Thursday, May 29, 2014

A New Entry in the Annals of Academic Cravenness

By Joseph Epstein

For those who have not yet caught up with it, in the academic world the phrase "trigger warning" means alerting students to books that might "trigger" deleterious emotional effects. Should a Jewish student be asked to read "Oliver Twist" with its anti-Semitic caricature of Fagin, let alone "The Merchant of Venice," whose central figure is the Jewish usurer Shylock? Should African-American students be required to read "Huckleberry Finn," with its generous use of the "n-word," or "Heart of Darkness," which equates the Congo with the end of rational civilization? Should students who are ardent pacifists be made to read about warfare in Tolstoy and Stendhal, or for that matter the Iliad? As for gay and lesbian students, or students who have suffered sexual abuse, or those who have a physical handicap . . . one could go on.

Pointing out the potentially damaging effects of books began, like so much these days, on the Internet, where intellectual Samaritans began listing such emotionally troublesome books on their blogs. Before long it was picked up by the academy. At the University of California at Santa Barbara, the student government suggested that all course syllabi contain trigger warnings. At Oberlin College the Office of Equity Concerns advised professors to steer clear of works that might be interpreted as sexist or racist or as vaunting violence.

Movies have of course long been rated and required to note such items as Adult Language, Violence, Nudity—ratings that are themselves a form of trigger warning. Why not books, even great classic books? The short answer is that doing so insults the intelligence of those supposedly serious enough to attend college by suggesting they must not be asked to read anything that fails to comport with their own beliefs or takes full account of their troubled past experiences.

Trigger warnings logically follow from the recent history of American academic life. This is a history in which demographic diversity has triumphed over intellectual standards and the display of virtue over the search for truth. So much of this history begins in good intentions and ends in the tyranny of conformity.

Sometime in the 1950s, American universities determined to acquire students from less populous parts of the country to give their institutions the feeling of geographical diversity. In the 1960s, after the great moral victories of the civil-rights movement, the next obvious step was racial preferences, which allowed special concessions to admit African-American students. In conjunction with this, black professors were felt to be needed to teach these students and, some said, serve as role models. Before long the minority of women among the professoriate was noted. This, too, would soon be amended. "Harvard," I remember hearing around this time, "is looking for a good feminist."

Read the rest here.

1 comment:

  1. Private Equity Limited Partnership Agreements

    Below are the twelve private equity limited partnership agreements that we located through the Pennsylvania Treasury E-Contracts library. It is almost certain that no one, certainly no one associated with the private equity industry, was aware that the Pennsylvania Treasury Department made these documents public, since as you can see, the agreements themselves contain stringent confidentiality provisions. Moreover, the private equity industry has been so determined to keep these documents secret that in every state, it either has gotten legislation passed, or had attorney general opinions issued, that exempt private equity limited partnership agreements, along with detailed fee and return information, from state Freedom of Information Act laws. This means that they were the only class of contract that state governments entered into that were shielded from public scrutiny.

    or gp's?