Monday, March 30, 2015

DeMint at Yale: Academic Censorship as a Political Weapon

The following are Jim DeMint’s prepared remarks delivered to the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale University

I’d like to start out by telling you the story of a young guy named Omar Mahmood. He was in the news a couple months back. He’s a junior at the University of Michigan, and writes for both the mainstream campus newspaper, The Michigan Daily, and the University’s alternative conservative publication, the Michigan Review. At least he did, until he became one of academia’s latest victims of political correctness.

Omar recently wrote a short satire of the “check your privilege” fad. It was just a tongue in cheek article that described how a system of right-handed privilege was oppressing left-handed people everywhere through daily right-handed “micro-aggressions.”

The article was humorous, harmless and conservative.

In response, The Michigan Daily invoked a technicality to kick Mahmood out of his writing gig, claiming a conflict of interest. Much worse, a group of students vandalized his room, pelted the door with eggs and hot dogs, attached hateful messages calling Mahmood “scum” and told him to “shut up” and leave the school.

The editor of the Michigan Review said, “These progressive students attacked Omar because they felt that he, as a Muslim, cannot also be a conservative.”

I wonder whether more media networks would have sounded the hate crime alarm over the attacks on Mahmood if it weren’t for his political views.

Incidents like this—when someone says something unpopular then gets hounded out of business or bullied—can happen almost anywhere in modern America. But they are most likely to happen in our colleges and universities, where honest inquiry and debate are quickly becoming secondary to the “right” not to hear contrary opinions.

Recently, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) released a report determining that most U.S. colleges now violate free speech rights.

This applies both to students and those who are allowed to address them. As you know, a few months ago, Scripps College disinvited political and cultural commentator George Will from giving a lecture as part of its Elizabeth Hubert Malott Public Affairs Program.

Will’s “sin” was simply failure to toe the progressive line regarding statistics and rhetoric about sexual assault on campus. So instead of engaging with him or debating him, Scripps wouldn’t let him speak.

I wrote that before you announced him as the Guest of Honor at your upcoming “Dis-invitation Dinner” in April, which I think is a great idea.

Last year you also gave a platform to Hirsi Ali, when the forces of political correctness tied themselves in knots over whether to side with the feminist or the extremists she opposes.

A teaching assistant at Marquette University recently banned discussion of homosexual marriage in an ethics class—even though it would seem the perfect place for such a conversation—saying that mere discussion of such matters would be “homophobic.”

When tenured professor John McAdams spoke out against this censorship on his blog, the university responded by suspending him from teaching and banning him from campus.

So not only are students forbidden from talking about certain subjects, but a professor is now forbidden from complaining that the subjects are forbidden.

These instances of academic intolerance go hand in hand with a general revolutionary insanity among students which seems to be promoted more than actual education on campus these days.

At UC [University of California] Irvine the Student Council wanted to ban the American flag from its offices and common areas. At UCLA [University of California-Los Angeles], the Student Council debated for 40 minutes over whether being Jewish was a strike against a nominee for their Judicial Board.

It seems we hear a new story every week. When you put blinders on students to protect them from ideas that might hurt their feelings, they also become blinded to ridiculous and offensive behavior of their own.

This isn’t just an American problem. Academia spans nations, and its diseases can swim across oceans.

At one of the world’s most famous houses of learning, Oxford, a pro-abortion versus anti-abortion debate was canceled last Fall because, apparently, men aren’t allowed to have opinions on such things in an educational setting anymore.

For the record, even the pro-abortion debater thought this was ridiculous. When an academic debate is reduced to the identity of the speakers, you have officially declared that objective truth does not matter—if you even believe it existed in the first place.

Of course, private colleges have a right to determine their speakers and publications. But any institution of higher learning worthy of the name should be open to the free exchange of ideas.

Censorship in academia is being excused using the same justifications for all censorship through history: Those considered lacking in virtue don’t get a platform to speak. Free speech applies only to people saying the right things.

The Left knows that if there is honest and open debate, those who have the truth on their side will win out—and this happens to be the worst-case scenario for people who aren’t concerned with the truth as much as political power.

They’ve taken a page from Saul Alinsky: several pages, in fact. The famous community organizer’s book “Rules for Radicals” gives great insight into the progressive mind.

In his words, “You don’t communicate with anyone purely on the rational facts or ethics of an issue.” Instead, he famously wrote, the Left needs to “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.”

So there you have it: don’t debate, don’t argue with the other side. Shut down the conversation, and cast anyone who disagrees with you as a monster.

This mania for censorship isn’t exclusive to campuses, although it finds its perfection there. You can see it in private business, mainstream media, social media, and the attitudes of our elected leaders.

Occasionally, a member of the wealthy elite gets thrown under the bus by members of his own class, almost as a sacrificial offering to the out-of-control radicals they have trained to win them elections.

You may remember what happened to the CEO of Firefox last spring, Brendan Eich, who was shouted into retirement because, years before, he supported California’s Proposition 8—affirming marriage between a man and a woman.

52 percent of his fellow Californians agreed with him at the time. And journalist Nate Silver reported that many other donors from Silicon Valley also supported the measure. But he was still thrown away by the ruling class, like a herd of buffalo letting the sick and weak fall to the wolves.

It’s cliché to hear about movie stars wearing Che Guevara T-Shirts while living in mansions, but it’s the same hypocrisy at play here: The elites foster a rabid hatred of traditional values, constitutional order, meritocracy, and honest debate in the segments of the culture under their influence, whether it’s a city, a campus, or an audience.

Then, when the uproar they help create turns to abuse and censorship, they sit by. They allow some people to soak up the abuse, and let their troops vent their rage at the innocent.

The issues have changed, and the venues have changed. The intimidation everyone fears no longer comes from radical gangs protesting government offices but gangs of radicals shaming you on Twitter.

Nonetheless, the underlying tactics have remained the same.

The last 15 years of tech innovations and near-universal adoption of social media have made it easier than ever to pick, freeze, personalize, and polarize an issue.

An unintended consequence of political debate being reduced to a tweet or a rant in a website comments section is that the real-world actions of progressives have become less rational, more indefensible, and more cowardly, because they are often anonymous. Perhaps that’s why Mahmood’s peers thought it was a great idea to taunt him with hot dogs and slurs—an act simultaneously outrageous and juvenile—because their thoughts have been reduced to 140 characters at a time.

But there is a wealth of intelligent, civil discourse on the internet. Technology doesn’t really control our minds—but blind ideology can.

That is the cause and the purpose of this phenomenon: Academic censorship, political correctness, saying who has the right to speak on a topic and who does not, bullying those who break the taboos of this new cultural Marxism—it all adds up to a means of control.

Control who gets to speak, and you control the debate. Control the debate, and you control how people think. Control how people think, and you control society.

After all, the easiest way to win an argument is to tape your opponent’s mouth shut. Too many educators today think this is a good idea. They think that their own righteousness sanctifies these tactics.

Whether it happens in the Ivy League or state colleges or even high schools, it affects the rest of the nation. The surrender of one institution sets precedent for the surrender of the next, and eventually most of academia.

Along with it, hundreds of thousands of bright minds will only hear one side of the debate—one that teaches them to despise their national heritage, to rebel for the sake of rebellion, and to profane the sacred on the belief that nothing is sacred, except for the idols that the elites themselves create.

They will live and act according to this narrow existence: passionate to say and think exactly what’s in fashion and careful to condemn all the “undesirables” who do differently. The truth will take a back seat to the whims of man.

That is not a country I want my children’s children to grow up in, and I don’t think you’d like it much either. All it takes is a few people with courage to change the course of history.

So it is all the more important that you dissent from this new culture of censorship, and offer clear, well-argued philosophical and political alternatives.

Many of your progressive peers have never even heard real conservative ideas beyond parodies on The Daily Show.

I encourage you to give them another way.

Let the abuse bounce off you, and always be of good cheer. A good character is a magnet for good conversation—and in those conversations you can reveal truths that indoctrinated students have never considered.

The work you do here at Yale, and the work of the William F. Buckley Jr. Program, is of paramount importance to your fellow students and your peers around the nation.

Never let anyone silence you—or the truth. Thank you.


UK: Save Gardies from the Stepford Students

Sexual-assault claims are being used to shut down a Cambridge fast-food joint

On Sunday, a Facebook page was created calling for the boycott of the Gardenia café – or ‘Gardies’, as the gown call it – in Cambridge. The café has long been considered an institution among Cambridge students and was even subject to a successful student campaign to keep it open, when it was threatened with closure in 2003. The new Facebook page was set up following an anonymous blog post in which the author alleged that she had been forced to kiss a member of staff at the café when she was drunk on a night out. At the time of writing, the page has received over 1,000 likes. The campaign claims that ‘everyone had a Gardies story’ involving sexual assault. There was, apparently, the ‘touching of women without consent’ occurring on endemic levels at the café, in which staff had the unenviable job of servicing the demands of pissed-up Cambridge students.

The campaign posted a series of ‘demands’ to the café, including ‘the installing of more HD (CCTV) cameras’ and ‘the suspension of any staff members involved’. Of course, the idea that a small business might not be able to magic the money for ‘HD CCTV cameras’ out of thin air, or the fact that sacked staff members might not immediately land another job at their daddy’s firm, seemed to bypass the blissfully unaware, reality-lite students behind the campaign, who were intent on ‘sending a strong message’ at any cost.

So what exactly is being alleged in the Cambridge Kangaroo Court? Having read the anonymous blog that led to the campaign, it’s obvious that, even if what is being alleged is true, Gardies is hardly the den of sexual assault that it’s being painted as. On the night in question, a member of staff apparently blocked a girl’s way down from the upstairs area and refused to move until she kissed him. She alleges that she tried to push past him, ‘which he took as an invitation to put his hands on me’. The girl then ‘panicked’ and did kiss him. Then, racked with guilt for ‘cheating on her boyfriend’ – who by the way had naffed off earlier in the night, leaving his girlfriend drunk and alone – she started to feel as though she had been ‘violated’ by the man.

Who knows what actually happened? Of course, the young woman involved could have made a complaint directly to the manager. If she really felt threatened, she could have called the police. Instead, she took to the blogosphere to write about her experience.

Contrary to the wild hysteria of his persecutors, the owner of Gardies has acted with remarkable dignity. If I was faced with this mob of pitchfork-wielding feminist toffs making ‘demands’ of the business I had strived to establish, I doubt I would show such restraint. Whereas the politest riposte I could muster would be to tell these little authoritarians to go fuck themselves and their Facebook page, the owner has calmly reminded the students, through an intermediary, that he has spent 26 years dealing with petty criminality on behalf of drunk students, from cleaning up their vomit to splitting up continuous fights between every Little Lord Cuntleroy who stumbles into his café after guzzling wine with his chums at the college formal. He even had his tip box stolen. Remarkably, he has not once complained to the police in case it would place the perpetrators’ education at risk. As a thank you, the student mob went straight – without apparently having the guts to raise the issue with him directly – to an internet-based campaign to deny him of his livelihood. Those making allegations have still not come forward with the dates of any incidents, as has been requested by the owner, so he can make investigations.

There is precedent for this brainless enactment of summary justice when it comes to rape. As has been argued before on spiked, the Ku Klux Klan used the unproven, un-investigated word of rape complainants to justify lynching young black men. KKK members, knowing that their allegations would not stand up to any degree of objective inquiry, chose to enact their justice in the absence of any due process. Today, the same tactics are used to punish the accused without having to bother with the burdensome processes of traditional justice. In the US, unproven and discredited allegations of sexual assault are often the launchpad for campaigns to have accused students suspended from their courses. The campaign against Gardies might not be racist, but, given the public shaming of the restaurant and its staff, it has adopted precisely those techniques that have been used throughout history to scapegoat and persecute minorities in the name of combating rape. Summary justice has always been the preferred forum for the unjust.

Now, as the ludicrous campaign builds momentum, Gardies appears to be bending over backwards to accommodate the absurd demands of the boycotters. Correspondence on the campaign Facebook page suggests that there could be sackings, and that the café was in the process of drafting a ‘code of conduct’ for dealing with sexual assault. Bizarrely, the students enacting the boycott are trying simultaneously to present themselves as being on the same side as the owner of Gardies, writing on the campaign page that ‘we know how much he gives to the community and how kind as an individual he is to students’. With friends like these, eh?

We should not ignore this campaign. It’s a nasty, vindictive attempt to ruin a man’s life on the basis of spurious allegations. People of Cambridge, particularly students, I implore you to go and buy a Gardies burger immediately. Show the owners that you support their business and its contribution to Cambridge over and above the narcissistic and vindictive campaigning of entitled students. Gardies needed you before and it needs you now. Show them that you will not tolerate the arbitrary enactment of summary justice by self-obsessed students. If this man’s business is damaged any further because of a bunch of uppity poshos, it would be an utterly unforgivable travesty of justice and a deeply problematic victory for mob rule. Let’s not let it happen.


The greening of the ivory towers

A National Association of Scholars report interrogates the tyranny of sustainability on campus

He was lanky, lantern-jawed, suave, decorated for his service in Vietnam. She was the wife of a senior Republican Party senator. They met briefly at the Earth Day rally in Washington, DC, in 1990, where he spoke. The next year, her husband died; the year after that, the two met again at the United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. By 1994 the two were married, with a family net worth that’s now estimated at $250million.

However Senator John Kerry and Teresa Heinz, head of the Heinz Family Foundation (assets: $117million), had already done something else together, in 1993. They had launched a nonprofit organisation, Second Nature, which set out to ‘create a sustainable society by transforming higher education’.

Today, the US is far from a sustainable society, and not just in the green sense. But, as shown in a new in-depth report from the National Association of Scholars (NAS), entitled Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism, Kerry, Heinz and a whole rogues’ gallery of elite figures have, over nearly 25 years, succeeded in transforming much of the curriculum and the practice of US higher education. Indeed, they have significantly altered America’s national debate about climate change.

As the report notes, the sustainability movement ‘has become a major force in American life’, but has ‘so far escaped serious critical scrutiny’. The NAS’s report gives sustainability just that treatment. It incisively and brilliantly interrogates the Green movement’s ideological powerhouse – the university campus. This is where the movement ‘gets its voice of authority’, and where it ‘commands the attention of the young’.

The campus as living laboratory

The report is well written and balanced. But it is especially revealing about the dubious, feelings-centred educational methods that have overwhelmed universities in the US. These methods have allowed sustainability to become a whole way of life there.

As the report says, what it calls the campus sustainability movement (CSM) ‘spans global ambitions and micro-administration’. Whereas the old environmentalism focused on getting people to take better care of the natural world, the CSM focuses on every aspect of personal life: it wants people to ‘submit to a regime of nearly total social control’. In college canteens, the plastic bottles that Heinz ketchup comes in must be stamped out. Same for the plastic trays on which students carry their canteen food.

Of course, these efforts to turn campuses into living laboratories make virtually no difference to the overall condition of the Earth. But that’s not the point. The enforcement of tyrannical green gestures is a drive to habituate the student, over three meals a day, to ‘upfront inconveniences that jar him alert to the need for other, larger measures’.

With the CSM, American universities compete with each other to recycle the most waste. Northwestern University pays 60 ‘eco-reps’ to go about what it calls ‘empowering students that aren’t already engaged in the environmental movement, making sure they have the necessary resources to make greener choices’. Worldwide, nearly 700 colleges and universities, including Glasgow Caledonian University, London’s University of Greenwich and innumerable institutions in Canada, Mexico and the Netherlands, now compete for bronze, silver, and gold stars that are at the same time green.

They win points for growing organic gardens, for using napkins that are made of recycled paper, and for offering ‘housing options to accommodate the special needs of transgender and transitioning students (either as a matter of policy or as standard practice)’.

The ascent of green pedagogy

The CSM has brought about a world that now runs more than 1,400 educational programmes in sustainability. Yet, the report observes, sustainability is no longer just a subject students opt for. Cornell University, for example, is proud that it integrates education in ‘climate literacy’ with ‘freshman orientation, undergraduate club leadership development, residential life, and professional development training’.

Worse, the report adds, after the ascent of Green pedagogy, sustainability has become ‘an inescapable, automatic part of all disciplines and subjects’.

Emory University is an interesting case. The CSM has seen Emory ‘integrate’ sustainability into arenas far removed from environmental science. Emory invites you to pledge to use stairs, not lifts; to study only in well-populated places at night, so as to conserve energy for lighting; to take ‘some time for stillness once a week’. But more remarkably still, over 100 general faculty members at Emory have changed their teaching methods to include experiential learning and new outdoor exercises (1). Similarly, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh believes that a battery of green pedagogical techniques, including place-based, problem-based, community and service learning, ‘encourages us to transform our thinking about learning at our institutions’.

It is the same story in the new, oh-so-interdisciplinary field of environmental humanities. Celebrated not just by the universities of Oregon, Princeton, Stanford, Utah and Vermont, but also by Oxford, Edinburgh and Leeds in the UK, environmental humanities hopes to subordinate the arts to environmental science. At Stony Brook University, environmental humanities means, the report says, ‘a hodgepodge of science courses mixed with boutique courses that sound, by turns, a little nouveau humanities, a little identity studies, and a little social science lite’. Here and elsewhere, the report contends, academics turn nature from mere subject of thought (for example, landscapes described in literature, or by the natural sciences) into the whole of thought itself:

‘The division between what is human (and therefore has complex self-awareness, moral agency, a sense of beauty, and intimations of the transcendent) and what is outside the human in a “state of nature” is to be abolished, according to this view, and replaced with a conception that the “human” is just an eddy in the larger stream of existence. The role of the environmental humanities is to rejoin the arts and the sciences in order to take off the disciplinary blinders, take in a 360-degree view of the new human/nature reality, and, in a kind of undoing of the Socratic turn, reunite natural science with moral philosophy.’

Sustainability could have enquired a little further into the New Scientism of the greens – their deification of The Science of climate change so that it becomes a guide to everyday moral action. Yet the report’s opening charge stands. Environmentalism has tried to turn universities into 24/7 ‘living laboratories’ of sustainable behaviour, and has corrupted the curriculum:

‘Harnessing higher education into the service of sustainability seriously undermines its purpose. It treats other disciplines as mere material for sustainability to interpret or vehicles by which sustainability can be taught. It forces habits and disciplines based on reflection, dialogue, and careful consideration into the mold of urgent political and social advocacy. It divorces the classroom from the goals of understanding and comprehending reality and yokes them to activism and ideological conformity. It cloaks the dogmas of environmentalism as necessary, foundational premises of higher education, setting them up as pillars that are above rational debate. And in refocusing the college curriculum on a popular politically correct fad, it deprives students of a connection to a greater tradition of thought and culture.’

The origins of the CSM

How did we get to this place, where sustainability can pretend to be both the substance and the procedure of education? At the end of Sustainability’s first chapter, the report makes clear the influence, on US education, of Stephen Sterling, today a senior academic at Plymouth and London South Bank universities. Sterling has stressed not education about sustainability, or education for immediate sustainable practice, but rather education as sustainability – embedding, embodying and exploring sustainability as an intrinsic part of the general learning process. More importantly, in 2003 the United Nations declared 2005-14 the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Then, in December 2007, led by Arizona State University and the University of Florida, 12 presidents signed Second Nature’s American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, pledging to buy energy only if it was renewable, to go for buildings and appliances that were energy-efficient, to get staff and students to stop using cars, and to eliminate or offset all campus emissions of CO2.

Now the CSM began to find its moment. Why? According to Sustainability, because of two factors: ‘burgeoning Western consumption’, and increasing public concern over global warming – concern that was compounded by a series of extreme weather events: the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami (2004), Hurricane Katrina (2005), the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill (2010), the meltdown of Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (2011), and Hurricane Sandy (2012).

This account of events is very useful. But, if we go back to the birth of the CSM, it’s clear that a key factor behind it was capitalism’s pyrrhic conclusion to the Cold War. That rupture didn’t just make the left, worldwide, morph into environmentalists. In the US, both Democrats and Republicans also found themselves bereft of an organising, anti-Soviet narrative, and fearful of untrammelled capitalist growth. They therefore rallied round something new: a green, technocratic centre that was pro-capitalist, but ethical, responsible and critical of ‘market failure’.

That’s why John Kerry and Teresa Heinz got together in the early 1990s. That’s why just four days elapsed between media-savvy NASA scientist James Hansen sounding the alarm on climate to the US Senate on 23 July 1988, and Ronald Reagan meeting Margaret Thatcher and five other G7 heads of state to affirm, in Toronto, that climate change required ‘priority attention’.

From such a watershed, and the formation, again in 1988, of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, it took nearly 20 years for climate and sustainability really to have their way with popular and campus consciousness. Yet it was the redundancy of the old Cold War’s left-right framework, and the emptying out of forward-looking visions of the future, that generated sustainability and its advocates. It was that constellation of events that led to the catchphrase ‘sustainable development’, coined by Our Common Future, the 1987 report of Norwegian premier Gro Harlem Brundtland, replacing ‘development’, leaving only a sustainability that was about lowering consumption and the greatest kind of caution.

Sustainability devotes some pages, and an appendix, to the precautionary principle. Here again we are dealing with the blue funk that infected the West after the end of the Cold War, and here again sustainability is confirmed as a top-down phenomenon – drafted by German lawyers, made prominent at the Rio Summit, enshrined in the European Court of Justice’s 1998 judging of Britain’s conduct around BSE. So though sustainability doctrinaires deserve just the cutting, independent scrutiny that Sustainability provides, it’s useful to remember that, as a militant outburst, they were created by, and remain subordinate to, the manoeuvres and strategy of the elite – of government, of regulators, and of businesses interested in corporate social responsibility (2).

Diversifying the movement

Our Common Future worried about inequalities between people today and our old friend, ‘future generations’. But Brundtland was already concerned, too, about inequalities within today’s population. However as Sustainability rightly points out, the 1,000 organisations now grouped around action/2015 are, nearly 30 years on from Brundtland, much more strident about current inequality (3). They insist that a UN Special Summit, to be held in September this year, adopts the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – goals that include ending poverty ‘in all its forms everywhere’, empowering all women and promoting ‘peaceful and inclusive societies’.

Commendably, in chapter two, the NAS shows how, here and elsewhere, sustainability has tried, with the utmost cynicism, to attach itself to anything that’s fashionable. It has diversified its appeal for ‘environmental justice’ into campaigns for social and economic justice. In America’s new, glib, post-Ferguson sustainababble:

‘Racial discrimination is seen as an enabler for industrial pollution by perpetuating the low wages that make cheap production viable. Environmental degradation is perceived as entrenching racial injustice by condemning poor minority communities to blighted, barren lands.’

It does not matter that, in the West, racial discrimination, like industrial pollution, no longer has the force it did; that low wages in the developing world often jostle with automation there as the source of cheapness in production; that those low wages are typically on the rise in China and elsewhere; that many of the blighted, barren lands of the developing world, though in need of urgent action, have recorded some impressive achievements in agricultural yields and in reforestation. No, the thing to do is take your cue from… President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency! In the best traditions of the affirmative action enacted by Richard Nixon, the regulator can only be right to say that environmental justice demands: ‘[F]air treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, colour, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.’

In promiscuous style, sustainability taps, channels and diverts the anger of the exploited and oppressed. Meanwhile, liberals love it. As the report says:

‘Diversity, with its demands for racial reconciliation, affirmative action, multicultural sympathies, and tokens of reparation, finds in sustainability a metanarrative that links its specific grievances to a larger circle of global oppression that must be smashed. Social justice finds justification for its communitarian fervor in sustainability’s calls for a new economic and social order. Feminism fawns over sustainability’s firm expression of support for birth control, abortion, and its calls for gender equality and female empowerment.’

Is debate on climate ‘over’?

Sustainability does a good job of presenting the protagonists’ views from both sides of the debate on climate. Its purpose is to challenge sustainability’s illiberal assertion that the time for debate is over, and the CSM’s still more illiberal call for ‘climate deniers’ to lose their position on campus, be tried for their crimes, and so on.

The NAS is right to note that the ‘debate is over’ position is directly at odds with intellectual freedom. In February 2015, backed by the Natural Resources Committee’s Democratic delegation, the ranking member of the House of Representatives Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, Arizona Democrat Raúl Grijalva, demanded to know everything about the funding and the communications of seven American academics who write about climate. To its credit, the American Meteorological Society protested, and so did some environmentalists. Still, the fact remains that what Sean Collins described, in 2007, as the dogma of ‘transparency’ now permeates everywhere. Sustainability has helped make pursuit of the corrupt through ‘transparent’ information come to be regarded as a human right and an essential part of democracy.

In fact, however, those who now cry that ‘debate is over’ on climate change are an affront to democracy. In Obama’s second term, they now like to subject climate dissenters on campus to the McCarthy treatment.

When colleges and universities stop investing in fossil fuels

Alongside mounting a forthright defence of free speech, the NAS also looks at the business costs of the green operational measures taken by US academic institutions. Sustainability finds that such institutions spend more than $3.2 billion a year on biomass boilers, sustainability administrators and environmentalist lecturers. In straitened times, this seems like a fat sum, and is, as the NAS says, rather a waste; yet in the scheme of American political economy, it is not so large. Anyway, while advocates of sustainability seem always to get worse, even biomass boilers may one day get better enough to pay their way.

But it’s the final chapter of Sustainability that really fascinates. It concerns the campaign begun at Swarthmore College and then led by the journalist, academic and founder of, Bill McKibben, whose popularisation of global warming, The End of Nature, was published in 1989. The campaign was to get colleges and universities to take their endowment funds out of coal, oil and gas. Today that campaign is, as the NAS accurately says, driven by two anxieties: ‘Angst over global warming, and frustration with the perceived insufficiency of environmental regulations. Its preferred solution to political standoff is to boycott private industries.’

Campus divestment is a fundamentally conservative tactic. As the NAS points out: ‘When one college divests from fossil fuel companies, any number of investors will eagerly buy up the stocks.’ It also turns out to be tricky and costly to implement. But then it isn’t really about practical wins, since only Stanford and Dayton have plans really to do something. No, campus divestment is about absolving colleges of direct moral culpability for climate change. It is also about turning the fossil-fuel companies that fund the Republican Party into social pariahs, so that they are no longer able to gull the stupid masses with their political lobbying.

The old, tired Democrats remain the political Alpha and Omega of the CSM. Acutely, however, Sustainability also notes the debt that the divest-from-fossil-fuel movement of the 2010s acknowledges to the divest-from-apartheid movement of the 1980s. In Rolling Stone in July 2012, McKibben quoted South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s plaudits to the old divesters – and Tutu soon returned the compliment to the new ones.

In all the McKibben-Tutu backslapping, nobody talked about using technological innovation to deal with climate change. Worse, the struggles of the black masses in South Africa counted for nothing – just like the intelligence of American voters when confronted with oil-funded Republican politicians.

We can be sure that sustainability and divestment always and everywhere remain strategies tied to Western statecraft. They are, after all, doctrines as samey as the state. Environmental injustice is social and economic injustice, all got up by Big Oil, Big Coal and the frackers. The same story, repeated over and over again.

Concluding remarks

Sustainability is a tremendously valuable report. It is a long but fascinating – and also disturbing – read. It calls for educational institutions to stop ‘nudging’ people into sustainable practices, and wants them to stay on topic and stop arm-twisting faculty members to make every course a sustainability course. In this, it can only be right.

I do have a couple of quibbles. Like its opponents, the NAS recommends that colleges ‘open the books’, and make their pursuit of sustainability ‘financially transparent’. And nor, despite one’s concerns about green operations and scholarship on campus, can one be too comfortable with the recommendation to ‘pull back the sustainability hires’.

All this, however, is to take nothing away from the report’s analytical achievements. In closing, I just want to touch on a simple question. Is sustainability, as its questioners suggest, ‘fast becoming the dominant ideology at colleges and universities in the United States’?

Not quite. In America, it may well be that, as the NAS says, feminism ‘fawns’ over the hip postures on gender affected by sustainability. Yet perhaps the relationship is more interesting than that.

Climate science and sustainability have an integrated, global hinterland of academic research and practice bigger even than that of feminism. Corporations are more interested in greenness than feminism. Greenness is the default position not just of many women on campus, but also of many men.

However, if sustainability now gives campus anti-capitalists a respectable pedigree in terms of its literature and its global summits, feminism has helped the CSM in terms of codes of conduct. Intolerance toward climate ‘deniers’ is enormously assisted by those who, in their intolerance of ‘rape culture’, rush to unmask anyone who begs to cavil at their kangaroo courts. The default position of taking offence and demanding bans, so rife on campus and so promoted by feminism, dovetails perfectly with the censorious logic of ‘debate is over’ on climate change. And this is true as much in the UK as in the US.

On campus, in fact, sustainability rubs shoulders with feminism as ‘the dominant ideology’. One offers The Science as moral compass; the other, intolerance as a principle. We have sustainability in content, and feminism in form.

How wonderful are the West’s cathedrals of learning these days!


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