Notes and Comment Blog

Our short and pithy observations on the passing scene as it relates to the mission of Butterflies and Wheels. Woolly-headed or razor-sharp comments in the media, anti-rationalist rhetoric in books or magazines or overheard on the bus, it’s all grist to our mill. And sometimes we will hold forth on the basis of no inspiration at all beyond what happens to occur to us.

They make free speech an issue

Jul 5th, 2015 12:58 pm | By

Benjamin Jones, communications officer of the National Secular Society, discusses a worrying set of claims by the Director of LSE.

A paper published by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education has claimed that atheists can be “militant” on university campuses, while describing religion as a “public good” and the exclusion of religion from the public sphere as “repressive.”

Professor Craig Calhoun, Director of the London School of Economics, has said atheists make “free speech an issue” in efforts to “challenge the faith and beliefs of religious students”. He described “controversies over religious cartoons” as ‘disruptive to “campus harmony” and compared rows over free speech and blasphemy to ‘clashes’ between religions.

He’s the director of a university – a secular university – but he thinks it’s a bad thing to challenge the beliefs of religious students. It’s a truism, but all the same – universities are supposed to challenge the beliefs of students, especially secular universities. (Religious universities should, but that doesn’t mean they’re seen as having a duty to do that. It makes sense to expect some orthodoxy at a religious university.)

The Professor referred to his university’s outrageous censoring of students for wearing “Jesus and Mo” t-shirts as a “small episode” and said that “harmony was restored eventually but not without acrimony, accusations and threatened lawsuits.” Professor Calhoun fails to acknowledge that any friction was ultimately down to censorious student union officials ordering the removal of materials they deemed “offensive” and the threats of physical removal from LSE officials unless the students censored themselves.

The National Secular Society supported the students involved, Chris Moos and Abhishek Phadnis, back in 2013, after they were threatened with being physically removed from the LSE Freshers’ Fair unless they covered the ‘offensive’ t-shirts. At that time, Professor Calhoun said staff had “acted in good faith”.

Meaning they were “sincere”…but that’s not the issue.

In his paper, Calhoun seems extremely dismissive of secularism. He writes, “Attempts to exclude [religion] from the public sphere are intrinsically repressive.” He doesn’t seem to mind the LSE Student Union physically, literally excluding atheists, humanists and secularists from a literal public space though. His institution had to be threatened with legal action just to exact a modest “half-apology”, as the students in question described it.

Extending his analysis, the Professor compares secularism – and the concept that religion and the state should be separate (not that religious people may not fully participate in public life) – to exclusion and repression of Catholics.

So religious believers get the religious universities, and they get the secular ones too. Public religion is mandatory. You can have any color as long as it’s black (and wears a cross).


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Fellow Food Lion shoppers are worth it

Jul 5th, 2015 12:42 pm | By

From the Onion: a guy who is refreshingly open about his personal life.

Some people never let you know the “real” them. They keep their deepest thoughts and emotions tucked away from the rest of the world. Why they would want to, I’ll never know. I, for one, am refreshingly open about my personal life.

Would you like to know about the problems I’m having with my wife? No need to ask. If you are vaguely acquainted with me, you doubtless already know about the miscarriage, the affair, the second miscarriage, the man from Oklahoma City, and the fact that Gloria’s allergy-relief medication has a dehydrating effect, which necessitates our use of lubricants during sex. (Chances are pretty good you also know that we prefer WET-brand lubricants over Astroglide.)

It’s good to know that. It’s important that we get rid of these silly inhibitions about boring people, being intrusive, talking endlessly about ourselves, oversharing, being inappropriate, and forgetting that we’re not the only people in the universe. We have to shake off all that and become free to tell everyone everything about Beloved Self.

You see, unlike some people, I’m honest enough with myself to admit that I have problems. And, as part of my healthy attitude, I’m comfortable letting everyone in on them. Sometimes, it takes hours of explanation to really get to the heart of things, but my friends, coworkers, and fellow Food Lion shoppers are worth it.

And the people waiting for the bus. The people waiting for the bus are always worth it, because they’re kind of pinned there unless they want to drift away and have to wait for a later bus. Being pinned there gives them the opportunity to hear a really full account of my problems.

I’m not just refreshingly open about my emotions, but my desires and interests, as well.

Take, for example, anal sex. I really enjoy it, giving and receiving it. Now, I know I’m hardly alone in this, but for some reason a lot of people consider this classified information. But why should it be? Do we really have to bury our feelings all the time? If my dentist asks me how my weekend went, I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit that the highlight was all that great anal sex. Well, I’m no liar. And I refuse to put up walls between myself and those around me.

Knock down those walls!

I like to share with people. It brings us all closer together. That’s why, if you know me, you know I like masturbating to women’s tennis magazines. Of course, I like masturbating to plain old porn, too, but how many times can I mention that before I feel like I’m intentionally trying to hide my enjoyment of tennis magazines out of some societally imposed notion of shame?

Kink-shaming is bad enough but tennis-shaming is the worst.

Freedom is glorious.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Freedom to blot yourself out

Jul 5th, 2015 10:34 am | By

A woman in London has made a short movie called My Freedom, My Right. Go sister! What’s it about – reproductive rights? Freedom to work, freedom to travel, freedom to learn?

No, it’s about wearing that great symbol of freedom…the niqab.

Twenty-two-year-old Joni Clarke, resident of southeast London, has decided to raise awareness of the abuse and discrimination that Muslim women face by making a short film. The film, My Freedom, My Right, features Clarke reciting a poem that recalls comments made to her because of her niqab.

Does she say anything about comments made to women who don’t wear the niqab in say Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia?

Clarke wants everyone to be treated as ‘individuals’ and urges people to stop ‘judging a book by its cover’. She turned to Islam when she was only 17 and chose to wear a niqab after studying the history of Islam.

If she wants everyone to be treated as ‘individuals’ and urges people to stop ‘judging a book by its cover’ then she made a mistake by “turning” to Islam.

My Freedom, My Right is not only a step towards creating awareness among the people about the sufferings of the Muslim women but also aims to alleviate their sufferings.

Not as described it doesn’t.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

About the boyfriend who wanted to choke them

Jul 4th, 2015 6:10 pm | By

Sarah Ditum changed her mind about porn.

[F]our years ago, [Gail] Dines and I took part in a debate titled “Is Porn Hijacking Our Sexuality?” Dines, a veteran anti-porn feminist, argued for yes, and I put the case for no. In the end, I got the impression that we’d both slightly wrong-footed each other: I didn’t use the insinuations of sexlessness and prudery she’d anticipated, and her argument contained all the economic and ethical subtlety I’d foolishly assumed it would lack. The debate dragged out for over a year, then collapsed unsatisfyingly, and I wrote a grumpy blogpost about it which led lots of people (most of them, it has to be said, men) to declare me the winner.

But she didn’t feel like a winner. She suspected she’d fudged parts of the argument, especially around racism and sexism. She started to think it wasn’t all that reassuring to keep pointing out there are no control groups of men who haven’t been steeped in ” the insistent chauvinism of pornography.”

And there was one more thing, which happened more gradually: I heard from friends about the boyfriend who wanted to choke them, or the one who slapped them about in bed, or pressured them to do anal, or wanted to film it all. The pornographic vocabulary of sex as the violent debasement of the female body had seeped out from screens and into the lives of the women I knew.

Is it naïve of me to ask what the hell that is about? To ask why sex is mushed together with violence? To ask why the fuck it doesn’t creep everyone out?

She also realized that Dines wasn’t advocating for censoring porn.

I was asking “Why should we be able to censor anything?” Dines had a different question too. Hers, paraphrased, was probably something like this: “Why should the pornographers be able to repackage and retail sexuality as violence?” Her answer is that they should not be able to, and her solution doesn’t involve censorship at all: as she explains in her documentary Pornland, it’s one of public education and grassroots resistance to the porn industry, enabling individuals to discover “a sexuality… that is life-loving, life-affirming, and that we ourselves authored, not the pornographers”.

But Dines is one of those people who has been stuck with a reputation that doesn’t match the reality.

Dines firmly rejects the Center’s claims: “I am critical of the johns,  the pimps and the porn producers and distributors, but not the women who end up in the industry through poverty, racism, violence and trafficking,” she says. “It is like calling Marx capitalist-phobic and refusing to engage with his arguments about the nature of economic exploitation.”

But it doesn’t matter what she says; the labels stick.

Anti-porn feminism recognises a link between the propaganda of sexual violence and its practice, and stopping porn is understood to be essential in ending the rapes, killings and torture that men practice against women. These campaigners believe that lives are at stake – and even so, they are somehow less censorious, more open to dialogue, more creative than those who now police the “safe spaces.”  In these spaces, everyone must be warmly welcomed and intellectually unchallenged, except of course for feminists speaking against male violence. One wonders exactly why Pornland was such an intimidating prospect for supporters of the sex industry in Austin. Perhaps it is a perverse testament to Dines: maybe her opponents know that, if viewers approach with a readiness to debate in good faith, they might, like me, end up changing their minds.

Oh well, it’s only women.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Good-bye Lion

Jul 4th, 2015 3:12 pm | By

Oh crap, another one. The worst one yet, by some accounts. AFP via the Guardian:

Islamic State jihadis have destroyed a 2,000-year-old statue of a lion outside the museum in the Syrian city of Palmyra, the country’s antiquities director has said.

Maamoun Abdelkarim said the statue, known as the Lion of al-Lat, was an irreplaceable piece. “IS members on Saturday destroyed the Lion of al-Lat, which is a unique piece that is three metres [10ft] tall and weighs 15 tonnes,” Abdelkarim told AFP. “It’s the most serious crime they have committed against Palmyra’s heritage.”

The limestone statue was discovered in 1977 by a Polish archaeological mission at the temple of al-Lat, a pre-Islamic Arabian goddess, and dated back to the 1st century BC.

Abdelkarim said the statue had been covered with a metal plate and sandbags to protect it from fighting, “but we never imagined that IS would come to the town to destroy it.”

lion of al ata

That. It’s gone now. It’s rubble. It was there, a testimony to a human genius for art and sublimity, and now it’s just lumps of stone.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Comparative honorary professorship

Jul 4th, 2015 11:10 am | By

I’m consulting some other universities’ policies as stated on their websites.

The one at Cardiff is interesting:

2.16    Honorary Professor

The title is awarded to an individual who is making a substantial commitment of a non-transient kind to the teaching and research activities of the University at a level deemed to be worthy of this title when assessed against the criteria for promotions to personal chairs and following the consideration of two external assessors.

Persons nominated could be senior academics at other Universities (that is to say those already in possession of a Chair), Professors who have left the University to undertake work of an essentially academic nature outside of Higher Education, or recent retirees who are not eligible for conferment of the title of Professor Emeritus by virtue of their continued contribution to the University’s activities.

Category B [which is the relevant category]

3.3       The normal period of tenure for all titles in Category B will be five years, though this may be less for those with the “Visiting” title.

All awards in both categories are subject to regular review to ensure that the award continues to be merited.  The University reserves the right to cancel an award where there is a sufficient justification.

Heads of Schools should write to the HR Division with a justification for the renewal of the award, which should be based on a continuing contribution to the University.  The HR Division may ask for further justification where this is deemed to be appropriate.


All involvement with the University should be agreed with the Head of the relevant School.

Honorary staff will be required to abide by University policies in so far as they are applicable; and in particular those relating to the Financial Regulations and Human Resources and Health and Safety polices.

[several paragraphs about safety and intellectual property]

At all times Honorary staff will be expected to maintain the good reputation of the University.

It’s pretty clear that at Cardiff, at least, an honorary professorship is not at all like, say, the Booker prize – it’s not something you get as an honor and then get to keep forever because you won it. It’s something Cardiff can renew or not renew, as it decides, and can withdraw if it decides that.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jul 4th, 2015 9:50 am | By

Aseem Trivedi wants us to share his cartoons – and to join him in sharing cartoons if so inclined. He wants us to send suggestions.

What should ‘B&W’ campaign for? Do you know of an issue that should pursued here? ‘B&W’ is about detailed cartooning on topics that matter: human rights violations, corruption, conflicts of interest, broken systems, abuses by institutions and individuals with power, whether that’s government, nonprofits, or the press itself.

Mail your suggestions and ideas to with ‘suggestion’ in the subject line.

If you want to start a campaign through your art, you’re most welcome to join the crusade. You can send your cartoons on any local or international issue to get them published and circulated by ‘B&W’. You can also contributet to any of the cartoon campaign launched by B&W.

Mail your cartoons with ‘submission’ in the subject line.

You can help ‘B&W’ cartoon campaigns by circulating the cartoons and PDF copies of the magazine. You are always free to post, publish and exhibit the cartoons where ever you feel as all of these cartoons are free from any copy right and are created to help the campaign. You can also suggest some ways for better and effective circulation of the magazine.

He has a set on recent killings of journalists in India.

Two journalists in India died this month after being set on fire. In the first case, Jagendra Singh, a freelance journalist from the Shahjahanpur district in Uttar Pradesh, was allegedly set on fire for his reporting. Police have registered a murder case against several officers, other men and state dairy development minister Ram Murti Singh Verma.
Singh, who operated a Facebook page called “Shahjahanpur Samachar” (Shahjahanpur News), uploaded posts regarding the alleged involvement of the minster in illegal mining and land grabbing. Verma, along with others, has been named in the first information report (FIR) although a forensic report suggested that Singh might have burned himself.
In the second, a Madhya Pradesh journalist Sandip Kothari was kidnapped and later burned to death, allegedly by the mining mafia.



(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Universities are happy to ordain and celebrate the lofty ideals of academic freedom

Jul 4th, 2015 9:26 am | By

Bruce Barry, a professor of management and sociology and a board member of the Tennessee ACLU, has an informative take on whether or not academic freedom is a license to provoke without consequences.

The rules are different depending on whether the university is public or private; academic at public universities have more protections.

After having his job offer rescinded, Salaita filed a federal lawsuit claiming that his rights to free speech and due process had been violated; a judge’s ruling on whether Salaita’s lawsuit can go forward is expected any day.

That kind of constitutionally based lawsuit isn’t available to Grundy at Boston University or to Hough at Duke since their appointments are at private institutions.

Although Grundy and Hough cannot claim a constitutional infringement on their rights, they can appeal to the principle of academic freedom.

Which sounds like saying they can make grand rhetorical claims and hope that gets them somewhere, but actually it’s more concrete than that.

This is what distinguishes the occupation of professor from other kinds of employment: universities pledge (in the form of an implied contract) to respect professors’ free speech rights beyond what typical private sector job holders can expect, when they make academic freedom a foundational principle.

I didn’t know that about the implied contract. The link takes you to only the first page of the article, and the first page doesn’t discuss the implied contract, so I don’t know more than I did before I clicked it. An implied contract sounds like just another rhetorical claim, but the link seems to imply (there’s that word again) that it’s not. What Barry says next seems to confirm that:

Universities are happy to ordain and celebrate the lofty ideals of academic freedom, but they are also quick to couple them with cautionary caveats.

At Duke (where Hough is), the faculty handbook cedes to professors the right “to speak in his or her capacity as a citizen without institutional censorship or discipline.” Duke warns, however, that the right to “espouse an unpopular cause” carries with it “a responsibility not to involve the university.”

Making a similar pledge, the handbook at Boston University (where Grundy is) adds that a professor’s right to speak as a citizen carries “special obligations” to be accurate, exercise restraint and respect others’ opinions.

With reasonable-sounding but rather vague conditions like these, universities (both public and private) have reserved the ability to impose boundaries on “outrageous expression” that the professor might assume is protected by academic freedom.

Tricky, isn’t it. Difficult. A mine-field. An “implicit contract” to a lofty abstraction coupled with vague stipulations…wear protective gear.

The question of when a professor’s provocation becomes actionable cause for termination is a hornet’s nest of subjectivity around the meaning of words like “offensive” or “bigoted” or “harmful” or “restraint.” A university that chooses to act against the professor – as Illinois did against Salaita – puts itself in the uncomfortable position of having to explain what these terms mean and where lines are drawn.

Instead of appeasing offended stakeholders by drawing lines in shifting sand, a more enlightened approach prioritizes a free exchange of ideas over the “dubious judgment” of a free-speaking professor.

That’s the path Duke and Boston University are following: condemn the objectionable remarks while preserving the professor’s freedom to make them, leaving a verdict to the court of public opinion.

This of course is to do with actual jobs, paid tenured contractual jobs. The bar is high for actual jobs; it’s not as high for honorary and/or pro bono positions.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Even for Batman

Jul 3rd, 2015 4:27 pm | By

Henry Louis Gates got seduced by Hollywood fame.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a popular and revered scholar who has written many acclaimed books and made many acclaimed documentaries about black history (and was also forced to drink a beer with the white cop who arrested him in his own home, because that’s America for you).

However, he is now most famous for letting the now-single life-ruiner Ben Affleck hide his slaveholding ancestors from the world to spare Affleck the shame of being a white American with a past.

Well at least it wasn’t Charlie Sheen…

“Finding Your Roots,” his PBS genealogy show on which notables like Tina Fey and Nas find out what their long-dead relatives were like, has been shelved, with apologies all around. It’s one of the more esoteric pieces of celebrity flotsam to surface from the giant Sony email hack. Gates was done in by a disastrous series of emails with Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton about Affleck.

In case you missed the kerfuffle: Affleck discovered through the show that, way back, his family owned slaves. He was not amenable to this information being shared with the world, because slavery is wrong and Affleck is above such things as being connected to America’s horrific history. He told this to Gates, who agonized with Lynton over whether or not to honor his famous guest’s demand. Gates then cut all references to slavery out of the Affleck episode, though he said he did it because he found more interesting material. Nobody knew about any of this until the emails were uncovered in April.

It’s odd to say “way back” and “his family” in the same breath. If it’s way back then it’s not exactly “his family” but a branch of his family. Suppose it’s four generations back: then that’s one of sixteen great-greats. If five generations, it’s one of 32. If Gates had told Affleck that maybe he would have calmed down, but then again that would go against the implication of “Finding Your Roots,” which is (or was, now) that it’s worth hyperventilating over even one of 32 (while ignoring the other 31).

In his Affleck emails, Gates openly admits that he is compromising himself. He knows what he is doing, and he is very honest about it:

“To do this would be a violation of PBS rules, actually, even for Batman.”

“It would embarrass him and compromise our integrity.”

“Once we open the door to censorship, we lose control of the brand.”

And yet. Gates acquiesced. You can’t accuse him—a Harvard professor, Emmy-winning documentarian, MacArthur genius grant recipient—of not knowing what he was getting into. After all that, he did exactly what Ben Affleck told him to do. Now, he’s the most famous black studies professor in America who colluded in the suppression of a story about slavery.

Yes but he got to hang out with some movie stars.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)


Jul 3rd, 2015 3:13 pm | By

Via GodlessUtopia on Twitter:

Embedded image permalink

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Their fundamental right as believers

Jul 3rd, 2015 3:08 pm | By

Jesus must have been watching that video of the bashful young Catholics coming out homophobic.


The Patreon in case you want to support blasfemious cartooning.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Why do we force penguins to apply to Harvard?

Jul 3rd, 2015 11:49 am | By


Roisin O’Connor asks in the Independent

Why do we reduce a woman’s work to whether it’s feminist or not?

Eh? First of all, “we” don’t. Hating on feminism is a thriving business (and an even more thriving hobby). Second, even among people who do see things from a feminist point of view, very few of them “reduce a woman’s work to whether it’s feminist or not.” That rhetorical question is sort of like asking “why do we force-feed children stale Raisin Bran?” It assumes facts not in evidence, and it’s kind of random.

It comes at the end of a piece explaining why a new video about torturing and murdering a woman is a great thing.

Rihanna has directed the music video for her latest single ‘Bitch Better Have My Money‘, and it is violent, intense and unnerving, raising all sorts of questions without answering any of them.

In the opening scenes we see a blonde-haired woman with a fluffy dog kissing her boyfriend (‘The Accountant’) goodbye and getting into a lift, where Rihanna is waiting with a Louis Vuitton case. The lift doors open on the ground floor, and Rihanna emerges dragging the trunk, which appears to have become suspiciously heavier.

The woman is then dragged around by Rihanna and two sidekicks, at various points she is stripped naked and hung upside down, hit over the head with a bottle, and forced to down vodka and take drugs.

Sound fun? Not to me. I don’t like watching pretend-sadism onscreen.

The people criticising Rihanna for her highly stylised video are happy to gush about Quentin Tarantino’s genius and his creative vision, and controversial as he is they would rarely question his authority as an auteur. There was little fuss over the raped and murdered bank teller in From Dusk Till Dawn, the brutalised prostitutes in Frank Miller’s Sin City, or the bikini clad college girls snorting coke and shooting down pimps in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers, all of which are hailed as “cult classics”.

I wonder if O’Connor actually knows that. I wonder if she knows they are the same people at all. I’m betting she doesn’t, because it’s been my experience that people who like hipster violence in entertainment like it across the board…and don’t give a rat’s ass about feminism.

So back to her question, which wraps up the piece.

Why do we reduce a woman’s work to whether it’s feminist or not? Rihanna certainly doesn’t care what you think, she’s counting the money she just got back, the Queen of DGAF.

Well sure, and the people who get lots of money from other misogynist cultural products also don’t give a fuck what I think. So what? Rihanna’s bank account isn’t by itself an argument.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

She worked hard but her writing wasn’t great

Jul 2nd, 2015 5:05 pm | By

So this guy teaches a fiction class at Emory. He’s there for only two years, on a fellowship, which turned out to be fortunate for him.

Blunt and scabrous, he prides himself on being frank with his students. “My class is like a truth-telling, soothsaying class, and I tell them no one is going to talk to you like this, you will never have another class like this,” he says.

One student, he says, a freshman woman, sat besides him throughout the course, actively participating. At the end of the semester, he gave her a B+, because, although she worked hard, her writing wasn’t great. “They don’t really understand that they can do all of the work, and turn in perfectly typed up, typo-free papers and stories, but it doesn’t mean they’re going to get an A, because quality matters, talent matters,” he says.

So, according to the story, she accused him of sexual harassment.

The director, he says, told him, “I know this is bullshit, you know this is total bullshit, since you’re gay, [but] you really don’t want to deal with this bullshit. Just give her the grade.” Asked about this, the director says, “I don’t recall that, but I do recall advising him that as with all faculty, per our policy, that this was up to his discretion and thus his decision to make.”

Spoiler: he gave her the grade, but then like The Lord he took it away again.

Recently, there’s been much discussion of what some say is a growing intellectual chill and sexual panic on campus. In the latest example, on June 19, Teresa Buchanan, a tenured associate professor of education at Louisiana State University, was fired from the school where she’d taught for twenty years for using off-color language. Her alleged offenses included saying, in class, “fuck no” and making a joke about sex declining in long-term relationships, as well as using the word “pussy” in an off-campus conversation with a teacher. Reached by phone, she says she had no memory of saying “pussy” to anyone, but said that, if she did, it likely would have been in a conversation about how teachers must learn to handle irate parents. “If a parent is very angry and says, ‘You need to do a better job, you little pussy,” you need to know how to react. I wasn’t calling anybody that word.”

Indeed, a faculty committee determined that there was no evidence that her words were “systematically directed at any individual.” Nevertheless, the committee said her language created a “hostile learning environment” that constituted sexual harassment. It recommended that she be censured and nothing more, concluding: “The stress already inflicted on Dr. Buchanan by the…hearing process itself is seen as an adequate punishment, given the nature and apparent infrequency of the noted behaviors.” The administration rejected that and decided to go further, dismissing her. She plans to sue.

I’m not surprised she plans to sue – she had tenure. Tenure is supposed to protect academics from being fired for trivial reasons. (Note: I’ve never thought Tim Hunt should have been fired from anything.)

There’s also Laura Kipnis, brought up on charges for writing an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Part of the problem is that administrators are now business people as opposed to academics. They think they’re doing customer relations.

Colleges and universities, says Hancock, are “increasing not run by faculty or former faculty. They’re run by professional administrators who have a customer service or client service attitude towards students, as opposed to an educational attitude.” Indeed, according to the Delta Cost Project, an American Institutes for Research program that studies the rising price of higher education, at most four years colleges and universities the average number of faculty and staff per administrator declined by around 40 percent between 1990 and 2012.

Buchanan attributes her firing, in part, to a disjunction between the values of the administrators and those of the professoriate. Starting about 10 years ago, she says, “We noticed that every new administrator that came to LSU had the discourse and language of a business person. So, for example, my dean calls himself the CEO of his organization.”

They don’t know from freedom of inquiry or why philosophy must be argumentative. They know from customer satisfaction, which is a whole different thing. Running a hotel is different from running a university, or at least it ought to be.

Thus there’s a symbiosis between student demands for emotional safety and the risk-aversion of bloated bureaucracies. The students may be inspired by radical ideas, says Michael Bérubé, a literature professor and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Penn State, but “they wind up playing into the hands of a faceless and possibly pernicious bureaucracy.” The kind, for example, that orders investigations of feminist professors for writing inflammatory essays, or fires people for saying “fuck.”

And then there’s the whole “we’ll show you” problem.

Bagenstos describes a combination of bureaucratic caution and passive aggressiveness. The Obama administration has famously stepped up the use of Title IX against schools that have failed to respond adequately to the problem of campus rape, and in response, colleges are overcorrecting. “If you talk to administrators at universities around the country, they are really responding in a deeply overwrought way to the expansion of Title IX enforcement by the Obama administration,” says Bagenstos. “I think what’s going on in part is this reaction: You’re really going to make us do all this stuff we don’t want to do, we’ll show you it’s ridiculous by going the last mile and the next mile beyond that.”

Sulky babies running the hotel – not ideal. Academics should be worried.

That is, if they care about advancement in academia. Levinson, who just finished his stint at Emory, does not. He says he never wants to teach undergraduates again, and thus sounds almost merry as he unloads his disgust with the whole process. “The academic world can go shove itself up my ass,” he says. “I’d rather dig ditches than have to deal with a bunch of spoiled rich white kids.”

Ultimately, Levinson says, he gave in to a combination of administrative pressure and fear of being forced to endure the bureaucratic gauntlet of a sexual-harassment investigation. One administrator, he says, told him that while he could fight the potential charges, “at the end of the day he was like don’t bother, it doesn’t even matter. It’s just a stupid grade.” Levinson changed it.

Then, when his fellowship was over and he’d left campus, he logged back in the system and changed it back.

Digging ditches is not a bad gig.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post by Leo Igwe: Save the Kano Nine: An Open Letter to Buhari, Ganduje and Sanusi

Jul 2nd, 2015 1:31 pm | By

To President Buhari
To Governor Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje
To Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II

We are writing from the International Humanist and Ethical Union, a human rights advocacy organisation accredited as an NGO at the United Nations Human Rights Council. We write to express our distress and deepest concerns over the death sentences reportedly handed down to nine individuals in Kano state this week. Our concerns include the following:

We are appalled that a death sentence should be considered a legally enforceable punishment in any circumstance. In this case where the “offence” committed appears to be little more than the expression of a minority religious belief, the death sentence is particularly disproportionate and constitutes an egregious violation of the right to life.

We object fundamentally to the notion that “blasphemy” is treated as a criminal offence. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, and numerous other bodies and experts, have repeatedly called for the abolition or repeal of laws prohibiting “blasphemy”, which in practice criminalize the expression of religious beliefs. The fact that some religious ideas conflict with other religious ideas, or cause offense to other religious believers, is no reason to curtail the right to freedom of religion or belief, and to freedom of expression, and yet under the Sharia courts’ “blasphemy” prohibition, both these human rights are clearly being violated.

We understand that Abdul Inyas, Hajiya Mairo Ibrahim, and the other seven convicted of blasphemy this week are all of the centuries-old Sufi Tijjaniyya sect, whose annual Maulud ceremonies are sometimes regarded as blasphemous or provocative by other Muslims who perceive the sect as elevating Tijjaniyya religious figures above the status of the Prophet Muhammad. Reliable local reports of the mob violence surrounding the initial arrest of Abdul Inyas, and of ongoing threats of violence should Abdul Inyas and his co-accused have been acquitted, constitute serious pressure on the judiciary and raise the most severe doubts about both the decision to prosecute, and the trial itself. The trial was conducted in secret, with no transparency, many of the names of the co-accused not released, nor the name of the judge. The initial and ongoing threat of violence and the closed nature of the trial, the obscurity around the exact nature of the charge, and the doctrinal basis of the court, lead us to conclude that the right to a fair trial has been violated.

Our understanding is that federal intervention, citing the constitution (Section 38, subsection 1) which is superior to any court, could enable these horrendous and illiberal convictions to be lawfully overturned in a civil court. We urge you all to do whatever you can to seek true justice, respecting and restoring the human rights of those accused, and to work to end the malicious and unjust use of “blasphemy” as a criminal prohibition anywhere in Nigeria.


Andrew Copson,
President of the International Humanist and Ethical Union

Leo Igwe,
Nigerian Humanist Movement

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Distortion up front, correction at the back

Jul 2nd, 2015 1:10 pm | By

The Guardian wrote an editorial on the Tim Hunt question…a shockingly misleading one for the first two paragraphs. Wouldn’t you think newspapers would manage to get the basic facts right, especially three weeks in?

Those first two paras:

It is three weeks since Sir Tim Hunt, a Nobel prize winner, shared his sexist opinion of female scientists – distractingly sexy, prone to weep when criticised and best segregated at work – with a room full of science writers. His remarks were relayed into the Twittersphere by several of those present, including British-based science writer Connie St Louis. At once, he came under global and sometimes viciously personal attack on social media. He delivered a non-apology on BBC radio. According to his wife, also a senior scientist at UCL, it was made clear to her that to protect UCL’s reputation, he had to resign.

Within 24 hours of his after-dinner speech, he had gone. By the weekend, he was complaining to sympathisers that he had been hung out to dry, unleashing a wave of support that included famous colleagues such as Richard Dawkins and Brian Cox. Today Jonathan Dimbleby joined the protest. Next week, UCL’s council meets and the Hunt affair will once again be on the agenda. This bitter mix of resentments amplified by the polarising environment of social media should have met a calmer official response. But the professor still had to go.

Unbelievable, isn’t it? It sounds as if UCL told Mary Collins that Hunt had to resign from an actual job at UCL. It sounds as if Tim Hunt had a regular academic job at UCL that he was forced to resign. No one who didn’t already know could possibly tell from that opening that the Guardian is talking about an honorary professorship, one explicitly held at the pleasure of UCL and subject to withdrawal at any time – not a regular tenured job with a contract and salary. It would be interesting to know how much of this ridiculous fuss has been caused by the abject failure of news organizations to make that clear from the beginning.

Only in the third paragraph does the Graun admit that it was an honorary post that Hunt was pushed to resign (assuming it’s true that he was pushed). That’s three paragraphs too late.

It goes on to say grudgingly that sexism in science is bad ok, but all the weight was put on the bogus claim that Hunt was forced to resign. Nice job, Guardian.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Everything is aired in the bracing dialectic wind

Jul 2nd, 2015 11:19 am | By

From Rebecca Goldstein’s Plato at the Googleplex:

Plato presents the journey to the light as a largely solitary one, though some unseen person does yank the prisoner out of the cave; but the format of the dialogues (as well as his having founded the Academy) encourages the view that, on the contrary, Plato conceived of philosophy as necessarily gregarious rather than solitary. The exposure of presumptions is best done in company, the more argumentative the better. This is why discussion round the table is so essential. This is why philosophy must be argumentative. It proceeds by way of arguments, and the arguments are argued over. Everything is aired in the bracing dialectic wind stirred by many clashing viewpoints. Only in this way can intuitions that have their source in societal or personal idiosyncrasies be exposed and questioned. [pp 38-9]

Good eh?

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

No Fifth for you

Jul 2nd, 2015 10:51 am | By

Poor Duggars. They’re still in the weeds, trying to figure out why god won’t pluck them to safety.

According to In Touch, which first broke the molestation story involving the former “19 Kids and Counting” star, one of 27-year-old Josh Duggar’s victims who isn’t in his immediate family will be filing a civil lawsuit against him.

The anonymous source who told In Touch about the lawsuit added that it could be very damaging not just for Josh, but the entire family, because as a civil proceeding about a crime whose statute of limitations has expired, neither he nor his parents would be allowed to plead the Fifth to avoid self-incrimination.

Aww…so they have to spill or be in contempt?

Being forced to answer uncomfortable questions about when they knew about Josh’s behavior — and after they learned about it, what measures they took to protect his siblings and their friends from him — could put the future of “19 Kids and Counting” in even greater jeopardy than it already is.

Or, who knows, it could just prompt even more on-air crying and complaints of martyrdom to the Libbrul Agenda.

Legal experts told In Touch that the victim will be eligible to sue Josh Duggar under Arkansas Code Annotated Section 16-56-130, which stipulates that victims of a sexual assault can bring civil litigation against their attackers whenever they begin to feel the effects of the abuse — even if that occurs years later.

I wonder if there are similar stipulations in states where Bill Cosby pursued his hobby.


(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

How The Times science journalism rolls

Jul 2nd, 2015 9:27 am | By

Chapter 72 or thereabouts.

Hilda Bastian ‏@hildabast 4 hours ago
@deborahblum @david_colquhoun @David_Dobbs How The Times science journalism rolls … 1/2 #Yeesh

Embedded image permalink

Honorary fellowship is conferred by UCL to people who “have attained distinction in the arts, literature, science, business or public life”. The Times approached those fellows whose contact details were available online. Of those who responded, 21 criticised the university, four were neutral and none backed UCL.

Notice the problems? How can they know “those who responded” were representative of anything? How can they know people who took the opposite view didn’t just decide not to give the Times any more oxygen? How can we know the Times really did approach “those fellows whose contact details were available online”? Haha we can’t, they didn’t even approach David Colquhoun, whose contact details are available online.

David Colquhoun ‏@david_colquhoun 3 hours ago
@whippletom @hildabast @thetimes I’m an Hon Fellow of UCL since 2004, and I wasn’t asked so even apart from lw response, it’s dodgy

Hilda Bastian shared her comment on the Times article:

Hilda Bastian ‏@hildabast 4 hours ago
@deborahblum @david_colquhoun @David_Dobbs And my comment in reply (the link in it: …) 2/2

Embedded image permalink

This is an utterly extraordinary piece to come from a science editor. Conducting a survey of a subset of a group of over 300, and reporting such a small response, without reporting how many were in the subset is terrible whether judged by scientific standards or journalistic ones. A reader can only assume that either very little effort was made to find contact details of more than a few – or that the main result of this “survey” is very few responded, and generally those who were unhappy about the Tim Hunt situation.

I’m genuinely mystified, too, about the statement about Jeremy Bentham “turning in his grave”. He was a reformer, hundreds of years ahead of his time on issues around women’s rights and roles in society.* What reason is there to suppose he would be anything but progressive now?


Thank you Rupert Murdoch.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

Guest post: So, should I make poutine instead?

Jul 2nd, 2015 8:23 am | By

Guest post by Anthony K, inspired by a conversation about multicultural cooking and eating as “appropriation.”

“Hi, you’ve reached ‘Livin’ Liberal’. Anthony from Edmonton, you’re on the line.”
“Hey, love the show. First time caller. It’s Canada Day, and we’re going to a party. My wife wants me to make avocado dip. Is that allowed?”
“Well, that depends. What’s your nationality?”
“Canadian. So, should I make poutine instead?”
“Do you speak French?”
“I know where my aunt’s pen is.”
“Then, non. What’s your ethnicity?”
“Croatian and Lithuanian. But I don’t speak those languages either.”
“Alright. Well, what’s the first thing your parents taught you to cook?”
“Breaded fried chicken.”
“No good. What else?”
“Oh, I remember we ate a lot of potato pancakes. That’s a Lithuanian thing.”
“Are you Jewish?”
“No, we were Catholic. I think the Catholics appropriated the potato pancakes from the Jews. My grandmother used to bake bagels before church.”
“Well, I think we can give you a bit of a pass. Thanks for call—”
“—I hate ’em.”
“What’s that?”
“Potato pancakes. Can’t stand them.”
“Alright, well, what do you like to cook that’s close?”
“Roti. First thing I taught myself to cook. And curry.”
“But you’re not—”
“Nope. Not as far as I know.”
“Well caller, there’s only one thing you can do: fake sick and stay home. Thanks for calling.

Folks, you’re listening to ‘Livin’ Liberal’. You check your cat’s litterbox, but do you check its privilege? Find out why you should after these messages from our sponsor.”

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)

What’s next? Donating the proceeds from sale of his unicorn?

Jul 1st, 2015 5:20 pm | By

A blistering explanation of what’s sexist about the backlash against the response to Tim Hunt’s day out by medical doctor Amy Tuteur.

Tim Hunt made offensive comments about women scientists in front of a group of women scientists. He apologized and he resigned.

Many men feel very bad about this.

No, not bad about the fact that Hunt felt free to humiliate women at a meeting designed to honor them. Be serious! They felt bad that any male scientist should be held to account for his not so subtle put down.

Maybe they wouldn’t mind it so much if he were a young bench scientist – but Tim Hunt is senior and important. Senior important guys shouldn’t be held to account, because not being held to account should be one of the perks of being senior and important.

There are a few apologists that are willing to acknowledge the obvious, but then minimize its significance. Jonathan Dimbleby, a broadcaster and writer has resignedhis honorary appointment at University College of London, in solidarity with Tim Hunt.

According to Dimbleby:

This is not an offence that should be enough to ensure a distinguished scientist should be told to resign his position.

Woah! What’s next? Donating the proceeds from sale of his unicorn? Nothing like demonstrating your support (resigning an honorary post) in a way that changes nothing and costs you nothing.

I like the unicorn line.

Moreover … and let me see if I can spell it in terms Hunt’s apologists can understand … the issue is not the joke. The issue is the gender bias behind the joke. Someone who feels free to make women the butt of his jokes at a conference designed to honor women may be so clueless about his own gender bias that he feels equally free to display and act on it in his treatment of his female graduate students.

Tim Hunt was entirely free to make offensive remarks to women. Connie St. Louis was entirely free to report his remarks. UCL was entirely free to condemn him for it.

The fact that apologists think there should be no consequences for Hunt’s speech, but condemnation and worse for those who were offended by it, is a classic tactic in dismissing gender bias, and it is unacceptable.

Damn right.

(This is a syndicated post. Read the original at FreeThoughtBlogs.)