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E-Pluribus | June 27, 2022
Campus due process under fire again, New England's town meetings, and gender ideology marches on.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Joe Cohn: Biden Renews Obama’s Attack on Campus Due Process
When it comes to campus civil rights, President Joe Biden is going for Obama Administration, Part II. The Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Education is once again led by Obama’s pick Catherine Lhamon who, unsurprisingly, is on the way to tilting the scales against the accused, reversing due process gains from the Trump administration, writes Joe Cohn in the Wall Street Journal.
Defying these and other rulings, the new regulations propose to eliminate accused students’ rights to cross-examination and live hearings. Instead, the Education Department would allow institutions to reintroduce the infamous “single investigator” model of campus justice, whereby a lone bureaucrat serves as prosecutor, judge and jury.
The Biden administration’s rights rollback isn’t surprising. The Office for Civil Rights is again led by Catherine Lhamon, who held the same post during President Obama’s second term. When Education Secretary Betsy DeVos issued the current regulations in 2020, Ms. Lhamon tweeted that the protection of due process was a return “to the bad old days, that predate my birth, when it was permissible to rape and sexually harass students with impunity.” It should have been disqualifying to suggest that providing accused students with the right to a meaningful opportunity to ask questions of their accusers is the equivalent of legalizing rape. But it’s tough to strip people of basic rights without fanning moral panic. Questioned by senators about her statement during her confirmation hearing last July, Ms. Lhamon stood by it without apology. The Senate confirmed her on party lines, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting the deciding vote.
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By rolling back rights for students nationwide, the Biden administration is abandoning core American principles. Protecting due process shouldn’t be controversial. Fundamental fairness shouldn’t be a partisan concern. But instead of working on solutions that will last beyond a presidency, Ms. Lhamon’s Office for Civil Rights is playing to the partisan base.
Read the whole thing.
Tim Czerwienski: Town Meeting 101
While the United States is a republic for good reasons and direct democracy isn’t a perfect system in any case, Tim Czerwienski argues at Discourse Magazine that we can nonetheless learn from New England’s local town meeting. There are worse ways to conduct government business than with personal investment in governing one’s own community along with respect for alternate points of view.
To put it simply, Town Meeting is the legislative body of most municipalities in New England. The term refers to both the body and the event at which that body meets. Here in the Bay State, Town Meeting is the predominant form of local government: Only 17% of its 351 municipalities have the more familiar mayor/manager-council arrangement. Massachusetts is where Town Meeting was born and where I’ve been a participant for most of my career as a public official, but the system is similar throughout New England. Town Meeting is responsible for approving a municipality’s budget and amending its bylaws. The traditional Town Meeting, dating back to the first English settlements in North America, is an open, Athenian-style affair. Unlike the mayor/manager-council form of government (in which citizens elect representatives to pass laws), the Town Meeting is a direct democracy: Every adult resident can show up, comment on the business before the meeting and vote.
There are guardrails, of course, that keep things from turning into a free-for-all. Town Meeting is administered by a moderator who acts as the meeting’s chair by managing speakers, entertaining motions, calling for votes and enforcing the rules. Town Meetings tend to follow some type of parliamentary procedure such as Robert’s Rules of Order (although in Massachusetts, some towns use a state-specific set of rules called Town Meeting Time). Discussion is limited to items that appear on the warrant (or the warning), which serves as the meeting’s agenda.
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Town Meeting persists, in part, because it reflects the pride and sense of tradition that New Englanders claim to treasure. If you focus too much on the shambolic details of how warrant articles are written and debated, or compare the ponderous pace of Town Meeting to the relatively efficient mayor-council system, you miss the small miracle of history reaching into the present. Winthrop’s “city on a hill” may be a threadbare cliche at best—and at worst an obscene joke to those who have been excluded from that vision over the centuries—but New England Town Meeting remains America’s best and most effective form of direct democracy. As Michael Morrell, a University of Connecticut political scientist, said in a 2019 edition of the Journal of Public Deliberation, Town Meeting is both “participatory and deliberative” in a way that California-style referenda, or other high-profile forms of direct democracy, are not. Town Meeting is certainly more representative and robust than the quasi-democratic community meetings, comment periods and consultations that have come to adorn seemingly every major (and not-so-major) local, state and federal decision-making process.
Read it all here.
Leighton Woodhouse: They Questioned Gender-Affirming Care. Then Their Kids Were Kicked Out of School.
Writing at Bari Weiss’s Common Sense Substack, Leighton Woodhouse gives an inside look at how profoundly gender ideology has impacted some educational institutions. Although convincing involved parties to speak on the record is a challenge, Woodhouse relates the deep fear and mistrust that exists at one private day school that has gone all-in on gender issues even in the youngest grades.
By early 2022—Charlotte was now in the second grade—MCDS parents started noticing more red flags, according to parents I spoke to and others connected to the school. One of the children wondered what they were supposed to call their stuffed animals, since they had never asked them whether they were boys or girls. Another couldn’t reconcile his interest in unicorns with his love of sports.
[ . . . ]
Parents started to hear about weird classroom exercises designed to force the seven- and eight-year-olds to decide how they identified: They were asked which gender they “felt like.” Or to pick the pronoun that seemed right to them. Or to say which toys seemed more like boy toys or girl toys.
There were three classes in the second grade, with each class comprising about 20 students. Out of that, there was a core group of more than a dozen parents who were the angriest. But no one would speak up. It didn’t matter that most of the parents were affluent. They feared school administrators. They fretted that MCDS would say bad things about their kids or deny admission to their kids’ younger siblings or not write recommendations for their kids if they tried to transfer to another school. “In these elite social circles, there’s so much social capital placed into getting into these elite schools,” Beka said.
Finally, this core group of parents turned to Rob Boutet, the vice president of the school’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and a fellow parent. They were upset that nobody had told them what was going on, that they had to find out about it from their children.
On March 2, Boutet emailed Dinh, the head of the school. “The curriculum at MCDS,” Boutet wrote, “seems to be based on trendy political theory instead of pedagogy that has strong empirical support.”
Boutet added: “The majority of the families have and are witnessing their children experiencing high levels of stress, pain, sadness and asking questions that many parents are not ready or equipped to answer and all because of the Gender self identity activity.”
In an email to parents, Dinh explained that, as early as kindergarten, “some children do not identify within a gender binary.” MCDS, she said, sought to “affirm gender identity.”
In a subsequent email to Boutet, Dinh said that parents anonymously protesting the curriculum had left many MCDS faculty “with feelings of unsafety,” especially those, she said, who were LGBTQ+.
A month later, Boutet was kicked off the DEI Committee. (He declined to comment.)
Read it all.
From the New York Times’s Paul Mozur, excerpts from a thread about China’s domestic surveillance system:
Wesley Yang speculates on progressives’ response to the Supreme Court’s Dobbs abortion ruling:
And finally, via the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, the experience of a University of San Diego professor who criticized the Chinese Communist Party’s COVID dissimulation: