Monday, December 21, 2015

The Education department's office of civil rights comes under fire from the national civil rights head

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Commissioner Gail Heriot said she was “baffled” by Congress’ decision to include a 7 percent raise for the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in light of their “pattern of disregard for the rule of law.”

Below is Commissioner Heriot’s statement.

“One of the more disturbing aspects of the omnibus spending bill is the 7 percent budget increase for the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”).  That would be a large increase for any federal office.  But OCR’s pattern of disregard for the rule of law makes any budget increase clearly unjustified.

“I am not the only one seriously troubled by OCR’s actions.  Last year, 28 members of the faculty of Harvard Law School and 16 members of the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School—hardly bastions of conservative thought—expressed deep misgivings over the sexual assault and harassment policies adopted by their respective institutions under pressure from OCR.  Expressing their thoughts in open letters published in the Boston Globe and Wall Street Journal, these legal scholars took the position that the procedures insisted upon by OCR were fundamentally unfair to students accused of wrongdoing.  It was only because OCR had the power to cut off colleges and universities from federal funds that it was able to “persuade” them to adopt procedures so heavily biased against the accused.

“Most recently, OCR employed hardball tactics with an Illinois school district in support of a “transgender” student who wished to use the girls’ locker room despite having an anatomically male body.  A number of female students and their parents objected to this on privacy grounds.  Under threat of losing its federal funding, the school district agreed as a compromise to allow the particular student to use the girls’ locker room so long as the student agreed to dress behind a private curtain and the arrangement was not used as a precedent.  Before the ink was dry on the agreement, however, OCR was asserting that the student could not be required to dress behind the curtain and that a precedent had indeed been set.  The school district felt betrayed.  Interestingly, in the last few days OCR has backed off its efforts to undo the compromise.  It is clear that it is eager to continue its practice of threatening schools with a loss of federal funding if they fail to respond to transgender students in the manner OCR desires.  But in addition it has shown itself to be keen on preventing cases like this one from reaching the courts, where its strained interpretation of Title IX in connection with the use of locker rooms by transgender students would likely be overruled.

“These are just two examples.  OCR has several other initiatives—like its recent policy on bullying—that take it far beyond applicable Supreme Court precedent.  Peter Kirsanow, one of my colleagues on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, and I wrote a letter to Congressional leaders earlier this year citing that initiative’s conflict with Supreme Court precedent along with several other examples of OCR overreach.  Now Congress has given OCR a raise.  We are baffled.”


Why Wheaton College Is Right

Wheaton College professor Larycia Hawkins created a stir last week by announcing she would wear a hijab, the head scarf worn by Islamic women, to “stand in religious solidarity with Muslims” during Advent. Hawkins was later suspended by the school, though not for the reasons presumed by secularists and even some Christians. To be clear: We believe there are numerous flaws in the way she spiritually rationalizes and physically chose to display solidarity. But that alone is not a sufficient reason for punishment. What got Hawkins suspended was a fundamental assertion in her statement: “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book. And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

It’s not difficult to see why this might raise some critical issues for a Christian school. In a statement, Wheaton wrote, “The freedom to wear a head scarf as a gesture of care and compassion for individuals in Muslim or other religious communities that may face discrimination or persecution is afforded to Dr. Hawkins as a faculty member of Wheaton College. Yet her recently expressed views, including that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, appear to be in conflict with the College’s Statement of Faith.”

As RedState’s outgoing editor in chief and seminary student Erick Erickson points out, “Muslims are not ‘people of the book’ in common understanding among evangelicals, though they do descend from Abraham. They do not worship the same God. According to Islam, Allah neither begets nor is begotten — a line explicitly rejecting the trinity. Professor Hawkins and her supporters may wish to distract or may not even care, but Wheaton sets its hiring standards and requires fidelity to the Bible. Professor Hawkins' statement suggests a theological diversion not in keeping with Wheaton’s standards.” That’s why the college’s response isn’t just justified, but warranted.


Harvard placemats and the limits of diversity training

The Harvard placemat debacle has one upside: In a season of well-meaning but overzealous social-justice crusades on campuses nationwide, there’s still a point where almost everyone can agree that the ideological fervor has gone too far.

Recently at Harvard, the Freshman Dean’s Office and the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion prepared a “Holiday Placemat for Social Justice” for use in certain campus dining halls. It listed questions that, administrators imagined, students might hear from unenlightened relatives over the holidays. For instance, on the protests at Yale: “Why are black students complaining? Shouldn’t they be happy to be in college?”

As if hearing such comments would make students lose all pulmonary function, the placemat urged them to “BREATHE.” It also proposed responses: “I don’t hear complaining. Instead I hear young people uplifting a situation that I may not experience.”

It wasn’t until the placemats had been printed, laminated, and put in use in certain dining halls that Harvard brass caught on to just how misguided the idea was. For one thing, the “placemat guide for holiday discussions on race and justice with loved ones” presumed that any right-minded student would agree with the diversity office’s take on current events, and that students’ relatives back home in flyover country were more or less barbarians.

Last month, a “Saturday Night Live” skit suggested that only Adele’s “Hello” could spare families a lot of awkward Thanksgiving conversation. That was funny. The stilted talking points on the Harvard placemat were also funny — just not on purpose.

Ironically, they appear to have united the Harvard community. University President Drew Gilpin Faust told The Harvard Crimson that the initiative was “a really bad idea.” Eighteen members of the school’s Undergraduate Council said in a letter that they “reject the premise that there is a ‘right’ way to answer the questions posed.”

Student-life administrators apologized, if not as straightforwardly as the situation warranted. Stephen Lassonde and Thomas Dingman — the dean of student life and the dean of freshmen, respectively — wrote to students Wednesday night that the placemat “was not effectively presented and it ultimately caused confusion in our community.” “Sorry we insulted your intelligence” would have sufficed.

As student protesters across the country press their colleges for more help in creating safe spaces for underprivileged groups, more diversity training is a common demand — and the more comprehensive and emphatic, the better. But Harvard’s placemat episode hints at the limits to what bureaucratic action can achieve.

During the “just say no” era of the 1980s, an antidrug pamphlet widely distributed in American high schools tried to suggest hip ways of fending off peer pressure. Sample retort: “Take off, hoser” — as if the drug dealers supposedly plaguing America’s schoolyards were all Canadian. The authors of the pamphlet wanted to help students negotiate sticky situations, but most teens who bothered to read it were flabbergasted at its obtuseness and condescension.

Harvard’s laminated discussion guide is a similarly odd artifact of a tumultuous era. (Sadly, none had shown up on eBay by Friday afternoon.) Today, colleges can help students discover the value of diversity and inclusion for themselves, through one-on-one experience with people from different backgrounds over the course of four years. But not all pro-diversity initiatives are equal, and some are little more than goofy verbiage on a placemat


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