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Federally Funded Censorship

14 Feb

A different version of this was published at The Federalist this morning.

Donald Trump famously tweeted a question of whether schools that don’t protect free speech on campus should lose federal funding, after flamboyant conservative speaker (and Trump promoter) Milo Yiannapolous was prevented from speaking at UC Berkeley earlier this year.

But generous federal funding of universities – which critics say has fueled tuition hikes and the growth of expensive university plant, property and equipment like palatial conference centers and spa-quality gymnasiums – may also create a more permanent threat to free speech on campus.

Almost three million of the the 13 million undergraduate students in the U.S. could be hearing their fellow students talk about “Bert” this year.

But they won’t be talking about Bert of Bert and Ernie, or any other Bert they’ve met before.

They’ll be talking about “BRTS,” Bias Report Teams, a new collegiate institution now found on about 232 campuses that serve those 3 million students.

A new report on free speech on American campuses was just released by FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a report that tabulates and surveys the rise of Bias Response Teams.

While colleges and their surrounding communities have long had mechanisms for addressing ugly hate crimes, BRTs address the subtle slights and micro-aggressions – whether intentional or unintentional – that might make someone feel unsafe.

BRTs are mainly staffed by deans, administrators, and campus staff borrowed from diversity, student life, LGBT, and Equal Opportunity offices. But FIRE reports, 42 percent also include law enforcement personnel, what FIRE called “literal speech police.”

The BRT at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. deemed the message “Make America Great Again” written on the whiteboards of two female faculty members of color as a “racial attack.” Pro-Trump messages written in chalk at the Emory University in Atlanta and the University of Michigan also prompted school-wide investigations.

BRT officials at the University of Oregon spoke with staff members of the campus newspaper in response to an anonymous complaint alleging a lack of coverage of transgender people.

Mike Jensen, an adjunct professor at the University of Northern Colorado was warned “not to revisit transgender issues in his classroom” after a student complained about If somebody has never been a woman, how can they know they feel like a woman?

“Inviting students to report a broad range of speech to campus authorities casts a chilling pall over free speech rights,” Adam Steinbaugh, senior program officer at FIRE, said in a statement. “Bias response teams solicit reports of a wide range of constitutionally protected speech, including speech about politics and social issues. These sometimes anonymous bias reports can result in interventions by conflict-wary administrators who then provide ‘education,’ often in the form of a verbal reprimand, or even explicit punishment.”

Martin Berger, the Acting Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at the University of California–Santa Cruz told AMI that BRTs are necessary. “For many year bias reports, if they were dealt with at all, were handled haphazardly.  Campuses in recent years have sought to build multi-disciplinary teams capable of handling any incident that arises.”  Berger says there were hundreds of reports last year at UC Santa Cruz, though he doesn’t know exactly how many.

So far, according to Steinbaugh, BRTs are mainly staffed by deans, administrators, law enforcement, and campus staff borrowed from diversity, student life, LGBT, and Equal Opportunity offices.  But just as these bureaucracies once did not have their own separately funded staff and offices, separately funded BRTs may be the next bureaucratic growth to sprout under the rain of federal funding.

Even the University of Chicago, whose Provost famously issued a statement against restrictive campus speech codes in 2016, has a Bias Report Team.

I interviewed Carleton College Professor Jeffrey Snyder for this article, because he’d written for The New Republic last year critical of the chilling effect of BRTs on free speech.  I asked about the irony of the University of Chicago promulgating the “Chicago Statement” while having a BRT, and he agreed but said it was part of a more general problem where administration and faculty are often at cross purposes and have opposed interests – a point I was interested in hearing in part because it raises the question of whether government funding doesn’t tend to expand the administrative bureaucracy and its power relative to that of faculty, and shift the mission of schools away from teaching.  (Curiously Dr. Snyder a day and a half later sent me an email saying I could not use his quotes if I was writing an article for Breitbart.  When I said I was, as I had originally stated, writing a short newsy piece on the FIRE report for my own employer, the American Media Institute Newswire, and then a longer more op ed-ish piece for The Hill or the Daily Caller, and I sent him a rough draft of this article, with his quotes so he could see them, Dr. Snyder decided he did not want to be quoted. Apparently it’s dangerous to be an academic and be quoted in a favorable way by an author who might not be writing for politically correct venues.)

When Dr. Snyder surveyed the existing BRTs only a year ago he found only 100. This year the FIRE report finds over twice as many.  The FIRE report’s author, Adam Steinbaugh, says that though the number of BRT’s is growing, he doubts it doubled in one year, and he suspects Snyder just had a different method of surveying campuses (Steinbaugh surveyed 500).

Off-campus rioters used the occasion of a peaceful protest by students of  Yiannapolous at U.C. Berkeley last week to set fire to university property.  A group of students and faculty at NYU protested another conservative speaker, Gavin McGinness, the next day.  Earlier this week the student government at Santa Clara University banned its local chapter Turning Point USA, a group that advocates “fiscal responsibility, free markets, and limited government,” reportedly claiming that such beliefs and discussions were in themselves racist and made liberal students uncomfortable.

Steinbaugh (and Snyder) points out that though conservative and libertarian groups feature heavily in reports on campus censorship, campus speech codes and institutions like Bias Report Teams can and are being used by almost anyone, including white students who claim they are offended by Black Lives Matter style protests or lecturers claiming policing in America targets blacks, by conservative students claiming they are offended by progressive groups claiming then candidate Donald Trump was racist, and even by progressive and minority students squabbling among themselves.  In a 2015 incident, discussed by FIRE founder Greg Lukianoff in an article he co-wrote for The Atlantic, when a group of Asian students at Brandeis University had an installation on campus attempting to raise awareness about smaller, unintended slights referred to as “micro-aggressions” – things like being questioned about “where did your family come from?” or “what was your first language?” – only to have it shut down by other students claiming that the installation itself was a micro aggression.

According to FIRE, only half of the BRTs surveyed said they believed there was a tension between free speech and combatting bias.  Almost half involved law enforcement officials in their bias reports.

Steinbaugh thinks the impetus behind the growth of BRTs is more bureaucratic than purely ideological, resulting more from campus administrative bureaucrats importing harassment reporting and counseling practices from corporate HR departments than from ideas about taking power from or censoring privileged groups and empowering minorities derived from academics like Herbert Marcuse or Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick.

Trying to find proponents of Bias Report Teams who will discuss them can be difficult.  Two days spent emailing Dr. Archie Ervin, president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education finally resulted in his secretary reporting that he said he was getting ready to go on a trip and could not talk.  Attempts to reach those in charge of Bias Reports at the University of Chicago was similarly difficult.  The number used to make a Bias Report asks the caller to choose from a menu including being connected to the police or to the “Dean on Call,” with the latter option leading to a beeping voice mail box with no greeting or other message.  One University of Chicago dean’s office referred me to an employee in a student affairs office with an LGBT portfolio who is on the University website, but when called turns out to have left the university the year previous.

Dozens of email queries to campus BRT offices around the country and to a variety of civil rights groups produced only one response. to the earlier quoted Martin Berger, Acting Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Campus Diversity Officer for Faculty.  Berger argues that FIRE is wrong to be concerned that police officers on are on the BRTs: “They seem concerned that 42% of bias teams contain members of law enforcement.  They apparently take this as a sign that police are used to suppress free speech… Campuses in recent years have sought to build multi-disciplinary teams capable of handling any incident that arises.”  But lumping “any incident” reported as “bias” seems to be exactly the problem: having a belief, stating a belief, and other forms of protected speech, are lumped together with violence, threats, intimidation.  In a previous era much of what most people would view as “bias” that should be punished on campus would simply be considered “hazing.”  But punishing “hazing” means punishing actions, not protected speech or beliefs – it is not a tool of re-education to eliminate wrong thoughts. (A few university BRTs – George Washington University, the University of Virginia – do actually also refer to the older concept of “hazing.”)

If President Tump and the GOP decide to reign in federal spending on post-secondary education, especially in the non-STEM subjects, highlighting the institutionalization of censorship on campus may give them plenty of talking points and anecdotes that will resonate with the voters who elected them.

Milo: Media legitimizes violence against dissidents

3 Feb

Stephen Bannon and the Media Meltdown

18 Nov

This was published earlier today at The Daily Caller.

As Democrats – or at least people hired by groups funded by George Soros – break windows, burn cars, and assault suspected Trump supporters in liberal cities around the country, neither President Barack Obama or Presidential-wannabe Hillary Clinton have admonished their violent followers to return to peaceful protests.

Only Senator Bernie Sanders has.

But there is another danger to public safety President Obama and Presidential-wannabe Clinton have not addressed.

That’s the imminent danger to those who work in, or near, America’s newsrooms.

The American media, now exposed as frauds, liars, and incompetent pollsters – in the case of the New York Times, which has belatedly apologized, admittedly so – are doubling down, and are so much in denial of reality they are on the edge of a psychotic break.

It’s only a matter of time before one of them goes postal, and comes to work with a gun, shooting the innocent receptionists, secretaries, advertising sales reps, and cleaning crews who are unfortunate enough to be working when the final wires snap.

So far they are concentrating their ire on one individual, former Breitbart publisher Stephen K. Bannon.  President-elect Donald Trump has chosen him to be the chief strategist  for the White House, a position for which associates say he is better suited than the chief of staff position that went to former RNC chair Reince Preibus, because Bannon is said to favor casual dress and a looser schedule than the chief of staff position would require.

But casual dressing is not what the establishment media is attacking Bannon for.  They claim – with no evidence – that Bannon is a “white nationalist”…or maybe encouraged or mainstreamed “white nationalists”…or maybe supported something they call the “alt right” which they then associate with white nationalists.  Or something.  Anyway, the party that earns about half of its campaign donations, after Wall Street of course, by kidnapping poor black children and selling them to National Education Association and American Federation for Teachers bureaucrats in exchange for candidate support, is as usual screaming that the people who beat them at the ballot box are racists.

Bannon doesn’t really need me to defend him.  Bernard Marcus, of the Republican Jewish Committee has already publicly said he knows Bannon and he is no anti-semite.  I’m a lowly gay libertarian writer at Breitbart and have barely met Bannon, though I have been to an event at his home.

If you check any of the TV or print stories denouncing Stephen Bannon and Breitbart, you will mainly see the headlines of two articles cited over and over.  You won’t see the articles quoted.  You won’t find a link to them so you can read them.  You won’t learn who the authors are.  You will just be told the headlines, and be expected to conclude from that that Breitbart is an oceanic cesspool of bigotry with Stephen Bannon as its slimy Poseidon.

The first article is entitled “Bill Kristol – Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew”.  I’m personally not a fan of headlines that discuss people’s religion, but what the smear merchants aren’t telling you is that the author of this piece, David Horowitz, is himself a Jew and a constant critic of anti-Semitism.  He simply thinks Kristol inserts himself into elections in ways – helping recruit independent conservative Evan McMullin to run for President, for example – that are rarely helpful for Republicans.  But the smear merchants on TV or newspapers want you to assume that this article was anti-semitic.

The second article was headlined “Gay Rights Have Made Us Dumber It’s Time to Get Back in the Closet” and the author is one of Breitbart’s gay contributors (I am among them), its most famous gay editor and contributor, the satirist and provocateur Milo Yiannopolous.  One can easily not like all of Milo’s shtick, though he’s very clever and very funny and almost exclusively targets the intellectually dishonest academic and media types conducting the smear merchantry against Stephen Bannon.  But what none of the smear merchants will tell you is that this inflammatory headline is to an article written by a very openly gay man criticizing parts of the gay establishment.

The media have few tools.  Mainly all they know how to do is scream “racism” (or in the monotone hectoring of Presidential wannabe Hillary Clinton “racist… sexist… homophobic… xenophobic… Islamaphobic…”  What they actually fear is that a “paradigm shift” is happening, to use the academic jargon of the 70s, or we are at a “tipping point,” to use the jargon of a few years ago.  They have been the American Pravda for decades, the well remunerated propaganda class of the ruling political elite.

It is projection that journalist’s journalist Jack Shafer labels Breitbart to be Pravda in the pages of the DNC house organ Politico.

Now a populist politician has beaten their elite candidate.  And he has his own media allies.  They are shut out.  Trump is already tweeting rebukes at them when they lie.

They have no idea what to do.

So the only thing they can do is to slime and decry as a racist the person they most fear, their media rival, Stephen Bannon, who helped Andrew Breitbart build an alternative to the mainstream media, who then beat them in an election they were sure they would win, and who is now a chief strategist in the enemy administration-elect.