Monday, January 16, 2017

UC Davis cancels speeches by far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos and 'pharma bro' Martin Shkreli after angry students 'throw dog feces' and clash with police

Speeches by far-right commentator Milo Yiannopoulos and former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli were canceled after heated protests erupted at the University of California, Davis.

The school's student-run Republican group called off the talk on Friday night after large crowds gathered outside the Science Lecture Hall, shouting 'shut it down'.

According to club leaders canceled the event after consulting with the UC Davis Police Department.

'The decision was made initially because the lives of the officers were threatened, the lives of the students were threatened as well as the property of the school,' Executive Director of the Davis College Republicans Andrew Mendoza said.

Interim Chancellor Ralph J. Hexter said he was 'deeply disappointed' by the outcome and emphasized the importance of engaging with opposing views, 'especially ones that many of us find upsetting or even offensive.'

Shkreli posed for selfies with fans, and claimed he was going to serve as a counterpoint to Yiannopoulos' 'anti-feminism' and 'tear him to shreds'

The Davis College Republicans consulted with the campus police and other school officials and cancelled the event at 7pm, half an hour before it was scheduled to start.

Protesters blocked access to the venue, and several students held a banner that read: 'Hey you, your fascism is showing'. 

Hexter issued a statement on Wednesday, announcing a 'safety plan' had been established in preparation for the event on Friday.

He defended the First Amendment, and told students: 'I suggest, for your consideration, that one strategy for disabling [Yiannopoulos'] message is simply not to attend.'

On Friday, he said he was 'deeply disappointed' by the outcome, and wrote: 'As I have stated repeatedly, a university is at its best when it listens to and critically engages opposing views, especially ones that many of us find upsetting or even offensive.'

Yiannopoulos attributed the cancellation to 'violence from left-wing protesters' on Facebook. He said: 'There are reports of hammers, smashed windows and barricades being torn away. The campus police can't guarantee anyone's safety so I'm not being allowed anywhere near the building. Stay safe, everyone.'

But the school issued a statement that said: 'Despite some reports, there were no broken windows or other property damage during the protest.

'Earlier in the evening, one person was arrested inside the venue. No further arrests were made.'

Yiannopoulos is the darling of the alt-right movement, an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism.

He often refers to feminism as 'a cancer' and was permanently banned from Twitter after leading a harassment campaign against 'Ghostbusters' actress Leslie Jones

Martin Shkreli, was the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals,increased the price of price of a life-saving drug from $13.50 to $750 after his company acquired it.

Shkreli was suspended from Twitter last week after harassing a Teen Vogue writer Lauren Duca, after she turned down his invitation to Trump's inauguration.

He was looking for a date to the president elect's ceremony on January 20 and asked the journalist if she would join him over a social media direct message.

In a scathing refusal, she tweeted out her response to her 129k followers which said: 'I would rather eat my own organs'.

He then filled his account with photos of the 25-year-old - including one picture where Shkreli photoshopped his face over her husband's. 


Islamists Find Willing Allies in U.S. Universities

Two graduate students and two undergraduates recalled personally experiencing the July 15, 2016 coup attempt against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government at a December 7, 2016, Georgetown University panel, before a youthful audience of about fifty. As crews from Turkey's TRT Haber television network and Anadolu Agency (AA) filmed/recorded, the panelists praised the coup's popular foiling as a democratic victory, irrespective of Erdogan's dangerous Islamist policies.

Such willful blindness mirrors that of other American-educated Middle East studies scholars whose actions and pronouncements lend a veneer of legitimacy to Erdogan's dictatorial policies, including mass purges and arrests of academics and teachers throughout Turkey. Erdogan's personal spokesman is Ibrahim Kalin, a George Washington University Ph.D. who serves as a senior fellow at Georgetown's Saudi-funded Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. He joined Juan Cole of Michigan, Cemil Aydin of UNC Chapel Hill (Harvard Ph.D.) at an October 2016 conference in Istanbul even as innocent educators languished in prison or faced academic ruin.

Islamism certainly colored the experiences of the panel's two graduate students, Harvard University Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations doctoral student Rushain Abbasi and his wife Safia Latif, who were in Istanbul during the attempted coup. Abbasi is a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB)-affiliated Muslim Students Association and a former teacher at the Boston Islamic Seminary, an affiliate of another MB group, the Muslim American Society. His previous writing stereotypically attributed Islamist violence to the "histories of colonialism, imperialism, and economic exploitation that still plague the non-Western world," maintaining, "[i]t is not the texts of Islam . . . that are in need of reform."

Latif, a Boston University doctoral student in religious studies who earned an M.A. in Middle East studies from the University of Texas, was like-minded. She previously participated in a conference chaired by the notorious Islamist and UC-Berkeley lecturer Hatem Bazian at California's Zaytuna College. Having witnessed Egyptians in 2013 overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood-led government of President Mohamed Morsi, she despaired of the same thing happening in Turkey. "To see another democratically elected government with an ostensible Islamist president fall was almost too much to bear. My first reaction was a religious one; I took to the prayer mat and I began praying for the Turkish people."

Latif blasted the "shameful Western reactions to the coup," such as media reports of its popular support and then-presidential candidate Donald Trump tweeting that Turks are "taking their country back!" She complained that after the coup, a "lot of the media focus was on political grievances against Erdogan, him consolidating [sic] power, [and] his authoritarian, totalitarian, dictatorial nature," all of which are, in fact, critical concerns under Erdogan's Islamist rule. Instead, she blamed the West, claiming that it "doesn't support democracy and freedom overseas, especially when Islamists are in power," as "it seems to threaten the universality of the West and its political hegemony."

Abbasi agreed: "If the coup was successful, we would be very happy" in America. In contrast to reporting on coup casualties, "all the headlines the next day I had seen were about freedom of speech and Erdogan. What are we talking about?" he asked, implying that free speech is trivial.

His comments about the American-based Turkish Muslim leader Fethullah Gülen, who is widely considered (albeit without any evidence) in Turkey and among the panelists as the coup instigator, were intriguing. Many of his friends became religious through the Gülen movement, but left after having "realized the cult nature of the group" and "the hidden motivation, essentially setting up a parallel state, which was displayed on that night" of the coup. The Gülen movement has a "nice veneer to it, but there is very kind of dark underside to a lot of it, in the same way that so many colonial regimes set up schools," he said, referring to the movement's worldwide private school network.

Unanimously expressing relief at the coup's failure, the panelists showed a misplaced optimism in Turkey's future under Erdogan, whose threats to democracy remained unmentioned. Latif gushed about seeing "Turks defeat the coup across the entire political and religious spectrum" without the slightest indication of dissent from or dissatisfaction with Erdogan. Likewise, after the coup Abbasi emailed to his friends worldwide that "we are essentially going out every night and partying with Turks" amid a "huge sense of camaraderie and brotherhood." Social media reports demonstrated to him that "every single person was inspired that night in other Muslim countries," although it's unclear whether a supposed victory for liberty or for Erdogan's Islamism was the inspiration.

The Georgetown panel, sponsored by the university's Turkish student organization, marked another chapter in the hagiographic apologetics for Erdogan's Islamism prevalent in American Middle East studies. Hypercritical of the West's established democracies but indifferent about majority-Muslim countries like Turkey rapidly losing any remaining vestiges of democracy, the panelists exposed their pious confidence in Islamism. They were oblivious to why some informed observers, including Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes, rooted for the coup.

Abbasi described his visit to a mosque the morning following the rebellion. The "salawat, the prayers of the prophet, were being sent out from all the mosques, and it was a very inspiring feeling." Yet any attempt to combine the panelists' faith with freedom in countries like Turkey, Egypt, and Abbasi's native Pakistan will require critical self-reflection, not disdain for the West and its freedoms.


Academics should teach students – not look after them

The new year has barely got underway and universities are already making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Students have been ridiculed after it emerged that the University of Glasgow has issued theology students with trigger warnings about the crucifixion. It’s hard to know what’s more bizarre – the assumption that theologists have so little knowledge of the Bible that they need plot spoilers about the crucifixion, or the permission they now have to opt out of classes covering it if they are upset. Presumably Herod and the massacre of the innocents is omitted entirely. It’s not just Glasgow: at universities throughout the country students are now routinely warned that they may find the most fundamental elements of their course, such as blood in forensic science or rape in the study of law, distressing.

Despite the outrage directed at the snowflake generation, for the most part it is not students who are clamouring for trigger warnings. Instead it is a band of overly sensitive academics, administrators and diversity officers who pre-empt distress and trauma. In a statement, the University of Glasgow said: ‘We have an absolute duty of care to all of our students and where it is felt course material may cause potential upset or concern, warnings may be given.’ This view of young people as vulnerable has already been projected on to prospective students by schools and mental-health campaigners, who teach students to see themselves as unable to cope with the stresses of everyday life.

Glasgow’s recourse to ‘duty of care’ is revealing. In the UK, universities stopped having formal in loco parentis responsibilities for students when the age of majority was lowered from 21 to 18 in 1970. Since then, institutional duty-of-care policies have been used to guard the safety and wellbeing of students. Over time, duty of care has expanded to encompass not just physical but emotional safety. Increasingly this means protecting students from what would, not that long ago, have been considered integral aspects of student life, such as negotiating sex and relationships, dealing with exams and challenging course content, or living away from home for the first time.

Yesteryear’s draconian curfews and single-sex dormitories were ridiculed and flouted by rebellious students. Today, in contrast, supposedly radical students demand universities better uphold duty-of-care legislation. Having internalised the notion of vulnerability, they campaign for more consent classes, more puppies for de-stressing sessions, more trigger warnings, and the removal of nasty statues. They demand white philosophers be relegated and course content be judged not on intellectual merit, but on biology. They want disciplines to encompass diversity of skin colour rather than the best that has been thought and said.

In what’s become a vicious circle, such demands have traction because universities need, above all else, to have satisfied students. Institutions treat the annual ritual of final-year students completing the National Student Survey with absolute seriousness. Despite having been roundly and frequently criticised, the survey results, interpreted crudely as a measure of satisfaction, are used to rank universities in the league tables – which are crucial to securing the next intake of fee-paying customers.

Universities, competing for students, sell higher education. For anxious parents, duty of care has become a product: universities ease the transition from childhood to adulthood. Students, meanwhile, can expect not just to be cared for but to be ‘satisfied’ with their student experience. This is what students are told to expect in return for their tuition fees.

This week, the latest Higher Education Bill is currently making its way through parliament. This legislation proposes, among other things, plans for a new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) to rank universities according to the quality of teaching they offer, and to allow those judged to be performing better to charge higher fees. The bill also proposes lowering the threshold that private providers must meet to become degree-awarding institutions – in other words, it opens up the higher-education marketplace to new entrants.

The opposition the bill is meeting in the House of Lords is being loudly cheered on by many within universities. The chief criticism is that it will force ‘market dogma on universities’ that don’t want further commercialisation. Students have protested against the bill, demanding instead a ‘free, liberated higher education system which values education as a social good’. Academics have argued the bill undermines ‘the autonomy and vigour of Britain’s universities’.

The Higher Education Bill should be opposed. The TEF in particular spells disaster for academic autonomy and university teaching. It returns us once more to a groundless equation of satisfaction with quality. But those who care about higher education must not delude themselves that an unpopular government proposal getting a kicking by a few unelected lords will turn the tide on the marketisation of universities, or transform the student consumer into the scholar of yore. The legislation currently before parliament stems from an instrumental view of education that has become entrenched over decades by successive governments of all colours.

It is not tuition fees or different types of institution that create customers and markets. Rather, it’s the view enculturated in prospective students, long before they end up at a university, that their satisfaction is paramount – that whatever they demand will be acted upon and their emotional safety is all important. The message that students can dictate the content of the curriculum and be protected from all unpleasantness – be it Bible stories or discussions of rape – socialises students into seeing themselves as consumers and higher education as a product. But challenging this requires many academics to go beyond criticising the current government and question their own beliefs about what higher education is for.

At the moment, higher education in England has to meet the demands of both fee-paying student customers and state regulation that determines everything from what counts as research to recruitment in the form of widening-participation initiatives. Institutional autonomy and academic freedom require a broader cultural shift away from seeing universities as therapeutic finishing schools for the vulnerable, and reclaiming the idea of higher education as an intellectual project.


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