Thursday, May 26, 2011

"She Said" Tops "He Said"

UPDATE: there's a lively debate in the comments. And see also the Daily Caller.

FURTHER UPDATE: Heather MacDonald asks "How can women join special forces when they can’t even handle frat-boy pranks?"

Yale frat boys have been behaving badly, with obnoxious signs and chants:
In 2006, a group of frat boys chant "No means yes, yes means anal" outside the Yale Women's Center. In 2010, a group of fraternity pledges repeat this obnoxious chant outside a first-year women's dorm. In 2008, pledges surround the Women's Center holding signs saying, "We love Yale sluts." In 2009, Yale students publish a report listing the names and addresses of first-year women and estimating the number of beers "it would take to have sex with them."
Several students and alumni complained to the college and the Federal Department of Education. Last week, the Yale College Executive Committee prohibited the fraternity from any "activities on campus (including recruiting) for a period of five years" and punished some individual frat members. Given that the career of a Yale undergraduate is four years, this kills the frat's current chapter and makes any eventual replacement an entirely new organization.

Yale's undergraduate regulations underscore the value of free expression:
The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable. To curtail free expression strikes twice at intellectual freedom, for whoever deprives another of the right to state unpopular views necessarily also deprives others of the right to listen to those views.

We take a chance, as the First Amendment takes a chance, when we commit ourselves to the idea that the results of free expression are to the general benefit in the long run, however unpleasant they may appear at the time. The validity of such a belief cannot be demonstrated conclusively. It is a belief of recent historical development, even within universities, one embodied in American constitutional doctrine but not widely shared outside the academic world, and denied in theory and in practice by much of the world most of the time. . .

For if a university is a place for knowledge, it is also a special kind of small society. Yet it is not primarily a fellowship, a club, a circle of friends, a replica of the civil society outside it. Without sacrificing its central purpose, it cannot make its primary and dominant value the fostering of friendship, solidarity, harmony, civility, or mutual respect. To be sure, these are important values; other institutions may properly assign them the highest, and not merely a subordinate priority; and a good university will seek and may in some significant measure attain these ends. But it will never let these values, important as they are, override its central purpose. We value freedom of expression precisely because it provides a forum for the new, the provocative, the disturbing, and the unorthodox. Free speech is a barrier to the tyranny of authoritarian or even majority opinion as to the rightness or wrongness of particular doctrines or thoughts.
Yale's regulations also narrowly define impermissible harassment:
Sexual harassment consists of nonconsensual sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, or other verbal or physical conduct on or off campus, when: (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a condition of an individual's employment or academic standing; or (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as the basis for employment decisions or for academic evaluation, grades, or advancement; or (3) such conduct 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.
Given the college's commitment to free expression, why was stupid speech that fell short of advocating immediate violence punished? Because of political correctness, and the threat of serious sanctions from the Obama Department of Education.

So-called "Title IX" (20 U.S.C. § 1681) states:
No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
Yale College qualifies, because of grants and student loans--meaning that the Education Department could withhold Federal funding. And that became much more likely as the result of an April 4th "Dear Colleague" letter from the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights sent to schools, colleges, and universities nationwide, lowering the standard of proof for harassment (page 11):
The "clear and convincing" standard (i.e., it is highly probable or reasonably certain that the sexual harassment or violence occurred), currently used by some schools, is a higher standard of proof. Grievance procedures that use this higher standard are inconsistent with the standard of proof established for violations of the civil rights laws, and are thus not equitable under Title IX. Therefore, preponderance of the evidence is the appropriate standard for investigating allegations of sexual harassment or violence.
I've long opposed using Federal courts to second-guess school decisions. But Title IX has turned campus sexual harassment into a legal issue. College tribunals can tarnish a person's reputation or culminate in expulsion--underscoring the importance of deference to free speech, and a proper burden of proof.

The Yale frat boys were boorish. Yet did they deprive anyone of equal access to education? Doubtful. But Obama's Department of Education is more interested in tilting the scales toward harassment accusers.

As a reminder, the First Amendment forbids the prohibition of photons or sound waves with which one disagrees, at least where there are other available remedies (such as contrary speech). But that principle has all but vanished from academia. As have conservatives. Notwithstanding Yale College's high-minded paean to free expression.

Remember when lefties loved Obama's supposed commitment to freedom of speech? In Atlantic magazine, self-described "civil libertarian feminist" Wendy Kaminer decries the "loss of political freedom" caused by the widespread trend toward "censoring offensive or hurtful speech":
Obama's OCR appointees . . . seem to be operating under the influence of the repressive disregard for civil liberty that began taking over American campuses nearly 20 years ago. . . Concern about social equality and the unexamined belief that it requires legal protections for the feelings of presumptively vulnerable or disadvantaged students who are considered incapable of protecting themselves has generated not just obliviousness to liberty but a palpable hostility to it.

Sad to say, but feminism helped lead the assault on civil liberty and now seems practically subsumed by it.


Whitehall said...

Do this thought experiment.

If the same words and displays of boorish behavior by students had occurred at Brigham Young University, would they have been allowed to hand out the same punishments?

I would hope that universities think it their responsibility to build character of our young people and these displays were of poor character.

However, I agree that feminists are driving this based on a motivation driven by their own political sexism.

I'd feel better if universities punished drunken sluttish co-eds too but I don't see that happening.

Carl said...

Whitehall: I have some sympathy, but:

1) Conduct and speech are different; one can prohibit the former without running afoul of the First Amendment. Admittedly, the distinction can be difficult to make, but -- for example -- public drunkenness, which was not at issue at Yale, can be outlawed. Similarly, despite the confusion of Yale and the Education Department, sexual assault isn't the same as sexual harassment.

2) Today's universities only are outraged over one type of expression, that with a message with which they disagree. As an example, the City of New Haven tried to suppress anti-homosexual sermons at Yale, yet Florida State University's going nuts about a $1.5 million donation from the Koch brothers. Yet, the First Amendment prohibits governments from discriminating against speech based on its content. Police Department of Chicago v. Mosley, 408 U.S. 82, 98-99 (1972). While there is an open question whether the decisions of a non-state school such as Yale constitute "state action" (and I would argue not), there is no question but that the First Amendment applies to Department of Education decisions, and its recent letter lowering the burden of proof in Title IX complaints might be subject to challenge.

3) In light of the foregoing, while in an ideal world, our great universities would share in the responsibility for spreading good moral values, in practice, they reward liberal speech and punish in accordance with political correctness. I prefer inaction to bias.

Whitehall said...

I'll certainly agree that the Obama Administration had no business making a "federal case" out of this, literally.

Yet I would allow private educational institutions to establish and implement their own standards of behavior and speech for their students. Both Yale and Brigham Young should have that freedom. If they codify their standards in such a way that impact REAL freedom of speech, expression, and thought, I can reject them. On the other hand, if they demand gentlemanly and lady-like behavior, I can endorse that standard too.

That way, I can CHOOSE not to attend Yale!

But your basic point is correct - what Yale did is not about maintaining high standards of conduct but about punishing male students and shifting power to feminists.

OBloodyHell said...

> But your basic point is correct - what Yale did is not about maintaining high standards of conduct but about punishing male students and shifting power to feminists.

Your "but..." is the issue here, sir. While I concur with your overall point, that independent universities should be able to set standards, this isn't about that, it's about political correctness.

If it were 45 years ago, and these frat boys were marching through chanting "Hey, ho, Vietnam has got to go", and the university came down on them like this, would you be suggesting the same thing was appropriate?

How about if they were complaining about civil rights for Negroes -- the granting or refusing of same...?

Or how about 2 years earlier, if they were complaining about the "Gentleman's Agreement"?

The problem here is defining "moral decorum" and such when dealing with free speech. Is pro-racism "moral decorum"? Is "pro-homosexuality"? Is "anti-homosexuality"?

"Oh, well, we're clearly talking about just blatantly offensive speech..."

Ah, so, a production of "The Vagina Monologues" could be banned or the Yale student production group punished for it?


What if it were a lesser known, locally-written play which contained clear insults of Christ and Christians for simply believing that homosexuality is wrong?

Now reverse that, what if it were a locally-written play by a rather overly fundamentalist Christian which clearly discussed homosexuality as, as the Bible puts it, "an abomination"?

"Private performances" .... ?

Ah, so a promotional group looking to drum up interest in the play in question (pick any of the three above) that quoted lines from the play, carried placards and banners with the same, and so forth... what then?

I believe you feel, and I fully concur, that the Yale frat in question is being particularly boorish and rude.

There are other forms of social pressure which can quite effectively be brought against them and which are far more applicable to the order and nature of the problem in question.

Censorship -- and that IS what this is -- is not appropriate.

"The only social order in which freedom of speech is secure is
the one in which it is secure for everyone... and, as those who
call for censorship in the name of the oppressed ought to recognize,
it is never the oppressed who determine the bounds of the censorship.
Their power is limited to legitimizing the idea of censorship."

- Aryeh Neier -

OBloodyHell said...

"Graphic illustration of what the hell is wrong with this society: a college
male yells at a group of college females, calling them 'water buffaloes.' They
tell on him, he gets put on probation, he is threatened with suspension and he
is forced to take a 'sensitivity training course.'
Sensitivity; I hate that word.
Sensetivity is no longer an admirable quality. It is something forced upon
everyone. Laws are being altered to force people to become 'more sensitive,'
and those who are not have to fake it to avoid arrest by the New Age Police.
This is the outcome of a generation of sissies, and I tell you, it makes me
All kids until now had a set of rules. If somebody called you a name you
didn't take a shine to, you grabbed hima nd beat the tar out of him.
These were simple rules. It was a model of frontier justice, and every kid
understood it. [As Bo Diddley said, 'You don't let your mouth write no check
your tail can't cash.']
And it worked.
Sure, there were kids who ran and told, but they always got their tail kicked
sooner or later...
But somewhere along the line, these bonehead hippies decided to instill new
values in their kids; 'ALWAYS run to the teacher and squeal, NEVER stay and
So instead of learning to stand up and fight, learning to say when, kids
learned to be finks and crybabies.
Of course not every single parent taught this to every sinlge kid, but it was
a pervasive philosophy that slowly crept across popular conciousness. Teachers
taught it in school. Babysitters reinforced it, and slowly it became the
generally accepted path for childhood."
And now, the end result is more lawsuits than ever. There's lawsuits over
name calling and emotional damage because some wimp gets their feelings hurt.
So when someone calls someone a name, they get reprimanded for not being
sensitive. But he does not need to be. Everyone needs to quit complaining and
toughen up a little.
Those women from the original example should have grabbed that guy and beaten
the bejesus out of him. If you can't handle name-calling without running to
school officials, you clearly missed out on part of the maturing process.
If someone is telling 'nigger' jokes, he should get his butt kicked. It would
teach him decorum, as well as letting everyone know what kind of person he is.
But instead children are taught to tell 'nigger' jokes in private. That way
they can be racist while everyone thinks they are sensitive.
... Fortunately, I was raised in a throwback community, cut off from
fancy-shmancy eduactional improvements. If some kid took my basketball, I hit
him and took my ball back. If he didn't cry, we'd play together and end up
If I called a girl stupid, she'd round up a bunch of her homegirls and make me
look bad in front of my friends. Then I would learn that she was not to be
trifled with.
What parents today don't realize is that kids are incredibly resilient and
perceptive. By raising a generation of kids where parents are afraid to hit
them because it constitutes abuse, we have a generation of teens who think they
are above punishment.
....continued next missive...

OBloodyHell said...

...contrinued from above...

My mom used to smack me with a wooden spoon. It hurt like you wouldn't
... That's what we need more of -- my mom whipping kids with a wooden spoon.
There is no such thing as a fine line between discipline and abuse -- there is
a big, fat line, and every kid knows it. Sure, that spoon hurt, but was it
abuse? Hell no, it was a lesson, and it worked.
In no way does telling kids what to think open their minds.
... Kids have to sort things out on their own. It has worked that way for
centuries. But now we have established a culture of blame, and we teach kids no
matter what they do, it is not their fault -- someone else is responsible.
There is now a generation of immature, self-involved brats with short
attention spans and no sense of discipline.
And one day, they'll be in charge."
- Nathaniel Hensley -

OBloodyHell said...

I frankly hope the frat chapter calls on FIRE to help them.

Carl said...

I dislike choosing between Whitehall's and OBH's visions. The libertarian in me prefers Whitehall's approach: Colleges competing in moral policies. But the conservative in me recognizes the truth of OBH's passionate view--that there are few colleges in practice that care to emphasize conservative values, and so it might be better to prohibit colleges from pushing either value.

The choice is complicated by several factors.

First, conduct is not at issue. Notre Dame can enforce a "one foot on the floor at all time" standard when visiting co-ed dorm rooms, because that is conduct, not speech. So, in the sense of conduct, there already is a choice, and Notre Dame and BYU (as Whitehall suggests), among others, properly distinguish themselves in the marketplace of colleges.

Second, "state schools" (like FSU) are different from private colleges (like Yale). The First Amendment fully applies to the former, and would seem to prevent content-based restrictions on speech. Yet, as OBH suggests, as a practical matter, schools (and current culture) celebrate The Vagina Monologues while targeting disfavored speech according to the unwritten but widely shared principles of political correctness.

Third, it's almost impossible for a "private" school to remain above Federal government pressure-of-the era. That's because nearly all schools take government grants, student loans, or -- at very least -- tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) (thought I'm not endorsing racially discriminatory conduct (not speech) at issue in the Bob Jones case). So as a practical matter, bureaucrats in the "ed biz" at the Department of Education hold the legal hammer over campus speech. And when the decide (as the recently did, as explained above) both to conflate sexual assault and sexual harassment and to lower the burden of proof for each, neither state schools nor private colleges can resist.

In view of the foregoing, while I would prefer Whitehall's libertarian, market-oriented approach of "a college for every man and every man for a college," I'm afraid OBH may be right that it's impossible as a practical matter. Which is why I was mooting an approach that prevents enforcement of any particular moral approach to speech to one that invariably results in political correctness trumping all. Or, as I said -- reluctantly -- "I prefer inaction to bias."

Whitehall said...

It is a quandry, as Carl reasons.

The roots of the problem are twofold: government interference and the elitism of academia.

As I complained above, no valid reason to make a federal case of frat boys behaving badly. Maybe it's time for a remake of "Animal House" but have Eric Holder as the heavy. Unfortunately, he probably doesn't have a comedic bone in his body. In fact, the whole Department of Education should be disestablished.

Another prime effort of conservatives has to be breaking the gatekeeping power of liberal academics. The MSM is fading from market competition and we need competition with those colleges and universities captured and controlled by liberals and leftists. Choosing BYU or Notre Dame over Oberlin or Reed or Yale is one way to attack that gatekeeping.

Note that perhaps my posts are colored by the fact that I've an 18 year old daughter as a freshman in a public college in Arizona. Call me an over-protective father but if some gang of young men chanted those lines in earshot of my daughters, I'd kick some booty.