The Real Academic Grievance Industry

The academic grievance industry, conservatives want you to know, consists of  progressive scholars like myself, manufacturing dissent via dealing in race, class, and gender “grievances” while enforcing that scary, scary political correctness on one and all.


I shall instead describe to you how the real academic grievance industry works. What I will relate is now a common story, made common not because we purveyors of political correctness wield so much power from our part-time appointments in Gender Studies departments,  but because conservative media machine needs content and thus will make mountains from the teeniest, weeniest of molehills.

   It all began one day during the recent Kavanaugh hearings, when feelings were running high. Price Women & Allies, a wonderful student group I advise at the University of Southern California Price School of Public Policy, sent out an announcement that they are having a workshop on Title IX, a federal civil rights law  signed by President Nixon in 1972 disallowing discrimination in education. In the email, the students urged their readers to “believe women.”

Two little words, so much ensuing angst.

Enter an engineering professor, to inform the entire listserv—aka hundreds of people who never asked for an opinion—that the phrase “believe women” undermines due process and that false accusations do occur. For extra measure, he added a threat fallacy by noting these student organizers would appreciate due process were they themselves ever falsely accused of something one day. The timing was inconsiderate, to say the least, and some misguided souls might think most of us already know that due process matters and humanity is flawed.

The faculty are rather used to it. He drops his quips and insights on our listserv now and then.

This time, though,  students got pissed. Some wrote back, hotly, to call the message insensitive, while our school administrator stepped in with statistics that show sexual assault is extremely common. One in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that false accusations, however,  are rare, ranging in about 8 to 12 percent of cases.

Some students organized a protest in our lobby, to which USC deployed a security contingent so embarrassingly large they must have been expecting the Ruskies and a biker gang instead of just a few of our own students trying to influence the institution. Finally,  the Price School dean wrote to chide the engineering prof for being tone deaf when we are trying to create a better environment at USC Price for women.

Then the real fun began. Engineering proffie wrote a neener-neener response to the dean, and somehow–o mystery of mysteries—the student newspaper got wind of the schmozzle and ran a story that quoted the Proffie saying he merely wished to debate important ideas. Then, again, somehow, who knows how, Inside Higher Ed, got involved where again then Proffie stated that he was just trying to engage in open debate. Then (oh yeah, not over yet) the LA Times, prompting me to question for the umpteenth time my subscription, published an opinion from a freelancer for the Reason Foundation, using our email teapot tempest to exemplify just how far-reaching challenges to free speech have become on campus.

This incident was grievance industry playbook: 1)  insert opinions into a random discussion; 2) when others tell you to can it, invoke free speech as though your random email constitutes some grand insight  and any hint that one might shut one’s cakehole a threat to the US Constitution and 3) some enterprising person makes sure an aspiring pundit gets to hear of it. Aspiring pundit will do the rest, and it’s all much easier than actually doing any real research, both for the academic and the pundit. Never, ever sit your fanny down to compose a sound conservative or libertarian argument and then get it published if you want your views both circulated and treated with respect. That’d be…work!

By contrast,  heaven help you trying to report sexual misconduct at most universities. We’ll run you from one unsympathetic administrator to another, waste your time, and tie you up in so much red tape your eyeballs might pop out and bounce around the room. But if a liberal looks at you funny, you can air all the dirty laundry about your employer in public you want to.

Variations on the playbook have turned out beautifully for Charles Murray, whose research when he did try to do any blazed new trails in bad research design. Murray’s gig now is to be a wronged conservative academic whom young conservatives can bring to campus to annoy people they do not like. Now, there are conservative and libertarian–or at least, not overtly progressive–scholars out there doing real research that young libertarians and conservatives could bring to campus, like Thomas Sowell, Mary Ann Glendon, Greg Mankiw, lya Somin, Robert Putnam,  Eugene Volokh, and just about every Chicago school economist that has tenure anywhere. These scholars bring challenging new directions for thought. They are not household names, and none create much controversy when they come to campus. Why? Because they deal in difficult ideas rather than the vitriolic pablum brought by Murray and the Twitter loudmouths students always seem to want.

Just after the Kavannaugh hearings,  USC Price had Dr. Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation to give a talk.  Where were all LA Times insights on this visit and what it meant for the “balance” of ideas presented to students? Where are the pundits? Pundit J,  where you at, Skippy? There has been nary an op-ed about this event, so I wrote this one because I’m tired of the whiners getting all the attention. Dr. Poole gave a wonky policy talk, appropriate to students in a policy school, to promote his most recent book on privatizing highways. There were no protests. Nobody shut anything down. Marlon Boarnet, the chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Spatial Analysis, stretched the budget to get lunch for the students and our guest. We had videoservices record the talk, and it is on our website so that those outside the university can enjoy Dr. Poole’s talk and his ideas get broader circulation. We even let Dr. Poole park on campus for free! That’s the keys to the castle on an urban campus, friends.

 USC was one of three universities where Dr. Poole spoke in California. That hardly suggests universities treat alternatives to mindlessly progressive thought as anathema.

Who arranged his visit? The young libertarians because it’s all about exploring their ideas that are so poorly treated on campus? No, my staff and I did, at the request of…..the engineering proffie so worried about us all not willing to debate to alternative ideas. Most people never heard of us, unlike Anne Coulter or Milos Yuckypants or Dinesh D’Incompetent.  We’re just the people who day in and day out teach our classes as best we can, arrange for good scholars to visit to broaden our opportunities to learn, and try to do respectable policy research amidst the endless flapdoodle in American politics.

The academy may not have as many conservatives or libertarians as we should, perhaps–I’ve never counted—but in my experience,  we routinely welcome those making genuine contributions, like Dr. Poole. They deserve our attention. The grievance industry vendors do not.