Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies by Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

More about controversial speakers

At the moment CSULA is saying that Ben Shapiro can speak at some future event that includes an opposing viewpoint.  This sounds nice and open and pluralistic on the surface.  However, there are two problems.  The first is that it is being applied selectively.  Most speeches are allowed to go forward without a rebuttal.  There's something to be said for the educational value of structuring all formal activities as debates rather than monologues, but if that educational notion is going to be practiced then in order to avoid becoming censorship it has to be practiced consistently, not selectively.  Otherwise, you're saying that certain viewpoints need no rebuttal or moderation, but others are dangerous and need official opposition.

Second, who's to say what constitutes a valid or sufficient degree of opposition?  If a biologist is talking about research that might lead to a vaccine against a particular disease, is it sufficient to bring in another scientist who believes that the evidence more strongly favors targeting a different molecule?  Or do they have to bring in somebody who believes that vaccines cause autism?  Or somebody who believes that the researcher is pursuing a scientifically sound line of inquiry but also believes that vaccines should be a matter of personal choice rather than a public policy mandate?

If somebody wishes to speak in favor of tighter regulation of stock trading, should the opposing speaker be somebody who believes that trading by humans doesn't need further regulation but agrees that electronic high-frequency trading is dangerous?  Somebody who believes that we should have less regulation of trading?  Somebody who believes that the debate over regulation of financial markets distracts from the bigger issue of problems with capitalism itself?  Which of those viewpoints is sufficient rebuttal?

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The most painful compromise of my academic career thus far

The Cal State system has done many things that deeply offend me, and the CSU has forced me to make many compromises, but the very worst compromise that the CSU has ever pushed me into is defending a smarmy little shit like Ben Shapiro. He had been invited to give a speech to a student organization at Cal State LA (our sister campus), but the campus president canceled his speech because he's an obnoxious firebrand who says offensive things. If the CSU were properly upholding the value of free expression I wouldn't have to say one damn word in defense of Ben Shapiro. I could simply do what I was planning to do, which is to ignore him. Instead, I now feel a responsibility to say that Ben Shapiro is in the right and academics are in the wrong. WHY ARE YOU MAKING ME DO THIS?????

You think I like defending Ben Shapiro? Believe me, I don't, but we live in a world with academic values, and those values need to be guarded by people with convictions. Who's gonna do it? You? I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for being offended, and you curse academic traditionalists. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know. That Shapiro's speech, while repugnant, is necessary for free expression to thrive. And my stance, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, makes spaces safer than you'll ever make them. You don't want the truth because deep down in places you don't talk about in safe spaces, you want me in that committee, you need me in that committee. We use words like academic freedom, debate, and free expression. We use these words as the backbone of a life spent defending something. You use them as a slur. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a scholar who reads and writes under the blanket of the very academic freedom that I am trying to defend, and then questions in the manner in which I defend it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you donate to FIRE. Either way, I don't give a damn what sort of space you think you're entitled to.

You want a free European college? No, you don't. Trust me, you don't. I do, but YOU don't.

This article outlines some of the substantial differences between US and European universities, and they go much deeper than the much-lampooned "climbing walls." (I'm pretty sure that European universities could add a gym for, well, the price of a gym membership.) There are differences in the educational model and the socialization provided. These differences are not just recent things; in the 19th century (and earlier) US academics were noting that our universities and colleges offer undergraduate education at a lower level than their European counterparts.  All of this has happened before and will happen again.
If you want giant lecture classes and sink-or-swim academic models, with physics taught at a far more rigorous level than we currently do it, believe me, that can be provided, and it can be provided more cheaply than the current model. I am positively salivating at the thought of offering it. Shit, I'll take a pay cut to offer it. I have a list of students to fail, and they include YOUR favorite students. Yes, I'm talking to YOU.  Your precious little offspring who gets B+ and A- grades in a California k-12 school?  Your poster child for your grant-funded program?  This One Student who is getting mostly B's but is So Nice And Friendly?  I'll give all of them F's.  ALL OF THEM!!!
Anyway, whether you prefer the US model or the European model depends on what you want from a system, but realize that the differences in educational model are directly related to the differences in funding model.