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Yale President Makes It Clear His University Is Done With Free Speech

When it comes to free speech, Yale acts as an institutional arbiter that offers some groups special protection and leaves others to fend for themselves.

In his recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Yale President Peter Salovey tried to explain how colleges can make room for both freedom of speech and a culture of inclusion and diversity. Salovey wants to have his cake and eat it, too. The supposed tension between free speech and inclusion is false, he argues, because it is possible to pursue both ends simultaneously.

Several days later, Yale was again in the news for its sexual harassment tribunals. As Jennifer Braceras explains in her op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, “College Sex Meets the Star Chamber,” Yale’s current policy on sexual harassment has led to a massive expansion of Yale’s control over the life of its faculty, students, and staff. At first look, Salovey’s defense of free speech and inclusion seems unrelated to Braceras’s argument about the reach of Yale’s sexual harassment directive. But they are part of the same problem.

Yale defines sexual harassment very broadly: “Sexual harassment consists of nonconsensual sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature on or off campus, which includes (3) such conduct [that] has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance or creating an intimidating or hostile academic or work environment.”

To be sure, no one wishes to defend assaultive or abusive sexual misconduct. But the Yale definition is capable of a broader reading. Combine the italicized words in the basic definition with clause (3) and the threat that this definition poses to free speech becomes clear. The phrase “purpose or effect” reaches actions that some reasonable person thinks might have an adverse effect, even if no harm was intended by it. Nor is there any effort to limit what is meant by a “hostile academic or work environment,” or activities on and off campus. It is all too likely that eager Yale bureaucrats will read these provisions broadly in order to expand the scope of their own authority.

The Puritans Want Their Salem Witch Trials Back

The situation is still more dangerous because of the highly dubious procedures that are used in these cases. The tribunals use the lower “preponderance” of the evidence standard for guilt, rather than the stricter “clear and convincing” standard, which means the accuser has to bring less evidence against the accused. On top of that, the accused is denied the central right of cross-examination, even though he will face dire sanctions if convicted.

It is impossible to know from the articulation of these standards exactly how any particular case will play out, or whether the Yale system will guarantee some modicum of consistency across separate cases. But what is perfectly clear is that the diehards who are likely to implement this policy are the same folks who have taken the lead in implementing Yale’s policy on inclusion and free speech, in ways that necessarily sacrifice the latter to the former.

The point here is not one of idle speculation. As Braceras notes, the administrative process against the accused does not need to be launched by an actual complaint by an individual victim; instead, independent parties, including Yale’s Title IX coordinators, are entitled to initiate and prosecute these cases. Given their own strong precommitments, this mixing of functions necessarily builds in an institutional bias against any claim that given speech acts should be protected.

As a general matter, a broad definition of relevance is used in cases of this sort, so that it is possible for self-appointed inquisitors to roam far and wide to build up a case against unpopular professors or administrators, especially since the Yale procedures include no statute of limitations. The combination of loose definitions and dubious procedures is poisonous to the protection of free speech. Yet the tension goes unresolved.

Tyrannical ‘Inclusivity’ Trumps Speech Diversity

It is equally instructive to realize that one does not have to introduce formal procedures in order to pose a grave threat to free speech on campus. Salovey takes great pride in noting “the Yale administration did not criticize, discipline, or dismiss a single member of its faculty, staff, or student body for expressing an opinion.” That sentence may be technically true, but it does not explain why Salovey did not mention the unfortunate fate of Nicholas and Erika Christakis, both of whom resigned from Yale’s Silliman College under massive pressure after student protestors demanded that resignation.

Why? Because Erika had written an email that took issue with a letter from Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Committee that warned students against various insensitive forms of behaviors, like wearing offensive Halloween costumes. The letter noted, like Salovey’s op-ed, that Yale values “free expression as well as inclusivity.” But the massive level of abuse directed at Nicholas and Erika Christakis reveals how strongly Yale weighs one imperative over the other.

The errors here are not just unfortunate glitches, but systematic blunders. One of the most critical matters in dealing with the right to free speech is the correlative duty that all individuals have to avoid actions that harm another person. But the harm principle contains much built-in ambiguity. It can only be clarified within a complete theory of freedom of speech, which itself must rest upon a comprehensive theory of freedom of human action.

At the very least, any speech that involves the threat of force or the use of fraud should be subject to sanction under this principle, given the risk to the autonomy of others. That is why both assault and defamation have long been actionable harms. But by the same token, the harm principle can never be extended to cover cases where one person takes offense at the speech or conduct of other individuals—which is why flag-burning, however distasteful to most people, nonetheless receives constitutional protection. That extension of the harm principle, if applied uniformly to all speech acts, means that anyone who takes offense gets the right to sanction, if not veto, the speech of others, at which point no one can speak at all.

Whoever Whines the Most Gets the Most Power

To forestall this risk, the great principle of toleration requires suspending the use of formal sanctions against disagreeable speech. Failure to follow this principle introduces the most dangerous set of incentives, by allowing any person to magnify his own indignation and outrage as a means to assert greater control over the speech of others.

The danger of this position is apparent. The broader definition that equates harm with offense can only work if it is selectively applied. Thus protected groups get to complain loudly about the microaggressions against them, but they, in turn, are entitled to venomously attack those with whom they disagree.  A culture of free speech and open inquiry cannot long survive using this broad and selective definition of harm.\

Yale, of course, is a private university that is not bound by the First Amendment, and hence could adopt whatever warped political and intellectual environment that it wants. But what Salovey cannot do is claim that Yale respects the principle of free speech, especially after the resignation of the Christakises following the relentless personal attacks on them as a result of Erika’s thoughtful email. What Salovey should have done was spoken forcefully and publicly in their defense, and entreated them to stay.

Nor should he have stopped there. It was incumbent on him to endorse explicitly and publicly the commitment to free speech that President Robert Zimmer announced for the University of Chicago not too long ago. Zimmer made it crystal clear that he expects Chicago students to develop a certain toughness of mind in academic settings that transcends today’s vogue of “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces.” In order to learn and grow, students must encounter views averse to their own.

Yet Yale does not take that evenhanded and content-neutral position to preserve free speech on campus. Instead, it acts as an institutional arbiter that offers some groups special protection and leaves others to fend for themselves. It is quite chilling to read the Yale website, which heralds the university’s new commitment to the principles of diversity and inclusion across all aspects of Yale life: recruitment, mentoring, communications, and the like. One component of that program is a commitment to spend $50 million to make diversity hires on the faculty. Other initiatives are intended to create new centers and programs to study diversity throughout the university.

The Yale website proudly proclaims: “A diverse workforce and inclusive environment increases productivity, creates new ideas, performs on a higher level, and enhances Yale’s ability to continue to excel in an increasingly complex, competitive and diverse world.” Apparently, the principles of diminishing marginal returns do not apply to diversity. At no point does Yale even hint at the opportunity costs that are incurred by this uncritical adoption of its diversity agenda. Which programs were cut to make room for these new initiatives? And why?

Diversity and Inclusion Are Lies, Consequences for Free Speech On Campus

Another obvious problem is that Yale does not celebrate political and intellectual forms of diversity, even though the overall leftward movement of university faculties has intensified in recent years. If Yale truly cared about diversity, it would look to increase the number of conservative-minded and pro-market academics in its hires of new faculty, while backing off hiring faculty members who have strong sympathies with groups like Black Lives Matter or the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divest, and sanctions), which represents the very antithesis of inclusion. But there is no indication that right-of-center thinkers are welcome under Yale’s tent.

Yale’s new inclusion and diversity policies will have grave consequences for the future of freedom of speech on campus. They will further reduce the likelihood that the institution will either announce or enforce content-neutral policies. The direct effect will be Yale’s continued discrimination against, or exclusion of, people whose views are found to not fit within its faux-inclusive community.

Yale’s diversity-focused policies of recruitment, promotion, and retention will continue to drive the university further to the left now that no one in the administration is prepared to defend the traditional values of academic excellence and freedom of speech against the demands of diversity and inclusion. As a Yale Law School alumnus, I fear Peter Salovey’s misguided agenda will cause Yale to descend into moral dogmatism and intellectual mediocrity.

Source: The Federalist.  We have added section headings, information, and/or comments for clarity.

Meet The Americans Revitalizing Freedom, One Child At A Time

Americans are losing their capacity for self-government. These patriots are doing something about it: opening excellent, America-affirming public schools.  Comment: Taking Freedom To A New-and-Better Level.

This fall, school started three weeks later than scheduled for the 235 children attending Seven Oaks Classical School near Bloomington, Indiana, thanks to a delayed state loan to fix up their building.

Faculty gave students academic camps from August 15 to September 6 while construction crews added drop ceilings, repainted and repaired walls, installed a new fire alarm system, and brought everything back up to code. Bloomington’s school district had decommissioned Seven Oaks’ building in 2002, so it sat idle until this summer, when Seven Oaks claimed it.

Putting together a new school like this, both mentally and physically, approximates a modern barn-raising. Seven Oaks’ volunteer board of private citizens, who have spent years processing thousands of pages of regulatory grunt work to secure their K-8 school’s charter from the state, also organized community work days to paint, move in furniture, and sundry other mundane but necessary tasks.  Comment:  There is a sense of joy and freedom in helping community.

Headmaster Steven Shipp went from zero to 235 students in the six months between taking the job and opening the school’s doors. He moved his wife and five children—with a sixth tiny person arriving in March—all the way up from Texas so he could helm the school. Within himself and the 18 teachers he hired he seeks an entrepreneurial, American spirit that rejoices at taking on worthy challenges to better their families, neighbors, and country, he said.

“I’ve told each of them during the hiring process there are two sorts of teachers,” he said. “The kind that wants to step into something settled and carry on the pattern that’s in place, and then there’s the one with the old-fashioned pioneer spirit who wants to step into the wilderness and make something bloom.”

Pioneers in an Academic Desert, Let Freedom Ring

For a number of years Shipp resembled the first kind of teacher, whom he described neutrally, akin to a personality type. Yet with this job change—leaving behind safer jobs as a former teacher, assistant principal, then academic director for a network of Texas schools—he seeks to transform himself and his staff into the second.

Many things have influenced his decision, he said, but at the core is something that also motivates Seven Oaks’ board and its midwife, the Barney Charter School Initiative. The initiative from Hillsdale College aims to start quality K-12 public schools across the country using an approximately 20-year-old mechanism called charter schools. Those are public schools local citizens can apply to open and run. They are typically funded at two-thirds the rate of traditional public schools because most don’t receive local property taxes. And they must take every applicant, regardless of family income, race, neighborhood, and so forth.

“I guess I’m old-fashioned,” Shipp said, chuckling. “I really do take seriously the idea of the American founding—you need some critical mass of the citizenry to have enough wisdom and virtue if this republican experiment of ours is going to succeed long-term. I do think this kind of [classical] education has a pretty good track record to that end.”

All 16 Barney charter schools follow teaching and curriculum styles last widely seen during America’s great era of common public schools. Nowadays it’s often called “classical education,” but it used to be known as just a good, basic American education. Classes, curriculum topics, and books to read are not handed out cafeteria-style, based on children’s unformed and juvenile desires, but carefully selected to expose children to the best Western civilization has to offer its future. It includes systematic world and American history instruction, explicit phonics, writing, and grammar instruction, mandatory art and music classes, and discipline-based science rather than craft projects and political propaganda.

Barney charters’ K-8 grades use a curriculum plan known as Core Knowledge, which is built on these basic principles of carefully selected core content. Research, most notably by pioneering American public intellectual E.D. Hirsch, has shown this is the most effective way to develop public literacy. That consequently forms citizens who carry the knowledge for and habits of self-government, upon which the American experiment depends.

Barney initiative founder Terrence Moore—an erstwhile Hillsdale professor, current K-12 principal in Atlanta, and founder of one of the nation’s top-ranked public schools, upon which Barney charters are modeled—likes to describe this kind of education as “the kind your grandparents received.” Not only most of today’s school children but most of their parents have been deprived of an academically coherent curriculum like theirs that helps form a common culture and an attendant sense of national unity.

Hirsch’s research shows that the last time a broad majority of Americans had high-quality public schools was approximately the 1950s. The culture wars of the 1960s allowed a minority of radicals to polarize and thus divide the curriculum, as education historian Diane Ravitch has shown, ultimately depriving American generations since of the basic shared knowledge and ideals they need to develop an American identity and habits. These include freedom of speech, respect for private consciences, the equality of every human—ideas our founding documents articulate with great power.

Since progressive education theories gained dominance in the 1960s, American kids’ SAT and other respected test scores tanked, and have never recovered. Never, that is, except inside wealthy, suburban schools and, for everyone else, the few schools providing children the time-tested form of education many now call “classical”—like Seven Oaks.

‘They’re Being Shortchanged, and Something Can Be Done’

Hillsdale’s initiative is a mere six years old, and continues to grow steadily, helping local boards of parents and community volunteers open schools at a rate of between three and five per year. Their biggest obstacles tend to be financial and regulatory, said Phillip Kilgore, the initiative’s director. State chartering boards have rejected school petitions over issues as trivial as the age of math textbooks they plan to use (because addition and multiplication formulas change every five years?).

The parent-directed boards that get the schools running also need to invest thousands of man-hours fulfilling paperwork mandates for this and that, hiring a principal, finding school property and furniture, and so forth. It’s a heavy lift for people with families and day jobs, especially with no assurance the state will approve their proposal. The Barney initiative comes alongside these folks, offering them model charter applications, help finding and hiring principals and teachers and navigating employment law, and teacher training both before the schools open and observations and repeated in-person critiques afterwards.  Comment:  There is a certain kind of freedom that comes with good education.

Hillsdale charters educate something like 4,000 children so far. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to the 54 million school-age children in America. But Kilgore thinks it’s “hubristic” to pretend one initiative can “save the country.” He and his fellow Americans are just trying to do their part.

“We want to awaken the American people to know they’re being shortchanged, and something can be done,” Kilgore said earnestly, pausing to measure his words. “Good education is needed. People are hungry for it, if they’re not getting it. And it needs to be available to everyone, because the republic needs an educated citizenry.”

Tired of Yelling at their TV Screens

He spoke after a summer institute dedicated to introducing new volunteers to the ideas behind the Barney initiative, on Hillsdale’s verdant, humid campus in July. Fifteen people, ranging in age from late twenties to sixties, spent three days immersed in classical education topics and techniques to alternating sounds outside of drill bores for construction and birds twittering in the trees.

Moore playacted the part of the Federalists and Anti-Federalists of the American Revolution, illustrating ways to engage children in Western civilization’s great ideas. The seminar room’s whiteboards proclaimed: “I will learn the true. I will do the good. I will love the beautiful.” Participants discussed Benjamin Franklin’s efforts to teach himself to write by copying essays from Joseph Addison’s Spectator, during the “golden age of essay writing.”

Faith and Bob Ham had come that day because they were tired of yelling at the politics on their TV screens, Faith said: “We could throw our hands up and complain about the state of our country, or we could get our hands dirty and help someone,” said Faith, an elegant, upright woman with a soft voice.

Across from them sat Courtney Hayes, an African-American first grade teacher in Prince George’s County public schools next to Washington DC. He quit his job in the tech industry in 1997, the last wave of education desperation, to move back into the city from the suburbs and make a difference in poor kids’ lives.

Hayes’ students come to class hungry and missing teeth, he said. Despite his strenuous efforts and many successes at moving up kids who enter school already hopelessly behind, he feels pressure to advance students to make the school district’s state accountability numbers look better, when some kids would do better repeating a grade, he said.

“I can’t retire,” he says. “Those kids need help.” That’s why he showed up at Hillsdale that day. As he left the campus, he and another DC-area teacher made plans to see what they could do to bring a Barney charter to their city. Because every American’s child needs an excellent school if a democratic republic like ours wants a prayer to survive—and they’ve had enough with expecting someone else to fix their neighbors’ problems.

Source:  The Federalist.  We have added section headings, information, and/or comments for clarity.