The strange case of UIUC adjunct Kenneth Howell

Fox News has an article on the controversy involved in the “not firing firing” of UIUC (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) adjunct professor Kenneth Howell for private Emails expressing what some read as approval of Catholic doctrine on same-sex relationships. The case is less black and white than either side lets on, but disturbing nevertheless. A few impromptu remarks on this drama playing out at what is, interestingly, the birthplace of the first widely available web browser (Mosaic, which later became Netscape).

Dr. Howell is an interesting character. An ordained Presbyterian minister by background, he converted to Catholicism and moved to UIUC to become involved with the Catholic student center, of which he eventually became the director. He simultaneous started teaching as  an adjunct associate professor on Catholic doctrine at UIUC, and by all accounts was popular with the students and well-liked by them. He was given an award for teaching excellence.

In an Email responding to a query about this, he expounded the reasoning behind Catholic doctrine on same-sex relationships, specifically the “Natural law” argument. He, however, did not state this in a manner disassociating himself personally from this doctrine (“Catholic moralists defending this doctrine put forward the following arrgument:”[…] or something of the sort). As he himself is by all accounts a devout Catholic, it was understood by some as personally agreeing with them, which led to complaints against him and his annual contract not being renewed. (Technically he was not fired, but I am familiar enough with academia to know how appearances are kept there.)

Leaving aside Jewish (or my own) views on homosexuality, I am personally of two minds about the affair. On the one hand, every college lecturer would do well to remember the admonishment of Avtalyon in Pirkei Avot 1:11: “Scholars, heed your words. For you may be exiled to a place of evil waters [i.e., malicious elements who will distort your words to suit their purposes]. The disciples who come after you will then drink of these evil waters and be destroyed, and the Name of Heaven will be desecrated.” On the other hand, for every Dr. Howell there are dozens of lecturers and professors who vigorously advocate Marxism (a doctrine in whose name even more people have been killed than in the name of National Socialism), spout antisemitic and/or anti-American drivel from their bully pulpits,… with impunity. (OK, most of these enjoy the protection of tenure, unlike Dr. Howell.)

Meanwhile, as the Fox article explains, students have rallied to his defense, including from some rather… unexpected groups.

Thousands of supporters are rallying behind Dr. Kenneth Howell, the University of Illinois professor fired for expressing his Catholic beliefs, via a \”Save Dr. Ken\” Facebook group.”
“It’s turning into a whole movement for freedom of speech in the classroom,” said senior Tim Fox, a member of the group and former resident at the university’s Catholic student Newman Center.The “Save Dr. Ken” Facebook group includes alumni, current students and outside supporters who are familiar with Howell through his books or his appearances on EWTN, a Catholic television network. Howell is actively involved in the group and has written personal responses to some of his Facebook supporters.

“Save Dr. Ken” is actively working to take its protest beyond Facebook. Its home page offers detailed instructions on how to protest Howell’s dismissal, separately tailored to students, alumni and outside supporters. […]

Students are also organizing a mass boycott of all university religion courses unless Howell is reinstated by the fall, Melissa Silverberg, editor-in-chief of the university’s student newspaper, the Daily Illini, confirmed.

Howell is a popular professor; his students voted for him to receive an “Excellence in Teaching” award last fall, and now they are rallying for him.

[…] Students at the center are not the only ones protesting. The campus secularist group, Atheists, Agnostics & Freethinkers, has taken up Howell’s cause. Howell had worked with the group in the past, helping organize a public debate between an atheist and a Catholic on “Does the Christian God Exist?” last February. Its president wrote a letter to the university chancellor, Robert Easter, saying, “[Howell] has shown a commitment to the questioning of all ideas. His loss is a profound blow to the University of Illinois and its purpose… Who will next be silenced?”“Even people who disagree with what [Howell] taught think that his firing was wrong,” said Silverberg.

But not everyone is in Howell’s corner. Some students say they are not so sure he should be coming back.

“I wouldn’t necessarily get behind this protest,” said David Bettinardi, a senior. “Teachers can abuse their authority, and if a teacher talks about his personal beliefs in class, it becomes less education and more indoctrination. That’s true for a professor with any set of beliefs – atheist, Catholic, whatever.”

Other students said Howell’s dismissal was not just an issue of freedom of speech, but revealed a double standard at the university.

“Professor Howell didn’t mean to insult homosexuals; he was just stating the Catholic position,” said Mike Hamoy, a senior chemistry major who took Howell’s class in fall 2009. “I’ve had multiple professors who have mocked how much Catholic families reproduce or who have implied to the class that God is a joke. Why aren’t these professors fired for their open insults?”

The logic behind the double standards is very simple, Mike. If you agree with the Anointed and thus are a loyal member of the New Class, you can get away with nearly anything. But woe unto those who dare stray off the reservation, or who simply are “not one of us”…

Did Yale prof imply lots of fakes could do degree coursework just fine?

I have some trouble wrapping my brain around this Insty item:

RUSSIAN SPY MAY LOSE HARVARD DEGREE, and James Joyner asks: “By all accounts, Bezrukov completed the program and earned the degree in the same way as any other student. A decade ago. So, what’s the problem? He lied about his name, of course, but so what? Presumably, he also used fake credentials to get into the program. Maybe he wouldn’t have been admitted based on his actual qualifications. But that seems trumped by the fact that he was obviously qualified to do the work since, um, he did the work.” I remember a professor telling me about a fake-student case at Yale; she’d done the work satisfactorily but was still booted. Explanation: “We turn down lots of people who could do the work satisfactorily if they got in. If we start letting them stay on that basis even if they’re frauds, we’ll have a lot more frauds show up.” But, you know, that’s Yale. The Harvard crowd seems to have more trouble figuring out how the incentives created by a policy will play out . . . .

Let me get this straight. Does this imply that Ivy League colleges actual standards for coursework (at least in the luftgescheften) are a lot more lenient than their admission standards?

I remember a day when getting into an elite university (at least in the sciences) meant you actually got a superior training as well… Why am I getting uncomfortably reminded of a real estate bubble?

NAS compiles dossier on AGW “deniers”, including… NAS members

This is the sort of thing that, if this were even possible, would make me feel ashamed to call myself a scientist. Frank Tipler:

The National Academy of Sciences, in its official journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has just published a list of scientists whom it claims should not be believed on the subject of global warming. I am number 38 on the list. The list of 496 is in descending order of scientific credentials.

Professor Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the Royal Society, is number 3 on the list. Dyson is a friend of mine and is one of the creators of relativistic quantum field theory; most physicists think he should have shared the Nobel Prize in Physics with Richard Feynman. MIT professor Richard Lindzen, a meteorologist who is also a member of the National Academy, is number 4. Princeton physics professor William Happer, once again a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is number 6.

I’m in good company.

The list is actually available only online. The published article, which links to the list, argues that the skeptical scientists — the article calls us “climate deniers,” trying to equate us with Holocaust deniers — have published less in climate “science” than believers in anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

True.

But if the entire field of climate “science” is suspect, if the leaders of the field of climate “science” are suspected of faking their results and are accused of arranging for their critics’ papers to be rejected by “peer-reviewed” journals, then lack of publication in climate “science” is an argument for taking us more seriously than the leaders of the climate “science.”

Freeman Dyson, for example, was not trained as a physicist but as a mathematician. His contribution to quantum field theory was applying his mathematical skills to showing that Feynman’s work was mathematically rigorous and mathematically equivalent to another formulation due to Julian Schwinger (who shared the Nobel with Feynman). Freeman has spent the fifty years after this work switching from field to field, always making important contributions to these fields, and making them precisely because he has looked at the evidence from a different point of view.

Dick Lindzen actually is an insider in real climate science, but he is an insider who can’t be bought, an insider who follows the evidence rather than the grant money.

Will Happer is mainly an experimental atomic physicist, but a physicist who has a decades-old reputation for investigating extraordinary claims in all areas of physics.  Will was one of the experimentalists who exposed the cold fusion scam a number of years ago.

As for myself, I’m a cosmologist, with a special interest in the anthropic principle, as my National Academy of Sciences security police dossier correctly notes. Twenty odd years ago, I co-authored a book, published by Oxford University Press, on the anthropic principle. As my co-author and I pointed out, the essence of the anthropic principle is eliminating human bias from the interpretation of observations, and we focused mainly on eliminating such bias from cosmology.

“Seek the truth wherever thou mayest find it” has, sadly, become “seek grant money wherever thou mayest find it” for all too many.

For rather more refreshing reading, have a look at the website of Israeli astrophysicist Nir Shaviv, http://www.sciencebits.com,  A couple of suggestions: “Cosmic rays and climate“, and “ClimateGate and the hockey stick: not news to me“.

Elena Kagan and Aharon Barak

SCOTUS nomnee Elena Kagan appears to be a big fan of Aharon Barak. Who is he, you wonder?

He was the longtime president of Israel’s BaGa”TZ (beit gavoha letzedek, Israel’s Supreme Court). Recognized by friend and foe as a brilliant legal mind, he acted as something like a legal philosopher-king who felt it was his duty to impose his enlightened vision on us benighted.

An activist’s activist judge, his most notorious quote is probably his assertion that “hakol shafit” (“everything is justiciable”/everything is subject to judicial review).

Granted, Barak operated in a legal vacuum a lot more often than his colleagues in the USA ever will, and Nature abhors a vacuum in law as well as in other things. And his activism was tempered somewhat by other factors, such as some degree of acccommodation of Israel’s security neeeds and a desire to recruit Supreme Court justices from perspectives other than his own.

in fact, this too is something he may have in common with Elena Kagan.

More on the higher education bubble

Via Insty, I discovered this long blog post at “Musings from the hinterland” on the education bubble. It mostly, together with two earlier posts here and  here, addresses the wrong-headed policy of pushing everybody to get a college degree — regardless of interest or aptitude — and the consequences, such as “diploma inflation” and crippling student debts on the part of college dropouts admitted at schools that were beyond their intellectual means in the first place.

Interesting discussion in the comments, especially at the first post.

8 reasons why college tuition is the next bubble to burst

Via Insty and others, a nice summary of 8 reasons why college tuition is the next big bubble to burst: (the article is apparently so popular the site exceeded its bandwidth limit, here is the Google cache)

1) Tuition is, and has been, increasing at double the rate of inflation

On average, college tuition increases at around 8 percent per year, which means the cost of college doubles every nine years.  Because colleges know that students will simply borrow more money to cover tuition increases, colleges have been relying on steady tuition hikes to solve all of their money problems.  If this continues a college degree will soon cost as much as a house.

2) Students are borrowing more than ever to pay for college

The number of college students graduating with over $25,000 in student loan debt has tripled in the past decade alone.  Today, 66% of students borrow to pay for college, taking on an average of $23,165 in debt.  Twelve years ago, 58% borrowed to pay for college, taking on only $13,172 in debt.

3) For profit colleges are paying homeless people to take out federal loans to enroll

Because student loans are so easy to acquire, enterprising colleges are paying homeless people to enroll.  The math makes sense when you think about it: if paying someone a $2,000 “stipend” gets the college $20,000/year in tuition courtesy of the federal government, that’s money well spent.  Unfortunately, many people who accept such “stipend” offers never graduate, become overwhelmed with student debt, and destroy their already bad financial records.

4) Colleges are on a non-teaching staff hiring spree that far outpaces enrollment

Why hire a full-time professor when you can hire an “environmental sustainability officer”?  According to the a New York Times article, over the past two decades colleges have doubled their non-teaching staff, while enrollment has only increased by 40%.  Often times staff members have exotic duties like monitoring environmental sustainability, or their focus is on student “lifestyle.”  Economist Daniel Bennett, who conducted this study, says “Universities and colleges are catering more to students, trying to make college a lifestyle, not just people getting an education. There’s more social programs, more athletics, more trainers, more sustainable environmental programs.”  Of course, much this exotic hiring and lifestyle catering is made possible by student loan money.

5) For profit reliance on federal loans has reached an all time high

According to Bloomberg, publicly traded higher education companies derive three-fourths of their revenue from federal funds, up from just 48 percent in 2001 and approaching the 90 percent limit set by federal law.  The fact that colleges are almost completely relying on borrowed money to finance tuition, up to the legal limit, means we’ve almost hit the breaking point.  If not for the easy student loan money sloshing around, many colleges would go belly up tomorrow.

6) Schools are spending on luxurious amenities to lure in more students

Flush with student loan money and wanting to attract even more, colleges are increasingly spending on luxury dorms, gyms, swimming pools and other amenities.

Freakonomics author Stephen Dubner noted that when he went back to his college, a chancellor told him that “[the gym] was a top priority because parents and prospective students increasingly think of themselves as customers, shopping for the most amenities for the best price, and the colleges that didn’t come to grips with this would soon see their customers going elsewhere.”  But gyms are just the tip of the ice burg.  At High Point University in North Carolina, students are treated to valet parking, live music in the cafeteria and Starbucks gift cards on their birthdays.

7) College president salaries are sky high, even in a historical economic downturn

USA Today reported that 23 Private College Presidents Made More Than $1 Million in 2008, while 110 made more than $500,000.  In case you were wondering, this is not the norm — as recently as 2002, there were no million-dollar presidents.  And it’s no wonder the college administrator gravy train continues despite the down economy.  After all, when your “customers” have easy access to credit and pay you with money they don’t have, the economy doesn’t really matter, does it?

8) The student loan problem cuts across all schools, for profit and nonprofit

Often times the discussion about a high tuition leads to a flogging of for profit colleges.  And while for profit colleges are often the worst about shamelessly fattening themselves at the trough of student loans, it’s not a for profit vs. non profit issue. In fact, for profit colleges account for less than half of student loan defaults.  Nor is the issue one of “good colleges” vs. “bad colleges.”  As this New York Times article illustrates, even students at prestigious non-profit schools like NYU can find themselves in financially ruinous circumstances because of their student loans.

Shanghaiing homeless people into enrolling in college so they can get student loans… This is the sort of absurdity that one normally encounters in over-the-top satirical novels…

The higher education bubble about to burst

Two great articles about the college tuition bubble about to burst: subprime goes to college, and, by Instaman himself: Instaman’s own Washington Examiner piece.

What is the root of all evil here? Is it the utterly misguided idea that everybody — including people with average or below-average intelligence — needs a college education (how about actually teaching something in high school instead)? Is it the proliferation of vapid make-believe majors of the ‘studies’ ilk, while engineering and hard sciences increasingly have to recruit (legal) immigrant students from abroad? Is it the use, by employers, of irrelevant college degrees as a proxy for standardized tests which employers are no longer allowed to administer, leading to situations where BA/BS college degrees become an admissions ticket to jobs that don’t require a college education to begin with? Is it the availability of cheap student loans with no regard for whether the graduate will be gainfully employed at a level that will enable him/her to repay the loan? (Insty gives the example of somebody with $100K in student loan debt who got a degree in gender and religious studies, currently employed as a photographer’s assistant and having trouble making payments meet.) Is it the fact that ‘studies’ degrees have a much higher profit margin for colleges than labor-intensive, high-cost degree programs in STEM fields (=science, technology, and medicine)?

My answer would be: all of the above.

Why you don’t want professors ruling you

The late lamented William F. Buckley famously quipped that he would rather be governed by the first 500 people in the Cambridge, MA phone directory (i.e., a random sample) than 500 Harvard professors. Stuart Schwartz, himself a professor, explains at some length why. Welcome to the club of “traitors to the New Class”, Stu.

This is an administration stuffed with academics. And not just any academic: These are educators from elite universities, the kind of experts prized by a political and media elite seeking confirmation of a worldview that expects, notes the Washington Examiner, “the rest of us … to shut up and do as we are told.”

Inside the Beltway, “Harvard know-it-allness” is a prized commodity; outside, its practitioners are largely regarded as “obnoxious and arrogant” in the classroom and “jaw-droppingly incompetent” out of it. Small wonder trust in government has hit a fifty-year low.
Welcome to government by professor. Assorted faculty of Ivy League schools have come together to form an administration with the least real-world and most academic experience of any in modern times, the American Enterprise Institute notes. And so we have a government of scolds, lecturers, and bullies, arrogant academics cheered on by mainstream media when they take a “paddle” to average citizens and taxpayers.
Main Street, say hello to Harvard Drive, Chicago Place, and Berkeley Boulevard. The latter are roads that begin in the elite universities and bring “someone better than you” to power in Washington, D.C. Or so says the dean of the School of Law at the University of California at Berkeley, a card-carrying member of what David Brooks of the New York Times fawningly calls “the educated class.”
It’s okay to be ordinary, a “swiller of beer,” Berkeley Dean Christopher Edley, Jr. says, but it takes a “superior intellect” like that of Barack Obama and his taxpayer-paid faculty, Ivy Leaguers most, to understand the needs of Main Street.
The dean well represents the arrogance of an educated class who sees the ordinary taxpayer as raw material to be shaped by regulations wielded by their intellectual superiors, as one of those superiors — Obama regulatory czar Cass Sunstein — has written.
Smart people lead and ordinary people follow, Dr. Sunstein maintains, showing the common touch developed during a lifetime on the law faculties of the University of Chicago and Harvard. He is part of a new breed of executive gathered by the [wannabe-]Professor-in-Chief, all of whom share the view that Joe the Plumber and Millie the Hairstylist are too simple to understand their real needs…and require a federal government led by an educated elite to regulate them into appropriate behavior and values.
Ordinary taxpayers, those who simply live life and take up space in the world outside of the faculty lounge…well, it’s about time they recognized that, as the Berkeley dean noted, “what’s good for Harvard and Yale [is] good for America.” […] It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a Harvard Ph.D. to raise the consciousness of a nation of village idiots.
And so they gather in Washington to “reengineer” your life according to the “abstract theories” they have taught for so many years, as political observer Michael Barone put it. Witness the latest addition to the administration’s professorial ranks: Dr. Donald Berwick, the Harvard Medical School professor picked to head the Medicare program. Of course, his knowledge of senior health care is academic, having never actually treated seniors.
But he has consulted for National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), the infamous British rationing board that is responsible for killing more ailing seniors through long waits and treatment denials than any single disease in the United Kingdom. […] With classic understatement, Thomas Lifson noted that the “skill set of the faculty lounge rarely translates into great leadership.” He points to the nation’s last professor-president, Woodrow Wilson, who “paved the way for the emergence of fascism” at the beginning of the last century.
Where professors rule, life is cruel. Elite professors have routinely championed thugs and butchers. Ivy League campuses and at least three of Obama’s czars continue to extol the virtues of communism, “a totalitarian and bloodthirsty theory that killed one hundred million people in the 20th century.”
And Nazis and Nazi sympathizers have always found a home among our nation’s educated elite. Just this past month, Dr. Stephen H. Norwood of the University of Oklahoma published what critics are calling the definitive study of the relationship of America’s elite universities with the Nazi. In The Third Reich in the Ivory Tower: Complicity and Conflict on American Campuses, Norwood is blunt: Our top universities, led by Harvard and Columbia, openly supported Nazi Europe and gave faculty jobs to Nazis who were no longer welcome in Europe after the Second World War.
[…]”Hail the Conquering Professor,” the New York Times proclaimed after passage of health care legislation that takes life and death decisions away from Main Street and empowers the White House faculty lounge. This is the elite group that has given the nation its highest unemployment in three decades, an “ever-expanding government” with exploding payrolls, and who has created a “debt time bomb” threatening the prosperity and freedoms built by generations of “beer swillers” over more than two hundred years.

Read the whole thing. A summary of the Stephen H. Norwood book (published by an obscure bloghost called Cambridge University Press ;-)) can be found here. I ordered the book itself and (G-d willing) will find time to review it upon reading. What I managed to skim via “look inside” looks pretty revealing — and damning, even for somebody broadly familiar with US academia in the 1930s.

Some readers may wonder why humanities academics, of all people, would succumb to flirtations with antidemocratic or post-democratic ideas, be they authoritarianism, its softened guise of paternalism, or its hardened expression as totalitarianism. I do not share this surprise. Humanities academics deal in ideas, and becoming intoxicated by ideas is a professional hazard for them. (Those of us in sciences and engineering may be equally open to intellectual delusions of grandeur, but at least get reminded periodically that “Nature cannot be fooled”, as the great Richard Feynman put it.) The tragicomic history of academics being outright apologists, or mere “useful idiots”, for Communism, Nazism, and now islamofascism should be a cautionary tale for all of us, including about the much broader phenomenon of academics feeling affinity with the “kid-glove tyranny” of transnational oligarchic collectivism.

ADDENDUM: On a related matter, Isi Leibler explains how, sadly, even Israeli universities are not immune to antisemitic academentia (or should this be properly considered an “autoimmune disease” in that specific case?)

The Harvard-Yale Supreme Court

Via a guestblogger at Insty, a prime example of the New Class sense of entitlement:

WELL, THAT’S ALL RIGHT THEN:  Dean Chris Edley (now of Berkeley, formerly of Harvard) explains why we shouldn’t worry our pretty little heads about a Harvard-Yale lock on the Supreme Court.  You see, any worries about elitism and a narrow vision of American values have been solved, by affirmative action:

The gatekeeper power of such institutions is why it was so important to desegregate them (using affirmative action, among other tools) and why virtually all leaders of great universities talk about diversity and access.

For about 40 years now, all the top law schools have tried to pick students who are not just brilliant but who have the potential to be outstanding leaders from and for all of America’s communities. Today, “elite” doesn’t carry the old-boy, classist, midcentury sense.

He’s right; it definitely carries more of a new-boy, classist, end-of-century sense of elitism.  Which must be why Dean Edley doesn’t even notice it.

Ouch. For the French version of this phenomenon, BTW, see “enarques” in Wikipedia.

VDH to 0bama: The USA is not a college and you are not a Dean

Victor Davis Hanson (a classics professor in his day job) comments on the disconnect between 0bama’s rhetoric and his actions, as well as the seemingly endless sequence of “that was yesterday” moments. He tries to make sense of them, and anybody who is familiar with (especially humanities) academe will wrily smile in recognition:

[N]either the press nor his chameleon followers quite explain what is going on. Instead, I think we, the American people, are seen by Obama as a sort of Ivy League campus, with him as an untouchable dean. So we get the multicultural bromides, the constant groupthink, and the reinvention of the self that we see so often among a professional class of administrator in universities (we used to get their memos daily and they read like an Obama teleprompted speech).  […T]he public does not grasp to what degree supposedly elite universities simply wa[i]ve their own rules when they find it convenient.

In academia, there are few consequences for much of anything; but in Obama’s case his legal career at Chicago seems inexplicable without publications (and even more surreal when Law Dean Kagan laments on tape her difficulties in recruiting him to the law school—but how would that be possible when a five- or six-book law professor from a Texas or UC Irvine would never get such an offer from a Chicago or Harvard?).

[…] On an elite university campus what you have constructed yourself into always matters more than what you have done. An accent mark here, a hyphenated name there is always worth a book or two. There is no bipartisanship or indeed any political opposition on campuses; if the Academic Senate weighs in on national issues to “voice concern,” the ensuing margin of vote is usually along the lines of Saddam’s old lopsided referenda.

In other words, Obama assumed as dean he would talk one way, do another, and was confident he could “contextualize” and “construct” a differing narrative—to anyone foolish enough who questioned the inconsistency. As we have seen with Climategate, or the Gore fraud, intent always trumps empiricism in contemporary intellectual circles. Obama simply cannot be held to the same standard we apply to most other politicians—given his heritage, noble intention, and landmark efforts to transform America into something far fairer.

Like so many academics, Obama becomes petulant when crossed, and like them as well, he “deigns” to know very little out of his field (from Cinco de Mayo to the liberation of Auschwitz), and only a little more in it. Obama voiced the two main gospels of the elite campus: support for redistributive mechanisms with other people’s wealth; and while abroad, a sort of affirmative action for less successful nations: those who are failing and criticized the U.S. under Bush proved insightful and worthy of outreach ( a Russia or Syria); but those who allied themselves with us (an Israel or Colombia) are now suspect.

[…] I think at some point Obama’s untruths, hypocrisies, and contradictions will, in their totality, finally remind the voter he is not a student.

After all, America is not a campus. It has real jobs that are not lifelong sinecures. Americans work summers. There are consequences when rhetoric does not match reality. Outside of Harvard or Columbia, debt has to be paid back and is not called stimulus. We worry about jobs lost, not those in theory created or saved. We don’t blame predecessors for our own ongoing failures. Those who try to kill us are enemies, whose particular grievances we don’t care much to know about. Diversity is lived rather than professed; temporizing is not seen as reflection, but weakness.

And something not true in not a mere competing narrative, but a flat-out lie.

Amen.

Henry Gates: reparations for slavery are pointless

Joe Hicks at Pajamas Media reports on the new book by Harvard black studies professor Henry Gates.

I’ve previously been hard on the professor for playing the victim card — and the race card — after he was arrested by a white cop in Cambridge, Massachusetts. [Note: Joe Hicks is black himself.] But after reading his new work, I’m willing to cut him some slack.

Gates’ book — Tradition and the Black Atlantic – was also previewed in the New York Times. The review hit like passed gas in the middle of a hot Sunday Baptist church service to those who have made careers out of racial complaints.

Gates says that everybody is familiar with the role played in slavery by the United States and the colonial powers of Britain, France, Holland, Portugal, and Spain. But he adds that there has been “little discussion of the role Africans themselves played.”

[…] Gates argues that the role Africans played was “considerable” and included the very kingdoms in western and central Africa that are praised as examples of Africa’s historical greatness every February during “Black History Month” celebrations.

How did this African involvement in the slave trade work?

Gates references the historians John Thornton and Linda Heywood of Boston University — who estimate that 90 percent of the slaves shipped to the New World were captured and enslaved by Africans before being sold to European traders and commercial agents.

In essence, the slave trade would have been impossible on the scale it occurred without African business partners.

[…] Gates points out that the belief that Europeans alone are responsible is a fantasy. This view is a romanticized version promoting the notion that Africans were somehow just “kidnapped” by evil white men — the version promoted in the old television series Roots. The truth is, however, that slavery was a highly lucrative business for European traders and African sellers alike.

Though it may be new to reparation advocates, none of this information is new to anyone who’s honestly examined slavery.

Well before the Civil War, the former slave Frederick Douglass said:

The savage chiefs of the western coasts of Africa, who for ages have been accustomed to selling their captives into bondage and pocketing the ready cash for them, will not more readily accept our moral and economical ideas than the slave traders of Maryland and Virginia.

Africans have been aware of their countries’ role in this evil trade. In 1999, the president of Benin shocked an all-black congregation in Baltimore when he fell to his knees and begged their forgiveness for the “shameful” and “abominable” role that Africans played in slavery.

Just how invested were the African kingdoms in the slave trade?

When British abolitionists were finally able to suppress the slave trade in 1808, rioters protested in the streets of cities in what is now Ghana, and the king of Nigeria said to the British:

Your country, however great, can never stop a trade ordained by God himself.

This old chief has been proven partially correct. Slavery continues to exist in African nations today, most notably in Sudan, Ghana, Mauritania, Benin, Gabon, Mali, and the Ivory Coast, where tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people are enslaved.

Professor Gates has shown a great deal of intellectual honesty by dropping a hand grenade in the midst of the greatest hustle of “victim studies” — the notion that whites alone were responsible for slavery [and owe reparations].

[…] There needs to be more truth-telling of the kind found in Gates’ book. For too long, black academics and guilty white allies have been perpetuating fraud.

Read the whole thing. This is without even getting into the issue of Arab slave trade (the very word “slave” is a corruption of ‘Slavic’).

The truth is, the revolting practice of humans enslaving other humans has been with us since the beginning of recorded history. As Thomas Sowell repeatedly points out in his writings, it was precisely in the much-maligned Western civilization that a successful abolitionist movement could arise, drawing a substantial part of its inspiration from equally-maligned Judeo-Christian religious writings.

PC insanity of the day

Victor Davis Hanson has some interesting (as always) observations on the Morgan Hill fracas (see Zombie’s report, and our earlier posts here and here).

From the comments, this gem deserves an award for PC insanity:

Purple Victory

I’m currently pursuing a degree in Music Education at the University of Montevallo (PV!) in Shelby County, Alabama. I can tell you that the educational establishment is all about these neat little categories based on color. As part of my “education bloc” classes I had to take a course in classroom diversity that required learning racial stereotypes and writing lesson plans for each color of student. We quite literally had assignments that said “You have a classroom full of black students. Write a lesson plan.” When I decried this as racist the teacher told me I was being a white supremacist; when I told her I’m Hispanic and just light skinned she said I was a traitor to my race for not falling in line with this garbage.

“Racially appropriate” lesson plans. Hmm, where have we heard this idea before?
And as for being a “traitor”, welcome to the club.

Reflections on the Harvard “Emailgate” controversy

The Volokh Conspiracy has been covering at length [link leads to subject tag] an “emailgate” at Harvard that is really getting my goat.

Executive summary: a Harvard law student sends a private Email (relevant passages reproduced here) in which she basically says she is “not 100% sure” that the intellectual achievement gap between ethnic groups might not contain a genetic component somewhere. Months later, without her permission, somebody forwards her email to the discussion list of the Black Law Students Association, where it (as expected) unleashes a firestorm. The student has been censored by the Dean of the Law School, has abjectly apologized in public, and is subject to calls for her expulsion.

Eugene Volokh (himself a law prof at UCLA), while not sympathetic to the content of what she said, says the whole incident reminds him of the former Soviet Union where he was born. He goes at great length into what he terms “the practical costs of condemning openness to distressing answers on factual questions“. David Bernstein gives a catalog of outrageous public statements that apparently are not taboo at elite universities, but happen to fit the prevailing PC, post-Marxist, Third-Worldist orthodoxy.

Personally, I think we understand as little about the mechanisms of heredity of intelligence as we understand about global climate, possibly even less. Thomas Sowell — whom I admire greatly — makes a strong case for an “all-nurture” origin of differences between groups. If this were a lecturer or professor having made a statement in public, this would be one thing: “Scholars, heed your words, lest you lead your students to a place of evil waters, and they drink from it and die” (Pirkei Avot 1:11).

But the idea that a student could be expelled for expressing in private even openness to an answer that runs counter to the politically correct orthodoxy — even on such a “third-rail” subject, but where we don’t really know what’s going on  — is truly chilling. Squatch at C2 quotes:

Thoughtcrime is death. Thoughtcrime does not entail death. Thoughtcrime IS death. I have committed even before setting pen to paper the essential crime that contains all others unto itself.

And indeed, the whole incident reminds me more of George Orwell’s “1984” than of the principle of academic free inquiry as I’ve always understood it, and as best expressed by the Poincaré Declaration:

La pensée ne doit jamais se soumettre, ni à un dogme, ni à un parti, ni à une passion, ni à un intérêt, ni à une idée préconçue, ni à quoi que ce soit, si ce n’est aux faits eux-mêmes, parce que, pour elle, se soumettre, ce serait cesser d’être. (Henri Poincaré, Fêtes du LXXVe anniversaire, 21 novembre 1909).

[My free translation:] “Thought must never submit, neither to dogma, nor to partisanship, nor to passion, nor to interests, nor to preconceptions — nor to anything but the facts themselves — since for thought, submission would mean ceasing to exist.” (Henri Poincaré, remarks at the 75th anniversary celebration of Brussels Free University, November 21, 1909)

UPDATE: Taxprof has a roundup.

UPDATE 2: Some good verbal ju-jitsu from Ann Althouse. See also Neo-Neocon.

Corollary of Samuel Johnson’s Law

On the C2 overnight chill thread, “Kosh’s Shadow” wonders:

In #58 Kosh’sShadow said: Reply to realwest in #41: I’m OK but tired; heading to bed soon. How did we end up with media and academia that hates the country that gives them the freedom to do so?

Let me have a shot at an answer.

Samuel Johnson once memorably stated: “The knowledge that one is going to be hanged in a fortnight has the habit of concentrating the mind wonderfully.”

People in the “chattering class” who get off on moral preening and who are insulated from the consequences of their own recommendations feel uninhibited by the latter.

Israel (where I currently am on business), for example, has no shortage of preening moral narcissists in her media and academia either. But most of them there know that if, for example, the Security Fence is taken down, they themselves might get blown up in a suicide bombing attack. This “Samuel Johnson effect” tends to bring them down to Earth.

The emperor has no clothes

A new expose is making the rounds of the blogosphere: see, e.g.: The Examiner: “numerous bogus claims on Obama resume” and also Chicago Law School faculty hated 0bama

Without getting too far into “who hated whom” at U of C law school (academia can at times make cliquish Junior High School girls look mature), one of the basic facts has been known to me since mid-2008: that 0bama’s claim of having been a “professor” at U. of C. law school is resume-padding. He was a part-time outside lecturer, who was never even given adjunct faculty status, let alone regular faculty status. For those unfamiliar with academia’s pecking order: this is like the difference between having played as a hired session musician on a couple of BigRockBand tracks vs. being a semi-permanent member of the tour band vs. being a member of BigRockBand itself.

From elsewhere within academia, Bill Jacobson (h/t: Pi Guy) has this: “You Were Right About Obama”

I knew it would happen, and today it did.

I received a call from a former client and friend, a guy in his late 70s, who was a huge Obama supporter and a fairly mainstream liberal and Democrat.

In the past my friend very much enjoyed getting me agitated by frequently mentioning the latest Frank Rich or Maureen Dowd column about the evil of Sarah Palin. At his age, getting me aggravated was pretty much his main form of entertainment.

In the months after the election the relationship was somewhat strained. There were certain things we just didn’t talk about, although he would poke me in the political eye from time to time.

I haven’t spoken to my friend in many months, probably since the fall or summer. So I was pleased when his name showed up as an incoming call on my cell phone, although I wondered how we would dance around the subject of Him.

The first sentence out of his mouth was, “Let’s get it out of the way, you were right about Obama.”

Not being satisfied with mere contrition, I asked him whether he was bs-ing me, and he said no, he meant it.

My friend spends half the year in Florida along with his similarly ancient friends. He’s predicting a “Republican sweep” in November, although his dissatisfaction with Obama is not the result of a conversion to conservatism. He feels that Obama broke so many promises, and “he’s just another politician.”

If Obama has lost my friend, the Frank Rich-loving, Sarah Palin-hating greedy Democratic geezer that he is, the Democrats are in deep electoral trouble.

Looks like his friend, like many, was having a Hans Christian Andersen moment. Just like the girl at the bottom of the picture (h/t: Pi Guy):

Everyone said, loud enough for the others to hear: “Look at the Emperor’s new clothes. They’re beautiful!”

“What a marvellous train!” “And the colors! The colors of that beautiful fabric! I have never seen anything like it in my life!”

They all tried to conceal their disappointment at not being able to see the clothes, and since nobody was willing to admit his own stupidity and incompetence, they all behaved as the two scoundrels had predicted.

A child, however, who had no important job and could only see things as his eyes showed them to him, went up to the carriage.

“The Emperor is naked,” he said.

“Fool!” his father reprimanded, running after him. “Don’t talk nonsense!” He grabbed his child and took him away.

But the boy’s remark, which had been heard by the bystanders, was repeated over and over again until everyone cried: “The boy is right! The Emperor is naked! It’s true!”

The Emperor realized that the people were right but could not admit to that.

He though it better to continue the procession under the illusion that anyone who couldn’t see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent.

And he stood stiffly on his carriage, while behind him a page held his imaginary mantle.

The college tuition bubble

Insty has a bizarre juxtaposition of two news items.

The first is about colleges encouraging students to apply for food stamps.

The second is about the latest manifestation of college tuition spinning out of control: the increasing number of colleges in the “50,000 club” (those which charge over $50K/yr for tuition).

A trip to space on Virgin Galactic. A Dior couture wedding gown. A Bentley Continental GT. These luxe indulgences each cost $200,000.

Add another item to the list: four years at a growing number of private colleges and universities.

Next year, the number of schools in the region that charge upwards of $50,000 annually for tuition, room and board, and mandatory fees is expected to more than double, according to a Globe survey of 20 colleges and universities. Just two years ago, less than a handful of schools cost that much (though many hovered just below the threshold.)

Among the latest members of the $50K Club: Harvard, MIT, Wellesley, Brandeis, Brown, Dartmouth, and Holy Cross. They join Tufts, Boston University, Boston College, Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Babson, which all broke the barrier this year.

College costs have been creeping up for decades, rising faster than inflation and average family incomes. But hitting $50,000 is a significant psychological milestone, education analysts say, and a tipping point that could scare families away from applying to private colleges.

Some perspective here: a middle-aged woman colleague went to Smith in 1972, and her tuition then was about $4,000, give or take. According to this handy little inflation calculator, that’s about $20,285 in 2009 dollars. In other words, inflation-adjusted tuition at Smith went up by a factor of about two and a half (2.5). Googling “tuition bubble” turns up this article at scienceblogs, according to which inflation-adjusted tuition has approximately tripled in the past three decades at both public and private universities.

For parents already reeling from the effects of the recession, it is causing sticker shock.

“It’s the most overpriced product you could possibly buy,’’ said Jim Scannell, a laid-off financial analyst whose son, a Natick High School senior, is applying only to public colleges because of their lower cost. “It’s frustrating because you encourage your kids to do their best to get into one of the best schools, but when it comes time to go to these good schools, we can’t afford it.’’

Even worse: many graduates can never hope to earn enough money to repay student loans that big in a reasonable amount of time. Especially if the majors are generic liberal arts, lit-crit, various “studies” majors, and the like. Meanwhile, science and engineering classes are increasingly filling up with first-generation immigrants (many of them scholarship students or working their way through college) because they are too much hard work for too little future salary — expect medicine to go the same route soon.

Amy Bishop redux: her husband knew about the gun after all

Dan Riehl (TypePad trackback URL)draws my attention to this post:

er husband denied knowing where she’d gotten the gun, he said previously, and (oddly, since she’d killed her brother with one) didn’t think to ask. Turns out, it seems, that it was his gun, which he’d asked a friend to purchase for him a couple of decades back, when he was “having trouble with a neighbor.” The weapon was purchased in New Hampshire, because of Massachusetts’ waiting period, so apparently needed somewhat urgently at the time, but ready to hand when once again other people’s reality threatened to intrude.

“She said it was no way she was there, no way it happened. ‘I wasn’t there.’ That kept being a reoccurring thing throughout the interview,” Gray said.

Bishop’s attorney has said that that she doesn’t remember the shootings, and she herself said the shootings “didn’t happen” in her only public comments since the killings.

“What about the people who died?” a reporter asked as she was led to a police car hours after the killings.

“There’s no way. They’re still alive,” she responded.

What she means to say is that it’s simply too inconvenient for her that they died when she pumped bullets into them. (Thanks to Sarah W.)

See the right sidebar for links to our earlier posts on Amy Bishop.

By the way, I get a nontrivial number of Google hits for “Amy Bishop Asperger” and variants thereof. I know a thing or two about “aspies” and I can tell you there’s nothing Asperger about Amy Bishop’s deeds or behavior. A textbook case of extreme NPD (narcissistic personality disorder), probably with borderline disorder thrown in, is much more like it.

(Grossly oversimplifying: To a narcissist other people count as nothing except as sources for narcissistic supply. To an “aspie”, other people and their needs and wants are quite real — their emotions are just very (to extremely) hard to read. I will return to this subject in a separate post, time permitting.)

Dershowitz: Let’s have a real Apartheid week

I don’t see eye to eye with Alan Dershowitz on certain matters (for one, he’s a liberal), but I applaud his willingness to defend both Israel and free speech against all comers.

While he finds Israel Apartheid Week as loathsome as anyone, his solution is not to try to suppress it as antisemitic hate speech, but to ‘fight fire with fire’. He argues for having a ‘real Apartheid week’:

Accordingly, I support a “Middle East Apartheid Education Week” to be held at universities throughout the world. It would be based on the universally accepted human rights principle of “the worst first.” In other words, the worst forms of apartheid being practiced by Middle East nations and entities would be studied and exposed first. Then the apartheid practices of other countries would be studied in order of their seriousness and impact on vulnerable minorities.

Under this principle, the first country studied would be Saudi Arabia. That tyrannical kingdom practices gender apartheid to an extreme, relegating women to an extremely low status. Indeed, a prominent Saudi imam recently issued a fatwa declaring that anyone who advocates women working alongside men or otherwise compromises with regard to absolute gender apartheid is subject to execution.

The Saudis also practice apartheid based on sexual orientation, executing and imprisoning gay and lesbian Saudis. Finally, Saudi Arabia openly practices religious apartheid. It has special roads for “Muslims only.” It discriminates against Christians, refusing them the right to practice their religion openly. And needless to say, it doesn’t allow Jews the right to live in Saudi Arabia, to own property or even (with limited exceptions) to enter the country. Now that’s apartheid with a vengeance.

The second entity on any apartheid list would be Hamas, the de facto government of the Gaza Strip. Hamas too discriminates openly against women, gays and Christians. It permits no dissent, no free speech and no freedom of religion.

Every single Middle East country practices these forms of apartheid to one degree or another. Consider the most “liberal” and pro-American nation in the area, namely Jordan. The Kingdom of Jordan, which the King himself admits is not a democracy, has a law on its books forbidding Jews from becoming citizens or owning land. Despite the efforts of its progressive Queen, women are still de facto subordinate in virtually all aspects of Jordanian life.

Iran, of course, practices no discrimination against gays, because its president has assured us that there are no gays in Iran. In Pakistan, Sikhs have been executed for refusing to convert to Islam, and throughout the Middle East, honor killings of women are practiced, often with a wink and a nod from the religious and secular authorities.

Every Muslim country in the Middle East has a single, established religion, namely Islam, and makes no pretense of affording religious equality to members of other faiths. That is a brief review of some, but certainly not all, apartheid practices in the Middle East.

Read the whole thing.

PS: don’t miss this other post: I am shocked, shocked, that an intelligence agency is misusing passports!

ClimateGate: Doubling down

I always figured that, while I’ve been ashamed of a number of things, I’m incapable of shame about being a scientist by training. The following item from today’s “Best of the web” makes me reconsider:

Redoubling Their Efforts
“Undaunted by a rash of scandals over the science underpinning climate change, top climate researchers are plotting to respond with what one scientist involved said needs to be ‘an outlandishly aggressively partisan approach’ to gut the credibility of skeptics,” the Washington Times reports:

In private e-mails obtained by The Washington Times, climate scientists at the National Academy of Sciences say they are tired of “being treated like political pawns” and need to fight back in kind. Their strategy includes forming a nonprofit group to organize researchers and use their donations to challenge critics by running a back-page ad in the New York Times.

“Most of our colleagues don’t seem to grasp that we’re not in a gentlepersons’ debate, we’re in a street fight against well-funded, merciless enemies who play by entirely different rules,” Paul R. Ehrlich, a Stanford University researcher, said in one of the e-mails.

Some scientists question the tactic and say they should focus instead on perfecting their science, but the researchers who are organizing the effort say the political battle is eroding confidence in their work.

“This was an outpouring of angry frustration on the part of normally very staid scientists who said, ‘God, can’t we have a civil dialogue here and discuss the truth without spinning everything,'” said Stephen H. Schneider, a Stanford professor and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment who was part of the e-mail discussion but wants the scientists to take a slightly different approach.

We almost have to wonder if this is a joke. These so-called scientists are in trouble because they have long acted like aggressive partisans rather than honest seeks of truth. Is it really possible that they think they’ll get out of trouble by doing more of the same? It’s almost as if a politician, having pursued unpopular policies and suffered a rebuke at the polls, decided to push even harder for the same rejected policies. Except that any smart politician would know better.

Amy Bishop update: some observations on tenure

Following the U. of Alabama “tenure denial massacre” by Amy Bishop [see here, herehere , and especially here, here, and here for our earlier coverage], the Chronicle of Higher Education has gathered a series of responses to the question: “Is tenure a matter of life and death?

The answers of course generally reflect New Class sensibilities, but are generally well worth reading. The single most horrifying thing I read was quoted by KC Johnson (who had to suffer through quite a  via dolorosa of his own to get tenure): “[…] as in American Association of University Professors President Cary Nelson’s recent claim that it was acceptable to consider a candidate’s personal or political views in the hiring process[…]”

Let me offer my own two cents on academic tenure. As I see it, it exists primarily for three reasons:

  • Originally, it came about to protect scholars from being dismissed for stating views or findings that were impopular, ‘heretic’, ‘subversive’, or more than one of the above. (For example, ss incredible as this may sound to us today, the act of dissecting a corpse to see human anatomy with one’s own eyes rather than relying  on the ancient writings of Galen, was once considered a subversive act.)
  • In some technical and professional fields (e.g., law, some specialties of medicine, some fields of engineering,…) a practicing professional could earn many times over the salary of a professor. Tenure is perceived as one form of compensation for ceasing to practice in one’s specialty or working reduced hours in it.
  • Finally, in many fields in the hard sciences, tenure is seen as giving scholars the chance to engage in high-risk, highly innovative, research that might pay off big time — or turn out to be a years-long wild goose chase with nothing to show for it. As the latter is obviously the ‘kiss of death’ in the absence of tenure, assistant professors on the tenure track tend to ‘play it safe’ by restricting their research to projects that have a reasonable chance of publishable outcomes.

In the American system, one typically becomes an assistant professor after a Ph.D. and at least one postdoctoral stint. One thus becomes an independent researcher and head of one’s own group (“captain of one’s own ship”) at a pretty young age, but without certainty of employment, and with the ‘Remember Tomorrow’ of a tenure decision ahead. There is no denying that it is a pretty stressful experience, not just for the academic but also for his/her partner: I’ve seen more than one marriage break up over this. But, of course, the payoff of success is a level of job security virtually unmatched in the USA outside government service.

However, many Euro countries have a different academic structure where there is a fairly large “NCO corps” in between the graduate students (and, in the last 20-30 years, postdocs) on the one hand, and the titular professors on the other hand. Anybody eyeing a spot in the “officer corps” needs to do their time in the NCO corps first, but tenure is reached after some years there, after which one finds oneself being groomed/in a ‘holding pattern’ for years  (depending on one’s perspective) until a titular professor retires. Needless to say, this system is much less dynamic than the US one, and the reduced stress is outweighed by the frustration of possibly being stuck in an ‘NCO slot’ for decades, or even until retirement.

Israel has a US-style tenure system: it does have an ‘NCO corps’ of ‘staff scientists’ who however represent an alternate career path rather than an entrance hall to the faculty track. Also, further promotion (from associate professor to full professor) generally takes longer and is subject to closer scrutiny than in the US.

Germany and many Eastern European countries do their ‘faculty filtering’ in a different way than the USA: by demanding an additional credential for faculty in the guise of a Higher Doctorate (known as a Habilitation in Germany). This typically consists of a much heftier thesis than the original Ph.D., and is supposed to be a body of independent research (perhaps with some mentoring) rather than work carried out under the guidance of an advisor. France has a similar post-Ph.D. credential called “Habilitation à diriger des recherches” (accreditation to supervise research), which entitles the holder to act as the Ph.D. advisor to graduate students.

Each system has pluses and minuses. The Euro system is much less ‘sink or swim’ in that one is more gradually groomed for ‘captaincy’, and that job security is reached much more easily. On the other hand, many of Europe’s best and most dynamic researchers seek out academic positions in the USA precisely because of the greater independence and flexibility it affords. Yet on the third hand, dependence on grant money encourages faddishness in research, while somebody who does high-quality research in a ‘no longer fashionable’ subject may have a much easier time of it in France, Germany, Switzerland, or even Israel than in the USA. But on the fourth hand, this same set of circumstances may lead a researcher to remain ‘stuck in a rut’ rather than try to reinvent themselves.

Thomas Sowell’s famous aphorism, “There are no solutions, only trade-offs”, applies here as well.