Archive for the ‘activism’ Category
On Tuesday evening, Charles Murray will speak at Indiana University. Not surprisingly, his visit has resulted in a bit of discussion on campus. A number of people have immediately wanted to protest the meeting and, like at many campuses, people want “answers.” A lot of my colleagues have acted honorably. While some have jumped to wild conclusions and recommended strong actions, most have done what scholars are supposed to do. They are asking questions, they are discussing the scholarly responses to Murray’s work, and they are organizing their own events.
Here, I want to lay out how I think about campus free speech. Basically, campus free speech is really about the ability of the owners, managers, and employees of an academic institution to discuss whatever they want in a civil environment. There is a lot of trust and tolerance built into this view of free speech. There are no boards that police campus events. There is no party that the campus represents. It is not the Indiana University of Liberals and it is not the Indiana University of Conservatives. It is simply Indiana University. Thus, if a small group of students and faculty obtain their own funding to bring in an outside speaker, so be it.
In this discussion, two important issues are raised and they deserve an answer. First, does permitting Murray to speak somehow legitimize or bring attention to “hate speech?” The answer is clearly no. Lots of ideas are taught and discussed in universities, including hateful ones, but that doesn’t legitimize them. For example, many Western Civilization classes and history classes will read Mein Kampf, in an attempt to understand national socialism and related movements.
Furthermore, it is not clear to me that Murray’s talk would even fit the definition of hate speech, which is that it is speech that “attacks” or “disparages” a minority group. His speech is about his book, Coming Apart. I have not read it, but it appears to be about the differences between working and middle class Whites. It may be right or wrong, but does not appear to be hate speech, as normally understood (“disparaging” or “attacking” remarks about an ethnic group). Finally, it would be unwise for universities to directly police speech. I rue the day that a committee of professors and students directly intervene in invited talks and seminars.
Second, people ask whether it is good or bad that conservative groups sponsor a talk. Once again, I return to the foundation of higher education. A university is not a community of liberals or conservatives. It is a community of scholars. Thus, funding – from any source – is not a problem so long as the funding is consistent with the ideals of independent scholarship. It is totally ok if a group funds scholarship that they like, so long as the student or faculty member is free to come to the conclusion they feel best reflects the evidence.
This is the standard that should be applied to liberal groups, like the Soros Foundation, or conservative groups, like the American Enterprise Institute, which often donate to campuses. In terms of the Murray talk, the faculty who helped organize the talk – some of whom I know personally – have also invited liberals, such as E.J. Dionne, and conservatives, such as a recent talk by Bill Kristol. The Murray talk seems to be consistent with inviting a fairly broad spectrum of commentators, even those who are in the opposite camp.
Finally, let me end with a discussion of the source of Murray’s notoriety. It is not Coming Apart, it is The Bell Curve. That is the book that most people are alluding to when he is accused of hate speech. In all honesty, it is the only work by Murray I have read in its entirety. I read it in the 1990s to see what all the controversy was about.
It’s a mixed bag in my view. The book’s main goal is to argue that IQ research is not a sham and that it is a variable of importance for studying life outcomes. This is actually a fair point and it is consistent with a lot of sociological practice, but not its rhetoric. For example, how many models of achievement or status control for “academic ability?” Answer: tons. In the mid-20th century, it wasn’t unusual for sociologists to have a regression with IQ in it, such as Blau and Duncan’s The American Occupational Structure. Even today, many surveys will include measurements of cognitive ability. The GSS even has a verbal test in it so the researcher can adjust for IQ.
But The Bell Curve goes farther than that and makes many dodgy claims. For example, it claims that American cities will become segregated by cognitive ability, which may or may not be true. Then, there is the very short section on group differences – including racial differences – in IQ, which should be treated with great caution. But, for me, most people skipped over the most non-sequitur claim in The Bell Curve, which is that cognitive limits should be the basis of public policy (e.g., cutting social support makes sense since it won’t change IQ and thus behavior). This strikes me as bizarre. If low IQ individuals have limited life course chances, shouldn’t they be the first to get help? Even on its own terms, The Bell Curve stretches a lot of evidence and argument to reach the authors conclusions on policy.
The bottom line is that the university should be a place of free speech, even speech that may disgust us. There is a difference between unpopular opinions or distasteful opinions and truly hateful speech. Murray says a lot of things I disagree with (e.g., his recent move to restrict migration, which is a bad policy) but he is not in the realm of the politician who incites people to violence (e.g., see Trump’s infamous “Get ’em out of here!” moment), the student who loses their temper, the student’s who physically attacked and injured a professor at Middlebury College, or the faculty member who directly calls for brute force against journalists.
Let him speak. Show up if you want to, or not. Either is fine.
It is my pleasure to announce “Open Borders Day 2017.” This year, we’ll have an event in Chicago at Loyola University. It will be a panel discussion with three speakers:
- Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute will speak on the economics of migration.
- Alexandra Filandra of the University of Illinois, Chicago will speak on racism and migration.
- Fabio Rojas of Indiana University will speak about open borders as an issue that liberals and conservatives should agree on.
The event will be 1:30pm, March 16 at Loyola University in Chicago. Room: 4th floor, Information Commons. Please come by!!!
Also: If you are in San Diego, drop by the panel called “Is immigration a basic human right?” where GMU’s Bryan Caplan will argue for open borders against Christopher Witman of St. Louis University.
Let peaceful people move freely!
…an international conference on Global Resistance in the Neoliberal University organized by the union will be held today and tomorrow, 3/3rd-4th at the PSC, 61 Broadway.Scholars, activists and students from Mexico, South Africa, Turkey, Greece, India and the US will lead discussions on perspectives, strategies and tactics of resisting the neoliberal offensive in general, and in the context of the university in particular.You can visit this site for a link to the conference program:Due to space constraints, conference registration is now closed. But we’re thrilled by the tremendous interest in the event! You can watch a livestream of the conference here: https://www.facebook.com/PSC.CUNY. If you follow us on our Facebook page, you will receive a notification reminding you to watch.We look forward to seeing some of you tonight and to discussing the conference with many of you in the near future.
Phil Magness is at it again. In a recent blog post, he presented the results of a very simple exercise. Go to the Modern Language Association web site, search for the number panels on specific authors (e.g., Shakespeare or Toni Morrison) and compare with the number of panels you find if you search for topics relating to politically controversial topics like climate change. The results? I will quote Phil here:
So…I decided to take a look. The following rough tallies show the number of MLA 2017 sessions that included at least one paper or presentation on an overtly political topic.
- 22 sessions featured one or more presentations on environmental justice themes (e.g. climate change, ecology, animal rights/extinction, and resource extraction)
- 15 sessions featured one or more presentations on “globalization”
- 39 sessions featured one or more presentations on “postcolonialism”
- 8 sessions featured one or more presentations on adjunct activism or “contingent” academic labor
- 10 sessions featured one or more presentations invoking “neoliberalism”
- 3 sessions featured one or more presentations on the politics of boycotting (usually tied to the Israel-Palestine conflict)
Some of this is standard fare, especially in Critical Theory-infected disciplines. But I was also curious how it stacked up against what most people think of as the scholarly domain of English professors, which is to say the standards of the literary canon. For comparison, here are the number of sessions that include at least one paper on a prominent literary figure’s work:
This is the last post in my series about what I learned from teaching an intensive six week seminar for really, really, really ridiculously gifted and talented high school students. Here, I’ll describe the actual content of the course and what I learned from teaching it.
Content: The course had two goals. The first was to examine the different stages of Black civil rights from colonial times to the present. It included examining both arguments for and against slavery and segregation. Thus, we worked through examples from abolitionism, the Reconstruction era, desegregation/classic civil rights, Black Power, and contemporary America. Second, we insisted on an interdisciplinary approach. So we read fiction, essays, and scholarly work. We also viewed films and documentaries.
Take away #1: In my reading, the big issue post-Civil War was enforcement of rights. In reading after reading from Civil Rights era authors (going back to Plessy and before), the central issue was the massive gap between having political rights and having them enforced. For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t actually introduce any new legal principles or rights into the American state, except perhaps to extend legal equality from state institutions (e.g., voting) to some areas of civil society (e.g., housing). But it didn’t really change the doctrinal terrain very much from what was enshrined in the 1st section of the 14th amendment.
What it did do was create a series of mechanisms for enforcing rights that were completely new, such as the EEOC. Once you realize this, then a lot of federal level domestic politics post-1970 makes sense. The goal of anti-Black politics, then, is to attack the various state mechanisms that exist for enforcing Black rights, whether they be in employment (slashing the EEOC budgets), voting (e.g., voter ID laws/felon disenfranchisement laws), or equality in the judicial process (e.g., not punishing police abuse, mass incarceration).
As a corollary, this also reinforces my long standing critique of conservative politics, which is that it really isn’t about small government at all. Rather, conservatives often use libertarian rhetoric to selectively criticize programs they don’t like while remaining silent on expansions of the state that they like. I strongly do not believe that conservativism is an ideology of racism, but in the post-Civil Rights era, it was way too easy to resist racial equality under the guise of resistance to state expansion.
Take away #2: The Civil Rights movement is a much deeper phenomenon than I had previously appreciated. A very long time ago, I had abandoned the view that the Civil Rights movement popped up in the 1940s and reached its peak in the 1960s. I knew that the NAACP itself dated to about 1910 and that there were strong movements against lynching and other racist actions.
What I did not appreciate was that people were doing “classic civil rights” actions a bit earlier than this narrative suggests. For example, when I was preparing for our discussion of Plessy, I read a little about the background of the cases. I learned that Plessy was a “staged” case – a New Orleans civil rights group, the “Comité des Citoyens of New Orleans,” wanted to challenge segregation of trains by getting a mixed raced, light skinned man arrested. He was supposed to be the Rosa Parks of the day. The Comité was a club of 18 New Orleans citizens, including a former Lieutenant Governor. This suggests to me that resistant to racial separation had deep roots, more than most people suspect.
Take away #3: I’ll finish this post with a brief comment about the role of education in post-Civil War Black rights. Today, we think of education as the epicenter for Civil Rights litigation, but that wasn’t quite right. The reason is that Jim Crow was built after the compromise of 1876, and even then, there were lots of moves to restrict Black rights before that point. However, the public school system as we know was built from about 1890 to 1930, when states started requiring attendance. Later, as schooling became a certification for the labor force, school segregation became a much more acute issue.
This comes out in multiple ways. For example, early Plessy era litigation, involved things like transportation and jobs. The “classic Civil Rights” cases that we now remember come about 40 to 60 years later. When you read historical accounts of Civil Rights strategy, you get the feeling that education segregation took Civil Rights attorneys by surprise in the early 1900s and this is even mentioned once or twice. Another data point: the way the NAACP got clients was to let people bring complaints to them about local issues. It was only until the 1940s or 1950s when you had lots of school based complaints, which you could then bundle into bigger cases like Brown. This suggests to me that while education based litigation is important for its intrinsic merit and usefulness for precedent, the bulk of racial segregation happens in other domains, like housing or employment or criminal justice.