Category Archive 'College and Universities'

10 Mar 2018

This Would Not Happen Today

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Robert Boyers describes how, long ago, his professor, at the cost of some social discomfort, summoned him to his office and did him a very great favor.

In my freshman year at Queens College, I had a strange awakening—strange in that the attendant, overmastering emotion was a combination of humiliation and pleasure. My English professor had called me to his desk and handed me the A+ paper I had written on Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and suggested that I make an appointment to see him. This was no ordinary suggestion at the City University of New York, where professors never scheduled regular office hours and only rarely invited students to private conferences.

I was uneasy about the meeting, though I imagined that Professor Stone wished simply to congratulate me further, perhaps even to recommend that I join the staff of the college literary magazine, or to enlist my assistance as a tutor. Delusions of grandeur. Modest grandeur.

Professor Stone’s office had been carved out of a warren of rooms in the fourth-floor attic of the English Department building, where I was greeted with a warm handshake and a “delighted you could come.” Though the encounter took place almost 60 years ago, I remember everything about it—the few books scattered on a small wooden table, the neatly combed silver hair on the professor’s head, his amiable, ironic eyes. Most clearly I remember the surprising moment when another professor named Magalaner was called in and stood next to Professor Stone, both men smiling and looming ominously over me. It was then that I was asked to describe—in a few sentences, or more, don’t hesitate—the paper I’d written on Orwell.

Which of course I did, picking up steam after the first few sentences of diffident preamble, until Professor Stone asked me to stop, that’s quite enough, and then turned to his colleague with the words “see what I mean?” and Magalaner assented. The two men only now pulled over two chairs and sat down, close enough that our knees almost touched, and seemed to look me over, as if taking my measure. Both of them were smiling, so that again I speculated that I was to be offered a prize, a summer job, or who knew what else.

“I’ve a feeling,” Professor Stone said, “that you may be the first person in your family to go to college.”

“It’s true,” I replied.

“You write very well,” he offered.

“Very well,” said Magalaner, who had apparently also read my paper.

“But you know,” Stone went on, edging his chair just a bit closer to mine, “I didn’t call you here to congratulate you, but to tell you something you need to hear, and of course I trust that you’ll listen carefully—with Professor Magalaner here to back me up—when I tell you, very plainly, that though you are a bright and gifted young fellow, your speech, I mean the sounds you make when you speak, are such that no one will ever take you seriously. I repeat, no one will ever take you seriously, if you don’t at once do something about this. Do you understand me?”

I’ve told this story over the years, starting on that very first night with my teenage sister, explaining what I understood: namely, that a man I admired, who had reason to admire me, thought that when I opened my mouth I sounded like someone by no means admirable. It was easy to accept that no one close to me would have mentioned this before, given that, presumably, we all shared this grave disability, and failed to think it a disability at all. Professor Stone didn’t sound like anyone in our family, we may have thought, simply because, after all, he was an educated man and was not supposed to sound or think like us.

In any event, my teacher moved at once to extract from me a promise that I would enroll in remedial speech courses for as long as I was in college, and not “so much as consider giving them up, not even if you find them tedious.” The proposal left me feeling oddly consoled, if also somewhat ashamed. Consoled by the thought that there might be a cure for my coarse Brooklynese, as my teacher referred to it, and that the prescription was indisputably necessary. Unsure whether to thank my interlocutors or just stand up and slink ignominiously away, I agreed to enroll immediately in one of those speech courses, ending the meeting with an awkward, “Is that all?”

A former student, hearing my story a few years ago at our dinner table, after telling her own tale of a recent humiliation, asked, “Who the fuck did that guy think he was?” and added that he was “lucky you didn’t just kick his teeth out.” She was concerned, clearly, that even after so many years, my sense of self might still be at risk, the injury still alive within me. And yet, though I’ve often played out the whole encounter in my head, I had decided within hours of my escape that I had been offered a gift. An insult as well, to be sure, but delivered not with an intention to hurt but to save and uplift. It would have been easy to be offended by the attempt to impress upon someone so young the idea that he would undoubtedly want to become the sort of person whose class origins would henceforth be undetectable. But I had not been programmed to be offended, and was, in my innocent way, ambitious to be taken seriously, and though I rapidly came to loathe the speech exercises to which I was soon subjected, I thought it my duty and my privilege to be subjected to them. Night after night, standing before the mirror in my parents’ bathroom, I shaped the sounds I was taught to shape, and I imagined that one day Professor Stone would beam with satisfaction at the impeccably beautiful grace notes I would produce.

RTWT

I arrived at Yale in 1966 from a working class background in an Appalachian coal town. I had probably already shed my indigenous regional accent, but I was still undoubtedly horribly unpolished and decidedly non-U in all sorts of social-mobility-limiting ways. Yale professors, to my knowledge at least, never stooped to help out in manner of Professor Stone, but at Yale we had lots of judgmental and intolerant peers, from the poshest families, straight out of the nation’s top prep schools.

If you showed up wearing an unsuitable jacket, were badly groomed, or otherwise failed to meet proper Yale standards, it did not take long for you to hear about it. Our upperclass lords and masters in student organizations were not in the least inhibited in colorfully denouncing all freshmen failures and deficiencies. If you wanted to go anywhere, or do anything, you got with the program.

Today, of course, all that has changed. Coats and ties have gone the way of Nineveh and Tyre. Yale has been coed fifty years. Today’s students are typically left-wing snowflakes, thoroughly indoctrinated in intersectionality and the politics of identity. The process of removing Cockney-Flower-Girl mobility-limiting speech habits, poor grooming, and inappropriate forms of dress must still go on, but the process of sanding down rough edges must take place highly diplomatically and with great care. The former devastating quip has, I expect, been replaced with a minutely raised eyebrow. In the case of the most protected castes of students, I suppose, that process may not go on at all.

22 Sep 2017

No $10 For Harvard

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G. David Bednar won’t give Harvard a plug nickel. Personally, I wish there was some way for Yale’s alumni to take back past donations.

My 30th Harvard College reunion is in October. I plan to attend to see good friends and share great memories. Harvard asked for a donation. When I did not respond, they asked for a smaller one. Finally, the alumni office asked for just $10 as a sign of support.

But I will not give $10 to Harvard and want to explain why.

The headlines from American campuses raise concern and often strain credulity. My hope on reading these stories is always that my school will set a standard to which others might repair. Recent examples prove Harvard has not.

The Harvard Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion recently distributed a “placemat guide for holiday discussions on race and justice with loved ones” to help students reform their parents’ bigoted views. Last week, the university extended a fellowship to a dishonorably discharged, 17-count felon and traitor to the nation. Disbelief followed by widespread indignation ensured the rescinding of the placemats and the invitation to Chelsea Manning. But astonishment lingers at the void of common sense, or mutated presumptions, necessary for them to have occurred in the first place.

The equally Orwellian Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging decided that the word “Puritans” (Harvard’s founders belonged to that sect) must be excised from the lyrics of the school’s 181-year-old anthem. The Task Force made the 1984 analogy unmistakable by adding, “an endorsed alternative” would be created, “the goal is to affirm what is valuable from the past while also re-inventing that past to meet and speak to the present moment.”

In late 2015 Harvard removed the title “house master” from what are essentially residential advisers, a title that reflected Harvard’s Oxford and Cambridge roots. The administration announced that although “what came before was not wrong” as the “academic context of the term has always been clear,” and even though the tradition was “beloved” by many alumni, the university would nevertheless abolish the title because “the general feeling” is that it “causes discomfort.”

Harvard joined the mania for erasing disfavored historical references, removing the Royall Crest at the Law School. Harvard also authorized its first “Black Commencement” in 2017. Organizers explained the event was “not about segregation” but “building a community.” Wouldn’t a single, unified graduation do that? How can anyone who abhors racial division in America see separate graduations as a step forward?

To wide alarm, the administration announced it would withhold scholarship support and prohibit students from becoming team captains or leaders of student organizations if they joined finals clubs (private organizations similar to fraternities and sororities). Harry Lewis, former dean of the college and a computer science professor, called the plans “dangerous new ground” and “a frightening prospect.”

“Using ‘nondiscrimination’ as a cudgel against students’ private associations is odiously patronizing,” Lewis wrote in the Washington Post. By reaching into the private associations of Harvard students and declaring some of them to be, in essence, ‘suppressive persons’ because of their nonconformity, you are, I fear, passing from creating community to molding a monoculture . . . ”

The chairman of Harvard’s English Department announced earlier this year that all English majors will be required to take a course in authors “marginalized for historical reasons.” Literature that did not “benefit” from “racism, patriarchy, and heteronormativity” will be read. This is a version of what Yale’s Harold Bloom once called the School of Resentment. “To read in the service of any ideology,” he wrote, “is not in my judgment to read at all..”

A university release in April claimed to have advanced diversity based on a 6 percent reduction in the proportion of white male faculty from 2008 to 2017. But the diversity that matters at a university is diversity of thought. According to a 2015 Crimson report, however, 96 percent of Harvard’s faculty recently supported Democrats. The dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences was “amazed at how high that number is.” Harvard government professor Harvey C. Mansfield observed, “The only debate we get here is between the far-left…and the liberals. It gives students a view that a very narrow spectrum of opinion is the only way to think.”

Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust established a faculty committee on Harvard and slavery. She championed a conference this spring at which she remarked that even though the college never owned a slave it was “directly complicit” in slavery. Keynote speaker Ta-Nehisi Coates was blunter. “I think every single one of these universities needs to make reparations,” he said.”I don’t know how you get around that, I just don’t. I don’t know how you conduct research that shows that your very existence is rooted in a great crime…” Sitting next to Faust, he added: “Let me be very clear about something: I do think it involves a payment of money.”

The intent of the conference being evident, two questions arise: First, if I give, how much will go to “reparations” and how will that improve education? Second, did Coates consider, in his calculation of Harvard’s unpaid debts for slavery, the hundreds of names of her Civil War dead on the tablets of Memorial Hall?

Heterodox Academy, a group that monitors free speech rights on campuses, ranks the University of Chicago No. 1 and Harvard No. 104. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) gave Harvard its “red light” (worst) rating. The Crimson reports on a “political closet” at Harvard. One undergraduate related the need “to fall in line with what I think is the professor’s ideology.” Another who published a pro-life article “is nervous during our interview” and related social media efforts to isolate him. Yet another identifies the “notion that everyone should have free thought and be open to everyone’s ideas—except people who don’t agree with liberals.” The dean of freshmen recently acknowledged the “dismaying” results of a survey revealing “political opinions and perspectives have not been given proper respect or appreciation on campus.” Is this the sole discrimination at Harvard that musters no outrage?

RTWT

19 Mar 2017

One More Reason We Should Carpet-Bomb American Colleges & Universities

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Real article by Howard Rachlin, Emeritus Research Professor of Psychology, Stony Brook University and Marvin Frankel, Professor of psychology, Sarah Lawrence College:

It may be objected that parents’ desire to have their own biological children is so strong that they would be blind to the public good, that they would have babies and bring them up in secret. But those babies would not have birth certificates, they would not be citizens, they could not vote, serve in public office and so forth. If discovered, the children might be taken away after the strong bonds of psychological (as opposed to biological) parenthood had been formed. Few Americans would risk these penalties. …

Genetic chauvinism lives on very strongly in our culture. Modern fiction and cinema often present adoptees’ searches for biological parents and siblings in a highly positive light. The law in child custody cases is biased towards biological parents over real parents. You might claim that this bias itself is ‘natural’. It is so common as to seem part of our biological makeup. But subjugation of women was also common in primitive human cultures and remains so in many cultures today. Unnatural as it sounds, social mixing promises many advantages. If we are not willing to adopt it, we should consider carefully why. And if naturalness is the key, we should ask ourselves why on this matter, ungoverned nature should trump social cohesion.

06 Apr 2015

Roger Scruton: The End of the University

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University

There is this month, in First Things, a must-read essay on the transformation of the modern university by Roger Scruton, who (as usual) brilliantly identifies exactly what the Left’s long march through the culture has wrought.

[T]he university extolled by Newman was designed to protect the privileges of an existing upper class and to place obstacles before the advance of its competitors. It imparted futile skills, which were esteemed precisely for their futility, since this made them into a badge of membership that only a few could afford. And far from advancing the fund of knowledge, it existed to safeguard the sacred myths: It placed a protective wall of enchantment around the religion, the social values, and the high culture of the past, and pretended that the recondite skills required to enjoy this enchantment—Latin and Greek, for example—were the highest forms of knowledge. In short, the ­Newmanite university was an instrument for the perpetuation of a leisure class. The culture that it passed on was not the property of the whole community but merely an ideological tool, through which the powers and privileges of the existing order were endowed with their aura of legitimacy.

Now, by contrast, we have universities dedicated to the growth of knowledge, which are not merely non-elitist but anti-elitist in their social structure. …

[H]owever, a visitor to the American university today is more likely to be struck by the indigenous varieties of censorship than by any atmosphere of free inquiry. It is true that Americans live in a tolerant society. But they also breed vigilant guardians, keen to detect and extirpate the first signs of “prejudice” among the young. And these guardians have an innate tendency to gravitate to the universities, where the very freedom of the curriculum, and its openness to innovation, provide them with an opportunity to exercise their censorious passions. Books are put on or struck off the syllabus on grounds of their political correctness; speech codes and counseling services police the language and thought of both students and teachers; courses are designed to impart ideological conformity, and students are often penalized for having drawn some heretical conclusion about the leading issues of the day. In sensitive areas, such as race, sex, and the mysterious thing called “gender,” censorship is overtly directed not only at students but also at any teacher, however impartial and scrupulous, who comes up with the wrong conclusions.

Of course, the culture of the West remains the primary object of study in humanities departments. However, the purpose is not to instill that culture but to repudiate it—to examine it for all the ways in which it sins against the egalitarian worldview. The Marxist theory of ideology, or some feminist, poststructuralist, or Foucauldian descendent of it, will be summoned in proof of the view that the precious achievements of our culture owe their status to the power that speaks through them, and that they are therefore of no intrinsic worth. …

Moral relativism clears the ground for a new kind of absolutism. The emerging curriculum in the humanities is in fact far more censorious, in crucial matters, than the one that it strives to replace. It is no longer permitted to believe that there are real and inherent distinctions between people. All distinctions are “culturally constructed” and therefore changeable. And the business of the curriculum is to deconstruct them, to replace distinction with equality in every sphere where distinction has been part of the inherited culture. Students must believe that in crucial respects, in particular in those matters that touch on race, sex, class, role, and cultural refinement, Western civilization is just an arbitrary ideological device, and certainly not (as its self-image suggests) a repository of real moral knowledge. Moreover, they must accept that the purpose of their education is not to inherit that culture but to question it and, if possible, to replace it with a new “multicultural” approach that makes no distinctions between the many forms of life by which the students find themselves surrounded.

To doubt those doctrines is to commit deepest heresy, and to pose a threat to the community that the modern university needs. For the modern university tries to cater to students regardless of religion, sex, race, or cultural background, even regardless of ability. It is to a great extent a creation of the state and is fully signed up to the statist idea of what a society should be—namely, a society without distinction. It is therefore as dependent on the belief in equality as Cardinal Newman’s university was dependent on the belief in God.

Be sure to read the whole thing.


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