Friday, July 21, 2017

Harvard’s Proposed Policy Would Punish Students for Having Normal Social Lives

For the second time in less than two years, Harvard College Dean Rakesh Khurana is expanding paternalistic restrictions and sanctions on the student body based on whom they choose to be friends with.

In an email to the student body on July 12, the dean reported that the “USGSO Committee”—which handles policy on “unrecognized single-gender social organizations,” and which the dean co-chairs—released preliminary recommendations to be reviewed by the faculty and then approved by Harvard University’s president, Drew Faust.

These recommendations outline a new policy that exceeds the bounds of a prior, already overreaching policy, which will remain in place unless Faust approves the new policy.

The first policy, begun in 2016, targeted all-male and all-female organizations, including fraternities, sororities, and final clubs, all of which are off-campus, self-funded, and unrecognized by the university.

It stated that starting with the class of 2021 (this fall’s freshmen), members of those organizations will be barred from receiving prestigious scholarships (like the Rhodes Scholarship), athletic team captaincies, and leadership positions in recognized student organizations.

In response, some clubs, like the traditionally all-male Spee Club and the traditionally all-female Seneca, decided to transition to being co-ed.

The new policy goes even further.

Claiming that its initial goal of ending gender segregation and discrimination was “too narrow,” the committee’s new policy extends its sanctions to any “private, exclusionary social organizations that are exclusively or predominantly made up of Harvard students, whether they have any local or national affiliation,” single-gender or otherwise, so that the clubs that attempted to adhere to the first policy cannot escape sanction.

Perhaps even more distressingly, it recommends that students who choose to join these clubs will face suspension and expulsion from the college.

The faculty committee is seeking to model this policy on those adopted by Williams College and Bowdoin College, including a policy that requires students to pledge that they will abide by the school’s “Social Code,” a code that prohibits joining, pledging, rushing, or even attending events sponsored by the prohibited groups.

Faust, who will be stepping down at the end of this academic year, seemingly has nothing to lose.

The groupthink mentality of the importance of “diversity and inclusion” is apparent throughout the committee’s report. As it continually emphasizes the importance of making all Harvard students feel “included,” it then asserts, in bold letters: “It is important to note that no one has suggested doing nothing.”

This is simply untrue. Numerous students have suggested allowing students to retain their rights to freedom of association, and professors like Harry Lewis have publicly condemned the administration’s intervention in students’ private lives.

In addition, a student referendum on the policy, referenced in the committee’s report, showed that nearly double as many students voted to repeal the sanctions as voted in support.

Further, the definition it gives for the outside groups affected by this policy is far too broad.

While it lists several clubs that the policy is intended to apply to today, it also applies the policy broadly to any similar organizations that are made up primarily of Harvard students, and which are private, exclusionary, and social in nature.

The logic of this policy could be more far-reaching than even the administration realizes.

Could a group of friends at Harvard fall subject to this policy if they exclude others from a private party they host? What about a private game night? Does this group of friends need a formal name in order to be subject?

By targeting such a broad swath of “exclusionary” actions, the administration of Harvard College has resorted to treating adult students like some elementary schools have treated first graders, requiring that everyone in the class be invited to each child’s birthday party.

It is paternalistic, hypocritical, and frankly insulting that administrators have imposed this policy. As one of the most exclusive universities in the world, Harvard has claimed to select only those with the brightest futures and best judgment for admission.

If this is so, then the administration should allow students to make their own choices of outside affiliations, rather than becoming a nanny state intent on scrutinizing the details of students’ social lives.

For these reasons, it is imperative that Faust reject the faculty’s new policy and reconsider the existing policy regarding students’ outside affiliations. Freedom of association is paramount to American society and basic liberty, and Harvard is mistaken in abandoning it.


Claremont McKenna College disciplines seven students for blockade that shut down Heather Mac Donald speech

Here’s a statement just released by Claremont McKenna College (about the incident blogged about here):

Claremont McKenna College has completed the full conduct process after students blocked access to the Athenaeum and Kravis Center on April 6, with the expressed intent to shut down that evening’s speaker, Heather Mac Donald, the Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Findings and Outcomes

On the evening of April 6, a group of approximately 170 individuals from the Claremont Colleges and others outside our community organized, led, and executed a blockade of the Athenaeum and the Kravis Center. They breached the perimeter safety and security fence and campus safety line, and established human barriers to entrances and exits. These actions deprived many of the opportunity to gather, hear the speaker, and engage with questions and comments.

The blockade breached institutional values of freedom of expression and assembly. Furthermore, this action violated policies of both the College and The Claremont Colleges that prohibit material disruption of college programs and created unsafe conditions in disregard of state law.

Through a review of available video and photographic evidence, the College initially identified twelve CMC students as potential participants in the blockade. After further review, the College charged ten students with violations of College policy. Three of those students were then found not responsible for any violation. After a full conduct investigation and review process for the remaining seven students, an independent community panel found each student responsible for policy violations.

Three students received one-year suspensions.
Two received one-semester suspensions.
Two were put on conduct probation.
All sanctions include strong educational components.

The College followed a full, fair, and impartial student conduct process before the determination of findings, sanctions, and the resolution of appeals. Efforts to politicize and interfere with this process had no influence on timing or decisions. Students had an opportunity to be heard, pose questions, ask for further investigation, and raise objections throughout the process. The independent panel of three (one panelist each from the faculty, staff, and student body) determined their findings of responsibility on a preponderance of video and photographic evidence and a limited amount of witness testimony. Sanctions were based on the nature and degree of leadership in the blockade, the acknowledgment and acceptance of responsibility, and other factors.

CMC has also provided evidence of policy violations by students of the other Claremont Colleges to their respective deans of students. Consistent with inter-college policy, CMC has asked each campus to review this evidence under their own conduct processes. In addition, CMC has issued provisional suspensions of on-campus privileges to four non-CMC students who appear to have played significant roles in the blockade.

Our Reinforced Commitments

Last September, President Chodosh and Dean Uvin wrote: “[f]reedom of speech and diversity of opinion are foundational to the mission of the College. Both the faculty and our Board of Trustees have endorsed the University of Chicago’s Principles of Free Expression as consistent with our own.”

They emphasized further:

[T]o benefit fully from the free exchange of challenging ideas, we must ensure that all people with different viewpoints, experiences, and analyses are included in our conversations…. We reject exclusion and ad hominem attacks as barriers to learning. All of us — students, faculty and staff — must commit to high standards of civility, respect, and appreciation for differences.

In President Chodosh’s August 2016 convocation address, he said:

If we are to cherish free speech, we must support and hear the speech with which we most disagree. The most persuasive arguments anticipate opposing viewpoints. Free expression without listening is of little use.

In the aftermath of the blockade on April 6, the College learned important lessons that must further strengthen our resolve. Our Athenaeum must continue to invite the broadest array of speakers on the most pressing issues of the day. Our faculty must help us understand how to mitigate the forces that divide our society. Our students must master the skills of respectful dialogue across all barriers. Our community must protect the right to learn from others, especially those with whom we strongly disagree. And Claremont McKenna College must take every step necessary to uphold these vital commitments.


Feds Spend $224,999 on ‘Clean Water’ Video Game

The National Institutes of Health is spending over $200,000 on a video game about clean water.

The computer game will help children "right the environmental wrongs" of a fictional town. A grant for the project was awarded last month to Meadowlark Science and Education, a company that makes STEM video games in Missoula, Mont.

The target audience of the new environmental health video game is 5th and 6th graders, who will use the game to sharpen their Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math skills while increasing their "awareness of the importance of clean water."

"Improving STEM-focused curriculum is a primary objective of the current U.S. administration and is crucial for ensuring that upcoming generations receive the training and skills necessary to compete in the existing global economy," according to the grant for the project. "To that end, there is an urgent need for additional effective teaching tools able to reach a generation that requires instant access to information and advanced technology."

"Of particular interest to this proposal is the development of a highly effective, marketable, and interactive educational video game (iEVG) that focuses on STEM topics and targets 5th and 6th grade students—the age at which interest in STEM subjects is developed or lost," the grant states.

The goal of the study is to create a computer game with "significant commercial potential that increases awareness of the importance of clean water in human health."

The project, which began in July, has received $224,999. Research will continue through 2018.

Meadowlark Science and Education announced an upcoming project on its website for a computer game entitled "Water Follies." The objective of the game is for children to convince politicians on the importance of environmental issues.

"You play as Clark Flyer, a meadowlark who works together with a diverse cast of lovable animal characters, to solve and correct environmental issues plaguing their town," the company said. "Clark's goal is to convince the reluctant politicians in power that clean, lead-free drinking water should be everyone's top priority."

"Using your knowledge of STEM, you will solve puzzles, conduct experiments, and develop hypotheses to right the environmental wrongs that have affected the community," Meadowlark Science and Education said. "By interacting with the townsfolk, you will make many new friends and learn about their lives. With the help of your new buddies, you can make Holian Falls a town where everyone would want to live!"

The company has a disclaimer on its website listing government funding and that the content is "solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health."


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