Sunday, October 02, 2011

Left-Wing University of Wisconsin Administrators Silence Dissent and Criticism

Wisconsin college administrators attacked the First Amendment this week, both by censoring a professor’s poster and criticism of fascism, and by inciting a flash mob to shut down a conference organized by a critic of the University of Wisconsin’s affirmative action policy, which allegedly violates the Constitution and federal laws against racial discrimination. National Review describes one of the incidents:
Earlier this week, campus police showed up at the office of theater professor James Miller to take down a poster he had displayed on his office door. The poster featured a quote from the short-lived television show Firefly, Joss Whedon’s libertarian cult classic that is part throwback Western, part space fiction, and features characters (ironically) who battle an authoritarian government. The poster on Miller’s door featured the following quote, from a character named “Mal” Reynolds, explaining why he could be trusted not to kill another character in his sleep: “You don’t know me, son, so let me explain this to you once. If I ever kill you, you’ll be awake. You’ll be facing me. And you’ll be armed.” Reaction from the UW–Stout administration was typically hysterical . . . saying they could not allow the poster, as it represented a threat of violence. UW–Stout police chief Lisa Walter e-mailed Miller, saying the poster “depicts violence and mentions violence and death” and that the campus’s threat-assessment team agreed the poster could be “constituted as a threat.”

As Christian Schneider notes at National Review, it was idiotic for college officials to equate something that merely “mentions violence and death” with a violent threat. Under that reasoning, professors would be forbidden to “post a copy of the Gettysburg Address,” since in it Lincoln pleaded that “these dead shall not have died in vain.” It would also be a “threat” for a historian to recite Patrick Henry’s plea to “give me liberty or give me death.” As Schneider notes, administrators’ suddenly expansive definition of “threats” is ironic, since “if you stroll through any faculty lounge at the UW–Madison campus, you’re bound to find implicit threats against Gov. Scott Walker posted everywhere.”

In response to this censorship, the professor “placed a new poster on his office door,” which University Police Chief Walter then censored as well. “The poster read ‘Warning: Fascism’ and mocked, ‘Fascism can cause blunt head trauma and/or violent death. Keep fascism away from children and pets.’ Astoundingly, Walter escalated the absurdity. On September 20, she wrote that this poster, too, had been censored because it ‘depicts violence and mentions violence and death’ and was expected to ‘be constituted as a threat.’”

Colleges can’t define speech as forbidden “threats” or “violence” merely because it mentions (or even glamorizes) violence, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit noted in Bauer v. Sampson (2001), which held that a college professor’s caricatures of a college president and satirical yearning for his death were protected by the First Amendment.

In another attack on free speech this week, the University of Wisconsin’s Vice President Provost for Diversity incited a flash mob to shut down an event run by Roger Clegg, a former high-ranking Justice Department lawyer who argues that the University of Wisconsin’s affirmative action policy violates the Supreme Court’s Gratz and Bakke decisions.

As Peter Wood notes at the Chronicle of Higher Education,
On Tuesday, September 13, a mob of University of Wisconsin students overpowered the staff and swarmed into a room at the Madison Doubletree Hotel where Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, was giving a press conference on the release of two new reports from his organization. . .The immediate occasion was the release of CEO’s two reports, Racial and Ethnic Preferences in Undergraduate Admissions at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. . .The mob poured into the room, and Clegg, accompanied by University of Wisconsin Professor Lee Hansen and two members of the hotel staff, struggled through it to the exit, and, accompanied by protestors, to the hotel elevator. Several of the protestors prevented the elevator doors from closing until the two hotel staff members pushed them back. . .

The general manager of the Doubletree Hotel, Rom Ziarnk, issued his own press statement describing what had happened:

Unfortunately, when escorting meeting attendees out of the hotel through a private entrance, staff were then rushed by a mob of protestors, throwing employees to the ground. The mob became increasingly physically violent when forcing themselves into the meeting room where the press conference had already ended, filling it over fire-code capacity. Madison police arrived on the scene after the protestors had stormed the hotel.

The invasion of the news conference was a planned event, egged on by University of Wisconsin Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate Damon Williams. . .“a crowd of more than 150 students” responded to Williams’s “ominous message” by showing up at the Red Gym, where they were met by Williams and Dean of Students Lori Berquam. They characterized the CEO reports as a “coordinated attack” against the campus. According to the reporter, Williams urged the students to mobilize and told them, “Don’t wait for us to show the way.”. . .After the students had taken over the conference room . . . Williams tweeted his praise of the protesters from his official university account.

The leading liberal blog Think Progress exulted over the shutting down of the event. In a blog post entitled “Wisconsin Students Shut Down Right-Wing Press Conference Attacking University’s Affirmative Action Policy,” the Center for American Progress’s Tanya Somanader approvingly noted that “forty-five minutes into the conference, over 100 university students stormed the room chanting ‘power to the people’ and ‘we’re more than our scores,’ effectively shutting down the conference.” She also noted without any trace of concern that “three DoubleTree employees reported getting pushed or knocked down” in the shut-down. (The Center for American Progress is one of America’s wealthiest liberal advocacy groups, and has been described as “Obama’s Idea Factory” by Time magazine). Collateral damage doesn’t matter to leftists when they are pushing their ideological agenda.

This university-orchestrated harassment was unconstitutional. When government officials, like state college administrators, engineer the harassment of dissenters, that violates the First Amendment, even when the harassment is ultimately carried out by private individuals (like students). (That principle is illustrated by the appeals court ruling in Dwares v. City of New York (1992)).

The civil liberties group FIRE decries Wisconsin’s censorship here and here. (By contrast, the ACLU, which believes that racial preferences should be required by U.S. and international law, has not said or done anything about the censorship; earlier, the ACLU defended a California hate-speech gag, and filed amici briefs in support of racial preferences that were later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Seattle and Gratz cases.)


Will Obama Destroy Franciscan University of Steubenville?

The Obama administration is ... attempting to crush The Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio. Mr. Obama’s HHS Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, is trying to force Steubenville to dispense abortion-producing drugs and pay for sterilizations. This is a Roman Catholic institution. Such things are strictly proscribed by the Catholic faith.

Sec. Sebelius may be aware that Catholic institutions are required by faith and fidelity to their mission to uphold these principles. It is an indispensable part of their mission and their reason for being. To force a Catholic institution to violate the consciences of its faculty, students and alumni in this fashion is like forcing a Yeshiva to serve pork to Orthodox Jewish students.

This attempt to crush The Franciscan University of Steubenville is, tragically, not an isolated example. From the first days of the Obama administration, there has been a kulturkampf (culture clash) against Catholic institutions not seen since the days of the Iron Chancellor of Germany, Otto von Bismarck. It was Bismarck who attempted to put all churches and universities in Prussia under his hobnailed boot.

Writer Charlotte Allen wrote of the “Persecution of Belmont Abbey” by the Obama administration in 2009. There, too, liberal zealots were demanding that the Catholic school, founded in 1876, provide contraception, abortifacients, and sterilizations or face federal sanctions. This, according to the institution’s president, could lead to closing down the historic little college.

Chai Feldblum is a tenured professor at Georgetown University Law School. This is the oldest Catholic university in the country. Ironically, Feldblum, is also a homosexual legal activist. She was Barack Obama’s choice for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She told a panel at Family Research Council that if it came to a clash between what she calls gay rights and religious liberty, religious liberty must give way. In other words: “Be Amish, or be quiet.”

We have already seen this as the most anti-Israel administration in U.S. history. Never before has an American president and secretary of state stooped to counting Jews in Jerusalem.

The Obama administration is also the most anti-Catholic administration in American history. Never before have tens of millions of Catholic Americans been forced to subsidize the killing of unborn children with their taxes—as they are under ObamaCare. But now they are also forcing Catholic institutions to take part in the destruction of innocent human lives and the maiming of others by paying for abortifacients and sterilizations.

As Americans, we must defend our religious liberties--while we still have them. Steubenville is a little college, but there are those who love it!


The Government must stop bullying British universities

Imposing a quota system on elite universities undermines the principle of selection by merit

The Government is very cross with the top universities. Why? Because most of them are failing to admit a sufficient number of applicants from low-income families. More than 40 per cent of students at school are from such families, but only 12 per cent of Cambridge undergraduates. The new Office for Fair Access – nicknamed “Offtoff” – insists that unless elite universities increase the proportion of students from “under-represented groups”, they will be fined, or prevented from charging the highest fees.

David Willetts, the universities minister, is going to triple Offtoff’s resources. He says that the best universities need to make “real progress in fair access”, implying that they prefer privately educated toffs to bright pupils from poor homes. All of the top universities emphatically deny this charge and insist there is no evidence to support it – although the view that university admissions are based on social snobbery is depressingly widespread. You’d expect it from Labour and the Lib Dems, but it now seems to be Conservative orthodoxy.

The universities say they have made zealous efforts to broaden access – but they also say they’re determined not to compromise the principle of admitting students on their academic merit alone. Forcing them to take more candidates from low‑income families will, they insist, mean replacing merit with some other criterion, and that will undermine their adherence to academic excellence.

Indeed, the Government’s emphasis on increasing the proportion of under-represented groups at top universities is puzzling, because the group that is actually most under-represented is those of average or lower than average intelligence. This will always be the case so long as academic merit is the sole criterion for deciding who should be given a place. Why, you might argue, shouldn’t less intelligent people be given a chance to study at top-quality universities?

This is not as outlandish a viewpoint as it may seen. In 1970, when America was committed to “affirmative action” – the replacement of academic merit by other qualifications, such as belonging to a particular race, as the basis for university admission – one senator suggested replacing merit with other criteria when it came to appointing a judge to the Supreme Court. Roman Hruska recommended the appointment of G Harrold Carswell, a candidate universally recognised to be very mediocre at best, on the grounds that “mediocre people are entitled to a little representation [on the Supreme Court]”.

Is replacing academic merit as the basis for university admission so very different from Hruska’s idea? Supporters of Offtoff will say it is not the same thing, because Offtoff isn’t going to replace academic merit with something else. But if they are actually to have an effect on merit-based admissions policies, quotas have to do precisely that.

The system Offtoff advocates – under which the proportion of students at a university from particular social backgrounds mirrors the proportions of the population as a whole – is getting uncomfortably close to the sort of thinking that led to the “informal” quotas that US medical schools operated from the Thirties to the Fifties. They found that students from Jewish families were over-represented: in some schools, they made up 40 per cent of the intake. So Cornell medical school, for instance, reduced the number of Jews to ensure that they reflected their proportion of the US population as a whole, which was less than 4 per cent.

Offtoff’s quota system for students from lower-income families won’t get rid of unfairness in university admissions. It will simply replace one injustice – the rejection of able pupils who go to lousy state schools and come from families who don’t value education and therefore do not do well enough to get into Oxbridge – with another: the rejection of able pupils from families who value education, go to good schools and get exceptional results. It is not easy to see that as an improvement.


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