We Have Met The Enemy …

Syracuse University has joined the NFL and then some.  The NFL in this case is the No Fun League.  They have also opposed free speech.  Gregory Germain, a member of the Orange law faculty has the scoop:

A diverse group of 15 students (white, African American, Hispanic, Jewish, Muslim, Christian) who were pledging an engineering fraternity were asked to do a roast of the fraternity members for their joint amusement. The skits were crude: masturbation jokes; a politically conservative member was made to be an alt-right bigot who formed a competing fraternity to spread racism; a skit about sexually assaulting a fraternity member who was so controlled by his girlfriend that he could not move (patterned after a viral Brandon Rogers YouTube video). They were making fun of themselves and each other in outlandish ways using very crude language.

It is important that Gregory lets us know Syracuse has a free speech policy, because the Orange is a private university:

Syracuse University has a broad free speech policy that promises protection for offensive speech.

Despite that free speech policy the administration reacted as crudely we have grown to expect:

The university quickly expelled the fraternity, and the chancellor issued videotaped messages to the community promising swift student prosecutions, seeking suspensions or expulsions.

Expelling a student for cheating or violently disrupting a presentation is almost impossible but acting privately in bad taste is a hanging offense.

Sidebar: You do understand that we don’t literally mean hanging, right?  We mean that it is an offense that brings an extreme sanction like expelling the fraternity from the university.  End Sidebar.

The only good news here is that a member of the faculty has spoken up for the students who have had their lives ruined by overzealous administrators.  Here’s hoping that the students and the fraternity take the the university and the administrators individually for all that they are worth.  Good luck Gregory and the fraternity as they seek retribution!

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Gatekeeping: A Theory

We are supportive of Bari Weiss and her efforts on free speech but we recently took issue with her comment that she wanted to have gatekeepers.  When she was summarizing the Intellectual Dark Web (I.D.W.) she said:

I get the appeal of the I.D.W. I share the belief that our institutional gatekeepers need to crack the gates open much more. I don’t, however, want to live in a culture where there are no gatekeepers at all. Given how influential this group is becoming, I can’t be alone in hoping the I.D.W. finds a way to eschew the cranks, grifters and bigots and sticks to the truth-seeking.

We think that this paragraph could be interpreted in several different ways but Bari seems explicit on supporting the need for gatekeepers.  Before we propose a theory we have some information on Bari, some current examples, and some information about us.

David French at NRO provides information about how Bari got started in the opinion business around 2004.  She was a student at Columbia and David was president of FIRE (consider donating).  There was a dustup at Columbia between the professors and the students.  Read the whole thing but David’s summary is:

In other words, Bari is doing exactly what she did in 2004 and 2005. She perceived intolerance and called it out. She decried an unwillingness to debate and a university that seemed closed off to dissenting ideas. It is not censorship to critique censorship. It’s not bullying to criticize bullying. And it’s most definitely not “racism” to raise credible concerns about anti-Semitism.

She has dealt with bullies before.  It has long been a goal of folks on the left to limit the speech of others.  There are some recent examples.  The WSJ covers the trashing of George Mason University.  Here is part of it:

All of this UnKoch nonsense is part of the left’s attempt to stifle conservative ideas in the guise of an attack on “dark money.” The Kochs are so “dark” that the progressives decided to use their name. And speaking of dark money, UnKoch My Campus isn’t a nonprofit and doesn’t file regular financial disclosures.

In addition, several of the folks in Bari’s story on the I.D.W. are attempts by the left to silence dissent.  We worry about meeting our standards in putting forth a theory on gatekeepers.  Expertise is important and we can’t be expert in all the areas necessary for our theory.  Still, that is the nature of theories.  They can be falsified or supported by empirical evidence.  Let’s give it a try.

Our theory is that we can compare political information to economic information.  No individual can deal with the either set of information but somehow the market can distill it.  We doubt that the market for political information is as efficient as the market for economic information but we think it is a reasonable description.  Let’s call it the Nearly Efficient Market for Political Information (NEMPI).

Thus, there are an extraordinarily large number of gatekeepers in NEMPI.  Some have large influence and others have close to no influence but enough folks are aware of their history and most of the gatekeepers worry about their history.  Their history causes their influence to wax and wane.  The I.D.W. is waxing in the NEMPI.

Free speech is the key attribute of the NEMPI.  With reasonably free speech we get NEMPI.  Folks want to reduce free speech or designate gatekeepers in order to eliminate the NEMPI.

The one difference we see between financial markets and NEMPI is timing.  Financial markets react quickly while the NEMPI takes more time.  We think that is OK because elections only happen every so often.

So our NEMPI theory is that everybody is a gatekeeper and the influence of each gatekeeper varies over time.  No individual can evaluate all the gatekeepers but free speech allows different individuals with different talents and points of view to provide information over time.  Bari, the I.D.W., legacy media, and all the others contribute information that informs politics.  NEMPI, let’s test it.

Bari And The Intellectual DarkWeb

Bari Weiss is riding the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) at the NYT.  Kyle Smith at NRO is excited and the Left is aghast.  Quote from an NYT Letter to the Editor:

The “dangerous” ideas put forth by the people in Bari Weiss’s article are no longer discussed because we have collectively agreed that they are wrong.

Ah, we love appeals to authority that don’t identify the authority.

Sidebar One: We don’t know if the picture of Bari in Kyle’s article is recent but we were astonished by her youthfulness.  We asked the Lady deGloves to estimate her age.  She her estimate was exactly the same as ours: the year Sheldon Cooper started college.  End Sidebar One

Sidebar Two: To find out Bari’s age we Googled her.  The link to Wikipedia had a comment on the NYT that most might find ironic:

Bari Weiss is an American journalist. In 2017 Weiss joined The New Zionist Times as a staff editor in its opinion section.

Wikipedia didn’t exactly agree with the link:

Bari Weiss is Zionist filth. In 2017 Weiss joined The New York Times as a staff editor in its opinion section.

Well, assuming that Wikipedia got her graduation date from Columbia right she is much older than we thought.  On the other hand, we might guess that her religion and support for Israel might be a substantial part of why she is controversial when she seems so Milquetoast.  End Sidebar Two.

Bari’s article on the IDW interviews many of the characters and discusses their success in monetizing their fame.  Many of them are doing quite well.  At the end Bari discusses her opinion of the IDW:

Am I a member of this movement? A few months ago, someone suggested on Twitter that I should join this club I’d never heard of. I looked into it. Like many in this group, I am a classical liberal who has run afoul of the left, often for voicing my convictions and sometimes simply by accident. This has won me praise from libertarians and conservatives. And having been attacked by the left, I know I run the risk of focusing inordinately on its excesses — and providing succor to some people whom I deeply oppose. [Emphasis added]

I get the appeal of the I.D.W. I share the belief that our institutional gatekeepers need to crack the gates open much more. I don’t, however, want to live in a culture where there are no gatekeepers at all. Given how influential this group is becoming, I can’t be alone in hoping the I.D.W. finds a way to eschew the cranks, grifters and bigots and sticks to the truth-seeking.

Sidebar Three: We are curious about her definition of classical liberal.  We think the answer is conservative.  She doesn’t seem to think so.  We want to read more of her stuff to find out about her.  End Sidebar Three.

She gets the appeal free speech but she wants gatekeepers.  It is the problem with free speech.  You get cranks, grifters, bigots, and worse.  There are folks that will try to be gatekeepers but we need to be sure that they are not effective.

 

Faculty Failure

At colleges and universities faculty are responsible for the curriculum.  In the University of Wisconsin System it is the law.  The faculty are still mostly in charge of the curriculum that gives credit but they have turned a blind eye to a second curriculum that has sprung up from other agencies in the university.  Campus Reform has an example:

The Foundation for Success, which is overseen by the UMN Department of Housing & Residential Life,  aims to “help students achieve their personal and academic goals and become well-rounded individuals,” and pledges that “each student will have an inclusive and engaged community experience” in UMN residence halls.

Read the whole thing.  It is a second curriculum.  The university requires the curriculum to be approved by the faculty.  Faculty at UMN and elsewhere should be ashamed but most support such silliness.

 

Free Speech And Diversity

We are back from vacation and catching up on a variety of things.  One is David French’s excellent article at NRO recognizing that free speech empowers marginalized groups rather than the opposite.  Do read it all but here is the paragraph that is crux of it:

The true tension in the First Amendment isn’t between freedom and diversity or freedom and inclusion. History teaches us that the tension is between freedom and power. Free speech, by its very nature, leads to questioning, debate, and — eventually — accountability.

David is exactly right.  What we see at almost all universities is that the power is on the left and they want to keep it.  David explains and we agree that the best way to keep power is to limit speech.  The right agrees on the usefulness of such a strategy.

Appropriate Comments And Not

Some time ago The Donald stirred the pot by commenting on the kneelers in the NFL.  He said:

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired. He’s fired!” You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s going to say, “That guy that disrespects our flag, he’s fired.” And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in this country.

The Donald is right.  People would love it.  We are not big fans of these comments in the manner of The Donald’s immediate predecessor but we recognize the nature of politics.  We would like presidents to be more presidential but the events of the last 25 years have argued against it.

Meanwhile, in India, Vidhi Doshi in the WaPo reports:

The release of a highly anticipated Bollywood blockbuster has been delayed after a politician from India’s governing party offered a bounty of $1.5 million for the heads of the movie’s star and director amid outcry that the film distorted Hindu legend.

Others have threatened to break the legs of the actor who plays the Muslim villain.  Two things:  First, and obviously, the comments of The Donald and the Indian politician are entirely different.  It does’t matter if the latter’s speech constitutes fighting words or not.  This is not a legal issue.  It is an issue of appropriate behavior.  The Donald is OK and the other is not.

The other point is how the WaPo categorized this outbreak of incivility.  Was it intolerance, racism, or something else?  Here is what they said:

The violent reaction to the film’s release further suggests a groundswell of conservatism in Modi’s India.

It appears that conservatism is consistent with calling for cutting off heads and breaking legs.  We are not sure how Vidhi came to that conclusion.  We would be interested to hear Vidhi’s description of conservatism.

Tenure And Academic Freedom

Robert Steinbuch and Joshua Silverstein have a call to arms at the Martin Center to protect academic freedom in Arkansas.  We are unconvinced by their arguments.  It is entirely possible that we should be worried about what is going on in the the Natural Sate [really] but we are not convinced.

Bob and Josh start out with:

That threat, however, is of a type [tenure rules] that normally doesn’t receive public attention. The press typically writes about speech codes and political interference with research on controversial subjects, but as serious as those threats are, they are nothing compared to that posed by central administrators.

We are not convinced.  The ability of central administration to influence decisions on faculty and curriculum varies from school to school but it is almost always limited.  Shortly thereafter they say:

The purpose of academic freedom is to protect freedom of speech, thought, and expression in the university setting so that learning and knowledge can flourish. Tenure is the primary mechanism by which academic freedom is ensured. It prohibits the termination of faculty for any reason that could plausibly be used to stifle academic speech and inquiry. These protections recognize the critical role of professors as truth-finders and truth-tellers.

Well, particularly with respect to the bold part, no.  The tenure decision is largely made by faculty with variations from school to school.  Negative tenure decisions have been made by faculty to stifle academic speech and inquiry.  Such decisions are largely made by the faculty.  Once a faculty member has been tenured they can only be removed for cause.  Incompetence is not a cause.  It is a challenge to write rules that help weed out incompetence without jeopardizing academic freedom but one we need to consider.

Another way to think about it is the last sentence in the second quote.  Are professors regarded as truth-finders and truth-tellers?  Largely no.  Later they say:

Unfortunately, in recent decades some university administrators have engaged in an all-out assault on academic freedom by seeking to (1) replace outspoken full-time faculty with part-time adjuncts, and (2) gut the rules governing academic freedom and tenure.

There are more part-timers [but that might be due to for-profit schools] but we are unconvinced that the full-time faculty is outspoken and the part-timers are not.  It could be that the administration can do something about part-timers and this is why we see more examples of them.

They cite some reasonable issues about the proposed rules.  They also suggest some silly stuff like it will hurt recruiting.  We have been involved in recruiting faculty for decades.  We thought of tenure process as a selling point for our school but nobody was ever convinced by our arguments.  Location, fit, and money are a the driving forces in faculty decisions.  Tenured deadwood is a big problem with fit in recruiting because the deadwood won’t change courses to accommodate new faculty and can’t help them with research.

Tenure as currently constituted is not getting us to faculty who are truth-tellers and truth-finders.  As conservatives we need to be reluctant to change established systems.  But in this case the system is highly ineffective in reaching goals.  Many folks have reminded us that “it” can always get worse and measured change makes sense.  Although Bob and Josh approvingly reference an overwrought article in Slate, Wisconsin is not a bad model.