Faculty need to go beyond symbolic protests about complex social issues (essay)

What started as a long-simmering debate about whether Colin Kaepernick is or is not being blackballed in the NFL for refusing to stand during the national anthem ignited into a four-alarm fire following President Trump’s decision to call for the firing of football players protesting police brutality.

As such, the public discussion concerning a former quarterback and pro sports has now encapsulated a much broader scope of issues on campuses, as faculty members have taken a knee in support of free speech protest and the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has criticized American universities for becoming “an echo chamber of political correctness.”

This trip back to the social activism of the ’60s and ’70s has left many university administrators and faculty members without a playbook as we grapple with the need to address in rapid-fire succession a dizzying array of complex social issues that have had a significant impact on our academic communities and the students we educate.

One only has to click through the daily briefings from Inside Higher Ed to see that the issues of the “outside” world are impinging on the hallowed halls of academe at an increasing frequency: in response to Black Lives Matter, the presidential election, Charlottesville, DACA, Betsy DeVos and new OCR policies, among other issues, students are requesting, and sometimes demanding, that presidents and deans denounce the injustices of the world.

And to a large extent, so it should be: our institutions of higher learning are not isolated towers, ivory or otherwise; they are part of the real world, and our ability to educate is severely compromised if we do not address those concerns. Our leaders do have an obligation to make statements on the great ethical issues of our times. Their voices carry weight, they are heard by many.

And faculty members have those obligations, too -- and not just those teaching undergraduates. Certainly, we in medical schools fail in training physicians if we do not teach about health-care disparities alongside anatomy and physiology. Our medical case studies need to incorporate why ethnicity matters and how we define race -- not simply to add a tag line about a patient being African-American as if we are filling in a Mad Lib.

Yet both administrators and on-the-ground members of the faculty are finding it increasingly difficult to respond in an adequate fashion, much less with the kind of thorough thoughtfulness that such issues require.

Yes, students want us to take a stance on the issues they think matter, and they want it in a time frame that fits with the 24-hour cycle of media hyperbole. So administrators and faculty members struggle to know which issues merit a public pronouncement and which do not. Should we comment on racism at our fellow universities but not ethnic cleansing in Myanmar? We struggle not because the latter doesn’t matter, but because a constant string of 140-character tweets or micron-thin official website statements on all of the world’s wrongs strips them of meaning.

Outside earshot of their students, many faculty members (and likely more than a few senior administrators) may with exasperation whisper, “Can’t we just get back to teaching the things we know?” (What is apoptosis? What is the QT interval in a cardiac action potential?)

And the answer is no, we can’t step away, because there are DACA students midway through medical school who may be booted out of the country with no recourse to finish their training and a double whammy of tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars of student debt. And there are my colleagues who don’t know if they feel safe to take their kids to the park in an area of the country consistently rated one of the best places to live in the United States because some older kids might put a rope around their necks if they happen to have the wrong color skin.

Ironically, in the shallowness of his tweets, perhaps Trump might have actually done this country a favor: He has uncivilly elevated a discussion that has sunk back to debates on whether or the Colts should pick up Kaepernick to what Kaepernick civilly wanted us to discuss in the first place. But taking a knee or holding up a Black Lives Matter sign at a street corner in an upscale town like Hanover, N.H., only goes so far.

We need to go beyond symbolic protests, and we certainly need to find a better way to grapple with these issues than through the press, email and social media. If we do not follow up with the difficult conversations as to why those things matter with those who most disagree, we devalue the very causes we purportedly support by a public, but shallow, act of “giving voice.”

And we need to do so off our devices. While some people argue otherwise, many agree that empathy is likely the greatest tool we have toward making connections and reannealing our social fabric that today’s society tears apart. But making those connections means we have to put down our iPhones and Androids and talk directly to one another.

No one size fits all for what each institution or school will want to do or can do, but efforts to enhance communication do not necessarily require a huge infusion of resources or ponderous institutional policy changes. At our medical school, we have standing lunches where the senior deans meet with students. And while these sessions can focus on practical issues like management of ECHO360 or changes in expectations for the Medical Student Performance Evaluation, they have been the forum for instigating changes within the medical school community to address these broader societal issues. Stemming from these initial conversations, we have developed initiatives that include:

  • Booking reserved spaces for discussion with no set agenda to allow conversations on the most pressing issues of the day to flow freely without the administrative burden of defining topics and appropriate attendees.
  • Identifying a rapid response contact team of senior administrators from the different parts of the school who can be contacted by anyone in the community to request that the institution consider an official or organized response to specific issues.
  • Creating a student feedback site (through Qualtrics) that allows immediate, real-time and anonymous student feedback (both positive and negative) on issues of diversity and inclusion, which then prompts a meeting with a faculty member and one of our identified student representatives from the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement. These personal meetings allow students to directly inform a faculty member that they are appreciative of how material was presented or to have a thoughtful conversation about why students might have found a presentation disrespectful -- even if that was not the faculty member’s intent. This initiative can capture specific issues to be addressed with an immediacy that can be lost with end-of-class surveys and act to defuse potential problems before they grow out of proportion. It also highlights a key concept: the most creative solutions to the very issues that are problematic to our students can often come from the students themselves (as did the solution for addressing real-time feedback though a survey mechanism). We as educators talk about the importance of active learning in the classroom; we should recognize that these precepts hold for addressing the social issues that have impact on our schools and colleges, and then engage students in the solutions as much as we do in team-based learning exercises.
  • Creating a group of students, staff and faculty members who will work in concert with the medical school’s standing diversity council to provide practical guidance on integrating issues of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status and other key social determinants of health in the curriculum. The goals of the group include creating a set of guidelines that faculty members can reference as they prepare course material and performing a review of all patient cases.
  • Establishing sessions to discuss best practices based on information from our professional societies (for example, relevant satellite meetings of the Association of American Medical Colleges), feedback from our counterparts at other med schools and review of the health professions literature to find best practices and evidence for both curricular reform and personnel interactions.

In the university, as well as in sports, perhaps one of the best things all of us can do is to get off our knees and electronic soapboxes (recognizing the irony of stating this in an op-ed piece) and provide ways for our students and colleagues in our community to gather in small rooms and to voice opinions to one another, especially those who see the world through different lenses. It isn’t so much that we need to provide “safe” spaces, defined as the PC echo chamber that Sessions decries. But it seems that the most effective discussions about potentially divisive issues that touch on race, sex, religion, patriotism and power arise when we know each other well as individuals and can talk openly and outside of the public eye.

And it seems that those efforts would go a lot farther than all the broadcasts and public gestures and pronouncements to truly make our students, staff and faculty members feel welcomed, included and valued.

Leslie P. Henderson is dean of faculty affairs, associate dean for diversity and inclusion, and professor of physiology and neurobiology at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.

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The importance of national service before, during or after college (essay)

The next generation of young Americans is in need of a change. They face unprecedented pressure to follow a defined path to success. They’re often stuck in silos, surrounded by peers who match their political ideologies, economic statuses, religions, ethnicities and races. All the while, many have grown increasingly unsure that higher education institutions have a positive impact on the country. And for those people who do view college positively, the cost of earning a college degree is often far out of reach.

As college and university presidents, it is our responsibility to ensure that students and their families view higher education as a realistic and affordable option for all students as they prepare for their futures.

This is why we’ve taken steps on our campuses to redefine the path to success by incorporating a year of national service -- a service year -- into our postsecondary education experience.

We strongly believe a year of national service before, during or after college will better prepare our students to complete their degrees, secure meaningful employment and become lifelong engaged citizens. Service years in higher education have the power to attract top talent, invigorate education, boost work-force development and pave pathways to success for graduates -- all while bridging the deep divisions in society by allowing students to spend a year serving alongside people of different backgrounds.

At West Virginia University, we have hosted Energy Express for a number of years. This past year, almost 510 AmeriCorps members worked in this summer reading and nutrition program for children living in rural communities throughout West Virginia. While these young people served more than 3,000 elementary-age children to prevent the “summer slide” with low-income youth, their own learning was enhanced as they gained valuable skills. Members can also develop unique connections between the campus and the community through The Collaborative, an AmeriCorps VISTA program that the university hosts. Through The Collaborative, we can expand our impact in several areas -- for example, disaster relief, the veteran community and engaged scholarship -- as members work with local partners to alleviate poverty.

At Miami Dade College, we’ve created the Service Year Changemaker Corps -- a peer-to-peer mentoring program that focuses on the more than 300 students at the college who are transitioning out of foster care. In addition, AmeriCorps VISTA members, both current students and alumni, have impacted the lives of tens of thousands of children through their work with South Florida’s America Reads program and have also helped create and sustain vital campus-community partnerships with the My Brother’s Keeper program, the Urban Paradise Guild, Miami Dade County Public Schools and others through service-learning initiatives. Through the college’s Single Stop program, these corps members have also been instrumental in helping low-income students get into college and graduate. Miami Dade is committed to being a leader in innovative ways to solve common challenges facing our students.

At Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, we are studying, promoting and enhancing the value of service to young people’s academic, professional and civic development. Our 1+4 Bridge-Year Program gives accepted students the opportunity to do a year of full-time service learning in the United States or around the world before they start their studies on our campus. And the Talloires Network, founded at Tisch College, supports more than 350 higher education institutions in 75 countries across the globe in providing community-based opportunities for their students.

We’ve been witness to the power of national service to arm our students with the skills and experience they need to pave their own paths to success. Retired U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, chair of the Service Year Alliance, makes a strong case for empowering our next generation to serve in his book Team of Teams (Portfolio, 2015). He states that by empowering these young people to solve issues in their community, we are in turn giving them the skills and confidence they need to solve their own similar problems in their educations and future careers. We could not agree more. These service year experiences are shaping our students into more active citizens and leaders, while also making a tremendous difference in our local communities and helping our colleges and universities fulfill our commitment to better engage in those communities.

That is why we have joined more than 200 higher education leaders to call on Congress to expand national service opportunities with programs like AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and YouthBuild. We are particularly concerned about funding for AmeriCorps, which not only supports national service opportunities like those on our campuses but also rewards students who complete their year of service with money to invest in higher education or to pay back student loans.

At a time when our students are eager to take their futures into their own hands, embracing national service on our campuses is the least we in higher education can do to deliver on our promises of providing students with the best educational opportunities possible.

We encourage all college and university leaders to follow our footsteps by signing on to our letter to Congress and joining us in calling on Congress to increase funding for AmeriCorps and other national service programs. Embracing a service year is a step in the right direction toward securing the confidence of our next generation of students.

E. Gordon Gee is president of West Virginia University. Eduardo Padrón is president of Miami-Dade College. Anthony P. Monaco is president of Tufts University.

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A reflection on Mark Lilla's essay and book about identity politics (essay)

Educated men of a certain age often seem to look at college kids with more resentment than is necessary. They criticize the young for not being more like we were (“perfect in every way,” as the song goes). Decades ago, philosopher Allan Bloom complained about young people gyrating to music that appealed only to their bodies without elevating their souls. Just a few years back, ex-Yale University professor William Deresiewicz turned op-eds into a book marketing his disdain for the conformity of undergrads under the label “excellent sheep.”

And now Columbia University professor Mark Lilla has followed suit, expanding into a new book his much shared op-ed blaming boutique liberals for the election of Donald Trump. In that expanded version, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics (HarperCollins), campus politics are ridiculed as “Reaganism for lefties.” Most college towns, he writes “have become meccas of a new consumerist culture for the highly educated, surrounded by techie office parks and increasingly expensive homes.” Lilla wants readers to be by turns annoyed and amused by the irony of leftist campuses breeding bourgeois consumerism, and he probably has a couple of colleges and universities in mind. He doesn’t name any.

The book stirs the pot among self-styled progressives who believe that the celebration of difference is the key to creating a more just society. Lilla argues that the scandalous ascent of Trump was only made possible by the “abdication” (a word he likes a lot) of liberals, particularly those who emphasize identity at the expense of solidarity. Unfortunately, Lilla says very little about the white identity politics activated by Trump’s campaign. I found no analysis of those voters who had supported Obama but switched their allegiance to a man who promised to restore their superior status as white Americans. I also didn’t find anything of substance on how white citizens who felt threatened by a loss of status and economic potential were energized by Trump’s brand of identity politics. Claiming that we are in a post-vision America, Lilla devotes little to no effort to examining the vision that led to the Trump victory -- nor does he say much about the vision that had inspired Obama’s two successful presidential campaigns. Instead, Lilla asserts (echoing Walt Kelly’s Pogo character) that “the only adversary left is ourselves,” and condemns campus radicals for abdicating their responsibility to go beyond movement politics and build successful electoral coalitions.

Can it be that Lilla chooses to focus on college campuses because he has spent most of life working at them? No, he explains, they are so important politically because they educate the professional classes from which future liberals will be drawn. “Liberalism’s prospects,” he writes, “will depend in no small measure on what happens in our institutions of higher education.” The most important things Lilla has to say concern the kind of political education we are giving our students today and the kind we should be developing -- if there is to be a healthier American democracy.

Lilla convincingly shows that under the guise of increased attention to identity, there has been a noxious de-politicization among people who consider themselves progressives. Argument through testimony and confession proceeds by making “the winner…whoever has invoked the morally superior identity and expressed the most outrage at being questioned.  Academic trends encouraging students to get in touch with their identities, Lilla writes, “give an intellectual patina to the radical individualism that virtually everything else in our society encourages.” Skepticism about the capacity of government to provide authentic social justice leads to a sanctimonious “plague on all their houses” attitude. That may earn one points as a purist radical on campus, but it leaves the fields of local and state politics open to others with very different values, allowing them to seize power for their own ends. “Evangelism is about speaking truth to power. Politics is about seizing power to defend truth.”

Lilla wants colleges and universities to do a much better job of educating students to understand the mechanisms of power and how to engage in electoral politics so as to exercise that power more equitably. Fair enough. Sophisticated skepticism, no matter how intersectional, should not just be an excuse for giving up on the practices of electoral politics.

Recalling the “Roosevelt dispensation,” Lilla also longs for new images of solidarity to replace what he thinks of as an unhealthy emphasis on difference. And here’s the rub. I, too, believe that we need to weave together disparate strands of potentially progressive coalitions. But those in higher education who have developed academic fields emphasizing particular groups marginalized by mainstream scholarship have done so because past visions of solidarity have made these groups invisible. Lilla must be aware that the old solidarity came at the expense of all too many, and that thanks to the movement politics he derides, our politics now has the potential to be more inclusive. One can hope, despite the occasional outbursts of intolerance, that students and professors engaged in the study of identity and difference will be more prepared to reject coalition building that replicates the old scapegoating and erasures.

It is a core responsibility of liberal education to contribute to the political capacity of our citizens, and the challenges of this endeavor must not be reduced to the twin parodies of fragile undergraduates or politically correct student warriors. Political education at colleges and universities should not be indoctrination into any faculty member’s particular policy preference nor into a professor’s hip indifference to the political realm. Political education should inspire civic participation in ways that allow students to connect with people who share their views and to engage with those who don’t. That’s why intellectual diversity is so important on campus: to give students opportunities for debate and not just sharing. Through engagement with difference -- including intellectual difference -- students will find their own views tested, and their ability to effect change will grow as they learn to work with people with varied vulnerabilities and aspirations.

Even if Lilla sometimes caricatures the social justice warriors he says he wants to recruit for a new liberal solidarity, he has raised crucial questions for activists who disdain efforts to connect with people who don’t share their views. But the great issue today facing the once and future liberal is not how to overcome identity politics. The great issue for liberals and conservatives alike is how to overcome inequality. It’s not today’s campus activists who make coalition building so difficult; for decades, economic inequality has been destroying possibilities for solidarity, which means destroying possibilities for democracy.

Lilla is right that we need an “inspiring, optimistic vision” for America, but that will be only shallow political branding if we don’t find ways to deal with economic inequality while acknowledging our differences. Finding such ways amounts to insisting that as a polity we “live up to our principles” -- that we try to, in James Baldwin’s oft quoted words “achieve our country.” Without overcoming inequality, America will drift further and further from this task, and we will continue to propagate poverty, addiction, resentment, and the closing down of hope. Education, like democracy, depends on hope -- on a belief that we can find ways to improve our lives in common. Cultivating that belief and making it real are momentous tasks for colleges and universities today.

 Michael S. Roth is president of Wesleyan University and author, most recently, of Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters.

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College leaders should rename buildings named after those with racist histories (essay)

I’m proud to call Charlottesville, Va., home. Our community antagonized white supremacist neo-Nazis and KKK members by undertaking a democratic process to remove hurtful monuments.

Before moving to Charlottesville, I lived in Clemson, S.C. Like Charlottesville, Clemson has a beautiful and top-notch university located in a welcoming and caring community of people who could not be more different from the white supremacists who descended on Charlottesville last weekend.

My time at Clemson can provide a lesson for higher education leaders who wish to stand with Charlottesville. Like Charlottesville, and like many other higher education institutions, Clemson and the university have hurtful memorials left over from a racist past. Not only is Clemson’s Honors College still named for pro-slavery Senator John C. Calhoun, but the most iconic building on campus, Old Main, was renamed for “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman, who boasted on the floor of the U.S. Senate of killing black people. At Clemson, calls by students and faculty members for renaming have been stopped at the Board of Trustees as well as state law.

I believe the delays in renaming memorials at Clemson are wrong. I also believe the delays are for the most part well intentioned. As is now happening at institutions everywhere in the wake of last weekend’s violence in Virginia, I suspect Clemson’s Board of Trustees debated such renaming by weighing considerations like student safety and the university’s reputation. Perhaps someone even brought up the possibility that renaming buildings might attract white supremacists to campus.

Of course, no one wants neo-Nazis and the KKK to invade their campus. But higher education leaders must consider not only the white supremacists who could show up but also the students and faculty members who do not show up, or who leave, because of the unwelcoming environment that we tolerate. And higher education leaders must consider both physical and emotional safety. It’s one thing for unwelcome racists to invade our campuses, quite another to have dead racists honored on them.

So, higher education leaders, if you really want to stand with Charlottesville, rename those hurtful memorials. Do so because student leaders want us to do more. Do so because it will upset neo-Nazis and the KKK, which is always a good sign. Do so because there aren’t enough of those hateful people to go around; if we all act, they can’t focus on Charlottesville alone. And, finally, do so because it’s our role. For no one is born hateful -- it depends on their education.

Leidy Klotz is an associate professor in civil and environmental engineering and in architecture at the University of Virginia.

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Racist memorials should be removed through law-abiding processes (essay)

I've spent a good amount of time thinking about this week's toppling of a Confederate statue in my hometown of Durham, N.C.

Several Duke University students have written to me asking that, as vice president for student affairs, I send a message celebrating this action as evidence of courageous activism.

But this week we also witnessed the vandalism of a Holocaust memorial in Boston, and, as a child of Holocaust survivors, I can't avoid making a connection between the two actions.

Can we think of one as activism and the other as vandalism? Some would argue we can and should, but I'm not able to accept that reasoning.

I absolutely want monuments to racism, hate and prejudice removed -- either destroyed or relegated to museums with appropriate historical representation. But I want their removal through legitimate, law-abiding processes.

I understand that unethical government actions -- like gerrymandering in North Carolina -- stack the deck against progressive movements, but that just means we have to fight harder to change those laws, however long that may take. In fact, we need active voters, and they need inspiration to vote -- like getting monuments they hate removed.

I’m also reminded that, to many who legitimately feel overwhelmed by persistent acts of violence, oppression and hate, suggesting that immediate action be delayed and redirected to interminable political processes is frustrating and perceived of as equivalent to inaction. I’m certain that in Germany in the 1930s, my parents and many others would have preferred anarchy to what transpired. But partly because of those memories and because of my belief in an America that cares, I’m more optimistic that emboldened, effective and legal actions will prevail.

Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose works are now archived here at Duke, said, “Morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” I take this charge seriously and hope that what we saw in Charlottesville, Va., last weekend and throughout the country in the last few years will serve as a wake-up call for each of us and for our nation.

I’m old enough to remember effective grassroots movements in the 1960s and ’70s in support of civil rights and in opposition to the Vietnam War. Certainly, those efforts preceded today’s social media campaigns that are laced with anonymous diatribe. But we have ample evidence of the power of thoughtful, intelligent and focused efforts to counter oppression and injustice.

Without a doubt, what’s needed today will require far more time, money and energy than simply posting on Facebook or writing a check. We need young people committed to supporting candidates and willing to run for elective office themselves. And, yes, sometimes we need protests and vigils and rallies. But lest we emulate those whom we decry, we need our actions to be mindful of safety, ethics and laws.

When we take the laws into our own hands, we legitimize the same behaviors by those who seek to harm us. So, in good conscience, I can't endorse this week's behaviors. I hope that we focus our collective actions on having every elected seat up for challenge in 2018 filled with people who decry white supremacy, anti-Semitism, racism and every form of bias and hate. Our future depends on it.

Larry Moneta is the vice president for student affairs at Duke University.

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Harvard student group promotes free expression through controversial speakers

A new group of Harvard undergraduates seeks to highlight First Amendment rights by inviting the most controversial speakers possible to address the campus.

Review of the documentary 'The Activists: War, Peace and Politics in the Streets'

Memories have a way of turning into history behind your back -- and they do so, I’ve noticed, more often and with greater stealth over time. My most recent experience of this came while streaming The Activists: War, Peace and Politics in the Streets, a documentary that the director, Melody Shemtov, calls “an educational film about the antiwar movement.”

That phrase, for many viewers, will immediately call up a whole string of images from the days of the “television war” in Vietnam. And indeed, the first quarter of the film’s approximately one-hour running time incorporates scenes of protest from that era that will feel familiar to frequent viewers of historical documentaries, whether or not you’ve seen any particular clip before. Then the visual center of gravity, so to speak, shifts noticeably.

The camera continues to show crowds in the street, but the footage has that very bright, sharp quality of digital video. It is a visual texture that will no doubt eventually become a marker of historical distance -- the way something recorded on eight-millimeter film or home video now strikes the eye as self-periodizing. But for now, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t register that way. The viewer may have a sense of being plunged into the present -- except for the fact that there is no antiwar movement to speak of now.

One did emerge during the first decade of this century, involving protests that, at their peak, drew hundreds of thousands of people. The Activists uses interviews with organizers and participants (including a number recorded “on the ground” at demonstrations) to recount how the antiwar movement of the George W. Bush era waxed and waned. The director also uses interviews with people at pro-war rallies -- which, while tending to be minuscule affairs of a few dozen people at the edge of the crowd, always got disproportionate coverage by the news media. On the other hand, they were always there, and it’s an understandable if not indisputable decision to include them as part of the story.

One of the talking heads in The Activists is Michael T. Heaney, a political sociologist I interviewed for this column a little over 10 years ago. At the time, he was doing field work for what became Party in the Street: The Antiwar Movement and the Democratic Party After 9/11, a book he co-authored with Fabio Rojas, published by Cambridge University Press, in 2015. Their research struck me at the time as interesting enough to cover it (here and here) as the movement they were studying went into decline.

Heaney, who is an assistant professor of organizational studies and political science at the University of Michigan, is also listed as a producer and writer of The Activists. He and Shemtov explained the background of their collaboration to me in the course of email discussions. They had known each other as students at the University of Chicago and crossed paths again when she happened to visit the University of Florida while Heaney was teaching there. At the time she was an associate producer at David Grubin Productions, where she was part of the production team that earned an Emmy for The Mysterious Human Heart, a PBS documentary. She told Heaney that she hoped to form her own film company, Melofilms, and he pitched her the idea of a documentary on the antiwar movement.

She liked the idea and kept up with Heaney’s work as he and Rojas conducted their study of the movement in the late ’00s. “His research papers were the road map for the film, both before and during production,” Shemtov says. The connections he had established with leading organizers of the antiwar movement became particularly helpful when she began conducting interviews.

Where scholarly framework and documentary format coincide most markedly is in the emphasis The Activists places on the antiwar movement as an assemblage of collaborating but distinct groups. Some of those groups were formal organizations with members and points of unity -- for example, Code Pink. Others appear to have been loose networks of friends, such as the Granny Peace Brigade. In addition ad hoc clusters of people formed around a sensibility or a shared preference in forms of protest, as would appear to have been the case with Funk the War.

The filmmakers interview figures from the two major antiwar coalitions of the day, which called for the national protests, got the permits and otherwise created the overall structure of the antiwar movement. And it would be easy to narrate the whole history of the movement as a story of the coalitions’ periods of antagonism and cooperation. But Heaney and Rojas’s studies at the time showed that the ideological and organizational differences between them did not correspond to major differences between the constituencies of each coalition.

The latter were necessary to (say) reserve parking for the buses bringing people in from out of town. But what actually got people on the buses tended to be networks and affiliations that were a lot more local and granular.

The election of Barack Obama in 2008 proved to be the end of the antiwar movement, although not of the wars it had opposed. The filmmakers treat the Tea Party, the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street as developments in part inspired by the protests, which I find more plausible as an ending move than as a historical claim. Anyone using The Activists as an educational film would do well to consider Heaney and Rojas’s later work, which suggests that the ebb and flow of mass protest has become one aspect of the polarization of American electoral politics.

It would have made no sense to think of the Vietnam-era protests in such terms. The war had bipartisan support at first; opposition to it intensified even as antiwar sentiment broadened within the American public. I mention this not as a criticism of the documentary but as a reminder to viewers not to assume that mass protest is just normal politics continued by other means. Least of all, perhaps, when politics itself seems to get more abnormal by the day.

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A professor and two former students say why they think students are protesting at Middlebury College (essay)

During the coverage of the protests against Charles Murray’s recent visit to Middlebury College, something got lost in the scuffle: the actual students.

Commenters lumped all college students into a homogeneous group as an object to condemn. But not all college students, even at an elite place like Middlebury College, are monolithic. Before criticizing them on the grounds of privilege, perhaps we should do what no one has done and try to understand why those who protested were so angry.

It was about Murray, true, but what other factors were involved? Allison Stanger, the Middlebury professor who moderated his remarks and was injured in the ensuing fracas, suggests protesters are reacting to their anxieties of life under Trump. However, it goes even deeper, to the contradictions of being a student of color at a predominantly white college and being asked to respond civilly while having one's humanity attacked.

This situation is more complex than just being an issue of free speech or diversity of ideas. Any effective response requires taking the students seriously -- which is, after all, the primary job of educators.

Many people deride students as coddled snowflakes who use safe spaces and trigger warnings to protect themselves against the big, bad outside world teeming with microaggressions. This image, always a caricature, could not be farther from the truth at Middlebury. The protesters, primarily students of color and working-class students, are hardly coddled. Life on the campus for them is and has historically been anything but easy. Students and former students frequently confront blatant and subtle forms of racism and classism. Students of color are often assumed to be on financial aid or are told they are only here because of affirmative action. Some professors make assumptions about their intellectual abilities or single them out in class to play the spokesperson on race issues. The overwhelming culture of whiteness and wealth leaves many working-class students or students of color feeling depressed and alienated.

To suggest that they needed a visit from Murray to expose them to “controversial” ideas is laughable and offensive. They confront racism and classism every day on campus. Moreover, they talk about race and class all the time, whether they want to or not -- in personal conversations, in the many courses exploring these subjects, at town hall forums recently held on the campus to address incidents of racial insensitivity, as well as at the numerous meetings organized in the days leading up to Murray’s visit. Those discussions all took place with the high level of civility many commenters assume cannot happen.

Civil discourse on hard issues does happen here, primarily through the labor of students of color and working-class students. It is an insult to call these students sheltered. They aspire to turn the campus not into a safe space, but simply a safer one. In this context, Murray’s divisive ideas offered a sharp rebuke to all their hard-won achievements to create a campus where they, too, feel they belong.

We must not confuse divisiveness for diversity. Conservatives seek to push debates on settled topics, using free speech as a club to reopen discussions long ago resolved. The primarily white faculty members and students at Middlebury feel comfortable welcoming “all debates” because they never worry about their own humanity being called into question.

If free speech can justify a platform for Murray, it also justifies students talking back. We don’t have to agree with the protesting students’ tactics to still recognize that the nonviolent demonstrators were defending speech just as much as the people now rushing to condemn them.

Actions have consequences. People use this claim to demand punishment, but it provides an even more compelling reason for considering the type of community we want. Middlebury will not punish abstract “college students,” but actual people, many of them students of color and/or from working-class backgrounds. Currently, many find themselves the targets of widespread harassment, bullying and attacks on social media and in the national press. Punishing them for making the moral choice to protest a racist provocateur would add another injury to the initial insult.

This current fight focuses on speech, but the true war is over diversity at colleges and universities. Controversial speakers are not the key to expanding the marketplace of ideas, contrary to what many have argued. In fact, the single most robust source of a broad and varied range of ideas on a campus is a student body and faculty composed of people from many diverse backgrounds. They will do the most to upend orthodoxy and challenge comfort levels. Treating divisiveness as a proxy for diversity is, at best, naïve. At worst, it is an active step to roll back progress.

Institutions like Middlebury need to change, but not in the way many people currently demand. Such colleges and universities cannot accept students, take their tuition and use them to market their diverse campus, and then refuse to recognize their individual needs. Doing so gives the impression that institutions do not want actual diversity to enhance learning but rather just want to look good publicly and improve their bottom line.

Colleges and universities have always needed to balance the goals of speech and inclusion. In the “good old days,” when faculty members looked like the students, who all looked like one another, this largely went unnoticed. Today, however, using old standards for a more diverse community does not work. The biggest danger now is a response from Middlebury that leads to a less diverse student body, one that is whiter and richer. Let’s not let that happen.

Linus Owens is an associate professor of sociology at Middlebury College. Rebecca Flores Harper is a 2011 graduate of the college and served as chair of diversity for the student government there from 2008-11. Maya Goldberg-Safir is a 2012 graduate.

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How to keep situations like the Middlebury fracas from recurring (essay)

Earlier this month, Middlebury College was beset by what could fairly be termed the Academic Perfect Storm. Several hundred students on the Vermont campus shouted down Charles Murray, an author of the controversial The Bell Curve, apparently outraged by the visiting scholar’s claims that African-Americans are intellectually inferior to whites because of their genetic makeup. Murray’s talk was sponsored by a conservative student group affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute and was to be moderated by Middlebury professor Allison Stanger. Not only did the lecture never materialize because of shouting, shoving and other intrusions, but Stanger also was injured in the process.

Much has already been written, tweeted and posted about this event. The college has launched several levels of inquiry, while apologizing to the community, alumni and others. The administration has vowed “accountability” for students and others who engage in violence and thus thwarted the event.

Among the major players in this turbulent drama, Middlebury’s president, Laurie Patton, merits special deference. A New York Times editorial lauded her firm and visible commitment to free expression: “She did this admirably in defending Mr. Murray’s invitation and delivering a public apology to him that Middlebury’s thoughtless agitators should have delivered themselves.” Further background enhanced this encomium. Despite growing easiness about the imminent Murray lecture, Patton consistently reaffirmed her commitment to host the event. And just days before the gathering, she forcefully reminded Middlebury students of the college’s historic commitment to free expression, even for hateful views and words.

She also agreed to chair the event in person and courageously remained on stage throughout the turmoil. Beyond offering cordial hospitality, Patton had recently issued a two-page set of policies governing potentially contentious events, offering a model scenario that contains a firm warning that “disruption may also result in arrest and criminal charges.” One of the student organizers praised Patton’s grace and courage as “the one positive thing of the night.”

Otherwise, however, the evening seems to have been a disaster. Although only students were officially invited to attend, many observers noted the catalytic presence of a dozen or so nonstudents wearing black clothing and face masks that mirrored those of the disruptive contingent at a protest at the University of California, Berkeley, several weeks earlier. Given the predictably contentious character of Murray’s widely published writings, tighter security would surely have been appropriate. A plan to extricate the speaker in the event of turmoil was invoked at the 11th hour but foundered immediately when protesters invaded the seemingly secure site; more advance planning and escape routes would have seemed an obvious imperative. In that and several other dimensions, Middlebury’s logistical preparations seemed woefully inadequate.

Among the media accounts of these events, one offers a probing rhetorical question: “What Could Middlebury Have Done to Avoid a Free-Speech Fracas?” Looking back over the long history of controversial campus speakers, at least two alternative options merit some consideration.

A few colleges and universities have reluctantly concluded that a scheduled event posed so grave a threat that cancellation offered the only tenable alternative, with hopes that rescheduling would help. Thus, for example, when former University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill initially posted his essay about “little Eichmanns” while planning several speeches, several colleges felt safety and survival demanded what would otherwise have seemed a cowardly act. On a quite different occasion, the then chancellor of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln was privy to carefully sorted, screened and verified electronic warnings of potential chaos attending a speech by (surprisingly) Bill Ayres, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor who had once been a leader of the Weather Underground, a radical left-wing organization. While cancellation is hardly a welcome choice, it is option that should not always be categorically rejected.

A vivid personal experience suggests another approach. In the spring of 1983, protestors at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where I served as president of the system, shouted down in its opening minutes a long-scheduled speech by former Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver, who by then had traveled a far different political pathway. Then Chancellor Irving Shain and I agreed that if Cleaver was willing to return to Madison in the near future, we would ensure adequate security during his appearance, even if that required a secure sound booth. The cost of such an arrangement, we realized, would not be trivial.

We were delighted when Cleaver agreed to make a return visit under those different conditions. We specifically affirmed for the media that, “in keeping with the University of Wisconsin’s longstanding commitment to free speech, if Cleaver wanted to come back to finish his speech, he could do so.” Regrettably, the turnout for the rescheduled speech was sparse for various reasons, including the academic calendar. But we concluded that our investment was well worth making, despite the cost, in the interest of free expression.

Campuses will continue to invite controversial speakers and face turmoil over it. What other advice is worth considering in order to keep such turmoil to a minimum? First, careful advance planning with regard to sponsorship and other arrangements seems vital. It may well be worth requiring the sponsors -- whether students, faculty or, ideally, both -- to make firm commitments in writing about the specific steps they propose to take to maximize the success of the event, essentially in lieu of a bond or insurance, though without a financial component.

Second, the Middlebury experience seems to warrant far greater security planning than was evident at the rural Vermont campus. That mandate would, for example, include a clearer location of responsibility within the administration and sufficient engagement of the college’s general counsel, the campus or local chief of police, and other senior officials with expertise in scheduling major events.

Third, formal faculty involvement at Middlebury seems to have been limited if not absent. The location of such responsibility should target a Faculty Senate or other governance body, with a smaller executive committee capable of being convened almost momentarily in event of a crisis. An abundance of relevant materials exists for this purpose, and it may well be that Middlebury’s faculty leadership has in fact consulted them in the past.

Finally, we can hardly overlook the responsibility of the student body. There is much still be to learned about how and why the dozen black-clad and masked intruders were able to enter -- as well as why so few of the rank-and-file Middlebury students resisted or were even indifferent as essentially an angry mob turned their backs on the speaker and continue to shout and jeer. A strong elected student government seems indispensable to such a liberal arts college, visible both to the general and social media as well as within the broader community of which the institution is a major component. Middlebury seems to offer a promising academic venue within which to establish a sounder approach as the next crisis looms.

Robert M. O’Neil is the former president of the University of Virginia and of the University of Wisconsin System, former director of the Ford Foundation’s Difficult Dialogues Initiative, and founder of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. He is currently a senior fellow at the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities.

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Middlebury College students protest Charles Murray.
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A defense of the student protest of Charles Murray's speech at Middlebury College (essay)

In response to the forced retreat by Charles Murray, the right-wing scholar and author, from a planned public lecture at Middlebury College due to student demonstrations, we need to put first things first: the incident has nothing to do with the First Amendment or academic freedom.

Before we can understand why those concepts are so routinely abused in public discussion of campus protest, we must define what they mean. The First Amendment forbids Congress from “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” As many people have repeatedly pointed out, the Constitution does not guarantee you a respectful audience for your ideas, whether those ideas are odious or not. Murray is co-author of The Bell Curve, which argues that racial inequality is largely shaped by nonwhite people’s genetic inferiority, and the Southern Poverty Law Center classifies him a white nationalist who peddles “racist pseudoscience.”

As for academic freedom, it generally refers to institutional intrusion upon faculty’s freedom of teaching and research. According to the American Association of University Professors’ 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, “Teachers are entitled to full freedom in research and in the publication of the results, subject to the adequate performance of their other academic duties …. Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter that has no relation to their subject.”

Charles Murray is employed by the American Enterprise Institute, a public-policy think tank. If the AEI believes in the principle of academic freedom for its researchers, then all inquiries about Murray’s academic freedom should be directed to the AEI. Middlebury undergraduates couldn’t deny Murray’s institutional academic freedom even if they tried.

Middlebury’s students do, however, have every right to shout him down, and by all accounts they accomplished this end. Murray’s address in a campus auditorium was disrupted by students chanting and turning their backs to the lectern; he was compelled to give a live-streamed discussion from another location on the campus. He left campus under protests so heavy that a professor with him, political scientist Allison Stanger, injured her neck in the scrum outside. Comparing the tumult after Murray’s address to a scene from the foreign-espionage thriller Homeland, Stanger said in a statement that she was deliberately attacked by protesters in the crowd -- something that never should have happened.

However, a group of Middlebury students argued that the chaotic atmosphere Stanger describes was aggravated by belligerent campus security, and their statement suggested that her injury may have simply been an accident. “Protesters did not escalate violence and had no plan of violent physical confrontation,” the statement read. “We do not know of any students who hurt Professor Stanger; however, we deeply regret that she was injured during the event.”

“So much for safe spaces,” quipped. (Believe it or not, others made the same joke.) Others called the protesters a “mob.” In The Washington Post, law professor and blogger Eugene Volokh lamented “another sad day of brown-shirted thuggery,” arguing that it “undermines the opposition to Murray’s claims, rather than reinforcing them.” He elaborated, sort of: “Once it turns out that arguments such as the ones in The Bell Curve can’t even be made without fear of suppression or even violent attack, then we lose any real basis for rejecting those arguments.”

Obviously, one strong basis for rejecting The Bell Curve is that it is racist. But aside from that, Volokh’s strange presumption -- that disruptive opposition strengthens, rather than weakens, one’s opponents, that bad arguments somehow get stronger the less they are heard -- does not bear much scrutiny. Indeed, Murray’s claims have not gotten any better since the weekend.

One might well ask: Are college kids today fragile snowflakes cowering in their “safe spaces,” or are they brown-shirted, left-wing authoritarians? Which caricature will it be?

Dissent, for many critics of campus protest, can be tolerated as long as it is nondisruptive and officially sanctioned. The protests at the University of California, Berkeley, that chased Milo Yiannopoulos off the campus last month were unruly and damaged property, but they also may have hastened the much-deserved disgrace of a racist and sexist demagogue. In 2015, during a free speech controversy at Yale University concerning racist Halloween costumes -- which introduced “safe spaces” into the nation’s anti-student lexicon -- The Atlantic writer Conor Friedersdorf criticized young activists’ “illiberal streak” and their tendency to “lash out” with intolerance. Such incivility suppressed campus debate and inquiry, he argued. Even as Friedersdorf called out students protesters as intolerant of discomfort, however, he held them responsible for the sin of making others uncomfortable. Discomfort, it seems, is a scholarly virtue for some, but not for all.

Another example came in 2014, when Robert J. Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, during the suppression of Occupy protests there in 2011, withdrew from his role as commencement speaker at Haverford College’s graduation. He did so after students at the college signaled their intent to disrupt his speech. The students were widely criticized for suppressing free speech and open dialogue -- even though Birgeneau was the one who withdrew, in a pre-emptive strike against a protest that hadn’t even happened yet.

How can we hold simultaneously to a view of free speech as the circulation of disagreement while denouncing communication whose tone is disagreeable? Why are freedom of speech and academic freedom so absolute for Charles Murray yet so conditional for Middlebury students -- who surely have the academic freedom not to be told they are genetically deficient at their own college? Finally, why are higher education institutions so regularly churned through this dull meat grinder of journalistic free-speech sanctimony?

One simple answer may be the alma mater nostalgia of middle-aged journalists and academics who graduated from such institutions and, like many elders in every generation, scorn the passions of the next. The bigger issue, though, has to do with how we think about education -- or more to the point, how we fantasize about it. As Corey Robin has written, in American politics, educational institutions are often treated as laboratories for social transformations we are reluctant to pursue in society at large. “In the United States,” he writes, “we often try to solve political and economic questions through our schools rather than in society.”

College campuses, especially elite ones like Middlebury, are an interesting example of this thesis: they are treated both as laboratories for transforming society, and as leafy sanctuaries from it. Colleges are asked to model a fantasy version of society in which profound social cleavages -- racial, partisan, economic -- exist only as abstract issues that we can have a “conversation” about, rather than material conflicts that may need to be confronted. And most educational leaders and administrators, Robin writes, are basically conflict averse -- they want to “want to change words, not worlds.” Isn’t politics really just the contest of the best ideas, they seem to ask, rather than a conflict of resources and power? If presidential politics tells us anything, the answer is clearly no. But on campuses, this persistent fantasy -- of social change in which no one raises their voice -- is what critics often misidentify as academic freedom.

But what if black or Latino Middlebury students don’t want to have a conversation about their human dignity? What if they prefer to assert it? If they did so, they’d be participating in a long tradition of campus free-speech defense that many critics overlook. They’d only be doing what Mario Savio, leader of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, famously advised in 1964: putting their “bodies on the gears” of an apparatus they call unjust.

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious -- makes you so sick at heart -- that you can’t take part,” Savio said. “And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

John Patrick Leary is an assistant professor of English at Wayne State University.

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Charles Murray at Middlebury College
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