Thursday, September 10, 2015

Freddie deBoer Shows Us Why The Passive Voice Sucks

Fredrik deBoer writes in the NYT about the supposed "corporate taming of the American college" thanks to a "corporatism" he claims is responsible for the pussification of the modern university, the enormous expansion of its administrative staff, i.e. many of its current ills. I want to take on one of the specific claims here regarding Title IX. Discussing the Laura Kipnis case, he writes
The Kipnis affair was extreme, but it demonstrates the double-edged sword that is Title IX. The law, designed to enforce gender equality on campus, grants members of campus communities broad latitude in charging gender discrimination and mandates formal response from universities. The law can be a powerful tool for justice, but like all tools, it can be misused — especially as it ends up wielded by administrative and governmental functionaries. In this way, it becomes an instrument of power, not of the powerless. And because the law compels the self-protective, legalistic wings of universities to grind into gear, for fear of liability and bad publicity, invocations of Title IX frequently wrest control of the process and the narrative from student activists themselves, handing it to bureaucrats, whether governmental or institutional.
"[I]t can be misused"! Really, Freddie? And who do you think instigated that in Laura Kipnis' instance? From his own description earlier,
...[S]tudents held a protest, some of them carrying mattresses, calling for formal censure of Kipnis. Worse, multiple Title IX complaints were filed against Kipnis, claiming that her essay had created a ‘‘chilling effect’’ that prevented students from feeling safe to pursue claims of sexual harassment or abuse.
So, yes, Freddie, that would be students, not some feckless administrators, who made a stink, and the administration reacting to specious claims of harm, thanks to an insane diktat that Title IX means no one should ever feel "threatened". These students — and their demands — didn't arise ex nihilo, and used a weapon derived from the same political process that feeds administrative bloat. Big government becomes its own constituency, and its prime agenda is expanding its own authority and resources, and suppressing opposition.
Rather than painting student activists as censors — trying to dictate who has the right to say what and when — we should instead see them as trapped in a corporate architecture of managing offense. Have you ever been to corporate sexual harassment training? If you have, you may have been struck by how little such events have to do with preventing sexual harassment as a matter of moral necessity and how much they have to do with protecting whatever institution is mandating it. Of course, sexual harassment is a real and vexing problem, not merely on campus but in all kinds of organizations, and the urge to oppose it through policy is a noble one. But corporate entities serve corporate interests, not those of the individuals within them, and so these efforts are often designed to spare the institutions from legal liability rather than protect the individuals who would be harmed by sexual harassment. Indeed, this is the very lifeblood of corporatism: creating systems and procedures that sacrifice the needs of humans to the needs of institutions.
This inverts causality and sidesteps volition and agency. If you give someone a tool, it will get used. Title IX, like all bureaucratic bludgeons, has undergone epic mission creep, to the point now that it encompasses censorship as a means to supposedly promote "equality". deBoer can't quite bring himself to observe that the administration's behavior is both predictable and bureaucratic; instead, he reaches for the worst epithet he can think of, "corporate". Considerations of how we got to this point bear no examination, apparently.

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