Obama hits campus ‘coddling,’ but will he act?

President Obama called for open debate on campus at a Des Moines forum yesterday.

College students don’t need protection from different viewpoints, said President Obama at a Des Moines forum.

President Obama criticized political correctness on college campuses at a Des Moines town hall on college affordability, reports Vox.

“I don’t agree that (students) . . . have to be coddled and protected from different points of view,” said the president, who’s apparently read The Coddling of the American Mind in The Atlantic.

I’ve heard some college campuses where they don’t want to have a guest speaker who is too conservative or they don’t want to read a book if it has language that is offensive to African-Americans or somehow sends a demeaning signal towards women. I gotta tell you, I don’t agree with that either.

. . . anybody who comes to speak to you and you disagree with, you should have an argument with ‘em. But you shouldn’t silence them by saying, “You can’t come because I’m too sensitive to hear what you have to say.” That’s not the way we learn either.

“If Obama is actually opposed to the new scourge of political correctness on college campuses, he could prove his dedication to the cause by directing the Education Department to relax its relentless Title IX inquisition,” writes Robby Soave on Reason‘s Hit & Run. Federal “guidance” obliges universities to censor, he writes.

Hans Bader has more on how Obama’s Education Department has used anti-discrimination law to pressure schools and colleges to restrict free speech on campus.

That’s not funny

U.S. undergraduates want to be entertained, Caitlin Flanagan learned at the convention of the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA). But comics seeking bookings on the lucrative college circuit must go for the bland.

(NACA reps) liked their slam poets to deliver the goods in tones of the highest seriousness and on subjects of lunar bleakness; they favored musicians who could turn out covers with cheerful precision; and they wanted comedy that was 100 percent risk-free, comedy that could not trigger or upset or mildly trouble a single student.

College students are seen as consumers “whose whims and affectations (political, sexual, pseudo-intellectual) must be constantly supported and championed,” she writes.

. . . it helps to think of college not as an institution of scholarly pursuit but as the all-inclusive resort that it has in recent years become—and then to think of the undergraduate who drops out or transfers as an early checkout. Keeping hold of that kid for all four years has become a central obsession of the higher-ed-industrial complex. How do you do it? In part, by importing enough jesters and bards to keep him from wandering away to someplace more entertaining, taking his Pell grant and his 529 plan and his student loans with him.

To get bookings on the college circuit, a comedian must be funny and “deeply respectful of a particular set of beliefs,” writes Flanagan.

These beliefs included, but were in no way limited to, the following: women, as a group, should never be made to feel uncomfortable; people whose sexual orientation falls beyond the spectrum of heterosexuality must be reassured of their special value; racial injustice is best addressed in tones of bitter anguish or inspirational calls to action; Muslims are friendly helpers whom we should cherish; and belonging to any potentially “marginalized” community involves a crippling hypersensitivity that must always be respected.

. . . The college revolutions of the 1960s—the ones that gave rise to the social-justice warriors of today’s campuses—were fueled by free speech. But once you’ve won a culture war, free speech is a nuisance, and “eliminating” language becomes a necessity.

Mario Savio led the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley more than 50 years ago, Flanagan recalls. Who’s challenging the thought police now? It’s “the moron over at Phi Sigma Kappa who plans the Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos mixer.”

University removes ‘Straight Pride’ posters

“Straight Pride” posters proclaiming “nobody cares about what you want to have sex with” were removed from Youngstown State’s campus by university officials, reports the Huffington Post.

“With the help of a bunch of students, we quickly went out to take them all down,” (public information officer Ron) Cole said. “While we recognize the right to free speech, this is counter to our mission of being a diverse and accepting campus.”
straight pride

Tim Bortner, president of Youngstown’s LGBT group, YSUnity, said gay students now “feel unsafe.”

Some of the posters were pinned on top of YSUnity fliers advertising a May 9 rally for marriage equality, said Lisa Ronquillo, the group’s vice president.

It went way further than a free speech issue,” said Student Government President Michael Slavens. “There were swear words and took it a little further than the average free speech should go.”

Further than the average free speech should go.

The First Amendment protects anti-gay speech as well as pro-gay speech, writes Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.

Speech is protected even when it runs “counter [to] the school’s mission to create a diverse campus.” Speech is protected even when it “miss[es] the point of minority activism.” And speech is protected even when it contains vulgarities, as the famous “Fuck the Draft” jacket case, Cohen v. California, makes clear.

In a public forum, such as bulletin boards open to all, “the government cannot discriminate based on viewpoint in choosing what is posted,” Volokh writes.

A policy to ban vulgarity — on a college campus? really? — would be OK, only if it was applied to all viewpoints. So would a policy saying posters can’t be placed over existing posters.

This is so incredibly obvious. How could university officials not know this?

High school memories — with duct tape

Duct tape is good for everything — including censoring yearbook quotes. A Tucson high school ordered yearbook staffers to cover “racist and unacceptable” student quotes with duct tape.

Sabino High officials concealed 10 comments in the $75 yearbook. In one duct-taped quote, a senior said she was “drunk on you and high on summer time.”

It’s not PC or censorship

Common Core State Standards “and standardized testing are trying to make teachers into KAPOs, a Nazi concentration camp prisoner who was given privileges if they would supervise work gangs,” wrote a reader commenting on Diane Ravitch’s blog. She goes on to reference Schindler’s List and her relatives killed in the Holocaust.

When readers objected to the analogy, Ravitch wrote: “I find this argument to be a form of political correctness that is used to censor opinion. If anyone wants to use an analogy to make a point, that is their choice.” She defended the posting on Twitter as a free speech issue.

This isn’t about political correctness or censorship, responds Daniel Willingham.

First, he writes, the analogy trivializes enormous suffering. Test takers are not in any way like Holocaust victims just as students asked to perform public service are not comparable to slaves.

If a reformer said schools are concentration camps where teachers brutalize their students . . . It’s insulting, isn’t it?

Willingham also disagrees that it’s censorship to tell people you think their analogy is “ill-considered and offensive.”

 . . .  if she had asked the author to change the analogy or had refused to post the piece because of the analogy, I would not call that censorship. The author does not have a guaranteed right to post what she likes in Diane’s blog, a right that Diane would have been infringing. Diane was a offering a platform for this author’s voice, and obviously she offers that platform to voices she thinks are worth amplifying.

This situation is not comparable to that documented in The Language Police, in which enormous power was concentrated in the hands of few publishers. If an author wanted to publish a textbook they had to toe the line drawn by the publishers or give up on publishing the book. That power relationship does not exist in this case. This is the internet, for crying out loud.

He asks Ravitch to rethink her position.

I agree with Willingham. I’d add that the analogy is ridiculous and therefore unpersuasive.

Core ‘exemplars’ set off controversy

In Alabama and Ohio, there are calls to remove Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye from high school reading lists, even though it’s a Common Core “exemplar.” The book depicts a father raping his daughter.

In Arizona, the controversial exemplar is Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban, which includes an explicit sex scene.

cubanThe exemplars aren’t a national reading list, writes Fordham’s Checker Finn. Appendix B of the English standards includes “examples of fiction, non-fiction, poems etc. that show the sort of thing students should be able to read with understanding at various points in the K–12 sequence.”

A short excerpt from The Bluest Eye appears along with writing by Poe, Hawthorne, Faulkner, Melville, Bronte, Shakespeare, Keats, etc., writes Finn. It’s intended for 11th graders. “I find the excerpt complex, demanding, and a bit obscure, but not offensive.” Others think the book is “pornographic, unsuitable for school kids of any age.”

It’s up to school districts to decide what students should read, concludes Finn. Don’t like the exemplars on Appendix B? Choose other works. But don’t expect to avoid offending everyone.

. . .  as Diane Ravitch showed in The Language Police, when you scrub every library, every reading list, every textbook, and every test item clean of everything that could offend anybody for any reason, you end up with the boring pablum that dominates so much of today’s curriculum. One reason American kids don’t read much is because what remains for them to read is so dull.

Noah Berlatsky has been writing textbooks and exams for two decades, he writes in The Atlantic. He’s forced to cater to a “nebulous, ill-defined fear of offending anyone.”

Obviously, when freelance writing or finding test passages for kids of whatever age, I know my work will be rejected if I mention evolution. But I’m also not allowed to mention snakes, or violent storms, or cancer, or racial discrimination, or magic. Authority figures, including teachers and Woodrow Wilson, can never be questioned. Pop culture can’t be mentioned. Living people can’t be mentioned. Death can’t be mentioned.

The Revisionaries, a 2012 documentary just released on DVD, shows how right-wing ideologues on the Texas State Board of Education pushed through changes in the standards. It’s “riveting and infuriating,” writes Berlatsky. But it ignores the fact that “idiotic, anti-intellectual regulation of content is not restricted to the far right.” The language police — he cites Ravitch too — insist on “bland colorless paste.”

College reverses ban on ‘sex’ newspaper

Central New Mexico Community College backed down this week from its decision to suspend the student newspaper for publishing a “sex issue.” Confiscated copies of the newspaper were returned to the news racks.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Early-college high school students are more likely to earn a diploma and enroll in college, starting with an average of 36 college credits, reports Jobs for the Future.

College: Where free speech goes to die

Greg Lukianoff talks with Nick Gillespie on Reason TV.

Universities no longer encourage students to debate, disagree and dissent, writes Greg Lukianoff in Unlearning Liberty. Someone might feel uncomfortable.

As president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Lukianoff has spent more than a decade fighting against censorship, speech codes, sex codes, intrusive “orientations,” mandatory “dispositions” and other checks on free expression. FIRE has defended students, professors and staffers who’ve fallen afoul of campus groupthink. One student was suspended for a cartoon protesting the decision to build an expensive new parking garage.

Just recently, DePaul put a student on probation for publicizing the names of students who admitted to vandalizing  a pro-life display. Kristopher Del Campo was found responsible for “disorderly, violent, intimidating or dangerous” behavior, which includes “creat[ing] a substantial risk of physical harm,” “causing significant emotional harm,” and “bullying,” because he named 13 admitted vandals on his group’s web site.

Unlearning Liberty explains that “free speech is important because debate is important” and debate is “the key tool of deliberative democracies,” writes Harry Lewis, dean of Harvard College

If we don’t train our students to argue with each other, without crying foul every time one side hurts the other’s feelings, we will wind up with … a dysfunctional Congress, maybe?

College graduates “will carry their conformist attitudes and unexamined political beliefs with them into their professions,” writes Bruce Thornton in College: Where Free Speech Goes to Die.

College students never have to leave the “echo chambers” of their own minds, writes Lukianoff.

 Instead, they have been subjected to a curriculum and campus life focused on “rewarding groupthink, punishing devil’s advocates, and shutting down discussions on some of the hottest and most important topics of the day.”

A “lifelong Democrat,” Lukianoff has worked for the ACLU and an environmental justice group. He backs gay marriage, abortion rights, legalizing marijuana, universal health care, etc. He belongs to a Brooklyn food co-op. Yet administrators and students assume that a defender of free speech must be a conservative — and a “fringe” conservative at that, he writes. It’s another way of shutting down debate.

Can school ban ‘boobies’ wristband?

“A full federal appeals court on Wednesday heard arguments about whether school districts may bar students from wearing the popular “I (heart) Boobies” wristbands promoting cancer awareness,” reports Ed Week.

“Boobies” is vulgar and potentially disruptive, argued administrators at Easton Area Middle School in Pennsylvania. Two students suspended for defying the ban said they had a free-speech right to wear the wristbands.

“The case prompted a provocative hour-long argument” on “boobies,” reports Ed Week. 

Idiocy implodes

After threatening a professor with disorderly conduct charges for Firefly and anti-fascism posters on his office door, administrators at the University of Wisconsin at Stout have backed down, reports FIRE.  Free speech is an important value, said the administrators in an e-mail.

It is important to note that the posters were not removed to censor the  professor in question. Rather, they were removed out of legitimate  concern for the violent messages contained in each poster and the belief  that the posters ran counter to our primary mission to provide a campus  that is welcoming, safe and secure.

In retrospect, however, it is clear that the removal of the posters –  although done with the best intent – did have the effect of casting  doubt on UW-Stout’s dedication to the principles embodied in the First  Amendment, especially the ability to express oneself freely.

UW-Stout will let Professor James Miller display his posters and will review procedures for “handling these  kinds of cases.”

Among those protesting the decision was actor Adam Baldwin, one of the stars of Firefly, who’d asked Miller if he knew of other  “violent” posters on campus. UW-Stout tolerated numerous “Kill the Bill” posters — a take-off on the movie Kill Bill — as part of a campus-wide protest held in February against Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget bill.