As the conflict in the Middle East continues to boil, there’s disturbing evidence of rising anti-Semitism at U.S. universities. Even more troubling is the fact that professors and administrators have refused to speak out against this bigotry, beholden as they are to the knee-jerk political correctness that has become the dominant ideology on American campuses. Which is why a recent speech by Harvard University president Lawrence Summers is to be vigorously applauded. It remains to be seen whether other university presidents, both within the Ivy League and outside of it, will show equal courage.
Speaking on the first day of classes up in Cambridge, Mr. Summers pointed out that anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli views, which were once the “primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists,” were “increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities”-even on ivy-covered campuses. The Harvard president spoke out in part because of demands from several Harvard professors and students that the university withdraw all of its investments from Israel-a demand which has also taken root at about 40 other U.S. universities. Equally distressing, students across the country have been raising money for organizations with ties to Islamic terrorists. It’s not surprising that students would embrace a passing political trend-trying on various political fashions is part of the experience of being a college student. But this trend is different: As Mr. Summers recognizes, the students who are agitating for Harvard to divest from Israel have been joined by professors who lack the academic chops to do what they were hired to do-i.e., teach-and so must justify their jobs by clinging to a popular, politically correct stance. The result has been a growing body of students who see Israel as a 21st-century version of apartheid South Africa. That these students attend Harvard and other premier universities-and will thus likely end up with influential positions in law, banking, politics and the media-is also worth noting when discussing the new collegiate anti-Semitism.
Mr. Summers, who admitted that there was “much in Israel’s foreign and defense policy that can and should be vigorously challenged,” stands alone among U.S. college presidents willing to speak the uncomfortable truth about the noxious anti-Semitism seeping into American higher education. In the year he’s been president of Harvard, he has been an invigorating force for the real purpose of education: Last spring, he struck a blow against political correctness when he suggested that charlatan professor Cornel West make fewer speeches and spend more time teaching. (Mr. West quit in a huff and was eagerly snapped up by the powers-that-be who run Princeton.)
By standing up to anti-Semitism, Mr. Summers continues to show that intellectual honesty on American campuses is a worthy, if lonely, position.
Columbia President and the J-School
It’s no secret among journalists that the Columbia School of Journalism, and its sister organ, the Columbia Journalism Review , have been floundering for decades. And the floundering will continue, based on the announcement this week that Columbia University president Lee Bollinger has named a task force of 33 people to come up with a plan for the J-school’s future. Isn’t it clear that no group of 33 people has ever agreed on anything – never mind the future of a graduate school? A committee of that magnitude is a device for assuring that the worst, not the best, minds will prevail. How did Mr. Bollinger get Columbia into this mess?
New Yorkers may recall that Mr. Bollinger recently canceled the search for a new dean of the journalism school and questioned why a big, fancy university like Columbia was bothering to teach writing and reporting skills. (Which brings up the question: What exactly does Mr. Bollinger think journalists do?) His comments upset several members of the J-school faculty. And now, rather than doing his job by hiring a dean with vision who could take the school in a clear and positive direction, Mr. Bollinger has created the quintessential bureaucratic nightmare. Is it any surprise that he has stacked the new committee with 14 Columbia faculty members? Or that the list includes columnists and commentators from places like The New York Times , The Washington Post , The New Yorker, Newsweek and ABC News? In Journalism 101, that’s called “covering your a-.”
Many years ago, the Columbia J-school was a respected training ground, and the Columbia Journalism Review was the preeminent arbiter of what was right and wrong in journalism. The Review lost its edge when it began hiring second-rate hacks as editors-people who remained on the payroll of other news organizations and thus could hardly be objective about the contents of the magazine. But as the school and the publication declined, no one dared say a word, since Columbia held in its tweedy pocket that ultimate, glittering treasure: the Pulitzer Prize. As bestower of the Pulitzer, the university has almost every journalist in its pocket as well.
It’s unfortunate to witness the decline of a great institution, but that course is inevitable when posturing and political correctness lead the way.
Nature Beats Nurture
New York parents are known to take a strong interest in how their kids turn out-bundling the tykes off to skating lessons as soon as they can walk, pressing violins into their wee hands, spending sleepless months over whether or not Little Master or Miss will get into the right nursery school. They act on the deeply held conviction that if you immerse a kid in positive influences, he or she will eventually emerge with a Nobel Prize, or at least an appreciation for Mozart. It’s probably safe to say that New York parenting is built on the assumption of nurture over nature. And what, indeed, could be more democratic than to start with each child as a blank slate-pure vessels into which loving parents can pour a variety of choice ingredients?
But evolutionary psychologists and other scientists have lately been coming out in favor of nature, arguing that all that hustle and bustle around raising a perfect kid-or even an almost-perfect kid-may be wasted energy. As The New York Times recently wrote, summarizing the conclusions of M.I.T. psychologist Steven Pinker, “significant innate behavioral differences exist between individuals and between men and women,” and “children’s characters are shaped by their genes, their peer group and by chance experiences; parents cannot mold their children’s nature.” In Mr. Pinker’s view, parents should feel relieved-if your kids don’t become astrophysicists or partners at Goldman Sachs, it’s not because you didn’t arrange enough play dates with that genius kid down the block. Mr. Pinker also points out that attempts to change our spouse’s behavior may be equally fruitless-perhaps something to keep in mind the next time you ask your mate to be more nurturing.