Category Archives: Education

Time to Reform the Kangaroo Courts on Campus

Right after the VA, Trump might give some attention to cleaning up the DOE.
WSJ 12/28/2016    By Robert Shibley

The University of Minnesota football team’s dramatic walkout in protest of what they saw as unfair treatment of 10 fellow players in a campus sexual-assault investigation came to an end on Dec. 17. But it made national headlines for imperiling the team’s trip to the Dec. 27 Holiday Bowl and for the players’ demands that their accused teammates receive a “fair hearing” with a “diverse review panel.”

The solidarity shown by the University of Minnesota players and the attention the team’s protest drew could prove a powerful blow to the Education Department’s efforts to regulate sex and speech on campus through the abuse of Title IX, the federal law against sex discrimination in education.

In September, following allegations that Minnesota football players had sexually assaulted another student, Minneapolis law enforcement investigated and declined to charge any player with a crime. Yet the university’s Title IX investigation into the same incident—which lacked full access to some video evidence used by police—resulted in 10 players’ suspensions from the team, angering members and inspiring the walkout.

Such wildly divergent outcomes between campus and police investigations erode confidence in both systems. Yet they have become more common than ever since the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) began to do end-runs around the law five years ago.

In April 2011, the OCR surprised colleges by announcing in a “Dear Colleague” letter that, henceforth, campus tribunals involving sexual misconduct had to use a standard of proof known as “the preponderance of the evidence,” which requires that they be only 50.01% certain when determining whether a student committed an offense. Given that campus courts routinely deny students counsel, the right to face their accusers, access to evidence, and even the presumption of innocence, this mandate banned what was often a student’s only meaningful due-process protection: that fact-finders be more than just barely persuaded of their guilt.

Worse, in May 2013, in a settlement with the University of Montana that it labeled a blueprint for other colleges and universities, the OCR, joined by the Justice Department, determined that all “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including speech, should be deemed sexual harassment. Even a single, unwelcome, overheard dirty joke is “harassment” under this standard.

The results have been profound. My organization, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which has sponsored lawsuits challenging the OCR’s decisions, has identified more than 130 lawsuits filed by students who claim they were wrongly punished for sexual misconduct since the Dear Colleague letter was issued. Victims and accusers also routinely complain of bad investigations by college administrators who are poorly equipped to handle felony crimes.

The OCR’s debased definition of harassment, meanwhile, has led to absurdities such as a feminist professor being investigated for criticizing Northwestern University’s Title IX efforts in a newspaper column. Confidence in the system is low for very good reason.

The change of administrations in Washington offers a valuable opportunity to erase these failed policies. First and foremost, the OCR should officially renounce both its “preponderance of evidence” mandate and its wildly overbroad definition of sexual harassment. Because the agency chose to make these changes through fiat rather than the notice and comment procedures required by the Administrative Procedure Act, such a reversal is fairly simple.

The OCR should also change its definition of peer sexual harassment to exactly track the Supreme Court’s language in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999). Davis defines harassment as behavior that is targeted, discriminatory, and “so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it can be said to deprive the victims of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school.” This standard fulfills the requirements of the First Amendment while giving schools the ability to combat real harassment. While the OCR has claimed that its standard tracks Davis, few schools treat it that way—and neither does the OCR.

If further rules are necessary, the OCR must work with Congress or go through the official regulatory process as required by law. Since 2011, defenders of the embarrassingly minimal standards of campus courts have argued that they are sufficient because schools find a student “responsible” for rape rather than “guilty” of it. Yet the ultimate determination being made—did the assault happen or not?—is exactly the same.

Campus courts might not be real courts, but sexual assault is equally serious whether it happens on campus or off and deserves to be treated as such. New leadership at the Education Department dedicated to equal justice for every student could do much to help schools like the University of Minnesota fight sex crimes on campus while improving the fairness and accuracy of campus discipline and respecting the Constitution.

Mr. Shibley is executive director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).


Obama’s Giant Student-Loan Con

One of the biggest scams in my memory..

Democrats devised the government takeover of student loans as an entitlement that might never be repaid, though they sold it as a money saver. New evidence of this giant con arrives courtesy of a report this week by the Government Accountability Office that estimates the taxpayer losses at $108 billion and counting.

To help pay for ObamaCare, Democrats simultaneously federalized the student loan market and projected fictitious savings, all while adding more than $1.2 trillion to the federal balance sheet. The amount keeps increasing like the debt clock. Liberals then cited the government “savings” to peddle the fallacy that the feds make money off student loans—a pretext they then used to sweeten debt forgiveness plans that have helped keep default rates artificially low.

The Education Department claims the national student loan default rate is 11.3%, yet only half of all debt is in repayment. Borrowers can seek forbearance or deferment if they are unemployed, return to school or claim financial difficulties. Or they can enroll in income-based repayment plans that let them discharge the debt after making payments equal to 10% of their discretionary income for 20 years. Those who work in “public service”—government or a nonprofit— can wipe out their debt in 10 years without a tax penalty.

Initially, only students who borrowed in 2014 or later were eligible for these generous loan forgiveness plans. Then President Obama retroactively extended the benefits to buy millennial votes. Over the last three years the share of outstanding federal direct loan dollars in income based repayment plans has doubled to 40%. Costs have exploded. GAO estimates that 5.3 million borrowers, or 24% of former students, have enrolled in income-based repayment plans. They collectively owe $355 billion, $108 billion of which will eventually be forgiven. But this sum covers only loans through the current school year and will likely grow as more borrowers exploit the entitlement. In April the Administration announced a goal of adding two million to the debt-forgiveness rolls over the next year.

The agency scores the Education Department for repeatedly low-balling the cost, which has made its loan forgiveness look more affordable. Over eight years the Administration’s budget estimates for income-based repayment plans have more than doubled to $53 billion. The department now forecasts that taxpayers will pick up about 21% of the cost for loans in these plans.

GAO warns that the department may still be undershooting the actual cost since it “assumes no borrowers will switch into or out” of the plans. The department’s “quality control practices do not ensure reliable budget estimates,” GAO concludes, with hilarious understatement. A company that was this sloppy with its accounting would be prosecuted.

To sum up: The Obama Democrats used student loans and loan forgiveness to buy votes and dissembled about the cost. Now as they leave town they are handing Republicans the bill. As for millennials, they’ll pay in the end with higher tax rates.


Safeguarding Knowledge

Roger Scruton, writing in “What’s the Point of Education?”—a Nov. 3 article for the British magazine, the Spectator: Why does the state take an interest in education? The prevailing view . . . has been that the state takes an interest in education because it is the right of every child to receive it. . . .

The assumption has been, in other words, that education exists for the sake of the child. In my view the state takes an interest in education only because it has another and more urgent interest in something else—namely knowledge. Knowledge is a benefit to everyone, including those who do not and cannot acquire it. How many of our citizens could build a nuclear power station, judge a case in Chancery, read a grant of land in medieval Latin, conduct a Mozart concerto, solve an equation in aerodynamics, repair a railway engine? We don’t need to have the knowledge ourselves, provided there are others, the experts, who possess it. And the more we outsource our memory and information to our iPhones and laptops, the more those experts are needed. If that is so, then the state must ensure that education, however available and however distributed, will reproduce our store of knowledge, and if possible add to it. . . .

The state has another and greater duty which is a duty towards us all—namely, the duty to conserve the knowledge that we need, which can be passed on only with the help of the children able to acquire it.


What’s Happened To The University?

WSJ 11/10/2016   By Frank Furedi

Rancorous trends such as microaggressions, safe spaces, trigger warnings and intellectual intolerance have taken hold at universities with breathtaking speed. Last year’s controversy over Halloween costumes at Yale led to the departure of two respected faculty members, and this year made the fall festival a flashpoint of conflict at campuses across the country. The recent explosion in the number of university administrators, coupled with an environment of perpetual suspicion—the University of Florida urges students to report on one another to its “Bias Education and Response Team”—drives students who need to resolve normal tensions in human interaction to instead seek intervention by mediators, diversity officers, student life deans or lawyers.

As Frank Furedi compellingly argues in this deeply perceptive and important book, these phenomena are not just harmless fads acted out by a few petulant students and their indulgent professors in an academic cocoon. Rather, they are both a symptom and a cause of malaise and strife in society at large. At stake is whether freedom of thought will long survive and whether individuals will have the temperament to resolve everyday social and workplace conflicts without bureaucratic intervention or litigation. Mr. Furedi, an emeritus professor at England’s University of Kent, argues that the ethos prevailing at many universities on both sides of the Atlantic is the culmination of an infantilizing paternalism that has defined education and child-rearing in recent decades. It is a pedagogy that from the earliest ages values, above all else, self-esteem, maximum risk avoidance and continuous emotional validation and affirmation. (Check your child’s trophy case.) Helicopter parents and teachers act as though “fragility and vulnerability are the defining characteristics of personhood.”

The devastating result: Young people are raised into an “eternal dependency.” Parenting experts and educators insist that the views of all pupils must be unconditionally respected, never judged, regardless of their merit. They wield the unassailable power of a medical warning: Children, even young adults, simply can’t handle rejection of their ideas, or hearing ones that cause the slightest “discomfort,” lest they undergo “trauma.”

It is not surprising to Mr. Furedi that today’s undergraduates, having grown up in such an environment, should find any serious criticism, debate or unfamiliar idea to be “an unacceptable challenge to their personas.” He cites a legion of examples from across the Western world, but one Brown University student perhaps epitomizes the psyche: During a campus debate, she fled to a sanctioned “safe space” because “I was feeling bombarded by a lot of viewpoints that really go against my dearly and closely held beliefs.”

The new demands for “balancing” free speech with sensitivity and respect have several unifying themes, according to Mr. Furedi. One is that they are based on the subjective sensitivities of anyone who claims to be offended. If words can cause trauma and are almost akin to violence, an appeal to health and safety guarantees that “the work of the language police can never cease.” Microaggressions, by definition, are committed unconsciously and without intent. Since “it is almost impossible to refute an allegation of microaggression,” the author views them as the ultimate “weaponisation” of offense-taking. Emory University students, for instance, demanded redress for their “genuine concern and pain” after seeing the name of a major presidential candidate written in chalk on campus, an incident proving “that in a world where anything can be triggering, people will be triggered by anything.”

There is a “beguiling” appeal to well-intentioned calls for civility and respect, Mr. Furedi says. After all, “sensitivity is an attractive human feature and essential for minimising conflict.” He cites the Chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley’s seemingly benign exhortation that “we can only exercise our right to free speech insofar as we feel safe and respected.” Yet Mr. Furedi convincingly demonstrates that, by ranking liberty on par with or subordinate to other values, “the deification of the commandment ‘Do Not Offend’” transforms fundamental liberties into liberties “contingent on other people’s sensibility.” Freedom becomes a “negotiable commodity” that inexorably will be bargained away.

Ironically, Mr. Furedi observes, for a movement that claims to be driven by concern for individual empowerment, respect and autonomy, the new campus values actually represent an astonishingly pessimistic and condescending view of the ability of human beings to deal with the basic challenges of life. They are premised on the “supposition that people lack the intellectual or moral independence to evaluate critically the views to which they are exposed.” As a practical matter, the notion that human dignity mandates protection from the pain of “hurtful” speech is “possibly the most counterproductive” rationale for constraining freedom; “people acquire dignity” by learning to deal with “the problems that confront them,” not by relying on the “goodwill” of an administrative elite.

Throughout history, the impulse to censorship has been driven by political or religious zealotry. In the 21st century, Mr. Furedi posits, speech suppression has assumed the mantle of mental-health therapy. But policing actual speech and books is not sufficient. In today’s environment, no matter what you say, it is exclusively the “individual who is hurt or offended . . . who decides what you really meant.” Thus people’s inner lives and imputed motivations, even unconscious ones, have become “legitimate terrain for intervention” by authorities. In an unprecedented twist, students themselves are agitating for the imposition of campus thought control.

Academic freedom is not an academic matter, Mr. Furedi reminds us. It “has a vital significance for the quality of public life.” A generation of litigious college graduates, seeking protection from new ideas and afraid to take any risks, is an ominous glimpse into the future of our public life.

Mr. Shuchman, a New York-based investment fund manager, is also chairman of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.

The battle over microaggressions going on at our universities is both a symptom and a cause of malaise and strife in society at large.