The Milo Yiannopoulos pedophilia scandal ought to prod some serious soul searching on the part of American conservatives, especially his college Republican hosts. After all, until his ugly and obscene remarks jokingly condoning the sexual abuse of young boys finally discredited him, Yiannopoulos had been given the red carpet treatment by the right. Across America, college Republican groups had eagerly invited him to campus despite -- or maybe because of -- the crude and obscene insults he hurled at students of color, women and transgender students.
The adult right off the campus was no better. The Conservative Political Action Conference had invited Yiannopoulos to speak at the same event as Vice President Pence, only rescinding the invitation after tapes surfaced of Yiannopoulos making light of pedophilia, which caused an uproar.
Prior to the Yiannopoulos scandal, most media criticism had focused not on his rants but on the Left’s disruptions of this alt-right provocateur’s campus tour. That criticism was appropriate since those who would ban Yiannopoulos or violently disrupt his talks are guilty of corroding free speech, which is the lifeblood of the university. But this spotlight on the campus Left was so intense that little was said about how much the Yiannopoulos affair tells us about the sorry state of campus conservatism.
The discourse in Yiannopoulos campus speeches at times descended into obscenity and cruelty. In his speech at West Virginia University, he referred to women as “cunts.” At the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, he not only used obscenity, but he did so in a vicious manner to mock a transgender student in the audience, projecting a photo of this student onto a screen in the lecture hall (which was live streamed on the Breitbart website) and saying of her “the way you know he’s failed is I can still bang him.” This was apparently done in the service of his transphobia, which led him to say at the University of Delaware: “Never feel bad for mocking a transgender person. It is our job to point out their absurdity, to not make the problem worse by pretending they are normal.”
In defending their decision to host Yiannopoulos’s talks, the campus Republicans never mentioned his obscene and defamatory rhetoric. Instead, they spoke abstractly about freedom of speech and presented themselves and Yiannopoulos as the embodiment of that cherished freedom -- standing up for his right to speak despite the dangers from a censorious Left. At the University of California at Berkeley, in fact, site of the most violent disruption of a Yiannopoulos talk, his host, the Berkeley College Republicans presented themselves as heroic freedom fighters, heirs of Berkeley Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio: “We proceed fearlessly because we know we have the president of the United States and the United States Constitution on our side. The Berkeley College Republicans are the new Free Speech Movement,” wrote members Troy Worden and Pieter Sittler in Berkeley’s Daily Californian.
But while Free Speech Movement of 1964, of course, defended free speech, it did not champion obscene, degrading speech. Search as you may you will not find a single obscenity in any of Free Speech Movement leader Mario Savio’s speeches (as you would expect of a former altar boy). And neither Savio nor any Free Speech Movement speaker would have even dreamed of using a campus podium -- or any other -- as Yiannopoulos has, to defame or ridicule students on account of their sexuality.
So Yiannopoulos’s Republican campus hosts are at miscast as the Free Speech Movement’s political descendants. If there is any free speech dispute from Berkeley in the 1960s that the Yiannopoulos affair resembles (and even here the resemblance is limited) it is the obscenity controversy that erupted in spring 1965, a semester after the Free Speech Movement. That controversy concerned the right to use the obscene word “Fuck” in public campus discourse. Some Free Speech Movement veterans supported this right, and others (like Savio) objected to the punishment of obscenity protesters on due process grounds. But most movement veterans and much of the Berkeley student body refused to rally to this cause because they felt that this use of obscenity was irresponsible and distracted from more serious issues facing the civil rights and antiwar movements.
That’s why journalists who labeled this obscenity affair “the Filthy Speech Movement” erred, as it was impossible to build a mass movement at Berkeley in defense of obscene speech, impossible to re-assemble the old Free Speech Movement coalition for such a cause. Most of the Berkeley student body in 1965 was too wedded to the ideal of responsible political discourse to wave the “Fuck” banner. In this sense they were more genuinely conservative than today’s Berkeley College Republicans who not only wink at Yiannopoulos’s obscenity, but also at its use to defame minority students.
To be clear, Berkeley students in 1965 were not endorsing suppression, but close to 80 percent opposed the use of such “filthy speech” in public, as I note in my book, Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s (Oxford University Press, 2009). And so, they were unwilling to battle for the cause of obscene speech, a cause they thought irresponsible.
The idea here is that with freedom comes responsibility, and that ought to lead you (especially if you are conservative) to question whether saying “Fuck” from the podium or bringing Yiannopoulos’ ugly vitriol on to campus is responsible -- even though you have the right to do so. This is what Mario Savio was referring to in his Free Speech Movement victory rally speech, Dec. 9, 1964, when he said: "We are asking that there be no, no restrictions on the content of speech save those provided by the courts. And that's an enormous amount of freedom. And people can say things in that area of freedom which are not responsible. Now... we've finally gotten into a position where we have to consider being responsible, because we now have the freedom within which to be responsible."
Thinking seriously about free speech involves much more than reciting a simple formula that says “anything goes,” leaving us racing out mindlessly to speak and invite others to speak without considering what is being said, how it is being said, and who those words may be hurting gratuitously. That point was made decades ago in the Woodward Report at Yale University, a classic statement on the “university’s primary obligation to protect free expression,” but which also stressed the “ethical responsibilities assumed by each member of the university community” that are “of great importance. If freedom of expression is to serve its purpose, and thus the purpose of the university, it should seek to enhance understanding. Shock, hurt and anger are not consequences to be weighed lightly. No member of the community with a decent respect for others should use, or encourage others to use, slurs and epithets to discredit another’s race, ethnic group, religion or sex. It may sometimes be necessary in a university for civility and mutual respect to be superseded by the need for free expression. The values superseded are nevertheless important, and every member of the university community should consider them in exercising the fundamental right to free expression."
I suspect that the failure of campus conservatives to take seriously such questions about responsibility and civility in this Yiannopoulos affair is connected to the influence of Donald Trump. He rose to the presidency through his constant, ugly barrages of ad hominem attacks, and in spite of being caught on tape discussing how he grabs women “by the pussy.” This seems to have given a green light for even the crudest of public oratory. The right proved itself willing both off campus and on to dispense with notions of civility, so long as the vitriol emanates from someone on their side who succeeded in generating mass appeal -- either at the ballot box (Trump) or in the lecture hall (Yiannopoulos). It was not the crudeness or cruelty of his campus speeches, but a two-year-old taped interview that caught Yiannopoulos’ amoral ramblings on sexual abuse of minors that finally led CPAC and Breitbart News to drop him.
This is a tale not merely of moral declension on the right but also conservative (or pseudo-conservative) intellectual decline. Again there is a parallel between Trump and Yiannopoulos, both of whom go in for hectoring rather than logical discourse and are more concerned with drawing and exciting large crowds with shock jock sloganeering and show biz gloss (Yiannopoulos, who refers to himself as “a star,” and in his campus gigs uses spotlights, Broadway-style lighting and huge photo displays of himself a la Hollywood) than with intellectual gravitas. Yiannopoulos offered College Republicans this spectacle and they lapped it up despite its intellectual vacuity, ad hominem cruelty, and bigotry sugar coated by snarky humor.
The contrast between, this and the serious, civil Left-right debates the Young Americans for Freedom sponsored in the 1960s -- modeled after those held by their intellectual godfather, William F. Buckley, Jr. on his TV show Firing Line -- could not be more striking. It is as if the student right has forgotten what serious political thought and reasoned oratory look and sound like. In this sense the right on campus today, has, as Savio once put it, “free speech but nothing left to say.”
Robert Cohen is a professor of history and social studies at NYU Steinhardt whose books include Freedom's Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s; The Essential Mario Savio: Speeches and Writings that Changed America; The Free Speech Movement: Reflections on Berkeley in the 1960s (co-edited by Reginald E. Zelnik)
Submitted by Paul Fain on February 23, 2017 - 3:00am
Career Education Corp. on Wednesday announced that it had settled a false claims lawsuit with private plaintiffs. The suit against the for-profit chain and its American InterContinental University was originally filed in 2008.
The federal government declined to intervene in the case. However, Career Education said it would pay the United States $10 million under the terms of the settlement. Under a separate settlement, the company said it would pay $22 million to the lawyers who represented the plaintiffs.
Career Education did not admit to any violations of law or liability under the settlements.
"[B]y eliminating the distraction caused by this lawsuit, the company’s management can provide more attention to the company’s core operations and its goal of enhancing retention and outcomes for its students," Career Education said in a corporate filing.
College students have particular reason to be concerned about the hostility toward the CFPB, given how effective the agency has been in solving their problems with debt. But taxpayers should be alarmed, too.
One of the vulnerable populations receiving special attention at the agency, college students over the past several decades have experienced increasing financial barriers to their educational paths, despite our intent to remove those barriers. To ensure that all qualified students get the education that we want them to pursue, we, the taxpayers, support the federal financial aid programs by spending $128 billion on them in 2015, not to mention spending billions more to fund public institutions in every state.
Despite that support, student debt remains a huge obstacle for graduates. Sixty-nine percent of college students are graduating with an average of $28,950 in debt. This debt is a drag on individual borrowers, who will see a decrease in their lifetime savings as their money is spent paying down educational debt. It has also become a drag on the economy as a whole, as borrowers put off purchasing a home and starting a family until they achieve the firmer footing we hoped they’d have at graduation.
These problems stem from shrinking state budgets for education and grant programs that don’t keep pace. But they are exacerbated when students lose even more money to tricky financial products and predatory lending schemes that are marketed right on campuses.
During the financial crisis, 67 percent of students reported being stopped on campus to be offered a credit card application. Often, these offers were accompanied by freebies -- pizza, a tee shirt or even a chance to get an iPod -- if the student just applied. Unfortunately, the rates paid by those with the worst credit, such as traditional-aged students with their spotty to non-existent credit histories, were upward of 20 percent, plus an additional 23 percent in fees on their balances. Now, the CFPB is the leading watchdog of the campus credit card marketplace, conducting a bi-annual survey of the trends on campuses.
Students, as the captive audience they are, have become targets for higher-priced private loans than what they can get on the open market. In 2007, then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo found that students and families were assuming pricey private loans because their college aid offices, enticed by banks hoping to gain more federal loan customers at the institutions, were pushing them over other products, sometimes even including loan offers in aid awards. CFPB generates an annual report on the private loan marketplace to Congress, highlight the troubling developments.
Also, in 2009 the for-profit chain Corinthian Colleges revealed to investors that it would issue $130 million in private loans for the year to its students, even as it admitted its students wouldn’t be able to repay them. Now, CFPB has specific authority to investigate deceptive lending practices on campuses, which has led to lawsuits against prominent for-profit college chains such as ITT Tech, Bridgepoint, and Corinthian. For instance, it won $480 million in relief for borrowers at Corinthian schools, who were tricked into assuming private loans that carried interest at almost 10 percent.
And recently the agency announced a lawsuit against Navient, the student loan servicing giant formerly known as Sallie Mae, which services 12 million borrowers. The lawsuit alleges that the firm cheated borrowers out of their right to lower monthly payments and lower interest accrual by downplaying enrollment and renewal deadlines for those programs.
These problems are especially outrageous on two fronts. First, they undermine the ability of students to get an education. Second, they devalue the investment that taxpayers have made in our college students, as our financial aid dollars end up flowing away from the students we aim to help, and toward predatory lenders that are breaking the law.
As over 50 student and consumer and educational groups declared in a recent letter to Congress, neither students nor taxpayers should have to tolerate these problems. Now is not the time to render ineffective the agency that is stepping in on our behalf.
Christine Lindstrom is the higher education program director for U.S. Public Interest Research Group student chapters.
Gary May, dean of Georgia Tech’s College of Engineering, has been named as the seventh chancellor of the University of California, Davis. The announcement was made by Janet Napolitano, president of the UC system.
May has been long recognized as a top scientist and also a leading advocate for diversifying the science and technology workforce. In 2015, he wrote an essay for Inside Higher Ed on why, as an engineering dean, he backed President Obama's plan for free community college.
“All eras in a state of decline and dissolution are subjective,” said Goethe in a moment of sagely grumbling about the poets and painters of the younger generation, who, he thought, confused wallowing in emotion for creativity. “Every healthy effort, on the contrary, is directed from the inward to the outward world.”
I didn’t make the connection with Svend Brinkmann’sbook Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvment Craze until a few days after writing last week’s column about it. One recommendation in particular from the Danish author’s anti-self-help manual seems in accord with Goethe’s admonition. As Brinkmann sees it, the cult of self-improvement fosters a kind of bookkeeping mentality. We end up judging experiences and relationships “by their ability to maximize utility based on personal preferences -- i.e. making the maximum number of our wishes come true.” The world becomes a means to the ego’s narrow ends, which is no way to live.
Besides offering a 21st-century guide to the Stoic ethos of disinvestment in the self, Brinkmann encourages the reader to rediscover the world in all its intrinsic value -- its fundamental indifference to anybody’s mission statement. How? By spending time in museums and forests:
“A museum is a collection of objects from the past (near or distant), e.g. art or artifacts that say something about a particular era or an aspect of the human experience. Obviously, you learn a lot from a museum visit -- but the greatest joy lies in just reveling in the experience with no thought of how to apply the knowledge and information. In other words, the trick is to learn to appreciate things that can’t be ‘used’ for some other function....
Similarly, a walk in the woods gives us a sense of being part of nature and an understanding that it shouldn’t be seen as consisting of resources that exist merely to meet human needs and desires. ... There are aspects of the world that are good, significant, and meaningful in their own right -- even though you derive nothing from them in return.”
Making similar points from a quite different angle is The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge by Abraham Flexner (1866-1959), the founding director of the Institute for Advanced Study, in an edition from Princeton University Press with a long introduction by the institute’s current director, Robbert Dijkgraaf.
The essay giving the book its title first appeared in Harper’s magazine in October 1939 -- a few months into the New York World’s Fair (theme: The World of Tomorrow) and just a few weeks into World War II. “I [am] pleading for the abolition of the word ‘use,” Flexner wrote, “and for the freeing of the human spirit.” It must have seemed like one hell of a time for such an exercise. But the essay’s defense of the Ivory Tower was tough-minded and far-sighted, and Dijkgraaf’s introduction makes a case for Flexner as a major figure in the history of the American research university whose contribution should be remembered and revived.
The germ of The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge was a memorandum Flexner wrote as executive secretary of the General Education Board of the Rockefeller Foundation in 1921.The principles it espouses were also expressed in his work bringing Albert Einstein and other European academic refugees to the Institute at Princeton in the early 1930s.The essay defends “the cultivation of beauty ... [and] the extension of knowledge” as “useless form[s] of activity, in which men [and, as he acknowledges a few sentences earlier, women] indulge because they procure for themselves greater satisfactions than are otherwise available.”
But the impact of Flexner’s argument does not derive primarily from the lofty bits. He stresses that the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake has in fact shown itself already to be a powerful force in the world -- one that the ordinary person may not be able to recognize while swept up in “the angry currents of daily life.” The prime exhibits come from mathematics (Maxwell’s equations or Gauss’s non-Euclidian geometry took shape decades before practical uses could be found for them), though Flexner also points to the consequential but pure curiosity-driven work of Michael Faraday on electricity and magnetism, as well as Paul Ehrlich’s experiments with staining cellular tissue with dye.
“In the end, utility resulted,” Flexner writes, “but it was never a criterion to which [researchers’] ceaseless experimentation could be subjected.” Hence the need for institutions where pure research can be performed, even at the expense of pursuing ideas that prove invalid or inconsequential. “[W]hat I say is equally true of music and art and of every other expression of the untrammeled human spirit,” he adds, without, alas, pursing the point further.
The untrammeled human spirit requires funding in any case. Although written towards the end of the Great Depression -- and published ten years to the month after the stock market crash -- The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge reads like a manifesto for the huge expansion of higher education and of research budgets in the decades to follow.
Flexner could point to the Institute for Advanced Study with justified pride as an example of money well-spent. He probably corrected the page proofs for his essay around the same time Einstein was writing his letter to President Roosevelt, warning that the Germans might be developing an atomic bomb. And as Robbert Dijkgraaf reminds us in his introduction, another Flexner appointee was the mathematician John von Neumann, who “made Princeton a center for mathematical logic in the 1930s, attracting such luminaries as Kurt Godel and Alan Turing.” That, in turn, led to the invention of an electronic version of something Turing had speculated about in an early paper: a machine that could be programmed to prove mathematical theorems.
“A healthy and balanced ecosystem would support the full spectrum of scholarship,” Dijkgraaf writes, “nourishing a complex web of interdependencies and feedback loops.” The problem now is that such a healthy and balanced intellectual ecosystem is no less dependent on a robust economy in which considerable amounts of money are directed to basic research -- without any pressing demand for a return on investment. “The time scales can be long,” he says, “much longer than the four-year periods in which governments and corporations nowadays tend to think, let alone the 24-hour news cycle.”
That would require a culture able to distinguish between value and cost. Flexner’s essay, while very much a document from eight decades ago, still has something to say about learning the difference.
Forty-five percent of colleges in a recent survey report seeing an increase in the number of medical withdrawals by students, according to a report by GradGuard, which provides insurance for such situations. The survey notes the varying policies about tuition refunds (mostly pro-rated in the early parts of the semester) and efforts (which vary widely) to inform students about policies on tuition refunds. The findings may be found here.
Over the last decade or so, universities around the country have been tripping over one another to see who can slap the word “entrepreneurial” on the most things on their campuses the fastest. Entrepreneurial studies curricula and majors, business incubators, entrepreneurial centers, on and on -- entrepreneurial efforts have sprung up faster than the “innovate and disrupt” start-ups scattered about Silicon Valley whom they seem to desperately want to imitate.
This “Silicon Valleyization” of the university can be seen in places like Florida State University, which recently received a record $100 million to open the Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship, or at Rice University, which last year announced the formation of an “entrepreneurial initiative” to transform the university into an “entrepreneurial university.” Other institutions -- such as Emerson College, the University of Hartford and the University of Massachusetts at Lowell -- have also joined the entrepreneurial arms race with their own centers and curricula.
For advocates of the entrepreneurial university, such moves mark a more full alignment of higher education with the needs of the new economy. Universities are finally recognizing the central role that they now must play in spurring “endogenous growth” in the highly competitive global market, where innovation determines national, state and individual winners and losers. They are finally coming down from the ivory tower and lining up their curricula and research to meet that need. For critics, however, such developments represent yet another chapter in the capturing of the university by particular economic interests -- and a further loss of autonomy and intellectual integrity, as institutions mindlessly chase the latest fad and buzz meme.
While the entrepreneur as a particular type of economic actor in the market economy has been around for some time, entrepreneurialism as a full-blown social and cultural movement is much newer. If we situate entrepreneurialism as a historically distinct social phenomenon, or perhaps as a post-Bretton Woods economic model, it contains several assumptions about society, politics and markets that largely go unacknowledged in the frenzy to create the entrepreneurial society and the enterprising university to accompany it.
First is the profound shift from a more organized style of the market economy -- with large corporations, unionized labor, slow growth, steady-state capital and a welfare-oriented state -- to a more disorganized one composed of start-ups, flexible labor, erratic growth, impatient capital and a market-oriented state. In the newer, churning model of the market economy, the entrepreneur -- personified in cultural and political heroes like Donald Trump and Mark Zuckerberg, rather than the corporate manager or professional -- becomes the central new cultural icon.
One of the things that this unceasing push for entrepreneurial innovation as a driving force of economic growth dismisses or ignores is the actual destructive part of creative disruption. Creative disruption seems fine as long as it is other people whose lives are disrupted rather than your own. This view is often callously unconcerned with the harm that can be generated by disruption for the sake of disruption or the mantra that all innovation is progress. Here, in the mold of the economist Joseph Schumpeter and the Harvard University management gurus Clayton Christensen and Michael Porter, all disruptions are ultimately positive and all innovations are advancements. The market will miraculously, fairly and brutally sort out any lumps in the end. What disrupters yearn for is an always roiling and never resting society generated by people in continuous struggling with one another to provide the next best thing and “strike it rich.”
As Virginia Heffernan recently described it, such innovators compose a “sneakered overclass -- whose signature sport is to disrupt everything, from Ikea furniture to courtship.” They embody the religiously inspired dream of heavenly redemption, the modernist desire of continuous progress and “lotto fever” rolled into one. It is unclear, however, how far such a model can actually extend. How much innovation and disruption does the world need? Or, more important, how much can it actually take?
Second, entrepreneurialism as an idealized economic model promotes a rather distinct type of asocial, social Darwinist, “go it alone” mentality where the single, self-interested individual is seen as solely responsible for his or her successes. Here, even when philanthropy happens, it is ultimately designed for self-interest, as with Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative LLC.
Even with the rhetoric of Google-style teamwork aside, the entrepreneurial model celebrates the ideal of the lone-wolf innovator who works hard, charts their own course and “defies the odds.” It is the American mythology of rugged individualism recast for the jobless age of the precariat, forever-flexible labor and the post-welfare state.
In doing so, this new economic model passes off social inequality as just the normal and inevitable ebb and flow of winners and losers in a free-flowing economy that is in constant flux -- and one that people need to adapt to rather than try to change. If you work hard enough, innovate and adapt to the market, you are entitled to reap the rewards. Those who cling to the collective protection of unions or change movements, or even the left-behind world of tradition, are but mindless sheep who lack the imagination to think for themselves and adapt. If you fail in your endeavors, you need to readapt and reinnovate in order to make your way again.
As on the TV show Shark Tank, the swirling and hungry accumulated venture capital of those “who have already made it” is there waiting to provide for newbies with the right stuff. Surviving and prospering are strictly by your own fruition. Yet all this ignores not only the highly likelihood of failure in these start-ups (90 percent, according to Forbes magazine) but also the social costs of living in a world composed of a handful of wealthy winners and scores of poor losers chumming up the shark-tank economy.
Third, implicit in the romantic idealization of the entrepreneur is the neoliberal idea of a limited pro-business government. Rather than expecting government to level things out a bit through progressive taxation or some other modest modes of redistribution -- or through various social services such as public education -- the new economic model promotes a government that is entrepreneurial, too. This enterprising government doesn’t protect people from the market as in the social democratic model but rather forces even more marketization onto them.
People must be coerced (or, in the more polite terms of behavioral economics, “nudged”) by government to “have grit and determination,” “manage their own retirements and health care,” “have positive affect” and “be responsible.” They must be calculating, self-interested and self-promotional, even if they don’t want to be. Responsibility will, in the words of former British Prime Minster David Cameron, finally force people “to ask the right questions of themselves.”
What all this means is not that entrepreneurialism is necessarily a bad thing when taken in moderation and seen within the light of a larger political economy. We can certainly acknowledge the important contributions of the loads of small businesses and innovations built on entrepreneurial principles. But an entire society or university based solely or largely on those principles is rather problematic and limiting.
Universities should be leery of aligning their curricula and research just to meet the needs of the entrepreneur. It is one thing for a higher education institution to recognize entrepreneurialism as one particular economic form but quite another to become an entrepreneurial university. Universities are -- or should be -- like the economy and society themselves: too multidimensional to remake themselves into any one particular cause of the moment.
Steven C. Ward is a professor of sociology at Western Connecticut State University.