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Blaming the Messenger

Posted on December 30th, 2010 Freedom of Speech,Thought Reform | No Comments »

Worth checking out: KC Johnson‘s excellent piece over at Minding the Campus entitled ”The Big, Bad, ‘Right Wing.’” Johnson critically analyzes an article in Thought & Action, the higher education journal of the National Education Association teachers’ union.

According to Johnson, an article by Yeshiva University professor Ellen Schrecker ”purports to uncover the ‘roots of the rightwing attack on higher education.’” Johnson writes:

Her thesis? The malicious and deceptive activities of the “right wing”—not the activities of the academic majority—have convinced most Americans to view the academic majority as “radical, elitist, and somehow alien to most ordinary citizens.” This argument serves two complementary purposes:  it fits into Schrecker’s predisposition to see the “right” as latter-day McCarthyites; and it absolves Schrecker and like-minded colleagues of any responsibility in creating a contemporary academy characterized more by ideological groupthink than by a commitment to free inquiry.

Johnson performs an effective take-down of Schrecker’s misguided criticism of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

Schrecker’s comments about FIRE most clearly demonstrate her intellectual bankruptcy. FIRE, she writes, “fought against the speech codes designed to make campuses more welcoming to women and people of color.” Despite this almost fantastic description of the goals of speech code advocates, Schrecker reluctantly admits that FIRE “supported academic freedom.” But, laments this member of the AAUP’s Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, FIRE’s efforts “undermined public support for higher education.”

Of course, it wasn’t FIRE that undermined public support for higher education—it was the policies adopted by the academic majority at dozens of colleges and universities around the nation. Yet somehow, in Schrecker’s version of history, FIRE deserves condemnation, while the leftists who betrayed academic freedom need a defense. This, in short, is nothing more than argument by denunciation.

In other words, Schrecker blames the messenger. The whole essay is worth a read.


ADF Senior Counsel - University Project

Minding the Campus: The Bitter Fruit of CLS v. Martinez

Charlotte Allen has posted a thoughtful essay about the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s unfortunate June decision in Christian Legal  Society v. Martinez (“More Wreckage from Ginsburg’s ‘Neutral’ Ruling,” September 7, 2010).  Very much worth a read.


ADF Senior Counsel - University Project

In Defense of the Future Farmers of America

I have a skeleton in my closet. Two decades ago I did something that could have threatened my college education and all that has followed. In a moment of youthful indiscretion, I associated with a group - even attaining a high ranking leadership position — that, although I did not appreciate it at the time, placed my future at risk. By the grace of God, I overcame this past and, against all odds, managed to be accepted at a top tier university and law school. My skeleton wears blue corduroy. I was the 1992-1993 State President of the Alabama Future Farmers of America.

I learned today that my leadership of a 23,000 student organization with a quarter million dollar budget, particularly when coupled with a similarly ill-considered officer position in 4-H, made it sixty percent less likely that I would be admitted to a top university. Over at Minding the Campus, Russell Nieli reports on a recent study by Princeton sociologist Thomas Espenshade and his colleague Alexandria Radford of a number of highly selective public and private universities that demonstrates that while these schools aggressively pursue racial diversity – particularly as to African American students – they appear to have little interest in socio-economic, ideological, and other forms of diversity. In fact, the study revealed that poorer white students, controlling for SAT scores and other factors, were three times less likely to be admitted than more affluent white students. But poverty is only one strike against Caucasian students that is exascerbated by their leadership in the wrong kinds of groups.

Participation in such Red State activities as high school ROTC, 4-H clubs, or the Future Farmers of America was found to reduce very substantially a student’s chances of gaining admission to the competitive private colleges in the NSCE database on an all-other-things-considered basis. The admissions disadvantage was greatest for those in leadership positions in these activities or those winning honors and awards. “Being an officer or winning awards” for such career-oriented activities as junior ROTC, 4-H, or Future Farmers of America, say Espenshade and Radford, “has a significantly negative association with admission outcomes at highly selective institutions.” Excelling in these activities “is associated with 60 or 65 percent lower odds of admission.”

The clear implication of this study is that top university admissions officers view participants in these groups – and particularly those who excel in them — as ill-fitting for their student bodies and their perspectives as unworthy of representation on campus. I dissent. With full disclosure of my pro-FFA bias, with respect to preparing students for life in any career path they may choose, the FFA is the corn gold standard. There are over half a million members in the FFA. Every FFA member is encouraged to develop for themselves a plan to serve their community and earn and invest money in an agriculture related project (for example, raising and selling your own vegetables). How can universities view this kind of entrepreneurship by middle and high school students in a negative light? Unless of course such capitalistic individualism is to be discouraged.  My involvement in the FFA was primarily in public speaking and quartet singing. I didn’t excel in FFA public speaking (in retrospect my inclusion of a Boyz2Men soundtrack in my retiring address was not a great choice), but it did break my fear of speaking in front of crowds. And from my quartet singing experience I went on to co-found a UVA Christian a capella singing group that still serves the University today. And my lesson from livestock and land judging (and from showing a sheep at the state fair and having it escape my grasp – resulting in the need to tackle a prize sheep in front of 1,000 spectators) was a profound sense of humility.

These kinds of experiences should make an otherwise qualified student even more appealing to a university in search of a truly representative and diverse student population, not less. The FFA has produced such notable alumni as Jimmy Carter, Bo Jackson, Senator Sam Brownback (a former national vice-president) and numerous other members of Congress and cabinet secretaries, Taylor Swift, Don Henley (yes, that Don Henley – of the Eagles), Jim Davis (creator of Garfield), columnist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, and Napoleon Dynamite (actually, its writer/director Jared Hess).  And yet, university admissions officers evidently view FFA involvement as an indicator of rubeness. I will concede that the blue corduroy FFA jacket (of which I own 3) is not particularly fashionable.  But even the act of wearing the FFA official dress builds self assuredness (you have to be self assured when no when else around you will assure you that this is acceptable teenage clothing).

In my experience, FFA members (and this is largely true of 4-H and ROTC as well) value faith, hard work (physical labor included), and self sufficiency – values common to most Americans. Also, in my experience, these “conservative” values are in short supply on most campuses. The Espenshade/Radford study is a telling illustration of the mindset of university administrators, their concept of “diversity,” and a cultural bias that causes them to see the vast majority of America, the “bitter clingers,” as people in need of reforming and not a unique and valuable perspective on life that would benefit their universities.


Senior Counsel - Life

Crying Wolf Over Faculty Speech

Posted on June 14th, 2010 Freedom of Speech,Thought Reform | No Comments »

Both Inside Higher Ed and Minding the Campus highlight the latest example of academia serving as a network of leftist think tanks.  The “Cry Wolf Project”—organized by “prominent liberal academics”—is trying to rally faculty and graduate students to do “battle with conservative ideas.”  That is, the organizers will pay $1,000 for essays supposedly showing how conservatives “cry wolf” by exaggerating the consequences of leftist public policy proposals.  K.C. Johnson at Minding the Campus notes the organizer’s almost comically inflated sense of self importance and skewed definition of “scholarship.”  But this project illustrates a more disturbing divide between faculty who can speak freely and those who cannot.

Doubtlessly, plenty of faculty members will jump at the opportunity to write what are essentially opinion columns designed to “construct a counter narrative” impugning conservatives.  After all, the organizers are targeting the social sciences, where leftists outnumber conservatives by eight or nine to one (if not more).  Faculty get to use their “research skills,” list another publication on their resume, and perform the vital public service of undermining those who seek to “thwart progressive reform.”  As an added bonus, they get paid fifty cents a word and get their names in front of faculty from schools such as Harvard, Yale, and MIT.  All in all, it is a quick, easy, and financially rewarding way to polish up that next promotion application. 

However, the story is much different for faculty on the conservative end of the political spectrum.  For example, Dr. Mike Adams is a criminology professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington.  When he applied for promotion, he had published more peer-reviewed scholarly articles than all but two of his colleagues, had consistently high evaluations from his students, and had earned several teaching awards.  He also mentioned the column he writes on the side, covering a wide expanse of cultural issues but frequently highlighting abuses within higher education.  Because of his column, he lost the promotion, as his colleagues described his writings as “excessively puerile self-indulgence” that “generally detracted from the scholarship of the department.”  Apparently, when it comes to academia, all viewpoints are not created equal.

Or consider Scott Savage, whose story David Hacker recently highlighted.  As a librarian, he simply recommended a book for freshmen to read.  And this prompted sexual harassment charges and a vicious campaign of intimidation and harassment that forced him ultimately to resign.  Again, some viewpoints are more equal than others.

Sadly, the double standard extends beyond the faculty lounge.  For example, though the verdict was later reversed, Ward Churchill’s jury found that his university wrongly fired him for expressing views—odious and reprehensible ones, to be sure—that the First Amendment protects.  And Churchill is a professor with a fake ethnicity, no earned doctorate, and plagiarized articles.  Yet Dr. Adams’ and Mr. Savage’s cases never even reached a jury because the judges ruled that the First Amendment did not protect their speech.  For Dr. Adams, merely referencing his column on his application transformed it into part of his “official job duties,” stripping it of all First Amendment protection.  For Mr. Savage, because recommending a book did not qualify as “teaching” or “scholarship,” it also did not qualify as free speech. 

Media Matters describes the “Cry Wolf Project” as a “yawner,” arguing that lots of professors dabble in politics.  But when they advance leftist causes, they are rewarded and promoted.  And if they are challenged, the higher education world rises to their defense (as it did for Churchill), championing them as First Amendment heroes.  If they dabble in conservative causes, they are vilified and subjected to false but potentially career-ending misconduct charges.  And after they are told that the First Amendment does not protect them, leading higher education publications pile on, mischaracterizing the facts and the ruling.  Perhaps there is a slight imbalance here, but we must be careful lest we be charged with “crying wolf.”


ADF Litigation Staff Counsel ADF Center for Academic Freedom

“The Politically Correct University and How to Fix It”

Posted on May 18th, 2010 Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

That’s the title of a short essayby Robert Maranto on the Manhattan Institute‘s Minding the Campus website.

Recommended reading.  Best line:  “surveys indicate that a quarter of sociologists are self-proclaimed Marxists, meaning that there are quite literally more socialists in Harvard faculty lounges than in the Kremlin.”


ADF Senior Counsel - University Project

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