Tuesday, March 03, 2015

UM’s tolerance problem

Jonah Goldberg

I once asked my late father if he had any experiences with anti-Semitism. There weren’t many. Although that was probably in part because of his scoring methodology. The Irish kids who beat up the Jewish kids in his Bronx neighborhood didn’t do so because they were anti-Semitic, but because “they had to fight somebody,” as my dad put it. Today, such behavior would probably be called a hate crime.

So I suppose that’s progress.

He did tell me that the first time someone said to him “Don’t Jew me” was during his freshman year at the University of Michigan. He was more shocked than offended. He couldn’t believe someone he was friends with could be so stupid.

Today we call such stupidity “insensitivity.” Whether that counts as progress is an open question.

I visited my father’s alma mater for the first time last week. The University of Michigan’s chapter of the Young Americans for Freedom invited me to give a speech. A banner warning the “thought police” of my imminent arrival was torn down, presumably by the irony-impaired thought police.

The university has been in the news recently for such shenanigans and worse. For instance, student Omar Mahmood, a columnist for both the Michigan Daily and the conservative Michigan Review, was fired from the Daily for writing a parody piece for the Review about the oppression of the “left-handyd.” In the piece, Mahmood’s narrator takes a comment from a “white cis-gendered hetero upper-class man” as microaggression. “Behind his words I sensed a patronizing sneer, as if he expected me to be a spokespersyn for my whole race. He offered his hand to help me up, and I thought to myself how this might be a manifestation of the patriarchy patronizing me.”

The humor-deficient editors of the Michigan Daily were not amused. They claimed the column had created a “hostile environment” because one of the editors felt “threatened” by Mahmood’s mockery of microaggressions. He was ultimately fired. Later, Mahmood’s dorm doorway was pelted with eggs and festooned with profanity-laced notes and, oddly, a picture of Satan.

The administration’s efforts to find the perpetrators appear lackadaisical compared to O.J. Simpson’s pursuit of the real killers. Of course, if Mahmood, a Muslim, had been attacked for something related to his religious faith, you can bet the administration would go to DEFCON 1.

That’s because the University of Michigan wants to be an intolerance-free zone — so long as it’s intolerance of things the administration finds intolerable.

To that end, the school rolled out its Inclusive Language Campaign. It contains a list of taboo phrases that no one should use lest they give offense. The campaign is intended to be “educational, not regulatory,” though some students report that they’ve been asked to sign a pledge vowing to avoid using such phrases as “ghetto,” “that’s so gay,” “that’s retarded” and “tranny.”

Students are also told they shouldn’t say things like “I want to die” — say, after doing badly on a test — because such language can “diminish the experience of those who have attempted or committed suicide.” I would have thought those who have committed suicide would be immune to such concerns.

Also on the list is any effort to turn Jew into a verb. So, roughly 75 years after my dad was told by an idiot “Don’t Jew me,” the battle continues.

I have no problem with teaching students to have good manners. I’m less convinced that the PC priesthood is winning the war on intolerance. It’s absolutely true that majorities owe minorities respect. What’s lost is any appreciation of the fact that minorities owe majorities respect too. That’s what Mahmood was getting at.

Instead, we are teaching young people that being offended is an ideological priority. Indeed, the coin of the campus realm today is victimhood, grievance and offense. An entirely well-intentioned — and syntactically accurate — use of the wrong word is an invitation to being called a racist, homophobe, sexist, etc. (while actual disagreement is tantamount to heresy). The burden of proof then falls on the accused, a burden that often can’t be met absent re-education. And for the offended “victim,” a stupid comment or even a harmless newspaper column becomes a source of trauma. Yes, words can hurt. But teaching these delicate flowers to make too big a deal out of them will likely do more lasting damage.


Kangaroo courts on campus: ‘martial law against men’

The campus rape panic is destroying due process

In 2011, the US Department of Education’s assistant for civil rights, Russlynn H Ali, wrote to universities across America instructing them that they must aggressively investigate all allegations of sexual assault on campus, regardless of whether the police chose to do so.

The directive, now infamously referred to as the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter, stated that if university disciplinary procedures failed to pursue allegations of sexual assault, they would be in violation of US equality legislation and would be stripped of government funds.

The directive, fuelled by a popular panic around an alleged ‘rape culture’ on campus, triggered a proliferation of a Kafkaesque tribunals and kangaroo courts across US universities. Four years on, dozens of railroaded male students are suing their Alma Maters for breaching their constitutional right to a fair trial, and in October last year, 28 Harvard Law professors published an open letter stating that the new procedures ‘lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process [and] are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused’.

So far, so American. Except, astonishingly, there is now a drive to impose this discredited system of parallel justice on to campuses in the UK. This year, the End Violence Against Women commission (EVAW) - which includes the Fawcett Society, Rape Crisis England and Wales, the Women’s Institute, Amnesty International UK and the TUC - has published a legal briefing warning universities they could be breaking the law if they refuse to investigate sexual-assault allegations in the belief that such investigations should be left to the police.

Their argument is essentially the same as the one in the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter – that because under equality law universities have a responsibility to protect students and staff from gender-based discrimination, they are required to investigate such allegations, even if the evidence would not support a criminal investigation. Or, as the EVAW briefing puts it, ‘disciplinary procedures should not apply a criminal burden of proof’.
Must-reads from the past week

The campaigners’ attitudes to the rights of accused male students were spelled out by one of the professors leading the charge. Professor Nicole Westmarland wrote in the UK Telegraph‘s Women section: ‘The criminal process can take months. If universities refuse to investigate or take action during this time, then the victim is forced to live and study alongside their attacker… Our students cannot be left to study in a culture of fear and misogyny.’ Due process just takes too damn long - much easier just to find the student guilty as charged and kick him out, right?

The campus anti-rape campaigners have already shown their penchant for mob justice in the case of then Oxford Union president Ben Sullivan. Sullivan was subjected to an aggressive resignation campaign - led by Oxford University Student Union’s vice president for women - after he was accused of rape by two female students. Following a police investigation, not only was there insufficient evidence to charge Sullivan, it appears one of his accusers knew she had made a false allegation against him.

But it’s not just the campaigners’ disregard for due process that is of concern - there’s also the quality of the evidence they’re using to justify the reforms in the first place.

In the US, hysteria has been fuelled by the claim that one in five female students will be a victim of rape or sexual assault while attending university. But the statistic has been repeatedly thrown into question and more reputable research suggests that closer to 1-in-53 college women are victims of rape or sexual assault - obviously still far too high, but nowhere near a figure that justifies the idea of a ‘rape culture’ on campus.

Here in the UK, we have our own cottage industry of advocacy research and ideologically driven journalism that’s been pumping out alarming and distorted statistics about campus sexual assault. The EVAW campaign was launched alongside a series of articles in Telegraph Women, with the shocking headline: ‘A third of female students in Britain have endured a sexual assault or unwanted advances at university.’

Let’s leave aside just what constitutes ‘unwanted advances’ - being asked out by someone you don’t fancy? For much later, the statement is qualified by ‘most assaults were more minor offences, including groping’. The headlines and ensuing articles also downplayed how the survey found that one in eight male students had been subjected to groping or unwanted advances and that one per cent of students of either gender had been raped at university. The Telegraph does not provide a link to the report, so it’s not possible to explore the claims in more detail.

Just days afterwards, the same journalist published another article on the predatory tendency of male students – this time in Telegraph Men – stating that ‘a third of male university students would rape a woman if there were no consequences’. The implication that a third of the UK’s male student body would rape a woman if they could get away with it, published in a respected national broadsheet, is based on a study of exactly 73 students at an American university.

But the group that’s most committed to vilifying the UK’s male students is the National Union of Students itself. The key report the EVAW uses to justify its demands is the 2010 NUS survey, ‘Hidden Marks’, which openly states its ideological agenda: ‘The survey did not ask about violence experienced by male students. Whilst we recognise that male students have a heightened risk of being a victim of violent crime, and can be subject to the full range of behaviour surveyed in this research, the primary aim of this research was to explore women students’ experiences, focusing particularly, although not exclusively, on men’s behaviour towards women and the impact of gendered violence on women.’ Glad that’s clear, then.

Since ‘Hidden Marks’, the NUS has relentlessly peddled the idea that there is a widespread climate of sexism against female students, producing a series of high-profile reports, consultations and surveys, including a Lad Culture Summit last February, complete with live updates by the Guardian.

The most recent of these surveys, which claimed harassment of female students ‘is rife on campus’, found that 37 per cent of women and 12 per cent of men who responded said they had faced unwelcome sexual advances, while 36 per cent of women who took part said they had experienced unwanted sexual comments about their body, compared with 16 per cent of men. Once again, as with the Telegraph survey and ‘Hidden Marks’, if a third to 50 per cent of those experiencing sexism are male students, why is this just being presented as an issue of male perpetrators and female victims?

Meanwhile, from the banning of ‘Blurred Lines’ and lads’ mags on campus, to relentless social media propaganda such as the Hollaback video and ‘consent classes’ for new students, campus culture increasingly seems to find young male sexuality inherently pathological.

Sexual harassment and assault on campus is a real problem - victims must be taken seriously and know that they can expect justice to be done. But that is not what these campaigns are about.

Back in 2011, when first reporting on the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter, American feminist Christina Hoff Sommers warned: ‘The new regulations should be seen for what they really are. They are not an enlightened new procedure for protecting students from crime. They are a declaration of martial law against men, justified by an imagined emergency.’

These ideologically driven campaigns by the NUS and others have fostered a climate primed for witch hunts and mob justice. In this context, the last thing universities should be doing is undermining due process.


Australia: Taxman takes aim at dodgy colleges

DOOR-TO-DOOR selling, cold calling and other aggressive marketing tactics helped two private colleges sign up more than 10,000 students to expensive taxpayer-funded Business Diplomas in 2013, many of which will never be completed.

Careers Australia Education Institute, a subsidiary of Acquire Learning, signed up 6,165 students to the popular course in 2013 — an extra 5,266 students from the year before — for a total of $51,227,115 worth in government loans.

That represented a 586 per cent increase in students on 2012.

At the same time, the Australian College of Training & Employment, trading as Evocca College, signed up 4,047 students for $39,127,500 worth of government loans. That represented an additional 1,858 students on the prior year, or a 118 per cent increase.

Only two other private colleges came close: Productivity Partners Pty Ltd, trading as Captain Cook Colleges, signed up 736 students for $6,064,000 worth of loans, while Study Group Australia Pty Ltd, trading as Taylors UniLink, signed up 330 students for $3,259,670 worth of loans.

The Business Diploma gold rush highlights just part of the bigger picture, with growing signs of a crackdown on the current sector arrangements which allow private colleges to make massive profits through state and federal government funding.

A Senate inquiry into the vocational education and training sector will table its first interim report today. The report is expected to raise concerns about the vast profits being made by private companies, with public hearings in coming months tipped to focus on the economics of allowing for-profit vocational training.

According to a University of Sydney study, some of Australia’s largest training companies have reported profit margins of more than 50 per cent.

Figures released by Assistant Training Minister Simon Birmingham last week revealed the government spent $1.615 billion in VET FEE-HELP loans last year for 189,000 students at 254 training providers, representing a blowout of $315 million.

Modelling by the Grattan Institute estimates 40 per cent of those loans will never be repaid, as many debtors’ salaries won’t reach the repayment threshold of $53,345, meaning taxpayers will foot the bill.

Education Department data shows only 26 per cent of the 30,595 students who enrolled in vocational education and training FEE-HELP courses in 2011 finished their course within three years, with just 7 per cent completing their online course.

Senator Birmingham last week announced audits of 23 colleges to investigate “allegations of unscrupulous marketing and other practices intended to exploit” the VET FEE-HELP system.

In its submission to the Senate inquiry, the Redfern Legal Centre highlighted the case of one of its clients, ‘John’, a Disability Support Pensioner who lives in public housing in Surry Hills in inner Sydney.

John is from a non-English speaking background and suffers from acute mental illness, including schizophrenia and trauma-related illness.

“In early 2014, a door-to-door marketing agent, acting on behalf of a [registered training organisation], knocked on John’s front door,” the Centre wrote.

“The marketing agency was very pushy and kept telling John he would receive a free laptop and tablet — all he needed to do was sign up for this ‘free government funded course’.”

According to the Centre, John was enrolled in two different ‘business management’ style courses with two separate RTOs. With the help of his social worker, John found a few months later that he would be liable for more than $10,000 in course fees.

“John’s story highlights the impact of misleading and deceptive marketing practices, which target and exploit vulnerable consumers,” the Centre wrote. “Unfortunately, John’s case is far from uncommon.”


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