Monday, December 11, 2023

Foes of Higher Education

In the wake of the politically disastrous appearance before the House Committee on Education and the Workforce by presidents of three elite universities and the resignation of one of the leaders FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression) is alarmed (pun intended). It notes

New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul sent a letter warning the presidents of colleges and universities in New York that failing to discipline students for “calling for the genocide of any group of people” would violate both state and federal law. The governor promised “aggressive enforcement action” against any institution failing to prohibit and punish such speech.

Colleges and universities can and should punish “calls for genocide” when such speech falls into one of the narrowly defined categories of unprotected speech, including true threats, incitement, and discriminatory harassment. But broad, vague bans on “calls for genocide,” absent more, would result in the censorship of protected expression.

That's an accurate understanding of the Constitution, corroborating testimony of those three presidents, each of whom cited the legal importance of "context." It was also irrelevant to Elise Stefanik, who got a great soundbite out of her questioning. Characteristically succumbing to the temptation to slam Israel and to invoke race, Will Bunch remarked

How much of this is about antisemitism, and how much of this is about something else? — such as the fact that the college presidents who testified on Capitol Hill don’t look like the 300 years of school leaders who came before them. Bill Ackman, billionaire hedge fund manager and deeply disgruntled Harvard alum and donor, said the quiet part out loud last week when he made the repulsive allegation in a tweet that his alma mater’s first Black president — a child of Haitian immigrants, an award-winning scholar — was only hired to satisfy diversity goals.

Stefanik's sincerity is questionable when

her passion as an anti-antisemitism crusader was nowhere to be seen recently when her conservative allies were out in the schools banning books like The Diary of Anne Frank. Far worse, Stefanik, in 2022 campaign ads, seemed to be endorsing the racist “great replacement theory” that mass immigration is a liberal plot, using inflammatory rhetoric about a scheme to “overthrow our current electorate and create a permanent liberal majority in Washington.”

Only Lisa McGill of the University of Pennsylvania- one of the two administrators who is white- has been forced into retirement as of the time of this post (minutes after the end of Sunday Night Football). Race may have played a role but Bunch is closer to discerning the motivation of GOP members of Congress when he notes

And the likes of Ackman, Stefanik and their allies won’t stop at reversing a half-century of diversity on campus — not when their bigger strategic goal of weakening the already tottering American way of higher education suddenly seems within reach. Last week, Sen. J.D. Vance, the billionaire-backed Ohioan, tweeted that “if universities keep pushing racial hatred, euphemistically called DEI, we need to look at their funding.” In the swirling vortex that led to Magill’s resignation, these calls for financial retribution will accelerate — and students will suffer.

We need to look at their funding. Republicans aren't fond of diversity, equity, and inclusion and the tolerance of major universities toward anti-Semitism on campus compared to the the slightest affront to groups designated as "marginalized" is striking. However, prominent Republicans are not primarily interested in ending DEI or antagonism to Jews. For the most part, these issues are subterfuges, intended to divert attention from the GOP's goal to undermine and weaken colleges, especially the most eminent institutions of higher education.

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This  is a reasonable question. If going to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood to harass and intimidate Jewish people at a synagogue is no...