Hoisted: A Few Notes on Higher Education in the Age of Trump... (June 10, 2017):
I wrote https://www.bradford-delong.com/2017/06/must-read-two-points-diversity-and-finding-truth-in-the-sense-of-rough-consensus-and-running-code-where-i-think-larry.html: Two points (diversity and finding truth in the sense of rough consensus and running code) where I think Larry Summers is 100% correct. One point (Charles Murray) where I think Larry is broadly right but that things are more complicated. And one point (sensitivity training) where I think Larry Summers is more wrong than right. But more on that anon. Definitely worth reading.
This is the "anon":
(1 & 2) The two points where I think Larry is 100% correct are:
(a) The strong need for universities to not just check demographic boxes but to actually devote resources to enhancing economic diversity.
(b) The point of a university is not just to express but to evaluate and assess ideas. We need a diversified portfolio of ideas to discuss. But we also need to assess what is and is not the case, and what ideas have failed the tests of coherence, utility, and good faith.
(3) With respect to Charles Murray, where I think Larry is "right, but...", some thoughts:
Murray is (a) racist enough to imitate the KKK in lighting crosses on fire, (b) mendacious enough to have called forth Jim Heckman's angry review of The Bell Curve as simply not competent social science https://reason.com/archives/1995/03/01/cracked-bell, and (c) corrupt enough to lie about the circumstances under which AEI fired David Frum for saying true things AEI's donors and political masters did not want to hear https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/196981/david-frums-departure-aei-charles-murray.
Yes, once Murray had been invited to Middlebury, he should have come and spoken. But also: people who do not think that he ought to have been invited to Middlebury should also have been allowed, nay encouraged, to speak—and should not have been told by anybody to shut up and not speak.
And the people who invited Charles Murray to speak at Middlebury have, in my view, a great deal of explaining to do.
As I wrote https://www.bradford-delong.com/2017/02/statement-for-the-bbc-on-the-disruption-of-berkeley-speaker-event-on-february-1-2017.html: "A university is both a safe space in which ideas are to be expressed and a space in which those ideas are to be evaluated. When one sets forth ideas or causes ideas to be set forth in a university, one is doing so because one believes that these ideas are—potentially, at least—great ones. In so doing, members of the university are accountable only to, as Berkeley Professor Ernst Kantorowicz said in the 1940s, 'their conscience and their God'".
What are the ideas that Charles Murray has to express that are potentially great? Those who invited Charles Murray to Middlebury have a duty to the college to say why they think he has anything potentially great to say. They have not met that duty. Perhaps they do think he has something great to say: if so, they need to tell us what it is. Perhaps, though, they invited their speaker because they hoped bringing a cross-burner to campus would make African-American, Asian, Hispanic, Muslim, and other minority members of the university feel small and unsafe. If so they need to examine their consciences and pray to their gods, and think hard about whether they understand the purposes of a university.
(4) The point where I think Larry is more wrong than write is where he writes:
Something has gone badly wrong when the chancellor of the largest state university system is pushing faculty attendance at seminars where faculty are trained that it is wrong and even racist to say that “America is a land of opportunity” or that “meritocracy is a good thing” or that “with hard work you can achieve your dreams”...
You can say: "America is a land of opportunity. FULL STOP!" You can say "Is America a land of 'opportunity'?" or "America is a land of opportunity. Yes or no?" or "America is a land of opportunity. It what ways is this true? In what ways is this false?"
I can think of many times and places in which a professor saying the first to a student is, to put it bluntly, simply being a dick.
Similarly, to say "Meritocracy is a good thing. FULL STOP!" is to ignore that the very first use of the word "meritocracy" comes in 1958 in a classic work of sociology by Michael Young, his The Rise of the Meritocracy https://amzn.to/2soHDLi, in which Young argued as strongly as he could that, indeed, the rise of the meritocracy was a bad thing. And "With hard work you can achieve your dreams. FULL STOP!" is, I think, simply wrong: with hard work you can achieve some of your dreams—to achieve them all requires hard work, luck, a willingness to lean in, a strong willingness not just to work hard but to purchase lottery tickets outside of your comfort zone, and forethought and planning to maximize the chances that you will find yourself in the right place at the right time.
Thus, IMHO at least, to say "Meritocracy is a good thing. FULL STOP!" or "With hard work you can achieve your dreams. FULL STOP!" is simply being a dick. And I do think universities should encourage faculty to attend seminars at which they reflect on how not to be dicks.
Of course, much of "sensitivity training" could, in my view, be replaced by one of Harold Pollack's index cards https://amzn.to/2sOcqyM. This one would read:
- Don't be a dick.
- Put yourself in the shoes of the person you are talking to: are you (unintentionally) being a dick even though you are not trying to be one?
And, we humans being as perverse as we are, sensitivity training seminars do themselves present substantial opportunities for dickishness.
Larry Summers: How elite universities meet the challenges of the Trump era: "Rebecca Blumenstein... our conversation focused on how elite universities are meeting the challenges of the Trump era... https://www.ft.com/content/99cc63cd-7e59-3390-a052-6fcb654eb161
...I’m afraid I am quite negative on several counts. First, by placing much less emphasis on economic diversity relative to other dimensions of diversity, we are perpetuating the divisions that brought Donald Trump to power. I’m proud of what we did at Harvard during my presidency to make college free for students with a family income under $60,000 and to step up recruitment of thoses from disadvantaged backgrounds and the way these policies have been emulated. But it remains the case that we make far less effort to recruit, admit and educate economically disadvantaged students than we do to economically advantaged minority students. I think that is wrong....
Second, it is terrifying that the US now has its first post-rational president who denies science, proposes arithmetically unsound budgets and embraces alternative facts. I would hope at such a time universities would be bulwarks for honest, open debate as a route towards greater truth. All too often, though, the objective of discussion at our elite schools is framed not as finding truth, or distinguishing better from worse ideas. Rather, it is framed as achieving greater respect for other views or appreciation of the feelings of others.
All too often as with the shameful treatment of Charles Murray at Middlebury, this means giving a heckler’s veto to those who want to carry the day with the strength of their feeling rather than the force of their argument....
Third, at a time when the US faces momentous challenges, I am discouraged to see universities turn inwards and embrace an Orwellian paternalism in an effort to reduce what is seen as victimisation. Something has gone badly wrong when the chancellor of the largest state university system is pushing faculty attendance at seminars where faculty are trained that it is wrong and even racist to say that “America is a land of opportunity” or that “meritocracy is a good thing” or that “with hard work you can achieve your dreams”. The only intellectually safe space for a college student should be in his or her parents’ home. A liberal education that does not cause moments of acute discomfort is a failure...