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Why Universities Must Embrace Free Speech—Or Else

In Academia, America, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, Communication, Humanities, liberal arts, Liberalism, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Rhetoric & Communication, Scholarship on August 22, 2018 at 6:45 am

This review originally appeared here in The Federalist.

Keith E. Whittington, a professor of politics at Princeton University, calls his latest book, Speak Freely: Why Universities Must Defend Free Speech, a “reminder”—a term suggesting that we’ve forgotten something or that there’s something so important that we shouldn’t forget it. This something is the purpose of the modern university, which is, or should be, a refuge for open dialogue, rigorous debate, and the free exchange of ideas.

Safe spaces, trigger  warnings, speaker disinvitations, speech zones, no-platforming, physical assaults against speakers—these are sure signs that some university cultures have become illiberal and intolerant, prioritizing indoctrination, orthodoxy, conformity, narrow-mindedness, censorship, and dogmatism over the unfettered pursuit of knowledge and wide dissemination of ideas.

Universities are not one-size-fits-all. The multiplicity among and between institutions of higher education in the United States, from community colleges to liberal-arts colleges to state flagship universities, makes generalizations about them impossible. Modern universities, however, are decidedly committed to research on the nineteenth-century German model. Whittington’s chief subject is this modern university, not religiously affiliated colleges guided by a core mission to spread and inspire doctrinal faith through formal education.

This is a very different model than, say, the distinctly Catholic university contemplated by Cardinal John Henry Newman in The Idea of a University that is predicated on the belief that scientific and philosophical knowledge is intimately tied to the revealed truths of the church. Whittington’s key focus appears to be on those institutions classified as doctoral research universities by the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education. The gravest problem at such institutions is their coercive restrictions on speech.

Newly Relevant Free Speech Concerns

“My concern here,” Whittington says, “is with a particular problem on college campuses that is not new but newly relevant,” namely that “we are in danger of giving up on the hard-won freedoms of critical inquiry that have been wrested from figures of authority over the course of a century.” An ascendant intolerance jeopardizes free speech at universities, which have as their principal objective the formation and transmission of knowledge that itself depends upon free speech and inquiry.

To cultivate a liberal atmosphere tolerant of diverse views, universities must make room for marginalized voices and controversial ideas, submit received customs and conventions to continuous and critical examination, and welcome good-faith arguments that challenge cherished cultural norms and undermine accepted wisdom. Only by subjecting their beliefs to sustained scrutiny may scholars sharpen and refine their claims and achieve mutual understanding. Only by protecting the speech of dissenters from the shaming and retaliation of those who hold majority or dominant views may universities nurture the empathy and humility necessary to maintain constructive, scholarly conversations.

“[T]he value of free speech,” submits Whittington, “is closely associated with the core commitments of the university itself. The failure to adequately foster an environment of free speech on campus represents a failure of the university to fully realize its own ideals and aspirations.” More than that, such failure “subverts the very rationale for having a university and hampers the ability of universities to achieve their most basic goals.” To value the university is to value the free speech that characterizes the university’s goal and function.

In four succinct chapters, Whittington maps the history of the modern American university, demonstrating how free speech is integral to its mission and indispensable to the search for knowledge and understanding. The Jeffersonians’ opposition to the Sedition Act, and John Stuart Mill’s case against compelled silence in On Liberty, present seminal defenses of free expression that gave substance to the modern university’s commitment to vigorous deliberation and civil debate.

Universities Must Decide Where They Stand

Whittington shows that the free-speech ideal has always been contested on campus, its concrete manifestations differing from school to school and context to context. The tension, moreover, between protecting provocative speech and providing for student safety isn’t new. University administrators have long struggled to balance the promise of robust speech with the need for security in light of potentially violent backlash to offensive, incendiary utterances.

To those who abuse the system by inviting notorious speakers to campus to shout odious words that lack intellectual content and are meant only to shock and incite, Whittington offers this wisdom: “When we are making decisions about whom to invite to campus to speak, the goal should be neither to stack the deck with our closest allies nor to sprinkle in the most extreme provocateurs. The goal should be to make available to the campus community thoughtful representatives of serious ideas.”

The Charles Murrays of the world might enjoy more campus appearances, and more serious attention, if there were fewer speaking invitations to those grandstanding Milo Yiannopouloses, whose (typically) puerile messages and (typically) sophomoric style lack substantive intellectual content. Rather than Milo, why not invite one of the many conservative scholars who seek with sincerity and integrity to contribute to the sum of knowledge, but have been disenfranchised and dismissed by left-leaning faculty?

It’s not contradictory to celebrate free speech while urging restraint in selecting competent, well-meaning speakers. A dedication to pushing the limits of acceptable discourse is not, after all, the same as a dedication to learning the true and the good. Discerning the difference, however, is a task for the informed audience, not the campus censors. Suppressing foolish and fallacious ideas deprives students of the opportunity to learn what constitutes foolishness and fallaciousness.

Universities must choose: “They must decide whether they are committed to a joint project of learning and the principles and practices that make learning possible. If universities are to operate at the outer boundaries of our state of knowledge and to push those boundaries further outward, they must be places where new, unorthodox, controversial, and disturbing ideas can be raised and scrutinized.”

If universities cannot be counted on to expand the frontiers of knowledge, who or what will? This weighty question should cut across partisan lines and ideological camps and unite those of disparate backgrounds in a common cause: that of human progress and achievement.

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Richard Bulliet on The Americas, the Atlantic, and Africa, 1530-1770

In Academia, Arts & Letters, Historicism, History, Humanities, liberal arts, Pedagogy, Scholarship, Teaching on August 1, 2018 at 6:45 am

In the following lecture, Richard Bulliet discusses the Americas, the Atlantic, and Africa during the period of 1530-1170:

Richard Bulliet on Transformations in Europe, 1500-1750

In Academia, Arts & Letters, History, Humanities, liberal arts, Pedagogy, Philosophy, Politics, Teaching, Western Civilization on July 18, 2018 at 6:45 am

In the following lecture, Professor Richard Bulliet discusses transformations in Europe during the period of 1500 – 1750:

Session Twenty-Six: Richard Bulliet on the History of the World

In Arts & Letters, History, Humanities, liberal arts, Pedagogy, Teaching on July 4, 2018 at 6:45 am

Here, in the twenty-sixth lecture of his course, The History of the World, Richard Bulliet discusses conclusions regarding the History of the World to 1500 CE and presents themes for a forthcoming course regarding the History of the World after 1500 CE:

Carnegie Classifications—What’s All the Fuss?

In Academia, America, Humanities, Law, Law School, Legal Education & Pedagogy, liberal arts, Pedagogy, Scholarship on June 27, 2018 at 6:45 am

This article originally appeared here at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.

Dartmouth falls out of an exclusive group,” declared a 2016 headlinein The Washington Post just days after the Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education released its 2015 classifications that moved Dartmouth College from the R-1 (that is, Research 1) to the R-2 (Research 2) category. “A Key Survey Indicates that Dartmouth May Be Losing Its Elite Status,” reads another headline.

A school like Dartmouth hardly risks dropping out of “the elite,” but why would anyone say that?

Dartmouth’s response to the perceived downgrade was muted. “We don’t know what new algorithm they are using to classify institutions,” wrote Diana Lawrence, a university spokeswoman, “so we can’t replicate the data.” Lowered morale since the 2015 classification allegedly has resulted in the closing of Dartmouth’s Gender Research Institute.

Indiana University, which now runs the Carnegie Classifications, recently began reclassifying schools every three rather than every five years. The next round will appear later this year. University leaders have been silent about this development, but according to Doug Lederman, “the foundation’s sorting…sends some institutions into fits of anger or excitement over perceived insult or approval for how they are classified compared to their peers.”

As anxious university administrators await this release, it is worth asking what these classifications mean and why is the R-1 designation so coveted?

Carnegie classifies institutions by type: doctoral universities, master’s colleges and universities, baccalaureate colleges, baccalaureate/associate colleges, associate’s colleges, special focus institutions, and tribal colleges. The research designations everyone talks about (R-1, R-2, R-3) apply only to universities classified as doctoral universities. R-1 indicates “highest research activity,” R-2 “higher research activity,” and R-3 “moderate research activity.”

To be classified as a doctoral university, an institution must award at least 20 research-based doctoral degrees per year. Professional doctorates like a law degree do not count. Among the schools that meet this classification, research productivity is measured by two indices: the number of research doctorates awarded plus research staff, and the amount of research expenditures, scaled to the number of faculty.

Carnegie measures research and development expenditures in science and engineering (S&E), humanities, social science, STEM, business, education, public policy, and social work. These classifications are categorical rather than ordinal: they fit universities within certain descriptive categories but not in order of best to worst. The point of the classifications is not to grade but to group universities according to their program offerings and research expenditures.

Thus, administrators should not treat moves from R-1 to R-2 as demotions or devaluations. After all, quality of education and quality of research cannot be reduced to raw figures by totaling the number of faculty, the number of doctoral programs offered and doctoral degrees awarded, and the amount of money invested in research. These figures account principally for funding and size, not the amount of published material (in peer-reviewed journals or otherwise) and certainly not the excellence of scholarly research. Nor do they account for teacher quality or educational outcomes for students.

Nevertheless, schools moving from R-2 to R-1 celebrated the 2015 Carnegie classifications in press releases. For example, “It is no secret that Ole Miss is one of the top research schools in the south,” read a statement by the University of Mississippi, “but being recognized on a prestigious national level is a true achievement.”

Given the focus of the Carnegie classifications, one wonders why they command such attention. Could not universities game the system, so to speak, by hiring more faculty, throwing money at programs, and graduating more doctoral students in certain disciplines? The answer, of course, is yes—but that does not diminish the standing the Carnegie classifications enjoy.

The reason they are valued is because the Department of Education and U.S. News and World Report, among others, rely on them. (U.S. News explains its methodological reliance on the Carnegie Classifications here). Indirectly, then, the Carnegie classifications are used for rankings and grant eligibility.

Rather than coming up with its own categories, U.S. News relies on Carnegie classifications for its list of national universities, national liberal arts colleges, or regional universities. If, say, Furman University wanted to be ranked alongside Princeton, Harvard, Yale, and MIT, it must increase the number of research doctoral-degree programs it offers to account for Carnegie’s metrics.

 

The Problem with the Carnegie Classifications

The main problem with the Carnegie classifications is that they create the incentive for educational malinvestment on a grand scale. When a university’s administration seeks to move from R-3 to R-2 or R-2 to R-1, they churn out more doctorates and hire more faculty than the market demands.

That is most notable in the humanities. The number of humanities doctorates awarded has reached record highs while the job market for humanities professors has shrunk. Young people pursuing these doctorates often assume substantial debt only to find themselves with no university employment after graduation. Carnegie in effect rewards universities for conferring an excessive number of research doctorates, thereby contributing to the systemic problem of graduate-student debt and the dearth in faculty hiring, and possibly to the diminishing quality of humanities research.

The Carnegie classifications also fail to account for the quality of scholarly research, or for true faculty productivity. They measure aggregate numbers of people and investment but not the number of peer-reviewed papers published by members of a department or the value or effectiveness of those papers.

Therefore, the Carnegie classifications should really be considered funding categorizations, not research categorizations. Yet too many people treat them as indicators of the productivity of a university faculty or the worth and excellence of research content.

The Carnegie classifications are not per se bad or unhelpful. It is just that they are being misinterpreted and misused to the economic detriment of higher education writ large. Donors, administrators, journalists, university rankers and evaluators, and other stakeholders at universities should monitor the Carnegie classifications and use them as needed to shape the goals and identities of institutions. But these classifications should no longer be considered proxies for the measure of research quality.

Moreover, Carnegie should drop the phrases “highest research activity,” “higher research activity,” and “moderate research activity” that accompany the R-1, R-2, and R-3 label because they are misleading: the Carnegie rankings do not measure research activity but research expenditure. It could be that a university spends money on research without actually yielding research. That would be a poor investment that Carnegie seems, strangely, to value or reward.

 

The Role of Law Schools in the Classifications

My fellow law-school administrators can do little if anything to help their home institutions that are ranked as doctoral universities move from R-2 to R-1 or R-3 to R-2. (I work at Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, whose home institution, Faulkner University, is classified as a master’s college or university according to Carnegie.) J.D. degrees are not research degrees, although a few law schools (Yale or Berkeley among them) offer Ph.Ds in law, which do contribute to the sum of research degrees offered. No matter how productive a law faculty is, its research output will not affect the home institution’s Carnegie classification.

By and large, deans at law schools have not spent much time thinking about the Carnegie classifications. The future, however, may present different challenges and opportunities for law-school deans. “[W]e are planning a change that will reshape membership of the Doctoral Universities and Master’s Colleges and Universities categories,” Carnegie states on its website. “We are doing so to accommodate Doctor’s degree—professional practice within our methodology. These degrees . . . have previously not been considered as part of the Basic Classification Methodology.”

Therefore, by adopting Ph.D. or J.S.D. and S.J.D.  programs (which are research-based and require dissertations for completion), law schools can nudge their universities in the direction of a higher Carnegie research classification. That might seem an attractive inducement, but one that would be economically unsound for most schools. Law deans should resist going the way of the humanities.

Session Twenty-Five: Richard Bulliet on the History of the World

In Arts & Letters, Historicism, History, Humanities, liberal arts, Pedagogy, Teaching on June 20, 2018 at 6:45 am

Here, in the twenty-fifth lecture of his course, The History of the World, Richard Bulliet discusses the History of the World to 1500 CE, focusing on the Maritime Revolution:

Qualifications of Judges and Law Professors: A Telling Mismatch

In Academia, Law, Law School, Pedagogy, Scholarship, Teaching on June 6, 2018 at 6:45 am

This piece originally appeared here in the Library of Law & Liberty. 

Late last year, President Donald Trump took heat for nominating allegedly unqualified lawyers to the federal bench. As of February 16, 2018, a majority, substantial majority, or minority of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Judiciary has rated several of his judicial nominees “not qualified.” These evaluations purportedly assess professional competence, integrity, and judicial temperament, but have been accused, rightly, of improper politicization.

Would that an impartial and non-political set of ratings could be applied to aspiring law professors. Because of their lack of practical experience, academic training, and teaching record, entry-level faculty hires at many American law schools tend to be, as a class, unqualified to teach. They have not gained on-the-ground, learned-by-doing knowledge of legal practices and processes, yet in their new roles they will be expected to serve as gatekeepers into the profession, a profession that many of them have only barely participated in.

These days extensive practice experience is a disadvantage, not an asset, for the prospective law professor. It signals to faculty hiring committees a late interest in teaching and research, and a turn to academic work because of a disenchantment with the everyday work of lawyers. Faculty are sensibly turned off by candidates who believe, or seem to believe, that life in the academy is free from stress and responsibility.

No one wants a colleague who views the professoriate as a breezy backup plan, or whose only animating desire is to trade in a life of hourly billables for the supposed tranquility of the Ivory Tower. Hating law-firm culture is not a good reason, by itself, to seek a job in a law school. The last thing law professors need to impart to young students facing a competitive job market is deep cynicism about the practice of law. These legitimate concerns, however, should not preclude faculty from admitting into their ranks those who are best able to familiarize students with the practice of law.

The conventional path to law teaching runs something like this: attend a prestigious law school (ideally, one ranked in the top 15 by the U.S. News and World Report), obtain a federal clerkship (one with the U.S. Supreme Court, if possible), and then apply for open faculty positions, either directly through a law school or through the recruiting conference of the American Association of Law Schools (aka “the meat market”). The chances of securing tenure-track positions diminish measurably the longer one waits to enter the meat market.

No step along this path to becoming a law professor involves teaching. The longer you go down the path, the more practical skills you acquire, but the less desirable you become as a candidate for teaching.

A law degree is not a reliable proxy for the suitable or successful characteristics of a good teacher. A federal clerkship does not necessarily cultivate the traits necessary to excel in classroom instruction. So why does the system disincentivize not only the acquisition of practical skills, which most students are hoping to learn, but also teaching skills, which law professors are expected to have?

One reason is that there’s little agreement about what makes a good law professor.

How do you even quantify the effectiveness of law professors? Vocational outcomes and earning differentials among graduates say more about a law school, in particular its career services office and market reputation, than they do about the aptitude of individual faculty members. Bar-passage rates correlate with admissions standards and selectivity and reflect, perhaps, the overall educational experience of the graduates.

But there’s no measurable connection between those figures and the instruction methods of individual professors. Student evaluations suffer from drawbacks and deficiencies in law schools (such as biases, unreliability, grade inflation to win popularity, etc.) just as they do elsewhere in universities.

Without pedagogical consensus (i.e., without widely agreed-upon teaching philosophies, practices, or methods) within the legal academy or established standards for law-teaching achievement, hiring committees in law schools look simply to narrative, subjective data (e.g., the prestige of a candidate’s alma mater and recent employer, the candidate’s fit with subject-matter needs, etc.) that do not demonstrate a commitment to teaching or an ability to teach. The assumption behind these hiring decisions is, I think, twofold: that individuals who have earned prestigious credentials can translate their accomplishments to the classroom and that the Socratic Method allows them to disguise their “greenness” by deflecting difficult questions back on students.

Most Ph.D. programs in humanities disciplines involve some degree of classroom training and pedagogical coursework. Law school, by contrast, does not equip students with teaching or introduce them to pedagogical schools and approaches. Teaching expectations for law professors remain ill-defined and unpublicized, in part because they vary from school to school. With rare exceptions, aspiring law professors possess no pedagogical preparedness when they begin teaching.

Law schools should not continue hiring faculty with little to no practical experience, little to no record of scholarship, and little to no teaching experience. The ideal faculty candidate should have a substantial record of success in at least one of those three areas. The fact that a candidate graduated from Harvard Law and clerked a year or two for a federal appellate court may suggest the promise of future scholarship, but it doesn’t demonstrate proven merit as a scholar or teacher. Nor is that clerkship alone sufficient to familiarize a lawyer with the ins and outs of legal practice.

An emphasis on the readiness and qualifications of judges should be matched with tangible benchmarks in law-faculty hiring. Analogizing the qualifications of law professors and judges is reasonable, even if their jobs differ: both have attained high offices that superintend the profession, both are involved in the administration of the legal system, both should understand the nexus between theory and practice, both should possess exemplary character and enjoy good standing in the community, both should model the conduct and professionalism expected of all lawyers, and both should be researchers and writers with deep knowledge about the history of the law.

Redirecting ire and scrutiny away from judicial nominees and toward law-school faculties may not fully resolve ambiguities about the proper, requisite experience for judges. But it may lead to a rethinking of the minimal qualifications of law faculty, raising questions about whether the standards governing judicial nominees should extend to the legal academy, which trains future judges.

The growing chasm between law professors and the practicing bench and bar is not a novel subject. Media restlessness about President Trump’s judicial nominees, however, provides a clarifying context for reconsidering the optimal qualifications of law professors. The ABA’s evaluations of judicial nominees may be flawed and nefariously politicized, but at least they value practical experience in a way that hiring committees in law schools by and large have not.

If a prospective law professor lacks extensive practical experience, he or she must have an extensive record of scholarship or teaching. We should expect as much from our law schools as we do from our federal judiciary.

Session Twenty-Four: Richard Bulliet on the History of the World

In Arts & Letters, History, Humanities, liberal arts, Pedagogy, Teaching, Western Civilization on May 30, 2018 at 6:45 am

Here, in the twenty-fourth lecture of his course, The History of the World, Richard Bulliet discusses the Latin West, 1200-1500:

Session Twenty-One: Richard Bulliet on the History of the World

In Arts & Letters, Eastern Civilizaton, Historicism, History, Humanities, liberal arts, Pedagogy, Teaching on April 25, 2018 at 6:45 am

Here, in the twenty-first lecture of his course, The History of the World, Richard Bulliet discusses the History of the World to 1500 CE, focusing on Mongol Eurasia and its Aftermath:

Session Twenty: Richard Bulliet on the History of the World

In Arts & Letters, Eastern Civilizaton, Historicism, History, Humanities, liberal arts, Pedagogy, Teaching on April 11, 2018 at 6:45 am

Here, in the twentieth lecture of his course, The History of the World, Richard Bulliet discusses the History of the World to 1500 CE, focusing on Mongol Eurasia and its Aftermath:

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