Friday, April 17, 2015

Campus radicalism points up the need for educational choice

The late Milton Friedman believed that restricting higher-education subsidies "to schooling obtained at a state-administered institution cannot be justified on any grounds. Any subsidy should be granted to individuals to be spent at institutions of their own choosing." 

He's right. Oklahoma's college students should be given a voucher redeemable not only at public colleges and universities, but at nonpublic ones as well. After all, why should our political leaders discriminate against education obtained at private institutions? Why should Oklahoma's overwhelmingly center-right taxpayers subsidize the study of Chicana lesbian literature at my alma mater in Norman, for example, but not equally subsidize the study of the American founding at Oklahoma Wesleyan University?

These questions come to mind as we continue to watch campus radicalism turn higher education into "a bizarre, Orwellian simulacrum of itself." The University of Oklahoma faculty Senate did its part for the cause this week, discussing a resolution on "diversity and inclusion" which will be voted on at a future meeting.

Submitted by Faculty Senator Peter Barker, 10 April 2015 
Draft Senate Resolution 
Whereas, (1) many major universities already require course work on race, gender identity, and sexual identity as part of their degree programs, and requiring such coursework at the University of Oklahoma would be a concrete step towards addressing problems in these areas on campus. A wide range of departments and programs at OU already offer such courses, including African and African-American Studies, Anthropology, English, History, History of Science, Human Relations, Native American Studies, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, and Women's and Gender Studies, as well as the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Most of these courses are 3 credit hour courses lasting one semester. In addition, the Women’s and Gender Studies Program has developed four, 1 credit hour courses on inclusion and diversity that could be made available to students across campus. All this coursework should build on the foundation provided by training in race, gender, and sexual identity which students receive on entering the university. See item 2 below. We ask that these curricular changes be implemented at the earliest possible date, and preferably during the 2015-2016 academic year. 
And whereas, (2) incoming students currently receive some training in race, gender identity, and sexual identity, this is limited in time and content and current student training has failed to prevent the situation we now face. As a minimum, this training should introduce students to the concepts of white privilege, stereotype threat and microaggression, as well as issues crucial to our large Native American population such as sovereignty and multiculturalism. It should also contain clear and detailed information on where to find help and support in dealing with these issues, including reporting inappropriate behavior. This training should be face-to-face, and model the skills and behaviors the University expects from students. Transfer students should receive the same training as other students, when they enter the university. We recommend the university provide support to start such a program no later than Fall 2015, for students entering the university that semester. 
And whereas, (3) Sooner Ally, created by the Women’s Outreach Center, is an exemplary program in support of LGBTQ students. The Women’s Outreach Center facilitates a number of Ally trainings, including Greek Ally, Sooner Ally, Faculty Ally, Medical Ally, Resident Advisor Ally, K-12 Ally, and Helping Professionals Ally. Through these programs, faculty and students are offered training in LGBTQ issues and techniques of personal support, and qualify to be listed as resource people who display the Ally flag on syllabi, email, and office doors. We suggest founding a parallel Ally program to support students of color and other minority students. In addition to training on the pattern of Sooner Ally, we also suggest that the program connect individual students with trained faculty mentors. A complete plan for such a program already exists, prepared by the OU Center for Social Justice. Attempts to gain external funding have been unsuccessful so far. We need this program, and we need it now. We are asking for university support to launch a program no later than Fall 2015, for all students at the university. 
And whereas, (4) the Women’s Outreach Center developed the Sooner Ally program and is the primary source of Student Affairs support on campus for LGBTQ community members. The Center is also the home of bystander education, and houses the OU Advocates program that supports survivors of sexual assault, stalking, and domestic violence. The Women’s Outreach Center is housed within Student Life, which also supports African American Student Life, American Indian Student Life, Asian American Student Life, and Latino Student Life. These programs are doing valuable work to support students of color; however, the University needs a resource center that brings them all together in one powerful and less fragmented entity. We ask for university support to start such a center no later than Fall 2015, for all students at the university. 
And whereas, (5) we applaud the action of the University President and the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in seeking to appoint diversity officers at the university and college level. The College of Engineering already appointed a Director of Diversity and Multicultural Engineering Programs in 2010. These initiatives need to be carried throughout all OU colleges. At the same time, each college should assemble advisory committees of students and faculty to work with these officers, to create a university-wide network of two-way communication. We need these officers, and we need them now. We ask for university support to make these appointments and create the corresponding advisory committees no later than Fall 2015. 
And whereas, (6) faculty members and staff have recently received hostile and threatening communications, with the consequence that some have been left feeling quite unsafe and have even stayed away from campus or changed their daily activities. We request that the university develop an action plan to provide support for faculty and staff members who receive hostile or threatening communications or have other experiences, including classroom experiences that leave them feeling unsafe. Such a plan should include, at least, clear instructions for notifying a senior administrator, who will then work with OUPD and (if applicable) Norman PD to assess threat level and take appropriate protective measures, and coordinate a response through IT in the case of electronic communications originating on campus or using campus resources. 
Therefore, the Faculty Senate recommends: 
1) Requiring at least one semester of course work on race, gender identity, and sexual identity to all undergraduate degree programs at OU regardless of college. This requirement should also apply to transfer students. 
2) Mandating at least one day of face-to-face training in race, gender identity, and sexual identity, for all incoming undergraduate and graduate students at OU. This requirement should also apply to transfer students. 
3) Providing university support for founding an Ally program for students of color and other minority students, which would offer training to faculty and students, and connect students to specific faculty mentors. 
4) Providing university support and adequate space for an outreach center for students of color and other minority students. 
5) Providing university support for appointing diversity officers in every college, with the simultaneous creation of advisory committees consisting of faculty and students. 
6) Developing a university action plan to provide support for faculty and staff members who receive hostile or threatening communications or have other experiences, including classroom experiences that leave them feeling unsafe. 

An Opposing View

One OU professor, geophysicist David Deming, strongly disagrees with these recommendations. Yesterday he sent the following memorandum to the faculty Senate.
Date: April 16, 2015 
To: Faculty Senate, University of Oklahoma 
From: David Deming, Professor of Arts & Sciences 
I write to express my concerns regarding the "diversity and inclusion resolution" (DIR) introduced at the April 13 meeting of the Faculty Senate. This resolution is similar to a letter sent to President Boren last April 7 and appears to originate from largely the same sponsors. Although the resolution superficially endorses concepts we can all embrace, it conceals a radical political agenda underneath layers of euphemisms. What is proposed in this resolution is antithetical to the University's educational mission and to the standards of free inquiry that characterize an open society. It is nothing more than an opportunistic attempt by a minority of the faculty to impose their personal political beliefs on a diverse community. 
I will begin by addressing some implicit presumptions in the DIR. Although there is no reference to "underrepresented groups" in the DIR, this phrase appears in the letter sent to President Boren. The truth is that there are no underrepresented groups at the University of Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma admits individuals, not groups. Student admissions are made on the basis of merit as determined by grades and standardized test scores. This is the case for nearly all American colleges. The reason these criteria are universally applied is that they are reliable predictors of success. The alternative is to set up a racial quota system. The imposition of a quota system in a multi-racial society would promote bickering, resentment, and racial tension. Furthermore, preferential treatment "on the basis of race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin" is explicitly banned by the Oklahoma Constitution (II-36a). The same principles and conclusions apply to faculty and staff appointments. 
The second shibboleth is the implicit supposition that inequality is a problem. Absolute equality is a utopian chimera. It has never been achieved in any human society. Nor is equality even desirable. Equality is incompatible with both liberty and justice. When people with different aptitudes and inclinations are allowed to pursue their interests in a free society they will naturally sort themselves out in a hierarchy of merit. 
The DIR proposes that OU require students take an additional semester of course work in the subjects of "race, gender identity, and sexual identity." How will this extra semester of course work be accommodated? Unless the University of Oklahoma is to require four-and-half years of full-time coursework for an undergraduate degree, adding a full semester of "course work on race, gender, and sexual identity" to the curriculum will require we drop a semester of existing subjects. Which of the liberal arts is to be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness? Mathematics? Literature? The natural sciences? Who among you considers your course to be redundant and unnecessary? 
After throwing Aristotle, Newton, Shakespeare, and the like into the trash can, it is proposed that we replace the timeless icons of Western Civilization with "training" (i.e., indoctrination) in the fashionable concepts of "white privilege, stereotype threat and microaggression." Most faculty are probably unaware that this "training" is currently taking place in the OU History of Science (HSCI) department. (See flyers distributed by Professor Peter Barker for seminars conducted on March 5 and March 12 of this year.) What is being done now provides a glimpse of what the DIR authors would like to accomplish in the future.
I am not opposed to the discussion of any subject in an academic setting, no matter how controversial. Professors have full academic freedom in both teaching and research, and this freedom is guaranteed by both the policies of the University of Oklahoma and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Nor is my endorsement of academic freedom one-sided or ideologically biased. In 2009, I defended professor Ward Churchill by publishing a letter of support in the Colorado Daily
Students have some flexibility in choosing professors and courses. But no one should be forced to undergo political indoctrination under the disingenuous guise of "training" by a public institution. "Training" means teaching people how to operate fire extinguishers. Indoctrination is the teaching of a system of thought with no allowance for dissent or disagreement. I invite everyone to follow the hyperlinks in this document and evaluate for yourself if what is proposed constitutes training or political indoctrination. 
The "training" being done in HSCI is based on materials from the website The theme of these materials is that American society is characterized by "patriarchy, white supremacy, and heterosexism." Every white person in the U.S. is said to enjoy the benefits of something called "white privilege," a concept that was invented in 1987 by the feminist Peggy McIntosh. White privilege is an original sin. It is invisible, omnipresent, and confers unearned benefits on every white person. White people are born racist, nor is there is any action they can take that will divest themselves of this guilt. White privilege is described as a "magic carpet that allows you to sail over the worries of others without ever having to look down," and white people are characterized as "lords over people of color." Anyone who does not accept this is derided as "ignorant." 
According to the instructional materials being used by HSCI, every woman, homosexual, poor person, and person of color is oppressed and disenfranchised, as are the mentally ill and learning disabled. Students are asked to "consider the ways in which you are oppressed," and told to "work in solidarity with oppressed groups" and "to join feminist and activist communities." They are instructed that if they are heterosexual they should refrain from getting married in any jurisdiction that does not allow gay people to marry. 
Students are counseled to see racism everywhere by becoming aware of imaginary insults called "microaggrressions." An example of a racist microaggression is the statement "if you work hard enough, you will succeed." The statement is regarded as implicitly racist because it allegedly promotes the stereotype that people of color are "lazy, stupid, or incompetent." Students are told explicitly that they will not achieve success through hard work. The only thing that accounts for success in an "unjust society" is "privilege." Even the mention of controversial issues can be a crime. If you criticize — no, even discuss — whether or not it is appropriate for government to subsidize abortion you have committed "a sexist environmental microaggression."
This curriculum is incendiary and plainly racist. It will not eliminate racism, it will exacerbate it. The attempt to scapegoat white students and instill them with guilt and shame will create nothing but resentment. But the effects of inculcating racial hatred in minority students will be incalculable. They will be taught that the U.S. is not a meritocracy founded on political equality, but a vicious, oppressive, and racist society. There is no American dream, hard work makes no difference whatsoever, and success is impossible for anyone who is female, black, gay, disabled, or transgendered. There is a dangerous corollary implicit in this hateful rhetoric. A person who believes they are oppressed in a hopeless system may logically conclude they have no choice but violence.
The most ominous of the demands in the DIR is the insistence that students be trained to "report inappropriate behavior." This will turn the University of Oklahoma campus into a totalitarian state, akin to Stalinist Russia. Walls of silence will descend on our community. People will be afraid to speak, especially to people of a different race or ethnicity, lest they be charged with committing a microaggression. 
Faculty take note: you will not be immune from charges of racism. If you counsel a student to "work harder" in your class, you could be charged with a racist microaggression. If the student is a member of an ethnic minority you are guilty of racism because you implied that members of that group are inherently lazy. Because microaggressions are purely subjective, anyone can be charged at any time for any reason or no reason at all. This is not mere supposition. In 2013, a professor at UCLA was charged with committing a racist microaggression for correcting student's grammar and requiring the use of The Chicago Manual of Style. 
In summary, what the DIR proposes is not education but political indoctrination. It should be rejected in toto.
Educational choice is good policy for many reasons, one of which is that it empowers education consumers to vote with their feet. Oklahoma's political leaders, to their great credit, have already enacted higher-education vouchers on a limited scale. But it's time to expand them. It's time to fund students, not institutions.

UPDATE: All incoming freshmen at OU will be required to take five hours of "diversity training." 

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