Current Events

Some Links on Campus Speech

  1. Here is Rob Montz’s new documentary on what happened at Yale. Is the free speech problem in part a way for administrators to win power and resources over faculty?

  2. Yale professor and philosopher of language Jason Stanley writes about propaganda in Why Propaganda Matters. Note that Stanley thinks that “there is a structural reason” why “haranguing, cajoling, threatening, or supplicating” can be a “necessity in treating failures of democracy”. Here is my critique of the book.
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Author: Jason Brennan
  • Sean II

    What a shank. Montz is trying to improve on the ridiculous “snowflake” theory with a slightly less ridiculous “sovereign consumer” story.

    Both are wrong. The snowflake theory is crap because, far from being delicate and easily hurt, these kids are aggressive and easily angered.

    The sovereign consumer theory is crap because it makes false predictions and fails to explain the most obvious features of this behavior.

    On Montz’s account we should expect to see these kids protesting for more convenience, better tech, cheaper beer, hipper music, etc. That’s what they do with their consumer power in every other realm where it is exercised.

    His theory can’t explain why they should suddenly choose to use their buyer power for just one purpose: the enforcement of left-wing orthodoxy in language and thought.

    Nor can he explain the behavior of administrators. If Yale is really just an expensive amusement park, you’d expect the suits who run it to AVOID controversy and unrest, much like the suits who run Disneyland and Carnival Cruise Lines, etc. But that’s not what happens at all.

    Good lord, I hope he didn’t spend a lot of time editing that thing.

    • King Goat

      “On Montz’s account we should expect to see these kids protesting for more convenience, better tech, cheaper beer, hipper music, etc. ”

      Maybe that’s happening but it doesn’t make the news (especially with partisan presses that want to make academe look bad)? When I was an undergrad there were two major protests at my school: one an anti-war protest, the other a protest of the lack of choice at the food court. The latter was a sit in believe it or not and drew as many as the former. No press for the latter, press for the former.

    • Puppet’s Puppet

      Bah, you are too quick to reach for that cultural clash argument. Yale is not Paris. It is still a relatively undiverse school; the students from actual fucking foreign countries are not the ones creating problems; and the ones creating problems at Yale and elsewhere include plenty of white people (race and to some extent religion being the only demographic factors, other than income or geography, that results in being raised in different cultures). If black and U.S. Hispanic cultures are so unconducive to behaving yourself in an academic context, then why have they done so with such ease in every decade but the ’60s and ’10s, even as their participation in higher education has steadily increased? And why, in those two decades, have places far whiter even than Yale gone so off the deep end on their own?

      That said, you are dead on when it comes to calling out snooty Mr. Montz on his bullshit. I was actually a total mark for his snake oil. I was all set to applaud his attention to administrative creep, while merely pointing out that he had “ignored some crucial things,” because he so deftly played to academic vanity. We relish any opportunity to point the finger at administrative creep, so we’re frighteningly sitting ducks for a foil-hat theory that places it at the center of everything. We do this, of course, to avoid pointing the finger at ourselves. But, really now. Look at some silly notice issued by a Yale employment project for Ethnicity Race and Migration majors, suggesting that undergrads might be offending each other by wearing sombreros; and look at the horseshit that comes out of the APA in the persons of various Sally Haslanger type professional activists, or the outrage about whether the SCP should be allowed to discuss Christian doctrine; and ask yourself: Which of these is really the greater threat to academic values and practices.

      We’ve traced the call…it’s coming from inside the house.

      • Sean II

        At both Yale and Mizzou the protest started with black students. The Christiakis video shows this clearly enough. Given the race make-up of the student body, the number of black Yalies in that quad is striking, and significant.

        Now, it’s a perfectly predictable fact of American life that whenever a group of black protesters gathers for this or that they are soon joined (read: taken over) by a gaggle of virtue signaling whites.

        But don’t let that distract you from what those protesters are trying to say.

        Evidently it’s not that much fun being black on a university campus. White peolle talk a big game about how much they love you, but they keep choosing segregation in practice. Meanwhile your group is afflicted by lower grades and graduation rates than others, and everyone knows it.

        • Puppet’s Puppet

          You make a good point. But, socially, no, it’s really not that bad. I went to Yale in the dark ages before we had black presidents. There were slights. Ain’t shit compared to what a New Yorker dealt with on a regular basis. Maybe the expectations are raised, but how is a kid who grows up knowing exactly what the kids in Howard Beach would do with him if they got the chance going to be shocked when white bourgie liberals fail to be some sort of magical color-blind unicorns?

          Or take Mizzou, which is an even better example because there are lots of blacks there. What is this business about black folks falling to emotional pieces at the thought that white people are not coming to chitchat with them (“segregation,” as you call it)–or that they do not “love” them? Please. Since when is this part of black culture? Blacks “segregate” themselves as much as whites do in the modern university setting; it is not unilaterally “chosen” for them by whites. Personally, I think a university is precisely the time to actively resist this sort of thing, to deliberately exit your social comfort zone, but that is indeed exactly what it amounts to. Blacks have their own culture in common that draws them together, and that they are quite proud of, and do not–certainly should not–require white affirmation of. I certainly do not care what any schmo off the street thinks of my race, religious beliefs, sexual practices, etc., and if I thought otherwise I’d think it was my responsibility to to grow some balls and get the fuck over it.

          • Sean II

            It’s not about slights and snubs and feeling left out.

            It’s about the humiliation of being outclassed in competition.

            If you’re an 1,100 SAT kid in a room full of 1,400 or betters, and the professor talking is a 1,600 flat, you don’t need anyone else to insult you.

            Under those circumstances, you’ll do that to yourself.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            Ah, Affirmative Action. Certainly, fuck that shit eight ways hard; it’s illiberal, condescending, and just plain morally repugnant. But wait: You really think it’s that severe a problem, that it’s produced black and white student bodies with such an enormous gap in aptitude (or at least preparedness) that it lies at the heart of this entire problem? That seems like a bit of a stretch. (And again, aren’t you taking Yale and Mizzou, the two “black” incidents in a nationwide campus trend of asinine, whiny, often thuggish foolishness on behalf of a whole rainbow of causes, out of context?)

            Less relevantly, I question the realism of your classroom example! If all professors really were that much smarter, then where would we be getting all the faculty for the “- Studies” departments, 95% of English, Anthropology, Sociology, etc., who have created all these problems in the first place?

          • Sean II

            The gap is big. Average +300 points for blacks at elite schools.

            So they’re being spotted 1/4 of the test. Set up to fail in the worst way.

            One of the sadder results is the large number of black kids who end up switching from real subjects (engineering) to fake ones ( __ studies).

          • King Goat

            The average SAT for white Harvard students is 2218, for black students it is 2149.

            http://features.thecrimson.com/2015/freshman-survey/makeup-narrative/

  • Jason Stanley

    The documentary is factually false. The representation of what happened, both structurally and about the particular incident with Christakis. It gets both the frame facts and the specific facts about a tangential incident entirely wrong. Next Yale was not focused on anything to do with Halloween; both the student movements at Mizzou and Yale was a response to broader issues, such as BLM. Students in Next Yale had come to me well before Halloween to discuss some of these issues. Changing the name of Calhoun was a huge issue (students have tried for generations to change the name). The fact that many departments minimized pressing social issues and had all white male syllabi was an issue. The fact that work study students have very large work demands was a serious issue of inequality. Faculty diversity was a serious issue. Funding for mental health and cultural centers was an issue. I think it is regrettable that admirable people like the Christakises (whom I think of as admirable) got involved in this. But the fact is, that this documentary completely misrepresents that specific incident. The students were not lurking outside Silliman waiting to confront him. Quite the opposite. They were streaming back from an emotional three hour meeting with Dean Holloway on cross campus. They just wanted to get back to their rooms. The person shooting the video is Greg Lukianoff, head of FIRE, who was staying with the Christakises. There had been tension between Silliman students and their head of college as I understand it, that were unrelated to Halloween and just had to do with performing the functions of a very difficult job. Someone in that job is supposed to for example know the names of the students in their college or at least ones they see regularly. For example, the student who loses her temper was one of the ten “master’s aides”, whose work study involves working for the master and seeing them regularly. And as you can see if you watch the whole video, regrettably Christakis calls her by the wrong name and she loses her temper. I have to say that if I did chores for someone regularly since August and they still didn’t know my name I would be upset too. Anyway, one needs some crazed conspiracy theory to tie a very local issue about remembering someone’s name to free speech. I do think facts matter and the documentary just radically misstates the actual facts (I like how they quickly show you various letters so you can’t read them and just blow up individual words lol). It’s time to stop tormenting students who were the first generation actually to get the name of Calhoun changed. It should in retrospect be quite obvious how extremely hard that was to do – it didn’t happen for another twelve months. This documentary is propaganda in the uninteresting sense of skewing reality. You are better than this Jason, as witnessed by your excellent review of my book, for which I am very grateful. It raises substantive issues. I worry too about the “weaponizing” issue, and I discuss it at the end of chapter 2. But we do not need such theoretical extravagance to dismiss the documentary you posted. It’s just your grandfather’s propaganda.

  • urstoff

    Remember when Jason Stanley got into a twitter fight with FIRE because he failed to do the most rudimentary research about what cases they have taken on? Good times.

    • Sean II

      Last night around 2:00am he posted a lengthy response here. But it’s since been removed (presumably at his request).

      The gist was: it’s wrong to frame this story with the Halloween e-mail as Act I, because really what happened at Yale was a wider protest, with deeper roots, grander ambitions, etc.

      Which seems a fair point to me, and certainly a fair criticism of that video.

      • Jason Stanley

        Not at my request.

        • Sean II

          Oh, sorry. Although technical problem with DISQUS seems the most likely possibility remaining.

          I very much doubt it was malicious deletion by the moderator.

      • Puppet’s Puppet

        It is indeed a fair point. But Montz (in service to his own cause, to be sure) doesn’t actually frame the email as Act I. He performs the valuable and rare service of pointing out an equally widely ignored (and far more relevant) aspect of its context. The Christakises did not parachute in and send their email apropos of nothing, taunting the “snowflakes” just to be assholes. As Montz points out, an administrative committee had earlier advised students not to wear “appropriative” costumes. The Christakises were merely adding their own perspective to this conversation. You rarely see this mentioned in even supportive media accounts. Perhaps it does say something about these that, in their mocking of the “snowflakes,” they have actually paid little attention to a detail that makes the Christakises significantly more sympathetic.

        It should indeed be noted that, just as the Christakises were not out of line to weigh in on this matter, neither then, pro forma, had been the administration. In content, of course, the Christakises were right whereas the administrators were ridiculous; but if someone tells me not to “appropriate” other cultures in my attire, I will laugh and mock them rather than be “offended” myself. Those of us who want students to be treated like adults should certainly not ourselves treat them of incapable of giving a “fuck you” to comical and toothless instructions from The Man. Yale is like many schools in that asinine and ridiculous “sensitivity” suggestions are issued to the student body not from the campus black, Latino, women’s, LGBT, etc. student groups, but from official administrative organs. These often have similar names as the student groups (student-run “LGBT Center” versus official “Center for LGBT Student Life” or something), and various conservative “campus watch” sites report both with similar breathlessness so most people don’t pick up the crucial differences. At Yale, though, unlike at many schools, these heavy-handed and simplistic attempts to promote civility are not, to my knowledge, accompanied by any urge to “report” “offenses,” much less by an actual institution of a “bias reporting” apparatus. That’s a huge difference in terms of “chilling effect.”

        From the courtyard confrontation on, however, Yale really does drop the ball. According to Erika, the students “made verbal and physical threats to my husband while four Yale deans and administrators looked on.” These students were never disciplined, of course, and Yale made only perfunctory efforts to back up the Christakises (who are actually so comically “woke” that they rejected the title of “college master” upon taking office, at at time when that stance was still widely mocked as the illiterate embarrassment that it is) before throwing them under the bus. This is very reminiscent of the anti-Yiannopoulous and -Murray protests. When “protesters” really do overstep their bounds, the failure to smash some heads together can amount to oppression.

        All in all, Yale is being singled out as paradigmatic by Montz because it fits his narrative so much better than, say, Mizzou. In reality, it thoroughly deserves the “yellow light” it has earned from FIRE. It’s not great, but it’s far from the worst. Salovey might be a snake, and certainly no hero like Robert Zimmer (U of Chicago), but so far there’s a big difference between him and an actual cretinous thug like David Boren (he of the non-fictional SAE incident), or even the Harvard administrators.

        • King Goat

          A few things get left out in the conservative folklore telling (and telling, and telling, and…) of what went down at Yale. The advisory council sent out an email which explicitly affirmed student’s right to do offensive things like blackface but tried, quite politely, to persuade people that things like blackface are incredibly offensive and they hoped Yale students would choose not to do things like that. That email was not just totally reasonable, I’d argue that if you get out of any institution of higher ed without learning that blackface is very offensive and not socially acceptable you should ask for your money back. If you show up for a company party in blackface you’re highly likely to be sent home-probably with a pink slip.

          There are snowflakes in the story, but not the ones usually cited. After the email came out some students went to Christakis because they were ‘troubled’ by it. It was in their behalf that she wrote her response. Now, it’s important to note that while Christakis worked as an instructor at Yale she wrote her response in her position as essentially the ‘den mother’ or residence life director of a dorm. It was literally her job description that she work to provide a welcoming, comfortable, inclusive environment for students. I can see why sending out an email where you essentially ponder whether blackface is so offensive or not and maybe black students should just let it roll off was seen as contrary to her duties.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            I was a bit too harsh on the content of the committee email, which was indeed fairly moderate. My central point about it remains: That, because it was indeed merely a suggestion of civility, rather than an enforceable code of conduct, it was pro forma a legitimate function of those tasked with serving student life at the university.

            “Blackface” is brought up time and time again. It is a straw man. Real, Al Jolson style blackface is almost unique in its tropic offensiveness in American culture (the bucktooth “yellowface” is its only real “native-born” equal), though there are indeed a few other truly offensive stereotypes that may come close and are doable as Halloween costumes. These types of things have been essentially unseen at Yale for decades. The worst one might get (at least, in my still long-ago time) were some borderline cases–darkening the face to dress as celebrities, throwing a pimp ‘n ho party or dressing up as “trash” or whatever. As for the email, it does not even deal with these; though other parts are more thoughtful, it specifically and without reservations lists innocuous things like “feathered headdresses” and “turbans” as “poor decisions” in Halloween costumes. In the same part it links to this website, which supplements a few genuinely offensive images of black, Asian, and Jewish grotesques with reams of laughable oversensitivities. Most damnably, the administration letter explicitly condemns costumes that engage in “cultural appropriation.” Anything even mentioning this widely recognized, preposterous, offensive, and downright dangerous term demands a response, as far as I am concerned.

            So respond the Christakises did. I would amend my earlier interpretation to say that they supplemented and added to the conversation. I must have missed the part where they “essentially” “pondered whether blackface is so offensive or not.” And as for “letting it roll off,” they most certainly did not say this about some mythical Yale blackface. They said it in response to an administration that unambiguously (at least in the most prominent part of its message, therefore certainly suggesting the need for clarifying dialogue) proclaimed it offensive to dress up as Aladdin. And Erika Christakis, child psychologist that she is, certainly did know her subjects well. After their subsequent self-parodying reaction to the FIRE dude’s talk of “burning an Indian village,” among other buffoonery, who could call hers a message apropos of nothing?

          • King Goat

            The email explicitly mentions blackface, as well as equivalents for other ethnicities (red face, wearing Native American headress) which have long been used to mock the ethnicities they reference. I fail to see how blackface in the context of a ‘pimps and ho’s’ themed party is supposed to be somehow *less* offensive.

            https://www.thefire.org/email-from-intercultural-affairs/

            I think cultural appropriation is often used in a silly way, but that doesn’t mean it always is. An Irish American white guy like me wearing traditional Native American dress and war paint to a drunken party strikes me as a sensible example of what could be called awful cultural appropriation. Suggesting that that is a ‘poor decision’ seems correct, and hardly calling for critique. Imagine a party thrown by German college students where the kids dress up in yamalukes with fake fore locks while they chug beers. I doubt you’d find many Jews who wouldn’t find that offensive.

            And she does indeed ponder (she uses the word ‘wonder’) whether it’s so bad for college students to be offensive in the ways described in the initial email (which, again, explicitly mentioned black face) and encourages students who come across such to ‘look away.’ That sounds like telling them to let it roll off.

            https://www.thefire.org/email-from-erika-christakis-dressing-yourselves-email-to-silliman-college-yale-students-on-halloween-costumes/

            Again, college students who don’t learn the lesson that things like black face are widely abhored are being short changed. If college is supposed to be preparing them for the ‘real world,’ well the real world is where doing that kind of thing gets you labeled as a jerk, fired and other negative consequences.

          • Puppet’s Puppet

            Pimp ‘n ho was my example, not the Yale admins’, and perhaps I was not being clear. Of course darkening your skin for a pimp ‘n ho is extremely problematic, to put it mildly. But no one at Yale has done that to my knowledge, and I was speaking specifically about simply attending such an event in a stereotypical “pimp” or “ho” costume. The letter did not present its ridiculous condemnations in that context at all, as I’d explained previously.

            As for the rest, no, these things are what I specifically deny. Anyone of any ethnicity should be able to dress up in the costume of any others, either borrowing from it to their normal attire, at an ethnic festival (in which case your outfit should probably be more thoughtfully chosen and assembled) or as a Halloween costume. Geisha dress, Amerindian dress, sombreros and coolie hats, Rasta dreads, and so forth, have all been proclaimed “appropriative.” Fuck that shit. Wear what you want. If you dress up like my people, I am flattered.

            There are, of course, such a thing as “offensive” costumes. I have never seen, contrary to the histrionics, truly offensive “brownface”; but I have seen my share of pregnant nuns, slutty nuns, pervert priests, and so forth. Many practicing Catholics are probably very offended by these. I am not; still, I recognize that many of these are not indeed done “in good humor” but as a deliberate and malicious insult and mocking of my belief system that is very precious to me. I still don’t sweat it. I kind of like the atmosphere of decadence that permits a little “edginess” over the boring-ass alternative. These are the tiny casualties. And Erika is exactly fucking dead right on the proper mentality to maintain about it.

            Your initial characterization of Erika’s email was indeed a mischaracterization. Yes, the original email mentioned “blackface.” But also quite conversationally salient is the fact that no actual blackface has been seen at Yale. Especially with proper disambiguation, it is not appropriate to assume that Erika is automatically addressing every single part of the original email. And she is very careful to lay out examples of things that might be called “cultural appropriation” (with a lot more grace than those bastards deserve, as far as I can see) but actually deserve a second thought. What she is doing, essentially, is calling out the admins for creating a straw man–for their insulting, false, and infantilizing suggestion that there was a problem in the first place, that Yalies were attiring themselves inappropriately and not exercising the proper thoughtfulness and self-policing on the matter of potentially offensive costumes. She even presents it explicitly in the form of a “moral panic.” Bravo to her for standing up for these young adults!

          • King Goat

            “Anyone of any ethnicity should be able to dress up in the costume of any others”

            You really don’t think or see that something like most Jews would find my previous example to be downright offensive?

            “and if you don’t like it, fuck you.”

            You know, Walter Sobchak was not meant to be a hero to be emulated…

            “I kind of like the atmosphere of decadence that permits a little “edginess” over the boring-ass alternative”

            Some people find people that knowingly or thoughtlessly offend entire groups of people in order to have a little fun to be edgy, but most find them to be jerks they don’t want to hang or work around. It’s a disservice to students in your charge to not tell them about the second part.

          • Dain Fitzgerald

            It still is edgy, given that it’s apparently considered over the edge and can get you legally sanctioned. As long as that remains true you’re making heroes out of people who would otherwise be nobodies. Challenging norms of free expression is admirable.

            But then I’m old school ACLU.

          • King Goat

            As a social matter, people who regularly challenge the norms of expression of the communities they belong to, their churches, their workplaces, their kid’s PTA meetings, etc., don’t tend to be looked on as heroes, they’re looked on as jerks or boors those groups soon stop hanging around with.