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Open letter on campus culture

Summary:
Adam Ellwanger, Professor of English at the University of Houston, has organized an important open letter on campus culture. It has hundreds of signatories. You can sign too if you wish.  Campuses have been drifting left for a long time. But, as the letter notes, there is a new qualitative difference, that the bureaucratic machinery now compounds ...

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Adam Ellwanger, Professor of English at the University of Houston, has organized an important open letter on campus culture. It has hundreds of signatories. You can sign too if you wish.  

Campuses have been drifting left for a long time. But, as the letter notes, there is a new qualitative difference, that the bureaucratic machinery now compounds what was just social and to some extent professional (don't hire conservatives) pressure among the faculty. 

... campus groupthink ...  is enshrined and encoded in the protocols and procedures of university governance. ... administrative structures now investigate and prosecute deviations from orthodoxy through formal and informal exercises of institutional power.

...requiring candidates for academic positions to submit “diversity statements” with their application packets is a new way that many universities filter out potential professors whose views might not wholly conform to the progressive pieties of the academy. 

...various bodies within our schools (faculty senates, student unions, university presidents and provosts, centers for critical race and gender studies, and other ideologically motivated departments and concentrations) have asserted a unilateral right to dictate the objectives, aims, and practices of our institutions. These assertions came in the form of formal resolutions and “antiracism” statements that often disregard key facts about race-related violence in law enforcement and society at large. They came in the form of workshops and sessions on “social justice,” some of which were informal, some mandatory. They came in the form of “training” on topics such as Title IX, privilege, antiracism, and “sensitivity.” All of these interactions are framed as opportunities for the sharing of diverse views, but in fact, they are explicitly and implicitly intolerant of dissenting ideas, which are routinely silenced, mocked, shouted down, or otherwise punished. 

These claims to a universal right to arbitrate the dialogue on campus, coupled with the implementation of formal penalties by university administration for deviations from political orthodoxy, have silenced many faculty members who harbor strong reservations and misgivings about these aggressive demonstrations of illiberal sentiment.

The outcome is bad for social justice, for our society, and 

Further, the rising tide of academic intolerance is a disservice to our students, many of whom are no longer taught the habits of mind that are essential for the function of democratic life in a pluralist society.

The letter is noteworthy as it comes from people with very little academic power

Many of the faculty members who signed this letter are not household names—most of us are not “public intellectuals” of the sort that signed the recent letter in Harper’s magazine ...

It is relatively easy for big shots to brave the twitter mob and the ire of deans. (Relatively. Stephen Pinker and Charles Murray don't have totally easy lives.) These signatories really are risking careers. I learned of it from a very courageous graduate student, who by putting his name to this letter will never get a job at a university that requires diversity statements (presuming the bureaucrats who run such things know how to use google.) 

The letter is not perfect. It needed editing to be shorter (a fault I know something about). A few points stand out as strange -- the nondischargeability of student debt in bankruptcy has nothing to do with the woke wars.* (I encouraged Adam to drop this, but it was too late to make changes.) And some of the "resolutions" are a bit strained. If forced to take mandatory "training," many of us do not have the option to say no. And maybe saying yes, documenting what goes on, is better anyway. Still, the letter offers two important caveats

the undersigned have some minor points of disagreement about the specific positions and resolutions listed below,

and 

in as far as they are in keeping with the conscience of each individual signer.

You don't have to swallow it all to sign. 

The letter has a second important disclaimer, which applies to this blog but I reiterate especially in this case. 

The undersigned speak for themselves—not their institutions

After the Atlas Imbroglio, Stanfords' administrators cautioned us to be very clear that in any political statement we should be very clear we speak for ourselves, not our institution, especially when writing outside our professional expertise. So, you too my sign with your institutional affiliation, but not run afoul of this sensible ethical restriction. 

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* Not allowing debt to be dischargeable in bankruptcy can make some sense. All other debt is collateralized, fail to pay and you lose the house/car. We don't allow forced labor (also for good reasons) so getting people to repay student debt is harder. Limiting its dischargeability can create a market where there is lending in the first place -- or in which the taxpayer provides a loan not a gift. Taxes are also not dischargeable in bankruptcy, nor in many cases is child support. 

If you want to get mad about federally subsidized student debt, two other problems seem much worse. First, it applies without regard to major, i.e. to whether the proposed plan of study will lead to employment at higher wages. Here there is a complaint to campus leftism: Student debt subsidizes professors who teach classes in left-wing politics that prepare you to be an antifa protester, but not a taxpaying worker. Also student debt is currently partially forgiven if you work in a non-profit or government, precisely the opposite of a good incentive.

But this is all completely beside the point, which is why it's off in a footnote.   



John H. Cochrane
In real life I'm a Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institution at Stanford. I was formerly a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. I'm also an adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute. I'm not really grumpy by the way!

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