Discover more from PLURIBUS
E-Pluribus | May 17, 2023
At some 'woke' universities, some are more equal than others; the rule of law, under fire; and in defense of dissent.
Note: E-Pluribus will be taking a brief hiatus on May 18th and May 19th. We'll be back at our regular schedule on Monday, May 22.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Dick Bauer: The Woke University’s Servant Class
Universities often trumpet the virtues of “equity,” but Dick Bauer writes at Tablet Magazine that the treatment of adjunct faculty at such institution is anything but fair. While this second-class treatment clearly affects the instructors themselves, Bauer argues that the harm extends to the whole university system.
When we think of exploited workers, our thoughts normally turn to fast-food employees, agricultural migrants, or day-laborers in the construction or landscaping industries. But one of the largest groups of exploited workers—a group we’ll define for these purposes as those who earn less than 30% of the salary of the prevailing wage for similar work—are college instructors. So-called “adjunct faculty” now account for more than 70% of all college and university faculty members but, despite their title, they are not treated as faculty in any protected, technical, or professional sense. They are adjunct because they are easily replaceable cogs in the academic machine. There’s even an obscure new name for these exploited knowledge workers, in keeping with the fashion of attaching obscure labels to familiar things: “contingent faculty.” At least the label is accurate. For adjuncts, who have sold their career, future hopes of promotions, and many of their rights as employees for wages that qualify some instructors for public assistance, their entire existence is “contingent” on the whims of university leaders and administrators. And while the system itself is inherently unfair, the adjuncts are not its only victims. The entire university experience, more expensive than ever for students, has been compromised and hollowed out by this short-sighted arrangement.
[. . .]
The sad truth is that this system, for all its inequities, profits by a seemingly unending supply of professionally educated knowledge workers somehow willing to put up with a substandard wage by either teaching part-time as a side hustle, or lowering their living standards. Until enough baby boomers die off, or competition for competent paid faculty rises, we may be facing this situation for quite some time.
[. . .]
The American university system is broken. The sooner that people wake up to this reality and realize that it is hurting students and faculty alike while profiting only the small group in the university’s ownership class, the better off for all of us.
Read the whole thing.
Ed Meese and Kelly Shackelford: The Left’s War on the Rule of Law
The left used to see the Supreme Court as the best hope for its progressive agenda, but the current makeup of the court has some rethinking its value. Writing at the Wall Street Journal, Ed Meese and Kelly Shackelford spell out the strategy to undermine the court and thus undermine the rule of law.
The left was able for decades to get through the courts, including the Supreme Court, what it couldn’t get through Congress. Today, however, liberals are trying to subvert the legitimacy of the Supreme Court because it contains a majority of justices committed to the Constitution and the rule of law. Suddenly, instead of repeatedly approving the left’s agenda, the federal judiciary has become one of its greatest impediments. Believing they can no longer win at the court, progressives now want to change the rules of the game. Rather than improving their legal arguments and strategy, they are attacking the referees.
[. . .]
The left’s latest offensive has been to undermine the Supreme Court’s credibility by charging Republican-appointed justices with alleged disclosure failures while ignoring similar omissions by Democrat-appointed justices. The Senate Judiciary Committee summoned Chief Justice John Roberts, who wisely declined to appear. The committee then proposed the creation of a formal Supreme Court “ethics code”—a thinly veiled attempt to grant Congress power to police the justices.
[. . .]
The left hasn’t always had such disregard for the integrity of the courts. In 2001, the American Civil Liberties Union said that maintaining the credibility of the Supreme Court was “critical” to “preserving civil liberties.” Failure to maintain judicial credibility, it said, would damage not only the high court but “the rule of law.” The ACLU was right.
If politically motivated schemes to transform the courts are successful, the judiciary will become little more than a political tool of the executive and legislative branches. Judges will lose their ability to enforce the rule of law with impartiality, and the last safeguard to our civil liberties will be gone.
Read it all here.
Robert C. Thornett: The Cost of Dissent
While compromise is a vital component of a pluralistic society, the truth is that everyone is not going to agree all the time. Robert Thornett at Quillette writes in praise of dissent - not just dissent for its own sake, but clear-eyed, well-founded dissent that clarifies what we’re fighting for, or against.
Dissent is essential to societies, if they are to develop and move forward. It has been the engine of some of the most important episodes in recent history, including the American Revolution, the Civil Rights Movement, and the fall of communism. But there are other virtues besides courage required to stand up and disagree with the prevailing power or wisdom. Virtues like prudence and humility enable us to acknowledge when we are not sufficiently knowledgeable to dissent productively, and to understand that misguided or misinformed dissent has the potential to hurt society.
[. . .]
Unlike trolling and anonymous flaming online, earnest and civil disagreement takes courage, says Georgetown political theorist Joshua Mitchell, because it means “risking philosophical death”—daring to confront the possibility that we are wrong. This is one way that we pay off the cost of dissent. Unfortunately, educational institutions today often ignore this advice and treat dissent as an axiomatic and unqualified good. Educators preach only the need to “stand up” and “raise awareness” about issues students only understand in slogans and soundbites. As Stanford’s Thomas Sowell has put it:
“I think we’re raising whole generations who regard facts as more or less optional. We have kids in elementary school who are being urged to take stands on political issues, to write letters to congressmen and presidents about nuclear energy. They’re not a decade old, and they’re being thrown these kinds of questions that can absorb the lifetime of a very brilliant and learned man. And they’re being taught that it's important to have views, and they’re not being taught that it's important to know what you’re talking about. It’s important to hear the opposite viewpoint, and more important to learn how to distinguish why viewpoint A and viewpoint B are different, and which one has the most evidence or logic behind it. They disregard that. They hear something, they hear some rhetoric, and they run with it.”
Doing the work required to know what you’re talking about is one of the most fundamental ways that we pay the cost of dissent. Without this step, society ignores, explains away, or even approves the effects that ignorant and incontinent dissent has on unity, harmony, peace, and social stability—the rioting and looting that followed the killing of George Floyd in 2020, the January 6th US Capitol invasion, the Stanford Law School shout-down, the trend of getting good professors fired over nothing, the overall decline in civility that has resulted from bickering on social media.
Read it all.
Here’s Matt Yglesias’s take (the quote is from Salman Rushdie) on plans to update Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels:
And finally, NBC’s misleading tweet over the situation at an Illinois middle school. First of all, the book pictured in the tweet is not the “bestselling LGBTQ-themed book” in question, Juno Dawson’s “This Book is Gay.” Second, the publisher of “This Book is Gay” literally promotes it as an “instruction manual,” not simply an “LGBTQ-themed book,” as the article notes.