Relax and Take Five

Last weekend’s confrontation between Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cambridge police sergeant James M. Crowley has taken the sheen off the era of good racial feelings that accompanied President Obama’s election. Wise folks knew better than to trust it, but the ugly little incident in a sylvan section of Cambridge has opened old wounds.
Even President Obama jumped into the fray, saying that the police “acted stupidly” in arresting Gates once he showed identification. The president may be right, but he too may have acted “stupidly.” Everyone following this story — including the president — needs to relax, take five, and wait for the final details to emerge.

Those who know me can attest that I’m usually among the first to mount a moral high horse. Do I believe that a lot of cops are hotheads? I sure do; even as a white man I’ve been the victim of idiots who think that a badge is a license to swagger like Dirty Harry.
But I’m also a professor. Do I believe that an academic of an exalted reputation such as that of Professor Gates is capable of being belligerent, arrogant, and disrespectful of someone deemed “beneath” them? Hell, yes! I see it all the time. And therein lies the problem. There are two stories circulating, both of which are plausible, and the only people who know what happened are Gates and Crowley and perhaps not even they recall it exactly as it went down.

One man (or both) either lied or allowed his passion to distort what occurred. And the kicker is that it would have been out of character for it to happen to either man. It would be convenient if Sgt. Crowley was a bad cop or a racist, but the record suggests he’s not. His record is exemplary, he’s popular with both white and black colleagues, and there’s not (yet) been any evidence of bias. In fact, he teaches other officers how to avoid racial profiling and was the officer who frantically tried to revive the black Boston Celtic star Reggie Lewis as he lay dying in a Brandeis gym 16 years ago.
As for Professor Gates, he’s simply one of the most respected names in all of academia and he has a reputation for being affable and easygoing. My own interaction with him consists of once shaking his hand. That’s far too brief for me to evaluate his character, but I deeply admire his intellect.

When faced with two equally believable stories the prudent course is to avoid a rush to judgment. In the best possible scenario there won’t be a villain or a scapegoat; both Crowley and Gates will break bread together, admit mutual misunderstanding, shake hands, and enlist as comrades in the ongoing battle to create a race-blind America.
In the end, the only unassailable truth in the Crowley/Gates dispute is that the era of good racial feelings was a feel-good myth.

Rob Weir
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Rob Weir teaches at Smith College and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

Constitutional and Unwise

As an association representing institutions of higher learning, the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities is sensitive to the claims of institutional autonomy presented by the Hastings College of the Law in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. However, as the institutions within our organization are religious in nature, we are also acutely aware of the religious freedom concerns presented by this case. Ultimately, because this decision did not determine the constitutionality of the more common "non-discrimination clauses," its limited scope is such that this ruling has little broad applicability beyond "all-comers policies" at public universities, and in many ways leaves more questions than it answers. As higher education works to understand the implications of this limited decision, and formulate policies in light of it, the academy must wonder whether all-comers policies -- in which public colleges limit recognition to student groups that will allow any and all students to join and run for office -- though deemed constitutional, really help further the laudable goal espoused by Justice Anthony Kennedy of "enabling [students] to explore new points of view."

In his concurrence Justice Kennedy observes that "vibrant dialogue is not possible if students wall themselves off from opposing points of view." But one might ask how a vibrant dialogue is possible if opposing points of view are not present. Here, Hastings argued that CLS built the wall by excluding members who would not sign its statement of faith. Did Hastings itself, however, not build a wall by rejecting CLS as a student organization? CLS had a version of an all-comers policy, allowing attendance and participation by non-members, requiring the statement of faith only for members and leaders. Would not vibrant dialogue have occurred more readily on campus during club meetings, between members with one point of view and non-members with different points of view, than by rejecting CLS? Further, this analysis ignores the reality that vibrant dialogue occurs within groups of like-minded people – the vigorous debates within political parties clearly demonstrate this. And at a macro level, had CLS remained a student organization, perhaps another Christian group with different beliefs would have formed, creating vibrant dialogue between these two groups.

It is easy to mischaracterize CLS’s membership policy and to oversimplify it as outright discrimination, but a more nuanced approach might be more useful to the academy as it moves forward in applying this case. In Corp. of the Presiding Bishop v. Amos, a central case to the bounds of religious association, the then-leader of the liberal wing of the Court, Justice William J. Brennan, explained that a religious community defines itself by "determining that certain activities are in furtherance of an organization’s religious mission, and that only those committed to that mission should conduct them, is ... a means by which a religious community defines itself." And this Court itself reaffirmed the constitutionality of CLS’s expressive activity, "[i]nsisting that an organization embrace unwelcome members we have therefore concluded, 'directly and immediately affects associational rights.' " Preventing discrimination on campuses is a worthy goal, but reflexively applying the hatchet of an all-comers policy may actually undermine equally worthy goals: free speech, freedom of association, and an open marketplace of ideas. Might public colleges and universities instead formulate more nuanced policies that take care to ask whether a group’s belief-based membership requirements are "in furtherance of [the] organization’s religious mission," instead of simply rejecting these groups outright?

A key tenet of almost all religions is that they hold beliefs distinct from other religions and the non-religious -- communal beliefs are essential to the religious. Religion has often been challenged to define these beliefs in the face of cultural shifts, but it is the prerogative of those within the religion to determine those boundaries. And as mystifying or even offensive as some of those ideas are to those outside (or even inside) that religion, a key principle of our American ideals is that those ideas be challenged not rejected.

Within the CCCU itself this case sparked debate – debate which we welcomed as a sign of a healthy and robust organization. Such debate is part of the fabric of academe. If in an effort to limit liability more public and colleges and universities adopt these all-comers policies, part of that fabric could be undone. Though they claim to promote diversity, they actually promote sameness. How can a robust marketplace of diverse ideas exist when no group is allowed to unite around a core set of unique beliefs that give them their identity?

Academia has long stood for a free and open expression of ideas, undergirded by the expectation that the best ones will ultimately rise to the top. Rather than merely “tolerat[ing]” unpopular viewpoints, as Justice Stevens suggests, public colleges and universities should engage them. As Thomas Jefferson said, referencing the University of Virginia, “This institution will be based upon the illimitable freedom of the human mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it."

Shapri D. LoMaglio
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Shapri D. LoMaglio is government relations and executive programs director of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

Substitute Education for Lysol

Before bathroom walls became virtual, a can of Lysol and a stiff brush could remove the nasty and vulgar insults that anonymous bullies scrawled from time to time.

Gossip was still gossip. The words still stung. And targets of the graffiti could, if they were aware of it, be humiliated. But not everyone in the world — literally, the world — could read these slurs with a click of the computer mouse. Today, Lysol won’t help.

Like my counterparts around the country, I have been confounded by this new and evolving phenomenon in which high school and college students use new technologies as tools for cruelty. Make no mistake. These tools have the power to destroy.

Certainly the tragic suicide of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi, who had apparently been cyberbullied, illustrates technology’s uncivil misuse at its extreme. In Clementi’s case, his Rutgers roommate surreptitiously streamed video on the Internet of Clementi's sexual encounter with a man in their residence hall room.

Compared with the Rutgers’ case, websites that permit and promote anonymous postings on any topic and of any nature -- including gossip, rumor and innuendo -- may seem tame. But to those who are targeted, they are anything but tame, and I believe we must confront them.

I, like colleagues at peer institutions, have dealt with such websites in recent years. We have had to consider how we can combat cowardly individuals who hide behind the anonymity the Internet permits and make unimaginably vile comments, often aimed at one of any university’s most vulnerable populations: first-year female students. These posts name the students; the posters lurk unnamed in the cybershadows.

The women are, understandably enough, humiliated by what the bullies have written about them and are horrified that their classmates might be reading these posts. Their parents are furious.

On the students’ behalf, we asked one site’s owner to remove the most graphic and disgusting posts. The owner informed us that federal law was on his side and that we had no business inserting ourselves in this matter. He assured us that he didn’t condone such material and would remove the posts — but only if the women themselves made the request. Our students then followed the site’s procedures to have material about them removed. The site eventually honored some, though not all, of the students’ requests. Much of the damage, however, had already been done.

Meanwhile, the owner asserted that the problem lies not with his site but with those individuals who post such objectionable material.

Given current laws, we cannot really protect our students from these attacks. But we are, first and foremost, an educational institution that seeks to instill and foster respect and civility within our community. Such cyberbullying is antithetical to our values, so we are obligated to speak out against it.

Last year we launched an aggressive anti-cybergossip campaign. We posted banners in the student union and posters around campus. We took out ads in the student newspaper. We raised the issue with our student leaders and included the issue in student orientation.

And this summer I went directly to our students and parents for their help, writing a letter to them about our recent experience with sites promoting anonymous gossip. That letter read, in part: "If you know of anyone who is using this website to malign fellow students, please do not remain silent…. If you know of a student who is being targeted on this website, please direct that person to me so that we can provide support. We firmly believe that the majority of our students recognizes such reprehensible behavior is inconsistent with our values of civility."

We even took the unprecedented step of blocking from our computer network the site with the postings about the first-year women. As a practical matter, blocking access from our computer network could not keep people away from the site. We knew that. But we also decided that we had to take a stand, at least, symbolically.

The situation we confront and the sad story at Rutgers are connected by what technology makes possible. Bullies and gossips are not new, but the anonymity afforded by this technology emboldens them. When they write on bathroom walls, the audience is limited. Now they hide behind their computers and brazenly hurl insults that travel around the world through the Internet.

In facing this new challenge, we must, first and foremost, support students who may be the victim of such activity. Beyond that, we should be consistent in telling our students that posting anonymous comments about others is neither clever nor harmless but can have serious consequences. Most of all, we can’t ignore this issue or hope others will provide solutions for us. As educators, we must seize this opportunity to make a difference.

Dawn Watkins
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Dawn Watkins is vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Washington and Lee University,

Summers Seeks a 'New Chapter'

Smart Title: 

Lawrence H. Summers, Harvard's embattled president, apologized to faculty members Tuesday not only for his comments about women and science, but for a management style that many have said is too domineering.

Data, not Speculation, on Female Scientists

Smart Title: 
A report about physics suggests that women are leaving the field early, between high school and college.

The Latest in Conservative Political Theater

Smart Title: 
Rumors about "hunts" for illegal immigrants lead to protests at the University of Texas.

Race, Sports and Professors

Smart Title: 
Auburn eliminates jobs for two black athletics officials, sets off a debate about bias at the university, and finds itself a target for Al Sharpton.

3 Presidents Rebuke Summers

Smart Title: 

In a highly unusual move, the presidents of three leading universities issued a statement Thursday to challenge the views of Lawrence H. Summers, the president of Harvard University, on women and science.

Summers has apologized for his statements, in which he suggested that "innate differences" between men and women may be a reason why there are so few women in science.

Paying for Shabazz

Smart Title: 
Carnegie Mellon said the university never provided funds for a hateful speaker. But one of its research centers had pledged support. 

Protection for Title IX Whistle Blowers

Smart Title: 
Employees who face retaliation for bringing gender bias claims are entitled to damages, Supreme Court rules.


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