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Fear and Paranoia in Academia

College DegreeI have been reading, mostly in passing, a number of pieces about an alleged new climate on college campuses in which students are raising significant complaints due to difficult or emotionally sensitive material.  This is the whole “trigger warnings” debate as well as a hypothesis that liberal over-sensitivity has run amuck among the late teens and twenty-somethings who populate typical college classes.  To be honest, this strikes me as a new version of a story I have heard before, as I recall how it was all the rage in the 1980s to state that “political correctness” was squelching the free exchange of ideas on university campuses across the nation.

To be honest this all seems like a bunch of individual anecdotes that do not string together to convince me that there is some great chilling taking place across the higher education landscape.  But, of course, I may one day be proven wrong.

I will say that the latest example to which I have been exposed, a piece by the pseudonymous professor Edward Schlosser writing at Vox, does not increase my belief in the thesis.  The piece is rather ominously entitled:  I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me. The essay itself does not live up to the title–indeed, not just the title, but the text of the essay:

Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.

The piece starts with an anecdote under the heading “What it was like before” wherein Dr. Scholosser was an adjunct who had shown a video “describing how Wall Street’s recklessness had destroyed the economy” which provoked a student to respond thusly:

“What about Fannie and Freddie?” he asked. “Government kept giving homes to black people, to help out black people, white people didn’t get anything, and then they couldn’t pay for them. What about that?”

First, this does not strike me a good example of a liberal student raising an objection, as that sounds more like a rightward critique from the time.  Second, and more importantly, the story ends with 1) the student complaining to the professor’s supervisor, 2) a meeting taking places between the faculty member and the supervisor, and 3) nothing else.

As the piece notes:

Then … nothing. It disappeared forever; no one cared about it beyond their contractual duties to document student concerns. I never heard another word of it again.

That was the first, and so far only, formal complaint a student has ever filed against me.

That last sentence is rather key.  If that was the only formal complaint ever filed, what is the source of all the fear that fuels the column in the first place?  One would think that if the story is one of fear brought about by the behavior of students that more of that behavior would be on display.

Regardless, the next section of piece has the heading “Now boat-rocking isn’t just dangerous — it’s suicidal.”  He then notes:

This isn’t an accident: I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. (I also make sure all my remotely offensive or challenging opinions, such as this article, are expressed either anonymously or pseudonymously). Most of my colleagues who still have jobs have done the same. We’ve seen bad things happen to too many good teachers — adjuncts getting axed because their evaluations dipped below a 3.0, grad students being removed from classes after a single student complaint, and so on.

But my question is:  why did he intentionally adjust his materials?  What political wind is he talking about?  He seems to base the entire hypothesis on some anecdotes based on incomplete information at best (the odds that anyone on the outside of situation really knows why someone was fired or non-renewed are small).

He goes on:

I am frightened sometimes by the thought that a student would complain again like he did in 2009. Only this time it would be a student accusing me not of saying something too ideologically extreme — be it communism or racism or whatever — but of not being sensitive enough toward his feelings, of some simple act of indelicacy that’s considered tantamount to physical assault.

He seems to base this on the same types of press accounts I noted in my first paragraph.  While there may well be reason to be concerned (though I have my doubts) the honest truth is, one cannot base all of one’s pedagogical choices on a handful of anecdotes that happened to someone else, somewhere else.

He then makes a series of assertions that are not supported by his essay:

In 2009, the subject of my student’s complaint was my supposed ideology. I was communistical, the student felt, and everyone knows that communisticism is wrong. That was, at best, a debatable assertion. And as I was allowed to rebut it, the complaint was dismissed with prejudice. I didn’t hesitate to reuse that same video in later semesters, and the student’s complaint had no impact on my performance evaluations.

In 2015, such a complaint would not be delivered in such a fashion. Instead of focusing on the rightness or wrongness (or even acceptability) of the materials we reviewed in class, the complaint would center solely on how my teaching affected the student’s emotional state. As I cannot speak to the emotions of my students, I could not mount a defense about the acceptability of my instruction. And if I responded in any way other than apologizing and changing the materials we reviewed in class, professional consequences would likely follow.

How does he know this?  What is the basis for this shift?  Since he kept using the video in 2009, when did he decide he could no longer?

He is generically right about the following, however:

The academic job market is brutal. Teachers who are not tenured or tenure-track faculty members have no right to due process before being dismissed, and there’s a mile-long line of applicants eager to take their place. And as writer and academic Freddie DeBoer writes, they don’t even have to be formally fired — they can just not get rehired. In this type of environment, boat-rocking isn’t just dangerous, it’s suicidal, and so teachers limit their lessons to things they know won’t upset anybody.

However, none of the above is new (and certainly not new from 2009 to 2015).  When I was looking for a tenure track job in the mid-to-late 1990s I applied to, over a three year period, 150 or more jobs.  I had a handful of phone interviews and on-campus interview offers.  I was often one of 200+ applicants.  Things are the same or worse now.  Adjuncts have never had job security (pretty much by definition).  And yes:  non-tenured faculty that cause too many problems can be replaced.  And yes:  there is no due process.  But that has ever been thus, especially for the last 30 to 40 years.  It is nerve wracking to be in a non-tenured position, and perhaps that is the main thing that drives the anxiety in the piece.

I will say this, and it perhaps enters into what Schlosser thinks he sees, the Great Recession coupled with ongoing cuts to higher education in many states means increased pressure on colleges and universities to recruit and retain students because tuition is more and more important for running these institutions.  This does fuel the notion that students are “customers” in the minds of administration and that more has to be done to keep them happy.  This can, in some cases, affect the way administrators deal with faculty who are perceived to be a problem.  Still, if Schlosser is going to argue that there is a wave of scary students out there whose ideas lead to really contentious classrooms wherein faculty are afraid of teaching, it would be nice if he would provide some evidence and not just conjecture.  This is especially true if he is going to claim that he personally is afraid and has altered his teaching style as a result.

I agree with him that empiricism and facts have to trump emotions and personal feelings.  And I don’t deny that there aren’t examples of emotionalism overriding legitimate intellectual discourse. However, a handful of press accounts does not a massive shift in higher education make.

The piece does raise some issues about how identity drive the discourse and trump evidence and reason, but it does not connect well with the portion of the essay in which he talks about his own experiences.

In truth, I am not sure what his concluding paragraph is supposed to mean:

Debate and discussion would ideally temper this identity-based discourse, make it more usable and less scary to outsiders. Teachers and academics are the best candidates to foster this discussion, but most of us are too scared and economically disempowered to say anything. Right now, there’s nothing much to do other than sit on our hands and wait for the ascension of conservative political backlash —hop into the echo chamber, pile invective upon the next person or company who says something vaguely insensitive, insulate ourselves further and further from any concerns that might resonate outside of our own little corner of Twitter.

I am not so sure that is all that one can do, but we shall see.

I am not saying, by the way, that certain incidences have not occurred, I am just very skeptical that there is a massive transformation of education going on here.  A bit more evidence of that would be nice, especially if it is going to be claimed that empiricism is going out the window in favor of narrative.  Ultimately in an essay about how students should not be reacting based on their feeling he is stating that he has changed his teaching based, well, on his feelings.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Matt Parker says:

    I don’t usually disagree much with your writing, and I do agree that this article was a bit overblown. That being said, it seems to me that you’re giving it a bit of unfair treatment.

    First — you observe his personal anecdote is not one of liberal overreaction. But that anecdote is clearly meant to explain how it USED to be before everyone got oversensitive. The point that there was a complaint made that was baseless, and the administration responded appropriately.

    He then counters that with anecdotes of other non-tenured professors losing their positions based on single complaints, and his own fear about losing his contract for a similar reason…

    You write: “Still, if Schlosser is going to argue that there is a wave of scary students out there whose ideas lead to really contentious classrooms wherein faculty are afraid of teaching, it would be nice if he would provide some evidence and not just conjecture.”

    I’m not entirely sure that is what he’s arguing. I take his point to mean, he’s afraid to cover contentious topics for fear of having a complain lodged against him for being insensitive. if that fear is unfounded, so be it. But if there is a widespread shift in the perception of students as individuals to be challenged vs. customers to be satisfied, then I can see what he fears.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  2. ElizaJane says:

    The most recent complaint I’ve had also came from an older male student who felt that my “radical feminist critique” of Titian — which occupied all of ten minutes in 40+ hours of renaissance art lectures — was destroying my students’ appreciation of Great Art. My comments, which would have been radical in 1975, are completely mainstream today; a male professor would have said the same thing and not received complaints. This student also went on to harass my (female) teaching assistant on similar grounds. It’s true that graduate students, adjunct professors, and untenured faculty are incredibly vulnerable, probably more so than 20 years ago. Whether it’s conservatives or radicals, students can effectively wield power to intimidate those people into shutting up.

    Probably a better example of the phenomenon you are talking about though is the whole Laura Kipnis debacle, which I think was referred to in the Vox piece you cite.
    This
    seems to be a truly troubling example of graduate students using Title IX as a means to bully and intimidate an insufficiently feminist feminist into not hurting their feelings by voicing her opinions.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  3. gVOR08 says:

    I’m not an academic, and it’s longer than I care to admit since I’ve been a full time student, but this sounds an awful lot like what I see in my doctor’s office. Everybody bends over backwards to make sure I’m happy. People ask if I’m happy. After a visit somebody sends me a questionnaire, 1 to 5, how happy are you. Ratings are published on how happy everybody is. Presumably if I’m not happy someone gets talked to. Is any of this improving my health care? Probably not. Is it some liberal/conservative plot, some clause in Obamacare? No. They find themselves in a competitive business and it’s marketing. I expect it’s the same in universities.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  4. Tony W says:

    I read this and thought to myself “the right-wing terrorists have won”. Every “liberal” example was right-wing nuttery.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  5. James Pearce says:

    Bret Easton Ellis calls them “Generation Wuss.” Chris Rock has spoken about what a downer the college crowd is now. (Too sensitive!)

    And yes, while this does seem to be the latest incarnation of the old “PC” debates, there does seem to be a new oversensitivity in today’s discourse, not just in the academic sphere or just with the young’uns. Social media, and its tendency to go viral, have a lot to do with that, I think.

    Side note: It’s interesting to me how this seems to work. On the left, viral media is deployed like a weapon, meant to destroy reputations and careers. On the right, it’s deployed like a parachute, with people rallying around disposable heroes, buying George Zimmerman a truck or packing the Chick Fil A at lunchtime.

    Maybe this accounts for why Schlosser says he feels this kind of pressure coming from the left. It seems to be a rather stark reversal from the Ward Churchill days.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  6. Kari Q says:

    “The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.”
    (From a sermon preached by Peter the Hermit in A.D. 1274)

    I keep looking for something to convince me these complaints aren’t based on some variation of the above, but so far I remain skeptical. Maybe today’s college age students really do behave worse than those of 30 or 40 years ago. Or maybe things are just always better in the past.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  7. Scott says:

    massive transformation of education going on here

    I think the massive transformation is that we have transformed education (from earliest pre-school thru college) into a consumer product. Students (and their parents) are viewing everything from a consumer perspective. You see it in the schools and you see it in the university.

    As such, when confronted by something they don’t like, they complain. If they complain and don’t get satisfaction, then they ask for the supervisor. If they don’t like it a lot, then they shop elsewhere.

    If you are not tenured, you are just a hired hand. You get the same due process as any employee, i.e., not much. Especially in the Right to Work for Less states.

    If you are just a hired hand, then your idealism slowly dies and you’ll teach just what your customers want.

    If we want to change the paradigm, then work to make education something different than a consumer product.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  8. Tyrell says:

    Let me add my thoughts. For the last few years there has been an atmosphere, an environment moving across many college campuses. We see it often at graduation: a speaker is invited and then a big uproar ensues because some of the students and their “leaders” happen to disagree with the invitee’s opinions or past activities. This is repeated over and over. Guest speakers are often shouted down and disrespected. This, of course, done by students whose education is paid for by their parents and taxpayers. The atmosphere now, as many professors and administrators say, is chilling – to free speech and the exposure to different points of view . But not surprising. Today’s college students generation is the one brought up in high structure, everything scheduled, protected to a fault, no failure, everyone gets an award and trophy, no danger or risk. This is not the generation where their parents told them to get outside and play, go down the street or out in the woods. Many parents follow their children to these colleges to make sure they get up on time and that their instructor doesn’t give them a C. This is the generation who was taken to the doctor if they were sneezing (overuse of antibiotics). So this age does not want to hear anything out of their protective borders that might conflict with their secure view of things. And they are bound and determined not to have their belief system, views, and safety challenged.
    A while back I listened to an old speech given by Governor George Wallace at UCLA, of all places. There were no disruptions or disrespect. The students listened politely and asked qustions at the end. At no point was anyone rude. Can you imagine if that happened today ? The problem is that in a lot of situations the university administrations back down and give in to the student demands. We saw this happen in the sixties: radical, marxist groups took over colleges and universities, destroyed labs, offices, records, and research documents. The administration caved in and sat back while taxpayer’s property was trashed and valuable research was lost.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  9. @Matt Parker:

    First — you observe his personal anecdote is not one of liberal overreaction. But that anecdote is clearly meant to explain how it USED to be before everyone got oversensitive. The point that there was a complaint made that was baseless, and the administration responded appropriately.

    He then counters that with anecdotes of other non-tenured professors losing their positions based on single complaints, and his own fear about losing his contract for a similar reason..

    That he is afraid/anxious I will not deny. The questions are a) what is the evidence that he personally should be afraid? and b) does the evidence demonstrate a true systematic problem?

    He does a terrible job of providing evidence for either position. His personal story is pretty much worthless in forwarding his argument. He is writing under a pseudonym and cannot conjure one bit of direct evidence for why he personally ought to be afraid. That makes for a weak essay.

    He is arguing from feeling, not evidence. (Which i find ironic given what he is arguing against).

    The second half does at least some real examples. But a few examples does not mean that all of higher education has been transformed or that the entirety of today’s youth are a problem.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  10. @Kari Q: This is my first general reaction to these things, yes.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. @Scott:

    I think the massive transformation is that we have transformed education (from earliest pre-school thru college) into a consumer product. Students (and their parents) are viewing everything from a consumer perspective.

    This is more the issue, although I would argue that is it not so much that education has been fully transformed into this paradigm, but that there is a long-term conflict in the academy as to what degree students are “customers” or not. I think you will find that most faculty despise that notion while some administrators are sympathetic to that notion (but, some faculty accept the notion and some administrators totally reject it).

    This is not new, however, I have seen it my entire career, which now spans two decades, give or take.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  12. Mikey says:

    My daughter is a relatively new professor, meaning she can’t judge if there’s a difference between 2009 and now. But when I showed her the Vox piece, she said this:

    Being a victim of something is like the ‘in’ thing these days. If you make yourself a victim of something that isn’t particularly traumatic to you in the first place, it’s easy to ‘overcome’ and then play the strong and resilient card. No one else has to know that you were actually fine the whole time and just milking the opportunity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  13. wr says:

    I also hear fear from my fellow academics — but not about this. The concerns professors are talking about are mostly the corporitzation of higher ed, with Republican states filling boards of regents with execs who want to run universities “like a business” — which inevitably means cutting everything but STEM and business schools, slashing tenured positions, and transferring the bulk of the payroll to the executive class — the newly intensified drive to eliminate tenure, and the newfound willingness of Republican governors like Jindal and Walker to bankrupt established state university systems.

    Those are real crises.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  14. @Tyrell: Yes, there have been several examples of bad behavior in the news over the last couple of years. My questions are, however, a) to what degree does a handful examples mean some massive shift has occurred/is occurring? and b) to what degree are these even all that unusual if we look over time?

    In regards to the first point, I do not see a massive shift, but a series of incidences.

    In regards to the second, despite the fact that it has come on the radar more of late, the notion that students might object to the politics of a commencement speaker is not a new phenomenon, although person the number of incidences has grown of late (but I really do not know).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  15. Scott says:

    @wr: Actually, I think it began in the 80s when the quality revolution took place in the business environment. You started to look at your customers and stakeholders and stuff. Educators (not just corporate types) bought into that paradigm as a good faith, if misguided, effort to improve the educational enterprise. It was not exactly wrong but it threw out some very valuable differences between education and business.

    I think the paradigm we have to move back to for education (especially for elementary and secondary education) is that education is closer to parenting than a product for the students to acquire, and that, like parenting, the correction of children (rather than catering to the customer) is a valuable part of the learning process.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  16. James Joyner says:

    What’s amusing here is that he’s complaining about a climate wherein sensitivity to students’ feeling is paramount based entirely on his feelings that this is the case. He complains that students don’t have to have evidence to make claims and yet has no evidence for his claims.

    I do agree with your analysis that education is increasingly “customer” driven—although we thought that was the case back in 1998 when we got to Troy. Even at my own institution, which isn’t exactly populated by sensitive students, we’re almost comically responsive to student survey inputs, constantly surveying students on each and every educational experience and tweaking the curriculum based on a tiny number of comments.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  17. @James Joyner:

    What’s amusing here is that he’s complaining about a climate wherein sensitivity to students’ feeling is paramount based entirely on his feelings that this is the case. He complains that students don’t have to have evidence to make claims and yet has no evidence for his claims.

    Exactly. This is my main problem with the essay.

    Even at my own institution, which isn’t exactly populated by sensitive students, we’re almost comically responsive to student survey inputs, constantly surveying students on each and every educational experience and tweaking the curriculum based on a tiny number of comments.

    There is a ton of pressure for empirical “assessments” across education at all levels and surveys, flawed though they are, qualify as such and many people, therefore, over-react to them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  18. smintheus says:

    @ElizaJane: The fact that Schlosser cites Kipnis approvingly demonstrates that his judgment isn’t to be trusted. Kipnis, like Schlosser, draws a lurid picture from sweeping generalizations based entirely on random anecdotes – some of which she has reported falsely or very partially. Like Schlosser, her account is logically incoherent as well as dubious. Also, Kipnis is plainly a narcissistic bomb-thrower, advocating for what almost nobody wants (repealing bans on faculty sleeping with students) while insinuating repeatedly that she’s had a splendid time with student/professor sex. Besides making herself ridiculous, Kipnis holds several specific students up to public mockery (while embroidering the facts no less). Why in the world would anyone take her posturing seriously, or assume that her absurd account of the Title IX dispute is accurate and complete?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  19. Gavrilo says:

    I agree with the critique of the Vox article. I read it this morning and thought it was very weak. But, I think you must be living in a cave if don’t recognize that there has been a dramatic increase in student complaint/protest on the basis of academic content. Any professor, especially a young, non-tenured one, would be a fool if he or she wasn’t concerned.

    The demand for “trigger warnings” is a fairly recent phenomenon and has been characterized as a threat to academic freedom by the AAUP.

    According to FIRE, the number of “disinvitations” of university speakers (commencement and otherwise) as a result of student protest has increased substantially over the past 15 years. (Of course, I realize that the usual open-minded lefties around here will immediately discount this one because it comes from FIRE, but these are all publicly reported incidents.)

    Hell, Laura Kipnis was just investigated under Title IX for writing an essay!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  20. Modulo Myself says:

    I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to “offensive” texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students’ ire and sealed his fate. That was enough to get me to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik — and I wasn’t the only one who made adjustments, either.

    Let’s see–Moe Tkacik, Upton Sinclair, Edward Said…I’m sure the complaints about Said and Sinclair came from the Social Justice Maoist Cadre Warriors, rather than children raised by the Rod Drehers of America. Because that makes so much sense.

    The main thing I get from this essay is that Schlosser is a passive-aggressive jerk who enjoys his symptoms.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  21. @Gavrilo: The “trigger warning” thing is new, yes. The degree to which it represents a rampant, transformative wave is another matter entirely.

    As problematic as the Kipnis situation may be, an N of 1 (or 2, depending on how you want to count it) does not a trend make.

    Without even getting into FIRE itself, a study of 13 years is not that impressive, and we still aren’t talking huge numbers when one considers the the sheer number of commencement addresses each year.

    I am not disputing that there aren’t specific incidences of various actions. I am disputing that they represent some new threatening trend.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. Modulo Myself says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but Kipnis basically discounted a case of what is actually sexual assault (if the accuser’s story is true) as a ‘date gone wrong’. She did this in a prominent forum, and the case has not even been settled.

    I don’t know that much about academic politics, but this seems like an enormous blunder.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  23. smintheus says:

    @Modulo Myself: Yes, plus Kipnis misrepresented facts about that case. There appeared to be no fact-checking done until after the piece was published; reckless in the extreme.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  24. @Modulo Myself: While I was aware of the story in a vague sense when it broke, I have not thoroughly examined it. From a purely dispassionate POV my reaction is a) yes, I find an investigation of this nature over an essay to be a problem, but b) this is, as noted, one incident.

    In reading her original essay, she does court controversy. For example, I was struck by: “When I was in college, hooking up with professors was more or less part of the curriculum.” and her defense of the incident in question is odd (if not highly problematic).

    Indeed, I am not a fan of much of her essay/position although the investigation was more than a bit much (to put it mildly).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. michael reynolds says:

    I happen to live with a kid who in some corners of the internet would be dismissed as a Social Justice Warrior. Very into LGBTQ issues, very into gender as a spectrum rather than a dichotomy, all of that.

    My first reaction – as a writer and as a guy who favors humor over seriousness – is to bridle at any suggestion that my language needs trimming. But. When I actually listen to my son he’s making valid points. And in general what’s being asked of me, for example, not to use the term “tranny” is really pretty harmless.

    That said, I’ve run into far less rational SJW’s online and they irritate me more than right wing morons do because the lefty fanatics are generally a bit smarter and have less excuse.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  26. Tillman says:

    It’s more a problem of poor education and youth, I believe. And I don’t mean “education” in an institutional sense since a lot of this phenomenon is due to the Internet (they call ’em “Tumblrinos/rinas” in some corners) spreading around concepts in academia that they don’t have a proper grasp of, wielding them inappropriately, etc. It’s not a strictly new thing, it’s just happening much faster than in the past.

    The past was always better, except for all the death and the oppression and the corruption and the racism and the persecution and the prejudice and the…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  27. Franklin says:

    @michael reynolds: My niece might be similar to your kid. Among other things, it has been suggested that we stop using the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ when talking about hardware connectors. Similar with the computer hard drive terms ‘master’ and ‘slave’. I didn’t see any suggestions of useful alternatives (anything like “givers and takers” would still imply something).

    Yes, we should be aware and respectful of the gender spectrum of humans. But I’m not yet convinced that connectors have some internal need to present differently. More seriously, I don’t think that confusing them with brand new less-than-straightforward terms would in any way help actual humans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  28. @Tillman:

    The past was always better, except for all the death and the oppression and the corruption and the racism and the persecution and the prejudice and the…

    Yup.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  29. Lit3Bolt says:

    A lot of this article is seeing how far you can go down the academic rabbit hole. Comparing one goofy incident in 2009 and extrapolating that to a current “culture of fear” is ridiculous and a good example of how academic dudebros eagerly swallow their own bullshit uncritically.

    This especially cracked me up:

    But we also destroy ourselves when identity becomes our sole focus. Consider that tweet I linked to earlier, from critic and artist Zahira Kelly, in which she implies that the whole of scientific inquiry is somehow invalid because it has been conducted mostly by white males.

    most “scientific thought” as u know it isnt that scientific but shaped by white patriarchal bias of ppl who claimed authority on it.

    — todóloga (@bad_dominicana) November 15, 2014

    So a white guy is complaining that his identity feels threatened when he has to consider other peoples’ identities. Cute.

    Oh and also, wasn’t most of historical “science” white patriarchal bullshit? Eugenics? Freudism? Leshenskoism? That’s not counting all the scientific and artistic fields that have been historically hostile to women for no qualifying reason other than patriarchal tautologies (Women can’t study math because they are bad at it. Therefore women are bad at math, and should be prevented from studying math).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  30. Tillman says:

    @Lit3Bolt:

    Oh and also, wasn’t most of historical “science” white patriarchal bullshit?

    That would be why you had to append “historical” on the front there, yes. Or are you suggesting, as Kelly did in that tweet, that current science is mostly white patriarchal bullshit?

    I wonder how many anti-vaxxers are into thinking current science is WPBS.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  31. Modulo Myself says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    What Kipnis wrote about her experiences with sex and professors was stupid but completely benign. What she wrote about the grad student comes close to attacking her character. That she does it in a publication with a huge academic readership means she is coming close to attacking her character in a way that could affect her career. (Because there’s no way that she’s going to be unknown in this situation.)

    Kipnis’ real defense is that she sounds like an idiot. I don’t think many fair academics are going to read the account the grad student gave and think if true it represents a date gone wrong.

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  32. Modulo Myself says:

    @Franklin: @michael reynolds:

    In my experience, there’s not much in college PC/liberal culture that’s habit-forming. When you’re 18, your brain does not get subtlety when exposed to new ideas. If the patriarchy exists, everything that has ever been invented must be about it. Then you get older. The people who get into debating the structural power inherent in male and female adapters are not doing this when they’re 25 or 28. Or if they are, they aren’t taken seriously.

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  33. Barry says:

    @Tyrell: “Guest speakers are often shouted down and disrespected. ”

    I’d really like to see this – for example, the Rutgers affair was terminated with Rice refused to give a speech unless (non-) free speech zones were set up. *She* was the one who refused to hear criticism.

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  34. Barry says:

    @Matt Parker: “Matt Parker says:
    Wednesday, June 3, 2015 at 22:30

    “I don’t usually disagree much with your writing, and I do agree that this article was a bit overblown. That being said, it seems to me that you’re giving it a bit of unfair treatment.

    First — you observe his personal anecdote is not one of liberal overreaction. But that anecdote is clearly meant to explain how it USED to be before everyone got oversensitive. The point that there was a complaint made that was baseless, and the administration responded appropriately.”

    He then counters that with anecdotes of other non-tenured professors losing their positions based on single complaints, and his own fear about losing his contract for a similar reason…”

    Which still boils down to “I’m oppressed by liberals – look at this guy who was successfully screwed over by a right-winger!”.

    And please note that the thing about being an adjunct is that one is a permatemp, with very few protections against being fired for any reason. And since one is living semester to semester, the U wouldn’t even have to fire him, just not renew his contract.

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  35. humanoid.panda says:

    @Gavrilo:

    According to FIRE, the number of “disinvitations” of university speakers (commencement and otherwise) as a result of student protest has increased substantially over the past 15 years. (Of course, I realize that the usual open-minded lefties around here will immediately discount this one because it comes from FIRE, but these are all publicly reported incidents.)

    Sorry, but the commencement speaker issue is a red herring. A commencement speaker ,by definiton, is someone who is honored by the community to be a symbol of its values. Students that feel that a speaker does not deserve that honor can and should protest the event. To put it simply, everyone has the right of free speech on campus, but no one has the right to be held up as worthy of admiration and adulation.

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  36. Matt Parker says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I agree that the article is weak on concrete examples. But that he exists within a culture of fear that has been documented in other contexts (Laura Kipnis’ article, for example) as well as other examples of academic and non-academic identity-politics shaming in recent years does suggest that there is some atmosphere of fear on the part of non-tenured academics.

    But I agree, ultimately, that the scope of the problem he’s describing is not really clear from his article.

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  37. gVOR08 says:

    @Tony W:

    Every “liberal” example was right-wing nuttery.

    Last week there was a silly piece in POLITICO. But I repeat myself. What Liberals Still Don’t Understand About FOX News. No link, they can do their own marketing. Who were “the liberals”? Bruce Bartlett, staffer for Ron Paul and Jack Kemp, policy adviser to Reagan, Treasury official under HW, and pioneering supply-sider.

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  38. Tyrell says:

    @humanoid.panda: Yes, I agree that they have the right to protest, but not in a way that interferes with my right to hear the speech with disruptions, hollaring, or noises. They can do that perfectly fine outside. The administration is responsible for providing safety and order. If someone does not behave they should be taken out. If a student, expulsion. If not, an arrest: disorderly conduct, creating a disturbance, being a nuisance, and violating the rights of others. This is a school ! Students who don’t like the rules can go elsewhere !
    And I felt that Ms. Rice was mistaken in cancelling her appearance.

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  39. Franklin says:

    @Modulo Myself: Your post provides me with some relief, thank you.

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  40. Grewgills says:

    @Kari Q:

    The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.

    Socrates 400 something BCE

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  41. Barry says:

    @Tyrell: “Yes, I agree that they have the right to protest, but not in a way that interferes with my right to hear the speech with disruptions, hollaring, or noises. ”

    Which you didn’t prove.

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  42. wr says:

    @Barry: “And please note that the thing about being an adjunct is that one is a permatemp, with very few protections against being fired for any reason.”

    The good news is that Scott Walker is going to equalize adjuncts and tenureds, by changing the definition of tenure to “job security unless a politically-appointed hack changes his mind.” Also he’s trying to take all governance away from the faculty and give it to the politically appointed executives and regents.

    This is why panic over a handful of shouty students seems misguided. There are issues to be dealt with, but despite how it seems some time faculty and students are on the same side. There’s a real enemy posing a real threat to academia…

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  43. @Matt Parker:

    But that he exists within a culture of fear that has been documented in other contexts (Laura Kipnis’ article, for example)

    I would note this: all of these essays/columns/etc. of late have one thing in common, they mention Kipnis. Now, even if we stipulate for the sake of argument that the Kipnis thing was the worst thing ever, it is one incident. There are roughly 18.3 million college students in the US (as of Spring 2015 in unduplicated headcount) and I do not know how many professors (hundreds of thousands at least). If we are going to sound the alarm bells about a changing climate on college campuses we need more than 1 case of a faculty member having to deal with a very public complaint and a handful of commencement speech cancellations.

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  44. smintheus says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I think that might have been a reference to the first Kipnis essay (which also gets cited as ‘evidence’ all the time). The thing about it that rarely gets mentioned is that almost none of her factual statements or anecdotes were documented or even verifiable. Of the very few claims of hers which we’re in any position to check on – basically her account of the complaints against Peter Ludlow – Kipnis’ account was demonstrably inaccurate, misleading, and heavily biased. The best that could be said of it is that she proved herself to be extremely sloppy.

    Given that, why do people simply take her word about a supposed campus culture that she doesn’t provide any verifiable evidence for? The same goes for the anonymous Vox essayist. He shows us that he makes wild, seemingly incoherent leaps of interpretation based on a single banal conflict years ago with a dull student. So why do readers pay any further attention to his other undocumented assertions?

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  45. JWH says:

    @gVOR08: I don’t care about unhappiness surveys. If I don’t like the doctor, I’ll leave. Late last year, I stopped seeing my new doctor because he gave me the hard sell for a weight-loss clinic. Yes, I need to lose weight. But after I researched the clinic’s methods (and doc’s involvement in the clinic), it was time to run far far away …

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  46. Frank Provasek says:

    I read this essay last week when it first appeared, and my gut reaction was that it’s fake. The tactic of “See, even our opposition agrees with us, but (always!) they are too fearful to use their real name.”
    The tone is just wrong, as if the writer REALLY believes Liberalism is a disease. My bet is that the source of this will be revealed as coming from the same types that respond to Obama’s support of higher education with “what a snob!” — or warning parents to home school their children, otherwise they will be indoctrinated to not hate people who are different, and to learn critical thinking skills that will make them question authority. (An urgent warning against children learning critical thinking was in the last official Texas Republican party platform…)

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