Shine a Light on Us

Carol Iannone

The autumn of 2015 saw American campuses rife with protests, outbursts, and boiling grievances, as offended students flailed and railed against perceived violations of their sensitivities and zones of “safety.” College presidents and other administrators were forced to resign for nebulous sins, while furious young people screamed obscenities at their teachers and advisors for expressing wrong opinions in e-mails.1 Today’s student population evidently includes a segment of pampered, ungrateful young people who, as AQ advisor Victor Davis Hanson observes, “hunt for micro-aggressions, slights that register only on their hypersensitive Richter scales of victimization. They pout over mean Halloween costumes, inauthentic ethnic food, or politically incorrect literature assignments. They are angry even at mute statues and century-old names chiseled on the arches of their ivy-covered halls.”2

What is behind this ultra-sensitivity on the part of some of the most privileged young people on the face of the earth? Even if there are some clumsy, careless, unkind, thoughtless provocations, and often there is not even that, what accounts for this overreaction to what is, after all, part of the vicissitudes of the human condition, and to which, as intelligent persons, they have better ways to meet? No doubt the politically correct education they are receiving has sharpened their nerve ends to any kind of slight that can be construed as racism, sexism, and the like, or that in any way hampers their right to perfect “equality” of existence.

Moreover, the baby boom generation, born in the twenty or so years after WWII, became very critical of their parents’ attitudes, marriages, work habits, child-rearing practices, and so on, and determined to do differently for their own offspring. Gradually many of them, and many in the so-called generation X that followed them, turned into the so-called helicopter parents, hovering over their little ones, shielding them from every sharp wind and fanning their “self-esteem.” Thus these young people have had so little asked of them they feel “victimized” by any sort of unpleasantness. (Ironically, they are victims, but not in the way they think.)

I recall a telling moment that I felt signaled the transition to a new age. One evening I attended a performance of the Twyla Tharp dance company, after which the great lady herself spoke to the audience and answered questions. Her rather high-handed demeanor, a bit mocking, a bit sarcastic, a bit brusque, was no surprise to me, having taken many modern dance classes and being accustomed to the peremptory superiority of many modernist choreographers, attitudes probably dating back to such ground-breaking pioneers as Martha Graham and Isadora Duncan. I rather enjoyed it, figuring, I guess, that Tharp’s talent and devotion entitled her to speak as she pleased and, furthermore, that it was nothing personal. What surprised me was to see the younger woman next to me feeling appalled, horrified, offended, eventually walking off in a huff, and in the process conveying to me that something new was being born. And yet, and yet, some say the boomers themselves were spoiled by overindulgence, resulting in the campus upheavals of the 1960s when they saw that life was not a bowl of cherries after all.

Be that as it may, under the guidance of the progressive Left, the West is steadily sawing off the branch on which it is sitting. The right to express oneself, one’s views and opinions, even if they go against the grain of those in hearing—the right Voltaire insisted he would defend to the death—is no longer the bedrock American principle of higher education it once was, or so it seems. According to one report, a prank petition to repeal the First Amendment actually garnered sincere signatories, and at Yale University, no less.3 In such an atmosphere, it is no easy task to shine the light of truth on circumstances, but our authors do just that, in one way or another, in our first issue of 2016.

“Americans live in a world where the scope of government, particularly at the federal level, has expanded enormously,” writes George R. La Noue in “Two Cheers for the Freedom of Information Act,” the first entry of our special section, “FOIA—Friend and Foe,” adding that from 1960 to 2012 the Code of Federal Regulation grew from almost 23,000 to over 174,000 pages. And these regulations arise from legislation that members of Congress have not fully understood or even read (recall Nancy Pelosi’s unreassuring remark: “We have to pass this bill so that you can find out what is in it”).

Thus the Freedom of Information Act, signed into law on the significant day of July 4, 1966, has been a boon, offering concerned citizens and academic researchers the opportunity to learn how and why federal regulations are being deployed in the halls of government agencies. Both La Noue and Roger Clegg, “More Sunshine,” have found FOIA requests enormously helpful in discovering how racial preferences are being discussed and implemented, whether in government contracting or university admissions and employment. As Clegg reminds us, discrimination on the basis of race is against the law, and the Supreme Court has allowed only the narrowest use of race to achieve the presumed “educational benefits of a more diverse student body.” Open records requests can aid in holding colleges to the “strict scrutiny” that the Court mandates.

But a serpent always lurks in the garden, and our two other special section authors, Koleman Strumpf, Koch Professor of Business Economics at the University of Kansas, “Unreasonable Searches: The Abuse of Open Records Laws,” and David R. Legates, professor of climatology at the University of Delaware, “The University vs. Academic Freedom,” have been bombarded with FOIA requests that amount to sheer harassment. Strumpf’s case, which was sparked by anti-Koch animus, involved “a breathtakingly wide request” for documents from a period of over ten years. The University of Delaware instructed Legates, a climate change skeptic, to go beyond a FOIA request from Greenpeace for materials related to his position as Delaware State Climatologist, and to turn over all documents in his possession. Unlike Strumpf’s, his case is ongoing; read all about it.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been heralded for their potential to bring radical change to higher education and threaten the very existence of brick and mortar colleges. Daniel A. Bonevac speaks of his own experience preparing and presenting an online course for tens of thousands of students in “MOOCs: The Director’s Cut,” and brings a little realism to the already declining euphoria. MOOCs “will not threaten most institutions of higher education for some time,” Bonevac writes; at the same time, his article will be useful to those attempting such courses.

Terence Ball’s concept of “The Higher Illiteracy” does entail the ability to read, but through an ideological glass, darkly. Only the carefully taught can reach such heights as to register, for example, the difference between the “white male system” and the “female system” of experiencing time. Furthermore, some of Ball’s brightest students have told him that they don’t read “dead white male authors” because “what they had to say was not merely mistaken but politically pernicious—or so they had been told by their teachers.” They are, thus, “highly illiterate”—literally.

“He that thinks reasonably must think morally,” Samuel Johnson once wrote, and Jack Kerwick would agree, although his formulation is more he who thinks civilly thinks morally. In “The Inability to Think Civilly,” Kerwick explores the connections and proposes that civility would go a long way toward assuaging the burning grievances that marred the campus this past autumn.

As if in support of the importance of FOIA requests, Ben Foster offers a unique insider glimpse into “Affirmative Action at the University of Louisville: A Case Study.” The article describes the incredible machinations that go into fulfilling affirmative action and diversity demands at his own school, where blind bureaucratic mandates can result in a department of nursing in which forty-one of forty-four slots are filled by females being judged to have an underrepresentation of women.

We introduce a new editorial category, “Disciplinary Notes,” with two entries. George Payne Rainsford James (1799–1860) headed Great Britain’s consulate in Norfolk, Virginia, in the 1850s. In that capacity he was befriended by Roger Taney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and conversed with him over a period of weeks following the Dred Scott decision, for which Taney had written the opinion. Published here, for the first time, is a May 20, 1857, letter to George William Frederick Villiers, Fourth Earl of Clarendon, in which James reports on the series of conversations he had with Taney, in which the chief justice discussed his thinking on the case, among other things. Taney believed the decision was fully constitutional, although, as we know, Abraham Lincoln called it, simply, “erroneous.” Lincoln went on to note in a June 26, 1857, speech that the court “has often over-ruled its own decisions,” and he prophetically declared that “we shall do what we can to have it to over-rule this.” Robert L. Paquette gives the full background and context to the letter in “The Mind of Roger Taney: New Light on the Dred Scott Decision.”

In his explanation of why college teachers are so overwhelmingly liberal, sociologist Neil Gross posits that it is, in effect, conservatives’ own fault. In “Neil Gross’s Plantation Model of the Academic Labor Market,” Mitchell Langbert summarizes Gross’s argument, namely, “that conservatives, libertarians, and others who disagree with social democratic ideology prefer to avoid academia because of their lack of interest and their mental image of the academic profession. Evidence of harassment in graduate programs and complaints of exclusion from research university jobs can be discounted because conservatives and libertarians don’t want to be academics anyway” (an explanation, by the way, that would never be accepted with regard to the proportion of women and minorities in various occupations and professions). In our second Disciplinary Note for this issue, Langbert dissects key elements of Gross’s research and exposes its inadequacies.

Climatologist and geophysicist Michael E. Mann is famous for his Hockey Stick graph, which supposedly shows a dramatic upturn in global temperature in the last hundred years or so. When Mark Steyn ridiculed the graph and its premise, Mann responded not by pressing the import of his own research but by suing the journalist. Steyn’s answer is to edit “A Disgrace to the Profession”: The World’s Scientists in Their Own Words, Volume I: On Michael E. Mann, His Hockey Stick, and Their Damage to Science, in which he cites over 120 scientists on all sides of the climate change debate who are skeptical of Mann’s thesis. David R. Legates, who has testified alongside Mann at congressional hearings, makes his second appearance in this issue as reviewer.

Fred Jacobs’s “Li Bai, His Death” is our poem, and Peter Wood contributes Books, Articles, and Items of Academic Interest.

Finally, we wish to make a correction to Robert Maranto’s Winter 2015 review of Sandra Stotsky’s An Empty Curriculum: The Need to Reform Teacher Licensing Regulations and Tests. Stotsky was appointed senior associate commissioner in the Massachusetts Department of Education by then- commissioner of education David Driscoll and chair of the board of education James Peyser (not by Massachusetts governor Paul Cellucci, as indicated in the review).

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