Drew Faust, the President of Harvard, devoted her commencement speech to free speech at Harvard and universities in general. First, she defended its centrality to a university’s mission of free inquiry; second, she asked why it had become such a contentious issue in recent years; and third, she made suggestions to strengthen it for the future. She deserves credit for the vigorous defense in the first part of her remarks at time when many university Presidents are missing in action. But the rest of her speech was shallow.
For instance, she suggested that it is the decline of religious, class and ethic homogeneity that has led to a renewed debate over the value of speech: “Once overwhelmingly white, male, Protestant, and upper class, Harvard College is now half female, majority minority, religiously pluralistic, with nearly 60 percent of students able to attend because of financial aid. Fifteen percent are the first in their families to go to college.”
Here she substantially exaggerates the homogeneity of the Harvard past, at least the past of four decades ago when I was a student.
Since Brown v. Board of Education (1954), the U.S. Supreme Court has viewed itself as the enlightened molder of social consensus, leading the recalcitrant political branches to reach progressive outcomes demanded by social justice. Sometimes (as with desegregation) the Court manages to get in front of the parade of public opinion, and sometimes (as with same-sex marriage) the Court forces unruly voters to accept a particular end result. But, as with abortion, sometimes the Court miscalculates, becoming enmired in an intractable political dispute. And in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke (1978), the Court—fueled by the conceit of its superior wisdom—divined a “solution” to disparate race enrollments in higher education that has proven to be a quagmire.
Conservative critics regularly assail the University of California for its cartoonish devotion to diversity and the latest fads in political correctness. Mocking UC is practically Heather Mac Donald’s beat at City Journal and UC President Janet Napolitano’s recent campaign against “microaggressions”—including the allegedly offensive statement “America is the land of opportunity”—was roundly condemned by commentators across the spectrum, even the left-leaning Los Angeles Times. We expect as much from California, led by Governor Moonbeam, but what are we to make of the University of Texas at Austin’s increasingly desperate attempt to follow in UC Berkeley’s footsteps?
What does it mean to turn politics into an exercise of compassion? That’s the question William Voegeli invites us to consider in his latest book The Pity Party. He bids us to the same conclusion, but in policy and political terms, that our parents once gave us: pity parties are a guilt trip. Of course, the particular politics Voegeli is discussing emerges from the sense of injustice and unfairness that modern liberals everywhere perceive. Their primary motivation, however, is to relieve their own inner discomfort. Their compassion, even more problematically, is disconnected from any real notion of virtue or individual…
Tim Groseclose has confirmed that he is one of America’s leading conservative commentators with the publication of Cheating: An Insider’s Report on the Use of Race in Admissions at UCLA. It may seem an odd role for Groseclose, for six years the Marvin Hoffenberg Chair of American Politics at UCLA and a quantitative social scientist whose innovations are widely recognized (see the list of publications on his website). He has achieved academic plaudits while openly declaring his Rush Limbaugh-listening and other rightwing proclivities.
To fully appreciate Cheating, we should start by discussing Left Turn, Groseclose’s earlier popular work about liberal media bias. Such critiques (as well as exposées of race preference in academia) are legion, but he devises formal models to measure the extent of bias or discrimination that enables all sorts of instructive comparisons. He establishes PQ measurements (political bias) of counties, cities, politicians, and media outlets. His website even contains instructions on how to calculate your own PQ.
Twenty years ago I published a novella in which a purported serial killer, using all the arguments of liberal or radical criminology, proved to his own satisfaction that not only that he was as good as the average citizen, but better. To my surprise an eminent critic thought that my character expressed my own views, which he then criticized as if they had been meant seriously. Was the fault mine for not having made myself clear enough, or his for having been so obtuse?
Hillsdale College is justly acclaimed for not taking federal funds. The Michigan liberal arts college even employs an attorney to make sure it does not unintentionally receive any. It fears the intrusiveness of federal regulations on its academic freedom and the quality of student life. (I taught for Hillsdale’s Washington, DC program, before they raised its standards. In fact, Larry Arnn, as President of the Claremont Institute rehired me there and, perhaps fearing the consequences of his decision, shortly left and became President of Hillsdale.)
The Supreme Court has labored mightily since the fall term, likely revised and re-revised the court opinion in the Fisher v Texas University of Texas racial preferences admissions case, and let loose what at first appears to be a ridiculous mouse. The 7-1 opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, Justices Scalia and Thomas concurring, and Justice Ginsberg dissenting, remands the case to the Fifth Circuit, with the admonition to apply the “strict scrutiny” standard to University practices. This command could be construed, in Texas terms, as a Nolan Ryan brushback. But the batters are wily veterans and are not easily intimidated; after all, they are university professors and masters of their universe. Plaintiff Abigail Fisher didn’t ask for a reversal of the Grutter case, and the Court didn’t make this reversal.