Hey! Randy

Will You Come?

Posted by heyrandy on August 31, 2009

The Shadow University Alan Kors and Harvey Silvergate, The Free Press, 1998. 415pgs., index, end notes

This book reveals the world of the modern college. This world is hidden behind the rhetoric of free speech and academic freedom. Parents and students are shielded from the ugly reality. The truth is that all that talk about freedom is a lie.

Kors and Silvergate should know. They represented many of the accused in the hearings that universities conduct when student and faculty misconduct is alleged.  The authors examine what happens to the accused when violations of speech and behavior codes are alleged.

The basis of the problem is the misguided and patronizing effort to protect and empower the groups of people that have been traditionally marginalized in our society. The result is a horrendous miscarriage of justice. The accused are plunged into a politically correct swamp of threats, bribes, intimidation, insults, and fear. The only consistency is the lack of justice.

The system is simple: you are guilty based upon your ethnic and gender status. The facts do not count. The methods used are those of the Star Chamber and Inquisition. All that is lacking are the thumb screws and the rack.

The procedures used to resolve the accusations vary with the school. The major common points are closed hearings, lack of respect for the constitutional rights of the accused, and an overwhelming desire to keep the entire matter secret. The schools are terrified of exposure. The schools are not stupid.

The schools are so adverse to bad publicity that allegations of rape are dealt with internally. Such matters must by law be reported to the police.

Publicity is the accused’s best weapon. The authors show how the schools retreat when the hypocrisy and fraud of the resolution processes are pilloried in the press. This often causes the alumni and the politicians to become involved. Faced with this opposition, the schools back down, fast. The authors relate how the Chancellor of Indiana University capitulated in his effort to discipline famous Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight. Knight made a stupid remark about rape, and the Chancellor went after him. Knight was famous for producing winning teams and national championships. The alumni and politicians rallied to Knight’s defense. The Chancellor’s job was in jeopardy. The Chancellor gave in. It was close, but a important career was saved: the Chancellor’s. And an important double standard was perpetuated.

One wonders how well Knight would have fared if he had been an obscure junior professor in the Classics Department. (Can you say Left with the trash pickup?)

This careerism is the heart of the problem. The bureaucrats at the schools do not want any trouble. All must go smoothly; there must be no trouble while the bureaucrat is responsible. If this means a double standard of justice, then that is the price the bureaucrat is willing for the accused to pay, even if it means violating the written procedures of the university grievance process.

The authors trace this to the bureaucrats’ memory of he 1960’s. The student protests of that era revealed the university administrators as impotent cowards. To avoid a recurrence of this embarrassment, and damage to their promotion potential, the administrators have given the campus ideological zealots carte blanche to turn the schools into indoctrination and reeducation camps. The politically favored groups quickly learn that if they make enough noise or even threaten to make noise, the administration surrenders to the their demands. Non-militant groups are ignored. The stories of the student and faculty victims of this doctrinaire stupidity are what make concrete such a book.

Actually it is the stories of the fighters that compose the book. Most victims simply acquiesce to the proffered punishment, usually sensitivity training,  letters of censure placed temporarily in their academic files, and community service. The dunce caps and the scarlet letters are passe. Only those with enough courage (and money) stand out. The fights are ugly, protracted, and one sided. Often the accusations against the accused, especially if they are faculty, are leaked to the press even though the university agency dealing with the matter has enjoined all to secrecy. So much for fairness or the First Amendment.

The First Amendment that is the bane of the publicly funded university. Here the school is at odds with the Constitution. The authors (Silvergate is a criminal defense lawyer) show that federal courts have consistently upheld the student’s right to free speech on the public university campus. The authors also point out that the schools have not learned from this. One school’s loss should be another school’s education. Not in the academic world.

Private schools are more immune to the strictures of the First Amendment, but crumble under the ire of the alumni and the exposure by the press. These speech code trials are a public relations catastrophe. The highest and mightiest university is no match for the front page. Most Americans can readily understand the double speak of maintaining both a speech code and free speech. The only ones who cannot are the academics.

While resistant to First Amendment challenges, the private schools are vulnerable to legal challenges on contract law grounds. All that blather the schools write in their catalogs about freedom of speech and equal justice constitutes a contract. Failure to provide what the catalog states is fraud. The schools have lost the court battles here. The authors report that many schools are now following the advice of their lawyers to tone down such statements. Too bad they did not tone down the climate of political correctness. But that would anger the militants, and that is bad for careers.

To cure the problem the authors suggest academic honesty; advertise the school as it really is: “Let them say to their public what they say to themselves: ‘This University believes  that your sons and daughters are the racist, sexist, homophobic, oppressive progeny– or the innocent victims–of a racist, sexist, homophobic, oppressive America. For $30,000 per year, we will assign them rights on an unequal and compensatory basis and undertake by coercion their moral and political enlightenment.’ Let them advertise themselves honestly and then see who comes.” (p. 371)

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