Harvard hands out “social justice” placemats to students, telling them how to think and talk about various social issues

Well if this don’t beat all! My kishkes are in knots, for my own alma mater, Harvard University, has now joined the anti-free-speech squad.  As the Guardian reports, its transgression took the form of a placemat given to the students by the university’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, with the collusion of the freshman dean’s office.

First have a look at the placemat, which is designed to tell students how to talk to their families and friends over holiday break about four pressing social issues. You might not be able to read it, but if you click twice in succession (with a pause between the clicks), you’ll be able to see what it says—unless you’re terribly myopic. The Guardian‘s summary (indented) is below the photo:

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One section dealt with student activism and the recent trend of students challenging campus racism. “Why are black students complaining? Shouldn’t they be happy to be in college?”, one question asked. The suggested response stated that the students were not complaining and that “if non-black students get the privilege of that safe environment, I believe that same privilege should be given to all students”.

[JAC: The first section is also very poorly written and ungrammatical.]

A second section addressed the ongoing controversy over allowing Syrian refugees into the US, which family members could argue, Harvard suggested, was unsafe because the refugees might have ties to terrorists. The response provided said that “the US has been accepting refugees from the war-torn areas around the world for decades”. It specifically referenced the wars in Central America and said that despite accepting refugees then, they had “very strict vetting and not one incident of violence”. The section also misspelled Islamophobia.

The outgoing title of “house master” was addressed in the next section. The mat explained that the University had stopped using the phrase because the term master “is reminiscent of slave masters and the legacy of slavery”.

In the final section, the mats dealt with questions about the police killings of African Americans, and asked: “Why didn’t they just listen to the officer? If they had just obeyed the law this wouldn’t have happened”.

The response provided led in with a question: “Do you think the response would be the same if it was a white person being pulled over?” It said that the victims were “not breaking the law and are unarmed”. It then referenced Tamir Rice, the 12-year old boy who was shot to death in November 2014 by police officers two seconds after they arrived on the scene.

Now in general I agree with most of these sentiments, but that’s not the point. The point is that the Harvard administration is in effect telling the students what to think and say. And that’s inimical to the purpose of a good university, which is to expose students to a diversity of viewpoints, give them the tools to think, and then let them decide for themselves. It’s certainly not to propagandize the students with a set of politically acceptable and liberal viewpoints.

It’s telling, in fact, that the Harvard Undergraduate Council, a group of students still in school, distributed a statement excoriating the University for distributing these placemats:


Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 10.24.43 AM

And, on the same day, the administration—through two deans—apologized, though they qualified their apology by saying how laudable their goals were.

Screen Shot 2015-12-21 at 10.25.14 AM

It’s a sad situation when the students are more savvy about free speech than the deans of their college. I’m heartened by the response of the students, but depressed by the administration. It’s time for Harvard to adopt the University of Chicago’s exemplary free speech policy.

h/t: Steve

133 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Oy, again.

  2. eric
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Great response by the student organizations.

    Harvard, the space under my dinner plate is safe. I will not tolerate advertising* or political manifestos being there.

    *Unless I’m at a good greasy spoon. But if that’s the case, I chose to be there.

  3. Dermot C
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Erm…Islamaphobia? Oxford dictionary has Islamophobia and Merriam-Webster doesn’t have the word. Do Americans spell it with an ‘a’?

    Tangential, I know, but this is Harvard. x

    • Ralph
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

      A simple Google has -o- ahead by 15:1, that indicates it will settle there.

      There’s a logical analogy with Islamo- in, say, Islamo-Christian, Islamofascism (Wiki calls that a thematic vowel? I’m not sure about that). These Islamo- constructs are rare usages, but since the coinage was largely by intellectuals, and probably largely in writing, I suspect that these precedent forms did hold sway. If may then be that the superficial analogy with the far more common homophobia also supported the -o- spelling in practice.

      I think the persistence of alternate spellings for a neologism may be related to whether the major dialects distinguish the spellings when the word is spoken. In my British RP, I would pronounce both alternate spellings exactly the same — I’m not quite sure whether most Americans English speakers would tend to distinguish the spellings in pronunciation?

      • Dermot C
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        A schwah in most cases, whether British or American pronunciation, I’d imagine. Cheers, Rolph, from Dermat. x

        • Ralph
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

          You’re welcm.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, whenever you’re making a Greekish compound, you put an “o”. I don’t know why, you just do.

  4. Joseph Stans
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Has the academic community lost their collective minds? How could any educated leader begin to take this drivel seriously?

    There is now zero chance my grandson or daughter will be attending this institution. It seems they would serve as well in a community college with classes held on the lawn in the park.

    I’m delighted my university has managed to maintain a hold on reality so far although the idiocy is nibbling around the edges

  5. Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    I guess that ‘mastery’ is out at Harvard? (Though this does give a whole new meaning to ‘Master of Divinity’).

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

      Masters’ degrees will hereafter be known as Accomplishers’ degrees.

  6. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    “Listen mindfully”, “sharing personal experiences and emotions”, “BREATHE”, those words just want to make vomit.

    • Frank
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      To be fair, we must remember that the folks who generate these kinds of things may have a lot of time on their hands. They must do SOMETHING to justify their salaries! Recent surveys suggest that in the last few decades, the number of faculty (you know, those actually doing teaching and research) has gone up by a few percent on average in the last few decades, while the number of administrators has gone up by over 200%.
      A second contributory trend is the continued juvenilization of higher education – where an increasing fraction of students act like children and are increasingly treated as such by their administrations (I suspect that a positive feedback loop is now in place).

      • EvolvedDutchie
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

        I recognize that development, unfortunately. I’m a university student, but my mother works as a teacher in primary education. She gets all kinds of plans handed down from the management. None of them have any long lasting effect, because the school management imposes another plan on the teachers before the schoolyear has passed.

        And I really dislike the language that is used by the Harvard College Office. It is the same kind of pretentious emotional gibberish that evangelicals use.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

          Have you seen any of this madness at schools in Holland, like this? Or close? I’m wondering if it’s a USA, UK thing or if it has spread further. I haven’t noticed anything on my campus where I work, other than some of the coddling of Islam.

          • EvolvedDutchie
            Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

            I haven’t seen safe spaces yet. Those are a uniquely Anglo-American thing. But the arguments used by students to advocate safe spaces are basically the same that some vocal muslims and the regressive left use to enforce 7th century blasphemy laws in a 21st century society.

            The basic idea is that language is a power structure that can be used to oppress minorities. This idea goes all the way back to Michel Foucault, one of the most cited scholars nowadays. Foucault’s research mainly focused on clinics, sexuality, gender, women, etc, because they were the outcasts in a society dominated by white heterosexual males. And ofcourse language has been used to oppress. Nazi propaganda for example, with movies like “Der Ewige Jude”.

            Yet there is a world of difference between state-sanctioned hatred in nazi Germany of the 1940’s and cartoons drawn by Kurt Westergaard and the Charlie Hebdo editors in 21st century democratic countries. If we apply Foucault’s theory to Charlie Hebdo, then suddenly the roles are reversed. Then the Charlie Hebdo staff suddenly become racist oppressors and the terrorists freedom fighters. It’s completely bonkers, but it is the position held by the French philosopher Emmanuel Todd and islamist apologists.

            The idea that language is a power structure that is used to oppress minorities is the poison that runs through universities in both North America and Western Europe.

            • EvolvedDutchie
              Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

              I should be a bit more nuanced: the idea that this theory can be applied to cartoonists in a free and open society and to criticism of religion is poison.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

              Well, I’m glad at least one of those Western European universities has you in it to counter those stupid ideas! I hope there are more of you because I’m going to lose my mind if I have to work with these people when they graduate!

              • EvolvedDutchie
                Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

                Thank you for your kind words. I do my best and I’m glad to see a lot of students tend to agree with me. The ideas of Foucault are not only taught here, but also discussed and scrutinized by both students and professors. So the future isn’t as bleak as it would sometimes seem. I think social justice warriors remain a small, but vocal (and therefore influential) minority.

          • Robert Seidel
            Posted December 22, 2015 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

            It certainly has spread further: There is something very similar going on at the Humboldt University in Berlin, for instance, with students disrupting a lecture because the professor was stubbornly teaching white, male authors (like Plato and Rousseau) and bitching about censorship when fellow students called the police on them, because it was the recapitulating lecture before exams and they really wanted to hear it.

            I never noticed it at my university, though, and we don’t have those exorbitant tuition fees, which give financial leverage to the students. So I doubt it will become a nation wide phenomenon.

      • Tom Snow
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        About the juvenilization of higher education: I found a great article on Politico about that today. “Yesterday’s student activists wanted to be treated like adults. Today’s want to be treated like children.”

        I probably should note that I went to college from 2000 to 2003 so I missed out on both the 60s and today’s waves of activism.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

          During Frosch week at the campus I work at, there was a bouncy castle.

        • Kiwi Dave
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          Perhaps, given the high instrumental justification for attending university, the huge debts racked up by students, and the increasingly commonplace experience of attending university, some students feel that they are paying customers rather than learners, and the customer is always right. This is, of course, pure speculation from someone who left university (apart from correspondence courses)46 years ago.

          • Diane G.
            Posted December 22, 2015 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

            Oh, I think you’re right on target! And for some institutions the customer framing stems straight from the university management itself.

      • jay
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        Recent articles have pointed out that the ‘Diversity Officer’ of several state universities make more money than the state’s governor.

        Yes I guess they are attempting to justify their existence.

  7. rickflick
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    As I began reading this I tried to imagine how my college friends back in the day would have taken this placemat propaganda. I think they would have written pretty much what we see from the Undergrad Council wrote, but without the polite wording.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

      My lot would have used them to make paper darts.

      cr

      • rickflick
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

        Mine couldn’t make paper darts, but they had many other fine qualities.

  8. Vaal
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    Excellent rebuttal by the students. So cheering to read.

  9. Matt
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Classic. I watched a university lecture online once about the Muslim conquests. The lecture was quite informative on the history but at the end the professor gave a big speech about how the students are to feel about what they just learned. They are not to think anything bad about Islam because of this information. They are not to think that muslims forced their religion on anyone, because they gave people a choice. Etc.

    It was incredible. He actually used the words, “how you should NOT feel about this is…”

    • TJR
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:37 am | Permalink

      Did he also give a similar speech in later lectures on the course, when he got onto the crusades?

    • Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      Well, “convert, pay tax, or die” is a choice.

    • dd
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      Matt, Do you have a link or remember what it was where, etc? I am not doubting its veracity, just would like to see it too.

  10. Posted December 21, 2015 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Re the “apology”:

    … our goal was to provide a framework for you to engage in conversations …

    That’s not true. Presenting them with *one* reply is offering that reply as normative. That’s very different from a framework for conversations.

    … it was not effectively presented and it ultimately caused confusion …

    I really *hate* the way that such wording patronisingly supposes that students who object or disagree are “confused”.

  11. Randy Schenck
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like 1984 at Harvard. Should we call it Harvard Speak…

    Who does the thinking at that school?

  12. komponist1
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Also, the deans need a lesson in punctuation. In their response, the word “however” should either be preceded by a semicolon or it should begin a new sentence.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Ah the comma splice error strikes again!

    • Posted December 21, 2015 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      I was taught that “however” should never begin a sentence, unless it is used like “However you want to do it is fine.” In the case above, the proper correction would be to, “It was not, however, …”

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 8:02 am | Permalink

        Those grammar rules are really stylistic guidelines. It is perfectly fine to start a sentence with however, but, because, and. I found that teacher’s oversimplified things, or if you had my primary school teachers, were so rule loving they couldn’t help themselves.

        You should read Pinker’s Sense of Style as he feels the same way.

        • Posted December 22, 2015 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

          Yeah. A lot of those “rules” are silly. Now the Oxford Comma, that’s important! By the way, in Canadia do you folks do the punctuation at the end of a sentence inside the quotation marks or outside? Outside I know is the “British Way”. But I don’t know if inside is the “American Way” or the “North American Way.”

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted December 23, 2015 at 12:00 am | Permalink

            Inside, which I hate and think is wrong because it makes no logical sense. I didn’t know there was a British and American way.

  13. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    This is really a big disappointment — especially coming from Harvard, one of the top 10 universities in the entire Boston metropolitan area.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      And the oldest university in the US!

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        OK, maybe not in the Hub-area top 10, but pretty dern close, I’d say … somewhere between Suffolk U and Roxbury CC, at least.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

          Although the sketchy syntax and punctuation in that placemat is sure to cost Harvard big points in the next US News & World Report college rankings.

    • colnago80
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      In most surveys, Harvard ranks among the top 10 universities in the world.

      • Ralph
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

        I think you’ll find that parody and sarcasm are among Ken’s top 10 rhetorical devices…

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

          Well, maybe not the top 10, Ralph, but pretty dern close …

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

          🙂

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

        Oh yeah? If this placemat business is any guide, I’d say it ranks somewhere between that boarded-up school up near Revere Beach and the College of Hahd Knawcks in southie.

        I kid Jerry’s grad-school alma mater; call it “punching up.” But in honor of America’s flagship University, let’s have a listen to the Standells’ great ode to the Charles River.

        Like them, I love that “Dirty Water.”

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

      IIRC from the time I lived in the Boston area, there are no fewer than eighty institutions of higher learning of one kind or another in the greater metropolitan area!

      (Could be even more, now-that was a while ago.)

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

        I love Boston. I think it’s because 1) everyone can spell MacPherson and 2) given the saturation of high learning institutions, you run into fewer bozos when you’re out.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

        Plus Fenway Park, let’s not forget that, baseball fan.

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 22, 2015 at 6:39 pm | Permalink

          Doh! How could I forget that? Yaz was playing when I was there! And Eckersley!

          And Boston Garden! The original one! Can’t leave out that one, either! 😀

          !!!! <– extra exclamation marks, for good measure

          • Dermot C
            Posted December 22, 2015 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

            ‘The only way is up’ is particularly apt for the Red Sox. Ker-tish. x

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted December 22, 2015 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

            Oh how I love Yaz!

            Here are a couple of cute photos I snapped outside Fenway of a lady taking a picture of her greyhound dog at the statue.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted December 22, 2015 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

              Oops here:

              Picture 1

              Picture 2

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 22, 2015 at 7:46 pm | Permalink

                Awwww! Complete with a Bosox coat!

              • rickflick
                Posted December 22, 2015 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

                Her significant other.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:50 pm | Permalink

                Is that a purebred Canadian that the dog is walking outside Fenway?

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted December 22, 2015 at 11:57 pm | Permalink

                I don’t thinks so as I think she is a local. I took that picture from a bus.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:40 pm | Permalink

            Yaz & Eckersley, you say? I’ve got two words for you: Bucky fuckin’ Dent. (Ok, three words.)

            And the Garden. That merits four words: Havlicek stole the ball!!!

            • Diane G.
              Posted December 22, 2015 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

              Wow, Havlicek vs. Chamberlain. What a series that must have been!

              (But re the Garden, I was thinking more along the lines (heh) of Ray Bourque…)

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted December 22, 2015 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

                Wilt-the-stilt vs. Bill Russell — epic matchup. Chamberlain would invariably win the statistical battle with Russell, but the Celtics would beat the 76ers.

                Those Red Auerbach-coached Celtics — Bob Cousy, KC Jones, Tommy Heinsohn, “Satch” Sanders, and Sam Jones, along with sixth-man Havlicek — were virtually unbeatable, which continued after Russell became the player-coach in the mid-60s. Eleven championships in 13 years.

                Of course, I was barely out of diapers in those days. 🙂

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 23, 2015 at 12:18 am | Permalink

                Russell’s a hero of mine.

                Yeah, well, the team of my Boston tenure wasn’t too shabby! Bird, Archibald, Parrish, McHale…

                I remember we passed Kevin McHale on one of the ramps one day. It was like passing a giraffe.

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted December 23, 2015 at 8:20 am | Permalink

                Don’t forget “DJ” — Larry Bird called Dennis Johnson the best clutch player he ever played with. Bill Walton polished off his career with that team, too. Bird-McHale-Parrish — best frontline ever.

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 24, 2015 at 12:25 am | Permalink

                Damn, I guess!

                Looks like Walton came to Boston just after I left. I did catch him with the Trailblazers, though, when I was able to get home to Portland, back in the ’70’s. I still have my Rip City! T-shirt…

                I left the PAC-8 just before he started playing for UCLA. (My class at OSU got to face Lew Alcindor.) (And OJ Simpson in that other sport…)

                But I digress… 😀

              • Ken Kukec
                Posted December 24, 2015 at 12:47 am | Permalink

                David Halberstam spent a season with that Trailblazers’ team in the ’70s, wrote an excellent book about it, “The Breaks of the Game.”

              • Diane G.
                Posted December 25, 2015 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, things were kinda ugly in Portland during that year. My Dad never “forgave” Walton; I OTOH always felt he got the shaft from the (so-called) fans…

                It would be interesting to reread TBotG now and see how it compares with the state of pro sports today.

                I miss Halberstam! I don’t think we’ve ever replaced him. Tracy Kidder might have carried the flag for a while.

              • merilee
                Posted December 25, 2015 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

                Haven’t heard much from Tracy Kidder recently either.

  14. Christopher Bonds
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I don’t have too much of a problem with the advice given on the plate. But I agree that the other things do seem to be dictating the “proper” response to the example statements, which seems to go directly against the advice on the plate.

  15. DrBrydon
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    I think there is real significance in the fact that the administration thought that the students had to be instructed, on short notice, in how to talk to people with differing viewpoints. Apparently, Harvard doesn’t want students issuing lists of demands to or screaming at their parents.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Or educating them in polite, evidence based discourse.

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      And I thought that particular premise was just a weasel-way to tell students how they should be acting on campus, without insulting them by telling them how to act on campus.

      I mean, really, do most students go home and have heavy discussions about racism, Islamophobia, house masters, or black murder with their “loved ones”?

  16. Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    This suggests to me that students are not receiving an education. If people in college need to be told simple stuff like this, the experience of studying is not doing them any good. A good university would give out place mats saying don’t start yelling at your parents if you suddenly realize they are bigots, or, if you do start yelling at your parents because they are bigots, don’t then throw up in the waste basket afterwards because you drank too much.

    These are the kinds of practical tips students should need to be taught, not stuff about why it’s wrong to shoot black people.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      These students would have thrown full on tantrums if they had experienced some of my professors. I still remember one English prof, who could be a total hard ass(no wonder we got a long – I too can be a total hard ass) saying that he found a certain student’s position on something (forget what) personally repugnant though he did present very good evidence supporting it so he nonetheless had to mark him accordingly.

      We often found that students’ ideas personally repugnant. 😀

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      😀 Right you are! And of course, what they’d be really telling their students would be, “[don’t start] yelling at your parents if you suddenly realize they are bigots, especially if they’re paying your tuition!

  17. Diana MacPherson
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes I think I’m living in a post apocalyptic version of Pitch Perfect

  18. Cindy
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    sub

  19. jay
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Rather than actually discuss the points and counter points to each of these situations, Harvard is just throwing out the boiler plate drivel which should be accepted unquestioningly.

    The refugee argument, for example is simply ‘oh but in the past we did this’ (while actually in the past refugees from certain areas WERE restricted. Thinking people can have different opinions (something Harvard chooses to ignore) Europe is having significant problems right now with crime and recruiting among the refugees. The answer is complex.. it would be nice if everyone coming here actually wanted peace (and did not want to impose Sharia) but reality is not like that.

    While the Tamir Rice incident (and a few others) certainly seems inexcusable, the same defenders seem to see nothing wrong with looting, arson, and assaulting innocent people as a response. By all means hold police to strict standards. And hold EVERYONE else to the same standards.

  20. Sastra
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know. I think part of a liberal education is to encourage liberal attitudes — not necessarily liberal political views but a more open-minded and tolerant way of thinking about questions. And part of being a liberal involves a commitment to a search for truth — and that’s going to entail the ability to tell people they’re wrong. Teaching is not the same as indoctrination.

    While the idea of the kiddie-style placemats might be rubbing people the wrong way, the actual content doesn’t seem particularly controversial. That matters, I think. Are positions like “black victims of police violence have only themselves to blame” really so open to justification that the university can’t take a stance? “Here’s why Harvard changed the name of ‘housemaster.'”Listen, ask questions, stay calm, and keep the issues clear sounds like good advice which a lot of the students ought to take more often and perfectly appropriate for a university to advise, touchy-feely language or no. I suspect this only bothers us in context with other things which bother us more.

    • Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Are positions like “black victims of police violence have only themselves to blame” really so open to justification that the university can’t take a stance?

      If the university had stated these things as *their* opinion, that might have been a lot better. The problem here is the way in which they attempt to put words in the students’ mouths.

      • Sastra
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        I don’t see the big difference between this and a similar mat with “How to Talk to Creationist Relatives About Evolution Over the Holidays.” It’s a bit kiddie, but even if put out by a university, I don’t see a moral problem. Providing simple but useful talking points aren’t putting words in anyone’s mouth. The fact that an issue is “controversial” is less important than why and how it’s controversial.

    • eric
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know. I think part of a liberal education is to encourage liberal attitudes — not necessarily liberal political views but a more open-minded and tolerant way of thinking about questions.

      AFAIK not Harvard nor most other schools say they strive for a ‘liberal’ education, they say they’re going to give a liberal arts education. One term, two words, meaning something very different from liberal the same way the two word term “bridge hand” does not refer to a building that spans a river. The term liberal arts refers to giving students an education on a broad range of subjects generally classified today as ‘humanities.’ The term does not refer in any way to encouraging liberal attitudes.

      About as close as it comes is that one could reasonably say a liberal arts education should teach people to evaluate their own beliefs in an academic and objective manner. But that is not what the placemats are doing – they are manifestly not encouraging students to think through these subjects in an academic manner, they are simply telling students what belief-outcome they should adhere to.

      • Sastra
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

        I’m using the term “liberal” in its Enlightenment sense — “concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience.” I’ll also throw in a commitment to “individual rights and liberties.” Both sides of the political spectrum in America can and do ascribe to those values.

        What’s actually on the mat is pretty innocuous in an academic forum because I think they assume the student has already done some basic thinking. I see the suggestions as on the same level as “no, drunk women don’t deserve to get raped.” Or “no, evolution happened, and we know that because …” It lacks nuance, sure, but it’s a lunch mat.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:47 pm | Permalink

          Exactly, Sastra. “Classical Liberalism.” Something everyone save those on the far fringes of the ideological spectrum should be able to get behind. Runs the political gamut from Thomas Hobbes, Edmund Burke, and Adam Smith to John Locke, David Hume, and JJ Rouseau; from John Stuart Mill to Thomas Carlyle. This nation’s founding documents embody that concept (even if we’ve often fallen woefully short of those principles in practice).

        • eric
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

          Even on that definition I don’t really see this as liberal. ‘Stop, think, breathe’ may be supportive of it, but then going from there to telling the students what arguments to make and what conclusions to reach is decidedly illiberal. ‘You vill see it from Alice’s perspective’ is not teaching kids empathy or to appreciate the opinions of others. The whole thing is very “Life of Bryan,” summoning up visions of hundreds of people chanting ‘yes, we will think for ourselves’ in unison; the words might be there, but the sense is not.

          • Sastra
            Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:10 am | Permalink

            And to me the criticisms of this placemat/brochure look a bit like complaints over similar handouts on topics like Snappy Answers to Common Creationist Questions. “You’re telling kids what to believe, not how to think!” These social justice ‘discussion guide’ points coming out of the university’s Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion seem pretty standard and innocuous to me. If the real problem is not what is being said, but that it’s being said and not ‘taught’ through a long Socratic dialogue of thesis and antithesis, I think that’s splitting hairs.

            Snappy answers are snappy. Talking points may or may not indicate indoctrination. I still think that if we were not wary and looking for problems because of much more egregious violations of free speech, this particular placemat wouldn’t be a topic.

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      Sastra, I think you’re trying too hard to attribute positive motives to the place-mat providers when they’re really doing nothing more than touting the same-old PC boilerplate.

  21. merilee
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    sub

  22. stuartcoyle
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    These people had better not work on databases…we have masters and slaves all over the place.

    • Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

      very true, but computers don’t have a connection to human slavery (other than in e-waste processing)

      just the underlying SMBD of comic books and other geekery that geeks do because they have limited sex access

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

        I think that is a microaggression toward geeks. 😛

        • Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

          I am a geek and a lesbian

          so it’s okay for me to say that. 🙂

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

            Punching across I suppose. 🙂

            • Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

              heheheh. I was actually expecting to get caught on the it’s not only ewaste, but the whole s multinational supply chain of slavery

        • Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

          when I was in organized SF fandom, there was like 10 guys for every 1 woman and half of the women in SF were lesbians, so sublimate sublimate.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

            Come to think of it, I do have a couple lesbian friends who are into SF fandom.

            • Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

              Kewl. Also thank you for not accusing me of microagression when I revealed my lesbian entitlement card. 🙂

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

      Ha ha! They will probably be okay with file structures though since those have “children”.

    • Ralph
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      And I assume these kids will be cutting up Mom & Dad’s Mastercard?

  23. Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

    why are they assuming the students come from families with those views in the first place?

    handing out talking points is terrible and undermines the entire idea of learning

  24. Posted December 21, 2015 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    sub

  25. Ralph
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    The things I find a little sinister and disturbing about this is that it reveals what “safe space” really means.

    It’s directed toward students who are leaving the safe cocoon of the campus at the holidays. The implication is that on campus, social pressure enforces conformity: these consensus Acceptable Opinions are never challenged, students are never called upon to justify or defend them. Other views are not countered with debate, they are demonized and suppressed.

    The gatekeepers of the Acceptable Opinions are now deeply troubled that the students are going out into the real world. Ill-equipped to think for themselves, students may unwittingly absorb damaging Unacceptable Opinions.

    It has the feel of a brainwasher concerned about the first time the brainwashed victim leaves the cult compound.

  26. Bob MURRAY
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    All of these College shenanigans have made me doubt the meaning of words I thought I understood. Hence:

    “Thomas DINGMAN
    Dean of Freshmen”

    Now reads as:

    “Thomas DINGMAN
    Boss of Sexually Inappropriate Males”

    I’m confused!

  27. Dermot C
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

    The ‘Black murders in the street’ section is actually statistically misleading. The academic point is whether blacks are more likely to be killed/badly treated by coppers than other ethnic groups, and that is how the question should be discussed. If there is no evidence that blacks are more likely to be horrendously treated than other ethnic groups, then the question becomes one of the training of police and is simultaneously both more and less complicated.

    And sure enough, there was the analysis a month or so back of no significant statistical difference: I only wish I could remember the name of the author of the report. But isn’t something along those lines how an academic should consider black lives in the street? The assumptions of the academics are just wrong.

    The students’ reply put them in their place. Good for them.

  28. Posted December 21, 2015 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    The University of Washington is a free speech deathbed.

    Checkout these words from our interim president Ana Mari Cauce on April 16, 2015, as she teaches our university that pointing out the similarity between humans and chimps is a micro aggression to African Americans:

    “When I was teaching about intelligence testing in our clinical graduate program, one of my mentees, an African-American young woman, very proudly told the class that the sequencing of the human genome showed that the genetic overlap between races was 99.9 percent. A young man in the class followed her comment by sharing that the overlap between humans and chimpanzees is 96 percent (this is true; indeed, the overlap with mice is 85 percent, but that was not the point).

    I knew the young man; he was pretty clueless about what he’d just said — about how he’d indirectly made the comparison between African-Americans and apes, a comparison with a long and difficult and tortured history, a history that still stings and still has power. The young woman’s face had fallen.
    He hadn’t meant it that way, of course, but the pain and insult was still real. Cluelessness is no excuse.

    Lack of knowledge about the histories and cultures of those different than ourselves, coupled with confidence that we can work with others from different races and cultures, are the perfect ingredients for a Molotov cocktail, ready to explode at any minute. So, we shouldn’t be that surprised when it does.

    These “micro-aggressions,” as researchers call them, add up, because they are persistent, and daily. And no, you can’t just shake it off! And you shouldn’t have to!”

    Full speech:
    http://www.washington.edu/president/files/2015/04/diversity-equity-and-difference-speech-transcript.pdf

    • rickflick
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

      That’s a great speech. I hope it is effective at UW.

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

        Oh, it has been. It’s hard to talk about science when everything is overlaid by equity issues.

        Why can’t students raise questions about the biological bases of race? We’ve been taught that race is a social construct and not to go there because any reference to biological differences is micro-aggression territory.

        You are immediately shamed for talking about potential biological aspects of race or intelligence. The questions can’t get asked in the classroom.

        • rickflick
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

          That’s a big problem. It must be that instructors are not confident they can bring off a decent discussion, or they don’t trust other faculty to do it well. It’s a sensitive issue that ideally would be handled by professionals well trained in the psychological aspects. The average faculty probably would feel out of their depth pretty quickly if one student gives offence and another takes offense.

          • Posted December 21, 2015 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

            We hear a lot of talk about the importance of breaking out of our silos, but the truth is is that it’s not safe (hahaha) to talk about race or intelligence outside of silos. It’s fine for statisticians to participate in large (10k+ people) studies of genes and intelligence, and it’s fine for people siloh’d in genetics to talk about population genetics and evolution, but it is not ok to talk about these matters within interdisciplinary contexts, perhaps for the reasons you’ve just identified.

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

        @rickflick: I should say that I’m actually in bed with the social justice and equity people at the University of Washington. One of my mentors is a geneticist and head of the Department of Bioethics and Humanities. So, I’m one of the equity people. I just try not to be a free-speech killing SJW.

        • rickflick
          Posted December 21, 2015 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

          Yes, I’ve noticed that. You sound like you would be a pretty good person to have around for some of these discussions.

    • Steve Gerrard
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

      I have a hard time with the claimed equivalence of “cluelessness” with “micro-aggression.” Aggression is usually taken to mean intentional, not accidental. If it wasn’t intended, why call it an aggression?

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

        I think your question is a micro aggression toward micro aggression. 😛

    • eric
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

      How does the second student’s comment draw a link between blacks and chimpanzees? He said humans. Is it because the first speaker was black, therefore in making a statement about all of humanity, we are to infer he was actually talking about her in particular? If the first speaker had been from China, would he have been making a comparison between chimps and Asians?

      IMO you have to be primed and ready to find insult in even the most innocuous thing before that second comment could be taken as even a ‘microaggression.’ Its just not any sort of aggression at all. Although with the ridiculousness of such responses, maybe it is more correct to say the second speaker’s comparison was a microaggression against chimpanzees.

      • rickflick
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 9:20 am | Permalink

        Good point. That link was sneaked in there and I didn’t even notice. Was something left out of her description? It doesn’t sound like she would have reached the conclusion she did without cause.
        In general her ideas make sense though. It’s just a question of how you deal with the ultra-sensitivities and preserve honest dialogue.

  29. Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    I’m OFFENDED

    they missed gay marriage

    because seriously, how is that not going to be a christmas family fight now that the war is totally on christmas?

    just because queers gained rights legally and not through violence doesn’t mean we should be ignored.

    (/semi-sarcasm off)

  30. Posted December 21, 2015 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    I went sniffing around through the University of Washington’s many online words about equity. Something I observed is a possible administrative motivation for safe spaces: equity language tied to dollars and retention. “Creating a seamless experience aids retention.” So, safe spaces are driven by money for the universities.

    • Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      While I’m thinking of this still, if writers in the Heterodox Academy read WEIT comments, it strikes me as risky for universities to hire faculty with obviously conservative political views, as they might offend students, embarrass and cause the university to lose money. But hiring conservative faculty does seem to be what needs to happen. If liberal faculty are censoring themselves and can’t speak freely, how will students learn that doing so is ok?

      • rickflick
        Posted December 21, 2015 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

        Such as a assistant professor Theodore Cruz, political science department. What could go wrong?

        Now someone like George Will might work out OK. Charles Krauthammer? Not so sure.

        • Posted December 21, 2015 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

          Ah!! It is so painful to invite anyone I disagree with to my university! Did I really say I wanted that?

      • Diane G.
        Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        For the most part, I think conservative faculty would be hard to find. Perhaps Business School faculty…

    • Mark R.
      Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      I do wonder how many students have actually dropped out of a particular college because they didn’t experience a “seamless experience”. I know the students today have thin-skins and their critical thinking skills seem to be lacking, but is there a real correlation between microaggression and drop-out rates?

      I agree with your conclusion that it is money that motivates universities to act like this, but I wonder if there has been any real data that supports it.

      • Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

        We could see what the Oberlin students do if any of the demands aren’t met.

        Speaking of studying things, I’ve heard that the social determinants of health impact suicide rates. Members of communities who experience less power may kill themselves more. Something similar may underlie the ability to succeed. If you experience yourself as part of an oppressed group, then it may be more challenging to get through courses. I don’t know if people have studied the effects of giving oppressed populations more of a voice in terms of demand-granting and whether this improves the academic performance, but it would seem that more empowerment could. For this reason, I can’t be entirely dismissive of people making demands. Maybe it’s helpful for people to be given fried chicken when they demand it. Maybe this helps them succeed in their courses. But it could also just be patronizing to tap people on the heads and say “ok, here’s your chicken,” if permitting demands doesn’t improve academic performance and passives a situation, or worse instills a sense of entitlement that leaves them less prepared to face the real world.

        • Diane G.
          Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

          OMG, you said “fried chicken!”

          • Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

            I know. And the sad part is that I had thought about censoring myself.

  31. Steve Brooks
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    The letter from the Harvard dean has a run-on sentence in the first paragraph. Add that error to the first one, which was publishing the place mat.

    • Posted December 21, 2015 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      I think this sentence is technically grammatically correct. While it is long with many embeddings, it can be diagrammed without violating English sentence constraints.

      Through the stammering, their (strained) point comes across like someone made them write it.

  32. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    What I found bizarre is how they implicitly equated two serious issues – banning refugees and police murders – with two snowflake issues. (“I hear young people uplifting a situation…” – what does that mean?? No connotation of the verb ‘to uplift’ that I know of makes any sense there).

    And “I don’t hear complaining” – why not? They *are* complaining. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with complaining if there are valid grounds for it. All this mealy-mouthed PC blather just invites ridicule whether the complaint is justified or not.

    If they’d labelled it ‘talking points’ or something similar instead of ‘a guide’ it might have attracted less flak.

    cr

  33. Steve Gerrard
    Posted December 21, 2015 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    The letter from the deans seems unaware of how odd it is that they chose a placemat as their means of expression.

    When your intent is to address “the many viewpoints that exist on our campus on some of the most complex issues we confront as a community and society today,” perhaps you should not be choosing placemats to do that?

    • Diane G.
      Posted December 22, 2015 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      I also thought that was a very odd choice!


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