Yesterday readers were treated to the disorienting experience of a liberal New York Times columnist expressing shock at the radicalism of Donald Trump’s potential 2020 campaign opponents.
Now a donor to Democratic politicians and former Yale Law School dean, Anthony Kronman, is warning about the culture of the modern campus. Mr. Kronman talks to the Chronicle of Higher Education about his forthcoming book, “The Assault on American Excellence”:
What is it that distresses me? The eclipse of what I call “the conversational ideal.” The idea of the university as a space apart, given over to the rare and difficult task of pursuing the truth.
That’s been compromised in a variety of ways. I’ll just mention a couple: Any time anyone, faculty or student, says, “Well, you just don’t understand it because you’re not me, you don’t share my experience, you don’t see things as I do, you haven’t suffered as I have” — whenever a claim of that kind is offered as a trump, in conversation, as something that would be unseemly or inappropriate or unjust to challenge, the conversation comes to an end. That’s a conversation-killing move.
Another example: When students complain that a speaker invited to campus, or the curriculum in a course, is an insult to them because it disrespects them, fails to recognize the intensity of their feelings, of their suffering, and they want the speaker denied or the curriculum restructured — in that way too, feelings, whether justified or not, are given a conversation-killing trump status. That is antithetical to the conversational ideal...
“Elite” today means hard to get into. And our elite schools trumpet that, they play to it, they market it, and they pride themselves on being elite in this respect. But that is a perversion of what I mean by elite. It is focused entirely on what happens at the turnstile, at the point of entry. It completely disregards the other side of the turnstile. In fact, very little attention, certainly in the humanities, is now paid to the quality of the education these precious few are receiving once they’ve been admitted. What does it matter how difficult it is to get into a club if the club isn’t doing anything worthwhile?
Speaking of a lack of conversation at Yale, the university doesn’t appear to have said anything about its recent settlement of a lawsuit from a former student. On July 1 KC Johnson, a history professor at Brooklyn College, described the case and observed that across the country many students expelled for alleged sexual misconduct have been challenging university decisions in court:
Some 500 lawsuits have been brought by accused college students in Title IX cases since the Obama administration’s “Dear Colleague” letter of 2011 made it easier for accusers to prevail. Of those 500, one of the most troubling has been the case of basketball star Jack Montague, expelled by Yale in 2016 just as his team was about to enter the NCAA tournament for the first time in 44 years.
Last week, the long-lasting lawsuit between Yale and its former basketball captain was settled without releasing the terms of the agreement. Normally after such an outcome, the university spokesperson issues an anodyne statement to the effect that the school prioritizes safety and will continue to do so in the future. In this instance, Yale took a different course: according to a June 25 AP article, university spokesperson Thomas Conroy declined to comment. (The day before, Conroy did not respond to a request for comment from me.)
In that July 1 piece, Mr. Johnson alleged numerous violations of due process by Yale, including violations of its own rules and federal law. Perhaps Yale will choose to address this topic in the future. In the meantime, Mr. Johnson notes this week a new federal court ruling which could have a nationwide impact. Writing in City Journal, Mr. Johnson observes:
Last month, the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals sided with a student who sued his school for unfairly finding him guilty of sexual assault. Reversing a lower court’s dismissal of the anonymous student’s claims against Purdue University, Judge Amy Coney Barrett wrote that it was “plausible” that Purdue’s investigation panel “chose to believe Jane [Doe] because she is a woman and to disbelieve John [Doe] because he is a man.” The court held that the university violated the student’s due process rights and engaged in gender discrimination, forbidden by the Title IX statute...
In John Doe v. Purdue University, the plaintiff relied solely on a statement written on the accuser’s behalf by the campus victims’ rights office. Despite scant evidence, the Title IX investigator deemed the accuser the more credible party—without ever speaking to her. In what Judge Barrett called a “perplexing” decision, Purdue found the accused student guilty of sexual assault after a hearing in which the accuser didn’t even appear. Doe suffered life-altering consequences, losing his ROTC scholarship and his dream of serving in the Navy.
As Barrett noted, “Purdue’s process fell short of what even a high school must provide to a student facing a days-long suspension.” Purdue’s investigator declined to speak with Doe’s roommate, who he said would corroborate his version of events. The university then withheld the investigator’s report from Doe, a decision that the court labeled “fundamentally unfair.” Indeed, university officials appeared to have rendered their verdict upon hearing the accusation.
In Other News
Municipal Speech Enforcement
“Gendered language like ‘manhole’ will soon be banned from Berkeley’s city codes,” CNN, July 18
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(Teresa Vozzo helps compile Best of the Web. Thanks to Jackie Harty.)
Mr. Freeman is the co-author of “Borrowed Time,” now available from HarperBusiness.
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