Stopping Payment On the Reality Check

  • In my earlier too-long post about Nancy Thomas and UNH's "Democracy Initiative", I quoted this paragraph from her Inside Higher Ed article that claimed a need to suppress provocative and impolite tactics used by conservative university students:
    We need to be clear about what these acts [by conservative students] are: attention-seeking tactics that intimidate faculty, students, and guest speakers, distort facts, reduce public issues to simplistic sound-bites, and inhibit the thoughtful exchange of ideas and deliberation, both in and out of the classroom. The students named in the Times are not trying to offset liberal bias - they are trying to prevent learning and chill, if not stop, civil discourse.
    By odd coincidence, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education today has an account of an actual attempt to prevent discourse by a guest speaker at UC Irvine earlier in the week.
    On Monday, a few dozen people disrupted a speech by Michael Oren, Israel's Ambassador to the United States, who was speaking at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), in the UCI Student Center for a public lecture on "U.S. Israel Relations from a Political and Personal Perspective." The lecture was sponsored by 10 campus bodies including the Department of Political Science and the School of Law, as well as the Consulate General of Israel and three other off-campus bodies.
    Indications are the perpetrators of the disuption were not local right-wing knuckle-draggers, but UCI's Muslim Student Union. Ambassador Oren refused to be suppressed, calmly waiting out the hecklers. Indications are that the disruptors might face disciplinary action from UCI, as well as criminal charges. Unlike Ms. Thomas's fantasies, actual disruptions against civil discourse in academe (a) aren't typically perpetrated by conservatives and (b) can be well-handled by existing procedures.

  • When I saw the word hyrdofracking, I was pretty sure it referred to some Cylon torture technique on Battlestar Galactica. ("We'll see if Adama doesn't talk after a few sessions in the Hyrdrofracking Chamber!") But it's a real word. (Via University Diarist.)

  • This sounds like one of those improv stunts where the performers take random shouted suggestions from the audience and build a skit around. Except in this case, they built
    Bowlingual: iPhone app translates what your dog barks, posts it to Twitter
    Up next: an iPhone app that monitors your blood pressure, detects when you're irritated, and automatically composes a standard blog post ridiculing whatever's in your web browser window. (Via Granite Geek.)

The STFU Imperative

I probably would have ignored this article at Inside Higher Ed except that it advertises the author's affiliation as:

Nancy Thomas directs the Democracy Imperative at the University of New Hampshire.

Hey, that's us! And, unfortunately, it's yet another embarrassment for the University Near Here, a reminder that it's officially hostile to the free speech rights of students. It starts:

The New York Times last month reported a story about several politically active students who crossed the line from what the Times called "high jinks" to allegedly committing a federal felony (by breaking into the office of Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana to learn whether the Senator's office was deliberately not answering phone calls). While this criminal activity is nothing short of outrageous, I assume it is an aberration. It is, however, connected to a bigger problem.

Aside: Ms. Thomas reveals her somewhat casual attitude toward accuracy when she bills the arrested desperados as "politically active students". After reading the NYT article she links, it's pretty clear that they aren't current students. Still, I suppose if you're pitching an article to Inside Higher Ed, it helps if you can make that connection, even if you have to fudge a bit.

But, for better or worse, the legal system will determine the fate of James O'Keefe and his merry men. So what's the "bigger problem" that has Ms. Thomas so hot and bothered? Turns out, it's free speech:

These students [sic] are part of an organized group of conservative students whose tactics are already well-known on many college campuses: selling cookies at reduced rates to women and students-of-color in protest of affirmative action; sneaking video cameras into classrooms and campus forums and posting out-of-context excerpts, often anonymously, as evidence of liberal indoctrination on campus; hosting a gun raffle; researching and publicizing campaign contributions of faculty members and staff. High jinks? Really? Check the campusreform.org Web site, which advises, "Why take action? Because it will shock your opposition." Is that why activism matters, to shock and discourage others? Are faculty members and other students "the opposition?"

Why, it's nothing less than the college division of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy! But, other than that, what's the problem?

We need to be clear about what these acts are: attention-seeking tactics that intimidate faculty, students, and guest speakers, distort facts, reduce public issues to simplistic sound-bites, and inhibit the thoughtful exchange of ideas and deliberation, both in and out of the classroom. The students named in the Times are not trying to offset liberal bias - they are trying to prevent learning and chill, if not stop, civil discourse.

Gee, attention-seeking tactics? So what?

But other than that, what can we pull out of this hodgepodge of unsupported assertions?

  1. Ms. Thomas imagines that there are ideal rules for the Marketplace of Ideas, University Subsection.

  2. Under those rules, participants would never be "intimidated"; no facts would ever be "distorted"; nothing would be "simplistic"; everything would be "thoughtful" and "civil"; "learning" would ensue;

  3. All we need to do is to stop those guys from violating the rules;

  4. And Ms. Thomas, and her like-minded ilk, will be the happy enforcers.

In other words, the typical academic excuses for suppressing inconvenient/impolite exercise of speech. No problem, there, right?

Recently, everyday citizens, columnists (including Tom Friedman, also in the Times), newspaper editors, and President Obama have amplified their call for the end of partisan gamesmanship and tactics that promote vitriol, conflict, and stalemates at the national level. It's time that colleges and universities demand the same of their students.

The link is to a recent Thomas J. Friedman column where he wistfully points out China's "authoritarian decision-making process that is capable of making tough choices". Just the role model we need for University free-speech referees! Who, Ms. Thomas advocates, will "demand" certain behavior from their subjects if they dare to exercise their Constitutional rights.

Ms. Johnson then confidently intones:

We know what we should do:

… and then lists three vague, jargon-laden, feelgood proposals under which her ideal acceptable college-based "public discourse" can occur. Not coincidentally, I imagine, all three involve greater job opportunities for people like Nancy Thomas: creating "structured learning opportunities"; setting up "certificate programs", "summer institutes", etc.; dragooning members of the "broader community" into "discussions about pressing issues." But (above all) ensuring that no "high jinks" break out.

Initial link is via Phi Beta Cons, where David French nicely rebuts Ms. Thomas's article.

Note: although Nancy Thomas is billed as directing "the Democracy Imperative at the University of New Hampshire", that apparently doesn't involve any kind of ongoing physical on-campus presence.

The Democracy Imperative's website, hosted on UNH servers, is here. If you would like to rot your brain in an effort to find out …

… well, they seem to talk to each other. A lot. They meet. They present. They make bunches of bulleted lists. But, above all, they write: paragraph after paragraph of self-important word-stuffed gasbaggery that will leave you less informed after reading it. Check it out!

On the site's home page, you'll read:

Our mission has changed! We dropped “deliberative” from our tag line and mission statement. To learn why, click here

Oh my! What was the reasoning behind that momentous decision? At the link, you'll read a few hundred words… and still not know exactly why. Apparently it was holding them back from doing something they decided they wanted to do? Maybe.

Periodically, we send out notices about a “teachable moment” in the news and we suggest you convene dialogues about that topic (e.g., the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on campaign finance reform). We do that not only because we want to encourage dialogue. We do it because we think the ruling (in this case) is very, very bad for democracy. So we’re advocating for a position.

It's not particularly surprising that Ms. Thomas (who, as near as I can tell, is the "we" in the quoted paragraph) disapproves of the outcome of Citizens United. As evidenced by her article, she doesn't see the First Amendment as one of the cornerstones of democracy; instead it's an inconvenience to be ignored when the wrong people use it in ways of which she disapproves.


Last Modified 2012-10-04 3:17 PM EST