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Posts Tagged ‘The American Spectator’

A Different Kind of Score Settling in the #MeToo Age

In Academia, Arts & Letters, The Academy on April 4, 2018 at 6:45 am

This article originally appeared here in The American Spectator.

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Katrin Schultheiss tells her story about enrolling in a doctoral program where so-called “Professor Famous” was on faculty. Professor Famous was, she submits, “an internationally renowned scholar” who “tended to schedule advising meetings during walks to his car to feed the meter.” (Presumably she meant to say that these meetings occurred while he walked to his car, not that he scheduled them as he walked.)

Although Schultheiss doesn’t specifically say so, she implies that Professor Famous was her first adviser. Her “new adviser” after Professor Famous was Professor Prominent, a “well regarded” man “but not a superstar like Professor Famous.” Unfortunately, Professor Prominent disappointed her, failing to comment substantively and promptly on her dissertation.

So she turned to a junior faculty member, a female, for help. This professor (Schultheiss doesn’t give her a playful moniker) diligently and thoughtfully commented on the dissertation, in effect completing the work that Professor Prominent should have done.

Professor Prominent’s nonfeasance has a name: “ghost advising.”

Ghost advising is probably common. I’ve heard similar anecdotes before. They reflect poorly on the professoriate, which already suffers, in some circles, from a reputation for laziness. Stories like these reinforce the stereotype that the university is not “the real world.”

As bad as this story is, however, Schultheiss’s extrapolation from it is unwarranted. She draws from her undeserved mistreatment, and presumably that of others, a grand inference about gender politics. “It has taken me two and a half decades,” she writes, “to recognize that my experience of having a senior male nominal adviser and a female (usually more junior) actual adviser is common throughout academe.”

Rather than use empirical methods to research gender disparities and conditions involving mentorships, rather than derive verifiable statistics and measurable data, Schultheiss disseminated a mass email to an unspecified number of female historians asking “whether they had ever served as a ghost adviser for the students of a male colleague.” She claims to have received over 100 affirmative responses to this unscientific poll.

Just how many people were on her email list? Were they selected at random? Did she know them personally? Or were they strangers? Did they inhabit different regions, types of schools, and stages in their career? Did she employ statistical models? Why did she write to historians but no faculty in other disciplines?

Schultheiss alleges an anecdotal pattern: senior male faculty members attract female graduate students to their department only to later ignore them or inadequately respond to their work. Without the male mentor, this narrative runs, the young female graduate student finds a female substitute who performs the role of the absent male. The accusation is that female faculty, by helping female graduate students, enable senior male faculty to gain prestige on the labor of females. Schultheiss suggests that female faculty systemically assist female graduate students while male faculty get credit for the results.

“I certainly don’t mean to essentialize here,” Schultheiss says as if to temper her rhetoric. “Women can be as arrogant, self-regarding, and oblivious as men.” She adds, “We all know women who neglect their graduate students after fighting to add them to their stable of advisees just as we all know senior men who are diligent and conscientious advisers.”

Then why spend most of her article complaining about male advisers? Instead of an angry-seeming op-ed, why not undertake a careful study to determine whether her hunch about male exploitation of female faculty bears out factually?

Without any hard-earned data or empirical methods to control for variables, she concludes:

Every aspect of the ghost-advising cycle is a product of the gendered behavior norms that are ubiquitous in our society generally. All the players in what might be called the family drama of ghost advising are complicit in perpetuating norms of masculine ambition and feminine helpfulness; of masculine genius and feminine drudgery; of masculine self-promotion and feminine self-effacement. We are participating in a system that values and rewards a very particular, masculine-coded model of professional and scholarly success, a model that is perpetuated and strengthened by feminine-coded behaviors such as empathy for a wronged student and a reluctance to appear selfish or ambitious.

Does this sweeping, expansive, unqualified complaint (every aspect, all players) have merit? Is it true that academic women “are expected to play the role of nurturing mother to a struggling student or supportive wife to a brilliant and ambitious male colleague”? (Schultheiss states that “too many academic women are painfully aware that they are expected to play the role of nurturing mother to a struggling student or supportive wife to a brilliant and ambitious male colleague,” but I suspect, in light of context, she means to say that too many women play that role, not that too many women are aware of that role.)

I chose an adviser for my dissertation early in my doctoral studies. I’m male. My adviser was female. Our relationship broke down, necessitating the intervention of the university ombudsperson and administration. In my opinion, my youngish adviser abused her power due to hostility toward my political beliefs. I have plenty of evidence to back up this view but have pledged confidentiality regarding the conflict that transpired between us. She was my adviser for almost three years and I made no progress towards my dissertation (although the entire manuscript had been drafted) under her direction. When the university aided me in replacing my adviser with a new one, a senior male faculty member, my dissertation was finished less than a year later.

Schultheiss may be correct about systemic gender bias and male-dominated mentorship dynamics. We don’t know for sure, in part because she didn’t do the requisite research before sounding off. Her charged rhetoric about how the system is “deeply rooted in gendered professional norms” is unnecessarily divisive and provocative because she has not attempted to gather numbers to verify her broad charges. She therefore comes across as hostile to men and unwilling to consider the viewpoint of male colleagues, many of whom likely could have corroborated her argument about “power structures” or at least provided her with different perspectives to consider.

The fact that she emailed no males for her polling opens her up to the accusation, or impression, that she has a chip on her shoulder, an axe to grind, that she doesn’t believe figures are needed to substantiate her indictment of the adviser system that purportedly enables heedless, powerful males to exploit young females. Had she asked around, perhaps approached some males about their experiences, she might have heard stories like mine. Learning that a prominent historian was seeking information about bad advisers, young males like me might have reached out to her to share their experiences and thereby diversify her samplings. Of course, those stories might have threatened to undermine the narrative she wanted to tell.

The role of the academic is, among other things, to contribute to the sum of knowledge, to advance scholarly conversations, to teach and employ reliable methods for deepening our understanding of a subject. This cannot be accomplished if one does not address pressing issues civilly and constructively through good-faith dialogue, if one seeks to inflame passions rather than ascertain facts and cultivate trust.

Scholars search for viable answers to concrete problems, or should. Schultheiss’s piece presupposes a problem without offering much in the way of a resolution. With its rousing language, mocking labels for male figures, and strong allegations of systemic impropriety, it may appeal to those already in-the-fold, or those bent on stirring up quick action, but it will alienate those who value civility, collegiality, and moderation. It may even complicate the problem, driving apart with its contentious tone those who are open to practical solutions.

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A Few of My Favorite Things, 2014

In Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Film, Humanities, Literature, Novels, Poetry, Politics, Writing on December 12, 2014 at 7:45 am

Allen 2

I sat down this week to consider my reading habits over the last year and to make reading goals for next year.  As I did so, I started making lists, and I thought I’d share three of them.  Here, in these lists, are fourteen of my favorite writers, magazines or journals, and books that I read in 2014.  I thought about adding a film category, but I grew disenchanted with films this year.

My favorite writers for popular magazines and journals:

I place these names in no particular order; this is not a ranking.

Gracy Olmstead

Brad Birzer

George Scialabba (not as prolific this year)

Gerald Russello

Mark Bauerlein

Stephen Cox (UC San Diego)

Justin Raimondo

Joseph Epstein

Micah Mattix

Julie Baldwin

Bruce Frohnen

Jeffrey Tucker

Paul Gottfried

William Deresiewicz

My favorite books:

This is an eclectic mix. Genre has not factored into my decision. I enjoyed these very different books for very different reasons. Some are new; some aren’t. They’ve made the list because I liked them more than the other books I read this year.

Washington Square by Henry James

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

A Literary Education and Other Essays by Joseph Epstein

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism by Larry Siedentop

Collected Poems: 1952-1993 by W.S. Merwin

Common-Law Liberty by James R. Stoner, Jr.

The Novel: A Biography by Michael Schmidt

The Morality of Pluralism by John Kekes

The Institutes of Biblical Law by R.S. Rushdoony

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

Literary Criticism: From Plato to Postmodernism by James Seaton

Smiling Through the Cultural Catastrophe by Jeffrey Hart

The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson

My favorite popular magazines and journals:

This list was easy; I read every piece these publications run. I do not miss a single essay, article, or review in these outlets.

The American Conservative

The New York Times Book Review

Chronicles

The Freeman

Mises Daily

Pacific Standard

LewRockwell.com

The Imaginative Conservative

The University Bookman

Reason

The American Spectator

The New Criterion

First Things

The Front Porch Republic

The Politics of Paternalism

In America, American History, Conservatism, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law, News and Current Events, Politics, Southern History on July 3, 2013 at 8:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

This first appeared here at The American Spectator.

One of the Supreme Court opinions everyone is buzzing about — last Monday’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, a case involving that school’s affirmative action program — will not be monumental in our canons of jurisprudence.

The petitioner, Abigail Noel Fisher, a young white woman, applied to the university in 2008 and was denied admission. She challenged the decision, arguing that she would have been admitted under a colorblind system. The high court has now remanded the case back to the Fifth Circuit, holding that the lower court failed to properly ascertain whether the affirmative action program was the most narrowly tailored means to achieve the university’s diversity goal. In legal terms, the Fifth Circuit had failed to subject the program to “strict scrutiny.” Thus, additional litigation lies ahead; the case is not even over.

What will be remembered from Monday’s proceedings, though, is Justice Thomas’ concurrence, which treats affirmative action as paternalism — a word he implies but doesn’t use explicitly, at least not here.

The dichotomies “liberal” versus “conservative,” “left” versus “right,” complicate rather than clarify issues such as affirmative action. A better choice of words, if a dichotomy must be maintained, is “paternalism” versus “non-paternalism.” Viewing diversity in this light, as Justice Thomas does, enables us to understand and appreciate the forms that racism and discrimination take.

Those forms often are paternalistic: Person A assumes to understand the plight of person X and undertakes to care for and control him as a father would his children. Even if X were one day to achieve relative equality with A in real terms — opportunity, education, earning capacity — this dominance would persist so long as A views X as a needy inferior, and so long as X allows that presumption to persist.

Thomas’s concurrence places such toxic ideas under a microscope, and exposes the ironic double standards of those who resort to paternalism. For instance, the bulk of his concurrence describes how the university’s arguments in favor of affirmative action are the same or substantially similar to those once used to justify racial segregation and even slavery. “There is no principled distinction,” Thomas writes, “between the University’s assertion that diversity yields educational benefits and the segregationists’ assertion that segregation yielded those same benefits.”

Likewise, he adds, “Slaveholders argued that slavery was a ‘positive good’ that civilized Blacks and elevated them in every dimension of life.” Advocates of slavery and segregationists both argued, in other words, that their policies bettered the conditions of Blacks and minimized racial hostility on the whole. The form of these racist arguments is now being used to justify state discrimination through affirmative action programs.

The segregationists argued that integrated public schools would suffer from white flight; proponents of affirmative action argue that universities will suffer from a lack of diversity if discrimination is not allowed.

The segregationists argued that blacks would become the victims of desegregation once white children withdrew from public schools en masse and that separate but equal schools improved interracial relations; proponents of affirmative action likewise argue that minorities will be the victims if affirmative action programs are deemed unconstitutional and that diversity on campus improves interracial relations.

The segregationists argued that separate but equal schools allowed blacks to enjoy more leadership opportunities; proponents of affirmative action likewise argue that affirmative action programs empower minorities to become leaders in a diverse society.

The segregationists argued that although separate but equal schools were not a perfect remedy for racial animosity, such schools were nevertheless a practical step in the right direction; proponents of affirmative action likewise argue that it, although not ideal, nevertheless generates race consciousness among students.

In the face of these surprising parallels, Justice Thomas maintains that “just as the alleged educational benefits of segregation were insufficient to justify racial discrimination” during the Civil Rights Era, so “the alleged educational benefits of diversity cannot justify racial discrimination today.”

He should not be misunderstood as equating affirmative action with the discrimination unleashed upon blacks and other minorities throughout American history. Although he acknowledges that affirmative action does harm whites and Asians, he is chiefly concerned with how such discrimination harms its intended beneficiaries: above all, blacks and Hispanics. “Although cloaked in good intentions,” Thomas submits, “the University’s racial tinkering harms the very people it claims to be helping.” He adds that “the University would have us believe that its discrimination is…benign. I think the lesson of history is clear enough: Racial discrimination is never benign.”

Why aren’t affirmative action programs — which Justice Thomas at one point refers to as “racial engineering” — benign? He gives several reasons: They admit blacks and Hispanics who aren’t as prepared for college as white and Asian students; they do not ensure that blacks and Hispanics close the learning gap during their time in college; they do not increase the overall number of blacks and Hispanics who attend college; and they encourage unqualified applicants to graduate from great schools as mediocre students instead of good schools as exceptional students. Moreover, Justice Thomas cites studies showing that minorities interested in science and engineering are more likely to choose different paths when they are forced to compete with other students in those disciplines at elite universities. What Justice Thomas considers most damning of all, however, is the “badge of inferiority” stamped on racial minorities as a result of affirmative action.

Just one small personal example: When I was in law school, a few of the guys in my study group began comparing professors, as students do regularly, and they were quite open in their opinion that our black professor could not have been as intelligent, because she had benefited from affirmative action programs. Read the rest of this entry »

The Law is Above the Lawyers

In Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Conservatism, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law, Legal Research & Writing, Literary Theory & Criticism, The Supreme Court, Writing on October 3, 2012 at 8:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

This review appeared here in The American Spectator.

Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts (Thomson West, 2012)

Do not let its girth fool you: Reading Law by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and legal writing guru Bryan A. Garner is an accessible and straightforward clarification of originalism and textualism.* A guide for the perplexed and a manual of sorts for judges, this book presents 57 canons of construction. Each canon is formatted as a rule — e.g., “When the syntax involves something other than a parallel series of nouns or verbs, a prepositive or postpositive modifier normally applies only to the nearest reasonable referent” — followed by a short explanation of the rule.

Frank H. Easterbrook, who provided the foreword to the book, submits that originalism is not about determining legislative intent, but construing legislative enactment. In other words, originalists interpret as strictly as possible the words of the particular text and do not look to the earlier maze of political compromises, equivocations, and platitudes that brought about the text. Each legislator has unique intent; projecting one person’s intent onto the whole legislative body generates a fiction of vast proportion.

That the process of enacting a law is so rigorous and convoluted suggests the importance of adhering closely to the express language of the law; legislators, after all, have taken into account the views of their constituents and advisors and have struggled with other legislators to reach a settlement that will please enough people to obtain a majority. A judge should trust that painstaking process and not overturn or disregard it.

Originalism involves what Stanley Fish, the eminent Milton scholar and literary critic turned law professor, has called “interpretive communities.” That is the very term Easterbrook employs to describe how judges should account for cultural and communal conventions at the time a text is produced: “Words don’t have intrinsic meanings; the significance of an expression depends on how the interpretive community alive at the time of the text’s adoption understood those words.”

To be sure, the original meaning of a text — what reasonable people living at the time and place of its adoption ordinarily would have understood it to mean — is never fully accessible. The meanings of old laws are particularly elusive. When a judge can no longer identify the context of a law by referring to dictionaries or legal treatises available when it was promulgated, then he should defer to the legislature to make the law clearer.

Judges should not impose their interpretative guesses onto the law and, hence, onto the people; nor should judges make new law on the mere supposition, however reasonable, that a text means something that it might not have meant when it was written. “Meaning” is itself a slippery signifier, and it is in some measure the aim of this book to simplify what is meant by “meaning.”

The book is not all about grammar, syntax, and punctuation. It has philosophical and political urgency. The authors propose that the legal system is in decline because of its infidelity to textual precision and scrupulous hermeneutics. A general neglect for interpretive exactitude and consistency has “impaired the predictability of legal dispositions, has led to unequal treatment of similarly situated litigants, has weakened our democratic processes, and has distorted our system of governmental checks and balances.” All of this has undermined public faith in lawyers and judges.

Scalia and Garner, who recently teamed up to write Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (Thomson West, 2009), proclaim themselves “textualists,” because they “look for meaning in the governing text, ascribe to that text the meaning that it has borne from its inception, and reject judicial speculation about both the drafters’ extratextually derived purposes and the desirability of the fair reading’s anticipated consequences.” Most of us, they say, are textualists in the broadest sense; the purest textualists, however, are those who commit themselves to finding accurate meanings for words and phrases without regard for the practical results.

Consequences are the province of legislators. A judge ought to be a linguist and lexicographer rather than a legislator; he or she must be faithful to texts, not accountable to the people as are elected officials. (Leaving aside the issue of elected judges at the state level.) The authors seem to be suggesting that their approach needn’t be controversial. Originalism and textualism are simply names for meticulous interpretive schemes that could lead judges to decisions reflecting either conservative orliberal outcomes. One doesn’t need to be a fan of Scalia to appreciate the hermeneutics in this treatise.

Never have we seen a plainer, more complete expression of originalism or textualism. Reading Law could become a landmark of American jurisprudence, numbered among such tomes as James Kent’s Commentaries on American Law, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s The Common Law, H.L.A. Hart’s The Concept of Law, and Lon L. Fuller’s The Morality of Law. Although different from these works in important ways, Reading Law is equally ambitious and perhaps even more useful for the legal community, especially on account of its sizable glossary of terms, extensive table of cases, impressive bibliography, and thorough index.

Every judge should read this book; every lawyer who cares about law in the grand sense — who takes the time to consider the nature of law, its purpose and role as a social institution, and its historical development — should read this book as well. If Scalia and Garner are correct that the general public no longer respects the institutions of law, then this book is valuable not only for revealing the root causes, but also for recommending realistic and systematic solutions.


* Originalism and textualism are not the same thing; this review treats them as interchangeable only because Judge Easterbrook’s forward uses the term “originalism” whereas Scalia and Garner use the term “textualism,” but each author appears to refer to the same interpretive approach.

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