November 10, 2019

JUDGE JOSE CABRANES: Higher Education’s Enemy Within: An army of nonfaculty staff push for action and social justice at the expense of free inquiry.

American higher education seems to be in a permanent state of crisis. Almost monthly, a federal court has occasion to reprimand some college or university for improperly chilling speech, even as some students continue to complain that campuses are too friendly to the wrong kind of speakers. Many institutions have cut back on faculty hiring, even as the cost of tuition grows. Two basic, and mutually reinforcing, phenomena are behind the chaos on campus.

First, colleges and universities have subordinated their historic mission of free inquiry to a new pursuit of social justice. Consider the remarkable evolution of Yale’s mission statement. For decades the university said its purpose was “to create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge.” The language was banal enough, but nevertheless on the money. In 2016, however, Yale’s president announced a new mission statement, which no longer mentions knowledge. Instead, Yale is now officially “committed to improving the world” and educating “aspiring leaders”—not only through research, but also through “practice.”

Second, American colleges and universities have been overwhelmed by a dangerous alliance of academic bureaucrats and student activists committed to imposing the latest social-justice diktats. This alliance has displaced the traditional governors of the university—the faculty. Indeed, nonfaculty administrators and activists are driving some of the most dangerous developments in university life, including the erosion of the due-process rights of faculty and students, efforts to regulate the “permissible limits” of classroom discussion, and the condemnation of unwelcome ideas as “hate speech.” . . .

The ambitions of university staff are much greater. They seek to achieve diversity, inclusion and equity—defined, ever vaguely, on their terms. And so the nonfaculty staff—who, unlike the faculty, are dedicated to doing rather than deliberating—set the tone on campus.

A similar conceptual confusion has facilitated the rise of today’s student activists.

As I say, he’s entirely right, and indeed you could write a book on all of this stuff. But it’s his bio that makes it particularly significant coming from him: “Judge Cabranes serves on the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was Yale’s first general counsel, and later served as a trustee of Yale, Columbia and Colgate universities.” The establishment is beginning to realize what it’s done to itself.

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