Thursday, November 26, 2015

How About Clarence Thomas College?

It seems a given, at this point, that Calhoun College, one of Yale's residential colleges, will be renamed. Calhoun was a Southerner and unapologetic slave owner. So, what to name Calhoun, not to mention Yale's two new colleges (set to open a little over a year from now)?

The tradition at Yale has been to name colleges after prominent, deceased, alumni, and ones that have contributed somehow to the human race. Morse College, for instance, is named after Samuel Morse, of the eponymous Morse Code.

Yale will feel immense pressure to rename Calhoun for a minority figure, but who? Of Yale's deceased minority alumni, no one leaps to mind. Someone suggested Levi Jackson, which I thought was a nice idea, but Jackson isn't well known outside Yale circles, and I doubt any of today's students have any idea who he is.

It seems likely Yale might jettison the "being dead" requirement. If that turns out to be the case, how about Clarence Thomas? He is easily Yale's most prominent black alum, even if he wasn't an undergrad.

I am joking of course. While I would be proud if this came about, the left would sooner burn Calhoun to the ground than let it be named for a black conservative, only going to show that this isn't about race, it's about power and politics.

One other thought: Elihu Yale was apparently a slave trader, among other things. How soon before the activists set there sights on renaming the entire university?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Deconstructing and Responding to the Yale Left

Here, we will respond to particular (anonymous) comments in response to the last post, which concerned the ongoing drama at Yale.

He begins:

"As a fellow Yale '82 graduate, I am appalled by this diatribe."

Okay, no surprise here. Read through the rest of my blog. If I'm not constantly appalling you, I'm doing something wrong. But, interestingly, on this issue, many liberals are as shocked and disappointed as I with events on campus, as well as Salovey's response. I guess you're not one of them.

"You clearly have completely missed the point in your pie-eyed nostalgic remembrance of Milton, Yale, and beyond." 

Here, our friend is trying to establish my bona fides as a privileged white male, a tactic designed to limit my participation in the debate. I should "check my privilege," as they now say on campus. I might add that the schools I went to, Milton and Yale, are perhaps two of the most liberal in the nation, so I'm pretty sure I'm better versed in the progressive canon than vice verse. 

"Seriously. Can you not take one second to TRY and walk in the other shoes or at least pretend to imagine what it is like? Or better, imagine what it was likely like in 1982, whether YOU experienced it or not? Seriously? YOUR experience has nothing to do with this."

Our friend means I should try to understand what is was - or is - like to be a minority student. No, I can't imagine what it's like. It's not the life I'm living. I can try to imagine, but I will no doubt come up short. This is why I, and others, rely on others to tell us what it's like. We listen, and we listen very carefully. And this is where many of us have a problem: we're not hearing anything of substance.

If I did hear of something, an actual proven incident, I would be just as appalled as my liberal detractor is with me. I would expect that the university would deal with the issue harshly, and no doubt they would. Yet all I hear are vague charges, like "marginalization," without anyone actually giving substance to the claim. This is why it's very hard to believe that this is anything other than a political power grab.

A fellow Yalie, who blogs under the name Manhattan Contrarian, summed this up well: 

"I'm trying to figure out what the term "marginalization" could mean in the context of something the school is somehow doing to the student, but I keep coming up short. In my own day, here was my entire relationship with the academic end of the school: I chose my classes; I went to the classes; I did the homework; I wrote the assigned papers; I took the tests; I got my grades. Now, suppose somebody had wanted to "marginalize" me. What could they have done to me in the context of this relationship? I can't even imagine what it might have been. Not let me go to class?  Not let me do the homework? Not let me take the test?  Never happened, of course.  But more important,  I equally don't believe that anything like this has happened to any of these protesters who claim they have been "marginalized." Meanwhile, on the non-academic side, I lived in the dormitory and I ate in the dining hall. Nobody ever tried to stop me. I also don't believe that anyone has ever stopped one of these protesters from doing the same.

"So they must be talking about something else. But what? Maybe that they were expecting to develop some kind of deep personal relationships with the professors and it hasn't happened? For myself, I never had the slightest interest in getting to know the professors personally, and I never did it. Occasionally there were lunches where professors would come to the dining hall and eat with a table of students, and talk about their area of scholarship.  Those were open to all, and I went to a few of them. Again, I can't believe for a minute that some students are excluded from those things today, particularly in a systematic way based on race. If someone has an instance, I'd like to hear about it."

You see, we want to understand. Perhaps it's simpler for our anonymous poster to think that all conservatives are heartless bigots, but we simply aren't. If there's real racism going on, we are just as interested in rooting it out as anyone else. For one, it deeply conflicts with our belief in personal liberty. But someone, anyone, needs to articulate the problem before we can understand it. Stop berating us for not understanding something you refuse to explain.

Here's what we do understand. Minority applicants are given an enormous advantage in Yale admissions. Then, most are given substantial aid to attend. While there, the university spends millions on resources to help them through (before, even, Salovey's adding millions more). I'm not arguing for or against any of these policies, at least not at the moment, I'm just stating them as a fact.

I also see one of the most liberal universities anywhere, one that has always taken the concerns of minority students seriously (for the last few decades, anyway). So, if you're going to throw around accusations of "institutionalized racism," I think it's fair for any of us to ask for the details.

"By the way, if you are going to spout intellectualism, read it ALL - - not just the stuff you want to read. Think about it all. Consider it all."

I'm not sure what intellectualism I was spouting, but thanks for the compliment. As for the holes in my reading list, perhaps our friend could recommend some things? Bear in mind, I don't have time to read it ALL, and please don't say Proust.

"And by the way - - this has nothing to do with Free Speech. You get that, right? There is no irony. William F Buckley conference or none.
(or perhaps THERE is the irony...)"

This is where things get risible. This has everything to do with free speech. On campuses, the left has been shutting down conservative voices for years (without a single case the other way around, to my knowledge), but this latest strain of activism has gotten far bolder. I'm sure most readers saw the Mizzou professor calling for "muscle" to get rid of a reporter. At Yale, protesters tried to prevent Ayaan Hirsi Ali from speaking last year. More recently, Gerald Walpin law students at Yale nearly blocked Gerald Walpin's planned speech on the 14th Amendment. I could go on, there are a thousand examples. The campus left does not want differing opinions to be heard. 

No irony? Protesters try to shut down a conference on free speech, and it's not ironic? I must be misinformed as to the definition of irony. And for what it's worth, "You get that, right?" is not a rhetorical device that wins a lot of debates.

"And regarding the woman in the Silliman courtyard - - she will regret her loss of control for the rest of her life. That is done. But instead of focusing on and vilifying a barely young adult's loss of control in a moment, at least ask WHY such a promising and otherwise lovely (apparently) young woman WOULD lose control..."

I kind of doubt she's regretting it, frankly. I suspect she's a hero to many, and there are apparently no actual consequences for her actions. I very much doubt she's learning any lesson at all. As for trying to understand her, well that's exactly what we've been trying to do, but frankly, no one's cluing us in. Halloween costumes? Really, is that it? Because if that's it, I think she's been seriously brainwashed by the campus outrage industry.

Give us something real, and we will have all the sympathy in the world, but meltdowns over the mere prospect of someone dressing as the Frito Bandito ain't gonna cut it.

So, my empathetic friend, if you know something the rest of us don't, we're all ears. Tell us.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Full Philosophical Meltdown at Yale

President Salovey's response to recent events at Yale is nothing short of disastrous. In a wide-ranging letter sent to the Yale community, he gives a full-throated endorsement to nearly everything the activists could want, and then some. Yale is jumping gleefully into the festering swamp of identity politics where racial and gender identity trumps all. So much for the day when we might be judged for the contents of our characters and not the color of our skin.

Naturally, Salovey says that Yale is still committed to free speech. And yet, he simultaneously says there will be no consequences for anyone's actions in recent events. That includes:

  • Jerelyn Luther, the senior who cursed at Master Christakis, telling him he was "disgusting" and to "shut the f*ck up."
  • Edward Columbia, the activist who disrupted the free speech conference.
  • Other activists outside that same conference, who acknowledge that attendees were spit on.
  • Neema Githere, the sophomore who it now appears fabricated, or at least exaggerated, the racial incident at the SAE fraternity that partially sparked all this.
So Salovey's definition of free speech now includes lies, harassment, and assault as long as progressives or minorities are doing it. Can you imagine, for even one moment, if conservative students had done any of these things? I shudder.

Salovey states that "social identity should be a focus of particularly intense study at a great university." In other words, let's study all things that separate us, not what brings us together. He promises more money for just about every diversity initiative you can imagine, plus five years of conferences on "race, gender, inequality, and inclusion." I wonder if campus conservatives will be included.

Yale has also set aside $50 million to find more minorities to populate their faculty. Seriously, are professors that hard to find? Is Yale that tough a draw that they have to spend $50 million to get teachers? Hey, I taught there for nothing (as an adjunct), and considered it a high privilege.

As day follows night, this will be the result: lots more gender and racial studies courses. I wish it were otherwise, but there simply aren't enough black physics professors to go around. If the goal is as shallow as getting more minority faces in the faculty lounge, Yale will be forced to hire them where they find them. Do you suppose Cornell West wants to move schools again?

These disciplines are little more than grievance factories, and they undermine Yale's academic legitimacy. They also drive people further apart. If you arrive at Yale and you're not already mad, you will be after a couple of identity studies courses have re-educated you.

This is why everything Salovey is doing will backfire. He is adding massive fuel to the flame. How naive to think the activists are going to say, "excellent, we won, let's hit the books." The left is never satisfied. Each victory only makes them angrier, demanding ever more.

Easy wins for the activists at Yale and Missouri are now causing this to spread like a malicious virus. At Princeton, students are demanding that Woodrow Wilson's name be eradicated (ironic, that one, as Wilson was their philosophical progenitor). At Dartmouth, they want to make "social justice" the theme of the Winter Carnival (no one has accused the activists of being a fun lot). They also stormed the library, shouting things like, "f*ck you, you filthy white f*cks." At Ithaca, they get the picture. For the movement, finding offense is like a addictive drug, and this crowd needs frequent hits.

All this, based on a handful of racial incidents that may or may not have happened, and if they did, are of unclear provenance. Still, the hunt is on, and activists are searching for affront like ten year-olds looking for Waldo. If they can't find any, it's sufficient to make something up, or to at least massively re-define our current understanding of what such thing are (see: microaggressions). Why not, after all? Ethical considerations aside, the payoff is huge.

This is all going to get much worse before it gets better, until the grown-ups reassert themselves. Sadly, there are few left in academia.

P.S. My abiding love for my alma mater has taken a serious hit, and I am very depressed about it.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Education Today (or Maybe the Day After Tomorrow)

This is a funny and chilling video, one that only stretches current reality slightly, and has relevance to today's campus politics. I met people like this last week at Yale.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Open Letter to Yale's President Salovey


I just sent this today. If you went to Yale, I would urge you to do the same. I am told the president's office is getting A LOT of calls.

Dear President Salovey,

I have been a faithful Yalie for a long time. I am a Pierson Fellow, I taught a college seminar for a few years. I come to games. I have never been anything but filled with pride to be a Yale graduate. That is, until now.

In the last few days, I have been bombarded with calls and emails from colleagues and friends – many from Yale, many not - all say basically the same thing: what the hell has happened to Yale? Many vow their kids will never go there. The Yale Class of 1982 Facebook page has literally lighted up over this, and you should know the shock, disappointment, and outrage is spread across the ideological spectrum.

Perhaps you will say I need to understand the broader context. Well, I was at the Buckley conference, and I saw first hand the amount of respect the students have for free speech, which is to say none, unless it’s what they want to hear. Make no mistake, those students would have entered and disrupted our conference had security not prevented it. (Apparently, the irony of interrupting a conference on free speech is lost on today’s Yale students.)

What I wish to know is the following:

1. Will there be repercussions for the student, Jerelyn Luther, who called Master Christakis “disgusting,” among other things, or are students now allowed to address faculty members this way?

2. Is there an investigation into the alleged spitting incident at the Buckley event? If I’m not mistaken, spitting is categorized as assault.

3. If the allegation against SAE turns out to be fabricated (as many of these campus incidents turn out to be), what will the repercussions be for the woman who made them up? Did she not do the equivalent of yelling fire in a crowded movie theatre?

I won't stop loving Yale - I had too good an experience for that. I also know what a difficult position you find yourself, and I hope you find the wisdom to navigate through this crisis. But I think you are going to have to make some people mad, particularly the activists. You will be picketed and shouted at, maybe worse. But the alternative, to allow Yale to further slip into the hands of those whose views are completely antithetical to Yale’s tradition of intellectual discourse, is far worse.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Scott C. Johnston ‘82

Monday, November 9, 2015

Yale at a Free Speech Crossroads

"I normally, don't do this, and I apologize, but due to the events of the last seventy-two hours, I will have to leave right after my speech. I also apologize for reading my speech, but I haven't slept in four days."

Nicholas Christakis, a professor and Master of Silliman College (one of Yale's twelve undergraduate residential houses) looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, but few of us had any idea what was going on. It would become apparent as the afternoon unfolded as two stories intertwined to tell one: free speech is in critical danger at Yale.

Professor Christakis

We were there for a William F. Buckley Program conference. The title? The Future of Free Speech. Consider this a trigger warning if irony is something you find offensive, because it will bludgeon you over the head, momentarily. The Buckley Program is dedicated to bringing intellectual diversity to campus. Not just the occasional conservative, but speakers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an activist for women's rights in the Muslim world. (That was a saga unto itself.) They also have an annual "Disinvitation Dinner," where the keynote is delivered by someone who has been disinvited to speak on a college campus. That would have amused Buckley.

The Buckley Program, mind you, is not supported by Yale. It is privately funded, and its office space is off campus. Yale - the administration, anyway - tolerates it. That's something, anyway.

Christakis began by saying he was a proud liberal and he probably would have disagreed with just about everything Buckley stood for. But, he believed, the left was taking its crusade against free speech too far, that it was a dangerous thing, and that we had to re-learn civil discourse. We didn't realize just how much he was speaking from experience. 

Master Christakis, looking very much in a hurry, finished and left the room, and the conference moved on, albeit with unanswered questions hanging in the air. 

Fast forward about two hours. Another speaker, Greg Lukianoff, clues us in about the events on campus. Master Christakis's wife, Erika, had sent out an email to students about Halloween and campus activists went nuts. This is where the second part of the story starts. Lukianoff says the reaction of students was so strong, "that you'd think someone had burned down a Native American village."

 While Lukianoff was speaking, a campus activist had sneaked in the event and was taping up posters, one after the other. They read:

"Stand with your sisters of sisters of color. Now, here. Always, Everywhere."

As we were trying to understand the relevance of this, a security guard walked over and told the fellow he had to take it outside, that this was a registration-only event. He refused. The guard asked again. Nope, nothing doing. In fact he objected, loudly, and yelled that none of us understood America's history of oppression.

Now the guard had had enough, and he wrestled the kid and his beard though the double doors. Just before they swung closed, he yelled, "And you're talking about burning down Native American villages!"

Things settled down, but I leaned to my friend next to me and said, "This isn't over." I had no idea.

So what had happened to the Christakises? Here are the facts, so you be the judge. The university sent around an email that basically warned students to watch what they wore on Halloween, and that they shouldn't be culturally insensitive. Erika Christakis thought the email went too far, and wrote to the students in Silliman. The is her entire email:

Dear Sillimanders:
Nicholas and I have heard from a number of students who were frustrated by the mass email sent to the student body about appropriate Halloween-wear [more on that below -EV]. I’ve always found Halloween an interesting embodiment of more general adult worries about young people. As some of you may be aware, I teach a class on “The Concept of the Problem Child,” and I was speaking with some of my students yesterday about the ways in which Halloween — traditionally a day of subversion for children and young people — is also an occasion for adults to exert their control.
When I was young, adults were freaked out by the specter of Halloween candy poisoned by lunatics, or spiked with razor blades (despite the absence of a single recorded case of such an event). Now, we’ve grown to fear the sugary candy itself. And this year, we seem afraid that college students are unable to decide how to dress themselves on Halloween.
I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation, and other challenges to our lived experience in a plural community. I know that many decent people have proposed guidelines on Halloween costumes from a spirit of avoiding hurt and offense. I laud those goals, in theory, as most of us do. But in practice, I wonder if we should reflect more transparently, as a community, on the consequences of an institutional (which is to say: bureaucratic and administrative) exercise of implied control over college students.
It seems to me that we can have this discussion of costumes on many levels: we can talk about complex issues of identify, free speech, cultural appropriation, and virtue “signalling.” But I wanted to share my thoughts with you from a totally different angle, as an educator concerned with the developmental stages of childhood and young adulthood.
As a former preschool teacher, for example, it is hard for me to give credence to a claim that there is something objectionably “appropriative” about a blonde-haired child’s wanting to be Mulan for a day. Pretend play is the foundation of most cognitive tasks, and it seems to me that we want to be in the business of encouraging the exercise of imagination, not constraining it. I suppose we could agree that there is a difference between fantasizing about an individual character vs. appropriating a culture, wholesale, the latter of which could be seen as (tacky)(offensive)(jejeune)(hurtful), take your pick. But, then, I wonder what is the statute of limitations on dreaming of dressing as Tiana the Frog Princess if you aren’t a black girl from New Orleans? Is it okay if you are eight, but not 18? I don’t know the answer to these questions; they seem unanswerable. Or at the least, they put us on slippery terrain that I, for one, prefer not to cross.
Which is my point. I don’t, actually, trust myself to foist my Halloweenish standards and motives on others. I can’t defend them anymore than you could defend yours. Why do we dress up on Halloween, anyway? Should we start explaining that too? I’ve always been a good mimic and I enjoy accents. I love to travel, too, and have been to every continent but Antarctica. When I lived in Bangladesh, I bought a sari because it was beautiful, even though I looked stupid in it and never wore it once. Am I fetishizing and appropriating others’ cultural experiences? Probably. But I really, really like them too.
Even if we could agree on how to avoid offense — and I’ll note that no one around campus seems overly concerned about the offense taken by religiously conservative folks to skin-revealing costumes — I wonder, and I am not trying to be provocative: Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive? American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience; increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition. And the censure and prohibition come from above, not from yourselves! Are we all okay with this transfer of power? Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity — in your capacity — to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you? We tend to view this shift from individual to institutional agency as a tradeoff between libertarian vs. liberal values (“liberal” in the American, not European sense of the word).
Nicholas says, if you don’t like a costume someone is wearing, look away, or tell them you are offended. Talk to each other. Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society.
But — again, speaking as a child development specialist — I think there might be something missing in our discourse about the exercise of free speech (including how we dress ourselves) on campus, and it is this: What does this debate about Halloween costumes say about our view of young adults, of their strength and judgment?
In other words: Whose business is it to control the forms of costumes of young people? It’s not mine, I know that.
Happy Halloween.
Yours sincerely,

When Lukianoff said, "You'd think they burned down a Native American village," he was referring to the reaction of the campus left to this email. Here is a little taste. Watch, as the left eats its own, in this case the unfortunate Master Christakis:

Best quote: "You are not here to create an intellectual environment, you are here to create a home!!!"

They are now demanding that Master Christakis, and his wife, be fired. If any of this is surprising you, you are out of touch with what's happening on college campuses.

Back to the conference. The noise outside was building. "They're here," I said to my friend. Out of curiosity, I went out to look. There were perhaps twenty students, in high dudgeon, trying to get in to disrupt the conference (did I mention it was about free speech?). I engaged them, which was probably silly. "Why are you here?"

"We are Native Americans and you are talking about burning down Native American villages." (They looked about as Native American as Elizabeth Warren - were they appropriating a culture?) 

"You realize, right, that no one in there is advocating burning down villages, Native American or otherwise? That it was merely an analogy to describe something bad?"

Apparently they did, but that didn't matter. We said the words, and that "trivialized" genocide, and that was the offense. I said, "You do realize that you don't have the right not to be offended, right?"

How wrong I was about that, I later reflected. That may be true, Constitutionally, but I was in a "safe space" where the these delicate orchids are protected from hearing unpleasant things. The right not to be offended now always trumps the right to free speech.

The conference went on for another two hours, and the crowd grew. It was as if they had a button they pushed that sent out an alert - get to these GPS coordinates now, someone said something offensive! Is there an app called Grievance?

They got quite noisy, often making it hard to hear inside, and only an expanding police presence kept them out. At the end, we were escorted out through a phalanx of about 150 students, chanting "Genocide is not a joke." They even found the time to make signs that said things like "You cannot silence us." (There's that irony thing again.)

I filmed our exit:

That wasn't all of them, there were at least one hundred more outside.

Don't imagine any of this is just Yale. It's virtually all of academia, liberal arts schools in particular. They are all at a free speech crossroads. Teachers are now widely afraid of their own liberal students, because the slightest slip - the absence of a trigger warning, for instance - can result in accusations of microaggressions, racism, sexism, cisgenderism, whateverism, and that can result in getting tossed from tenure track. The administrators who make these decisions are afraid of the students, too, because fundamentally, the left has become a mob, and mobs are dangerous. 

These are the bullies of our time.

UPDATE: Two conference attendees claim they were spit on and called racists. I can't claim to have seen this, but I was one of the first people to walk out. The activist who interrupted the conference has been identified as Edward Columbia '18.

UPDATE 2: The Buckley people are circulating a petition in defense of free speech at Yale. It also calls on Yale to reject some of the ridiculous (and dangerous) demands that activists have made on President Salovey. I would urge anyone to sign it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Obama: Great for Liberalism, Bad for Democrats

There have been two remarkable, countervailing, trends since Barack Obama was first elected. The first is that the cause of liberalism has been advanced at a breathtaking rate. Obamacare, higher taxes, open borders, gay marriage...hell, the mere fact we just voted on transgender bathrooms is proof enough (see: Houston). These have been salad days for liberals.

But very bad days for Democrats. With the loss of another governor's mansion yesterday - Kentucky - ponder the shift in the political landscape since Obama was elected:

                                   2008                Now             Difference

Governorships             29                    17                     -12

Senate seats                58                    44                     -14

House seats                257                   188                   -69

State House seats      4082                 3172                 -910

These numbers are breathtaking. Democrats are being eviscerated up and down the ballot. This will have implications that last a generation as the party will have no bench - in particular, no bench from moderate precincts - to elevate to higher races. Who's in line to run at the top of their next ticket, assuming Hillary loses? Have you even heard of Amy Klobuchar? Julian Castro? Consider yourself very informed if you have.

And yet, with a Constitution-ignoring president, a compliant GOP establishment, and left-leaning courts, liberalism marches on. It's no wonder the Republican base is on fire, and is expressing itself with a months long primal scream that takes the form of Donald Trump.

Presumably, these two trends can't go in opposite directions forever, but given the pusillanimous nature of the GOP leadership, it will surely go on for another two years. Should the GOP take the White House, they will have, I think, one last chance to keep conservatives in the fold. When you consider that there are actually more self-identified conservatives in the U.S, than there are registered Republicans, that might seem like a good idea, but the GOP establishment hates conservatives more than they hate Democrats, so don't count on it.