Conventional wisdom is that Bush and Clinton will be squaring off in the general election. And—in an event never before catalogued on this blog—the conventional wisdom is pretty good. It’s far from a done deal; Bush has a tough fight ahead and the same could have been said about Clinton at this point in 2007. At any rate, that’s not my point.
My point centers over the conventional wisdom about that. Bush and Clinton are names we’ve seen in the White House before. The return of either marks a dynastic moment in American politics. And while this is true in a sense, I disagree that these moments are exactly uncommon.
Who’s Your Daddy?
The obvious place to start is with the Adams. John and John Q. were the second and sixth presidents, respectively. Quincy was undoubtedly helped by both his father’s name in voter recognition and connections, but he held his own as President. Among other things, he paid off the national debt and brought Florida into the Union. (The latter, of course, could be viewed as a mistake at this juncture.) And crucially, this example goes back to the very foundation of the Union.
The other obvious political dynasty is the Roosevelt’s. The Roosevelt’s were a powerful New England dynasty. When you think of old money on the East Coast with children in business and state, you are thinking of them. And in case it wasn’t dynastic enough, Franklin married Eleanor—a fifth cousin—who was the niece of Theodore. In fact, Teddy gave Eleanor away at the Roosevelt wedding. The Bush’s could only dream of this kind of thing. I would submit without analysis that Franklin was the superior statesman, and not because Teddy was anything to sneeze at.
The Kennedy’s are yet another famous political family. While they only made one successful run at the White House, JFK was backed by his politically well-connected father. His brother, Bobby, may well have been president—and one of America’s finest—had he not been assassinated*. And Ted was a long serving Senator behind a good deal of moving and shaking in the body.
The Romney’s did something not often seen in America. They were a powerful ecclesiastical dynasty in the Mormon Church who made the switch to a political family. If we accept the premise that spiritual leadership has a worldly component, this makes perfect sense. At any rate, the Romney’s have a tradition of failing to become president as deep as the Bush’s have of becoming president, so I feel they deserve a mention as far as political families go.
Nancy Pelosi is from a regional political family—the D’Alesandro’s in Baltimore. I bring this up less to suggest that Pelosi is from the same kind of political dynasty and more to point out that regional dynasties are very common, and long have been. Relevant to my neck of the woods are the Daley and Bayh families. The Bush, Roosevelt, and Kennedy families all were regional prior to rising to the national stage.
This makes a certain kind of sense. Family members are dually suited to repeat appearances on the political stage. Optimistically, family members are often similar. If John is suited to office, it follows that John Quincy is more likely to be. Cynically, family members often lend their connections and power to a run, giving an unearned advantage. As is so often the case, I think this is a spectrum, not a hard division.
Bush and Clinton
I think a closer examination of the two candidates personal histories is in order.
Jeb Bush is more clear-cut. He is undoubtably where he is at because of his father. Nonetheless, he proved himself a reasonably good statesman during his tenure in Florida. This should not be confused with endorsement of everything he did, merely the observation that he steered Florida ably and, where I disagree, still generally in good faith. There will come a time I take a harder look at his tenure, but this is not that piece. America could do worse than a third Bush.
I would compare him to Bobby Kennedy, with the proviso that I don’t think he’d be quite the caliber of president Bobby would have been. While JFK’s father was never President, he was influential and established a powerful political base from which family members could launch a campaign. The less able brother, John, won and after the memory of an unpopular presidency faded, Bobby ran. (A glaring difference is that Bush served his term and was never assassinated; Jeb does not have the slate wiped clean by national tragedy.)
Clinton does not strike me as so easily fit into a dynastic narrative. There is no doubt here that she is as far as she is because her husband was Bill Clinton. But it’s also hard to view the Clinton marriage as not stemming from a shared political ambition. (To be sure, it may well be more than that, but that runs through it.) And while that does not rise to quite the level of earned advantage, it’s of an altogether different quality than, say, Jeb Bush’s situation. Bill and Hillary Clinton are together because both are of presidential caliber.
It is not hard to imagine Abigail Adams running for president in a different time. She was smart, ambitious, forward-thinking, and probably a better candidate than her husband. In turn, Eleanor Roosevelt reinvented the First Lady to be the humanitarian office it became. She was a diplomat in her own right following WWII and a major contributor to the development of Human Rights law and norms. I contend the country is poorer for these women not being given a shot at dynastic rule.
What I will say is that none of this really establishes dynastic politics as a good idea. Those uncomfortable should be asking tough questions. What did the family do? What kind of unearned benefits are there? What have the pitfalls of this been in the past? Many of the families listed have skeletons in every closet. (The Clintons, of course, keep dozens extra.)
Instead, I’m suggesting that this doesn’t fit into the narrative that the United States is getting less equal. To be sure, it is, but the reality is that political families have long risen and fallen in the United States. Most presidents came from auspicious backgrounds, as did many of the failing nominees. There is something distinctly ahistorical about viewing Bush and Clinton as the aberrations—doubly so given Hillary Clinton’s (relatively) humble background prior to marriage. And the sitting president is a case study in rising well above ones station at birth.
America: Anyone can be president, but it has always helped to have a powerful family.
*An earlier version of this asserted that Bobby Kennedy was killed in a plane crash; that was JFK Jr.
Sometimes, I encounter a piece that I don’t just disagree with. It makes me go, “What is your purpose here?” I’m completely baffled by the argument Professor Daniel O. Conkle put down in the Indy Star in favor of the recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Before I pick it apart piece by piece, it seems to be saying that the bill makes no changes to present law, but is very important. Now, in fairness, this might be because I don’t understand the law here, but the law doesn’t appear that complicated to my eye. See what I mean.
I am a supporter of gay rights, including same-sex marriage. But as an informed legal scholar, I also support the proposed Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). How can this be?
Even on re-read, I’m not able to answer that because you never really explain it. But proceed.
It’s because—despite all the rhetoric—the bill has little to do with same-sex marriage and everything to do with religious freedom. The bill would establish a general legal standard, the “compelling interest” test, for evaluating laws and governmental practices that impose substantial burdens on the exercise of religion.
If you’re like me, you’re thinking, ‘Gosh, I thought SCOTUS established that already.’ Reading over the Wikipedia page on Strict Scrutiny will reveal that, yes in fact, this was already the standard.
This same test already governs federal law under the federal RFRA, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. And some 30 states have adopted the same standard, either under state-law RFRAs or as a matter of state constitutional law.
Curious that there is no mention of the SCOTUS test. To be clear again, I’m a blogger with a lay understanding and he’s the professor, but it strikes me as weird that this piece ignores it.
Applying this test, a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that a Muslim prisoner was free to practice his faith by wearing a half-inch beard that posed no risk to prison security.
Or skirts it. That case looked towards case law, not federal statute—which was based on case law.
Likewise, in a 2012 decision, a court ruled that the Pennsylvania RFRA protected the outreach ministry of a group of Philadelphia churches, ruling that the city could not bar them from feeding homeless individuals in the city parks.
Going a touch afield, this is frustrating because if you’re a ministry you can feed the homeless, but if you’re a secular charity you can’t. This is one of those examples of a law doing exactly what it should through the wrong means limited. He’s playing on my prejudices about outcomes the law should have to argue for suspect principles for justifying it.
If the Indiana RFRA is adopted, this same general approach will govern religious freedom claims of all sorts, thus protecting religious believers of all faiths by granting them precisely the same consideration.
Every general reading source I found in an admittedly short search suggested it already applied. This may be the case for not worrying too much about the law. Through this lens, the law is completely redundant and, the dangers of extra code notwithstanding, that means this isn’t a big deal. But that’s not a case for supporting the law.
But granting religious believers legal consideration does not mean that their religious objections will always be upheld.
But I want to draw your attention to the Masson Blog (an excellent go-to for good context and analysis for Indiana politics). Masson points out that the exact language here is painfully broad, a legal concern that I wish Conkle weighed in on. “First of all, this kind of broad and ill-defined language is a huge headache for government. A person doesn’t want to follow the law and says it substantially burdens his religion. Now what? You might just have to take his word for it — his religious belief, as the statute points out, doesn’t have to be part of any kind of organized system — nor does the objectionable regulation have to be central to the person’s religion.” That’s not trivial, nor likely a gross misrepresentation.
And this brings us to the issue of same-sex marriage.
Under the Indiana RFRA, those who provide creative services for weddings, such as photographers, florists or bakers, could claim that religious freedom protects them from local nondiscrimination laws. Like other religious objectors, they would have their day in court, as they should, permitting them to argue that the government is improperly requiring them to violate their religion by participating (in their view) in a celebration that their religion does not allow.
But courts generally have ruled that the government has a compelling interest in preventing discrimination and that this interest precludes the recognition of religious exceptions. Even in the narrow setting of wedding-service providers, claims for religious exemptions recently have been rejected in various states, including states that have adopted the RFRA test.
This is heartening, and does match with my reading of the bill’s text. I maintain it’s redundant. This is also one of the most definitive things Conkle has said about the law and, provided he doesn’t walk it back, good news.
A court could rule otherwise, protecting religious freedom in this distinctive context. But to date, none has.
There will be no discrimination against gay folks as long as there is no discrimination of gay folks. With allies like these, who needs the Indiana Family Institute?
In any event, most religious freedom claims have nothing to do with same-sex marriage or discrimination.
Not comforting. ‘At any rate, this isn’t about discriminating in most of its application, so chill out gay folks! I support your rights, but only if a majority of violations are against you.’
The proposed Indiana RFRA would provide valuable guidance to Indiana courts, directing them to balance religious freedom against competing interests under the same legal standard that applies throughout most of the land.
And this is why this piece leaves me so cold. I am totally unsure what guidance it is offering that can’t be found in the status quo. Compelling interest has been law of the land since 1938. I’m not sure what this law changes. It very well might offer changes—I’ve disclaimed several times that I’m no legal scholar. But the legal scholar doesn’t offer evidence it does. And there is a general consensus that expanding the code should be done judiciously, only when you have a good reason, because the new code can be misconstrued.
It is anything but a “license to discriminate,” and it should not be mischaracterized or dismissed on that basis.
I feel somewhat better about this, in spite of the issues I’ve raised about Conkle’s argument. The issues of broad language—the thing that most obviously differs from SCOTUS’s framework—is not to be shrugged off lightly. If this does expand the existing framework, Conkle owes us a defense of that. If it doesn’t, as he seems to argue, he owes a justification for reinventing the wheel.
Since he gives us neither, I’m not sure what his purpose here is. And I remain unconvinced that this law is good policy.
Indiana is out of the NCAA tournament and calls for firing Crean have intensified. I was passingly interested in the whole thing until I found out the University would be out $12 Million if they ended Crean’s contract now.
Further investigation revealed this may not be quite true; the exact date of termination means they’ll buy out only what he hasn’t been paid going forward. He’ll stands to gain only about $10 to $11 Million this late in the academic year. But this is the kind of clarification that clears nothing up. How on Earth can a public university justify that kind of expense, exact quantity aside?
So I did what any good nerd would do: I started digging.
Where Does IU Stand?
It turns out that if you want to read the public revenue data, you have to put in an open records request. I haven’t, though I might. (And if you have this data, please send it to me. Please, please, please.) This is the kind of frustrating lack of transparency that makes me mistrust IU and, importantly, make me think something is up. And it is.
One of the reasons I’ve not put in an open records records request, besides the fact that they will make me wait forever, is that USA Today has helpfully compiled a tabulation of total revenue and expenses. The University makes a whopping $76,660,265 a year off of athletics.
That’s a ton of money, but then it is a large family of programs; we’ll get to that. The next number I want to throw your way is how much the University forks over to support it: $2,561,958. That’s full time tuition for about 250 in-state students. That’s right, fill up a lecture hall and you’ve got the number of people who could be there for free—at least as a simple accounting matter. We’ll get into the harder questions about what the school gets for running at a loss, but don’t let anyone tell you that this is a direct money-maker for the University. They’re subsidizing it.
To be clear, athletics is coming out ahead, even after discounting for the subsidy. But that raises more questions that it answers. Athletics is supported by the university so that it can pocket a profit? It is virtually impossible to justify this on its face.
Another vexing aspect of all this is how, excepting a few top-tier salaries, the lines seem fairly reasonable. Expenditures are available (PDF). I don’t doubt that a pair of competent water polo staffers cost the University 50K apiece per year. But what is also weird is that the Volleyball staff averages closer the amount assistant professors make. These are not exactly modest numbers, well above the mean income for the nation. (70K is hardly princely, however.) I can’t help but ask: is this the business the University should be in?
Most of the numbers aren’t terribly large; the headlining programs are expensive to run, but that’s not quite a surprise. Basketball Operations (paying to run that program) costs $2,239,157. We’re out a whopping $6,839,222 to run football—and that’s before maintaining that stadium that was recently built.
But at least some of it is going to scholarships? Well, yes. And $12.4 million; it’s one of the largest items associated with the department. And, by total coincidence, it is about how much IU would owe Tom Crean if they fired him. If Tom Crean were fired today, he’d be entitled to the same amount of money as every single student athlete put together got (IN KIND, NO LESS) last year. That fact alone is enough to make me want to take a leaf out of his predecessor’s book and throw a goddamned chair.
So, let’s review. The accounting of this publicly run business is hard to find. When you do, it tuns out that it runs at a loss. The loss is mostly accumulated by running most things just a bit oversized. It is only modestly beneficial for involved students. And if the head basketball coach is fired, he stands to gain as much every student athlete together gained last year.
But here’s the thing. I’m not convinced that it’s fair to suggest that athletics and academics are what’s at odds here.
But it’s when you start digging into growth of the college athletics that things start to look warped. For a baseline, household income has grown 20% since 2005. IU’s Athletic Department revenue has gone up by five times that, at about 101.9%. IU is making—and spending—almost exactly twice what it was in 2005.
You expect costs to scale with revenue, but you expect the proportions to be non-linear*; this is weirdly perfect linear growth. I would say that it is an odd market, except it’s a public university, not a business. It is building and grounds cost, according to the good folks at USA Today, which have outpaced even the wild expectations IU’s breakaway growth. Coaching is about on pace and scholarships are lagging behind—because of course they are. IU is perpetually behaving like a startup, where it invests all money made and then takes some investor equity to keep scaling up.
In order to remain competitive with the high spending schools, IU must sink more money into athletics. In order for everyone else to compete, they must do the same. They need better facilities, more amenities, and in general bigger everything lest someone else scoop up the big recruits. But pitting each of the schools against the other, all but 7 of them are losing money. (Texas, Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU, Penn State, Nebraska, and…Purdue are the seven. I’m still a proud Hoosier, but they got us beat on this one. And! They’re are the smallest balanced program.)
You can bet that I’m going to open the can of worms about what schools have to show for this by the end of the post, but stick with me. This is part of why the NCAA and member schools are notorious for abuse. Even Penn State—you know, famous for the child prostitution scandal—is only coming out $4 Million ahead. Before the scandal it was making $20 Million a year over revenue; much of the difference came falling alumni support. In a callous way, you can see why hard questions never got asked. The student body came perilously close to paying tuition money because of a child prostitution scandal. Oh, and this was the kind of environment where a child prostitution ring sprung up.
This cold logic plays out again and again: a bad season can cost, so a bad season must be avoided.
Supermarkets often advertise sales where they take a loss in order to convince costumers to go and buy other things from them. With the cheap pork chops, you’ll also pick up some oranges, bread, and wine. Athletic programs could operate in a comparable way, running at a loss with benefits.
Take this study (PDF), by Michael Anderson. It’s cleverly designed, using bookkeeper spreads as a baseline for unexpected success. That is, it finds the effects of doing better, not just maintaining your program. The findings are positive, but small:
Consider a school that improves its season wins by 5 [football] games (the approximate difference between a 25th percentile season and a 75th percentile season). Changes of this magnitude occur approximately 8% of the time over a one-year period and 13% of the time over a two-year period. This school may expect alumni athletic donations to increase by $682,000 (28%), applications to increase by 677 (5%), the acceptance rate to drop by 1.5 percentage points (2%), in-state enrollment to increase by 76 students (3%), and incoming 25th percentile SAT scores to increase by 9 points (1%).
A lot is going on here. The big deal here is that if your school is winning, you’ll get more athletic donors. That is money that goes in a box marked “athletics” and you’re committing a felony if you move it to a box saying, oh, I dunno, “fulfilling the primary mission of the University”. Still, other funds are fungible, and this can ease up on the subsidy coming from other parts of the university.
The remaining effects are very small. On a less than 1-in-10 event, you can expect to see your school raise SAT sores by 1%. IU would have to value these increases at 31 million dollars—that’s 3,100 instate tuition students—to expect to break even here. And that’s without raising the question of whether or not the university should be gambling on a zero-sum game. This study (PDF)—which is of a different character and lower quality—found that paying top-dollar for good coaches is hardly a recipe for success; rank mobility did not correlate strongly with coaching salaries.
Because that’s the flip side of this. For every game, only half the teams record a win. The other team loses. It is literally a sum-zero game. And if you don’t believe me, this is what the Anderson study had to say after interpreting his results optimistically:
Orszag and Israel (2009) report that a $1 million increase in “football team expenditures” is associated with a 6.7 percentage point increase in football winning percentage (0.8 games). If we interpret this relationship as causal, it implies that a $1 million investment in football team expenditures increases alumni athletic donations by $109,000, increases annual applications by 108, and increases the average incoming SAT score by 1.4 points. These effects seem too modest by themselves to justify the additional expenditures.
They are a bit more ambivalent when considering the athletic donations, which is the point. If IU cut their $2.5 Million subsidy, it’s not SAT scores or application rates that would be catastrophic. Extrapolating on Anderson’s analysis is difficult but one only has to to imagine that donations fall by 16%, all else equal, for things to come out even. If success were impacted following the subsidy cut, this is not outside the realm of possibility—especially once you factor in ticket sales, requiring only 8% each to fall. The numbers certainly line up for football schools. Damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
By the way, one thing the last studies did not consider was the effect on GPA. It turns out, having a winning football team around is bad for your enrolled students**. This study (PDF), for example, found that GPA fell noticeably based on win record. Noticeably again isn’t large. If you went from winning 25% of games to 75%, you’re looking at a mere .220 fall in GDP. If the average student had a 3.500 (for illustrative purposes), that means 3.280. If we’re going to in-calculate small benefits to recruitment, then these small detriments must be allowed to add up as well.
The empirical evidence is that football programs—and by inference IU’s basketball program—main benefit is that by paying into the monster, you prevent donations for athletics from going down. The main argument for continuing to subsidize athletics is so that people will keep donating money to athletics and buying tickets for the over-sized program.
The big finding here is well-known—as long as Universities remain in direct competition for wins, college athletics will remain a giant money suck. This is depressingly likely. Again, from Tsitsos and Nixon:
Meaningful reform will have to involve the college presidents, boards, NCAA officials, and legislators, perhaps prodded by influential reform advocates such as the
KCIA. … [I]t is unlikely that efforts will be made to transform the fundamental structure of big-time college sports as a highly commercialized entertainment enterprise. Those institutions that have big-time programs are unlikely to want to de-emphasize them, and those who support and regulate college sports in the NCAA and the athletic conferences are unlikely to try to undermine their own power or position.
What’s more, it is actually illegal to set limits—it violates anti-trust law. That’s right, they can’t go out of business and they can’t prevent themselves from hemorrhaging money. And the losers are, ironically, students at public universities and taxpayers, who are by rights the people anti-trust laws should be protecting. And, vexingly, the NCAA isn’t subject to this same scrutiny.
Without an unlikely shift in student and alumni culture demanding that expenditures slow down while still being willing to finance what’s been built, it is unlikely that things will change.
The most concrete thing students and alumni can do is demand justification for current expenditures. I will openly admit that everything that’s gone by is only suggestive and a bit murky. My contentions here are that athletics at IU are losing money and that evidence suggests there are few wider benefits of that practice. The main reason I found in defense of running athletics at a loss is to keep alumni donations high—a dubious cycle. But inferences and digging aren’t good enough; IU should make these facts readily available.
Students and alumni should then pressure IU to run athletics as at least a break-even endeavor. Doing this may take several years of running down old obligations, freezing salaries, and generally navigating the justifiable expenditures. Scholarships should, under no circumstances, suffer.
Because this is what’s weird about this. Universities are competing with each other in sports as an advertising venture with little proof that they are doing terribly much more than paying for most—but not all—of the advertising overhead.
Or, we could just replace Crean and hope that we don’t end up in deeper next time.
*One of the simpler models I’ve encountered says that costs experience cubic growth while revenues experience quadratic growth. This is a modeling convenience as much as anything, but it’s a good baseline for further inquiry.
**IU does not suffer from this problem, but I feel confident extending the findings to Basketball. I used to live on the main ambulance route to Assembly Hall.
I wanted to add two things to yesterday’s post about Laura Kipnis’s views on the current state of feminism. The first, almost rising to the level of correction, is a brief deepening of Kipnis’s relationship to Freud. The second is a response to the issue of free speech. I omitted it from the first piece because I thought I was flogging a dead horse, but then a commenter raised the issue and so more deceased equine beating is in order.
Two commentators—with different purposes—pointed out I was being unfair to Freud. Here is what a psychologist had to say about psychoanalysis for the New York Times:
Alice Eagly, the chairwoman of the psychology department at Northwestern University, explained why: Psychoanalysis is “not the mainstream anymore” and so “we give it less weight.”
The primary reason it became marginalized, Ms. Eagly, said, is that while most disciplines in psychology began putting greater emphasis on testing the validity of their approaches scientifically, “psychoanalysts haven’t developed the same evidence-based grounding.” As a result, most psychology departments don’t pay as much attention to psychoanalysis.
This is one of Kipnis’s colleagues from the actual department responsible for psychology. Certainly, academic back and forth is necessary, even healthy, but note what the psychologist is saying to the humanities professor. This is not scientifically grounded. She’s welcome to put forward her theories about human sexuality, but I will not pretend they are in any reflective of material reality until they are proven.
From the same piece I must also quote this, because it sums up how I feel about Freud so well:
The study, which is to appear in the June 2008 issue of The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, is the latest evidence of the field’s existential crisis. For decades now, critics engaged in the Freud Wars have pummeled the good doctor’s theories for being sexist, fraudulent, unscientific, or just plain wrong. In their eyes, psychoanalysis belongs with discarded practices like leeching.
Then there is the fact that Kipnis’s field is actually eschewed by practicing psychoanalysts:
“American clinical psychoanalysis, and analysis as represented in academe, are at risk to become two ships that pass in the night,” the report said. As an example, the report points to a course on psychoanalysis and colonialism, two terms most clinically based analysts would never have imagined in a single sentence.
“I honestly couldn’t understand what they’re talking about,” said Prudence Gourguechon, the psychoanalytic association’s incoming president, referring to those kinds of courses.
To Mr. Lilienfeld, much of postmodern theorizing has harmed psychoanalysis, saying it has “rendered claims even more fuzzy and more difficult to assess.”
Indeed, the defense from the humanities is telling:
Scholars in the humanities, he said, use Freud “skeptically and provisionally and don’t think of him as scientist at all, but as an interpreter.”
I don’t read Kipnis’s piece as “skeptical” or “provisional”. She actively laments that the view that kids want to seduce their parents has fallen to scientific inquiry. I simply can’t read that as anything but clinging to a supplanted theory because it supports her desire to fuck her students.
One of my commentators pointed out that there are plenty of good bits from Freud still active in modern practice. And the NYT piece in full does a good job pointing out that Psychoanalysts have some reasonable responses to scientific materialism. But Kipnis isn’t responding to the current paradigm; she’s sarcastically dismissing it for innovating past Freud. That’s not an argument—that’s claiming we knew what we needed to know about the human psyche before WWI without evidence.
If you think I’m cranky about Freud, that was just a warm up. From a commentator:
If you want to understand where the author of this post is coming from, read this sentence a few times: “why exactly is someone who espouses Freudian positions being allowed into a debate about PTSD?” “Allowed”? Really? One more graduate student demanding thought control in order to prevent anyone saying anything that makes him uncomfortable. The whole post proves Laura Kipnis’s point. That may be why he wants her not to be “allowed” to say what she says. But he’ll never see that.
Before I dig into this, two things. First, I’m not a grad student. Second, I’m still being oppressed by Smith College. Remember that vexing Jonathan Chait article I did a write-up on? In it, he claimed that, among other things, leftists were harming free speech by asking that their Universities be discriminating about who they let speech at commencement. He illustrated his point with an incident at Smith. The argument is obviously bullshit:
Lagrande has no liberal guarantee of a platform. She is free to do and say what she likes. And as the head of the IMF, she was subject to scrutiny. If free speech is her getting present at Smith’s commencement, the Politiconomist submits that he should be allowed to give commencement this spring. My rights are being violated until they do!
As of this writing, they have done nothing to rectify this violation of my rights. Juliet V. García was selected, violating my free speech rights. I will, however, accept an apology and the right to speak at a future commencement.
I kid, of course, but the same principle holds for Kipnis. She has every right to write and seek publication for her piece. But this comes with two counterveiling caveats:
- She has no guarantee of publication. There is absolutely no reason the Journal of Higher Education had to air her ideas. They absolutely could have taken the stance that Freud is unpersuasive and that she admits to sexual harassment in that piece and they wanted no part of it. In fact, as a corollary of the arguments I’ve laid out, my free speech is being violated until the Journal of Higher Education publishes my response to her piece. (I’m starting to feel dirty writing that, even as a joke.)
- People have every right to protest her and her piece. This is a basic, obvious matter of free speech. There is something so achingly hypocritical about the free exchange folks suggesting that she has some kind of unfettered right to hold unpopular opinions, yet they get to poo-poo our opinion that she is shilling toxic rape apology that has no place in any workplace, especially not a school.
In short, this call, right here, that she not be given platforms to shill is free speech at its finest. I’m calling for the University and Journal to exercise their right to exchange ideas with her and say, no, in fact, they’re not buying.
Two related pieces have hit my radar, touching on themes on this blog. The first is Laura Kipnis’ polemic about bans on relationships between teachers and students. The second is a Nation piece by Goldberg that expands her analysis.
Kipnis tips her hand late in her own piece:
However, we were warned in two separate places that inappropriate humor violates university policy. I’d always thought inappropriateness was pretty much the definition of humor—I believe Freud would agree.
Um. At no point in my ruminations on the ethics of professors sleeping with their students did it occur to me to consult Freud. Analysis that leads one to think of:
I recalled a long-forgotten pop-psychology guide to body language that identified change-jangling as an unconscious masturbation substitute.
She, somewhat anachronistically, invokes Freud to lament that childhood development science has advanced since the Victorians (!!!), without engaging the science of developing brains that suggest her 19-year-old students really are in a social limbo:
These days the desire persists, but what’s shifted is the direction of the arrows. Now it’s parents—or their surrogates, teachers—who do all the desiring; children are conveniently returned to innocence. So long to childhood sexuality, the most irksome part of the Freudian story. So too with the new campus dating codes, which also excise student desire from the story, extending the presumption of the innocent child well into his or her collegiate career. Except that students aren’t children.
This is dishonest—and more shockingly so for obscuring the important point with discredited science. Students aren’t children, but undergrads are now known by real science to not be done developing either. I think she’s right to ask how we should incorporate the understanding that adolescence ends later than previously thought, but critically, that’s not what she’s doing. She’s invoking a discredited scientist(?) who didn’t believe in adolescents and lambasting scientific progress. If she were advocating that University health centers engaged in blood-letting to balance the humors, she wouldn’t get published. Why is Freud any different?
Understanding her relationship to Freud is important to getting at the real issue here. Kipnis and Goldberg are shockingly willing to trot out rape apologia, with Freud’s vision of trauma to clear the way.
Kipnis asserts that her students just can’t take her inappropriate jokes. Again:
However, we were warned in two separate places that inappropriate humor violates university policy. I’d always thought inappropriateness was pretty much the definition of humor—I believe Freud would agree.
Directly following, she suggests that the problem with her jokes is that her students are too sensitive to sexual harassment:
Why all this delicacy? Students were being encouraged to regard themselves as such exquisitely sensitive creatures that an errant classroom remark could impede their education, as such hothouse flowers that an unfunny joke was likely to create lasting trauma.
Objectifying women in a professional environment is okay, she implies, so long as a gay man is doing it. After all, she was basically asking for it:
A theater professor spoke up, guiltily admitting to having complimented a student on her hairstyle that very afternoon (one of the “Do Nots” involved not commenting on students’ appearance) but, as a gay male, wondered whether not to have complimented her would have been grounds for offense.
We can’t prevent this sort of thing anyway—that’s just how professors are (according to literature):
Of course the gulf between desire and knowledge has long been a tragicomic staple. Consider some notable treatments of the student-professor hookup theme—J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace; Francine Prose’s Blue Angel; Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections—in which learning has an inverse relation to self-knowledge, professors are emblems of sexual stupidity, and such disasters ensue that it’s hard not to read them as cautionary tales about the disastrous effects of intellect on practical intelligence.
The implementers of the new campus codes seemed awfully optimistic about rectifying the condition, I thought to myself.
Students are basically making up these allegations:
An undergraduate sued my own university, alleging that a philosophy professor had engaged in “unwelcome and inappropriate sexual advances” and that the university punished him insufficiently for it. The details that emerged in news reports and legal papers were murky and contested, and the suit was eventually thrown out of court.
As Goldberg quotes, this is basically just students being dramatic:
“If this is feminism, it’s feminism hijacked by melodrama,” she writes.
We also shouldn’t take Kipnis too seriously, not like her humorless critics who don’t really get her:
Kipnis is a cheeky, deliberately hyperbolic writer, as even her critics understand on some level.
In fact, her quote of Erik Baker, a student at Northwestern, sums up the problem just as well as I could:
“She definitely paints this very overtly condescending picture of this new generation that has their feathers ruffled by her pushing the envelope,” Baker told me. In fact, he argues, millennials love satire and political humor. “We’re the Colbert generation. It’s not that we don’t have senses of humor or senses of wanting to push the envelope,” he says. “We just think that publicly belittling sexual assault survivors is in poor taste.”
Hardly a Tension
I’d like to end by looking at a point that Goldberg brings up. I think she thinks this is profound; it’s not.
It’s easy to sympathize with the young feminists’ desire to combine maximal sexual freedom with maximal sexual safety. Yet there are contradictions between a feminism that emphasizes women’s erotic agency and desire to have sex on equal terms with men, and a feminism that stresses their erotic vulnerability and need to be shielded from even the subtlest forms of coercion. The politics of liberation are an uneasy fit with the politics of protection. A rigid new set of taboos has emerged to paper over this tension, often expressed in a therapeutic language of trauma and triggers that everyone is obliged to at least pretend to take seriously.
Two fairly basic feminist applications of a core (third wave) feminist idea do more than paper over this—it unifies the apparent discord. If we view this as having important intersections with other identities besides sexual ones, we can see immediately where the problem lies.
The intersecting problem is when the teacher/student relationship enters the sexual one. Kipnis has a lot of power over the people she would be sleeping with—one her sexual history from the other side of that divide does not paper over. (We should probably pause to raise the alarming issue of feeling entitled to sex now that she’s paid her dues to “academe”.) She has a lot of power to dictate what material they consume, and without guidelines, may do so to their emotional detriment. Hard questions about that deserve hard answers, not her dismissive, revealing sarcasm.
The other intersecting problem is mental health. I’ve hit the Freud angle hard, but why exactly is someone who espouses Freudian positions being allowed into a debate about PTSD? It is entirely fair that students want the current medical understanding of their mental health to be respected. Again, with the corporeal analogies, you wouldn’t expect a piece about how kids with with broken should walk to her class without aid—those kids today, using crutches! Mental health functions no differently, with some illness requiring accommodation. By the same token, if she were in the habit of dropping weights on her students’ legs, no one would misunderstand the risks involved. The assumption that she is not responsible for her students’ well-being, padded by junk science, is a fundamentally ableist one.
An Unexpected Tangent on Vaccines and Climate Science
If you don’t understand how unscientific garbage can be ideologically seized on the right, here’s your model on the left. Anyone claiming to be interested in psychological well-being who then cites Freud has no fucking clue what they’re doing; anyone claiming to be worried about the health of children who then cites anti-vaccine science has revealed themselves to be woefully incompetent at protecting children’s health. And yet, here we are, with a liberal magazine getting liberal clicks.
Oddly enough, I’m not so much at odds with Kipnis and Goldberg’s conclusions.
While I ultimately come down against teacher/student romantic and sexual relationships, I’m not averse to hard questions about the imbalance in how they’re talked about. Trigger warnings are tricky ground, far from being universally recognized by pscyh professionals. I will openly wonder how much the popular understanding of trauma is cleaving to the academic one.
But I am horrified that the way they so confidently resolve them requires Victorian science, rape apologia, and ableism.
Now, people like Nate Silver have the market cornered on digging into the data in a rigorous way. I don’t have the time or training to mimic what he does if I thought I could do it as well. What I hope to do is show some of the simple relationships that get lost in the hype. News outlets have a vested interest in reporting on close races, so oftentimes they are slow to report that a candidate is struggling. (There are other forces at work; candidates push back against such reports, elections do swing, polling is not always completely sound, etc.)
This first graph should tell you very quickly who is serious and who is not. On the horizontal axis is the current share of primary voters a candidate has and the vertical line is the average. Likewise, the vertical axis is the share of primary voters who would vote for them if their preferred candidate left the race. This tells a neat story:
Walker, who is cut off there on the side*, is the frontrunner. But he might be facing some difficulty expanding his base. He has the plurality of the vote, but he’s not on many person’s radar as a good fall back. It is Carson who is doing well on both fronts. He stands to gain from weakening candidates and is a clear leader in the polls at present. Bush is doing moderately well and is decidedly in the game. Huckabee is hovering on the border of being a serious candidate, though I have more to say about that.
It is doubtful, by the way, that Rubio, Christie, Cruz, Paul, or Perry will do very well, at least for the foreseeable future.
This next graph plots different kinds of support against each other. The kinds of support were somewhat arbitrarily chosen; PPP had data for Tea Party support and the share of voters who support establishing a national religion. The size of the circle corresponds to voter share.
This can be viewed as a crude measure of fiscal conservatism and Christian appeal. The quadrants very roughly carve out four basic constituencies. Bush and Rubio are secular moderates. Walker and Cruz are secular conservatives. Paul, Perry, and Huckabee are Christian conservatives; I’d argue that Carson is closer to this nexus despite having just-under average Tea Party support. I think his views are a lot more conservative than his poll share indicates. (And he might be a victim of Tea Party racism here. Digging deeper into the PPP data, you’ll find that Huckabee dropping out does not help Carson much.) However, he falls in the otherwise sparse Christian moderate** category, with a tiny entry from Christie.
If this does collapse to a three-way race as early indications are it will, we’ll see battle lines get drawn around Bush, Carson, and Walker. The “else” undecided category falls close to Bush, which will help strengthen him as the election progresses—think Romney 2012. Bush’s all-around moderation against Walker’s hard-line, secular conservatism against Carson’s conservative, Christian position.
So don’t believe the hype. Walker, Carson, and Bush are the main candidates. Huckabee is a peripheral candidate. Anyone else isn’t worth the analysis at present. The election is breaking out along long-standing lines between moderates and two flavors of far-right ideology.
But you’re here for wild election speculation! WES winner: Bush, on strength of momentum and potential appeal to undecided voters.
*R is super powerful, by which I mean I can’t always get it to do what I want.
**It is probably worth a few words to emphasize that Christian extremists aren’t at the other end of this spectrum; moderate here indicates economic policy, not theology.
Frank Bruni has a piece in the New York Times detailing the outsized power wielded by the religious right. And this is not the prediction of standard models of Marginal Voter Theory (MVT), the idea that the vote a candidate is least likely to lose is the one that candidates move to.
Simple models of MVT liken political candidates to shop owners trying to decide where on a street to set up. It stands to reason that they’ll sit near each other and in the middle. This is a reasonably a reasonably good model of elections. They tend towards moderate candidates who largely agree. But the remaining disagreements—and anomalies like the outsized power of the religious right—don’t quite track.
The reason is relatively straightforward. Millennials are not an unusually influential political group. We’re large, but we’re fairly reliable voters, and we reliably vote for Democrats. Strategists largely take us as a granted. Republicans need to find an opposing coalition; Democrats need to make sure that they don’t stray too far from what we’re coming out to vote for.
Contrast this with the religious right. They can and have chosen to not show up for elections. Coded into the beliefs of this bloc is the belief that a worldly Republican is just as sinful and wicked as, say, that Muslim already in office. And a dip in White Evangelical Protestants can send a GOP candidate home. The marginal voter for a Republican candidate becomes that bloc.
This quirk of the US electorate pulls the center farther right than a simple accounting would indicate. The Christian Right’s willingness to hand the White House to a Democrat is near unique among large voting blocs. There simply isn’t a group on the left that uncomprimising, and it’s unlikely one will emerge.