Conservatives Blast the “Myth” of Rape Culture

Why do some conservative thinkers insist that anti-rape-culture activism is a fraud? That “rape culture” itself is a myth?

As we’ve seen in these pages, talk about rape culture is often tied to the atmosphere of colleges and universities. And it is understandably an incredibly sensitive subject. Even asking about the nature of rape culture can be seen as truckling to rapists and those who hope to explain rape away.

Full disclosure: I am one of those who thinks that denying this problem is part of the problem. I agree that colleges and universities need actively to confront cultures that encourage sexual assault. For too long, college administrators have winked at the “boys will be boys” attitudes that lie at the heart of rape culture. In these pages, I have asked whether this is worse at conservative Christian colleges. I have wondered if non-denominational Christian schools, “fundamentalist” schools such as Bob Jones University, Patrick Henry College, and Pensacola Christian College have a harder or easier time dealing with these issues. In those cases, I was accused of apologizing for sexual assault myself.

And watch: I won’t be surprised if I am accused of supporting rape culture for writing these words as well.

But I’m going to do it anyway. Because there’s a new question that stumps me. Why do some conservative intellectuals attack the very notion of rape culture? What is “conservative” about dismissing the existence of rape culture on college campuses?

Minding the Campus Blasts Rape-Culture Activism

Minding the Campus Blasts Rape-Culture Activism

This past week, we’ve seen Caroline Kitchens of the American Enterprise Institute denouncing the “hysteria” over rape culture in the pages of Time Magazine. Kitchens asserted that there is no rape culture. There is no culture, that is, in which rape is apologized for and excused. America as a whole loathes rape and despises rapists, Kitchens points out. “Rape culture” only exists in the imaginations of over privileged college students and their tame faculty. Colleges such as Boston University and Wellesley ban pop songs and harmless statues as an overblown response to such rape-culture myths, Kitchens writes.

Kitchens claims the support of the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN). She cites a recent RAINN letter to a White House Task Force. In order to help victims of sexual assault on college campuses, this RAINN letter asserts, administrators should understand that these are the acts of criminal individuals, not the result of a nebulous cultural trend.

It is rape-culture stereotypes themselves that absolve abusers of responsibility, Kitchens argues. “By blaming so-called rape culture,” she concludes, “we implicate all men in a social atrocity, trivialize the experiences of survivors, and deflect blame from the rapists truly responsible for sexual violence.”

Kitchens is not alone. In the pages of the conservative higher-ed watchdog Minding the Campus, KC Johnson has agreed recently that “rape culture” is a “delusion,” the product of overheated leftist imaginations. Johnson, a high-profile historian from Brooklyn College, worries that campuses from Dartmouth to Occidental to Duke suffer from an overabundance of intellectual cowardice and groupthink. “Fawning” media coverage has allowed for “transparently absurd allegations,” Johnson writes. Plus, harping on “rape culture,” Johnson argues, allows “activists to shift the narrative away from uncomfortable questions about due process and false accusations against innocent male students, and toward a cultural critique in which the facts of specific cases can be deemed irrelevant.” Finally, the blunt instrument of “rape-culture” accusations provides activists with “a weapon to advance a particular type of gender-based agenda.”

Such claims are intensely controversial. But before we examine the legitimacy of these arguments, we need to ask a more basic question: Why do conservative intellectuals make them? Now, I understand Johnson is no conservative himself. But it is telling that conservative organizations such as the American Enterprise Institute and Minding the Campus are the ones hosting these anti-rape-culture accusations.

Is there something “conservative” about disputing the existence of rape culture? Is “rape culture” a leftist ploy to assert (more) control over college campuses? To tighten the screws of the academic thought police? Or is something more profound at work? Do these conservative voices dispute the existence of rape culture in order to perpetuate traditional gender roles?


Conservatives: Flabby & Inbred

Rocky knew it.

When things get easy, people get weak.  The only way to win is to get mad, get hungry . . . get the Eye of the Tiger.

Take that, Liberal America!

Take that, Liberal America!

In a recent interview, Columbia’s Mark Lilla argues that conservatives lost their Eye.  Why?

Just like Rocky, conservatives in the 1970s and 1980s scored major successes.  Not by beating up Mr. T, in conservatives’ case, but by establishing dedicated intellectual institutions.  Those institutions could and did fund conservative research and thinking.

So what’s the problem?  According to Lilla, those plans worked only too well.  Conservatives, he argues,

created institutions that have easy sources of funding and never have to go out and argue with people who disagree with them. It’s made their world inbred, lazy, and self-satisfied. It gets harder and harder to find serious conservative books on the major issues of the day.

Following that Rocky logic, it seems the best tonic for conservative anomie would be a long winter stint out in the woods, working out with cinder blocks and being uncomfortable.


Of MOOCs and Monsters

Does Monsters University have a conservative anti-MOOC message?

I took my daughter to see it the other day.  It was great.  I laughed.  I cried.  There were lots of creatively imagined monsters, smart dialogue, and sight gags.  Plus a heartwarming story of friendship and dedication.

Monsters_University_poster_3But was it also a Disney-fied version of conservative arguments about the fate and future of higher education?

I couldn’t help wondering what the conservative intelligentsia would have to say about the movie’s implications for the future of higher education.  Especially about the latest craze to sweep the educational establishment, Massive Open Online Courses.

Conservatives have been divided about the moral and practical implications of MOOCs.

Some free-market aficionados have trumpeted the promise of the new approach.  By providing courses for free from elite universities such as Harvard and MIT, MOOCs make world-class learning more widely available than ever.  Economist Richard Vedder, for example, argued that a MOOC approach could cull out inefficiencies in higher education.

More recently, Benjamin Ginsberg fretted that MOOCs represented just another way for administrators to cut apparent costs, at the real cost of abolishing real learning.

Other conservatives have agreed that the MOOC model abandons the proper goal of higher education.  Rachelle DeJong complained that higher ed must take more responsibility for the formation of young minds and spirits. “The student,” DeJong wrote,

as yet unformed and uneducated, cannot judge what studies best suit his needs, his vocation, or his intellectual development. How can he discern a steep ascent to the mountaintop from a difficult dead-end, when all he knows are the briars, the rocks, and the stitch in his side?

In the pages of Minding the Campus, Peter Sacks warned that MOOCs will generate a crushing mediocrity and exacerbate the existing class divide among institutions of higher education.  Rich students will get a full learning experience, Sacks insisted, while less well-off students will only hear distant digital echoes of profound learning environments.

Such conservative arguments make sense to the historian in me.  Even a nodding acquaintance with the history of technology and education makes anyone skeptical of any new technological “revolution” for classrooms.  As Larry Cuban has demonstrated, new technologies often garner enthusiasm and enormous investment, only to crash against the reefs of complex educational reality.

Perhaps the best example was the flying broadcast technology of the 1950s.  The US government and the Ford Foundation poured tens of millions of dollars into this program, which sent planes circling over the Midwest and Great Plains.  These planes broadcast educational television programs to schools in those areas.  The idea was that the very best teachers could supply content for audiences of schoolchildren nationwide.

The program failed because schooling is about much more than simply receiving information from a TV screen.  CAN young people learn this way?  Of course.  Is such learning the equivalent of all the complex interactions that go into our notion of “school?”  Of course not.

A similar future seems in store for MOOCs.  Such distance learning is nothing really new and some students will likely benefit greatly from it.  But it will not replace the entirety of higher education, since that entirety includes such a broad range of ingredients.

What does all this have to do with adorable monsters?  I won’t give away any of the plot of Monsters University, but I can say that the movie centers around the dreams of a young adorable monster who yearns to attend Monster University.  The film includes long sweeping vistas of colored foliage and ancient-looking buildings.  It revolves around the intense traditions and intense personal interactions that make up higher education for monsters.

The main character, to be sure, went to MU for vocational reasons.  He wanted to earn a certain type of job.  Without giving away the plot, I can’t comment here on some of the movie’s ultimate implication about the career efficacy of those choices.

But for the main monster character, the allure of MU was at least as much about personal relationships between students and a hard-nosed dean as it was about attaining information.  The attraction of MU depicted in the film was at least as much about learning from fellow students as it was about downloading information from star professors.  The campus and its social scene played crucial roles in the education depicted in the film.

If the film gives us anything beyond two pleasant hours in an air-conditioned theater, it is an emotional, playful articulation of the drier anti-MOOC arguments made by conservative intellectuals.  College, in this film, is a whole-life experience.  College includes formal education, but it also requires a whole lot more.  In order to be educated, the film implies, young people must submit to a stupendous tradition.  Institutions of higher learning, as portrayed in this summer fantasy, are literally supernatural conglomerations of love, life, and learning.

Such conglomerations can never be replaced with online learning platforms.  No matter how much star power goes into them.


Colorado’s Conservative: Conservatives Weigh In

Was the recent hiring of conservative Steven Hayward by the University of Colorado a good thing for conservatism?

Minding the Campus offers a helpful collection of opinions from a variety of higher-education thinkers about the meanings of CU’s move.

As we might expect, the collection demonstrates a wide variety of conclusions.  Many of the contributors, though, condemn the move as an example of illiberal liberalism.  That is, hiring one exemplary conservative simply exacerbates the problem.  Higher education, some argue, has already degraded into a mere culture-war shouting match.  This wrong-headed move only adds one more shouter to the arena.


Persecution and the Conservative Academic

Do conservative academics suffer persecution?

NYU professor of history and education Jonathan Zimmerman recently called for affirmative action for conservative college professors, even though, Zimmerman insisted, such professors hadn’t suffered from historic discrimination.

That hit a nerve.

Writing in the higher-education blog Minding the Campus, a publication of the conservative Manhattan Institute, Ronald Radosh called foul.

Radosh took exception to Zimmerman’s insistence that liberal professors like himself were not the “wild-eyed Marxists” many conservative pundits had accused them of being.

Radosh disagreed.  “NYU,” Radosh wrote, “is most egregiously guilty of precisely such a bias. Their own history department is dominated by precisely those types, and some of the institutes and centers they have established have gone out of their way to make that crystal clear.”

Radosh complained that his career had suffered for purely political reasons.  At George Washington University, for instance, Radosh claimed that he had been subjected to questions mainly “about my politics, and not about my approach to history or how it should be taught.”  At another school, Radosh said he was buffeted in a job interview with a series of “hostile questions” about his views on Cold-War spies Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

In the end, Radosh concluded that most history professors discriminate actively and self-consciously against conservative academics.  As Radosh wrote,

“The reason such professors will not hire conservatives is precisely because they do not want ‘other right-leading students’ to ‘follow them, into the academic profession,’ as Prof. Zimmerman hopes they will once conservative professors are hired. Does he really think people like Marilyn Young and Linda Gordon at NYU want anyone to challenge the ideological hegemony they now hold over molding students’ minds?”

Other sorts of conservative academics have long claimed to suffer from similar persecution.

The case of Teresa Wagner, for instance, still bubbles along.  Wagner had applied for jobs at the University of Iowa’s law school.  She was one of five finalists, but was passed over for the most desirable tenure-track job.  Was it due to prejudice against Wagner’s loud-and-proud conservative activism?  Wagner had made no secret of her pro-life and traditional-marriage stances.

One unique element of Wagner’s case was the existence of a smoking gun.  Unlike most hiring-discrimination cases, Wagner was able to produce a document that seemed to make her case.  Associate Dean John Carlson had written in an internal email, “Frankly, one thing that worries me is that some people may be opposed to Teresa serving in any role in part at least because they so despise her politics (and especially her activism about it). I hate to think that is the case, and I don’t actually think that, but I’m worried that I may be missing something.”

That email made Wagner’s case complicated.  A group of jurors agreed that Wagner had been treated unfairly.

These conservative claims of academic persecution are nothing new.

Creationist Jerry Bergman collected cases of such discrimination in his 1984 book The Criterion.  Bergman, who claimed to have been denied tenure at Bowling Green State University in the early 1980s due to his creationist beliefs, described the stories of academics such as Clifford Burdick.  Burdick was allegedly refused his PhD at the University of Arizona in 1960 for including a consideration of divine creation as an explanation for discrepancies in the fossil record.  Bergman argued that such attitudes had no place in a university setting.  Firing a creationist for speaking to students about his or her beliefs, Bergman argued, would be like “if a black were fired on the suspicion that he had ‘talked to students about being black,’ or a woman being fired for having ‘talked to students about women’s issues.’”

Even further back, anti-evolution leader T. T. Martin complained in 1923 that the universities had been taken over.  “We sent our young men to the great German universities,” Martin lamented, “and, when they came back, saturated with Evolution, we made them Presidents and head-professors of our colleges and great universities.”

Of course, the academic politics of evolution are much different than the politics of communism, which are different from the politics of abortion.  I think it is safe to say that a mainstream school will be more open about its discrimination against a creationist than against a neo-conservative anti-communist or a traditional-marriage supporting legal scholar.

However, Professor Zimmerman’s claim that conservatives have not been the subject of historic discrimination still rankles among conservative academics of various backgrounds.  One of the most closely treasured beliefs among conservative intellectuals, after all, is that American universities have been largely captured by a totalitarian and essentially anti-liberal left.