Saturday, May 30, 2015

Harassing Laura Kipnis

A short time ago Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis wrote an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. In it, Kipnis questioned today’s campus orthodoxy about rape culture and trigger warnings.

I dutifully posted on it here.

Now, the campus Brown Shirts and junior Red Guards have chosen to harass Kipniss over her ideas, the better to create a hostile intellectual atmosphere on college campuses. She compares it to being brought before the Inquisition. In that she is largely correct.

According to Kipnis, they have succeeded. The decline and fall of American education proceeds apace.

In a new article from the Chronicle Kipnis recounts her experience:

According to our campus newspaper, the mattress-carriers were marching to the university president’s office with a petition demanding "a swift, official condemnation" of my article. One student said she’d had a "very visceral reaction" to the essay; another called it "terrifying." I’d argued that the new codes infantilized students while vastly increasing the power of university administrators over all our lives, and here were students demanding to be protected by university higher-ups from the affront of someone’s ideas, which seemed to prove my point.

Clearly, the tactic is fascistic. Kipnis explains:

Marching against a published article wasn’t a good optic — it smacked of book burning, something Americans generally oppose. 

On what basis is Kipnis being assaulted? On the basis of Title IX and a new policy issued by the Obama Department of Education.

Score one for the zealots become bureaucrats. They have no real interest in the criminal justice system. They want to impose their will on the nation and they have a special animus against free speech.

If you wanted to know where all of that government spending is going, you now know that the Obama administration has hired more bureaucrats and more lawyers to conduct kangaroo courts, administrative trials that circumvent due process and that shut down free inquiry on college campuses.

Kipnis explains:

Things seemed less amusing when I received an email from my university’s Title IX coordinator informing me that two students had filed Title IX complaints against me on the basis of the essay and "subsequent public statements" (which turned out to be a tweet), and that the university would retain an outside investigator to handle the complaints.

I stared at the email, which was under-explanatory in the extreme. I was being charged with retaliation, it said, though it failed to explain how an essay that mentioned no one by name could be construed as retaliatory, or how a publication fell under the province of Title IX, which, as I understood it, dealt with sexual misconduct and gender discrimination.

She continues:

Title IX was enacted by Congress in 1972 to deal with gender discrimination in public education — athletics programs were the initial culprits — and all institutions receiving federal funds were required to be in compliance. Over time, court rulings established sexual harassment and assault as forms of discrimination, and in 2011 the U.S. Department of Education advised colleges to "take immediate and effective steps to end sexual harassment and sexual violence." 

And also:

Apparently the idea was that they’d tell me the charges, and then, while I was collecting my wits, interrogate me about them. The term "kangaroo court" came to mind. I wrote to ask for the charges in writing. The coordinator wrote back thanking me for my thoughtful questions.

It’s big government at its worst:

The Title IX bureaucracy is expanding by the minute. A recent emailed update from my university announced new policies, programs, hires, surveys, procedures, websites, and educational initiatives devoted to sexual misconduct. What wasn’t quantified is how much intellectual real estate is being grabbed in the process. It’s a truism that the mission of bureaucracies is, above all, to perpetuate themselves, but with the extension of Title IX from gender discrimination into sexual misconduct has come a broadening of not just its mandate but even what constitutes sexual assault and rape.

Ambivalent sex becomes coerced sex, with charges brought months or even years after the events in question. Title IX officers now adjudicate an increasing range of murky situations involving mutual drunkenness, conflicting stories, and relationships gone wrong. They pronounce on the thorniest of philosophical and psychological issues: What is consent? What is power? Should power differentials between romantic partners be proscribed? Should eliminating power differences in relationships even be a social goal — wouldn’t that risk eliminating heterosexuality itself?

Stay tuned….


Dennis said...

When one creates and enables arsonists one will eventually be burned by those very same arsonists. I suspect Ms Kipnis had little to say when those arsonists were taking action that enhanced her status as a feminist.
Interesting that she got a large amount of support from social media users of various political persuasions. It would seem that outside of academe most of us do not like what amounts to leftist book burning.
It is some what satisfying to see people "hosted on their own petard." Lord knows that they have made a mine field of human interaction especially in academe.
I read that Harvard and other Ivy League graduates are now making less money, when hired, than many graduates of higher education from universities of supposed lesser status. One wonders if this doesn't come directly from the conditions created by people who are giving Ms Kipnis a dose of her own medicine? Feminism is in the process of destroying itself and it does seem to be well deserved.

Sam L. said...

It also diminishes the estimation of the reputations of the colleges by reasonable people (i.e., what kind of nuts are running that asylum?).

Anonymous said...

This story made HotAir's QOTD last night, with a comment I think you will appreciate:

Solzhenitsyn used this tactic in the Gulags to keep the guards busy investigating complaints, The guards then had less time to harass the prisoners.

davidk on May 30, 2015 at 7:37 AM

Ares Olympus said...

I largely agree with this troublesome case, although I'd consider this progress since you need to bring attention to problems, and Ms Kipnis has graciously volunteered as lightning rod.

I couldn't access the original article, but a large part is requore here:

I also found this "modest proposal" solution which I largely approve, although we'll have to work a bit to decide which tier deserves public funding:
Jason Brennan: initial reaction to the New Campus Censorship™ was that professors should push back in favor of free speech and free inquiry, in much the same way the University of Chicago recently did. But then I realized this in unfair to students. Some students very well may be infantile weaklings who lack the maturity or psychological stability to interact with ideas contrary to their own. I don’t have a psychology degree, and so I’m not qualified to just assume that all students are or could be Millian liberal agents, who are able to dispassionately discuss contrary ideas without this in turn crushing their souls. Indeed, Mill himself had a nervous breakdown.

Thus, I now think a better reform would be to institute a two-tier university system. Tier One, also called Real Universities, would follow the traditional college model in which every idea, no matter how repugnant, can be discussed in an intellectual way at any time, and in which everyone would be free to challenge any worldview or ideology others might have. Tier Two, the PseudoUniversities, would feature protective padded walls and pictures of bunnies in every classroom. Students would only be exposed to ideas they already have, and would never have to feel threatened or challenged. No one would ever feel excluded because we would only include people who share all the same world views. When students apply to college, they would then choose whether to attend a Real University or a PseudoUniversity.

To make this work, we’ll need to have both left-wing and right-wring PseudoUniversities. After all, Christian fundamentalists could feel threatened at a place like the New School, while the average hard-left New School student could feel threatened at a place like Liberty University.

The problem with the current system is that we’re trying to mix faculty, administrators, and students who wish to attend PseudoUniversities with those who wish to attend Real Universities. It’s kind of like we’re trying to serve everybody pizza when some people just want hamburgers instead. So, let’s solve the problem with product differentiation and market segmentation.

This way, no one will have a legitimate complaint. If a student at a Real feels threatened by contrary ideas, we can say to him, “Hey, you chose to go to a Real when you could have gone to a Pseudo. You consented to being challenged. If you don’t like it, there’s the door.” If a professor at a Pseudo dares to say something that offends her students, we can say, “Hey, you chose to take a job at a Pseudo instead of a Real, or, of course, you could have taken a job at GEICO, where they don’t try to fire people for their political views.”

In short, some students are terrified or threatened by contrary ideas. The solution, I think, is to create two different university systems, one for adults, and one for children who need to be protected. Problem solved.

Ares Olympus said...

David Brooks weighed in today, looks like a good overview of the immature victim-mentality involved that protects its participants from objective reason.
...but when you witness how this movement is actually being felt on campus, you can’t help noticing that it sometimes slides into a form of zealotry.
The problem is that the campus activists have moral fervor, but don’t always have settled philosophies to restrain the fervor of their emotions. Settled philosophies are meant to (but obviously don’t always) instill a limiting sense of humility, a deference to the complexity and multifaceted nature of reality. But many of today’s activists are forced to rely on a relatively simple social theory.

According to this theory, the dividing lines between good and evil are starkly clear. The essential conflict is between the traumatized purity of the victim and the verbal violence of the oppressor.

According to this theory, the ultimate source of authority is not some hard-to-understand truth. It is everybody’s personal feelings. A crime occurs when someone feels a hurt triggered, or when someone feels disagreed with or “unsafe.” In the Shulevitz piece, a Brown student retreats from a campus debate to a safe room because she “was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against” her dearly and closely held beliefs.

Today’s campus activists are not only going after actual acts of discrimination — which is admirable. They are also going after incorrect thought — impiety and blasphemy. They are going after people for simply failing to show sufficient deference to and respect for the etiquette they hold dear. They sometimes conflate ideas with actions and regard controversial ideas as forms of violence.

All of these people were targeted for purging merely for bringing unacceptable words into the public square. As Powers describes it in “The Silencing,” Kaminer was accused of racial violence and hate speech. The university president was pilloried for tolerating an environment that had been made “hostile” and “unsafe.”

We’re now in a position in which the students and the professors and peers they target are talking past each other. The students feeling others don’t understand the trauma they’ve survived; the professors feeling as though they are victims in a modern Salem witch trial. Everybody walks on egg shells.

There will always be moral fervor on campus. Right now that moral fervor is structured by those who seek the innocent purity of the vulnerable victim. Another and more mature moral fervor would be structured by the classic ideal of the worldly philosopher, by the desire to confront not hide from what you fear, but to engage the complexity of the world, and to know that sometimes the way to wisdom involves hurt feelings, tolerating difference and facing hard truths.