11:13 AM, Sep 12, 2013 • By JONATHAN BRONITSKY
Hardly an academic semester goes by without a high-profile opportunity arising for the right to address pervasive, perennial anti-conservative animus on the American college campus. And hardly an academic semester goes by without the right, reflexively blinded by righteous indignation, blowing an opportunity to do so.
Too often, conservatives, in a rush to condemn their adversaries, dishonor their own principles, neglect the deeper issue of higher education’s authoritarian left-wing culture, and fail to appreciate the utility of an omnipresent throng of useful idiots. The latest example of this tendency is their impetuous response to Michigan State University creative writing professor William S. Penn and his lecture hall diatribe involving Ann Romney, taxation, voter suppression, and “old Republicans with the dead skin cells washing off them.”
This past Thursday, Penn was suspended by MSU administrators from teaching for the remainder of the calendar year. That is insufficient. He should be barred from the classroom—without pay—for one academic year, minimum. Yet he should not be axed—that is at least for the myopic reason supplied by the right: persecution of young conservatives.
Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak, who has appealed for Penn to resign, epitomizes the right’s sentiment when he argues that “young conservatives should not feel isolated or outcast simply because they are Republicans.” For Penn, he maintains, engaged in “bullying” and “intimidation.”
But what comprises political bullying and intimidation in the classroom? In the past, it was when a professor ridiculed students and marked them down for expressing certain views. Now, ostensibly, it is also when students merely get the impression that expressing certain views could potentially result in negative consequences. After all, Penn did not last long enough into the term to have the limits of his avowed tolerance tested. (“I absolutely don’t mean to offend you, even if you are a Republican, I don’t mean to offend you in this class—outside of class is a different matter.”)
The point is that conservatives could have effectively applied just as much—if not more—pressure on MSU by broadly insisting that Penn, by creating an environment inimical to personal and intellectual growth, discarded his ethical responsibilities as a tenured academic.
Judging by the incessant nervous laughter in the nine-minute YouTube clip, it seems that the whole lecture hall was unnerved by Penn’s invective, not just the right-leaning students in attendance. Perhaps—if Penn’s course had survived beyond one session—conservatives in the class would have hesitated or even completely refrained from articulating opinions. But perhaps liberals in the class would have also felt pressured to conform to Penn’s fringe views to avoid retribution. Students are far more often preoccupied with obtaining a decent grade and moving on than transforming themselves into virtuous political martyrs. And to complicate matters, Penn dismissed the notion that he is a “liberal democrat,” describing himself instead as “fairly conservative.”
A question that cuts to the heart of the American university: Would Penn have faced the identical degree of wrath from the right and received the same punishment if he were a professor of, say, political science, which inescapably encompasses politics? Is it also bullying or intimidation if a professor simply discloses his or her political party affiliation? Schostak asserts that Penn’s behavior was “inexcusable” precisely because MSU is a public institution and, thus, funded by taxpayers. Yet is it truly possible to achieve what historian Peter Novick sardonically dubbed “that noble dream,” pure, value-free objectivity in the humanities? Would it be beneficial to create such a sterile setting anyway? Is not one of the primary aims of college to endow young people with skills to manage opposition and dissimilarity? If conservatives are so sincerely concerned for their emotionally delicate successors, it would be more compassionate to advise them to avoid college altogether. The political penchant of academia is barely a mystery.
Oct 15, 2012, Vol. 18, No. 05 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
In noting the death last week in London of Eric Hobsbawm, The Scrapbook observed its usual doctrine of de mortuis nil nisi bonum.
It’s good to be published, and better to be understood.Sep 3, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 47 • By BARTON SWAIM
Modern academics are not celebrated for the clarity and felicity of their writing. One of the most important lessons a postgraduate student can learn—and if he doesn’t learn it soon, he’s doomed—is that academics generally do not write books and articles for the purpose of expressing their ideas as clearly as possible for the benefit of people who don’t already understand and agree with them. Academics don’t write to be read; they write to be published.
The view from the front row of the academic follies.Jan 24, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 18 • By DAWN EDEN
Sexual "misconduct" rules are rejiggered to deny due process and presume the guilt of white men. 4:27 PM, Jan 7, 2010 • By EMILY ESFAHANI SMITH
A few years ago—as you probably remember—Duke University received a lot of bad publicity when a group of lacrosse players were (falsely, as it turned out) accused of brutally gang-raping a black stripper in Durham, North Carolina. Today, with the recent changes in the school's sexual misconduct policy, that spirit lives on.
Leftwing causes converge with the 9/11 denial movement.Sep 24, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 02 • By SONNY BUNCH
New York City
Certain events can be expected each time the 9/11 anniversary rolls around. Opinion writers will opine about how the attacks did or didn't change America. Moments of silence will take place in any number of locales. Think tanks will host panels discussing everything from the war on terror to the impact on immigration reform. And the loosely affiliated conspiracy theorists that comprise the 9/11 Truth Movement will hold rallies and conferences around the country to bring themselves attention.
Fed up with the PC domination of the academic linguistics, one professor fights back against the establishment.12:00 AM, Sep 12, 2003 • By DAVID SKINNER
THE PERSECUTION OF SCHOLARS for gender bias, on even the flimsiest evidence, has long been a fact of life in academe. Should one professor write, "Mary entered the kitchen," another boils over with feminist indignation, convenes a panel to investigate, and soon the whole campus is sucked into a tedious speakathon on the evils of sexism. But more than just the hobbyhorse of a few discontented radicals, heightened scrutiny for potential offense to preferred political groups has become policy within most disciplines.
From the August 25, 2003 Dallas Morning News: The Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights tries to bring an end to campus speech codes created in its name.12:00 AM, Sep 2, 2003 • By TERRY EASTLAND
IN A JULY LETTER to colleges and universities across the country, Gerald Reynolds, head of the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, addressed "a subject," as he put it, "of central importance to our government, our heritage of freedom and our way of life: the First Amendment." Reynolds' office doesn't have the authority to bring lawsuits to enforce the First Amendment. What, you might wonder, possessed him to write a letter about it?
The answer begins with the fact that hundreds of colleges and universities have policies restricting speech that the First Amendment protects.
An Update on Sami Al-Arian and "academic freedom" from the American Association of University Professors.3:00 PM, Jun 17, 2003 • By DAVID TELL
THE QUESTION raised by our editorial in last week's issue--whether the American Association of University Professors would "censure" the University of South Florida for having fired indicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad chieftain Sami Al-Arian--has been resolved. Sort of.
Jun 9, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 38 • By TERRY EASTLAND, FOR THE EDITORS
WHILE THE NATION AWAITS the Supreme Court's rulings in the Michigan affirmative action cases, the Bush administration has launched an effort designed to stimulate interest in race-neutral means of enhancing educational opportunities for racial and ethnic minorities. The project has proceeded quietly, with the Education Department taking the lead.
Amitai Etzioni on his life and times.Apr 21, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 31 • By ARNOLD BEICHMAN
My Brother's Keeper
A Memoir and a Message
by Amitai Etzioni
The historians are already wrong about the war in Iraq. Apr 21, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 31 • By RONALD RADOSH
THE WEEKEND OF APRIL 5, the Organization of American Historians (OAH)--the leading association of professors of American history--held its annual meeting in Memphis, Tennessee. The best-attended event, televised live by C-SPAN, was a panel discussion entitled "Historians Reflect on the War in Iraq." Before a packed audience of OAH members, five historians presented five takes on why it was necessary to oppose the war. Not one audience member begged to differ--at a time when polls showed 70 percent of the American people backing the war.
The panel began on a fairly reasonable note.
The Bush administration shouldn't be afraid to file a brief defending race-neutral admissions in the Michigan affirmative action cases.Dec 30, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 16 • By TERRY EASTLAND
"Senator Trent Lott's lament that Strom Thurmond lost his segregationist campaign for the White House in 1948 . . . is already influencing an internal Bush administration debate on what approach to take on a major affirmative action case.
"Perhaps most striking, a senior administration official said today that Mr. Lott's statement of support for affirmative action . . . has complicated a developing debate within the administration over a coming Supreme Court case. . .