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Endowments Are Still Massive–-So Spend!

Many people think the colleges and universities are overreacting to the sharp drop in their endowments. Lynne Munson, former deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is one of these critics. In a letter (subscription only) to the Chronicle of Higher Education, she argues that higher ed endowments haven’t lost much value if you put the recent drop in context of the astonishing gains of the last few years.

She writes: “College and university endowments increased, on average, 17.2 percent in the 2007 fiscal year and 10.7 percent in 2006. Taking compounded gains into account, these funds went up more than 26 percent just in the two years preceding their recent decline. And endowment increases at wealthy schools soared far past those averages. Harvard and Yale Universities increased the size of their endowments 45 percent from 2005 to 2007.

“So how concerned should we be that higher-education endowments have suffered a dramatic loss? The answer is: not very. Today college and university endowments are basically worth what they were in 2005. In other words, they’re massive….Being concerned about the value of college and university endowments today is a little like worrying about whether Warren Buffett still has enough inheritance to share among his children.”

The real problem, Munson argues, is that colleges will cite their recent losses to justify cutting endowment spending. Before the market drop, the colleges had come under heavy pressure from Congress and the public to spend at least the minimum payout required of private foundations–five percent.

In a recent survey, 27 percent of colleges and universities said they would decrease endowment spending while only 1 percent planned an increase. Munson writes: “This is the absolute reverse of the reaction they should be having at a time when students and families need help — particularly since colleges still have plenty to share.”

Munson currently studies college and university endowments for the Institute for Jewish and Community Research.

How to Finesse a Student Occupation

What kind of mark does NYU deserve for its handling of its student occupation? Let’s give the university a “B-plus” or even an “A” for a performance marred only by a poor end game—immediately reinstating the suspended perpetrators of the sandbox revolution, thus letting them claim that they had won. (“We did it”, said the Take Back NYU web site. “You made our cry heard around the world and it worked!!”)

The University of Rochester deserves a “D-minus” for caving in last month to an SDS sit-in only nine hours after it started. The university did not yield to the occupiers’ major demand—divestment in Israel—but it promised economic and humanitarian aid, including scholarships for Gaza students. Universities and colleges would do well to plan ahead for more anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian occupations by the hard left. More than 20 student occupations have been mounted in Britain and sponsors want to inspire similar actions across the pond.

In preparing for such occupations, American administrations should take a look at a model response from the 1960s, possibly the only “A-plus” in the student occupatrion sweepstakes. It took place at the University of Chicago, drew little publicity at the time and is recalled by few today. The Chicago Maroon, the university newspaper, wrote recently that “awareness of this story is mostly limited to its eyewitnesses” and is “nearly absent from the collective memories passed down to each new generation of students.”

The central figure in the story is the late Edward Levi, president of the university, later to be the attorney general (under President Ford) who cleaned up the justice department after the Watergate mess. He faced a far more serious threat than NYU did last month. NYU had a handful of comic protesters, who explained that they wanted to “consense” (they meant form a consensus), screamed about brutality without being touched, and bitterly accused the employees who evicted them of drinking “corporate water.” Then there was the demand that NYU reconsider the lifting of its ban on selling Coca Cola. The administration disarmed protesters by offering food, even vegetarian options. It’s always hard to hate oppressors who care about the vegan menu. In contrast, the Chicago protesters were sophisticated and experienced. Some were members of Students for a Democratic Society and many went on to join the terrorist Weather Underground.

Levi had taken office at a tense time, only a few months after the upheaval at the 1968 Democratic national convention. On January 30th, more than 400 students took over the administration building, the third occupation of a campus building in four years. Vietnam and anger at “the system” were obvious issues. So was resentment that students played no role in university governance. But the excuse for the takeover was the sociology department’s decision not to rehire Marlene Dixon, an eccentric Marxist and radical feminist who had drawn attention by chanting “Work, study, get ahead, kill!” to students during Levi’s inaugural procession.

Despite heavy pressure to call in police, Levi refused to do so. No police meant no photos of abused students and therefore no dramatic storyline. “The whole thing builds to the police raid,” said classics professor James Redfield, decribing the ideal conditions for a successful student takeover. “That’s the big scene and when that doesn’t happen, they don’t quite know what to do.”

Levi refused to capitulate or negotiate. Students generally supported the administration. Faculty was split, and on the seventh day, Milton Friedman held a press conference vehemently opposing amnesty. Left alone for 16 days, the protesters grew weary and left the building. After the 1966 sit-in, a faculty body had recommended “appropriate disciplinary action, not excluding expulsion” if another takeover occurred. That’s what happened in 1969. Levi called 165 students in for hearings, suspended 81 and expelled 42. Students who convincingly expressed remorse got off the hook. In statements afterward, Levi talked about the integrity and civility of the university, its mission to pursue truth and the need to resist coercion. He said, “There are values to be maintained. We are not bought and sold and transformed by that kind of pressure.”

During the takeover, a bomb threat was called in and someone threw a typewriter during a confrontation among students. During an SDS-sponsored rally against the disciplinary committee, student kicked in the door of Levi’s house. But the tumult that burst forth on other campuses subsided at the University of Chicago. This success in Chicago in the 60s and NYU today should lead other colleges and universities to take note. The low key, no-police, no-negotiation strategy works.

NYU Is Safe Again

New York University students, or at least a few dozen of them, have just set several records for student occupations of a campus building: fewest occupiers, shortest occupation (3 days) , least support among the student body and longest list of demands. Surely the strange litany of demands had much to so with the adventure’s quick collapse. The protesters wanted public disclosure of NYU’s endowment and operating budget, a student on the university board of trustees collective bargaining for TAs and student workers, tuition kept at or below the rate of inflation, access to the library for the general public, and priority for student groups in building owned or leased by NYU. After his list, the demands got showier: 13 scholarships for Gaza students, extra NYU supplies sent to rebuild Gaza University, amnesty for all occupiers and—perhaps to guard against the possibility that the occupation would be taken seriously– a serious reconsideration of the lifting of the campus ban against Coca-Cola. Nothing about a longed-for reduction of salt in cafeteria French fries, however.

Noam Chomsky, clearly dodging the Coca-Cola issue, put out a statement supporting the protesters’ call for “universities to end their participation in the brutal oppression of Palestinians.” The New York Daily News published an editorial making fun of the occupiers as weeneies and wusses, and mocked their slogan, “Take Back the University.” Who took the university, the News asked. “Was it the Klingons?” Two NYU alumni set up a web site, “Fake Back NYU” explaining that the protesters may seem laughable, “largely because they speak a language of knee-jerk-faux-liberal-college-speak.” The Washington Square News said it had interviewed thirty NYU students and not one of them fully supported the list of demands. Maybe the occupiers, 18 of them now under suspension, just got their timing wrong. Takeovers and non-negotiable demands seem to work better in the spring and fall, when the weather is better.

A Crucifix Controversy at BC

Over the winter break, Boston College placed in its classrooms crucifixes and other Christian symbols, many of them brought back from historically Catholic countries by BC students studying there. To the surprise of no one, this turned out to be controversial at the Jesuit-run institution. Any lurch in the direction of religion by religious colleges is bound to leave some professors aghast. Chemistry professor Amir Hoveyda said: “A classroom is a place where I am supposed, as a teacher, to teach without any bias, to teach the truth. And when you put an icon or an emblem or a flag, it confuses the matter.” There’s a lot to unpack in that statement. Professor Hoveyda apparently thinks he will be unable to teach the truths of chemistry in a classroom containing a Christian symbol. The power of a Jesus image is apparently so strong that the professor believes he will be unable to function in a bias-free manner

And it isn’t just a crucifix. In his view, “an icon, an emblem or a flag” automatically brings bias to the class. (Make that the American flag, which is recurrently controversial in the academy and disdained by many as a symbol of imperialist aggression. It was banned on some campuses after 9/11 out of deference to foreign students who might have been as unsettled by its presence). The casual linking of flag and crucifix as troubling images recalls the writings of sociologist Peter Berger. He saw a connection between the increasing obeisance of believers to the “cultured despisers of religion” and the increasingly “large number of Americans (who ) seem to apologize for the basic character if not the very existence of their own country.” Both forms of back-pedaling, he thought, point to a hollowing out of traditional symbols.

A few professors used the “discomfort” argument, a powerful one on the modern campus: anything that makes me feel uncomfortable is intolerable. This puts the crucifix in the same category as the painting that discombobulated a feminist professor at Penn State years ago. She said she felt harassed by a copy of Goya’s famous “Naked Maja,” though the painting had been hanging there in class for decades before it began harassing her. The “discomfort” argument can also be called “the sensitive person’s veto.” The only way to avoid the veto is to ban any imagery that offends anyone, even Christian images at Christian colleges. To its credit, BC is unwilling to do that.

Who Is the Real “Fascist Bastard”?

The case of Jonathan Lopez, the Los Angeles Community college student who allegedly was called a “fascist bastard” by his speech professor for delivering a Christian speech, has indeed touched a nerve, as his lawyer, David French of the Alliance Defense Fund said.
Once again the mainstream press got a few things askew. The Los Angeles Times, reporting Lopez’s suit over the issue, said the student was delivering a speech against gay marriage. Other news outlets, from UPI to MSNBC, picking the story up from the Times, said so too. But there’s no evidence on the table for that. Lopez cited Romans 10:9 and Matthew 22:37-38, which don’t deal with marriage at all. Maybe Lopez did refer to gay marriage somewhere in his speech. We don’t really know what set the professor off. Legal papers filed by Lopez say the speech was about God and miracles.

The Times reporter also thought the Lopez lawsuit raised a difficult issue “testing the balance between First Amendment rights and school codes on offensive speech.” Some reporters, conditioned by campus orthodoxy, think constitutional rights and unconstitutional speech codes somehow have equal weight. But “balance” is not an issue here and there is no evidence so far that Lopez did anything wrong. According to his court papers, he was asked to give a speech on any subject of his own choosing and did so, but the teacher didn’t like the topic, called him a “fascist bastard” and refused to give him a mark. Lopez says the teacher said, “Ask God for a grade.” What made Lopez a “fascist bastard”? If voting for a referendum opposing gay marriage does it, then California contains more than seven million “fascist bastards.” If belief in Christianity is the test, then the state is probably home to 20 million or so FBs.

As usual when some aspect of the dominant campus belief system is challenged, the first reaction is to condemn and punish, not to tolerate or discuss. Ordinarily, a quick appeal is made to a broad and vague speech code. Since speech codes are unconstitutional at public colleges, speech-control rules are often embedded in sexual harassment regulations or disguised as a code of behavior. The code of Los Angeles Community College bans “verbal, visual or physical conduct” that “has the purpose or effect of having a negative impact upon the individual’s work or academic performance.” What, exactly, is a “negative impact”? No one really knows, but anyone formally accused of having one, even unintentionally, is in danger of being found guilty. But every so often, word gets out about these Star Chamber proceedings, and if the publicity is high enough and the student threatens to sue, the college has to back down. That seems to be the scenario here. Campus restrictions on free speech are still suffocating, but sometime dissenters win.

The President, the Preacher, and the Proposition

Gay activists are giving Rick Warren the full treatment, accusing him of homophobia and hate speech and of comparing gay marriage to incest. None of this is true, as the mainstream press will eventually get around to mentioning, perhaps as early as next week.

Warren supports full rights and privileges for civil unions—health and insurance benefits, visiting rights, etc.—and has done so for some time. He simply does not want to alter a definition of marriage that has been supported in every culture and every religion for some 5,000 years. A large majority of American feel that way. Are they all “homophobes” or do they just have a conception of marriage different from that of gay activists?

Warren points out that no practical benefit for gays is involved in the Proposition 8 ruckus—in California, all the benefits of marriage were extended to gays in 1999 under a domestic partnership law.

Does Warren really think gay unions are like incest? No. Talking to Steve Waldman of BeliefNet.com, Warren offered a list of partnerships that he doesn’t believe qualify for the term “marriage”: a committed boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, “a brother and sister being together, an older guy marrying a child and a guy having multiple wives.”

It is not a bright idea to denounce as a hater and bigot a person as widely admired around the country as Rick Warren, especially when he shows no indication of hate or bigotry and has contributed millions to the fight against AIDS. It is also not bright to denounce black people as “niggers” for voting 70 percent in favor of Prop. 8, as happened at a few rallies in California, with some of the n-words directed even at black gays sensibly trying to ward off such attacks by wearing anti-Prop 8 t-shirts.

Blacks voted heavily for Prop. 8 because they do not see it as a civil rights issue. If blacks don’t agree with gay activists on this, it’s no surprise that the rest of the country doesn’t see a civil rights issue here either. Alas, gays may be locking themselves into a strategy of denouncing and attacking the people they should be trying to win over. Rick Warren says, “Gays in California already have their rights. What they desire is approval and validation from those who disagree with them and they are willing to force it by law if necessary.”

Prop. 8 and its aftermath are the first time in the four decades since Stonewall that the gay movement has started to look like an organized tantrum—ugly threats, anti-black rhetoric, intimidation and harassment of Mormons (called ‘morons”) at their homes and temples, even a series of fake anthrax mailings. If gays want to veer away from this path, dropping the “Rick Warren is a hater” rhetoric would be a nice start.

Ideology in the Classroom

Closed Minds? Politics and Ideology in America Universities, published in September to little fanfare, has caught on amid its intended audience: those who believe indoctrination of students is a figment of the conservative imagination and not really a factor on our campuses. The New York Times, calling indoctrination “an article of faith” among conservative critics of the universities, gave the book a boost in a November 2nd article. The authors of the book, George Mason professors Bruce Smith, A. Lee Fritscher and Jeremy Mayer, acknowledge that the professoriate leans the to left–with Democratic party registration reaching 9 to 1 over Republicans at some universities– but argue that this imbalance has no appreciable effects, since most academics tend to avoid political controversy altogether. On the basis of questionnaires, the authors report that 95 percent of professors claim to be trying to be “honest brokers among all competing views” and 81 percent believe ideology plays no role at all in faculty hiring. Asking professors to state whether they are classroom propagandists or fair-minded teachers does not seem to be a rigorous methodology. Just as earnestly, the authors asked professors if students elsewhere on their campus got unfair grades because of their political views. Only one percent said it happens frequently or often. The authors say self-censorship of political and religious views, out of fear of negative reactions, was just as common among very liberal professors as among very conservative ones. And–in another counter-intuitive leap–”discrimination against non-Christians appears to be more widespread than discrimination against conservatives.” The authors spend a good deal of space deploring Ward Churchill on the left and David Horowitz on the right, while depicting faculties as moderates nestled in the middle, So not to worry. Although the universities have become more moderate since the 1990s, the book says, “The media have much preferred the narrative of the lefties in academe taking over.” But this is hardly the preferred narrative of the mainstream media, which have a long record of denying or ignoring patterns of coercion on campus, often giving the issue their full attention, as the Times did with Closed Minds?, only when some study dismisses the issue.

By sticking closely to bland survey questions, the authors are able to sidestep the evidence of regular campus wrongdoing: the freshman orientation and freshman writing programs setting forth the basic campus narrative that oppression by race, gender and class is the core reality of American life; the 800 or so campus speech codes, most of them unconstitutional and used to rein in campus dissent; the rise of “whiteness” studies that depict white people as hopeless victimizers and racists; the ethnic and women’s studies programs that sometimes require students to agree with the teachers’ views as the price of being admitted into courses; the discovery of “diversity loyalty oaths” that professors at a few colleges are required to sign, promising to work diversity themes into classes, even math and science; and the persistent attempts to defund or ban evangelical campus groups because of their theological opposition to homosexuality. Many professors think that the traditional curriculum is such a force for the status quo that they are entitled to use their classrooms to promote a more “progressive” America. Even Stanley Fish, no ally of the right, argues in Save the World on Your Own Time that teachers abdicate their true purpose when they routinely bring their political views into class in attempts to sway their students. Academe has its true horror stories. The University of Delaware residential life program, which required students to accept the theses that all whites are racists, presented its intrusive indoctrination program as a “treatment” for the faulty notions of students. Schools of education stress the proper “dispositions” of students, which often turn out to be the acceptance of the agenda of the cultural left, including gay marriage, radical environmentalism and redistribution of wealth. At Washington State, an entrenched educrat frankly admitted that Justice Antonin Scalia would probably flunk the school’s “dispositions” test.But the frank imposition of political tests is rarer than the pressure professors and administrators often apply to let students know which opinions are considered illegitimate on campus. Peter Wood, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, writes:

“Although there are plenty of professors who are eager to persuade students of the merits of their own political outlook and are willing to transgress the traditional boundary between instruction and advocacy, the real issue is not so much the pontificating professor as it is the campus as a self-enclosed social world in which some narratives have high status. The student eager to show that he or she “gets it” and isn’t some sort of clueless dolt who adopts the postures that need to be adopted.”  Closed Minds? doesn’t deal with any of this. At one point the authors write: “We are not comfortable with the idea that the major universities should be engines for major social change: they are neither organized for nor suited to such a role.” Good point, but their study fails to come to grips with professors who disagree.