The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campusesby Alan Charles Kors
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Universities once believed themselves to be sacred enclaves, where students and professors could debate the issues of the day and arrive at a better understanding of the human condition. Today, sadly, this ideal of the university is being quietly betrayed from within. Universities still set themselves apart from American society, but now they do so by enforcing their own politically correct worldview through censorship, double standards, and a judicial system without due process. Faculty and students who threaten the prevailing norms may be forced to undergo "thought reform." In a surreptitious aboutface, universities have become the enemy of a free society, and the time has come to hold these institutions to account.
The Shadow University is a stinging indictment of the covert system of justice on college campuses, exposing the widespread reliance on kangaroo courts and arbitrary punishment to coerce students and faculty into conformity. Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate, staunch civil libertarians and active defenders of free inquiry on campus, lay bare the totalitarian mindset that undergirds speech codes, conduct codes, and "campus life" bureaucracies, through which a cadre of deans and counselors indoctrinate students and faculty in an ideology that favors group rights over individual rights, sacrificing free speech and academic freedom to spare the sensitivities of currently favored groups.
From Maine to California, at public and private universities alike, liberty and fairness are the first casualties as teachers and students find themselves in the dock, presumed guilty until proven innocent and often forbidden to cross-examine their accusers. Kors and Silverglate introduce us to many of those who have firsthand experience of the shadow university, including:
- The student at the center of the 1993 "Water Buffalo" case at the University of Pennsylvania, who was brought up on charges of racial harassment after calling a group of rowdy students "water buffalo" -- even though the term has no racial connotations.
- The Catholic residence adviser who was fired for refusing, on grounds of religious conscience, to wear a symbol of gay and lesbian causes.
- The professor who was investigated for sexual harassment when he disagreed with campus feminists about curriculum issues.
- The student who was punished for laughing at a statement deemed offensive to others and who was ordered to undergo "sensitivity training" as a result.
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Americans think a great deal about colleges and universities, but they do not examine them very closely. Every spring, most of the nation's high school seniors choose a place for what well might be the most important four years of their lives. They and their parents pore over catalogs, read guidebooks, visit campuses, talk with school counselors, and share advice and impressions with relatives, friends, and neighbors, many of whom knew these institutions decades ago. For most high school seniors, the prospect of attending college, whatever its apprehensions, inspires real enthusiasm. A new world -- freer, more interesting, more respectful of their emerging individuality and adulthood -- awaits them.
Indeed, colleges and universities are singular institutions in American life. Whatever jokes or complaints one hears about professors or tuition, the fact remains that we place most of our sons and daughters in the care of colleges and universities. We charge these institutions with preparing future citizens for participation in the life of a free and productive society. We offer them special status and protection in that task, indeed, a wall of immunity from excessive scrutiny. We pay them handsomely, and, with breathtaking trust, almost never ask for an accounting of what we receive in return.
During the antiwar and social protests of the late '60s and early '70s, institutions of higher education were frequently in the spotlight, less for anything they did than for the demonstrations, culture, and lifestyles of the students who attended them. A generational revolution appeared to touch significant numbers of undergraduates, and, while it lasted, it was a major phenomenon and the stuff of daily news. For most citizens, however, the '60s are long over, and, in their minds, universities have returned to calm and ordinary lives (however "ordinary" one can call places populated by eighteen- to twenty-two-year-olds). Most students of the '60s have gone on to jobs, families, and significant lives in worlds far from the scenes of their undergraduate moments, and they assume that their peers who stayed on at universities have undergone the same evolutions and adaptations.
During the past several years, however, colleges and universities once again have caught the attention of the public at large. People hear about "political correctness," and there is a vague sense that some individuals or groups on campuses may have tried to carry the regulation of others' conduct and speech just a bit too far. A few wonder how the Berkeley Free Speech movement of the '60s ever culminated in restrictions of speech. The wackiest of these tales -- like the 1993 "water buffalo affair" at the University of Pennsylvania -- have received a brief flurry of remarkable media attention, but then were soon forgotten.
Editorialists and occasional readers of literature on the universities are aware of something deeper going on -- often characterized as "the culture wars" -- but, except to the most committed, the scope of what is happening seems confusing, to be waited out rather than figured out. It is clear that the curriculum in the humanities and the social sciences has changed, and that this has something to do with gender, race, and sexuality, but in what ways, precisely, few are sure. Those with their eyes on the behavior of academics in these fields know that there is something of a shouting match in a very small sauna -- lots of noise, heat, and steam, but very little in the way of audience. There seem to be a lot of -isms bandied about -- "racism" and "sexism," to be sure, but also "postmodernism" and "multiculturalism." There are lots of different theories about what these arguments truly mean, if, indeed, they mean anything at all. At any rate, for most high school seniors, these developments do not even register on the radar screens of their lives. Most incoming students and their parents have the vague sense that there may be a few crazies set loose on campuses, but that it should be easy enough to sort things out and avoid the worst of it.
Among the most politically focused, however, there is a sharper sense of a growing turmoil at universities. On the Left there is a hope that universities are dealing with problems of power and injustice more explicitly and progressively, and a fear that the "excesses" of political correctness might bring such a good endeavor into disrepute. On the Right there is a belief that whole disciplines have transformed the classroom into a pulpit from which supposed "oppression" is analyzed in wholly partisan fashion, transforming students into willing consumers of a politics of "victimization." Across the spectrum, wherever there are individuals who believe that open minds and critical inquiry favor their cause, there is a concern that various academic indoctrinations and posturings may be replacing critical classroom education.
It is vital that citizens understand the deeper crisis of our colleges and universities. Contrary to the expectations of most applicants, colleges and universities are not freer than the society at large. Indeed, they are less free, and that diminution is continuing apace. In a nation whose future depends upon an education in freedom, colleges and universities are teaching the values of censorship, self-censorship, and self-righteous abuse of power. Our institutions of higher education greet freshmen not as individuals on the threshold of adulthood, but as embodiments of group identity, largely defined in terms of blood and history, who are to be infantilized at every turn. In a nation whose soul depends upon the values of individual rights and responsibilities, and upon equal justice under law, our students are being educated in so-called group rights and responsibilities, and in double standards to redress partisan definitions of historical wrongs. Universities have become the enemy of a free society, and it is time for the citizens of that society to recognize this scandal of enormous proportions and to hold these institutions to account.
The '60s may be long past for most Americans, with various and diverse legacies left behind, but strangely enough, the best aspects of that decade's idealistic agenda have died on our campuses -- free speech, equality of rights, respect for private conscience and individuation, and a sense of undergraduate liberties and adult responsibilities. What remain of the '60s on our campuses are its worst sides: intolerance of dissent from regnant political orthodoxy, the self-appointed power of self-designated "progressives" to set everyone else's moral agenda, and, saddest of all, the belief that universities not only may but should suspend the rights of some in order to transform students, the culture, and the nation according to their ideological vision and desire.
Universities are administered, above all, not by ideological zealots, but by careerists who have made a Faustian deal. They have preserved the most prestigious, productive, and adiministratively visible sides of their institutions -- the parts, not coincidentally, that the public and potential donors see -- from almost all of the depredations of ideological fervor. Physics, fundraising, athletics, microbiology, the medical schools, mathematics, financial management, physical plant, alumni relations, business, and metallurgy, for example, though no doubt caught up in the currents of our age, are not in the hands of ideological zealots. Rather, whole departments of the liberal arts have been given to those for whom universities represent, in their own minds, the revolutionary agency of our culture, walling them off, so to speak, from the parts of universities that trustees, rightly or wrongly, take most seriously.
Far more significantly for the future of liberty, however, and providing the focus of this book, the university in loco parentis -- the university standing in the place of parents -- has been given over to the self-appointed progressives to do with what they will. The result has been an emerging tyranny over all aspects of student life -- a tyranny that is far more dangerous than the relatively innocuous parietal rules of ages past. It is a tyranny that seeks to assert absolute control over the souls, the consciences, and the individuality of our students -- in short, a tyranny over the essence of liberty itself.
The real threat to liberty comes from this "shadow university," the structures built, almost without debate or examination, to "educate," or, more precisely, to reeducate, far from the accountability of the classroom. To know the betrayal of liberty on our campuses, one must understand what has become of their divisions of university life and student life, residential advisors, judicial systems, deans of students and their officers, and of their new and profoundly disturbing student rules and regulations. This threat has developed not in the glare of publicity, debate, and criticism, as has been the case with new academic disciplines, courses, and pedagogies, but in the shadows. Indeed, few professors, including those most critical of what they see as ideological zealotry at their institutions, are aware of the transformation of the university in loco parentis that has occurred. The shadow university, with its shadow curriculum, dominates freshman orientation, residential programming, extracurricular student life, the promulgation of codes and regulations, and the administration of what passes, on our campuses, for justice.
The ultimate force of the shadow university is its ability to punish students and, increasingly, faculty behind closed doors, far from public and even campus scrutiny. If professors give biased lectures, grade students down for ideological nonconformity, and favor those who agree with them, these activities ultimately become more broadly known. The shadow university, however, hands students a moral agenda upon arrival, subjects them to mandatory political reeducation, sends them to sensitivity training, submerges their individuality in official group identity, intrudes upon private conscience, treats them with scandalous inequality, and, when it chooses, suspends or expels them. Having grown heady with arbitrary power over students, the shadow university now engages in the systematic intimidation and attempted reeducation of faculty, too. The first imposition, in the classroom, is merely an abuse of a power that generally may be avoided by choice and in any event is not accomplished in secret. The second imposition of the shadow university is inescapable, and is an exercise in something truly chilling: a hidden, systematic assault upon liberty, individualism, dignity, due process, and equality before the law. After reading this book, no one -- academic or nonacademic citizen -- should be able to doubt the reality and moral urgency of this phenomenon.
Critics of modern trends at our universities have looked above all to multicultural studies, to the new scholarship, to the therapeutic classroom, to affirmative action, or to conferences on the body or sexuality as sources of their unease or outrage. Reasonable individuals, however, may disagree about every one of these phenomena. That, indeed, is precisely the point: Reasonable (and unreasonable) individuals do disagree about these things, and debate them openly and vociferously. To the extent that one believes that truth or critical perspective emerges from sustained argument, one should be confident that whatever correctives or refutations the intellectual age requires will or, at least, can emerge from these debates.
In the shadow university, however, that precondition of informed change -- free and unfettered debate among free individuals -- is precisely what has been replaced by censorship, indoctrination, intimidation, official group identity, and groupthink. The issue of whether we shall have intelligent and thoughtful universities can be addressed only if we have free universities, and the shadow umiversity has suppressed that very freedom itself. Speech codes, prohibiting speech that "offends," protect ideologically or politically favored groups, and, what is more important, insulate these groups' self-appointed spokesmen and spokeswomen from criticism and even from the need to participate in debate. Double standards destroy legal equality and all meaningful accountability, teaching the worst imaginable lessons about the appropriate uses of power. Freshmen orientations and extracurricular "educational" programming offer partisan and intrusive indoctrination that is the opposite of, and incompatible with, a critical liberal education. Crude justice is administered, in secret, in biased fashion and without that due process that teaches lessons about civilization and the rule of law. Administrators, eager to buy peace and avoid scandal, deny the obvious truth of what is occurring, and, when pressed, invoke false doctrines of being legally bound by absolute confidentiality.
The goal of this book is to expose the shadow university, to let the sunlight shine on it, and to shame. It also is to give courage and a sense of common mission to those who know or suspect such things about our colleges and universities but do not know quite how to prove them or quite what to do. Finally, this book aims to remind citizens about the chasm that has emerged between the modern realities characterizing our institutions of higher education and the timeless but fragile values upon which the survival of freedom depends.
Copyright © 1998 by Alan charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate
Part I: THE ASSAULT ON LIBERTY
THE WATER BUFFALO AFFAIR
0n the night of January 13, 1993, Eden Jacobowitz, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, had been writing a paper for an English class when a sorority began celebrating its Founders' Day beneath the windows of his highrise dormitory apartment. The women were singing very loudly, chanting, and stomping. It had prevented him from writing, and it had awakened his roommate. He shouted out the window, "Please keep quiet," and went back to work. Twenty minutes later, the noise yet louder, he shouted out the window, "Shut up, you water buffalo!" The women were singing about going to a party. "If you want a party," he shouted, "there's a zoo a mile from here." The women were black. Within weeks, the administrative judicial inquiry officer (JIO) in charge of Eden's case, Robin Read, decided to prosecute him for violation of Penn's policy on racial harassment. He could accept a "settlement" -- an academic plea bargain -- or he could face a judicial hearing whose possible sanctions included suspension and expulsion.
Copyright © 1998 by Alan charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate
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Meet the Author
Alan Charles Kors is professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania and editor-in-chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Enlightenment. He lives in Wallingford, Pennsylvania.
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A lawyer and a college professor take on the Goliath of what has become the American university establishment. But these two Davids have an ally: the U.S. court system. Kors and Silvergate began taking colleges to court and suing them for their arrogant violations of first and fourth amendment rights. And they won! The courts have been vehement in their denunciations of these blatant disregards of free speech and due process. The authors have since set up a website, www.thefire.com for students and faculty to report such violations. It is still David versus Goliath, but it is a start. But the book sticks to its legal focus. To get a broader picture, you need to read at least Who Stole Feminism? and The Rape of Alma Mater.
Of all the books I've read relating to the intellectual and moral crisis in modern academia, none comes close to this articulately written book. The authors take great pains to carefully document the atrocities they write about, and the book is beautifully organized. It's not just at the big universities that the lunacy that Kors and Silverglate write about occurs. As a student at a local community college, I have witnessed professors yelling at students over differences of political opinion, heard of cases where arbitrary grades were given due to political issues, been required to take what may well have been an illegal test purportedly designed to assess whether anyone was in need of 'mental therapy,' and much more. One professor even assigned a written exercise where one of the questions was about whether you would marry/date/adopt someone of another race. Who students intend to mate with is of no concern to a teacher in a survey-level speech class! What is even more astounding is that some of the things I've seen pale in comparison to some of the things I learned by reading this book. The lunatics are, indeed, running the assylum, and it's high time this nation did something about it. For starters, we can all recommend that everyone reads this book. Kudos to Kors and Silverglate for taking a stand.
Kors and Silverglate have written a well-researched, engaging account of some disturbing facets of American universities. A must read for anyone interested in free speech, justice and education. Especially interesting to those of us (and there are far too many) who have found themselves verbally and physically threatened for voicing politically incorrect opinions or beliefs.