Friday, April 14, 2017

Bias Response Teams: campus censorship at its most sinister

US colleges now want students to snitch on their peers and professors

When you criticise the parlous state of free speech on campus these days, you’re often called hysterical. Disinviting speakers, banning microaggressions and clamping down on culturally appropriative parties is small fry, say the campus censors. ‘We’re not tyrants – go and criticise Turkey.’

This is just a ploy, of course – an attempt to shift the spotlight and avoid having to justify the not only censorious but patently unhinged behaviour of campus officials of late. But it’s also a crap one. Because with every year that passes, university administrations cook up more and more GDR-lite ways to cleanse campuses of disagreeable speech.

Just take Bias Response Teams (BRTs). According to a recent report by the American civil-liberties group the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), these sinister-sounding groups of administrators operate on at least 231 US campuses (many colleges were less than cooperative with the researchers).

The University of Chicago defines its BRT as a group of ‘administrators who are available to support and guide students seeking assistance in determining how to handle a bias incident’. So-called bias incidents include any discriminatory ‘actions committed against or directed towards’ a person with protected characteristics.

In practice, these teams aren’t dealing with racist harassment or homophobic intimidation. Such things are rare occurrences on your average liberal arts college these days. Instead, they concern themselves with speech, opinions, sometimes just jokes. Most of which seem entirely innocent.

Reason’s Robby Soave waded through the University of Oregon BRT annual report last year. What he found was equal parts hilarious and terrifying. One student reported that a sign encouraging students to clean up after themselves was sexist. The sign was promptly removed. Another anonymous student complained that the student newspaper was giving insufficient coverage to trans and ethnic minority people. So the BRT went and had a word with the editor.

Things were stranger still at Bowdoin College, where students were placed on social probation and required to complete a re-education course for throwing a ‘fiesta’-themed party, with tequila and sombreros. An official of the student government labelled it a ‘racist incident’.

Professors are also getting it in the neck. Mike Jensen, an adjunct professor at the University of Northern Colorado, was hauled before campus authorities last year after one of his students filed a complaint with the campus BRT. Jensen’s crime? Encouraging students to debate controversial issues such as transgenderism.

According to a recording of the meeting, which Jensen gave to Heat Street, he had asked his class to read Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s seminal Atlantic article ‘The Coddling of the American Mind’. ‘This would be hilariously ironic if it wasn’t kind of sad’, Jensen told the BRT official. He was threatened with an investigation, and for reasons undisclosed was not invited back to teach the next semester.

Though BRTs are described as support mechanisms, aimed at resolving unpleasant incidents and fostering campus diversity, Jensen’s experience reveals the more sinister reality. The FIRE report notes that most of the BRTs surveyed only purported to provide ‘education’ to the offender, rather than punishment. But this, in itself, is deeply coercive. Not least because 42 per cent of investigations surveyed involved campus law enforcement. This is modern campus censorship at its most militarised.

Another irony here is that, as two professors pointed out in an article for the New Republic, BRTs are hitting the very subjects devoted to discussing issues of racial and sexual discrimination. Even a discussion about racism could be lodged as a bias incident. Fighting discrimination (no matter how illusory) has become the defining obsession of campus politics, and yet students are being encouraged to avoid learning about it or discussing it frankly.

Censorship is always, on some level, anti-intellectual. It presupposes that certain truths are best unchallenged, that certain opinions are better left unsaid, and that people are either too easily led or too easily shaken to participate in public life fully. BRTs make this plain. What’s more, they show that PC censorship has become a thoroughly neocolonial endeavour, devoted to looking after those black, brown, gay or trans folk deemed too wretched for the cut and thrust of academic debate.

The rise of BRTs remind us just how hollowed-out intellectual life on campus has become. As colleges have become bureaucratised, as services have swelled while academic staff have been squeezed, they’ve drifted further away from their intellectual mission. Diversity is now the ‘defining value’, an article of faith. Tragically, this preoccupation has if anything made campus life more tense and fractured. Encouraging students to snitch every time they spy a ‘racist’ tequila party is hardly going to make students from different backgrounds feel more chilled out around one another.

But this is not an internal coup by diversity-crazed bureaucrats - academia itself has a lot to answer for. For decades, victim feminism, critical race theory and Frankfurt school blather about the harm in speech, the power structures created by images, the idea that words ‘act upon’ women and minorities, has laid the groundwork for the BRT craze. These ideas, which have so long gone unchallenged, have lent campus bureaucracies a moral mission, a justification for their bloat and meddling.

It’s unclear whether BRTs are run by card-carrying ideologues or mere jobsworths, desperate to keep offended students happy and ‘racist professor’ headlines out of the press. But what’s clear is that campus authoritarianism isn’t just a figment of civil libertarians’ imagination. Colleges have created vast Byzantine bureaucracies which encourage students to snitch on their peers, which haul professors before committees for making off-the-cuff remarks, all in the name of protecting students from themed parties, sexist signage and, worst of all, debate. And they call us hysterical.


Arizona Universal School Choice Program
Arizona could soon become the first state in the nation to institute a universal school-choice program. And because the state already has a successful, but more limited, program in place - a funding system that has been expanded several times over the last few years - there is a solid foundation on which to build the effort.

The bill to expand the program could land on Arizona governor Doug Ducey's desk as early as this week. It has already passed the education committees in both chambers of the state legislature and, since there is just a month left in the session, a full vote on the bill is expected sometime in April. Because Ducey has approved developments to this school-choice program in past years, it is likely that he will support this latest expansion.

The Goldwater Institute, a Phoenix-based think tank, has been on the front lines of Arizona's school-choice movement for the last decade. In 2006, the group introduced the concept of education savings accounts, and this idea was first enacted across the state in 2011 in a program for children with special needs. The Empowerment Scholarship Account program has used this savings-account model and expanded it every year since to include more students, including those in failing schools or adopted from foster care, as well as children of military members and children who live on Native American reservations.

The program now enrolls 3,300 students, and the new bill would expand access slowly over the course of the next four academic years by opening the program to students in a few grade levels each year. About half of the students currently enrolled are children with special needs.

Empowerment Scholarship Accounts function in a similar way to health savings accounts, which help individuals or families save for health-care needs and are often partially funded by the government. In the case of Arizona's ESAs, the state deposits funding into each account, and a child's parents can use the funds for a wide variety of expenses, such as private-school tuition, college-savings plans, online classes, and tutoring.

For the 2015-16 school year, the accounts received about $4,600 for K-8th grade students and just under $5,000 for high-school students. Special-needs students can receive additional funding, the amount of which varies depending on the services required.

These accounts differ from vouchers in that parents can use the money to finance several educational needs simultaneously. This distinction is important. In 2009, the Arizona supreme court ruled that vouchers violate the state's constitutional provisions against using public money for private or religious purposes. But in 2014, the state supreme court upheld a lower-court ruling determining that ESAs are constitutional because they are fundamentally different from vouchers.

Though some worry that greater state support for school choice will detract from the public-school system, the examples of student success as a result of the ESA program tell a different story. "For those pleased with their local public school, carry on," says Jonathan Butcher, education director at the Goldwater Institute. "But every child is different and learns at a different pace - so families should have the chance to find the best educational opportunities if an assigned school isn't working."

Consider Max Ashton, who has been blind since birth, but who nonetheless climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, hiked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, and swam across the San Francisco Bay to Alcatraz Island, all before graduating from high school. An ESA enabled his parents to afford private-school tuition and Braille materials, and he earned a scholarship to attend Loyola Marymount University in California.

Or take Tim and Lynn McMurray, who decided to adopt three unrelated children, all of whom are of Native American descent, and who have physical and developmental needs - Alecia suffers from fetal-alcohol syndrome, while Uriah and Valerie both have mild cerebral palsy. When all three children encountered serious challenges in the state's education system, the ESA program helped the McMurrays finance home-based instruction and educational therapy.

Meanwhile, Nathan Howard struggled in the public-school system as a child on the autism spectrum, and he barely spoke until he reached the age of six. Using an ESA, his family moved him to a school that offers special support for students with autism, and they also hired a one-on-one tutor for him. "For me, using an education savings account isn't a form of protest or an act of defiance against the school system," Nathan's mother, Amanda, wrote in a 2013 column in the Arizona Republic. "It's a chance to give Nathan a better future."

Butcher believes this latest expansion effort will be worthwhile for the state: "Instead of trying to predict all the problems ESAs are trying to solve, we should give students the chance to use an account if their assigned school isn't a good fit."

Some Arizonans might protest the continued growth of the state's school-choice movement, arguing that it's somehow harmful to public schools and under-privileged children. But as the results of the ESA program have shown thus far, diversity of affordable education options for Arizona's youth will nearly always lead to greater success.


University of Sydney investigates tutor’s racial attack on a News Corp reporter

Mr. Tharappel tutors human rights at Sydney University. He is involved with the Centre for Counter Hegemonic Studies, a far-Leftist outfit.  So racist bigotry from the Left is no surprise.  The Left are obsessed with race. 

The name Tharappel is mainly from the Southern Indian State of Kerala, India's most Leftist state.  About a quarter of the population of Kerala is Muslim. In Kerala they speak Malayalam, not Hindi so Tharappel is himself from an Indian minority

Whether or not Syrian president Bashar al-Assad ordered a chemical attack is having repercussions in Australian academia and media. The University of Sydney is investigating a casual tutor, Jay Tharappel, who launched a racial attack on a News Corp reporter to defend his mentor, pro-Assad lecturer Tim Anderson.

Anderson is a routine defender of the Bashar al-Assad government, and has dismissed any suggestion it was responsible for the recent chemical attack on civilians in rebel-held territory.

The academic said allegations the Syrian government was responsible were a “hoax”, and that Assad has been framed by the west.  He has visited Syria numerous times during the war, and met Assad in 2013, describing him as a “mild-mannered eye doctor”.

In an interview with state-run television posted online last year, Anderson praised “martyrs who died defending their beautiful country” in the bloody six-year war.

News Corp published a series of articles critical of Anderson this week. That prompted Tharappel, to attack a News Corp reporter, Kylar Loussikian, on social media.

“Devastating intellectual critique by Kylar Loussikian, the traitorous scum who desperately wants a second Armenian genocide. How much did they pay you, traitor? I guess stabbing Syria in the back with that surname is the best way of telling the world that you’re for sale, right?”

Loussikian is of Armenian descent.

The university confirmed on Wednesday that it was investigating the comments. “The University of Sydney has commenced an investigation into the behaviour of a casual staff member who is alleged to have made offensive comments to a journalist on social media,” a spokeswoman said.

“The university takes the allegations very seriously and is examining whether any breaches of its code of conduct have occurred.”

The code of conduct requires staff to act “fairly and reasonably” and treat people with respect and sensitivity. The spokeswoman said the university did not endorse Anderson’s pro-Assad views, but was committed to the “expression and protection of free speech”. “This means tolerance of a wide range of views, even when the views expressed are unpopular or controversial,” she said.

Tharappel was contacted for comment on Wednesday, but did not respond.

He posted on Facebook thanking people for their “overwhelming” support. “People ask me if I have been receiving threats. No, I’ve actually received nothing but love and support,” Tharappel wrote.


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