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Berkeley Free Speech Woes Are Microcosm of U.S. Universities

The University of California, Berkeley has had a tumultuous year. Multiple episodes of speakers being denied a platform on campus have led to an outcry from student groups and free speech activists across the nation. Masked rioters have spurred on counter rioters, who have shown up to some events on campus and in the town of Berkeley itself willing to do battle on behalf of freedom of speech. At times, these demonstrations have devolved into street brawls.

This atmosphere, almost revolutionary in character, has loomed over the recently planned speech that was to have been given by right-leaning author Ann Coulter. At first, the University declined to allow Ms. Coulter to speak in the usual venues and at the usual times that other speakers use due to concerns over unmanageable disruptions and potential violence. Ms. Coulter declined the university’s offer to speak at an off-campus location at a time when most students were not attending classes, claiming that the university was intentionally attempting to stifle her ability to reach a new audience.

There was a series of negotiations between Ms. Coulter and the university’s administration. But these ended at an impasse. Eventually, Ms. Coulter vowed to give her speech in the center of campus anyway, despite being warned not to do so by the college administration. But this put the university itself in a tricky position. It would still be responsible for any unrest or injuries that occurred to students, whether or not it had extended permission to Ms. Coulter to speak. But finally, amid increasing threats of violence from far-left radicals, the organization that had originally invited Ms. Coulter, the Berkeley College Republicans, rescinded its invitation to her. The University of California, Berkeley is, as a result, currently being sued in federal court by a student group claiming that its right to hear Ms. Coulter has been infringed.

Tough Questions for University Administors: Pay the Price or Risk Reputation?

The American university system has recently been beset with a series of contentious incidents involving the ability of speakers to present their arguments before the student bodies. From Berkeley to Middlebury, riots have erupted and egos have been bruised where simple college talks, which in times past would have gone off without a hitch, have become battlegrounds for hyper-polarized students and outside agitators.

Damned if they do, damned if they don’t

For administrators like Nicholas Dirks, chancellor of University of California, Berkeley, being notified by a student group that the likes of Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter have been invited to your campus can put you squarely between a rock and a hard place.

Both of those misfortunes have befallen Mr. Dirks, who once again made headlines recently when the planned speech of Ann Coulter, a right wing author, was cancelled amid threats of violence and unrest. Mr. Dirks contends that he did everything he could. But Ms. Coulter first ended up voluntarily cancelling her speech because she would not have been allowed to address students in any of the usual campus venues normally afforded to speakers. Mr. Dirks responds that the refusal to allow Ms. Coulter to use the usual venues was a result of simply not being able to guarantee the safety and security of anyone in attendance.

Even so, Mr. Dirks offered Ms. Coulter an alternate venue at an alternate time. Even this, had she agreed to accept it, would have cost the university tens of thousands of dollars as a result of being forced to hire an additional 100 policemen to keep the peace. Ultimately, the invitation for Ms. Coulter to speak was rescinded by the group that had originally invited her after it received continued threats of violence.

The university is currently facing a lawsuit from a student group alleging 1st Amendment violations.

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.



Diversity Falls Victim at New York’s Elite Schools

The New York City Public School District is one of the largest in the country. With well over 1,000,000 students, it has often been the test bed for various experiments in education as well as a national trend setter for new ways of teaching America’s young. Recently, the district has received attention for the spectacular overrepresentation of some groups within its top high schools. This has become a lightning rod for some activist groups, who view the underrepresentation of blacks and Latinos as indicative of a pervasive, systemic racism that must be stamped out to ensure fairness.


On the other side of the argument are critics of tinkering with the meritocratic exam process, by which students are accepted into the eight elite high schools. These critics warn that any attempt to bring blacks and Latinos to parity with Asians will result in unintended consequences, such as the lowering of academic standards to the point where the elite high schools cease functioning as such.



The Asian Monolith


The city of New York has long set diversity targets for all of its schools. Grudging exceptions have been made for the city’s top-tier schools, which all have test-based entrance criteria, because the city has found it nearly impossible to even come close to having a demographically representative student body. For example, blacks and Latinos make up over 68 percent of the total students in the New York Public Schools district. However, at the city’s elite high schools, they amount to less than 10 percent of the student body. This is a major violation of the city’s diversity mandates, but it has been allowed to persist. The reasons stem from the unwillingness of the district to radically lower the entrance standards.


This has simultaneously led to a gigantic overrepresentation of Asians at these schools. Making up just a small fraction of the total students in the New York public school system, Asians comprise over 52 percent of the student bodies of the eight elite high schools.


In the meritocratic entrance system, diversity has become a clear loser and Asians reign victorious. It seems little can be done.

Diversity Is The First Victim of Meritocracy

The New York City School District has a system of stratified high schools that are seen in a few other major cities. However, most Americans may not be familiar with this system. Most smaller school districts found throughout the country’s mid-sized cities and towns have one or two high schools, which students are assigned to based on where they live.


But in New York, students have another option. They can apply to one of the city’s eight ultra-elite high schools, where academic rigor is often on-par with some of the country’s most elite prep schools. Since diplomas from these high schools are a virtual guarantee of admission to the nation’s top-tier colleges, including places like Caltech, Stanford and the Ivy League, competition for admission into the city’s top academies is extremely stiff.


Over the last decade, blacks and Latinos have become increasingly less represented at these schools. Making up over 68 percent of the total student body of the New York Public School District, blacks and Latinos make up less than 10 percent of the student bodies of the eight elite high schools. What’s worse, over the last ten years, administrators have actually gone to great lengths to increase the representation of blacks and Latinos among the student bodies of these schools. Instead of seeing progress, thing have actually gotten worse. It has long been the explicit policy of the New York Public School District to meet certain minimum diversity standards or quotas. But it seems that the meritocratic entrance process has made a victim of diversity, replacing it instead with Asians, a group that has become wildly overrepresented in those schools.


Asians, a group that makes up only the tiniest fraction of the total student body of New York’s schools, have come to utterly dominate the eight elite high schools, representing over 52 percent of the student body. Experts point to the Asian tendency to highly value education and the demographic’s parenting styles which often include strenuous test preparation regimens. Whatever the cause, the problem is not going away anytime soon. Asians have continued to represent even more of the student body, year over year.