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E-Pluribus | September 8, 2022
A free speech college with a free speech problem, when an "emergency" is not an emergency, and can't art just be art?
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Christopher Nadon: My ‘free speech’ college is silencing me
Last month, we included in our round-up (item #1) a Wall Street Journal essay by Claremont McKenna College professor Christopher Nadon on his experiences at Claremont, an institution highly respected for its free speech culture. Nadon, in a piece for Unherd, however, savages his employer as a “Potemkin village” that has even fooled FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression), which has given the school its highest ranking for promotion of free speech.
When I left Ukraine in 1994, I was pessimistic about the future of political liberty there. The people as a whole were so atomised and enervated by the Soviet system that it was hard to imagine them engaging in any collective action to defend their rights and liberties. But the young people I taught at Kyiv-Mohyla had not yet had their spirits crushed. Somehow, despite the horrific economic and political corruption of the Nineties, Ukraine avoided the descent into one-party, one-man rule. In the moment of greatest peril, my former students’ university became an important point of resistance to the puppet regime in 2014. Their generation went to the streets and overthrew a corrupt government during the Maidan Revolution. Their courage then and now leaves me shamefaced both for myself and my fellow academics who can no longer even stand up for reading historical texts as written.
I am much more pessimistic about the fate of liberal education in America than I ever was about political liberty in Ukraine. Many, perhaps most, professors and students oppose free speech and free inquiry as an obstacle to the creation of a more equitable world. Ukrainians know how that ends. Others favour free speech and free inquiry, but give increased devotion to conformity, too cowed and cowardly to secure their blessings. I hope I am as much mistaken about America as I was about Ukraine.
A classroom is not a public space, it does not have the same purposes and responsibilities as a political community. It therefore requires different rules to govern and preserve it, among the most important is civility. I am not a free speech absolutist. In the course that first got me in trouble, I tried to help a student see the power of Plato’s case for censorship. How then could I have come to utter the forbidden “n-word” in a class knowing full well the distress it might cause in some, or even most, of my students?
Civility in the classroom is not the end but a means that makes the discovery of truth more likely. Liberation from falsehoods and the discovery of truth is the most important purpose of any classroom, indeed, the highest end of liberal education — not comfort and safety. College is not a resort hotel. When the means obstruct the end, reason allows their modification.
Read it all here.
Elizabeth Goitein: Biden used ‘emergency powers’ to forgive student debt? That’s a slippery slope.
The COVID-19 pandemic provided a golden opportunity for governments (federal, state and local) to exercise “emergency” powers in the name of public health. Now President Biden has upped the ante, calling on emergency powers to extend billions in student loan forgiveness, a move that Elizabeth Goitein in the Washington Post says is much further down the slippery slope.
[B]iden’s move is a dubious use of emergency authority — one that could invite more troubling misuses in the future.
Emergency powers serve a limited role in our constitutional system. Their purpose is to give presidents a short-term boost in power to handle a sudden, unforeseen crisis (the definition of “emergency”) that is moving too quickly or unpredictably for Congress to address. They often involve extraordinary delegations of authority, such as the power to assert control over domestic transportation. Congress provides these sweeping powers on the assumption that presidents will exercise them rarely and briefly.
Emergency powers are not meant to address long-standing problems, however dire. Nor are they meant to provide long-term solutions. And using them to get around Congress, when Congress has considered a course of action and rejected it, is a clear misuse of emergency powers.
Biden’s action disregards these principles. His plan relies on the 2003 Heroes Act, which allows the education secretary to modify the rules that apply to student loans during war or national emergencies if necessary to mitigate the effects of the crisis. Both President Donald Trump and Biden invoked this law to offset the economic impact of covid-19 by deferring payments and waiving interest.
While the pandemic was a sudden, unforeseen development, student loan debt has been a serious problem for decades. One could argue that covid made this problem significantly and abruptly worse, creating a true emergency. But covid itself has been with us for 2½ years; indeed, it could well be our “new normal.” And unlike the previous deferrals and waivers, debt forgiveness is a permanent act, not a stopgap measure.
Read the whole thing.
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Eric Gibson: Woke Ideologues Are Taking Over American Art Museums
While art is meant to unleash the imagination and provoke any number of responses, wokeness shouldn’t be one of them. At The Wall Street Journal, Eric Gibson writes that ideology has taken over too many art institutions and made them into culture war participants rather than simply presenting culture to the people.
The politicization of art museums is so pervasive that the there is hardly an institution or aspect of museum practice exempt from it. It’s now commonplace for labels accompanying portraits as disparate as those from colonial America and 18th-century France to include information about the sitter’s connection to slavery, no matter how tenuous.
Last year Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum put on an exhibition of mythological paintings by the great Renaissance painter Titian built around one in its collection titled “The Rape of Europa.” It shows Jupiter, who has turned himself into a bull, abducting Europa, who is sprawled across his back and holding on for dear life.
This was the first time in some 500 years that this group of paintings, commissioned as a series, had been seen together, and the Gardner’s is considered the greatest Renaissance painting in America. Yet the museum turned the exhibition into a #MeToo moment. It commissioned contemporary artists to create works and scholars to write commentary that would, as it said, “engage with questions of gender, power and sexual violence” that are “as relevant today as they were in the Renaissance.” It even created a support page on its website for anyone “triggered” by the exhibition.
Last fall the Baltimore Museum of Art staged a major exhibition of work by Henri Matisse, among the greatest of all modern artists. One of his recurring themes is the “odalisque”—a female studio model costumed, sometimes quite minimally, in Middle Eastern garb and posed in a setting intended to evoke a harem. In the wall texts the museum made sure visitors understood that this made Matisse both a sexist and a colonialist.
Read it all.
A horrible story out of Nevada where a journalist apparently paid the ultimate price for his work:
Apparently we are in for another round of Section 230 malarky, this time courtesy of the president who promised us none of it:
A couple observations here about an opinion piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education, which argues that colleges are “appeasing the right.”
And finally, Happy Anniversary to Peter Boghossian: