Hamas and Columbia — Part 4

How should the student protestors be dealt with?

Khymani James, source: The New York Times

Khymani James, one of the student leaders in the anti-Israel protests at Columbia University, turns out to be a rather confused and angry young man.

Apparently uncertain about his gender (preferring “they” to “he”), James once acknowledged hating white people, has called for the deaths of Zionists and suggested university officials should be thankful he was not murdering any. Earlier, as a student at the prestigious Boston Latin School, the now 20-year-old James quit a city high school student advisory group in Boston, citing “adultist rhetoric.”

So, is he the perfect face of the Columbia protests? Well, James has certainly been its major voice at times. In a video shot by student journalist Jessica Schwalb, he leads students in the encampment as they face down Schwalb and others they label as Zionists, moving forward in lockstep, seemingly to drive out the interlopers. He leads the protestors in various chants as they repeat them after him in sheeplike fashion.

Barred from the campus now, however, and apparently facing disciplinary action for his rhetoric, James has since apologized and has not been seen at the demonstration. When he made the statement that Zionists didn’t deserve to live, he says now, it was because “an online mob targeted me because I am visibly queer and Black,” Newsweek reported.

Jessica Schwalb, source: New York Post

And, despite the threatening steps forward against students named as Zionists, Schwalb, a reporter for Columbia Spectator, said she never felt in danger. After all, these were Columbia students, whom she told The Atlantic were “too nerdy and too worried about their futures to hurt us.”

There are plenty of lessons in the James situation, not least of which is that university administrators should remember who they are dealing with in many of the students – at least the undergrads. While teaching such young people for 14 years, I learned that many of them are essentially still children. Their worldviews are malleable and changeable and their maturity levels – especially among young men – are pretty low. And they are often captive to fads and peer pressure.

And this is not just me talking. The Center for Law, Brain and Behavior at Massachusetts General Hospital reported: “Scientists know that the adolescent brain is still developing, that it is highly subject to reward- and peer-influence, and its rate of development varies widely across the population…” The center used insights from studies on the point to argue for cautious and specific treatment of teens and people in their early 20s in the justice system.

I referred to the center’s work in my book “Divided Loyalities,” which charted the paths and fates of a group of young men in Minnesota who joined or attempted to join ISIS in Syria in and around 2014. The federal court dealt severely with the men, sentencing one 22-year-old to 35 years in prison, two others to 30 years each, and still others to sentences of 10 years or less. Essentially, they had ruined their lives and the court showed little mercy.

So, how severely should Columbia deal with James and his fellow travelers? Would suspension or even expulsion be appropriate for those who violated university policies against antisemitism? More than 100 have been arrested, so should criminal charges be pressed, giving them records for life?

One general approach, suitable for all, I believe, is that if they are allowed to stay in school they should be required to take a special semester-long or yearlong course in Israel-Palestine history and relations. Such a course would be developed with scholars on or off campus who are committed to peaceful coexistence between Arabs and Jews in the Middle East. Dartmouth has had great success with such a class.

I suggest that the class include being required to watch the video produced about the Hamas savagery of Oct. 7. The students should be required, too, to read the report from the UN about the sexual violence in that assault, and similar materials. They should be required to learn about lives and fates of the hostages the terrorists took and still hold.

With their chants of “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” the support some show for the murderous and suicidal Hamas, and their “anti-colonial” and anti-Zionist pablum, it seems clear that most of the students know precious little about Israel and the Palestinians. Instead, sheeplike, they parrot the nonsense they hear from peers and others (perhaps even including some dimmer faculty members).

Mahmoud Khalil, source: New York Post

Beyond that, the approach will have to vary by individual student. There needs to be a distinction drawn between graduate students, who generally are older and should know better, and the undergrads. One of the student leaders, for instance, is Mahmoud Khalil, a former political affairs officer with the widely discredited United National Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) who earned an undergraduate degree in Beirut, according to the New York Post. Another is Aidan Parisi, a 27-year-old postgrad whom the paper reported was suspended for his activities in the incendiary Columbia Apartheid Divest Group. “Que viva la intifada,” Parisi wrote in an Instagram post addressing his original suspension — “long live the rebellion.” And “Good night. Fuck israel,” Parisi wrote on X.

It’s not clear whether education will make a difference with such older students, though all should be required to take and pass the course I mention. But education is what a university is about, after all. Such a class would also provide a forum where all views — respectfully delivered or the students would be expelled — could be aired.

Would such schooling make a dent in the antisemitism that underlay at least some of the protests? That’s not clear. The student protestors seem mainly motivated by revulsion at the losses of life in the horrific war in Gaza. Just why they aren’t motivated by the horrors of Hamas to oppose its terrorism is a mystery, but that may be rooted in the simplistic oppressor/oppressed binary lens through which some of them – particularly the less mature ones — may see the world. In such a worldview, today’s Jews cannot be seen as victims, irrespective of the history of the Holocaust.

But in the face of widespread and growing antisemitism, especially among the young, a fuller understanding of Jewish history and the challenges Israel contends with seems essential for Columbia students such as James and many others. Along with generally being bright, the Columbia students should be educable. And testing just how much they can learn would be a start.

Is Free Speech Really Free?

Taking stances can cost one a job

Doxxing truck, source: Harvard Crimson

As anti-Israel forces on and off campuses continue to protest, some employers are launching counterprotests of their own – firing or refusing to hire those who go public with pro-Palestine stances. The trend reflects an unsettling truism about free speech: it may be anything but “free,” as speakers have to live with the consequences.

Take, for instance, the cases of two global law firms – New York-based Davis, Polk & Wardwell and Chicago-based Winston & Strawn. Davis Polk revoked job offers to three law students at Columbia and Harvard because they were leaders in student organizations that had backed letters blaming Israel for Hamas’s savage Oct. 7 attacks. Similarly, Winston & Strawn revoked an offer to an NYU student, the former president of the school’s University Bar Association, who had written a message to the group, saying “Israel bears full responsibility for this tremendous loss of life.”

Neil Barr, chair and managing partner of Davis Polk, told The New York Times that the firm did not want to employ anyone who endorsed the Hamas atrocities.

“The views expressed in certain of the statements signed by law school student organizations in recent days are in direct contravention of our firm’s value system,” the firm said in a statement. To ensure that “we continue to maintain a supportive and inclusive work environment, the student leaders responsible for signing on to these statements are no longer welcome in our firm.”

Davis Polk noted that in two of the cases, it was considering reversing course and hiring them because they said they had not endorsed the criticism of Israel. The letters blaming Israel for Hamas’s attack did not include individual names. It’s not clear what the law firm knew or didn’t know about the students, other than that they were leaders in the group or groups that backed the statements.

Ryna Workman, source: ABC News

As for the NYU student who lost an offer at Winston & Strawn, that person has doubled down on the criticism of Israel. Ryna Workman, who appeared on ABC defending Palestine and criticizing Israel, was caught on camera covering up posters of Israelis kidnapped by Hamas with pro-Palestine signs. Appallingly, Workman repeatedly ducked questions about whether she – or “they” as Workman prefers – had any empathy for Israeli victims.

Workman was ousted by NYU law school Dean Troy McKenzie as head of the student bar association. Other members of the group had quickly distanced themselves from Workman, saying they mourned “the tremendous loss of human life,” while sidestepping any specific condemnation of Hamas. Subsequently, all members of the association quit, saying they feared for their safety, and the group disbanded.

As many American business leaders remain horrified by the Hamas atrocities, some say they will refuse to hire students who take stances similar to Workman’s. Some major Wall Street investors, including hedge fund chief William Ackman, have called on companies to blacklist members of groups that have taken pro-Hamas stances. Ackman, a Harvard graduate, also demanded that Harvard release the names of such students.

As reported by Forbes, Ackman tweeted that “a number of CEOs” approached him, asking for the student names to ensure “none of us inadvertently hire any of their members.” One CEO, Jonathan Neman of the healthy fast casual chain Sweetgreen, responded to Ackman’s post on X, saying he “would like to know so I know never to hire these people,” to which healthcare services company EasyHealth CEO David Duel responded: “Same.”

David Velasco, source: ArtReview

Still other outfits have canned those who refused to condemn Hamas or backed Palestinians. Artforum fired its top editor, David Velasco, after a call for a ceasefire, signed by thousands of artists, appeared on the publication’s website.

“We support Palestinian liberation and call for an end to the killing and harming of all civilians, an immediate ceasefire, the passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and the end of the complicity of our governing bodies in grave human rights violations and war crimes,” the letter said.

As reported by ARTNews, a sister publication, Artforum publishers Danielle McConnell and Kate Koza in a statement wrote, “On Thursday, October 19, an open letter regarding the crisis in the Middle East was shared on Artforum’s website and social platforms without our, or the requisite senior members of the editorial team’s, prior knowledge. This was not consistent with Artforum’s editorial process. Had the appropriate members of the editorial team been consulted, the letter would have been presented as a news item with the relevant context.”

Velasco was fired soon after high-profile dealers, artists, and other signed another letter that referred to “an uninformed letter signed by artists who do not represent the artistic community at large,” ARTNews reported. This new letter, titled “A United Call from the Art World: Advocating for Humanity,” referred to the Hamas attack, but not to Gazans caught up in the warfare.

For his part, Velasco, who had worked at the publication since 2005 and served as editor since 2017, was unrepentant in comments in The New York Times. “I have no regrets,” he told the paper. I’m disappointed that a magazine that has always stood for freedom of speech and the voices of artists has bent to outside pressure.”

As the Times reported, the initial letter was widely condemned, drawing responses by figures in the art world. On WhatsApp, campaigns were organized to dissuade advertisers from working with the magazine.

Similar actions are occurring at other media outlets. The board of the British-based biomedical and life sciences journal eLife fired editor-in-chief Michael Eisen, after he praised The Onion for a satirical post headlined “Dying Gazans Criticized For Not Using Last Words To Condemn Hamas.”

As reported by NBC News, Eisen, who is Jewish and has family in Israel, posted that he had been fired “for retweeting a @TheOnion piece that calls out indifference to the lives of Palestinian civilians,” he wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

“I expressed my opinion, an opinion about the way that American institutions, especially universities, have been kind of not expressing equal concern for the deaths of Palestinians as they have Israelis, which I think is a moral mistake and a political mistake,” Eisen told NBC. “I don’t think that Israeli scientists should feel like the scientific community does not have their backs. The support has been very strong — I thought it was obvious. People don’t always express themselves well in these situations. I wish I made clear how I empathized with them, too.”

Similarly, PhillyVoice.com canned a sports reporter after he tweeted his “solidarity” with Palestine. The Philadelphia 76ers organization tweeted on X: “We stand with the people of Israel and join them in mourning the hundreds of innocent lives lost to terrorism at the hands of Hamas,” along with the hashtag #StandWithIsrael. As The Guardian reported, journalist Jackson Frank, who covered the team, responded: “This post sucks! Solidarity with Palestine always.”

And then there are the doxxing trucks. Operated by the group Accuracy in Media, these mobile billboards have shown up at campuses including Columbia, Harvard and Penn showcasing the faces of members of anti-Israel campus groups. The trucks are emblazoned with legends such as “Harvard’s Leading Antisemites.”

Adam Guillette, source: C-Span

While AIM leader Adam Guillette argues the trucks merely “amplify” information, they have drawn heat as amounting to harassment. The Harvard Hillel Jewish center “strongly condemns any attempt to threaten and intimidate” students who signed the letter, Harvard’s student newspaper the Harvard Crimson reported. And the University of California Berkeley law school dean Erwin Chemerinsky called the truck “despicable,” the New York Times reported. Columbia University president Minouche Shafik issued a statement before the latest truck appeared on the university’s campus, saying some Columbia students “have been victims” of doxxing, calling it a “form of online harassment” that will “not be tolerated,” according to Forbes.

Some demonstrators at Drexel and Penn universities covered their faces and declined to speak publicly, saying they feared being targeted by university officials or losing financial aid, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Some noted the doxxing trucks and pointed to a man filming demonstrators on his phone. A Penn alumna at the rally complained, “The surveillance, harassment, and intimidate of these young people is like no other.”

In the academic world, few would dispute that the free exchange of ideas – even noxious ones – should be free of punishment. Students, especially, should be able to speak their views and debate without fear.

However, employers are also free to shun those whose views they find reprehensible. The world off campus is a lot harsher.

As the New York Times reported, in another social media post, hedge fund manager Ackman said he was “100% in support of free speech.” But, he added, “one should be prepared to stand up and be personally accountable for his or her views.”

Where are the Palestinians Appalled by Hamas?

Some students on U.S. campuses appear extraordinarily callous

Demonstrators at Cambridge City Hall, Source: Boston Herald

As Palestinian voices have grown more strident at universities all across the country in recent years, misinformation has flourished. But the latest spate of statements from organizations on campuses ranging from Ohio State to Harvard reflects astonishing insensitivity to the brutality and immorality of Hamas.

At Ohio State, the campus affiliate of the Students for Justice for Palestine praised the “heroic resistance in Gaza.” At Harvard, over 30 student organizations signed a letter written by the Harvard Undergraduate Palestine Solidarity Committee and Harvard Graduate Students for Palestine saying they “hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence,” as reported by Inside Higher Ed.

At the University of Pennsylvania, a group has called for a protest against an alleged “pro-Israel narrative” at media outlets including the NPR affiliate WHYY. At the University of Virginia, Students for Justice in Palestine celebrated the Hamas attacks as “a step towards a free Palestine,” as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

At Tufts University, a Jewish student leader, Micah Gritz, told The Hill that the “campus environment” has been “horrifying.” He added: “On campus, we’re seeing students either turn a blind eye to the conflict, or we’re seeing those who are openly celebrating our pain, you know, glorifying it, justifying it … They’re casting the murder of Jews and Israelis as progressive, as liberation. It’s just honestly very, very scary as a Jewish student on campus who has friends and family in Israel.”

The moral blindness among some members of Palestinian student groups leaves one aghast. Have they not seen the horrors inflicted on innocents by Hamas? Surely, they cannot truly celebrate the ghastliness, as reported by The New York Times and media around the world.

Certainly, Palestinians have reason to protest conditions in the West Bank and in Gaza and to demand better. But for them to side with the wanton murderers of Hamas beggars belief – especially when the terrorists have done nothing to improve the lot of Gazans since Israel left the area in 2005. Instead, the group has focused on building rockets and arming their deluded followers. Siding with such vicious murderers boggles the mind.

Where are the Palestinian voices on campus calling for an end to Hamas terrorism, demanding an end to its undemocratic tyranny in Gaza? Where are the Palestinians calling for peaceful coexistence with Israel (a prospect Hamas has all but destroyed for now)? Where are the Palestinians at U.S. universities decrying the savagery of recent days? Where are the Palestinians condemning Hamas for the awful retaliation to come, as Israel moves on Gaza to root out terrorists who surely knew they would bring such devastation on their own people?

Lucy Aharish, source: The Forward

Some Arabs have courageously spoken out against the actions of the terrorists. Perhaps the most eloquent is Lucy Aharish, an Arab-Israeli who spoke of “our beloved country” – Israel – and lambasted those who failed to condemn the Hamas attack. Hear her moving comments here.

Have similar sentiments been stifled, with Palestinians cowed into submission, as so many Gazans have been suppressed by Hamas? Public support for the terrorists has been common around the world, as The Times of Israel has reported: “From Ramallah to Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Cairo, people have distributed candies, danced and chanted prayers in support of the ‘resistance’ to Israel’s long-standing control of Palestinian land.”

And yet, backing for Hamas is hardly universal in Gaza. Half of Gazans agreed with the statement “Hamas should stop calling for Israel’s destruction, and instead accept a permanent two-state solution based on the 1967 borders” in a poll by The Washington Institute. As the FIKRA Forum reported: “In fact, Gazan frustration with Hamas governance is clear; most Gazans expressed a preference for PA administration and security officials over Hamas—the majority of Gazans (70%) supported a proposal of the PA sending ‘officials and security officers to Gaza to take over the administration there, with Hamas giving up separate armed units,’ including 47% who strongly agreed. Nor is this a new view—this proposal has had majority support in Gaza since first polled by The Washington Institute in 2014.”

Is anti-Hamas sentiment more common among Palestinians on campus than the latest headline-grabbing pronouncements by some groups suggest? Are they too fearful to speak out? A member of the Palestinian Solidarity Committee at Indiana University, asking for anonymity out of safety concerns, told the student newspaper: “We just stand for peace, it’s an emotional conflict … We don’t represent Hamas, and we don’t condone the actions of Hamas. But we also don’t condone the actions of the Israeli military. We do not want to see Palestinian children or Israeli children killed in this siege. It is a tragic event, and we hope things deescalate as soon as they can.”

One can only hope that there are other Palestinian students in the U.S. with more humanity than some of their local leaders and spokespeople appear to have. Surely, there are more Palestinians at such schools who share the revulsion of most in the civilized world. It would be heartening to hear more from them.

Is Shouting ‘Em Down the Smartest Approach?

Should exponents of unpopular — but widely held — views get a forum on campus?

Prof. Robert P. George, source: Princeton University

Princeton University Professor Robert P. George, 68, boasts a resume few could equal.

After earning degrees from Swarthmore, Harvard and Oxford, this grandson of immigrant coal miners from Morgantown, West Virginia, went on to chair the U.S. Commission on International Freedom. Earlier, he served on President George Bush’s Council on Bioethics and was a President Bill Clinton appointee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. He has also served as the U.S. member of UNESCO’s World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology (COMEST) and as a former Judicial Fellow at the Supreme Court of the United States.

His honors include the U.S. Presidential Citizens Medal, the Honorific Medal for the Defense of Human Rights of the Republic of Poland, the Canterbury Medal of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Sidney Hook Memorial Award of the National Association of Scholars, the Philip Merrill Award of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, the Bradley Prize for Intellectual and Civic Achievement, the Irving Kristol Award of the American Enterprise Institute, the James Q. Wilson Award of the Association for the Study of Free Institutions, Princeton University’s President’s Award for Distinguished Teaching, and the Stanley N. Kelley, Jr. Teaching Award of the Department of Politics at Princeton.

Despite the fact that he is an outspoken conservative, he counts among his friends Harvard Prof. and noted liberal philosopher Cornel West. The two have appeared in venues together.

Profs. Cornel West and Robert P. George, source: robertpgeorge.com

George seems like someone from whom students at Washington College might learn something.

But even when his subject was “Campus Illiberalism” – the trend of speakers being silenced because of views some find repugnant – he was shouted down at the small Maryland school on Sept. 7. As The Chronicle of Higher Education just reported, a small group of protesters entered the room, yelling and playing loud music. They ignored pleas for civility from the professor who invited George, Joseph Prud’homme, who heads the school’s Institute for Religion, Politics and Culture and who had earned his doctorate at Princeton.

Prud’homme led a silenced George out of the venue.

The Princeton prof’s cancellable offense: he has opposed same-sex marriage, abortion, and expansions of transgender rights. While he wasn’t slated to speak about those topics, per se, his very appearance was enough to merit him being shut down in the view of some students.

As The Chronicle reported, shortly before his talk, an associate professor of English at Washington emailed a student a link to George’s accountability profile from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation that carried several examples of George’s anti-LGBTQ remarks. The information spread on campus and the groundwork for the protest was set.

Certainly, many reasonable folks would be repulsed by comments attributed to him. Of transgenderism, he said in 2016, “There are few superstitious beliefs as absurd as the idea that a woman can be trapped in a man’s body and [vice versa].” When New Yorkers supported gay marriage in 2011, he hearkened back to a time when being gay was “beneath the dignity of human beings as free and rational creatures.” He had cofounded the National Organization for Marriage. And he argued that gay relationships have “no intelligible basis in them for the norms of monogamy, exclusivity, and the pledge of permanence.”

Moreover, it appears from a January 2023 piece in the Princeton Alumni Weekly that George hasn’t updated his views any. In that piece, titled “Crashing the Conservative Party,” he bemoaned the arrival at the university in recent years of students who “are just, you know, fully in line with — totally on board with — can give you chapter and verse as if it’s the catechism of — the whole ‘woke’ program: environmentalism, racial issues, sexual issues, and so forth.”

Of course, the students at Washington didn’t give him the chance to make his case against “illiberalism.” Nor did they challenge him to defend his views on sexual identity or abortion. They just made enough noise to drive him out.

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, complained about the “heckler’s veto” imposed on George, suggesting that college security officials should have escorted the protesters out of the room. The outfit said they were entitled to hold signs in the back the room or make “fleeting commentary,” so long as they weren’t disruptive.

Graham Piro, source: FIRE

“But when the event cannot proceed as planned because protesters talk over speakers, drown them out with other sounds, or cause other disruptions that substantially impede the ability to deliver remarks, Washington College must use the resources at its disposal to prevent this pernicious form of mob censorship, and to ensure audiences can, at the very least, hear the speakers talk,” FIRE Program Officer Graham Piro wrote. “When Washington College allows silencing of speakers like George, its message to all in the campus community is that those who engage in disruptive conduct have the power to dictate which voices and views may be heard on campus.”

One could argue that, despite his achievements and honors, George is simply an intellectual dinosaur whose views on sexual matters don’t even warrant conversation. Notwithstanding their roots in his apparently deep religious faith, those attitudes are simply well past their expiration dates. After all, same-sex marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015 and long before that was declared legal in many states.

But we would then face a conundrum. In fact, those views – however benighted they seem to many – are still shared by a fair number of Americans. A year ago, the Pew Research Center reported that 37% of those surveyed thought same-sex marriage to be bad for society, for instance. And abortion continues to polarize the public.

So, does shutting down a talk by someone who espouses such attitudes make the views disappear? Would it not be more sensible, instead, to hold those stances up to scrutiny? Would it not be better for protesters even to shun his appearance and, perhaps, set up a presentation by someone who could refute the ideas? Or, even better, to put someone such as George on a stage with an intellectual opponent to argue their different cases?

After all, isn’t one of the purposes of higher education to hash out difficult matters and to teach students to think about them critically? Wouldn’t such a session serve everyone better than just making noise?

An Assault by the Right

George Wallace, source: The Washington Post

Conservative assaults on higher education are nothing new. Recall George Wallace’s vitriol about “pointy-headed intellectuals” in the late 1960s. Years before then, in 1952, William F. Buckley Jr. earned his spurs with the book “God and Man at Yale,” lambasting universities for straying from his dearly held Christian principles. That same year, the House Un-American Activities Committee investigated Communist methods of infiltration in education, as political analyst Pam Chamberlain explained in “The Right v. Higher Education: Change and Continuity.”

Indeed, it has become an article of faith in conservative circles that universities are dominated by lefties who don’t educate, but who indoctrinate. Ronald Reagan in his first gubernatorial campaign in 1966 stoked conservative hostility toward the University of California schools, particularly UC Berkeley, which was a center of demands for free speech on campus and a locus protest against the Vietnam war. After his attacks succeeded, and he forced the schools into a position of needing to charge tuition for the first time in their history.

Unlike these scattered efforts, however, today’s conservative movement is mounting well practiced and orchestrated assaults on what its supporters see as rampant liberalism in education. These drives are led by governors and lesser politicians who in calculated campaigns have won elections or appointments to boards of regents and higher education panels, particularly in red states.

Florida Gov.Ron DeSantis epitomized the drive in 2021 when he signed legislation designed to crack down on a perceived bias in the classrooms by requiring schools to survey themselves annually to measure “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” on their campuses. He followed up early this year by packing the board at the New College of Florida with rightists determined to remake the campus and squash liberal viewpoints there.

He’s hardly alone, however. Other officials have driven out educators they believe would espouse values they can’t stomach, especially on matters of diversity, equity and inclusion (which evidently are values they can’t abide. Consider the actions of the U.S. Supreme Court against affirmative action in university recruitment).

Nikole Hannah Jones, source: NBC News

Most notable here are the cases of two distinguished New York Times journalists who, perhaps not coincidentally, were Black women:

— Nikole Hannah-Jones, whose leadership of the 1619 Project earned a Pulitzer Prize, was appointed in 2021 as the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism at the University of North Carolina’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. But, after she was denied tenure by conservative trustees, she decamped to Howard University.

— And this year Texas A&M University drove out former New York Times editor and tenured University of Texas professor Dr. Kathleen McElroy as the new head of the journalism department. After announcing her appointment to a tenured spot, the school’s leaders steadily chipped away at the terms, eventually offering her a nontenured one-year position as a professor of practice with three years as the program director, serving at will. She refused and the university wound up settling with her for $1 million.

An alumni group had agitated against McEloy’s hire, balking at her reported advocacy of DEI. Regents echoed the worries. As The Chronicle of Higher Education reported, one regent texted the chancellor: “I thought the purpose of us starting a journalism department was to get high-quality Aggie journalist [sic] with conservative values into the market.” He wrote: “This won’t happen with someone like this leading the department.”

Take note: the regent didn’t argue for distinguished journalism chops and a commitment to such verities in the field as fairness, thoroughness and accuracy. No. Instead, he applied an ideological test, demanding “conservative values.” Indeed, for conservatives in Texas, McElroy’s affiliation with The New York Times was hardly a plus. It was as if she had worked for Pravda, McElroy said an official at the school told her.  

While often underhanded – as when schools chip away at offers that right-wingers object to – some of the assaults are simply dishonest. A flap this year at Arizona State University, for instance, included an official blaming the university for eliminating her position at the school, when in fact her job went away after a funder — a conservative — pulled his support for her center. The donor was offended when faculty members objected vocally to a couple right-wing speakers coming on campus.

Ronnie D. Green, source: University of Nebraska Foundation

And, sometimes, well-regarded academics who personally may be conservative themselves are victims of the assaults — presumably because they aren’t conservative enough. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where I taught for 14 years, rightists led by then-Gov. Pete Ricketts attacked Chancellor Ronnie D. Green after he led an effort to promote diversity and inclusion at the school. Green, who grew up on a farm in Virginia, made his academic bones in agriculture and was known for his Christian religious commitments, wound up retiring this year as chancellor after just seven years, at age 61.

Aside from such examples, the efforts by conservatives to remake higher education have drawn heat from such groups as the American Association of University Professors. In a recent statement, the AAUP and the American Federation of Teachers condemned the efforts. Their statement said: “Right-wing lawmakers continue to wage a coordinated attack against public colleges and universities with legislation that would undermine academic freedom, chill classroom speech and impose partisan agendas on public higher education.”

The groups cited legislation introduced in at least 23 states that would limit teaching about race gender and sexual orientation, require intellectual and viewpoint diversity statements and surveys, cut funding for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and end tenure for faculty. As the groups said, “This legislation is the latest in a multiyear effort by right-wing activists and donors to reshape academia to its liking.”

These efforts come against a backdrop in which many Americans, particularly Republicans, feel hostile to university educations. According to Gallup, only 36% of Americans have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in such schooling Among Republicans, only 19% of Americans expressed such sentiments. Given such feelings, academics who hope the public will back them in fights to preserve tenure, for instance, may be sorely disappointed.

Finally, let me share a personal anecdote. I once gave a college tour to a young man who was quite hesitant about entering the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He told me he feared that his Christian faith would be challenged at the school, despite an abundance of churches on campus. He was trying to figure out if a small Christian college, where he would find reinforcement, would be a better fit for him. I recall thinking a few things: university should be a place where many of one’s ideas as a teenager should be tested (although I doubted his Christian commitments would be), and two, his faith must be a fragile thing, indeed, if it can’t hold up to exposure to people who may believe differently.

And yet, that young man may may be representative of much of the sentiment that has coursed through the right since at least the days of William F. Buckley Jr., before conservatives hit upon the approaches they are taking now.

Today’s assaults may owe their genesis to the isolated attacks of prior decades. But, nowadays, they are well-organized and well-developed. And in a troubling number of cases they are working.

When the WSJ Gets Snookered

As a faithful, if sometimes dissenting, reader of the Wall Street Journal editorial and op-ed pages, I am distressed that the paper’s editors seem to have gotten snookered in running a commentary about Arizona State University. More troublesome, they have let their readers be fooled, as well.

Ann Atkinson, source: LinkedIn

Recall that Ann Atkinson, the now-former head of the university’s T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development at the Barrett honors college, wrote in a June 19 op-ed that her center was being shut down after faculty members objected to a session she hosted showcasing several conservative speakers. The piece, “I paid for free speech at Arizona State,” implied that the closure was the action of lefty administrators kneeling before radical faculty members. Atkinson slammed the university for its “deep hostility toward divergent views.” She concluded that “ASU claims to value freedom of expression. But in the end the faculty mob always wins against institutional protections for free speech.”

Well, that’s not the way it went down, friends.

In fact, the donor who had sponsored the center pulled the plug on his financing. The donor, real estate magnate Tom Lewis, was irked at the faculty reaction to the February session, as he said in a statement issued after the commentary appeared. “After seeing this level of left-wing hostility and activism, I no longer had any confidence in Barrett to adhere to the terms of our gift, and made the decision to terminate our agreement, effective June 30, 2023,” he wrote. “I regret that this decision was necessary, and hope that Barrett and ASU will take strong action to ensure that free speech will always be protected and that all voices can be heard.”

Thomas W. Lewis, source: University of Kentucky Alumni Assn.

Tipping his hand ideologically, Lewis elaborated: “Because these were mostly conservative speakers, we expected some opposition, but I was shocked and disappointed by the alarming and outright hostility demonstrated by the Barrett faculty and administration toward these speakers. Instead of sponsoring this event with a spirit of cooperation and respect for free speech, Barrett faculty and staff exposed the radical ideology that now apparently dominates the college.”

By Atkinson’s account, 39 of the 47 Barrett faculty members condemned the session in a letter to the administration. Atkinson’s count may overstate the number of signers a bit, for one thing. More significantly, however – and something Atkinson did not say – the profs did not ask that the session be cancelled. Indeed, it went forward, and she wrote that thousands attended either in person or virtually (again, her numbers seem somewhat inflated).

So, because the profs raised their voices against the session, the conservative funder killed a program that provided a platform for conservative speakers who appeared, apparently without any trouble. Logical? Perhaps not so much. Perhaps a MAGA kind of logic.

Even more illogically, Lewis’s reference to “respect for free speech” is inconsistent with his pulling the bucks. It would seem Lewis respects only some types of speech – certainly not that expressed by the profs

ASU Provost Nancy Gonzales, source: ASU

ASU issued its own statement through Provost Nancy Gonzales: “Arizona State University is committed to, in practice, not just rhetoric, all things that support free speech and all of its components. ASU employee Ann Atkinson has lost the distinction between feelings and fact in her recent comments about what prompted her loss of employment at the T.W. Lewis Center at Arizona State University. Ms. Atkinson’s current job at the university will no longer exist after June 30 because the donor who created and funded the center decided to terminate his donation. Unfortunate, but hardly unprecedented. ASU is working to determine how we can support the most impactful elements of the center without that external funding.

“Ms. Atkinson’s frustration with those who would suppress freedom of speech is one we share. But her conclusion that ASU students are the ‘losers’ misses the obvious point: the ‘Health, Wealth and Happiness’ event hosted by Robert Kiyosaki, Dennis Prager and Charlie Kirk was a success. Speakers came, they spoke, and more than 600 people attended. Ms. Atkinson is correct that this event was opposed by many faculty, students and others who are part of the ASU community. She is right to say that this opposition was vocal. This is not uncommon in a university setting.”

The university statement concluded: “… ASU has been awarded the ‘green light’ by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and that it adopted the Chicago Principles, which affirm the ‘free, robust and uninhibited sharing of ideas among all members of the university’s community.’” 

It it troubling that half-truths and omissions marked the op-ed. But it is far more unsettling that the WSJ, in its eagerness to pounce on a hot “cancellation” tale, would propagate such shortcomings.

While the paper on June 22 published the ASU statement as a letter, it has not issued a response correcting the misleading commentary or acknowledging that it got conned. At a minimum, a note from a perhaps red-faced editor — maybe op-ed chief James Taranto — would be welcome. It may be that in time somebody at the paper with a spine will fess up, something that would much serve readers of a paper ostensibly committed to accuracy, truthfulness and the full story. One can only hope.

Tenure is more than a job for life

TenureMountainThe letter was short, barely filling a page. But the message, for me, was a big deal. The vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln let me know this week that I had successfully run a 5 ½-year long gauntlet and qualified for tenure.

I choked up. I felt like a 17-year-old getting accepted into the college of his dreams. The news about what technically is called “continuous appointment” meant more to me than I had expected. It meant more than just job security; it meant I had been accepted by my peers, my dean and the people who fill the upper reaches of my Big Ten university as someone they’d like to work with for as long as I could command a podium in a classroom.

That acceptance, that ratification of my role as a mentor to young people, that endorsement of my teaching and research skills – it was like getting my first car or going on a first date. It summoned up sepia-colored images of my father – someone who had not even graduated from high school – calling me and an academically inclined sister his little professors. We were the ones who pulled As, the ones he could see in classrooms, occupying places he respected.

I was surprised at my own reaction, though, partly because I’ve been conflicted about tenure. After all, I managed to stay 22 years at my last job, at BusinessWeek, without it, and had worked at three other news organizations before without it. At each place, I was only as good – and secure – as my next story. My job security depended on shifting arrays of bosses and the economic health of my employer. And that seemed fine to me – even just, if one believes healthy capitalism requires dynamic labor markets where jobs must come and go, where there is no room for sinecures.

For years I’ve been sympathetic to a view that a former colleague at BusinessWeek put into writing recently. Sarah Bartlett, marking her first anniversary as dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York, complained that the “tenure system can create a permanent class of teachers who may not feel much pressure to constantly refresh their skills or renew their curricula.” Tenure, she suggested, would atrophy programs rather than create the “vibrant academic cultures” that journalism schools, in particular, need at a time of great industry ferment.

SkeletonBut does tenure serve mainly to shield those who would resist change? Does it do little more than protect aging old bulls and cows who should long ago have been turned out to pasture? Does it guarantee that hoary old fossils will dominate classrooms, spouting outdated and irrelevant approaches? Does the pursuit of tenure, moreover, drive aspiring faculty members to do pointless impractical research that doesn’t help the journalism world or the J schools themselves, as Sarah also implied?

Well, I look around at my tenured colleagues at UNL and see the opposite. As one pursued tenure, she wrote a textbook for training copy editors. Sue Burzynski Bullard’s text – “Everybody’s An Editor: Navigating journalism’s changing landscape” – should be standard fare in any forward-looking J school. Because it is an interactive ebook, the now-tenured Bullard is able to – and does – refresh the book regularly. Another colleague, John R. Bender, regularly updates “Reporting for the Media,” an impressive text that he and three colleagues wrote. It’s now in its 11th edition. A third colleague, Joe Starita, produced “I Am A Man: Chief Standing Bear’s Journey for Justice,” setting a high bar for storytelling and research that contributes to an emphasis at our school in journalism about Native Americans. This was Starita’s third book and he’s toiling on a fourth, even as he inspires students in feature-writing and reporting classes.

And that productivity by tenured faculty isn’t limited to written work. Starita teamed up with multimedia-savvy journalism sequence head Jerry Renaud to shepherd the impressive Native Daughters project about American Indian women. Bernard R. McCoy, a colleague who teaches mainly (but not exclusively) in the broadcasting sequence, has produced documentaries including “Exploring the Wild Kingdom,” a public-TV effort about the most popular wildlife program in television history. Another of his works, “They Could Really Play the Game: Reloaded,” tells the story of an extraordinary 1950s college basketball team. And he’s now working on a production about WWI Gen. John J. Pershing.

Tenure doesn’t mean that creative work ends or innovations in the classroom cease. Each of my colleagues has had to adapt to the digital world. Some still prefer to teach in older ways – one quaintly requires students to hand in written papers that he grades by hand, for instance. But even he teams up with visually oriented colleagues to guide students to produce work as today’s media organizations demand it. Charlyne Berens, a colleague, and I teamed up with the Omaha World-Herald just last spring to guide students to produce a 16-part series that boasts print, online and multimedia elements, The Engineered Foods Debate. Charlyne, who recently retired as our associate dean, wrote several works, including “One House,” about the peculiar unicameral Nebraska legislature, and another about the former Secretary of Defense, “Chuck Hagel: Moving Forward.”

tenuretelescopeAs for me, the pursuit of tenure gave me the impetus to write my first book, “Transcendental Meditation in America: How a New Age Movement Remade a Small Town in Iowa.” I’m now working on a second book, exploring the reasons that drive people to join cults. I’m also developing curricula for business and economic journalism instruction that I hope will serve business school and J school students, including those interested in investor relations. The pursuit of tenure also drove me to develop research for academic journals, encouraging me to look into areas as far-flung as journalism training in China, as well as such practical work as the teaching of business journalism, the challenges of teaching fair-minded approaches to aspiring journalists, and the pros and cons of ranking journalism schools – all topics for forthcoming journal publication.

Forgive me for beating my own chest. I don’t mean to. I am humbled by the work that my colleagues at the J school and across the university do. It is an enormous honor for them to consider me a peer and, assuming that the university’s regents in September agree with our vice chancellor, I expect that I will spend the next decade or so trying to live up to that.

The college hunt gets personal — open letter to a niece

BelushiDear Sam,

So, senior year is hard upon you. That means prom, a top spot in the cheering squad, maybe a full-court press in calc to buff up that transcript. And, of course, it’s time for you and colleges to get serious about one another.

You’ve checked out a few places already. A couple big state universities, a few state colleges – most of the places touchingly within 50 miles or so of home. You’ve probably pored over their websites, talked to folks there and maybe chatted with a teacher, coach or guidance counselor about your options. You and your parents may have checked out finances to figure out what you can afford, perhaps gotten some info about aid and scholarships.

It’s a good start, Sam, but – with any luck – not the end of the game. Let me lob a few thoughts your way. Take these from a grizzled uncle who has been around the academic block a bit, between attending a few schools, teaching at three universities and, most important, seeing three of your cousins go through the same sleuthing sessions you now are involved in.

 First, talk to more people. Start with your extended family. At least nine of your cousins have been through the mill already, in undergrad and grad schools. Some went to big, private, urban or suburban schools (Boston University, Columbia, Stanford). Some opted for smaller private schools (Bucknell, Stevens, Pomona). And some chose big public schools (West Virginia, Rutgers, Michigan State, University of Oklahoma). Some went to community colleges for a while. Find out what they liked, what they hated. They’ll tell you, in spades.

 Think about your aunts and uncles. Shockingly, they can be helpful and they’d probably talk with you. Their alma maters include Rutgers, Columbia, Colorado State and the University of Toronto, among other places. One is now pursuing a Ph.D. Even if they natter on about goldfish-swallowing, panty raids and ukulele-playing, they might have a few useful pointers to share.

College101 Visit more places. You must pick up the vibe on a campus to figure out whether you’d like to spend four years and lots of Mom and Dad’s money there. One cousin visited Georgetown and was turned off. Why? The girls dressed like they were at a fashion show or were stalking husbands, not like they were there to learn. Blue jeans, please, and forget the makeup. For her, Harvard’s holier-than-thou attitude was fatal for it. Another thought Berkeley’s refusal to let her stow her luggage in the visitor center for the tour was a killer sign that it wasn’t all that user-friendly. A much smaller, more indulgent school outside LA couldn’t have been more obliging, by contrast.

 Think broadly. Why limit yourself to a tiny corner of the country you’ve known all your life? The U.S. is a big place and on- and off-campus life, socially and intellectually, in the South, West and East differ. Want to climb mountains and ski on your weekends? Think about Denver or Fort Collins. Want to learn really good manners? Think about Atlanta. Want to hear people talk funny? Think Boston. Why just New Jersey, Delaware or even Pennsylvania? Sidenote to Mom and Dad: It took us a while to accept the idea of our youngest in far-off California, until we realized it was just a plane ride away, just as Massachusetts and New York were for the other two.

 Look at the US News and World Report rankings, but look deeper. Some schools rank high overall but may not be so strong in the discipline that interests you. If you really want to dig into schools, check out the websites for particular departments. Are the faculty distinguished? Indeed, will you ever see the senior faculty or, as often happens, will you be taught by grad students?

Collegemaze Figure out what you want. Visits are crucial. Big urban schools are great for some folks (one cousin went to a small high school, so wanted thousands of classmates.) Smaller, more intimate colleges are better for others (after a big public high school, another cousin craved a small liberal-arts spot). Want Division One athletics? Could be exciting, but how much time do you really want to spend on the field? Unless you are quarterbacking the football team, it won’t be all there is to life in school (one cousin quit the D1 track team she’d pined for when she learned it meant no other after-school activities and not all that much time for schoolwork). Small fish in big pond or vice-versa – what works for you?

 Think about life after class. If you pick a big school, a sorority can make a cold and daunting place more intimate. It can also give you lifelong friends, the chance to learn leadership and offer great academic and social support, not to mention a nice place to live. At a smaller school, the dorms may be just fine.

 If you like the idea of a big place, find one that offers “learning communities.” These groups, which bring together like-minded students to study and sometimes live together, make a sprawling campus smaller. You might find lifelong friends there, too.

Sam, there’s a lot more to picking a place where you’ll spend some important years than just popping in on a few nearby campuses. Would you buy the first blouse you see on a rack? Would you limit yourself to just a few stores in the mall? How about the first CD in the bin? (Oh, I forgot. Nobody does that anymore).

Times do change, of course, Sam. But find out what wrong turns (and right ones) others who’ve been down the road have taken. And, whatever you do, shop around. One last thing — don’t sell yourself short. Pick a range of schools, but make sure to aim high. To mix metaphors (something a good English teacher will mark your down for), cast your net wide. Once you’ve applied to a lot of places, you can still go to the school down the block. It won’t move, but in coming months your hopes may.

Love,
Your uncle.

Kids Say the Darndest Things — Part 2

Art Linkletter would be impressed. My new students in a pair of Reporting I classes this term are lively and inquisitive. Words such as “entertaining” and “surprising” come to mind, too.

A note from one:

“…in the assignments you have a folder called reading assignments, and it says for ‘Aug 30 Bender, Chaps. 3, 4; Math Tools, Foreword, Chaps. 1,2’ so by next class we need to do the [autobiographies] about us, read all of that plus the D&SH and the new york times and the journal start everyday?”

Yup. Welcome to the NFL. (where, I hope, you will also learn to capitalize when appropriate.)

From another:

“… Though my name appears as …. and my sex as female in your records, I go by … and use masculine pronouns (he/him/his). If you have any TAs, could you please alert them of this so that my homework, quizzes, and tests are graded correctly?”

That’s my ‘welcome to the NFL’ for 2012.

And from a third:

“I was wondering if I took some notes over the two chapters if I would be able to use those during the quiz? Just a thought.”

Why, then, dear, would there be a quiz?

Ah, college life. As I enter my fourth year in the classroom, it’s still intriguing and challenging, at times even exhilarating. The students are a blend of enthusiasm and rough edges. Their candor is refreshing; their openness, invigorating. Their naivete, in some cases, is touching.

Most don’t know their places in the world yet. So my job, in part, is to help them find their footing, at least in journalism. Some will make their way in that arena, while others will take our classes as preparation for law, social work, education or whatever floats their boats.

With a Herculean effort of memory, I can understand where most of them are. I was a college sophomore myself once and didn’t know quite where I would fit. The path before me was hazy and intimidating, even if exciting. Life was a roller-coaster of emotions and choices. Schoolwork, sometimes, seemed overwhelming.

I expect to challenge these kids, just as they will test me. Yes, dear, you do need to do all that reading, and lots more. No, I don’t have a problem calling you whatever you’d like me to call you. And, no, you can’t treat every quiz as an open-book affair. Even in the Google era, students must commit some things to memory, must absorb facts and insights from texts.

If I do my job this year, I may help some of these bright-eyed kids clear away the haze that hangs before them. In the end, that’s really what education is about, isn’t it? It’s what makes grading, dealing with bureaucracy and working through the weekends worthwhile.

Should be a good year.

Foul mouths and young minds

How offensive is too offensive?

Today, while giving presentations about authors, a student screened a trailer for “The Wire” for all the Reporting I class to see. And hear. And hear, they did. The F word, the N word, even the C word.

The student blanched, as did I. I did my best to tell these 19- and 20-year-olds beforehand, as the video started, that this was likely to be strong, and I remarked afterwards that it certainly was. But, frankly, I was stunned at how vile it was. I hadn’t seen the trailer, though I had seen – and loved – the series on HBO.

Fortunately, the visuals were tame, unlike those in the show. But the effect of the words, repeated frequently, was nearly as potent. Ugly racist terms, ugly sexual terms, ugly sentiments in general. I faced a group of bug-eyed students who didn’t know quite how to react.

David Simon, the former Baltimore Sun journalist who created the show, was trying to reflect real life on the rough streets. How else do cops, drug dealers, politicians and union bosses talk, after all? The language shouldn’t be cleaned up if it’s to be authentic – or at least seem authentic. Can’t fault him for that. And in watching the show, all five seasons, I constantly was struck by how true-to-life he made all those flawed people seem.

But, while I give Simon kudos for “The Wire” and my student praised his real-life book about murder in the city, “Homicide,” that doesn’t mean the language needs to be showcased in a sophomore-level journalism class in Nebraska. There are ways to talk about the talk without listening to the talk.

Am I a prude? Am I naïve about what my young charges hear on a daily basis? Am I too PC?

Coincidentally, in the same class we talked about Bernie Goldberg’s book about political bias in network TV. In one section, Goldberg dismissed a colleague’s preference of the term “Indian” over “Native American” while faulting another for labeling the flat tax idea “wacky” – both items evidence, in Goldberg’s mind at least, of bias and excess political correctness in mainstream media. That led to a good debate in class about whether journalists worry too much about PC language and whether we need to bother with it.

Well, yes, we do need to bother with it, I argued. If African-Americans prefer to be called such, the media need to do so. If Native Americans don’t like a term that Columbus or someone else erroneously bestowed on them, we have to respect that. And there really is no place in a classroom for the N word or really any of the other offensive terms that Simon’s show shouted.

So, I’m donning the hairshirt on this one. I popped an email of apology to my students, even though I had been almost as surprised by the video as they were. It may have been the student’s presentation, but it was my classroom, after all. I’m not going to fault the student, who was just trying to enliven her time in the front of the class. But I sure wouldn’t encourage that sort of video again.

Yes, they’ve all heard worse. Yes, as journalists they will have to develop thick skin on their ears as well as everywhere else. And, yes, I’m from New Jersey, where people can shame Marines even when talking about the weather. But my Nebraska kids don’t have to traffic in the classroom in what my elders used to call foul-mouth talk.

Once, when I was young, I had my mouth cleaned out with soap. At times I can almost still taste it. Now is one of those times.