Obama Unleashes the Left
How the government created a federal hunting license for the far left.
By: Daniel Henninger, WSJ Opinion, May 8, 2014
In the U.S., the politics of the left versus the right rolls on with the predictability of traffic jams at the George Washington Bridge. It's a lot of honking. Until now. All of a sudden, the left has hit ramming speed across a broad swath of American life—in the universities, in politics and in government. People fingered as out of line with the far left's increasingly bizarre claims are being hit and hit hard.
Commencement-speaker bans are obligatory. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice withdrew as Rutgers's speaker after two months of protests over Iraq, the left's long-sought replacement for the Vietnam War. Brandeis terminated its invitation to Somali writer Hirsi Ali, whose criticisms of radical Islam violated the school's "core values."
Azusa Pacific University "postponed" an April speech by political scientist Charles Murray to avoid "hurting our faculty and students of color." Come again? It will "hurt" them? Oh yes. In a recent New Republic essay, Jennie Jarvie described the rise of "trigger warnings" that professors are expected to post with their courses to avoid "traumatizing" students.
Oberlin College earlier this year proposed that its teachers "be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression." The co-chair of Oberlin's Sexual Offense Policy Task Force said last month that this part of the guide is now under revision.
I think it's fair to say something has snapped.
Mozilla co-founder Brendan Eich was driven out as CEO for donating money to support California's Prop. 8. An online protest tried to kill Condi Rice's appointment to the Dropbox board of directors over Internet surveillance. Incredibly, Dropbox CEO Drew Houston didn't cave.
Earlier this year, faculty and students held a meeting at Vassar College to discuss a particularly bitter internal battle over the school's boycott-Israel movement. Before the meeting, an English professor announced the dialogue "would not be guided by cardboard notions of civility."
In the Harvard Crimson, recently, an undergraduate columnist wrote: "Let's give up on academic freedom in favor of justice." How would that work? "When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue." She explicitly cited for suppression the work of conservative Harvard government professor Harvey Mansfield.
It's obvious that the far left has decided there are no longer constraints on what it can do to anyone who disagrees with it. How did this happen? Who let the dogs out?
The answer is not university presidents. The answer is that the Obama administration let the dogs out.
The trigger event was an agreement signed last May between the federal government and the University of Montana to resolve a Title IX dispute over a sexual-assault case.
Every college administrator in the U.S. knows about this agreement. Indeed, there are three separate, detailed "Montana" documents that were signed jointly—and this is unusual—by the civil-rights divisions of the Justice and Education Departments. Remarked DoJ's Joceyln Samuels, "The government is stronger when we speak with one voice."
That's real muscle. But read the agreement. It is Orwellian.
The agreement orders the school to retain an "Equity Consultant" (yes, there is such a thing) to advise it indefinitely on compliance. The school must, with the equity consultant, conduct "annual climate surveys." It will submit the results "to the United States."
The agreement describes compliance in mind-numbing detail, but in fact the actual definitional world it creates is vague. It says: "The term 'sexual harassment' means unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature." But there are also definitions for sexual assault and gender-based harassment. All of this detailed writ is called "guidance." As in missile.
No constitutional lawyer could read this agreement and not see in it the mind of the Queen of Hearts: "Sentence first, verdict afterwards!" Indeed, the U.S. Education Department felt obliged to assert that the agreement is "entirely consistent with the First Amendment."
First Amendment? It's more like a fatwa. The Obama administration has issued a federal hunting license to deputize fanatics at any university in America. They will define who gets accused, and on what basis.
The White House enabled these forces again last week, releasing an Education Department list of 55 colleges that are "under investigation" for possible Title IX violations. Not formally cited but "under investigation." The list includes such notorious Animal Houses as Catholic University, Swarthmore, Knox College, Carnegie Mellon and Harvard Law School. In truth, every school in America is effectively on the list.
Make no mistake, universities under constant pressure from the Obama administration and the most driven members of their "communities" will comply and define due process downward. If the liability choice falls between the lawyer brigades at the Holder Justice Department or some 19-year-old student or an assistant professor who didn't post the course's "trigger warning," guess who will get tossed to the Marcusian mobs at Harvard and Vassar?
If it's possible for the left to have its John Birch moment, we're in it. Wave goodbye to cardboard civility.