So far, 2015 looks like a pretty bad year for Title IX — and mainly because it has finally turned on the academic class that wielded it for their own purposes. The recent experiences of Professor Laura Kipnis, as well as the Rolling Stone hoax on the subject of “campus rape” and the use of ludicrously inflated statistics to feed what Kipnis calls “sexual paranoia” on campus, have put the moral panic in stark relief. An essay by a pseudonymous untenured academic on Vox underscored just how badly “higher education” has Bowdlerized itself in attempting to survive the latest witch hunt:
I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to “offensive” texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students’ ire and sealed his fate. That was enough to get me to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik — and I wasn’t the only one who made adjustments, either.
I am frightened sometimes by the thought that a student would complain again like he did in 2009. Only this time it would be a student accusing me not of saying something too ideologically extreme — be it communism or racism or whatever — but of not being sensitive enough toward his feelings, of some simple act of indelicacy that’s considered tantamount to physical assault. As Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis writes, “Emotional discomfort is [now] regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated.” Hurting a student’s feelings, even in the course of instruction that is absolutely appropriate and respectful, can now get a teacher into serious trouble. …
I wrote about this fear on my blog, and while the response was mostly positive, some liberals called me paranoid, or expressed doubt about why any teacher would nix the particular texts I listed. I guarantee you that these people do not work in higher education, or if they do they are at least two decades removed from the job search. The academic job market is brutal. Teachers who are not tenured or tenure-track faculty members have no right to due process before being dismissed, and there’s a mile-long line of applicants eager to take their place. And as writer and academic Freddie DeBoer writes, they don’t even have to be formally fired — they can just not get rehired. In this type of environment, boat-rocking isn’t just dangerous, it’s suicidal, and so teachers limit their lessons to things they know won’t upset anybody.
The New York Daily News has had enough of Title IX enforcement on speech, calling the result “thought crimes on campus.” The editors blasted the Obama administration’s guidances on Title IX that demanded low standards of proof for administrative review of allegations, and the star chambers that have erupted as a result. It’s time for Congress to intervene to put an end to the “insanity,” they write:
Madness has been unleashed on college campuses — not by drunken frat boys but by the White House.
A wildly mishandled Obama administration campaign to combat student sexual assaults has morphed under a federal gender-equality law into a nightmarish weapon against free speech and academic freedom.
The statute, called Title IX, obligates colleges to act on sexually related complaints to protect students from a hostile environment. But enforcement now encompasses any member of a college community deemed by an accuser to have prompted discomfort in connection with his or her sex. …
The fault is not with Northwestern, which is bound by law to pursue every complaint, but with federal regulators who wrongly saw in Title IX their key to a social revolution.
Not so fast. The law and the White House insistence on using it for social revolution are certainly big factors in the issue, but Northwestern — and Academia in general — share in this blame. Northwestern could have dispensed with the Kipnis investigation specifically by responding that the First Amendment allows for free speech, especially in political opinion, and that it didn’t fall under Title IX from the beginning. Failing that, it could have created a system that ensures due process to the accused, which is singularly lacking in most universities and colleges, where those accused rarely know the charges or get a presumption of innocence when proceedings begin.
Besides, as I argue in my column for The Fiscal Times today, who started the speech-police revolution and created the environment for Title IX abuse by government? Academia — and now their monster has turned on them:
What created this problem? Schlosser considers but dismisses the speech-hostile policies on campuses. The issue is “a simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice,” he concludes. Combined with intense competition for teaching jobs in higher education, academics now feel intimidated into limiting themselves essentially to telling students what they want to hear, and not just in class but anywhere on campus or even in publications unaffiliated with their institutions at all. Ironically, academics find themselves deprived of any free-speech zones at all.
This has little to do with feelings, as Schlosser and others in academia are belatedly discovering. The purpose is to impose each individual’s concept of social justice without actually doing any work traditionally associated with the concept. It’s easier to demand the cancellation of “an Afrobeat band because their lineup had too many white people in it” than it is to work to harmonize different cultures in the same space. It’s about enforcing identity over ideas, or entirely replacing ideas with blizzards of ever-changing boundary lines of victim constituencies.
Schlosser’s conclusion conveniently fails to follow through with the obvious next question. If students have “a stifling conception of social justice” that leans heavily on silencing dissent and policing speech and thought rather than engage on ideas, where did they learn it? The answer, for anyone who has attended either college, or paid attention to the proliferation of speech codes, development of “safe rooms and speech zones,” and the use of “triggers” to accuse people of harassment for what used to be rational debate, is pretty clear.
This is a stalking horse for censorship, not coincidentally of the same kind that college campuses have either encouraged or imposed for more than a generation on their students. The next generation will now experience “higher education” as an echo chamber, one in which teachers ensure that no cognitive dissonance enter the lives of those going into deep debt to experience what can only be considered an intellectual day-care, run by the toddlers. Those students have now become the masters. The academics created this monster, and now it has come for them. And us.
Now academics are shocked, shocked to discover that, come the revolution, they weren’t the last up against the wall. You know what that means.