E-Pluribus | December 11, 2023
The problem with amoral education; America is not as divided as we think; some college students won't pay their tuition...for Gaza.
A round-up of the latest and best musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Ezekiel J. Emanuel: The Moral Deficiencies of a Liberal Education
The first three words of Ezekiel Emanuel’s essay for the New York Times are jarring: “We have failed.” Emanuel, a physician, professor and vice provost at the University of Pennsylvania, writes that the reflex of so many college students to defend Hamas is a shocking indictment of our higher education system. It should be a wake-up call to re-examine our priorities and give young people a more complete education that will guard against similar outcomes in the future.
[C]olleges and universities need to be more self-critical and rethink what it means for students to be educated. For the past 50 years, with a few exceptions, higher education has been reducing requirements. At the same time, academia has become more hesitant: We often avoid challenging our students, avoid putting hard questions to them, avoid forcing them to articulate and justify their opinions. All opinions are equally valid, we argue. We are fearful of offending them.
This flies in the face of what a liberal education should be. Liberal education should be built around honing critical thinking skills and moral and logical reasoning so students can emerge as engaged citizens. The American Association of Colleges and Universities has described a liberal education as one that “empowers individuals with core knowledge and transferable skills and cultivates social responsibility and a strong sense of ethics and values.” This certainly is not the full vision, but even with this definition, it is very hard to recognize that what we are now offering as a college education meets even this standard.
There are many ways to construct a curriculum so we can certify graduates as educated. Starting in 1947, as a new era dawned after what it identified as “social upheaval and the disasters of war,” M.I.T. undertook a review of its curriculum, re-examined the almost 90-year-old principles that had guided its approach and imposed changes that emphasized the importance of the humanities and social sciences. The review committee saw among M.I.T.’s missions the preparation of each student “for the moral and ethical burden relating not only to his own acts but to the acts of which he is a part” and the “cultivation of the spirit of free inquiry and rejection of interdiction and prejudice.”
All universities need to echo that today.
Creating a curriculum must be a collective effort that engages all members of our colleges and universities. College presidents and professors should stop focusing on endowments and fund-raising, tuitions and the earnings of our graduates. We must focus on the core mission: figuring out what it means to graduate educated people. In turn, this requires us to articulate and justify what we think education is so that we never again have our students make patently uneducated and alarmingly immoral declarations.
Read it all here.
Monica Harris and Ben Klutsey: The Illusion of Division
Even if there is much that divides us, isn’t there more that unites us? This is one of the founding ideas of America, the home of e pluribus unum. At Discourse Magazine, Ben Klutsey continues his interview series on illiberalism. His most recent guest is Monica Harris, executive director of the Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism. It’s a long interview but well worth your time.
I think the System is comprised of these institutions that we all grow up slavishly believing in, trusting implicitly. The more educated we are, the more we believe in these institutions.
I was a person—I had a lot of education. I was tapped out with education, financially and otherwise. It’s funny because, growing up in a Black family—I don’t know if you can relate to this—folks are typically not encouraged to trust institutions. It started with slavery, continued with the Tuskegee experiment and just continued from there.
We call these institutions, I think just blanketly, whether it’s the media, the legal, the criminal justice system (which is just part of the legal system), our educational institutions, our financial institutions, the underpinnings of our economy—this is “the System,” and it’s controlled by what my father used to call “The Man.” My father’s this LA County Sheriff’s—he retired from the LA County Sheriff’s Department. He got an up close and personal view of what it was like to work for “The Man.” He was a bailiff in the court system. I used to come and sit in because we couldn’t afford summer camp. I would just come in and sit in the courtroom and watch legal proceedings. That’s probably how I ended up becoming a lawyer, actually.
My parents knew the System wasn’t fair. Most Black people know the System isn’t fair. I grew up being told it was rigged, not just for Black people, but anyone who wasn’t at the top tiers. My father would invite me to just sit in the courtroom and watch what was going on. Then afterwards, over dinner, he’d just unload on me—not unload in a bad way, but just download, I guess you could say. Like, “You saw what happened in there, right? If you’re a person who has money, the System works for you. If you’re poor and Black or Latino or any other person of color, the System doesn’t really work for you.” The System works for people who are armed with the tools to work within it. If you don’t have those tools, well, then the System is just—it’s something that seems nice on paper, but it’s really not something that works equally for everyone.
It was a bit of a conflict for me growing up, hearing this—the suspicion of the System when I was a kid—and then going to Princeton and graduating from Harvard Law School, which is a place we are conditioned, as future lawyers, to unwaveringly believe that our legal system is infallible. It’s funny. I think most of us who are awake and aware now, we know this isn’t the case.
Ditto for our media. When you learn that the White House has the power to use privately owned media companies to flag problematic content and perspectives and to use this as a loophole to end-run the First Amendment, you begin to appreciate that these three essential pillars of our system, these institutions—the executive branch, our media, the First Amendment—they’ve been fundamentally compromised, with disastrous consequences, in my opinion. Our academic institutions: that’s another fundamental pillar of the System that I was, especially as an educated person, taught to believe in implicitly.
Read (or listen to) the whole thing.
Abigail Anthony: Columbia Students Organize Tuition Strike over ‘Israeli Apartheid’
If Ezekiel Emanuel had known of this story related by Abigail Anthony at National Review when he wrote his New York Times essay, he might well have cited it to support his thesis. From their use of the word “strike” (they’re still going to class, just not paying their bills) to the way they’re pitching it (“a low risk, low effort movement if everyone affirms their commitment”), we wonder if these students are actually learning anything.
Pro-Palestinian students at Columbia University have organized a tuition strike for the spring 2024 semester over “Israeli apartheid.”
“We want our university to refuse to invest in ethnic cleansing and genocide abroad. We refuse to accept our university’s silencing of student voices demanding decolonization on our campus,” reads a document by the students, who intend to announce a tuition strike after 1,000 pledges. “We refuse to allow our tuition dollars to fund apartheid.”
The strike is organized by the Barnard Columbia Abolitionist Collective, the Young Democratic Socialists of America, and Student-Worker Solidarity organizations.
[. . .]
In a document titled “Tuition Strike FAQ,” the students acknowledge that “our demands would require Columbia to give up millions of dollars in revenue” and therefore “the only way to get Columbia to agree to this will be to make the cost of not conceding our demands higher than the cost of conceding our demands.”
The organizers are hoping for at least 1,000 students to strike, which they estimate is roughly 10 percent of the tuition-paying student body and would entail a $20 million loss in revenue for the university. Currently, Barnard students are not encouraged to participate in the tuition strike given “unique risks” such as housing loss.
A document prepared by “a research team of Columbia Law students” outlines possible risks of participating in the tuition strike. It begins with a disclaimer, stating that “nothing shared here should substitute for legal advice from a lawyer” and “this is also a living document that is being updated in real-time so inaccuracies may exist.”
A document titled “Guide to Talking to your Parents” states that “it’s highly unlikely that students participating in the tuition strike would face disciplinary action of any kind,” adding that “students are routinely late on and miss their tuition payments for a variety of economic and logistical reasons, and it would be absurd for the university to suspend, expel, or punish a student for this lateness.” The document advises students “Don’t bring this [disciplinary action] up unless your parents do — the less they think about this, the better!”
Read it all.
Around Twitter (X)
After initially agreeing to freeze DEI hiring and restructuring their DEI policies to cover everyone, the board of the University of Wisconsin decided to walk away from budget negotiations with Republican legislators and maintain the DEI status quo, reports Steve McGuire:
Is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) returning to its roots? Far too early to tell if it will constitute a trend, but the organization is defending the National Rifle Association’s First Amendment rights in New York.
And finally, the ACLU’s move has left at least one progressive organization scratching its head: