Review: Remembering Who We Are: A Treasury of Conservative Commencement Addresses


rem-who-we-areAccording to US Federal Election Commission data, 96 percent of Ivy League faculty and administrators that gave money to a presidential candidate in 2012 donated to President Obama. The left-leaning nature of American academia is well-known, but rarely raised in polite company. Speaking at Harvard’s 363rd commencement last year, however, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did just that. Citing the Election Commission’s figure, he uncomfortably tempered Harvard’s next generation of leaders with a message of tolerance over uniformity. “There was more disagreement than that among the members of the old Soviet Politburo,” he said, adding the obvious sleight that “a university cannot be great if its faculty is politically homogenous.”

In order to weather its current economic and political challenges, America needs not only a more balanced exchange of ideas, but to reconnect with tried and tested principles. Thus, the purpose of Zev Chafet’s Remembering Who We Are, a diverse collection of college commencement addresses, “is not to develop a right-wing orthodoxy, but precisely to show the intellectual and cultural nuance on that side of the spectrum.”

From neurosurgeon Ben Carson, to playwright David Mamet and others, the speeches thread messages of individual liberty, responsibility, free enterprise, and the rule of law with personal experience and advice to the next generation.

How Campus Censorship Culture Could Be Causing Students Psychological Harm


pic_giant_040615_SM_Safe-Space-DTI’m excited to announce that The Atlantic just published my feature article, The Coddling of the American Mind, which I co-wrote with best-selling author and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt. Haidt and I examine some of the behaviors we’ve observed on the modern college campus and the way they illustrate a new campus movement that goes beyond the PC movement of the 1980s and ‘90s. We write:

The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.

Examining vindictive protectiveness through a psychological lens, Haidt and I ask whether this new movement, created to help students, is actually hurting them:

Misremembering History: The Scopes Monkey Trial


Rather than the often repeated adage that the victors write the history of an event, the story of anything is actually determined by the unswerving adoption of one version of it, and the telling of that version by a determined cadre of writers. In time, the version with the most persistent adherents becomes the “truth.” – David & Jeanne Heidler in Henry Clay: The Essential American (2010)

I still recall my entire family getting in the car for the drive to Hartford, Connecticut. It was the late 1950s, and my father was taking us to pick up a monkey. My father had a small role as an Italian organ-grinder in a play put on by a local community theater group. The director wanted to use a prop monkey, but dad insisted on the real thing. We housed that monkey for the next week; I remember it as nasty and mean-tempered, but the audience loved it and my father in his bit part (he always had a knack for showmanship). The play was Inherit The Wind. Last week was the 90th anniversary of the start of the trial (July 10, 1925) on which the play was based, an event that became popularly known as the Scopes Monkey Trial.

In School, C is the new D


d-minus-grade The debasement of American education system continues:

The solution, Simmons suggests, is to eliminate Ds altogether, because he believes many of those barely getting by will up their game to avoid failure. He pointed to a New Jersey charter school that’s already made the transition. […] “Ds are simply not useful in society,” Larrie Reynolds, superintendent at the Mount Olive, N.J. charter school Simmons referenced, told the New York Times in 2010. “It’s a throwaway grade. No one wants to hire a D-anything, so why would we have D-students and give them credit for it?”

If C is now the borderline between passing and failure — goes the thinking — then the slackers will work hard enough to get Cs, rather than the Ds they were earning before. A more likely outcome, however, is that public school teachers will be pressured to drop their standards in order to meet their performance metrics. As a signaling mechanism, it’s a lateral move. Employers and colleges will know that the C-minus student of today is as mediocre as the D-minus student of yesteryear. The end result is that Peppermint Patty gets into the C-minus Hall of Fame instead.

Standing Up for Global Academic Freedom


Next week, I head off to the United Kingdom to talk about global threats to free speech and academic freedom. As the Index on Censorship describes in its latest issue, there are many threats to academic freedom and free speech worldwide. However, as I write in my newest piece at The Huffington Post, it’s important to remember that these freedoms are also in trouble here at home in the United States.

College and university administrators are punishing professors’ freedom of expression left and right, even when it’s off-campus speech on their personal blogs or social media accounts. For instance, my organization, FIRE, has been closely following one major ongoing case at Marquette University, where a professor is facing termination for publicly criticizing a graduate student instructor who told a student not to oppose same-sex marriage in a philosophy class discussion.

Ten Things Your University Professors Wish You Knew


shutterstock_194874566In keeping with the theme this week, and because I’m an apparent sucker for anything Claire asks, I thought I’d add

1.) Grading is for your benefit, not mine. A six-page essay takes about five minutes to read, at the end of which I could simply slap a grade on the paper and move on; that’s all I’m being paid to do. The other 15 minutes I spend on the paper — correcting your grammar and spelling, pointing out poor word choices, making style suggestions, and fixing your logical argument — is all for your benefit. And also because I have Academic OCD and can’t stand the sight of a poorly reasoned argument. Which leads to:

2.) Length and Quality are not synonyms. I would rather read a single-page essay that was wrong, but competently written and argued, than a three-page essay that was right, but poorly written and argued. While it’s true that academics sometimes make too much of “elegance” as a criteria of evaluation, we do it because we’ve read so many ham-handedly written, excessively padded, and gaping-holed argued papers that we just kinda twitch in the presence of bad writing. And that’s just when we’re reading the peer-reviewed literature.

New Book: From the “Right to Not Be Offended” to the “Expectation of Confirmation” On Campus


indexToday, I am pleased to announce the release of my new essay in the newly published The State of the American Mind: 16 Leading Critics on the New Anti-Intellectualism, a collection of essays by a variety of cultural and educational experts edited by Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow. Some of my fellow authors include E. D. Hirsch, Nicholas Eberstadt, Dennis Prager, Daniel Dreisbach, Ilya Somin, Maggie Jackson, and Richard Arum.

The essays are framed by Bauerlein and Bellow’s theories on the root causes of the decline of the American intellect and “the shift away from the self-reliant, well-informed American.”

Here is a summary of my essay, “How Colleges Create the ‘Expectation of Confirmation’”:

Dispatches From a Higher Ed Insider


shutterstock_120855589During the editors’ podcast last week, we wandered off onto the topic of online education, with a special emphasis on the idea that it has the potential to be an antidote to much of what’s wrong with modern American college campuses. That wasn’t a topic any of us had planned to discuss — it grew naturally out of our ad spot for The Great Courses — so the resulting conversation may have been a bit desultory.

Luckily, this being Ricochet —where you can find an expert on anything if you just look hard enough — I subsequently received this bit of correspondence from an academic working in a leadership position in a public regional comprehensive university. His point (and it’s a good one): our conversation entirely elided the complications posed by accreditation. That individual has generously allowed me to reproduce it here:

I probably spend about 4-6 hours each week thinking about online education or at least have lately.  I have both created coursework online and administered programs that offer online education and online degrees. Our leadership urges us to create more and more of it.

Charges of Micro-aggression are Examples of Micro-totalitarianism


Thomas Sowell In his NRO piece today, Thomas Sowell provides a brilliant and powerful response to the “micro-aggression” meme that is sweeping our nation’s college campuses. Sowell contends that answering a comment or idea with charges of “micro-aggression” is nothing more than an attempt to shut down discussion without having to provide a reasoned counter-argument. Worse, such charges imply that one’s opponent is guilty of a form of “verbal violence” that might justify actual violence in response.

The concept of “microaggression” is just one of many tactics used to stifle differences of opinion by declaring some opinions to be “hate speech,” instead of debating those differences in a marketplace of ideas. To accuse people of aggression for not marching in lockstep with political correctness is to set the stage for justifying real aggression against them.

Sowell makes a convincing case that those wielding these accusations are themselves guilty of “micro-totalitarianism.” His descriptive label vividly lays bare this shameful attempt at thought control – the left’s demonization of, and in some cases criminalization of, dissent.

College-aged Narcissism, Distilled


For those of you who missed Jerry Seinfeld’s recent comments about the state of comedy, Seinfeld remarked that the politically correct atmosphere on most college campuses dissuades top comedians from even playing them. This is a view he shares with other major stand-up stars, including Chris Rock. Specifically, Seinfeld says that today’s young people throw around words like “racism” for the sake of saying them, without even understanding fully what those concepts mean.  He even uses his own daughter as an example.

Is It Moral To Default On Your Student Loans?


leesiegel080121_198Lee Siegel, a prominent culture writer and graduate of Columbia, seems to think so:

Years later, I found myself confronted with a choice that too many people have had to and will have to face. I could give up what had become my vocation (in my case, being a writer) and take a job that I didn’t want in order to repay the huge debt I had accumulated in college and graduate school. Or I could take what I had been led to believe was both the morally and legally reprehensible step of defaulting on my student loans, which was the only way I could survive without wasting my life in a job that had nothing to do with my particular usefulness to society.

Naturally, Siegel was the best judge of his “particular usefulness to society.” But he then goes onto mock those poor suckers who, rather than shirking their legally contracted debts, go out and get real jobs that might be beneath their talents and ambitions.

To the Class of 2016: Mistakes, Tolstoy, and Graduation Remarks


shutterstock_131949770Your school had an accomplished, well-known speaker prepared to address you today. And rumors that he’s literally tied up in a hotel room somewhere are… exaggerated. So I’m filling in. I’ll start with a quick anecdote.

In 1952, two future Supreme Court Justices graduated from Stanford Law School: William Rehnquist was first in the class and Sandra Day O’Connor was third. The number two in that class is lost to history. Pop quiz — no looking at Google or your smartphone — can you name a major court decision that either of them wrote? If you’re like most normal people, then you can’t remember a word they wrote (if you remember, then you or someone close to you has spent too much time in law school). Rehnquist and O’Connor have only been off the court for about a decade, and one was Chief Justice and the other was the Justice most likely to be the deciding vote. Today, we barely remember what these two people did, people who, for years, were arguably the second and third most powerful people in the country after the president.

It is possible that, here before me, is a future person who’ll be more than a footnote in the history books. Odds are that all of you will be like the 1952 Stanford Law Number Two. And don’t feel bad—at the end of my life, there’ll probably be little reason to remember me, your humble and accidentally-on-purpose speaker.

The (Largely Ignored) Carol Bowne Story


In 2012, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz claimed that she was raped. The university investigated, and found no evidence for the claim. In protest, Sulkowicz started an art project called “Carry that Weight,” in which she lugged her mattress around campus until her graduation last month. Even after dismissing the claim — and as questions about the veracity of the underlying allegation grew — the school endorsed the project as Sulkowicz’s senior thesis. Soon, images of her carrying her mattress went viral, and she became an international feminist icon. Many stories were written about her on sites like Salon, Jezebel, and Cosmopolitan. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand invited her to the State of the Union speech. Even fellow feminist icon and Girls star Lena Dunham tweeted her support:

Watch Me Testify Before Congress About Free Speech on Campus Today at 2:00 p.m. [LIVE STREAM]


shutterstock_225535513My organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has been fighting to protect freedom of speech on college and university campuses since 1999. Throughout my career, I have seen countless examples of campus speech codes—absurd, often unconstitutional restrictions on the free speech of college students and professors. From restricting free speech to tiny, out of the way “zones” to overbearing “harassment” policies, campus speech codes come in many forms but have far-reaching consequences.

It is with great honor that I share with you that today I will address the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice to talk about speech codes and the general state of free speech on America’s public college campuses.

Please tune in to the live webcast at 2:00 p.m. EDT today using this link.

Title IX, 1999, and 1789


The Office of the Independent Counsel was created post-Watergate to investigate executive branch wrongdoing. The Democrat-majority Congress reasoned that the DOJ would not be able to effectively investigate its colleagues and bosses. Republicans objected to the independent counsel statute for decades, both on separation-of-powers grounds, and because it was used as a political tool to harass Republican presidential administrations. But it wasn’t until Democrats’ own ox was gored, during the Clinton administration in the form of Kenneth Starr, that Democrats realized what they had wrought. The statute was allowed to expire quietly in 1999 with bipartisan agreement.

I thought of this history as I read Laura Kipnis’s account of Northwestern University’s own independent investigation of her conduct. Kipnis, a liberal professor at the university, has dedicated her career to feminist causes. However, after she recently wrote about her concerns regarding new university policies on sexual relations between professors and students, she became the focus of protests by feminist students. At first, she brushed off the protests. “I’d argued that the new codes infantilized students while vastly increasing the power of university administrators over all our lives, and and here were students demanding to be protected by university higher-ups from the affront of someone’s ideas, which seemed to prove my point.”

The Wrong Kind of Renaissance: A New Age of Campus Censorship


shutterstock_141582367When I published my first book, Unlearning Liberty, in 2012, I felt optimistic that the situation for free speech on campus, though not good by any means, was improving. A lot of the campus censorship efforts had become less ideological and more of the old-fashioned, “Don’t you dare criticize my university” type of censorship. Even the scourge of campus speech codes seemed to be eroding—albeit very slowly in the face of Herculean efforts.

Still, I knew from experience that things could turn around—and, sadly, turn around they have. In the last two years, the intense political correctness of the late 1980s and early ’90s has returned with a vengeance, and we are now experiencing the wrong kind of renaissance.

Yesterday, I examined the contributing forces to this “renaissance” in my latest essay on Minding the Campus. As I write in the piece:

Data Transparency For Georgia Students


shutterstock_159713390Last year, I was appointed to a study committee in the Georgia House of Representatives that looked at the federal role in education. One of the topics that came up was the increased reliance on data schools collect from students. This data is valuable for teachers and educators, as it helps them understand how the student is doing and what areas the student may need help. It also presents challenges. Over time, this can get out of hand as the scope of the information increases to the point where parents might feel it is intrusive. I decided to do something about this. So this legislative session, I introduced to the HB414, the ‘Student Data Privacy, Accessibility, and Transparency Act.’

After a lot of work on the bill with a broad coalition of education and technology groups — as well as input from the Department of Education — HB414 passed unanimously out of the House Education Committee. Though it did not make it out of the House Rules Committee in time to be considered by the Senate, no bill is ever really dead in the legislature so we began looking for a Senate bill we could attach our bill to. We found one, and I’m grateful to Georgia State Sen. John Albers for allowing us to add HB414 to his bill SB89. The amended bill received final passage on sine die and Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed it into law earlier this week. Other states are now considering similar bills, as is the U.S. Congress. This important law will limit the education related data schools collect on students and make sure it remains private and secure. For more on this bill, see the press release below from Excellence in Education, one of the many education reform groups that supported this legislation.

Don’t Talk Back — Unless You’re Working Out Some Personal Issues


Restorative-Justice-Ven-DiagramYou may have heard me say it here before: California is the world’s largest open-air asylum. I’ve always thought that, but it became much clearer to me after I decamped from my native Golden State to Tennessee last year. Now every time that I sent foot back on California soil — as I did last night — I’m struck by the air of unreality that characterizes the place. All you have to do is look around for a few minutes before you start thinking “Is it possible that there’s a gas leak in this entire state that no one knows about?” That’s about the same reaction I had reading through the San Francisco Chronicle this morning, which notes this — ahem — innovation taking place in Oakland schools:

Mouthing off in class or failing to follow a teacher’s instructions will no longer lead to suspension in Oakland schools, a ban that will be phased in and be fully in effect just over a year from now, the school board unanimously decided Wednesday night.

Oakland Unified will become one of a handful of California school districts that restrict suspensions to more serious offenses and eliminate the punishment for willful defiance — a broad category of misbehavior that includes minor offenses such as refusing to take a hat off or ignoring teacher requests to stop texting and more severe incidents like swearing at a teacher or storming out of class. San Francisco and Los Angeles are also among those districts.