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College Administrators Grapple With Free Speech Issues

Throughout the country, colleges have been swamped with incidents involving students and others vocally opposing the appearance of various speakers. This has usually taken the form of right-leaning speakers having their platform denied by hecklers or other aggressive activism on the part of student groups. However, in some cases it has been avowedly liberal administrators and staff themselves who have become the targets of anti-free speech activism.

 

This has befuddled a number of administrators, many of whom recall no precedent for the current level of tension and angst surrounding the right of speakers with challenging or unpopular views to be given space to address college campuses.

 

At Middlebury College, one such incident unfolded when Charles Murray, a liberal-leaning libertarian social scientist, attempted to give a speech in the college’s auditorium. The speech was emceed by Allison Stanger, one of the colleges most progressive and liberal professors with a long record of fighting for social justice causes. Still, the speech was shut down when a group of students declared that Mr. Murray was a racist, based on a small subsection of a book which he and a fellow social scientist had published over 25 years before.

 

Mr. Murray repeatedly tried to give his speech to the assembled audience but was heckled and shouted down with such vigor that Mrs. Stanger opted to move the speaker into a closed room, from which he broadcast the speech over a closed circuit television system.

 

But things came to a head when, upon leaving through a back door, a mob descended on Murray and Stanger, who was accompanying him to his car. In the ensuing melee, Mrs. Stanger was struck so violently that she required hospitalization and is currently in neck brace. Mr. Murray was unharmed.

 

Such is the level of hysteria that even liberal speakers are causing on today’s campuses.

A Report Card for Trump’s Education Plan

United States President Donald Trump has taken considerable flack from just about every direction during his first 100 days in office, but not much has been mentioned with regard to public education.

 

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos did not start off on the right foot as she brought on more political opposition than any other cabinet member appointed by Trump. Since then, critics have mentioned that DeVos is set to “destroy” American public education. This, of course, can be easily considered hyperbole; nonetheless, national news broadcaster Univision recently published a sort of report card on what the Secretary really has planned for her term.

 

Although DeVos is one of the most powerful advocates of vouchers to allow students to enroll in private schools at a cost to taxpayers, there is not much she can do to advance this intention.

 

DeVos has said she will not impose voucher programs because she cannot technically do so; however, she keeps talking about the value of religious education, and this is something that makes some people nervous.

 

A broader impact could come from policies pushed by a lobby group associated with DeVos: a tax credit program for families to contribute towards private school scholarships for their children. This approach is already practiced in 17 states, and DeVos could push towards greater adoption at the cost of making political enemies not just for herself but also for Trump.

 

The White House does not seem to worry about education or about DeVos, and there really should not be many reasons to worry anyway; after all, prior policies from the Obama administration gave more power to individual states than to the Department of Education.

 

By the standards of the Bush administration, Trump would get an F in education, but times and policy have changed. The less the White House gets involved in education, the easier it would be for states to determine what should be done. In the end, Trump gets a C.

 

Campus Skirmishes Raise Questions About Colleges’ Role in Ensuring Speech

Over the last two years, various incidents have taken place at American universities that have brought to the forefront a number of serious questions about the scope and limitation of freedom of speech on the nation’s campuses. From Berkeley to the University of Missouri, students, faculty and outside speakers have tangled, at times violently, over who should be permitted a public venue and what they should be allowed to say.

 

While this may seem little more than fodder for amusing op-eds to the great mass of Americans, it has far-reaching consequences. Few things have been more important to the creation of modern society than freedom of academic inquiry. In fact, it is often precisely the suppression of ideas that is pointed to as the chief reason that the Dark Ages persisted for so long. Figures like Galileo and even Leonardo Da Vinci once faced the possibility of burning at the stake for countervening the teachings of the Church. Some fear that our modern society has gotten to the point where political correctness is taking on some of the worst characteristics of the Catholic Church of old.

 

But on a more practical level, the administrators grappling with these issues face immediate and stark consequences. The University of Missouri is an example of campus unrest causing real damage. In 2016, Melissa Click, a professor there, was fired over controversial speech. The following semester, applications dropped by nearly 30 percent.

 

In Berkeley, Nicholas Dirks, the chancellor, had attempted to give controversial speaker Ann Coulter a venue in which to address the campus. His plan called for up to 100 extra police officers, a number that would have cost the university tens of thousands of dollars for a speech lasting just a few hours. Ms. Coulter ultimately rejected the offer and the university is currently being sued by a student group.

 

 

Universities Struggle to Strike Perfect Balance on Free Speech

In a recent op-ed, Nicholas Dirks, Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, reveals the extreme difficulty he and his peers in the American University system face when dealing when problems surrounding the freedom of controversial speakers to address their campuses.

 

The most recent event to embattle Berkeley, often credited as the birthplace of the so-called Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, was the planned speech by right wing author Ann Coulter. Ms. Coulter was invited at the behest of the Berkeley student group Berkeley College Republicans, but her planned speech almost immediately ran into trouble.

 

First, the University couldn’t grant her access to the usual venues that are used to accommodate speakers on the campus. Mr. Dirks cited security threats as the primary reason for denying Ms. Coulter the ability to speak in one of the normal venues. Next, the University extended her an invitation to speak in the venue of her choice but at a time when fewer students would be around. This offer was rejected by Ms. Coulter, saying that scheduling her at times when students will not be present was an unacceptable abridgment of her first amendment rights.

 

Ms. Coulter went against the wishes of Mr. Dirks and the rest of the Berkeley administration, vowing to give the speech at the time and place of her choosing. This enraged many campus activists groups, prompting threats of violence, should the planned speech go forward. These threats finally caused the group that had invited her to withdraw their invitation. A group is now suing the university concerning the violation of the rights of students to hear Ms. Coulter speak.

 

All the while, Mr. Dirks insists that even his plan to provide Ms. Coulter with a suitable venue at an alternative, less crowded time would have set the university back tens of thousands of dollars.

University Administrators Walk Fine Line With Student Demonstrations

Universities throughout the United States have been recently besieged by a flurry of student demonstrations against causes ranging from unpopular speakers on campus to perceived unfairness against different identity groups. While such disturbances are nothing new to the U.S. higher education system, a system with a long and storied career of student activism, the tone, intensity and often the message of the new wave of activism is something that is largely unprecedented.

Mizzou looms large in every administrator’s mind

Recently, Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of University of California, Berkeley, wrote an op-ed where he attempted to clear the air and describe the travails he faces as an administrator who, on the one hand, is making every effort to protect the rights of students to speak and hear others speak but who also has a college to run, with a finite budget and real-world business considerations. Perhaps more than any other recent event, these episodes have brought into focus the challenging job that administrators face while running complex publicly funded organizations that nevertheless rely heavily on attracting the brightest students.

One event that has put things into stark relief for administrators facing potential student unrest is the case of the University of Missouri. In 2016, a liberal Mizzou professor was fired for speech that she believed was both protected and appropriate. Still, this was not enough for some Mizzou student activists. They created a huge uproar on campus, nearly leading to the cancellation of the entire football season. The melee drove a deluge of negative publicity about the school.

In addition to facing a million-dollar lawsuit filed by the former teacher, the University’s enrollment dropped by almost 30 percent the following semester. If Mizzou is unable to make up for that shortfall, the entire University could face bankruptcy within a few, short years. It is nightmare scenarios like this that keep college deans up at night.

American Universities Grapple with Limits of Free Speech

Over the last two years, American universities have been besieged by a polarized social and political climate that has brought to the forefront various serious questions about the role that institutions of higher education, especially those receiving public funding dollars, should have in guaranteeing free speech.

Recently, these issues have once again been thrust into the national spotlight with the events surrounding a planned speech by right-wing author Ann Coulter on the Campus of the University of California, Berkely. The author has been unafraid to take controversial positions over her career, a move that has served her well, propelling many of her books to rank on the New York Times bestseller list.

But the current questions are not ones of political viewpoint or soundness of arguments. Ms. Coulter forced to withdraw from her planned speaking engagement when the University was unable to accommodate her in a suitable venue and her original sponsors, the Berkeley College Republicans, simultaneously withdrew their invitation, amid fears of violence. The irony is that Berkeley was the birthplace of the so-called Free Speech Movement, a movement started in the 1960s, partially with the aim of promoting the ability of all speakers, no matter their viewpoints, to be permitted access to America’s university campuses.

This latest cancellation of a speaker at Berkeley comes amid a series of similar incidents. Last year, another speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos, also characterized as conservative, was likewise denied a platform at the college. That time, however, his speech was cut short by rioters who had apparently come from off-campus solely for the purpose of disrupting Mr. Yiannopoulos’ speech.

This has raised questions as to the responsibilities Berkeley itself has to guarantee a platform to all speakers. Conservative activists have pointed to the multiple instances of speakers being denied as evidence that the college administration is biased in favor of more liberal speakers.

New York’s Elite High School Admissions Raises Questions Of Fairness

Throughout the United States, most school districts have one or perhaps two high schools. Attendance at these is determined solely on the basis of where the students live. This is the model that, perhaps, 90 percent of the nation’s students are familiar with. But there is also a network, less familiar to many, of elite prep schools, where the very rich and well-connected send their children. These are the stomping grounds of families such as the Rockefellers and Bushes. A diploma all but guarantees the student’s choice of admissions into the most elite universities in the country.

 

However, in some cities, like New York, the public schools themselves offer an equivalent level of exclusivity to some of the best-performing members of the student body. In the case of New York, the city operates eight elite high schools. These have records of student placement at top universities that rival some of the most elite boarding schools in the country. A ticket into one of these hallowed institutions is all but a guarantee, for a smart and hardworking student, of being accepted into the likes of Stanford, Caltech or Yale.

 

 

The Asian Dilemma

 

But New York has quickly found itself grappling with the idea that not all forms of diversity are desirable. As the school district has increasingly found the elite admissions process dominated by East Asians, administrators have tried to prevent the ever widening and disproportionate gap between Asian academic excellence and black and Latino academic failure. Together, blacks and Latinos make up 68 percent of the total student population of the district, but they only represent 9 percent of the students accepted to elite schools. And it’s even worse than this at first appears. That’s because district administrators have been expending great resources to make sure more blacks and Latino take the admissions exams and are adequately prepared to pass them. Despite these efforts, the number of blacks and Latinos qualified for admission into the city’s elite high schools has actually fallen. They’ve simply proven no match for the unrelenting industriousness and innate talent of the Asian newcomers.

 

Diversity Compromised As New York’s Elite Schools Come Under Fire

New York’s school district has long had a few elite schools where the absolute top members of its student body can flower, unencumbered by their lower performing peers. Today, the eight schools that makes up the district’s cream of the crop allow only about 5,000 students, in total, to get in. This is taken from a total student body of over 1,000,000. At just a half a percent, these schools are as elite as some of the most exclusive boarding schools in the country.

 

 

Seeing crimson on the road to Harvard

 

The eight elite schools are such an ironclad guarantee of future accomplishment and admission to some of the nation’s most storied universities that the admissions process has become one of the most competitive in the country. But this meritocratic meat grinder has left the road to the ruling class strewn with diversity’s discards. It seems that, when set to compete with groups who are both innately talented and hard-driven as a thoroughbred race horse, the less academically inclined suffer the consequences.

 

The case of New York’s schools has followed the same general pattern seen throughout the United States. That pattern involves hard-working Asians, most of whom come from countries in East Asia with the highest national IQs in the world, displacing native Americans throughout the nation’s most prestigious universities by outcompeting them on contests of pure merit.

 

In the case of New York’s elite schools, the hardest hit by this Asian academic tsunami have been the nation’s historically oppressed and marginalized groups, blacks and Latinos. Throughout the New York City Public School District, Latinos and blacks make up over 68 percent of the student body but just 9 percent of that of the eight elite schools. Contrarily, Asians make up just a microscopic fraction of the overall student population but dominate the elite schools utterly, comprising a full 52 percent of their students.

 

These stark disparities have been decried by proponents of diversity as being woefully unfair. However, those defending the outrageously disproportionate numbers point out that the sheer size of the disparities mean that, to accommodate diversity, standards would have to be lowered so radically that the elite schools would lose all academic credibility.

 

 

Asian Dominance of Admissions to Elite Schools Raises Questions of Fairness

What is the nature of fairness? This is the fundamental question that New York Public Schools administrators are grappling with, as Asian dominance of the admissions process comes into the public spotlight in yet another venue.

 

 

The Tiger’s Claw Rips Ungoverned

 

Asians have long dominated admissions to the top-tier U.S. universities. This has led to considerable push back from administrators, who have been alarmed at the increasingly monolithic sea of East Asians that have populated the student bodies of such elite institutions as Stanford, Caltech and Harvard. This effort to reduce the number of qualified Asians who are ultimately accepted into the country’s top institutions has led to shocking discrimination against Asians and violations of the meritocratic ideals of these elite colleges in favor of “holistic” or subjective admissions approaches.

 

This has led to vigorous debate over the ironic role of discrimination in ensuring fairness. Since, by most definitions of the word fair, discrimination is ipso facto antithetical to any notion of fairness, it follows that discrimination cannot be permitted in ensuring fairness. But here, special meanings take precedence over common usage. In diverse settings, where one group excels at the direct expense of another, the term fairness can often be applied to mean equality of outcomes. In some instances, this is a perfectly reasonable, even uncontroversial interpretation of fairness. One example where this may be seen is in feeding hungry children. No halfway compassionate person wants to see children starve. Even though there are huge, demonstrable disparities between the life circumstances and what led to them of impoverished children and those who spend their summers at the country club pool, basic fairness dictates that these children at least have full stomachs when they go to school in the morning.

 

However, such formulations begin to take on a different, more menacing hue when applied to areas where meritocracy is clearly desirable. For example, no one wants to fly on a jetliner whose engine was designed by a completely unqualified charity hire. In this case, the MIT grad should be qualified above all other things and to their exclusion, if necessary.

Is Asian Dominance of Elite NY Schools a Product of High IQ?

Asians have long dominated American academics. This has been most notable in the area of elite college admissions. As documented by Ron Unz, Asian Americans have become one of the most discriminated against minorities in the history of U.S. education, far surpassing even the overt discrimination that Jews experienced in the early part of the 20th century. Even so, Asians still dominate the ranks of students at places such as Standford and Caltech. This dominance is in spite of the vast discrimination they face in the admissions process at those very institutions.

 

 

The Asian tiger awakens in New York City high schools

 

Recently, questions over Asian academic dominance have come up regarding New York City’s eight elite high schools. Asians have become increasingly dominant at these schools, pushing out other more historically oppressed minorities. This has raised serious concerns among district administrators, who are unable to meet diversity quotas for the city’s top schools.

 

However, this also raises the same questions that Mr. Unz has uncovered in his reporting. Among the top five IQ countries in the world, all are East Asian. Since many Asian Americans are either first generation immigrants or children or grandchildren of immigrants, it follows that these populations may actually be even more stringently selected from an already high IQ group. This means that they will naturally dominate any academic setting into which they are placed. This would be all well and good. However, elite schools are not a positive-sum game. With limited classroom seats, for every Asian that is admitted, one black or Latino is necessarily excluded. This affront to the fundamental tenets of diversity has caused much consternation among academicians throughout the United States.

 

In the case of New York, even giving blacks and Latinos radically favorable treatment, to the detriment of Asians, has had no discernible effect. The vast gaps persist. The only thing that has been shown to actually work is radical group-specific lowering of standards. But critics of this course strenuously warn against it. They claim that, at worst, it could lower the standards of elite institutions so far that they lose all prestige.