Free Markets, Free People

What are we enabling in our colleges? Part II

This is actually quite amusing to me because it is the left getting caught up in a trap of their own making.  Via Powerline we learn of Laura Kipnes, a Northwestern University feminist film professor (no, really, that’s what she is) who penned a piece entitled “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” for the Chronical of Higher Education in which she had the temerity to say:

If this is feminism, it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama . . .

But what do we expect will become of students, successfully cocooned from uncomfortable feelings, once they leave the sanctuary of academe for the boorish badlands of real life? What becomes of students so committed to their own vulnerability, conditioned to imagine they have no agency, and protected from unequal power arrangements in romantic life? I can’t help asking, because there’s a distressing little fact about the discomfort of vulnerability, which is that it’s pretty much a daily experience in the world, and every sentient being has to learn how to somehow negotiate the consequences and fallout, or go through life flummoxed at every turn. . .

The question, then, is what kind of education prepares people to deal with the inevitably messy gray areas of life? Personally I’d start by promoting a less vulnerable sense of self than the one our new campus codes are peddling. Maybe I see it this way because I wasn’t educated to think that holders of institutional power were quite so fearsome, nor did the institutions themselves seem so mighty. Of course, they didn’t aspire to reach quite as deeply into our lives back then. What no one’s much saying about the efflorescence of these new policies is the degree to which they expand the power of the institutions themselves. . .

The feminism I identified with as a student stressed independence and resilience. In the intervening years, the climate of sanctimony about student vulnerability has grown too thick to penetrate; no one dares question it lest you’re labeled antifeminist. . . The new codes sweeping American campuses aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing. Sexual paranoia reigns; students are trauma cases waiting to happen. If you wanted to produce a pacified, cowering citizenry, this would be the method. And in that sense, we’re all the victims.

Seems pretty tame to me, even though it also seems a pretty accurate description of the problem that now exists on any number of college and university campuses.

As you might imagine, to the feminist left at the college, that’s heresy.  And, as if she were an Islamic apostate, she was immediately attacked. Protests erupted on the Northwestern campus, “complete with feminists aping the mattress-carrying stunt of Emma Sulkowicz at Columbia University.” How dare she say what she said?!

Interestingly enough, the publication which came to Kipnes defense was none other than the bedrock of the far left – “The Nation”.  It too seems to realize that enough is enough when it comes to stifling free thought:

As the protesters wrote on a Facebook page for their event, they wanted the administration to do something about “the violence expressed by Kipnis’ message.” Their petition called for “swift, official condemnation of the sentiments expressed by Professor Kipnis in her inflammatory article,” and demanded “that in the future, this sort of response comes automatically.” (University President Morton Schapiro told The Daily Northwestern, a student newspaper, that he would consider it, and the students will soon be meeting with the school’s Vice President for Student Affairs to further press their case.) Jazz Stephens, one of the march’s organizers, described Kipnis’s ideas as “terrifying.” Another student told The Daily Northwestern that she was considering bringing a formal complaint because she believes that Kipnis was mocking her concerns about being triggered in a film class, concerns she’d confided privately. “I would like to see some sort of repercussions just so she understands the effect something like this has on her students and her class,” said the student, who Kipnis hadn’t named.

Kipnis could hardly have invented a response that so neatly proved her argument. . .

This atmosphere is intellectually stifling. “Every professor’s affected by the current climate, unless they’re oblivious,” Kipnis told me via e-mail. “I got many dozens of emails from professors (and administrators and deans and one ex college president) describing how fearful they are of speaking honestly or dissenting on any of these issues. Someone on my campus—tenured—wrote me about literally lying awake at night worrying about causing trauma to a student, becoming a national story, losing her job, and not being able to support her kid. It seemed completely probable to her that a triggered student could take down a tenured professor with a snowball of social media.” . . .

“It’s the infantilization of women fused with identity politics, so that being vulnerable, a potential victim—or survivor, in the new parlance—becomes a form of identity,” Kipnis told me. “I wrote a chapter on the politics of vulnerability in The Female Thing from 2006, and since then it strikes me that vulnerability has an ever more aggressive edge to it, which is part of what makes the sexual culture of the moment so incoherent.”

As a quick aside, this statement had me laughing out loud – “Every professor’s affected by the current climate, unless they’re oblivious.” Yes, Ms. Kipnis, we agree – we dealt with Professor Oblivious yesterday.

Moving on though, it appears that the left is eating its own.  The Nation realizes that what has happened has become “intellectually stifling”.  It was a natural end state to the creeping oppression of speech codes, the “right” not to be offended and the idea that colleges should be “safe spaces” removed from the reality of the world where nasty things (and ideas apparently) can hurt you.  If you don’t agree or if you wander outside the bright lines of approved speech and thought, they think nothing of subjecting the violator to everything they’re trying to avoid. Heresy is, after all, a serious matter when speaking of “religion”, and that certainly is how the devotees treat their ideology.

Steve Hayward wonders that if these attacks will actually cause the administrators at Northwestern to grow a spine and “tell the mob to sod off”.  My guess?  No, not yet.  Don’t forget it was these university administrations that put this structure in place as well as aiding and abetting its growth.  They’re hardly about to now say they were wrong to let this intellectual fascism bloom.

Another interesting perspective was found on Tumblr by Hayward.  Another professor confessing his or her fears:

Personally, liberal students scare the sh*t out of me. I know how to get conservative students to question their beliefs and confront awful truths, and I know that, should one of these conservative students make a facebook page calling me a communist or else seek to formally protest my liberal lies, the university would have my back. I would not get fired for pissing off a Republican, so long as I did so respectfully, and so long as it happened in the course of legitimate classroom instruction.

The same cannot be said of liberal students. All it takes is one slip—not even an outright challenging of their beliefs, but even momentarily exposing them to any uncomfortable thought or imagery—and that’s it, your classroom is triggering, you are insensitive, kids are bringing mattresses to your office hours and there’s a twitter petition out demanding you chop off your hand in repentance.

Paranoid? Yes, of course. But paranoia isn’t uncalled for within the current academic job climate. Jobs are really, really, really, really hard to get. And since no reasonable person wants to put their livelihood in danger, we reasonably do not take any risks vis-a-vis momentarily upsetting liberal students. And so we leave upsetting truths unspoken, uncomfortable texts unread.

The fact that this problem is now a monster that devours its own is probably considered an “unintended consequence”.  The fact that they didn’t take into consideration that limiting speech they found “unacceptable” would come back to bite them seems to be a result of some very sloppy thinking, doesn’t it?  Or was there any real thinking going on at all when they began to impose their will?  And then, of course, there’s the problem of the inmates essentially running the asylum.  Hayward’s hope that a spine will somehow grow among the administrators of that school is a fairly farfetched hope.  There is no prior history of that so why would we expect this instance to be any different?  Until the administration does act in such a manner that tells the students to “sod off”, we shouldn’t expect it at all.

In the meantime, pop some popcorn, pull up a chair and enjoy the show.


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31 Responses to What are we enabling in our colleges? Part II

  • In the midst of reading Ms. Kipnes travail – it occurred to me.

    What happens to young men and women (or is it boys and girls, being as they don’t officially grow up until they’re 26 these days) who DON’T go to college and are immediately thrown out into “the boorish badlands of real life?”
    without 4 to 6 more years of protection inside the silos of the higher education world?

    “The question, then, is what kind of education prepares people to deal with the inevitably messy gray areas of life? ”

    anyone see the problem here the way I do (college grad that I are….)
    that the only place that could be a training ground for messy gray areas of life is college?

    Hoo boy!
    I went to college pretty much for an eduction in business and data processing with the idea I’d graduate with a degree that would at least get companies to take a look at my resume.
    I don’t, EVER, recall thinking college was going to prepare me to deal with the messy gray areas of life.

    Did I miss something the rest of you college gradgeeated clowns got?

    What the hell is with this expectation that college is going to prepare you for life! That, in my opinion, was a job sombe clowns back home where you came from, who raised you, were supposed to be taking care of.
    Good lord.
    No wonder this kind of crap is going on all over the place, these kids haven’t been taught how to be adults by the primary adults in their lives.

    • I was prepared for life during my first 17 years. I went to college to get my engineering degrees so that I could 1) support myself and 2) get paid for doing something that I really enjoyed. I don’t anything about “messy gray areas of life” unless these refer to residues from various medical procedures.

  • I must say that I just don’t see any of this at our magical campus in West Mooseville. The young nubile females in my class don’t seem to be afraid in any way. Why, one of them came to my office just the other day expressing a wish to do some extra-credit work to raise her grade, and she was all giggling and smiling rather than seeming to be scared or oppressed.

    I’m not sure what she meant when she told the joke about the “small package” not tickling any tonsils, but she was clearly happy, having just gotten out her spring clothes and putting a flower in her hair. So I just don’t see the stuff you are talking about taking place here.

    All these posts about leftwing stuff on campus are just BS right wing memes. Colleges have a host of diverse views, and after 9-11 the right pressured universities to dis-invite any one who might speak critically of the war. No, I don’t have to link to any such examples, and I can’t name a single example of someone who was cancelled. Shut up. I tell you, it all happened. And the fact that Cindy Sheehan was all over the place, even speaking at an event where I presented too, is beside the point. I tell you, we felt threatened by the Bush regime, and it was courageous to speak out about it. I still have the medal I gave my self for courage.

    But hey, for the emotion-driven this offers the far right to play into their anti-intellectualism and fear that colleges are all *start spooky music* “indoctrinating” students, blah blah.” It all fits into the irrational right wing fear industry. It’s silly. We’re not indoctrinating. We’re *teaching*. There’s a difference.

    The fact that 95% of professors, including the whole political science department here, are on the left is completely beside the point. We just offer our opinions to the class, and since we’re so smart, our opinions are always correct, and the students learn them. That’s not indoctrination! It’s just good teaching, and thank god I’m doing that rather than being a lawyer.

    Which has nothing whatsoever to do with me having to deal with judges who can basically tell me that what I’m saying is undiluted bullshit, and I have to accept it. Nope, I could be a great lawyer. Getting a PhD is so much harder. Instead of all these codes and laws and cases and stuff, I was able to craft a monumental treatise on German foreign policy that displayed my brilliance.

    Why, it was so brilliant, only a handful of people could read it and understand it. In fact, I’m not sure anybody did. Plus, it makes me a respected professional academic, with a doctorate from a place with “advanced” in its name. And I don’t either constantly bring up my qualifications to preen about them. Stop saying that. But I AM a PhD, and I was president of the faculty senate. Which isn’t either about like being the hall monitor in high school, so stop saying that.

    So carry on, and I’ll keep working at indoctrinating educating students to think critically, develop their writing and oral presentation skills, learn to examine the world from different perspectives, and understand ethical implications of their choices. And, of course, the ethical implications are that if you choose something right wing, you are a sterile, inbred bigot like the ex-military basket cases around here. I mean, that’s just common sense.

    And in teaching political science I’m very proud of how students right and left learn to disagree (and we have active groups of each) without taking it personally and with mutual respect. And it’s not either true that the only way anyone’s opinion changes is towards the left. Well, actually, it is true, but again, it’s just because of my teaching brilliance. Not indoctrination, no sir. And I’m positive they just don’t parrot back to me what I want to hear to get a good grade. My students, with their open, bright, shining, honest faces would never ever do that.

    We’re in a new world of higher education – and given that ones’ earning power grows by $1 million on average with a college education, the demand is going to stay high. No, I don’t have to furnish links for that. And I certainly don’t have to factor out the difference in earning potential for engineering graduates vs political science graduates. And don’t bring up gender studies. Just don’t. You offend me and my gender neutral kids every time you do that.

    And also shut up about how majors in political science, journalism, gender studies, and other wonderful subjects that help you understand the world so, so much better have trouble finding jobs after college. And trouble paying off their student loans. And finding a place to live outside their parents house. And getting gas for their car. Just don’t bring any of that up. I’m sticking with that $1 million dollar on average thing, and I’m just not prepared to hear any push back on it. La, la, la, I can’t hear you. Besides, if they didn’t come learn all this wonderful political science stuff from me, they might end up as plumbers or something. {shudder}

    I’m lucky enough to work for a college with a teaching emphasis located in paradise. And “teaching emphasis” isn’t either a euphemism for it being only one step above a community college, with a bunch of bored teenagers killing time before taking that job at Home Depot. And don’t bring up how we have no graduate programs of any sort, so I never ever teach anyone who has advanced far enough to challenge my brilliance. Stop saying that.

    No, I love it here in this cold, cold paradise where the moose are constantly putting us in touch with nature. It’s far more satisfying than just making money. Which I don’t care about. Really. And that isn’t either a rationalization about how I’ve got a dead-end job at a mediocre moose college, when I am so brilliant my opinions ought to be eagerly consumed all over the world. Nope. I love it here. Wouldn’t be anywhere else. {sob} {Obamagumbalumbadum} {squirt} Ahhhh.

    I’ve never encountered a “free speech zone” on any campus. Not sure what a “free speech zone” is. Which doesn’t either automatically make me unsuited to teaching anything about free speech or the politics of the first amendment. It’s just not an issue up here in paradise.

    What is a speech code? If it’s a limit on free speech in the exchange of ideas, I oppose it completely. If it’s rules designed to stop abusive behavior when there absent a focus on ideas and intellectual exploration, that could be legit. Especially if the abusive behavior is in the form of challenging a brilliant pragmatic leftist professor about how he’s clueless about any number of things. And that right wing snot who said that is sorry about it now, you bet.

    That’s why when I taught an honors course on “Islam and the West,” I brought a conservative pentecostal minister to talk about why he saw Islam as evil. And I didn’t either pick the worst possible representative of the other side of the debate, so that my preferred position would look good by comparison to a religious nutball. Stop saying that. It was good of me to invite him and hear his alternative opinion. {snicker}

    Lol – when people show they have no desire for a real discussion, I just have some fun. Which doesn’t either mark me as psychologically unfit to engage in serious discussion. Irritating people for fun isn’t either sick, no matter what the ex-military basket cases say. Besides, it’s justified because you call me names. Which means you have no case. And I win. As I always, always do. {Obamadumbagumma} {squirt}

    Speech policies do not touch my job one iota. It never has been an issue for me in any of my classes or activities. I’ve never heard of this policy before – and I suspect most of my colleagues haven’t. It’s never been an issue that’s affected me in any way. Have I made this clear? Nobody really pays attention to or knows those policies.

    We don’t have to pay any attention to them. Because we wise, pragmatic left-wing faculty know that those policies are not to limit *us* in any way. They’re to give administration the tools to crack down on sterile bigots. In the name of free speech and academic freedom, of course.

    • Pitch. Perfect.


      Back to you, Erp…

    • Lighten up, Francis

    • It might be that his campus is so unimportant that its avoided these problems so far, much as a community college would as well.

      Also, I frankly do not think Erb is qualified to teach a course on Islam and the West.

      I’m sorry, but being an expert in German electoral politics is not any sort of credential for discussing that topic.

  • In The Children Of The Corn come to life on real campi around the U.S.

    Delicate lil’ flowers who will destroy your life if you “offend” them with ideas.

    Consider how far this is from the ideal of the university. For centuries, a place where ideas found redoubt and sanctuary.

    No more, due to the crude, cast-iron machinations of the Collective.

  • As a quick aside, this statement had me laughing out loud – “Every professor’s affected by the current climate, unless they’re oblivious.” Yes, Ms. Kipnis, we agree – we dealt with Professor Oblivious yesterday.

    Spanked it right out of the park. You couldn’t have asked for a more serendipitous chain of events to prove the point.

    • …and our Professor Oblivious is damn proud of it.

      Not the least “worried or ashamed” to talk down to people who…you know…KNEW what they fluck they were talking about. Even AFTER it was demonstrated that he did not.

      One minor point of disagreement/decorum, Doc… That’s not “Professor Asshat”. I think it would be Professor AssBONNET, when he’s wearing his assrobes and all.

      • Dude, titles like that are just boilerplate policy written by the guy who lost the drinking games one Friday evening in the faculty lounge and got stiffed with the “job” of President for 6 months. How can I possibly be expected to know or care about that??

  • The new codes sweeping American campuses aren’t just a striking abridgment of everyone’s freedom, they’re also intellectually embarrassing.

    From this, I’m going to shrewdly conclude that Erp is NOT a regular reader of the Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Well, along with much of anything else…

  • This atmosphere is intellectually stifling. “Every professor’s affected by the current climate, unless they’re oblivious,” Kipnis told me via e-mail. “I got many dozens of emails from professors (and administrators and deans and one ex college president) describing how fearful they are of speaking honestly or dissenting on any of these issues.

    “But hey, for the emotion-driven this offers the far right to play into their anti-intellectualism and fear that colleges are all *start spooky music* “indoctrinating” students, blah blah.” It all fits into the irrational right wing fear industry. And to be sure, a college educated person is less likely to fall for that kind of propaganda than one who is not.
    —Professor Oblivious

    Which leads to a couple of observations. First, a LOT of students entering even very respected “universities” come in pre-indocrinated. And, by gawd, you’d better not even DREAM of challenging them if you want to keep that nice, fat sinecure.

    Second, “right wing” thinkers find the idea…very evident here…of words (and most ideas they convey in an academic setting) equaling “violence” or a “threat” to be bizarre. To us, the concepts ARE “irrational”, partly because we are so much less driven by emotion.

    And, finally, the people graduating from these “universities” (which are a dirty parody of what a true university should be) are not simply fully indoctrinated with “propaganda”, they are convinced they are totally justified in thinking they have a “right” to crush any idea, and anyone who expresses it, that does not conform. They have learned to be NON-THINKERS, and to destroy anyone who DOES THINK in any manner that “threatens” them. Plus, they have been thought precisely how to do that via their “education”, starting BEFORE their advanced education. The recent and current examples are legion, and include the very people who run these “universities”.

    So, we see there IS indoctrination of the worst kind, that it IS viciously “anti-intellectual” and “emotion-driven”, AND that there is a “fear industry”, but it damn sure does not come from the “right wing”.

    How do you stop this? Simple, but not “easy”. You reimpose the ideal of the university, and you deal summarily with those who would disrupt it. They have no place there, and should be given the “right” to seek their niche elsewhere. This includes students, faculty, and administrators.

  • … then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg – isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!

    • Awww hell….I ain’t badmouthing the United States of America, I’m badmouthing what it’s turned into.

  • Does anyone think its easy to rein in the Red Guards once they have been unleashed?

    • It’s not conceivable, even to most of them, that what they’re doing is the result of a somewhat loosely but nevertheless concerted and deliberate effort.

      The KGB did some great work it’s day.

      • Hardly, as Professor Oblivious states… college graduates are immune to that sort of thing.

        • Right, obviously!
          People with higher education can never be taken in by the hornswoggling, humbugging, prevaricatious and pusillanimous potentates of progressivism!

          Just to prove that, I picked a group of college grads, almost (completely at random) who I’m sure weren’t leftist influenced at all!
          Bill Ayers, Frank Marshall Davis, Jeremiah Wright, Valeria Jarrett, Saul Alinsky

    • Nope. The Red Guards are unleashed, and some of them won’t get “leashed” as far as the university goes. They’ll always be out there.

      But you CAN take the university back. It won’t be “easy”. It certainly is possible.

  • If you think your parents are weird, just wait until you see your kids!

    And then, wait until you see your grandkids!!!

  • A lot of people followed “liberalism” just sort of by default as it started from what we could now call “classical liberalism” into what it is today. The gentle flow made it possible to not notice that today, liberalism and “classical liberalism” are now deeply, deeply at odds with one another. If the somnambulant “classical liberals” start waking up, break away from “progressivism”, and start functioning on their own, “progressivism” will lose a substantial amount of power derived from that groups silent acquiescence.

  • The real funny part is I suspect if a student actually challenged Professor Kipnes’ view in the critical manner she describes, Professor Kipnes would not be pleased at all.

    This is left friendly fire/blue on blue: a situation I wholeheartedly support and encourage in the strongest terms possible.

  • micro-aggressions and verbal violence and safe zones oh my!

    “There is no better example than what just happened at Ithaca College, where the student government just voted to establish a microaggression reporting system where students can complain about each other as well as about faculty and staff.”

    • I want to be reported for a microaggression, just so I can respond “999 more and I’ll have a milli-aggression.”

      • They’ll just stare at you blankly – and then you can report them for rude staring that made you feel belittled and uncomfortable.

  • Its about indoctrinating people to feel like a disenfranchised underclass. Who serves the disenfranchised underclasses? In lieu of a Communist or Socialist Utopia, the Democrats.

    The situation isn’t primarily because Universities have just randomly wandered off into silly-ville. This is underlying politically driven at the end of the day. If the attitude spreads into make women for example feel week in general bonus. Who cares if they make them helpless and live in unnecessary fear.

    • I think “grievance” is the magic word. It is a special kind of amazing hoo-doo that successfully transforms cossetted kids from good families able to attend VERY expensive universities into “victims”.

      But they do manage that magic. This is totally consistent with what the Collective DOES. If it does anything well, it is create human wreckage in mass, industrial quantities.