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How Bad is the Neo-Antisemitism on American Campuses?

Our review of the Americans for Peace and Tolerance documentary, Hates Spaces:  The Politics of Intolerance on American Campuses raised the question of how extensive is the problem of the New Antisemitism. Moreover with the recent US abstention on UN Security Council  adoption of Resolution  2334 how might  the strident  anti-Zionism  messages exacerbate the problems  of Anti-Israelism, Antisemitism  and  Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions on American university campuses.

We saw in our review of Hate Spaces that hate mongering of Israel and Jewish students has been fostered by Palestinian and Muslim Brotherhood groups connected to the US designated terrorist organization Hamas, Muslim Students Association  (MSA) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). They have been abetted by progressive academic associations and even anti-Zionist groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and J Street that alleges it is “pro-peace, pro-Israel.”

Moreover, administrations at many higher education institutions are caught in the dilemma of trying to prevent disruption and threats to Jewish and non-Jewish students  by the abuse of traditional academic freedom and free speech standards. Further, as we shall see adoption of state and even federal standards of what constitutes Anti-Zionism  as Anti-Semitism have failed  to  stop the  atmosphere of intolerance on  American campuses.   That may result in draconian measures possibly violating Supreme Court rulings on so-called ‘protected speech’.  This article will provide   background that  might determine how much worse  the hostile environment  could  become  for  Jewish students on  many  American campuses and  the seeming  difficulty  in the academy to alleviate it.

Spike in Israel Hate and Antisemitism across U.S. College Campuses

AMCHA Initiative, the leading NGO focused on campus Antisemitism, in a recent report identified more than 600 incidents at the top 100 American campuses; an increase of 45 percent over the same period in 2015.  AMCHA was co-founded in 2011 by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin , a Hebrew  Language lecturer at the University of  California Santa Cruz and  UCLA professor emeritus Leila Beckwith “ to investigate, document, educate about, and combat Antisemitism at institutions of higher education in the United States.”  AMCHA, “Hebrew for ‘your people’, sought to adopt protocols for defining as discriminatory anti-Zionism as Antisemitism.  The AMCHA report attributed this increase to:

The suppression of Jewish students’ freedom of speech and assembly doubled, while calls for Israel’s elimination tripled. The calls and acts opposing Israel’s right to exist were found to be highly correlated with behavior that targeted Jewish students for harm.amcha-logo

Underlying this spike in campus Antisemitic intolerance, she said was:

The presence of three factors — anti-Zionist student groups; faculty who support boycotts of Israel; and pro-Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activity — are “each strong predictors of anti-Jewish hostility.”

The target Rossman – Benjamin says is: “Jewish students …whether they actually support Israel or not. Their support is presumed just based on the fact that they are Jewish.”

The 50 Worst Universities for Jewish Students

A Brandeis University report released in October 2016 identified the top 50 American University “hotspots”. Among the top 10 were Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, Northwestern University, and the several University of California campuses at Irvine, Los Angeles, Berkeley and Davis. Here are examples of Israel hatred and Antisemitism cited by Jewish students:

Rutgers University in New Jersey

Members of the SJP “stood in front of the dining hall wearing white shirts with red ‘blood’ splattered across them. They had signs saying ‘this is what the Jews did to us.’ I felt extremely harassed; even though it was not personally directed at me, when I stood there I saw complete hatred that they had to all of the Jews walking by. There were even some people, a part of SJP, shouting profanities and giving the middle finger to the Jews that were just standing next to them.”

Northeastern University

A junior said campus life became “unsafe” when “a group on campus put eviction notices on the dorm room doors of Jewish people.” The incident, and others like it, was reported in the press to be the work of SJP members.

Ohio State

A woman student opened her door “to see my next-door neighbor drawing a swastika on my door.”

The special case of the University of California at Irvine

Perhaps the worst case of anti–Israel and Jewish hatred has occurred on the University of California at Irvine over the past decade. Unfortunately, it had been abetted by the former head of the local Orange County Jewish Federation.  An affiliate foundation of the Federation financed a program called the Olive Tree Initiative that brought students in a supposed ‘accidental’ contact with a Hamas Palestinian legislative leader in 2009 in the west bank. Local Orange County Jewish community activists found themselves under attack creating counter marches during MSU Israeli Apartheid Awareness Weeks that featuring notoriously Antisemitic speakers like Malik Ali.

In February 2010, MSU students from both UC Irvine and UC Riverside disrupted a speech being given by former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Michael Oren. That brought charges by the Orange County District Attorney against 11 MSU members of heckling under California laws. The trial resulted in convictions of 10 MSU members and a year’s suspension by the university, subsequently reduced to one term.

Over the past six years we have written and interviewed Jewish students at UC Irvine regarding MSU/SJP disruption of campus Israeli Independence Day events. On May 18, 2016, another disruption by the SJP chapter, Jewish Voice for Peace and Black Student groups occurred at UC Irvine. They were objecting to a showing of an Israeli film, “Behind the Helmet” about IDF soldiers, two of whom were present, at an event sponsored by Students Supporting Israel. The SJP –led protesters blockaded the exit, verbally assaulted the audience with anti-Israel and Antisemitic epithets that required campus police to escort attendees from the SSI event.  Chancellor Gilman released a statement condemning the SJP-led disruption:

A group of protesters reportedly disrupted the event, blocking exit paths. Participants feared for their safety, calling on our police force for assistance. While this university will protect freedom of speech, that right is not absolute. As I mentioned in a campus message at the beginning of the academic year (freespeech.uci.edu), threats, harassment, incitement and defamatory speech are not protected. We must shelter everyone’s right to speak freely – without fear or intimidation – and allow events to proceed without disruption and potential danger.

He referred the matter to the office of the Orange County District Attorney for review of  campus police incident reports and statements of eyewitnesses that found no basis for criminal charges.

Notwithstanding in August 2016, the UC Irvine Office of Student Conduct found that the SJP chapter violated university policy. A  Los Angeles Times  August 18, 2016  report noted “university policy prohibits “obstruction or disruption of teaching, research, administration, disciplinary procedures or other university activities.”  The SJP chapter at UC Irvine will be required to undertake a so-called “power meeting” on conduct of protests.  An UC Irvine spokesperson Cathy Lawson said:

The program is designed to help SJP members “better understand how to host constructive events and protests if they want to protest and add to the conversation, rather than detract from it.” The written warning, she said, puts SJP on notice through March 2017 that its behavior is under increased scrutiny and that another violation could lead to harsher consequences.

Office of Student Conduct head Parham noted in an email:  “We support and defend groups exercising free speech and assembly, yet we must protect everyone’s right to express themselves without disruption. This is a bedrock principle of our university.”

amcha-coalition-at-the-university-of-california-board-of-regents

AMCHA coalition at the University of California Board of Regents, March 23, 2016.

So what’s being done about the problem?

On March 23, 2016, AMCHA co-founder, Tammi  Rossman-Benjamin,  backed by Jewish community leaders ,  was successful  in having the Regents of the California University System adopt hate speech standards, specifically addressing the various forms of  campus  Antisemitism.   Leaders and Representatives included AMCHA Initiative, Bruins for Israel, Iranian American Jewish Federation, Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, Simon Wiesenthal Center, StandWithUs, Students Supporting Israel at UCLA, Zionist Organization of America, UC Students, UC Professors, and concerned UC Alumni testified at the UC Regents Meeting.  Rossman-Benjamin in a statement wrote:

The vote, with the inclusion of the condemnation of Antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism, represents a new direction in administration addressing modern Antisemitism.  We are incredibly proud of this achievement. It was a challenging journey to arrive at this point, one that required the persistence of AMCHA, our extraordinary at-will coalition partners, students, activists, alumni and supporters.

The Board of Regents adopted an anti-discrimination protocol that included “anti-Zionism” such as BDS, as long as the matter was deemed “Antisemitic”.

The reality following this remarkable achievement in California was that the MSA and SJP were allowed to carry out their annual Israel Apartheid Awareness and anti-BDS campaigns on university system campuses, including the May 18, 2016 disruption at UC Irvine.

Swastika vandalism breaks out on campuses after Presidential Election

Following the electoral victory of Donald Trump there was a spike of Antisemitic Swastika vandalism on college campuses across America reported by The Algemeiner:

At Northwestern University in Illinois, two anti-Trump freshmen — one of them Jewish — spray-painted a swastika, images portraying genitals and anti-gay and racist slurs, alongside the president-elect’s name, on the wall of a non-denominational campus chapel.

At the University of Mississippi, a swastika was found in a residence hall elevator. According to a report in the student newspaper The Daily Mississippian, it was the “fourth instance [on campus] since Election Day.”

At the American University in Washington, DC, a swastika next to the phrase “Go Trump” was discovered on a classroom wall. According to the student newspaper The Eagle, students later modified it to look like an octagon, and changed the words to “Go Drumpf,” adding the words “peace” and “love” to the graffiti. The incident came on the heels of an anti-Trump protest on campus, during which students burned American flags.

At Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania, a Star of David with a swastika drawn in its center was found in a classroom.

In Indiana, a swastika was discovered drawn on a dry erase board hanging outside of a dorm room door at Earlham College. “This act was completely reprehensible and totally unacceptable,” the school’s president said in a statement.

In Oregon, Reed College students found Antisemitic, racist and homophobic graffiti — such as a swastika surrounded by a circle alongside the phrase “White is right” — on the wall of a bathroom at the school’s library.

That prompted Aviva Slomish, International Campus Director for Boston-based Middle East Media watchdog CAMERA to call on university officials to “denounce these episodes and thoroughly investigate and punish the offenders.”

In early December 2016, a Rutgers Jewish student, Avi Kulich was interviewed by The Tab about the continuing threats on the New Jersey campus in the wake of this swastika vandalism.  His comments underline the increasingly hostile campus environment towards Israel and Jews graphically portrayed in Hate Spaces:

Students for Justice for Palestine are pretty big on campus. And at virtually every left-wing protest Israel manages to get mentioned somehow.

I think they see Jews as both benefiting from white privilege and as complicit in so-called Palestinian ‘suffering.’ Most of this is based on misinformation and lies and they have no issue supporting groups like Hamas that expressly call for extermination of Jews.

People like to pretend they’re just ‘anti-Zionist’ and not ‘Antisemitic,’ but Israel is a Jewish state and Zionism is the effort to have a Jewish state in their ancestral homeland.

[…]

It’s blatant Antisemitic blood libel. Most anti-Israel rhetoric is tinged with Antisemitism.

Abusing Free Speech – the Dilemma Facing American Universities

On December 1, 2016, the US Senate unanimously passed the “Antisemitism Awareness Act”.  Final passage of the companion House version awaits the start of the 115th Congress on January 3, 2017. The legislation “expands the Department of Education’s definition of Antisemitism to include problematic criticism that ‘demonizes’ and ‘delegitimizes’ Israel or applies a ‘double standard’ against the Jewish state.”   The effort to rein in Antisemitic speech by Muslim Brotherhood affiliated groups on American campuses runs into existing Supreme Court rulings allowing protected speech under the 1969 ruling in the Brandenburg v State of Ohio matter involving a KKK leader. The dilemma that many university administrators face is barring campus  protests that violate academic freedom and  ‘protected speech’ standards. Barring disruption of free speech events and threatening physical harm are matters about which  university administrations have established policies.  However  preserving  free speech  on campus  some critics believe, as expressed in a recent Wall Street Journal exchange of letters, “shields campus free-speech intimidators.”

The trigger for the WSJ letters was a December 16, 2016, op-ed by UC Irvine Law School dean Erwin Chemeresky and Chancellor Robert Gilman, “A Bill to Police Campus Speech.”  Their  argument is that  the changes in the definition of what constitutes Antisemitic campus speech runs  afoul of First

Amendment ‘protected speech’.  They concluded:

To put the point simply: Congress should not pass legislation that requires a government agency to monitor and respond to political speech—even if that speech ‘demonizes’ Israel or any other country.

We agree that the problem of anti-Semitism on campus and in society generally, is real and ought to be addressed. There are many steps colleges can take. They should ensure that Jewish and pro-Zionist students are included and that the proud expression of Jewish identity on campus is welcomed. Universities should make clear that attempts to disrupt events organized by Jewish or pro-Israel students will not be tolerated. Campus leaders should speak out against hateful speech, and they can react swiftly to any actual threats, harassment or destruction of property.

But the solution most despised by the Constitution is for Congress to pass a law that threatens universities and speakers merely because of the views being expressed. The Antisemitism Awareness Act is troubling because it seems to do precisely that.

One critical letter writer to the editor of the WSJ, pointed out that Dean Chemeresky had violated his own principal in the matter of a fee imposed on the campus Young Republican for bringing in anti-PC gadfly Milo Yiannopoulous alt-right speaker.  That , the letter writer suggested violated the 1992 Supreme Court ruling in the Forsyth County  case banning so-called “pay to speak”  The argument being that “UC Irvine penalizes those who engage in speech.” Noting that Dean Chemeresky had defended the convicted MSU 10 students who “criminally disrupted” the speech  of former  Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren on campus at UC Irvine in 2010.

Conclusion:

Perhaps the answer lies in adopting federal standards regarding Antisemitic hate speech protocols modeled on that adopted by the Board of Regents of the University of California system.  A more drastic step may be the adoption of legislation designating the Muslim Brotherhood  affiliates in the U.S. as terrorist organizations.  That in the opinion of some Trump advisers might stop the anti-Israel and Antisemitic activities of Muslim Brotherhood affiliates on college campuses.

The matter of addressing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel was taken up in model state legislation  developed by  Professor Eugene Kontorovich of  Northwestern University’s  Pritzker School of Law and promoted by the Washington, DC –based Israel Allies Foundation. To date 14 states have passed the anti-BDS legislation, the latest being signed into law by Ohio Governor John Kasich.  We will see if any of these initiatives come to fruition in 2017.  In the meantime, the SJP is seeking to establish chapters at high schools across the country.

Parents of college students  concerned about the potential spike in New Antisemitic  incidents on American campuses  might keep a watching brief by periodically checking with the AMCHA Initiative Antisemitism Tracker.  Another  useful  source is the Algemeiner report on the 2016 40 worst American universities hostile to Jewish Students.

When Satire becomes Politically Correct Policy: DePaul University bans chalk for student safety

trump chalk composit imageIn March we posted a political satire column titled “Students demand ‘chalk free zones’ after Trump 2016 graffiti found at Emory U.” The column stated, “Trump ‘chalking attacks’ are appearing on college campuses across America. It began on the campus of Emory University where ‘Trump 2016’, ‘Vote Trump 2016’ and ‘Trump’ graffiti was found on buildings, sidewalks and on benches written in chalk on the university campus.”

We concluded with the tongue-in-cheek, “The Keep Chalk on College Campuses (KCCC) free speech movement in a short statement said, “Chalk U!”

On April 4th we posted a second political satire column titled, “After a #Trump2016 chalk attack on the White House Obama signs Executive Order banning chalk.” The column stated:

Today the Secret Service reported a “#Trump2016 – Make America Great Again” chalk attack occurred at the White House. President Obama, his family and the White House staff were evacuated to a secret location until the chalker and his/her associates are apprehended.

[ … ]

Josh Earnest, Assistant to the President and Press Secretary, at a White House briefing noted:

The first family and those of us working in the White House now live in fear of the chalkers who want to make America great again.

FBI Director James Comey has just briefed President Obama on this growing existential threat.

These attackers are using chalk as their weapon of choice and they must be stopped at all cost.

After meeting with his National Security Council, President Obama has signed an Executive Order making chalking a federal offense and designating members of Make America Great Again Chalkers enemies of the collective.

The Executive Order calls for the arrest of anyone carrying chalk in a concealed manner. It establishes a federal, state and local law enforcement Joint Chalk Task Force (JCTF) to combat this growing threat to our progressive way of life.

Anyone owning chalk must report it and register on a new national database of chalk possessors.

trump chalking 4It appears that political satire has become politically correct policy at DePaul University.

On April 15th, Jazz Shaw from HotAir reports:

The struggle is real, my friends. We’ve already looked at the horror being inflicted upon special snowflakes around the country these days as #TheChalkening sends college students scurrying for their safe space. Who knows what sort of lasting damage could ensue if young adults turn a corner on their morning walk only to see a name or campaign slogan emblazoned on the sidewalk where they are walking, enshrined there for all time? (Or at least until the next rainfall.) Not everyone is taking this threat lying down, however. At DePaul University in Chicago, students will soon be able to perambulate around the quad without fear of such lasting mental scar tissue because the university has banned chalking the sidewalks after someone was tasteless enough to write the name of Donald J. Trump on the pavement. (Daily Caller and Campus Reform)

DePaul University will no longer allow students to chalk political messages on the sidewalks of its campus because of the “offensive, hurtful, and divisive” nature of pro-Trump chalking found on campus last week.

“While these chalk messages are part of national agendas in a heated political battle, they appeared on campus at a time of significant racial tension in our country and on college campuses. DePaul is no exception,” Depaul’s vice president for student affairs Eugene Zdziarski wrote in a campus-wide email obtained by Campus Reform…

Campus Reform reached out to DePaul to ask why university officials chose to respond to this particular chalking instance despite claims that chalking “regularly” occurs on campus. No response was received in time for publication.

The entire idea of “chalking” as a form of expression has apparently been a tradition at DePaul for quite some time, just as it is on sidewalks around the nation.

Read more.

We again quote those who support free chalking speech on college campuses with, “Chalk U!”

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Emory University Students Upset at Pro-Trump Chalk

EDITORS NOTE: The featured image of chalk guns is by artist and designer Mike Falk.

Can Millennials [And Academia] Take a Joke? by Clark Conner

Millennials can be a hypersensitive bunch, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the academy. American institutions of higher learning have become veritable minefields of trigger warnings, safe zones, and speech codes.

It appears we can add another line item to the growing list of things too radical for college students: humor. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld recently joined an expanding group of high-profile figures in denouncing higher education’s culture of hyper-sensitivity.

In an interview with ESPN Radio’s Colin Cowherd, Seinfeld discussed why comics are reluctant to take their act on campus:

COWHERD: Does the climate worry you now? I’ve talked to Chris Rock and Larry the Cable Guy; they don’t even want to do college campuses anymore.

SEINFELD: I hear that all the time. I don’t play colleges, but I hear a lot of people tell me, “Don’t go near colleges. They’re so PC.” I’ll give you an example: My daughter’s 14. My wife says to her, “Well, you know, in the next couple years, I think maybe you’re going to want to be hanging around the city more on the weekends, so you can see boys.” You know what my daughter says? She says, “That’s sexist.”

COWHERD: That’s amazing.

SEINFELD: They just want to use these words: “That’s racist”; “That’s sexist”; “That’s prejudice.” They don’t know what they’re talking about.

It took roughly 24 hours for Seinfeld’s point to prove itself. The day after the Huffington Post ran an article on Seinfeld’s comments, an open letter appeared on the site addressed to Mr. Seinfeld from a “College Student.”

The letter touches on a myriad of topics, including racism, sexism, offending the “right” people, and (for reasons unknown) “the underlying culture of violence and male domination that inhabits high school football,” but its overarching spirit is summed up in the author’s ironic introduction:

Recently, I’ve heard about your reluctance to perform on college campuses because of how “politically correct” college students are… As a college student that loves and appreciates offensive, provocative comedy, I’m disheartened by these comments.

So, a college student was “disheartened” by Jerry Seinfeld’s observation that college students are too sensitive. Let that sink in.

Seinfeld isn’t the only comedian to denounce the current sensitivity epidemic on campus. In a discussion with Frank Rich, Chris Rock espoused the same views as Seinfeld:

RICH: What do you make of the attempt to bar Bill Maher from speaking at Berkeley for his riff on Muslims?

ROCK: Well, I love Bill, but I stopped playing colleges, and the reason is because they’re way too conservative.

RICH: In their political views?

ROCK: Not in their political views — not like they’re voting Republican — but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say “the black kid over there.” No, it’s “the guy with the red shoes.” You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.

Former Tonight Show host Jay Leno, too, shared his experience with a college intern who conflated his dislike of Mexican food with racism.

The experiences of Seinfeld, Rock, and Leno obviously can’t be projected on the whole of entertainment media, but their willingness to criticize the don’t-offend-me culture indicates a growing sense that American campuses are becoming hostile to humor. 

And their criticisms aren’t unfounded: the uptrend in campus outrage over even mildly provocative humor is inescapable. Ask Robert Klein Engler, formerly of Roosevelt University, who received his walking papers after telling his class a joke he overheard as a way of stimulating conversation about an Arizona immigration bill.

“There was a sociological study done in Arizona,” Engler said to the students, “and they discovered that 60 percent of the people in Arizona approved of the immigration law and 40 percent said, ‘no habla ingles.’”

That caused a student, Cristina Solis, to file a written complaint with the university, which in turn opened a harassment investigation against the professor.

According to reporting from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Engler was summoned by university officials to discuss the harassment charges, but they wouldn’t disclose the nature of accusation, nor the identity of the accuser. Engler agreed to cooperate with the university’s investigation, but only if the accusations were put in writing.

Roosevelt wouldn’t do so, and also refused Engler the right to be accompanied by his attorney at investigation meetings. Stripped of due process, Engler chose not to participate in the sham investigation, which resulted in Roosevelt University terminating his employment.

What’s worse, Ms. Solis voiced her approval with the university’s decision to terminate Engler. In a quote to the student newspaper preserved on Minding the Campus she proclaimed:

If that [Mr. Engler’s firing] is what it took to give him a reality check, and to make sure that no other student has to go through that, maybe it’s for the best. It’s just something you don’t say in a classroom, not coming from a professor, and especially not at a school like Roosevelt University, which is based on social justice.

What a dangerous precedent this is, that a lone student infatuated with the idea of social justice can spearhead a movement to fire a professor over a throw-away joke.

Teresa Buchanan, formerly an associate professor at Louisiana State University, also knows what it means to offend the wrong people.

Buchanan was known by her students as a “gunslinger” who sometimes incorporated profanity or sexually charged jokes in class. For example, Reason reports that one of her zingers came in the form of advice to female students that their boyfriends would stop helping them with coursework “after the sex gets stale.”

After the Fall 2013 semester, Buchanan was informed by the university that she was being placed under suspension pending an investigation for “sexual harassment” and promoting a “hostile learning environment.”

The investigation dragged on, and 15 months later a faculty committee upheld the university’s accusation of sexual harassment. The committee, however, decided that termination was not the solution, but rather that LSU should ask that Buchanan tone down her language.

This suggestion was ignored by university president F. King Alexander. Buchanan was fired on June 19, 2015.

Not only are American academics under fire for using semi-edgy humor, British academics, too, are learning the hard way to leave the one-liners at home.

The saga of Sir Tim Hunt illustrates how even the most prestigious careers can be derailed by pitchfork-wielding mobs feigning outrage over innocuous comments.

Hunt, a Nobel laureate, found himself to be the object of scorn, stemming from a joke he made while presenting to the World Conference of Science Journalists in South Korea:

It’s strange that such a chauvinist monster like me has been asked to speak to women scientists.

Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry. Perhaps we should make separate labs for boys and girls?

Now, seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt, an important role in it. Science needs women, and you should do science, despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.

This comment was first reported by Connie St. Louis, a journalism professor at University College London (UCL) who was present for Hunt’s speech. She claimed his comments induced a “stony silence” on the crowd.

In reaction, an armada of social media warriors descended on Hunt, resulting in his resignation from multiple honorary positions, including at UCL. Although Hunt incessantly apologized for his “transgression,” his opponents continued to besmirch his character and career.

In making the comments public, however, St. Louis only mentioned some of Hunt’s remarks. She omitted the part where Hunt clearly stated he was joking and praised the role of women scientists.

A few weeks later, a report from a European Commission official recalled a different version of events. Unlike St. Louis, the report included Hunt’s entire statement and claimed that Hunt’s joke was received by laughter, not the agitation asserted by St. Louis.

Despite the EC report vindicating Hunt and dispelling the charges of sexism, the damage is done. Hunt’s top-shelf academic career is now in shambles after being sullied by a throng of raging speech oppressors.

A joke was all it took.

Anything Peaceful

Anything Peaceful is FEE’s new online ideas marketplace, hosting original and aggregate content from across the Web.

EDITORS NOTE: A version of this post first appeared at the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. The featured image is courtesy of FEE and Shutterstock.

The Hidden Costs of Tenure by Jonathon Anomaly

Conversations I’ve had with non-academics about university employment practices usually evoke surprise and skepticism. Most people have a hard time understanding the point of a system that makes it so difficult to dismiss faculty members who are not especially good at their job.

The recent motion in Wisconsin to remove state laws that protect teacher tenure has re-ignited the debate over providing special protections to teachers—protections that don’t apply to journalists, gardeners, or bloggers who are occasionally fired for expressing unpopular views.

In some ways, regulations that determine how university professors are hired and fired in the United States are analogous to the restrictive labor laws in Spain and Greece. By raising the cost of firing bad workers, they increase the relative cost of hiring good ones.

The consequence is persistent unemployment and low productivity in Greece and Spain. The consequences of our tenure system are the proliferation of poor teaching and arcane research in university departments that are immunized from market forces.

Those who pursue a career as a university professor are mostly incentivized to produce specialized work aimed at impressing people who may end up on their promotion committee rather than a wider audience.

In the sciences, this may be a good thing, since one’s peers are likely doing narrow but important work that uncovers the basic structure of the universe. But in the humanities and social sciences, it often leads to the pursuit of bizarre research that is inscrutable to outsiders and of little value even to scholars in related fields.

Another hidden effect of the tenure system is that it often sifts out the very people it is supposed to protect: those with unusual or unpopular ideas. The original justification for tenure was to protect teachers and scholars who hold unpopular views by making it difficult to fire them. But when tenure is the main game in town, the stakes associated with hiring a new faculty member are high, making departments risk-averse. Thus, in order to be considered for tenure-track jobs, candidates have strong reasons to conceal unpopular political beliefs and to pursue relatively conservative lines of research.

By “conservative” I do not mean politically conservative. Quite the opposite.

If most people in a department where you’ve applied are progressives, it is not likely that your allegiance to any non-progressive views will help your cause. Tenured faculty members who make those decisions are often unwilling to take a chance on somebody with eccentric or politically unpopular views, since when a tenure-track position is filled, the candidate who fills it will probably be a colleague for life.

This is not only unfair; it is contrary to the mission of most universities. Research by Professor Jonathan Haidt suggests that political bias negatively impacts the quality of research by stifling open debate. But it’s one of the unintended results of tenure.

Tenure can, of course, protect people with unpopular views. Consider Edward Wilson and Arthur Jensen, eminent scholars at Harvard and Berkeley who have argued, among other things, that different groups of human beings exhibit average differences in genetically-mediated characteristics, including general intelligence and impulse control. Tenure protected their careers, although it didn’t protect them from death threats and intimidation.

On the other hand, it is likely that many more controversial scholars will never be hired in the first place because those on the hiring committee are hostile to their ideas.

Tenure also makes it much harder to terminate faculty members. It was never supposed to be a guarantee that one will never be fired. According to the American Association of University Professors, tenure can be revoked if members of a department can demonstrate that a colleague exhibits incompetence, or engages in academic fraud or seriously immoral behavior.

But even when these things can be shown, it is often easier for faculty and administration to ignore the problem than to mount a costly battle to fire a colleague.

This is one reason many tenure-track jobs are being replaced with adjunct positions, which is a temporary fix for a deeper problem. In the long run, it is likely that the quality of student education and faculty research would increase under a system that offered faculty a greater diversity of contracts, reflecting a faculty member’s ongoing accomplishments, experience, and contributions to the university.

In effect, tenure is a barrier to entry in the academic job market that makes it difficult to replace poorly performing faculty with better alternatives. We should applaud rather than protest the recent decision of the Wisconsin legislature to force the University of Wisconsin to experiment with new ways of conducting the business of hiring and firing faculty.

This post first appeared at the John William Pope Center. 

Jonathan Anomaly