Discover more from PLURIBUS
E-Pluribus | January 18, 2023
Stanford should be on academic freedom probation; what comes after affirmative action; and truth takes a holiday.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Jay Bhattacharya: How Stanford Failed the Academic Freedom Test
Although Stanford was in the news lately for its harmful-words-you-shouldn’t-use list, Jay Bhattacharya at Tablet describes his earlier experience with Stanford as his employer and defender (or not) of his academic freedom when he co-authored the Great Barrington Declaration questioning conventional policies regarding handling the COVID pandemic.
There is a distinction in philosophy between negative and positive rights. A negative right is a constraint placed on the authorities not to take action that would violate that right. For example, the First Amendment prohibits Congress from enacting a law limiting the free exercise of religion or speech. A positive right entails an obligation on authorities to actively promote some desirable state of the world, for instance, the right to protection in the face of dire threats to bodily harm.
The same distinction pertains to academic freedom at a university. Stanford did not fire me or break my tenure for writing the GBD. Therefore, it met the bare minimum standard of negative academic freedom. But Stanford failed to meet the higher standard of positive academic freedom, which would have required it to promote an environment where faculty members engage with each other respectfully despite fierce disagreement.
The most egregious violation of academic freedom was an implicit decision by the university to deplatform me. Though I have given dozens of talks in seminars at Stanford over the past decades, in December 2020, my department chair blocked an attempt to organize a seminar where I would publicly present the ideas of the GBD. Stanford’s former president, John Hennessey, tried to set up a discussion between me and others on COVID policy, but he was unable to, owing to the absence of support from the university.
Read it all here.
SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE:
Harvey Silverglate: A World Without Affirmative Action
Affirmative action has been billed as the premiere way to ameliorate the impacts of centuries of discrimination and inequity. As the Supreme Court considers a case that could very well end affirmative action, Harry Silvergate at Quillette contemplates what a post-affirmative action world might look like.
Opponents of racial preferences have long claimed that affirmative action, by its very nature, violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment because it treats individual applicants differently based solely on their membership in a racial demographic category. Further, since Harvard and UNC, as well as nearly every other college and university, accept federal funds, critics of affirmative action claim that both public and private colleges violate equal protection by engaging in racial preferences.
[ . . . ]
There is no denying that affirmative action can increase racial diversity in school settings. Jordan J. Cohen, former president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), asserted in 2003 that “until such time that students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds emerge from the educational pipeline with an equivalent range of academic credentials, there is simply no way for medical schools to fully meet their societal obligation without using race and ethnicity as explicit factors in admissions decisions.”
However, despite the pervasive belief that diversity is an unalloyed good, it is not self-evident that diversity is always desirable or without costs. And, in fact, some evidence suggests that diversifying schools has led to negative educational outcomes for some minority students. Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor wrote a comprehensive book on this topic called Mismatch; and more recently, Norman Wang wrote an article about it which was eventually retracted, over his objections (indicating how incendiary this topic is). The basic argument is that affirmative action hurts the students it is intended to help by putting them in academic situations for which they are not prepared or possibly even qualified.
Thus, even on narrow consequentialist grounds, affirmative action may be a bad policy, one that is both divisive and counterproductive. And diversity, although often laudable, is not without costs, especially if it is artificially manufactured.
Read it all.
Mark Edmundson: Truth Takes a Vacation
There are probably more takes on Donald Trump’s political rise and fall (?) than there are take-writers, as some have doubled or tripled up over the years. At Harpers, Mark Edmundson writes of Trump as the ultimate pragmatist and what that says about his supporters and what it says about the larger political landscape as well.
It has been said many times that Trump was—in his own bizarre fashion—a postmodernist president. Those who say this generally use the term “postmodern” loosely. They mean that Trump cared nothing for tradition, had no regard for truth, that he lied all the time. But Trump is far better understood as our first pragmatist president. Trump knew—and knows—that Truth has gone on vacation; his acolytes know it, too. They are not nihilists, as they are often labeled, for they clearly do value something. And they are not deconstructionists, for they are prepared to latch onto pragmatic truths that will get them what they want.
Trump’s language is, or seeks to be, performative. He speaks to advance his cause and confound his enemies. To achieve this, he will say virtually anything. His followers—disillusioned people who have been stripped of ideals—are responsive to his reckless pragmatism and employ it themselves; they are always ready to use words to “get a gasp.” If Trump ever used words to render reality, I never heard it. Like a committed pragmatist, he uses words to influence his listeners and accomplish his goals. We Americans, natural pragmatists, understand this in a way that no European electorate ever could. His way of using language is all too often ours, which is one of the reasons so many of us are receptive to it.
To be sure, politicians have always wielded language in dishonest ways to serve their agendas. But there is, in general, some articulable and more or less idealistic end—the dictatorship of the proletariat; the creation of God’s kingdom on earth; the dismantling of an unjust social order; the preservation of a just one; liberté, égalité, fraternité—by which the means are justified, even if only cynically. What distinguishes Trump is that he has never claimed—at least not for very long—to have any enduring values in mind. Many voters who were themselves idealists of one kind or another—including, most notably, pro-life Christians—supported his candidacy in explicitly pragmatic terms. Trump invited them to do so not through his half-hearted claims to share their values but through his repeated insistence that he was a winner who would deliver what they wanted. It was this more than anything that made him our first true pragmatist president.
Read the whole thing.
Andrew Sullivan and Wesley Yang comment on Jesse Singal’s new essay for the New York Times on the counterproductivity of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion training:
At least the trains ran on time? Not quite, but young Romanians’ view of communism is disturbingly nostalgic. Via Peter Boghossian:
And finally, does the European Commission’s VP Věra Jourová know something the rest of us don’t?