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Published: Sun, 24 Sep 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Sun, 24 Sep 2017 13:13:34 -0400


Brazilian Waxing Hypothetical on Law Exam Leads to Harassment Charge

Fri, 14 Jul 2017 15:30:00 -0400

Howard University law professor Reginald Robinson is in a sticky situation after the university found him responsible for sexual harassment over an exam question involving a Brazilian wax. Robinson is just the latest professor to find himself accused of harassment on the basis of his germane classroom expression—a disturbing trend that has profound implications for academic freedom and the quality of education at our nation's institutions of higher education. Robinson's exam question centered around an individual who fell asleep during a Brazilian wax and awoke with the sense that he or she had been touched improperly during the procedure. Two students filed a sexual harassment complaint against Robinson based on the hypothetical, and the university's Deputy Title IX investigator found him responsible, for reasons including the question's use of the word genital and also, inexplicably, the fact that "the complainants felt that the hypothetical scenario was crafted in order to prompt them to reveal personal details about themselves." For his word crimes, Robinson was ordered to undergo sensitivity training, to submit to classroom monitoring, to have his academic materials reviewed by a dean "for sexually suggestive and/or offensive material," and to have an official reprimand placed in his file. FIRE, where I work, wrote to Howard in June to demand that the university reverse the sanctions against Robinson, but so far, there has been no response. To the uninitiated, Robinson's exam question may seem unusual. But wacky hypotheticals—which involve convoluted fact patterns designed to tease out students' understanding of a variety of complex, intersecting legal issues—are in fact a fixture of law school exams. One professor's sample torts exam, for example, features a car accident that takes place after "Jimmy missed his ride home, so he walked across the street to HOOTERS to get a drink." Another professor poses a hypothetical based on a scenario in which a bar patron dislocates another customer's shoulder because he is "infuriated that P has spilled a tequila sunrise (a sissy drink that stains) on his best stonewashed authentic cowboy jeans." Yet another professor's criminal law exam asks students to assess the culpability of someone who drunkenly writes "Call Zonker for good oral sex. $10 for ages 15 and up. Half price for under 15" on a mall bathroom wall, and includes his own phone number—but claims to have no memory of the event when he sobers up. And fact patterns like the one Robinson presents—where something happens while someone is asleep, or unconscious, or under anesthesia—are a useful and popular type of hypothetical because of the thorny legal issues they raise. The reality is that if you are an attorney, you are going to encounter uncomfortable, disturbing, and even sexually explicit content in the course of your work. I will never forget having to read a detailed autopsy report in my first job doing pharmaceutical litigation, and as someone who now does a lot of work on issues of campus sexual assault, I routinely read detailed descriptions of sexual encounters that would make even the most seasoned veteran blush. If a law student can't handle an exam hypothetical that includes the word genitals, that person should think seriously about whether or not law is the right profession for them—because as a young associate at a law firm, you don't get to tell a partner that you won't work on a case for a big client because the facts squick you out. If law professors have to worry that every hypothetical scenario they lay out for students could result in formal discipline, legal education will suffer greatly as a result. We already know that because of the tense climate surrounding the discussion of sexual assault on campus, some law professors report being afraid to teach rape law, which is an essential part of any criminal law course. We simply cannot allow the increasingly illiberal demands of students to determine what can and can't be taught at colleges and universities, let alone at professional s[...]

Are American Colleges Racist? Come To a Debate at the Soho Forum

Mon, 08 May 2017 13:30:00 -0400

The next Soho Forum takes in New York City on May 16 and features what promises to be an intense, Oxford-style debate over whether higher education is biased against black Americans. Author Lawrence Ross (follow him on Twitter) thinks so and will argue with Fifth Column podcast co-host Kmele Foster on the topic.

Here are details about the event:

(image) Are American Colleges Racist?

Lawrence Ross and Kmele Foster go head-to-head on Tuesday May 16th, tackling the controversial topic of racism on college campuses. Are college campuses racist against African Americans?

They will debate the following resolution:

"America's colleges have fostered a racist environment that makes them a hostile space for African American students."

For the affirmative:

Lawrence C. Ross Jr. is an author of Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America's Campuses, as well as many other books that range from history, to current affairs, to fiction. He worked as a reporter for the Los Angeles Independent Newspaper and was managing editor of Rap Sheet, hip hop's first West Coast magazine. Ross has lectured at over 300 colleges and universities.

For the negative:

Kmele Foster is a telecommunications entrepreneur and TV host. He is the co-founder and vice president of TelcoIQ, a telecommunications consultancy firm. He is also the chairman of America's Future Foundation. Foster co-hosted Fox Business' The Independents, and currently co-hosts the libertarian podcast The Fifth Column.​

Tickets are almost sold out, so get in fast. This is not a debate to be missed!

Tuesday May 16, 2017

Subculture Theater
45 Bleecker St., NY, 10012
Doors open: 5:45pm
Meeting convenes: 6:30pm
Wine-and-cheese reception: 8:15pm

Tickets must be reserved in advance.

Check out the Reason Podcast, which includes versions of Soho Forum debates.

Last fall, I debated Loyola economist Walter Block about whether libertarians should vote for Donald Trump. Things got...interesting (Block denounced me as "vile" and a "nasty man" while explaining why libertarians should be pro-Trump. Take a listen. More details here.

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Brickbat: Don't Rock the Boat

Tue, 21 Jun 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) James Cook University, a public university in Australia, has censured marine scientist Peter Ridd for "failing to act in a collegial way and in the academic spirit of the university." Ridd's offense? He questioned whether photos which the Centre of Excellence for Coral Studies and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority claim show the deteriorating health of the Great Barrier Reef may be misleading or even false.

Brickbat: Women Only

Fri, 27 May 2016 04:00:00 -0400

(image) The University of Melbourne says three openings in its School of Mathematics and Statistics must be filled with women. Women account for just one quarter of all math professors in Australia, and Aleks Owczarek, the head of the school, says it is taking applications only from women in an effort to help change that.

Academic Freedom Is On the Decline, and Here's the Data to Prove It

Wed, 11 May 2016 14:05:00 -0400

(image) An analysis of 50 years worth of academic-freedom cases finds that faculty don't fare well when fighting against public colleges and universities. In fact, professors and instructors up against these entities are likely to lose nearly three-quarters of the time. 

The study, published in the Journal of College and University Law, was conducted by University of Illinois law professor Michael LeRoy. It analyzed American disputes over the speech rights of academics that took place between 1964 and 2014 and involved a public college or university—a total of 214 (state and federal) cases.

In 73 percent of them, the school administration won. 

"If you look at the trend lines, the speech rights of public employees are narrowing—and, coincidentally, this is occurring when public speech via social media has become so much more prevalent," LeRoy said. Not coincidentally, the number of wins for schools picked up in the wake of several specific U.S. Supreme Court decisions. 

Per the 1968 Supreme Court ruling in Pickering v. Board of Education, courts were instructed to weight "the competing interests of public employees and employers on a case-by-case basis," noted LeRoy. The court held that "public employees do not relinquish their First Amendment rights on the job," but "a government employer [can] regulate the speech of its employees differently from citizens." This was the first tipping point toward broader permissability for censoring academic speech.

"As the data from my study show, courts usually weigh those interests in favor of universities and colleges," LeRoy said.

Then, in 1994, the Supreme Court ruled that school administrators could limit student or staff speech that they deem "disruptive" (Waters v. Churchill). "In the first court rulings after Waters, the faculty win-rate plummeted from 22.6 percent to 13.1 percent, and in appellate rulings, the rate dropped even more precipitously, from 14.5 percent to 3.3 percent," according to LeRoy's analysis.  

Some federal appeals courts have been better than others at protecting professors' speech rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit—an area that includes New York, Connecticut, and Vermont—ruled in favor of schools in just 63.6 percent of its cases. Meanwhile, the Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin-spanning 7th Circuit sided with colleges or universities 88.9 percent of the time. 

LeRoy thinks the study shows the need for higher-education faculty to push for contractual assurances of free expression and passing institution-wide academic bills of rights. "If nothing else," he said, "my research shows that the alternative to these proactive measures are court rulings that treat higher education more like a government agency" than "a laboratory of thought, experimentation and speech."

Canadian Prof Yanked From Teaching Intro Psych Class For Insisting on Foul Language

Sat, 09 Jan 2016 12:10:00 -0500

Via Inside Higher Ed comes one of the weirder stories about college I've read in a while. For years, Michael Persinger has taught an introductory psychology class at Canada's Laurentian University. Before his first lecture, he has students sign a waiver that they won't freak out over the ribald and offensive language he uses. "One of my techniques is to expose people to all types of different words," Persinger told CBC News. "Silly words, complex words, emotional words, profane words. Because they influence how you make decisions and how you think." By using words in lectures that cause emotion, Persinger said he can teach students about how that affects the brain's rational processes. In December, a couple of months into last fall's semester, he was told by top university brass that he'd no longer be teaching the course because his pedagogy runs counter to the school's "respectful workplace" policies. He says that his academic freedom has been shredded and his school's faculty union is backing him on that score. Additionally, Persinger told CBC News that his antics generated positive buzz among students: "It's also a tremendous recruitment tool. Students enjoy the fact that it says 'restricted' on the top. What they like about the class is they can ask any question they want, no matter how politically incorrect," he said. "And we will discuss it in a rational way, using data more than emotional argument, more than political correctness and more that just social agendas." Read more here. So what kind of language are we talking about here? Go here for Persinger's full "Statement of Understanding" he has the kiddos sign before the the first class. Here are some examples: You can get some sense of what kind of joker Persinger is from the list above. Unless you had a really bad experience with a mortician or a FEMA trailer, it's hard to see too many students getting bent out of shape over Formaldehyde. Even Canadians, famous for their politeness, aren't going to be bothered by Shitface or Pussy, though offense taken at Fag, the non-Ted-Nugent-approved spelling of Puntang, and some of the others would likely depend on the context. Which the professor helpfully lays out for his students in examples such as the following: I've never been a big fan of showy college profs, the type what tries to infuse his (almost always a he in my experience) lectures with drama, comedy, and, more typically, a narcissism more commonly found among actors in dinner-theater productions. But nobody is forced to sit through Prof. Persinger's lectures, disquisitions, and juvenile-to-me antics, now are they? Even if it's a required class, I assume there's more than one section of Intro Psych. At least according to Persinger, his higher-ups wouldn't say exactly why they were pulling the plug on him. Did students object? Other faculty? It's not clear. This story raises any number of questions, first and foremost among them: Should colleges be able to tell their faculty how and what to teach? For god's sake, what a nightmare it would be if every goddamn class plan for every meeting had to be OK'ed by "the administration," right? Well, no, really. As consumers, we expect or even demand some kind of quality control for every burger we buy or car we drive off the lot. You can cry "academic freedom" all you want when it comes to what gets taught in undergrad classes, but the original conceptions of that term covered research topics and non-school-based political commitments. That is, academic freedom covered profs whose research and writings ran afoul of censorious attitudes of administrators, elected officials, and other do-gooders. Over time, academic freedom has become a fetishized concept that can be used to defend anything and everything, from bad teaching to lousy research to you name it. It has never been particularly well defended because it has never been particularly well defin[...]

Friday Funnies: Woodrow Wilson on Campus

Fri, 04 Dec 2015 07:00:00 -0500


Three Pro-Free Speech Statements About College Campuses

Fri, 13 Nov 2015 17:09:00 -0500

The past few weeks have not been good for free expression on the nation's college campuses. Indeed, virtually every day seems to bring news of another feckless college president or bureaucrat stepping down for failing to protect students from potentially hurt feelings and ugly episodes (at least one of which has been revealed to be a hoax). So it's good to see at least a few instances of people standing up for free speech and due process on college campuses, where intellectual curiosity, integrity, and freedom is supposed to trump reactionary emotionalism. One example is former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who now serves as president of Purdue University. Even as Yale bigwigs were flinching in the face of students angry over a discussion of how to deal with potentially offensive Halloween costumes, Daniels has released this statement: First, that we strive constantly to be, without exception, a welcoming, inclusive and discrimination-free community, where each person is respected and treated with dignity.  Second, to be steadfast in preserving academic freedom and individual liberty.   Such a statement of goals and governing principles is so widely shared as to be unexceptional. Yet it stands out in the current climate of weak-kneed appeasement to folks who insist that colleges and universities ensure that campuses provide "safe spaces." Another examples comes from Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution. A gay man who wrote one of the first book-length arguments in favor of gay marriage, Rauch is also the author of Kindly Inquisitors (1993), a powerful defense of free speech and intellectual freedom as the basis of any liberal, open society. Writing in the New York Daily News, Rauch argues: Trigger warnings supposedly help students cope with (or avoid) exposure to upsetting ideas and images; their other purpose, I and many other free-speech advocates believe, is to chill the presentation of controversial material. Either way, they seek to make higher education emotionally safer by making it less intellectually dangerous.... It is only fair to warn students and their parents that higher education is not a Disney cruise. Tell them in advance so they can prepare. Not, however, with multiple trigger warnings festooning syllabi. One will suffice: “Warning: Although this university values and encourages civil expression and respectful personal behavior, you may at any moment, and without further notice, encounter ideas, expressions and images that are mistaken, upsetting, dangerous, prejudiced, insulting or deeply offensive. We call this education.” Finally, the staff of the Claremont Independent, a student newspaper at Claremont McKenna College (CMC) is pushing back against an almost-unbelievable situation that led to the school's dean of students resigning. A Mexican-American student wrote an editorial in a campus publication that detailed the ways in which she felt her heritage was systematically devalued in contemporary America. "Anywhere from the media to the Claremont Colleges," wrote Lisette Espinosa, I am constantly receiving the message that we aren't worth anything....Maybe most of us have felt out of place at Claremont McKenna College for one reason or another, but my feelings of not belonging cut deep across economic and racial lines.  After reading the article, Mary Spellman, CMC's dean of students, wrote to Espinosa asking to talk with her about her experiences: Would you be willing to talk with me sometime about these issues? They are important to me and the [Dean of Students] staff and we are working on how we can better serve students, especially those who don't fit our CMC mold. I would love to talk with you more. Spellman's use of the phrase those who don't fit our CMC mold offended two students so greatly they announced that they would go on hunger strikes until Spellman was dis[...]

How Sexual Harassment Codes Threaten Academic Freedom

Fri, 23 Oct 2015 11:38:00 -0400

In its zeal to spread "gender justice," the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) threatens to stifle academic freedom and infantilize women, says feminist legal expert and New York Law School Professor Nadine Strossen. At a recent talk at Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, the former American Civil Liberties Union head warned that current campus policies to curb sexual harassment are overbroad and dangerous. And while "safety"-mongering students deserve some of the blame, bureaucrats are the biggest progenitors of this paranoid style in American academia.  "By threatening to pull federal funds, the OCR has forced schools, even well-endowed schools like Harvard, to adopt sexual misconduct policies that violate many civil liberties," Strossen said. Sexual misconduct is an umbrella term under which fall school rules against sexual assault, sexual harassment, intimate-partner violence, voyeurism, and stalking. While much of the recent focus in this realm has been on sexual violence, school sexual harassment policies also deserve some scrutiny.  "Over the years, there have been many types of overly broad sexual harassment policies," explains Samantha Harris, director of policy research for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). "FIRE has actually had some success in getting schools to roll these back over the years." But in 2013, an OCR and Justice Department investigation into sexual misconduct at the University of Montana yielded "a findings letter which they made public and which they described as a blueprint for colleges and universities," says Harris. "And that blueprint contained a very broad definition of sexual harassment."  As defined by the OCR, sexual harassment is "any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature." This leaves out two major elements of standard sexual harassment definitions: that the conduct be offensive to a "reasonable person," and that the conduct be severe and pervasive. Under the OCR definition, therefore, any mention of something sexual could be deemed sexual harassment if anyone at all takes offense. In practice, this has resulted in colleges cracking down on professors and lecturers for offering even the mildest sexual content in their classrooms—even in courses specifically about sex. "Anecdotally, I see this current moral panic over sexual harassment ... playing out more on the faculty side," says Harris. "We see a lot of faculty whose speech has been chilled."  In her Harvard speech, Strossen laid out several recent examples of the "sexual harassment" that's been targeted by colleges: The Naval War College placed a professor on administrative leave and demanded that he apologize because during a lecture that critically described Machiavelli's views about leadership he paraphrased Machiavelli's comments about raping the goddess Fortuna. In another example, the University of Denver suspended a tenured professor and found him guilty of sexual harassment for teaching about sexual topics in a graduate-level course in a course unit entitled Drugs and Sin in American Life From Masturbation and Prostitution to Alcohol and Drugs. A sociology professor at Appalachian State University was suspended because she showed a documentary film that critically examined the adult film industry. A sociology professor at the University of Colorado was forced to retire early because of a class in her course on deviance in which volunteer student assistants played roles in a scripted skit about prostitution. A professor of English and Film Studies at San Bernardino Valley College was punished for requiring his class to write essays defining pornography. And yes, that was defining it, not defending it. This summer, Louisiana State University fired a tenured professor of early childhood education who has rec[...]

Malaysia Bans International Sex Robot Symposium

Tue, 13 Oct 2015 14:30:00 -0400

(image) Malaysian authorities are saying thanks but no thanks to an international "Love and Sex with Robots" symposium that was scheduled to be held there. "It's not our culture," said Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar about the event, which was to take place in the metropolitan area of Iskandar Malaysia in November.

"It's already an offence in Malaysia to have anal sex, what more intercourse with robots. Don't try to be ridiculous," Bakar said at the press conference, according to the English-language Malaysian newspaper The Star. The event's organizers had been warned and the police would "take action...if they choose to hold the event," Bakar said.

But as racy as the robot event might sound, this gathering was to be more academic than erotic. The love- and sex-robots symposium was one several sessions taking place as part of an "Advances in Computer Entertainment Conference" co-chaired by Adrian David Cheok, a professor of pervasive computing at City University London, and chess-master turned toy developer and author (his book is Love + Sex With Robots) David Levy.

Cheok said the event was not meant to promote sexual and romantic relationships between humans and robots.

At the moment, such relationships aren't really possible anyway, since artificially intelligent sexbots don't yet exist. (For more on the once- and -future pursuit of human-like machines for people to have sex with, see my feature from Reason's April 2015 issue.) But some people are already plenty worried about the possibility. For instance, the Campaign Against Sex Robots was recently launched by two academics to promulgate the idea that sex robots would be "harmful and contribute to inequalities in society." The Campaign called Malaysia's decision to ban the sex robots symposium "welcome news considering the significance of the sex trade in Malaysia."

American University Joins Thin Ranks of Colleges Defending Free Speech

Wed, 23 Sep 2015 17:22:00 -0400

(image) The faculty senate at American University in Washington, D.C., has issued a resolution that really stands up for free expression. That such a proclamation is worthy of note tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the state of campus discourse and intellectual freedom these days.

The resolution is adamantly opposed to trigger warnings as a means of censoring appropriate materials or giving students an out from confronting college-level material. Snippets:

As laws and individual sensitivities may seek to restrict, label, warn, or exclude specific content, the academy must stand firm as a place that is open to diverse ideas and free expression. These are standards and principles that American University will not compromise.

Faculty may advise students before exposing them to controversial readings and other materials that are part of their curricula. However, the Faculty Senate does not endorse offering “trigger warnings” or otherwise labeling controversial material in such a way that students construe it as an option to “opt out” of engaging with texts or concepts, or otherwise not participating in intellectual inquiries....

...the Faculty Senate affirms that shielding students from controversial material will deter them from becoming critical thinkers and responsible citizens. Helping them learn to process and evaluate such material fulfills one of the most important responsibilities of higher education.

That sounds about right, doesn't it?

This action comes on the heels of well-received piece in The Atlantic by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff arguing that "coddling" students with trigger warnings actually makes them less able to deal with problems; President Obama denouncing campus restrictions on speech; and schools such as the University of Chicago and University of New Hampshire pushing back against speech police.

Maybe the censorship fever is starting to break, or at least cool off a bit.

Related: "Trigger Warning: College Students Are Human Veal."

Watch "Trigger Warnings, Campus Speech, and the Right to Not Be Offended":

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"Obama is absolutely right. College isn’t supposed to be about having our prejudices reinforced"

Mon, 21 Sep 2015 09:54:00 -0400

(image) Writing at USA Today, Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit agrees with President Obama on this much:

President Obama is absolutely right. College isn’t supposed to be about having our prejudices reinforced. It’s supposed to be about learning how to think about ideas, and even to change one’s mind in the face of new arguments and evidence.

It’s also about learning to address ideas one doesn’t agree with. As Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” You can’t do that if you’re not willing even to hear unacceptable thoughts....

In Monty Python’s Holy Grail, the knights decide to skip a visit to Camelot because "it is a silly place.” With college costs (as President Obama has also noted) skyrocketing even as students seem to be learning less and finding greater difficulty obtaining suitable employment after graduation, higher education administrators should worry that more and more students will draw a similar conclusion. Perhaps President Obama’s warning will get their attention.

Whole piece here.

Related: "President Obama Just Said He Opposes Campus Censorship. Here's How He Can Prove It," by Robby Soave.

Even more related: "Glenn Reynolds on the Future of Higher Education and How Kids are Getting Wise to Student Loan Debt."

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Fixing Liberal Bias Will Improve Academic Research

Wed, 16 Sep 2015 11:38:00 -0400

A group of social psychologists have just published a new paper, "Political diversity will improve social psychological science," in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences arguing that psychological research is badly skewed by a pervasive bias against researchers who do not endorse the field's left-leaning consensus. The researchers have launched a new blog, Heterodox Academy, that has the mission to "increase viewpoint diversity in the academy, with a special focus on the social sciences." They note: Before the 1990s, academic psychology only LEANED left. Liberals and Democrats outnumbered Conservatives and Republican by 4 to 1 or less. But as the “greatest generation” retired in the 1990s and was replaced by baby boomers, the ratio skyrocketed to something more like 12 to 1. In just 20 years. Few psychologists realize just how quickly or completely the field has become a political monoculture. Over at the new blog, they provide a short analysis of their new paper that argues that leftwing academic groupthink poses risks to research in the following ways: 1: Liberal values and assumptions can become embedded into theory and method 2: Researchers may concentrate on topics that validate the liberal progress narrative and avoid topics that contest that narrative 3: Negative attitudes regarding conservatives can produce a psychological science that mischaracterizes their traits and attributes These researchers also list and address the various explanations for why so few non-liberals become social scientists including (1) that conservatives simply less intelligent than liberals, and less able to obtain PhDs and faculty positions; (2) many may view education as “enlightening” and believe that an enlightened view comports with liberal politics; (3) self-selection clearly plays a role. But it would be ironic if an epistemic community resonated to empirical arguments that appear to exonerate the community of prejudice—when that same community roundly rejects those same arguments when invoked by other institutions to explain the under-representation of women or ethnic minorities (e.g., in STEM disciplines or other elite professions); (4) hostile climate - self-selection might be amplified by an accurate perception among conservative students that they are not welcome in the social psychology community. Being characterized as less intelligent, less cognitively complex, more rigid, dogmatic, and inflexible might be a tad offputting; (5) active discrimination - a 2012 study found that most social psychologists who responded to a survey were willing to explicitly state that they would discriminate against conservatives; 82% admitted that they would be at least a little bit prejudiced against a conservative candidate. They offer some suggestions for how to increase political diversity in the social sciences: 1. Acknowledge the problem and raise awareness about it. 2. Seek feedback from non-liberals. 3. Expand organizational diversity statements to include politics. 4. Add a statement to your own academic website acknowledging that you encourage collaboration among people of diverse political views. 5. Eliminate pejorative terms referring to non-liberals; criticize others’ scholarship when they use those terms. As an editor or reviewer, do not permit such terms to pass without comment. 6. Avoid “leakage” of political hostilities or presumptions (including jokes) when functioning in any teaching or research capacity, but especially around students and junior colleagues. 7. Encourage young scholars who are not liberals to pursue careers in social psychology. 8. Be alert to double standards. Use turnabout tests to reveal bias. These researchers have identified a real problem; let us hope th[...]

Is It Unethical for Caucasians to Cook Chinese Food?

Wed, 26 Aug 2015 12:12:00 -0400

If so, Austrian-American chef Wolfgang Puck is a serial culture criminal. Talking with a couple of archaeology/anthropology grad students a few months back, I got into a somewhat heated argument over the concept of "cultural appropriation." Among other things, I was told that Western women wearing saris is regarded in some circles as being disrespectful. Why? Because such clothing is not part of European culture and wearing it somehow signifies some kind of colonial oppression. Fortunately, some disagree. I was reminded of this disturbing conversation by reading Reason contributor Cathy Young's superb op-ed "To the new culture cops, everything is appropriation" in last Sunday's Washington Post.  To suggest how fruitful cultural cross pollination can be, I specifically cited in my conversation with the students Pablo Picasso's masterpiece Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907) which depicts five naked women, two with faces inspired by African masks. Was that inappropriate cultural appropriation? Or was it a recognition of the imaginative power of African artistry? Uncomfortable looks was their response. On Picasso's African Period: During the early 1900s, the aesthetics of traditional African sculpture became a powerful influence among European artists who formed an avant-garde in the development of modern art. In France, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and their School of Paris friends blended the highly stylized treatment of the human figure in African sculptures with painting styles derived from the post-Impressionist works of Edouard Manet, Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin. The resulting pictorial flatness, vivid color palette, and fragmented Cubist shapes helped to define early modernism. While these artists knew nothing of the original meaning and function of the West and Central African sculptures they encountered, they instantly recognized the spiritual aspect of the composition and adapted these qualities to their own efforts to move beyond the naturalism that had defined Western art since the Renaissance. As Young rightly concludes: Appropriation is not a crime. It’s a way to breathe new life into culture. Peoples have borrowed, adopted, taken, infiltrated and reinvented from time immemorial. The medieval Japanese absorbed major elements of Chinese and Korean civilizations, while the cultural practices of modern-day Japan include such Western borrowings as a secularized and reinvented Christmas. Russian culture with its Slavic roots is also the product of Greek, Nordic, Tatar and Mongol influences — and the rapid Westernization of the elites in the 18th century. America is the ultimate blended culture. So don’t let anyone tell you that there is art, literature or clothing that does not belong to you because of your racial, ethnic or religious identity. In other words: Appropriate away. Closely allied to the idea of cultural appropriation is the pernicious notion of "cultural identity." In his brilliant 2009 essay, "The Culture of Liberty," Peruvian Nobel Literature laureate Mario Vargas Llosa, argues: The notion of "cultural identity" is dangerous. From a social point of view, it represents merely a doubtful, artificial concept, but from a political perspective it threatens humanity's most precious achievement: freedom (emphasis added). I do not deny that people who speak the same language, were born and live in the same territory, face the same problems, and practice the same religions and customs have common characteristics. But that collective denominator can never fully define each one of them, and it only abolishes or relegates to a disdainful secondary plane the sum of unique attributes and traits that differentiates one member of t[...]

Laura Kipnis On How Campus Feminism Infantilizes Women

Tue, 30 Jun 2015 09:35:00 -0400

"What now gets labeled feminism on [college] campuses," says Northwestern University Professor Laura Kipnis, "has to do with dialing back a lot the progress women have made establishing ourselves as consenting adults."

That was the main argument of an essay Kipnis published this past February in The Chronicle of Higher Education, titled, "Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe." After the article appeared, the Northwestern campus erupted in protest. Students demonstrated by carrying mattresses and pillows and wrote a public letter accusing Kipnis of "[spitting] in the face of survivors of rape and sexual assault everywhere.”

Then two students filed complaints with the university, and Northwestern brought Kipnis up on charges under Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination on college campuses that receive federal support. The charges were later dismissed, but not before Kipnis wrote a follow up essay in Chronicle, "My Title IX Inquisition."

Last week, Kipnis sat down with Reason's Matt Welch to talk about how campus feminism infantilizes women, Title IX, why Hustler's Larry Flynt and anti-porn activist Andrea Dworkin have a lot in common, and her recent book, Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation.

Shot and edited by Jim Epstein, with help from Anthony L. Fisher.

Nineteen minutes and 22 seconds.

Scroll down for downloadable versions and subscribe to Reason TV's YouTube Channel to receive automatic notifications when new material goes live.