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Published: Mon, 11 Dec 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2017 14:19:29 -0500


How Open-Access Journals Are Transforming Science

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 17:46:00 -0500

Michael Eisen's goal is to change the way scientific findings are disseminated. Most research papers today are locked behind paywalls, and access can cost hundreds of dollars per article. The general public, and most scientists, don't have comprehensive access to the most up-to-date research, even though much of it is funded by U.S. taxpayers. "It's a completely ridiculous system," says Eisen, an acclaimed biologist at UC Berkeley, an independent candidate for Senate in California running against Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D), and a co-founder of the Public Library of Science, or PLOS, which publishes some of the largest and most prestigious academic journals in the world. These publications stand out for another reason: They're open access, meaning that anyone with an internet connection can read them for free. PLOS seeks to break up the academic publishing cartel, and it's a leading force in the so-called open science movement, which aims to give the public access to cutting-edge research and democratize scientific progress. This movement became widely publicized after famed hacker and Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz sought to upend the publishing system by uploading millions of articles for free; he was prosecuted relentlessly, and ultimately committed suicide in 2013. Eisen first thought he could simply convince his fellow scientists to start uploading their work, but that didn't work because universities and funding agencies use journals as a proxy for quality. They base tenure and award decisions in large part on how many articles a researcher publishes, and on the reputations of the publishers. To encourage a switch in researchers' thinking, PLOS's first journal, PLOS Biology, attempted to emulate what Eisen describes as the "snooty" journals such as Science and Nature, which generate prestige in part by rejecting most submitted papers. PLOS Biology became well regarded and provided a proof of concept for PLOS's model, in which funding agencies or universities pay a flat fee up front (typically $1,500, but adjusted based on ability to pay) that's then made accessible for free. The multidisciplinary journal PLOS ONE, created in 2006, used this same model to become the largest academic publication in the world, though it's been surpassed by other open access sources. PLOS ONE puts papers through a fairly typical peer review process, but it doesn't ask editors to determine a paper's importance; the journal will publish any study that follows sound science and reports its data. According to Eisen, this model encourages more thorough experiments, rather than flashy results that aren't reproducible, and allows readers to determine whether a particular study is important and valid. Reason spoke with Eisen at the BioHack the Planet Conference in Oakland, a gathering for DIY scientists known as biohackers who eschew traditional research institutions. They often carry out experiments in garage labs and share their raw findings on the internet in real time, a publishing model to which Eisen believes all scientists should aspire. Eisen also discussed why scientists and universities continue to prop up the academic publishing monopoly, how scientific progress suffers from the current regime, why he's running for senate as an independent, why he beleives political parties are obsolete, and the way forward for the open science movement. Produced by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Alexis Garcia and Monticello. Music by Silent Partner, Vibe Tracks, and MK2. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Michael Eisen: Labs get hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars that come in from the public. After they write up what they've discovered, if you're a member of the public and you want to get access to it, you quite often have to pay again to get access to it. So, it's a completely ridiculous system. When the internet was invented, that should have allowed scientists to share their work complet[...]

American Professor Charged With Crime for Giving Speech to Danish Parliament

Thu, 30 Nov 2017 13:20:00 -0500

(image) Given the ugly turn U.S. immigration policies have taken recently, it's almost refreshing to be reminded that other governments can be bad on the issue as well. Take Denmark, whose immigration authorities are charging an American professor, Brooke Harrington, with a crime for giving academic lectures.

Inside Higher Education reports that Harrington, a professor of economic sociology at Copenhagen Business School, was charged with taking on illegal side jobs for giving speeches before Danish parliamentarians, tax officials, and law students at the University of Copenhagen.

This, officials say, violates her work permit, which only allows her to work at Copenhagen Business School.

"If I'd known what I was getting into, I really would have had second thoughts about coming here. Anyone in higher education considering moving here should be aware they'll have to confront this," Harrington told Inside Higher Education.

The charges came the same day the Danish Society for Education and Business gave Harrington an award for disseminating her research.

Harrington has had a long academic career studying international finance and tax havens, with teaching stints at Brown and Princeton. Her work has taken her to over 18 different countries, and she's been tenured at Copenhagen Business School since 2010.

If convicted of these charges, all this could be put at risk. Under Danish immigration law, those convicted of working illegally in the country are barred from seeking permanent residency for a period of 15 years. A criminal conviction would also make it difficult for her to continue traveling and working abroad.

"For someone who does international research...this would literally be the end of my career," Harrington told Inside Higher Ed.

Harrington is not the only person caught up in Denmark's crackdown on foreign educators working off-site. Police have contacted three other Copenhagen Business School employees for working outside the university, according to the Danish newspaper Politiken, although it is not clear whether charges were filed in these cases. The newspaper also notes that University of Copenhagen, Technical University of Denmark, and Aalborg University employees have all sanctioned for similar violations.

The charges have sparked controversy within the Danish academic community. The Rector of Copenhagen Business School, Per Holten-Andersen, issued a statement calling it "the worst form of bureaucracy. We stand 100 percent behind our employees who are experiencing problems and offer advice and support."

If convicted, Harrington will be expected to pay a 13,500 kroner ($2,100) fine.

The whole incident is a reminder that even in our connected, globalized world, there are a huge array of barriers to people living and working where they wish.

Graduate Instructor Who Showed Gendered-Pronoun Debate to Class Is Basically Hitler, Says School

Wed, 22 Nov 2017 14:30:00 -0500

As Lindsey Shepherd was pleading her case before Wilfrid Laurier University faculty and staff, the 22-year-old Canadian grad student and teaching assistant seemed caught off guard by their demands. Her superiors weren't saying she couldn't show a televised debate over gender-neutral pronouns in the context of a classroom discussion on language—they just needed her to condemn one side of the debate first. To do otherwise, they said, was "like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler, or Milo Yiannopoulos." Shepherd neither endorsed nor decried either side of the TV Ontario showdown between controversial University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan B. Peterson and Nicholas Matte, a professor in the Waterloo University women's studies department. In the clip that Shepherd played for first-year communications students, Matte and Peterson argue over whether it's appropriate for professors to address students by pronouns other than "he" and "she"—something Peterson refuses to do. The clip was shown in the context of a class discussion on how language shapes culture and how gender-specific pronouns have caused controversy. "I was not taking sides," Shepherd—who does not agree with Peterson's position—would later tell school authorities. "I was presenting both arguments." After an anonymous student complaint was filed, Shepherd was called into a meeting with her supervising professor Nathan Rambukkana, another communications school professor, and the university's manager of gendered violence prevention and support. They claimed that Shepherd was "transphobic" and that she needed to keep her "problematic" views out of the classroom. Shepherd pushed back, insisting that she didn't share in Peterson's pronoun point-of-view but thought it was important not to bring her own views into the discussion. "This is basically like playing—not to do the thing where everything is compared to Hitler—but this is like neutrally playing a speech by Hitler, or Milo Yiannopoulos from Gamergate," Rambukkana said in the meeting. "This is the kind of thing that, departmentally, in terms of critical communications studies, and in terms of the course, of what we're trying to do, is diametrically opposed to everything we've been talking about in the lectures." In a Monday interview with CTV News, Shepherd said she was told "that you can't debate something like this because it causes an unsafe or toxic learning environment. I ended up being called transphobic and someone who causes harm and violence." Going forward, she would have to file all lesson plans in advance and expect random drop-in reviews, the tribunal told her. Shepherd said she was speaking out because situations and attitudes like these hurt the core mission of college education. "I think it's dangerous to say that a topic is off the table just because it might be a little bit controversial," she told CTV. When Shepherd first went public with her story in early November, the Ontario-based university was both dismissive and defensive. In an initial statement, Wilfrid Laurier President Deborah MacLatchy said that "as a responsible employer," the university is "obligated to abide by government regulations, human rights legislation and our own university policies"; "to this end," it had hired a third party "to gather the facts of the situation and assess them in a deliberate, fair and respectful manner." The bizarre statement went on to suggest there are some ideas that may be worth discussing, but can't because of bureaucracy. "I believe that as a university community we need to have more conversations about how academic expression happens throughout our institution," wrote MacLatchy. But "to be focused and constructive, these conversations should take place outside of the specific contexts that, for good reason, are often constrained by privacy legislation, employer regulations, and other legal requirements." Shepherd was not impressed. "This was an opportunity for the university to be like 'it's true, we should be able to hav[...]

The Spurious Move to Stifle Speech on Campus Because it is 'Dehumanizing'

Fri, 17 Nov 2017 12:35:00 -0500

Robert Spencer — the controversial author and founder of the blog Jihad Watch — spoke Tuesday at Stanford University at the invitation of the university's College Republicans. The event proceeded relatively peacefully, with minimal disruption. But there were many who believed Stanford should never have allowed Spencer to speak in the first place, including a group of Stanford faculty and students who published an open letter urging the university to block Spencer's talk. The argument of the letter's authors is that while they "fully support the principle of academic freedom that allows us to disagree about issues," Spencer's views on Islam are "not debatable" because they are "fundamentally dehumanizing." Whenever the claim is made that an identity group is inherently less worthy of full personhood — whether that claim is made about people who are Muslim, Rohingya, Jewish, Black, trans or gender non-conforming, Bosnian, queer, immigrants, Mexican, etc. — it is always unacceptable. This has quickly become one of the most common, insidious, and dangerously slippery-slope arguments against free speech on college campuses and beyond. Let's set aside for a moment that even most truly "dehumanizing" speech is protected by the First Amendment. (Although Stanford is not a public university, California's Leonard Law applies the protections of the First Amendment to non-sectarian private schools.) The reality on campus is that any debate over any controversial issue will, for proponents of this viewpoint, unjustly demean the value of someone's identity. Consider students at the University of Florida who earlier this week vandalized promotional materials for an upcoming pro-life event on campus put on by the university's Young Americans for Freedom. In a Facebook message bragging about the vandalism, one student wrote: "just poured water on your lovely creations that are an insult to my entire major and life experiences!" To others, an opposing view on immigration policy is an attack on the humanity of undocumented immigrants. As NYU professor and provost Ulrich Baer wrote last spring in The New York Times, "[s]ome topics, such as claims that some human beings are by definition inferior to others, or illegal or unworthy of legal standing, are not open to debate because such people cannot debate them on the same terms." Meanwhile, after Laura Kipnis — the feminist Northwestern professor who was twice investigated by Northwestern for Title IX violations over her criticism of campus sexual politics — spoke at Wellesley College, the faculty on the school's Commission for Ethnicity, Race, and Equity issued a statement calling for changes to the outside speaker policy. Speakers like Kipnis, the statement said, require students to "invest time and energy in rebutting the speakers' arguments… in order to affirm their humanity." When Heather Mac Donald, a vocal critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, spoke last spring at Claremont McKenna College, violent protesters attempted to shut down the event, forcing the Manhattan Institute fellow to give her talk via livestream. Three students from nearby Pomona College issued a statement saying "[t]he idea that the search for this truth involves entertaining Heather Mac Donald's hate speech is illogical. If engaged, Heather Mac Donald would not be debating on mere difference of opinion, but the right of Black people to exist." And who can forget the reaction of Yale students to Erika Christakis's thoughtfully worded email, in October of 2015, questioning whether an institution of higher education should police the Halloween costumes of adult college students? Students blasted Christakis and her husband, Nicholas, for failing to create a "safe space" for them, despite their reputations as nurturing residence mentors. In one article describing how her world was "shaken" by Christakis's "offensive" email, a Yale student wrote, "This kind of racism in disguise — where a false debate about 'free speech[...]

Brickbat: Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Tue, 03 Oct 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) The ethics committee at Bath Spa University, a public university in England, barred a graduate student in psychotherapy from studying transgender people who regret having reassignment surgery. James Caspian says he was told that allowing him to pursue such research could offend people and expose the university to criticism on social media.

To Commemorate Constitution Day, Princeton Professor Says 'F%*# Free Speech'

Mon, 25 Sep 2017 12:25:00 -0400

Every year, Princeton University holds a Constitution Day to honor one of the most important documents in human history. This year's was was a little different, with lectures on search and seizure policies in the Snowden era, and another on slavery and the Constitution. And then there was a lecture called "F%*# Free Speech: An Anthropologist's Take on Campus Speech Debate." Professor Carolyn Rouse, the chair of the Department of Anthropology and director of the program in African Studies asserted, "the way which free speech is being celebrated in the media makes little to no sense anthropologically," according to Campus Reform. Free speech absolutism doesn't exist because people self-censor themselves in ways society deems appropriate, Rouse told her audience. Culture is the prime determiner of what speech is permissible and what speech is rejected, she said. "Language is partial," Rouse argued. "It relies on context for comprehensibility, and can have implications that go far beyond simply hurting somebody's feelings. Put simply, speech is costly. So, contrary to the ACLU's statement on their website regarding the role of free speech on college campuses, the academy has never promoted free speech as its central value." Absolute free speech means every idea is granted equal consideration no matter how crazy it sounds, and for this reason free speech absolutism should not be valued in academia, according to Rouse. "Free speech is also asymptotic with respect to the goal of allowing people to say whatever they want, in any context, with no social, economic, legal, or political repercussions," Rouse said. Free speech absolutism fails in an academic setting, Rouse argued, when it allows equal footing to the belief of a climate-change skeptic that "all the science discovered over the last X-number of centuries were irrelevant" and the arguments supporting climate change from a scientist. Rouse seems to see in this scenario a failure of free speech, rather than an opportunity to challenge ideas and see how they hold up in the marketplace of ideas. Preventing the climate change skeptic from talking about his views won't make them disappear. And it isn't just academia, Rouse contended. No other social institution values free speech absolutism. Every institution has some sort of speech constraint, she said. A defendant can't walk into a courtroom and just start preaching his innocence. The rules and procedures of court prohibit this and, appropriately, Rouse said. To some degree Rouse is correct. Institutions ranging from the courts to the media have some restraints on speech. People self-censor for a variety of reasons. Rouse misses the mark when she suggests the goal of free speech is to allow people to say whatever they want, consequences be damned. The goal of free speech is to allow engagement in open dialogue with others in the marketplace of ideas without the government imposing censorship or punishment. It is with intention that freedom of speech is included in the first of the Bill of Rights. The Founding Fathers valued the ability to speak freely for myriad reasons, particularly because it guaranteed citizens the right to to openly criticize their government. Freely criticizing the government is something Rouse should support. After all, she started a project called Trumplandia, documenting with essays, articles, poems, video clips, or other media the impact of Trump's presidency. Rouse calls Trump's campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" racist and authoritarian. Without free speech in academia, Rouse's project would not exist. Absolute free speech does not mean unchallenged speech, as Rouse seems to believe. Rather, it secures the opportunity for even unpopular ideas to be explored. Restraining speech won't make "bad" ideas go away and it won't suddenly changes the minds of people who hold unpopular or even offensive ideas. As Kat Timpf argues in National Review, "If you understa[...]

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 si[...]

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 anythin[...]

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. Spellm[...]

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 pornog[...]