Thursday, September 27, 2007

Going Mad in Academe?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has an interesting piece on student concerns surrounding Bryn Mawr's proposed "Social Justice Program" (via Maggie's Farm):
Early this summer, FIRE received a case submission from a Bryn Mawr student worried about a proposal for a “Social Justice Pilot Program” gaining momentum on her campus. Conceived in the wake of a campus scandal involving racial slurs published on popular social networking site by a member of the school’s student government, student and faculty proponents of the Social Justice Pilot Program (SJPP) argued that the best way to address perceived intolerance at Bryn Mawr was through adding a “social justice requirement” to the curriculum.

As support for the proposal coalesced, the Social Justice Pilot Program began to take shape. According to an e-mail sent to the student body by the Social Justice Pilot Committee, students would be required to “develop a ‘contract’ to map and document each student’s ‘social justice journey,’ working in collaboration with faculty to ‘critically examine in an ongoing way and in multiple forums the hierarchies and relationships of power that shape our lives and how we shape them.’” Participating in workshops, retreats and approved coursework would serve to fulfill a student’s social justice “credits.” Bryn Mawr’s student newspaper, The Bi-College News, noted in May that under the proposal, “incorporating the social justice requirement into classes would not require a reformatting of curriculum, but rather just a new perspective be taken on some existing classes.” Further e-mails were sent throughout the summer, soliciting student involvement. By all indications, the SJPP had the full support of Bryn Mawr administrators and faculty.

At this point, the worried Bryn Mawr student contacted FIRE. Why? Well, anyone familiar with FIRE’s work will instantly recognize the problem presented by a “social justice” requirement: whatever the intentions of such a requirement, it necessarily violates a student’s fundamental freedom of conscience. That’s because a concept as fundamentally subjective as “social justice” cannot morally be defined and taught, as if it were as static as multiplication tables. Rather, what is and is not socially just is an inherently personal determination, inevitably contingent upon such infinitely variable factors as the sum of one’s life experiences, faith, political ideology, and so on. For a school to present “social justice” as something that can be learned (and graded) is deeply terrifying, as it assumes that only the school’s definition of social justice is acceptable, or that there can be a “right answer” at all. In short, to insist that only an institutional conception of social justice can be correct is both a terrible encroachment upon a student’s individual right to freedom of conscience and simple coercion.
Read the whole thing. Bryn Mawr's president, Nancy Vickers, responded to FIRE's inquiries, and so far it looks like the Social Justice Program will likely not become a requirement. As FIRE notes:

The most important element of President Vickers’ response, besides her demonstrated understanding of the essentiality of freedom of conscience, is learning that the SJPP is in no way mandatory for Bryn Mawr students. That’s a crucial point: If Bryn Mawr isn’t forcing students to participate in the SJPP or accept its conception of social justice, the SJPP is no longer objectionable, as students surely enjoy the basic associational right to participate in programs of their choice.
But check out Victor Davis Hanson, who points to the more everyday madness seen across American academe. In the last few weeks Americans have seen all kinds of campus PC follies, including not just Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's invitation to Columbia, but Irwin Chemerinsky's on-again, off-again job offer to head UCI's new law school, Lawrence Summers' yanked invitation to speak at a UC Davis board of regents dinner, and the unsuccessful attempt to scuttle Stanford's appointment of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to an anti-terrorism task-force at the Hoover Institution:

In each of the above cases, the general public has had to remind these universities that their campuses should welcome thinkers who have distinguished themselves in their fields, regardless of politics and ideology. The liberal Chemerinsky, the Clinton Democrat Summers and the conservative Rumsfeld have all courted controversy -- and all alike met the criterion of eminent achievement.

But the propagandist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has not. Unlike Chemerinsky, Rumsfeld and Summers, he used the prestige of an Ivy-League forum solely to popularize his violent views -- and to sugarcoat the mayhem his terrorists inflict on Americans and his promises to wipe out Israel.

Here's a simple tip to the clueless tenured class about why a Larry Summers or Donald Rumsfeld should be welcome to speak, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shunned: former Cabinet secretaries -- yes; homicidal dictators killing Americans -- no.

Things haven't gone entirely mad on America's college campuses, but it's a close run thing, to be sure (Hanson's piece doesn't mention Hofstra's invitation of pro-terror attorney Lynne Stewart to lecture at the law school's "Lawyering at the Edge" conference).

No comments: