Sunday, July 09, 2017

Blame for Today’s Campus Madness

Higher education rests on the free flow of ideas. Education requires that positions be held tentatively, tested by opposing arguments that are rationally considered, and evaluated.

All colleges therefore must protect free speech. Public institutions must adhere to the various guarantees of the First Amendment.

Too often, all of these fundamental principles have been under assault. Even worse, some people who have exercised their First Amendment rights have been themselves assaulted.

As a result, those who would curtail free speech have been emboldened and those who disagree with the prevailing orthodoxy have been censored or chilled from speaking freely. There is no point in having a student body on campus if competing ideas are not exchanged and analyzed.

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At Kellogg Community College, administrators required prior approval for speech in public forums, a twofold violation of the First Amendment. Amazingly, students there were arrested for distributing copies of the United States Constitution.

Their lawsuit against the college and against its administrators in their personal capacity is pending.

Many students erroneously think that speech that they consider hateful is violent. Yet some students engage in acts of violence against speech, and universities have failed to prevent or adequately punish that violence.

At the University of California, Berkeley, two invited speakers were prevented from speaking due to mob violence and other projected safety concerns that the university failed to control.

That university should be reminded of a passage in one of the Supreme Court’s most important First Amendment rulings: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics … ”

A lawsuit has been brought that alleges that Berkeley has systemically and intentionally suppressed speech protected by the First Amendment because its viewpoint differs from that of university administrators.

At Middlebury College, the eminent scholar Charles Murray was at first shouted down from speaking, then when the event was moved, students pulled the fire alarm to prevent him from speaking.

It was not Murray but the students who essentially falsely yelled “fire” in a crowded theater. The Middlebury professor who moderated the debate was physically assaulted, and has yet to fully recover from her serious injuries.

It was not a mere handful of students but a mob who engaged in such appalling conduct at an institution theoretically devoted to rationality and intellectualism.

Not including those who were not captured on video, the college disciplined more than 70 students. But none were expelled or even suspended.

As a practical matter, most students received no more serious punishment than the “double secret probation” immortalized in film. As Murray noted, such weak punishment will not deter any future student disruptions.

Sacrificing a Precious Freedom

The First Amendment is clear. The Supreme Court has decided that offensive speech is protected, that speech cannot be restricted based on viewpoint, that public forums must be places where free speech rights can be exercised, and that prior restraints on speech are highly disfavored.

Otherwise, any speech that anyone found offensive could be suppressed. Little free speech would survive.

And, as Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls from attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought, not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.”

But on too many campuses today, free speech appears to be sacrificed at the altar of political correctness. Many administrators believe that students should be shielded from hate speech, whatever that is, as an exception to the First Amendment.

Unfortunately, this censorship is no different from any other examples in history, when speech that authorities deemed to be heretical has been suppressed based on its content.

College students vote. Not only academia, but our democracy depends on the ability to try to advocate to inform or to change minds.

When universities suppress speech, they not only damage freedom today, they establish and push norms harmful to democracy going forward. These restrictions may cause and exacerbate the political polarization that is so widely lamented in our society.

Shunning Diversity on Campus

Whatever the nature of the speech being suppressed, I am concerned. However, prominent liberal university administrators admit that the vast amount of disfavored speech is on the conservative side of the spectrum.

Harvard President Drew Faust’s recent commencement address noted the lack of conservative ideas on campus.

And as former Stanford Provost John Etchemendy has observed, “[T]here is a growing intolerance at universities … , a political one-sidedness, that is the antithesis of what universities should stand for.”

And he fears that university administrators will take the easy route of giving in to student pressure to restrict debate.

Etchemendy’s fears are being realized. In a recent interview, the president of Northwestern University undercut the apparent lip service he paid to the First Amendment.

Rather than making students confront the speech that makes them uncomfortable, he advocated making students feel comfortable by ensuring a safe space where they will not hear it.

Even worse, when asked whether he would be comfortable were the speakers shouted down at Middlebury and Berkeley to speak at Northwestern, he replied that he would permit their appearances “on a case-by-case basis.”

No. The First Amendment does not permit arbitrary prior restraints on speech by university administrators on a case-by-case basis. That is an open invitation to discriminate based on viewpoint.

That is where too many colleges are right now. Any great university would welcome numerous speakers whose positions made the president and many others on campus uncomfortable.

Some may advocate legislation in this area. Theoretically, private colleges that accept federal funds could be subject to individual private lawsuits when free speech rights, including religious free speech rights, are violated.

Some may even suggest an analogue to section 1983.

Under that approach, officials of private universities that accept federal funds would be subject to individual private rights of action for damages if they violate free speech or fail to train university officials and campus police to adhere to the First Amendment.

Signs of Hope

Fortunately, not all schools adopt the censorship approach. The University of Chicago has adopted a policy that some other universities have followed.

This policy prohibits the university from suppressing speech that even most people on campus would find offensive or immoral. It calls for counter-speech rather than suppression by people who disagree with speech.

And while protecting protest, it expressly prohibits “obstruct[ing] or otherwise interfer[ing] with the freedom of others to express views they reject or even loathe.”

Finally, it commits the university to actively “protect that freedom when others attempt to restrict it.”

This is the approach of true education as it has always been practiced. Let us hope that it takes root in more campuses, leading more students to engage in thoughtful—and free—discourse.


Some single-gender Catholic schools are flourishing while others struggle

For 75 years, Malden Catholic High School has sought to nurture thousands of boys on their journey to manhood, instilling in them a strong work ethic and a deep faith while encouraging them to seek positive leadership roles.

But the school will move in a new direction in September 2018: It plans to open an all-girl division and has purchased property across the street to build a school for them. Officials say they hope to fill a void on the North Shore, which lacks any all-girl Catholic schools.

“We really do believe this will offer the best of both worlds for our families and students,” said Thomas Doherty, the school’s president, noting students will benefit from a single-gender education while having the opportunity to interact in extracurricular activities.

Across Greater Boston, single-gender Catholic schools are seeking ways to increase their presence as overall interest in Catholic schools is waning nationwide and the number of school-age children in Massachusetts decreases.

Expansions like those being undertaken at Malden Catholic have helped lift overall enrollment at the 15 single-gender Catholic schools in the Boston area to 7,825 students this past school year, an increase of 260 students since fall 2012, according to the Archdiocese of Boston.

This, even as overall enrollment in the archdiocese’s schools, including all grades, has declined by nearly 4,000 students over the same time period, to 37,547.

Many of the single-gender schools that are expanding say they are doing so in response to requests from families for additional opportunities and say their financial health is sound. For instance, two years ago the popular St. John’s Prep in Danvers added a middle school program, and the once all-boy Bellesini Academy in Lawrence opened a girls division.

But the broad numbers conceal enrollment problems at specific schools, as this past school year demonstrated. Last August, as students were preparing to return to classes, the last all-girl Catholic school in Boston, Elizabeth Seton Academy, abruptly closed its doors.

Then this spring, Boston College High School, the all-boys academic and athletic powerhouse, revealed it was struggling with declining applications, sparking heated speculation that some trustees were plotting to go coed. This, in turn, sent a shiver of fear through the region’s all-girl Catholic schools that a coed BC High could drive them out of business.

The controversy led to an overhaul of trustee membership at the Dorchester school.

Father Joe O’Keefe, a national expert on Catholic education, described the state of single-gender Catholic schools as somewhat fragile, like their coed counterparts, nationwide.

“The draw of sending kids to a Catholic school is not as strong as it was 20 or 30 years ago,” he said. “If you are not a church-goer, it’s not as important.”

Consequently, he said, a lot of parochial elementary schools have closed, which is problematic for many single-gender Catholic schools, the vast majority of which are high schools and have long relied on the parochial elementary schools as a source of new students.

For many families in Massachusetts, Catholic schools are one of the few options for a single-gender education, given that state law forbids public schools from denying any student enrollment based on gender.

Proponents of single-sex education say that boys and girls focus better in class when they are segregated by gender because they are not trying to impress the opposite sex by joking around or appearing less smart in class.

They also say boys and girls respond more favorably to different learning styles. For instance, boys tend to do better academically with classroom activities that allow them to move around and release their fidgety energy, while girls do well working in small groups.

But critics argue separating boys and girls can reinforce stereotypes and eventually can make it more difficult for them to work with the opposite sex.

Bellesini Academy , which serves 105 students in grades 5 to 8, is attempting to bridge that divide, using an approach similar to one that Malden Catholic is now embracing. While the genders are taught separately, the two occasionally come together for some activities, such as reading discussion groups or science projects, to show how each might bring a different perspective to the subject and to foster an appreciation for one another.

The school, which is tuition-free and accepts only low-income students, also mixes boys and girls for recess, lunch, and some extracurricular activities.

“The single-gender approach has been successful, but for the majority of our students, they leave here and go on to coed schools, and I think they should learn to how interact with one another,” said Julie DiFilippo, head of school.

Malden Catholic is now discussing what activities might go coed when it opens its girls division a year from September. Officials say they are starting a girls division in response to parents who are seeking a single-gender environment for their daughters.

Several male students said they liked the idea of adding girls, especially since they would be in a separate program. That arrangement, they said, should enable the school to continue its decades-old practice of fostering lifetime bonds among its male students, while also providing them with new opportunities to participate in some coed programs after school.

“I think it will be a little bit of an adjustment, but it won’t be too major because we have to get used to competing with women in the workforce when we get jobs after college,” said Joe Rivers, 15, a freshman.

Last September, in an attempt to fill a void on the North Shore, the Academy at Penguin Hall opened in Wenham with about 60 young women attending class in an 88-year-old stone manor once occupied by the Sisters of Notre Dame; it later housed an advertising agency. (The school is using the original name of the manor, which was inspired by a pair of bronze penguins that grace the front entrance.)

The high school bills itself as “rooted in the Catholic tradition of education,” helping its students to develop intellectually, spiritually, physically, and creatively. But the academy is not officially Catholic, a designation issued by the archdiocese only after a rigorous review of curriculum, finances, and other components.

The only official all-girl Catholic high school program north of Boston is in Tyngsborough, the Academy of Notre Dame, which educates girls in preschool through grade 12 and is about 40 miles away from Wenham.

Molly Martins, the president of Penguin Hall and one of its founders, said she is hoping her school can provide students with a moral compass. The academy, which aims to eventually serve 400 girls, begins each day with a prayer or moment of reflection.

Many of the academy’s parents have sons at St. John’s Prep, an all-boys Catholic school in nearby Danvers. Julie Sullivan of Topsfield, whose son just graduated from St. John’s, had long wanted a similar setting for her 16-year-old twin daughters. “It was such a blessing when it opened,” Sullivan said. “I just feel single-sex schools combined with a faith-based component allow the faculty and administration to educate the whole person, not just a student’s intellect.”

On a recent morning in an oak-paneled library at Penguin Hall, four girls crammed for final exams around a table as sunshine filtered through the French-pane windows. They said they liked how the school fosters a sisterhood.

“It’s such an empowering environment,” said Kathryn Ward, 17, of North Reading. “I forget there aren’t guys in my classes.”


Colleges: Islands of Intolerance

Is there no limit to the level of disgusting behavior on college campuses that parents, taxpayers, donors and legislators will accept? Colleges have become islands of intolerance, and as with fish, the rot begins at the head. Let's examine some recent episodes representative of a general trend and ask ourselves why we should tolerate it plus pay for it.

Students at Evergreen State College harassed biology professor Bret Weinstein because he refused to leave campus, challenging the school's decision to ask white people to leave campus for a day of diversity programming. The profanity-laced threats against the faculty and president can be seen on a YouTube video titled "Student takeover of Evergreen State College" (

What about administrators permitting students to conduct racially segregated graduation ceremonies, which many colleges have done, including Ivy League ones such as Columbia and Harvard universities? Permitting racially segregated graduation ceremonies makes a mockery of the idols of diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion, which so many college administrators worship. Or is tribalism part and parcel of diversity?

Trinity College sociology professor Johnny Eric Williams recently called white people "inhuman assholes." In the wake of the Alexandria, Virginia, shooting at a congressional baseball practice, Williams tweeted, "It is past time for the racially oppressed to do what people who believe themselves to be 'white' will not do, put (an) end to the vectors of their destructive mythology of whiteness and their white supremacy system. #LetThemF—-ingDie"

June Chu, dean of Pierson College at Yale University, recently resigned after having been placed on leave because of offensive Yelp reviews she had posted. One of her reviews described customers at a local restaurant as "white trash" and "low class folk"; another review praised a movie theater for its lack of "sketchy crowds." In another review of a movie theater, she complained about the "barely educated morons trying to manage snack orders for the obese."

Harvey Mansfield, a distinguished Harvard University professor who has taught at the school for 55 years, is not hopeful about the future of American universities. In a College Fix interview, Mansfield said, "No, I'm not very optimistic about the future of higher education, at least in the form it is now with universities under the control of politically correct faculties and administrators" (

Once America's pride, universities, he says, are no longer a marketplace of ideas or bastions of free speech. Universities have become "bubbles of decadent liberalism" that teach students to look for offense when first examining an idea.

Who is to blame for the decline of American universities?

Mansfield argues that it is a combination of administrators, students and faculties. He puts most of the blame on faculty members, some of whom are cowed by deans and presidents who don't want their professors to make trouble.

I agree with Mansfield's assessment in part. Many university faculty members are hostile to free speech and open questioning of ideas. A large portion of today's faculty and administrators were once the hippies of the 1960s, and many have contempt for the U.S. Constitution and the values of personal liberty.

The primary blame for the incivility and downright stupidity we see on university campuses lies with the universities' trustees. Every board of trustees has fiduciary responsibility for the governance of a university, shaping its broad policies.

Unfortunately, most trustees are wealthy businessmen who are busy and aren't interested in spending time on university matters. They become trustees for the prestige it brings, and as such, they are little more than yes men for the university president and provost.

If trustees want better knowledge about university goings-on, they should hire a campus ombudsman who is independent of the administration and accountable only to the board of trustees.

The university malaise reflects a larger societal problem. Mansfield says culture used to mean refinement. Today, he says, it "just means the way a society happens to think, and there's no value judgment in it any longer." For many of today's Americans, one cultural value is just as good as another.


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