).

Next: An outrageous assault that explains a lot of our problems…

1. Brooklyn College – professor investigated for blowing the whistle on teacher mind control

Again, what’s new in 2010 on this case is a brand new video (below) detailing the problem, which began unfolding several years ago. Professor KC Johnson wrote a column criticizing a concept called “dispositions theory.” This is a tactic used by education schools to ensure that potential teachers have the “correct” views on “social justice.” His colleagues at the Brooklyn College education department (31 of them!) signed a letter demanding that he stop writing about dispositions theory – and be investigated by the “Integrity Committee.” (Clearly, the Integrity Committee is misnamed.) Anyway, this outrageous attack on his academic freedom (can you believe they demanded he stop writing about the topic?) was beaten back with the help of FIRE, which notes that Brooklyn College’s education professors are far from alone in their groupthink. This from FIRE’s Adam Kissel:
Columbia University’s Teachers College requires students to demonstrate a ‘commitment to social justice’ and employs ‘dispositions,’ which it defines as ‘observable behaviors that fall within the law and involve the use of certain skills,’ to evaluate students. These dispositions, ‘expected of Teachers College candidates and graduates’ and ‘assessed at each transition point,’ include ‘respect for diversity and commitment to social justice.’ FIRE has criticized such ideological requirements in several letters to Columbia University and Teachers College, arguing that evaluating students according to their commitment to an officially defined political belief is a violation of a student’s right to decide for himself or herself what is and is not socially just.”
Columbia has yet to respond. So, watch the video, which demonstrates not only the Left’s absolute disregard for academic freedom at the university level, but also the insidious methods being used to indoctrinate K-12 teachers – and thus, all of our children. So much of what is wrong with all levels of education, summed up neatly for you!

So, now we know why our kids’ public schoolteachers all lean left. The rest are weeded out! And to protect this system, leftist professors are willing to suspend the First Amendment and collectively silence colleagues who aren’t on board with the statist agenda.

Again, the irony is compelling. In the very places where free inquiry should be most prized, those charged with protecting it are walking in lockstep to assault it.

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