If You Think Universities are Too Western, You’re Right

Students at Seattle University, a Jesuit institution, have successfully forced a controversial dean to resign. Jodi Kelly, dean of the university’s Matteo Ricci College, drew fire from students when she used the n-word in an email to a student. That the word was also the title of a book by an African-American author didn’t matter to students:

in a discussion with a student who wanted to better understand the experiences of members of minority groups, Kelly suggested Nigger, the autobiography of Dick Gregory, the civil rights activist. Among those who defended Kelly on her recommending the book by name was Gregory himself, who wrote an essay for Inside Higher Ed about the debate at Seattle.

Even as attention on the N-word receded, the debate about Kelly and the college she led only grew. Kelly’s critics and supporters agree that she is a proponent of a rigorous humanities curriculum — such as that offered by the college — built around the Western classics. To the protesting students, that was a big part of the problem.

But universities are supposed to be Western. It’s what they do:

Universities are one of the few institutions that are a direct contribution of medieval Latin Christendom to contemporary Western civilization. Being an export wherever else they are found, they are also unique to Western culture. To be sure, all cultures have had their intellectuals: those men and women whose task it has been to learn, to know, and to teach. But only in Latin Christendom were scholars — the company of masters and students — gathered together into the universitas whose entire purpose was to develop and disseminate knowledge in a continuous and systematic fashion with little regard for the consequences of their activities. When professors and students today study and write about universities, they are therefore engaged in more than group therapy in the midst of troubled times for what is now ambiguously called “higher education.” They are analyzing an essential element in the culture that has come to dominate the entire globe. (James M. Kittelson, “The Durability of the Universities of Old Europe”)

In other words, if you want to speak truth to power, don’t go to university. If you do, you join the system of oppression.

Will A Revival Save Us?

In hopes of understanding my own blindness about race relations in America and what I (me me I I me me) might do to make the nation and me less racist, I listened to Thabiti Anyabwile’s discussion with Carmen Fowler LaBerge. Here’s what I learned. First, I need to acknowledge that whites have treated blacks badly:

We need to acknowledge the ways in which the church has intentionally, historically refused to be the Body of God along the lines of race. Whether it from Virginia’s enactment of laws that if a slave became a Christian did not mean they would be freed from slavery, to the segregation of congregations in the 1800s and into the 1900s, to the Evangelical church just missing the ball in the Civil Rights Movement and other areas. We have to tell the truth- the bone deep truth- about our complicity if we will ever be free from it.

When I taught colonial America last fall, I ended with the point that race is one of the lasting and darkest legacies of colonial slavery. I may need to do more in class. But I think I’ve got this part of it. I understand in part if not in full.

Second, I need to do something:

Pastor T says one tangible step is to pray for revival. Pray that God pours out his Spirit on His church, and that His spirit would graciously bring conviction of sin. That He would quicken His church in repentance and holiness. Pray that God would subdue the hearts of those hearts in rebellion against God and turn to Him.

Pastor T hopes the Lord would use the grief and mourning that has gripped the nation to break our hearts in repentance and so we would draw near to Him in revival.

Here I’m scratching my head. Does Pastor Anyabwile (and Carmen) not know that revivals were incredibly divisive throughout U.S. history? Revivals don’t unify. They divide churches between pro- and anti-revivalists.

If Pastor Anyabwile means that revival might bring sanctification, I appreciate the point. But in the case of cop shootings, does that mean city governments should only hire applicants who have made a profession of faith? If revival saves America, aren’t we still thinking about politics the way Constantinians, neo-Calvinists, Covenanters, and theonomists do? Can we only trust officials who are saved?

So what do we do if we are to live with non-Christians? Any policies? Interestingly enough, Pastor Anyabwile faulted Ta-Nehisi Coates in the latter’s piece on mass incarcerations for not recommending any policies:

Coates repeats the significant failure he recognizes in an earlier Moynihan. Coates tells us that the fatal flaw in Moynihan’s infamous report was Moynihan’s decision to omit specific policy solutions. Having seen that so clearly, it’s odd that Coates should repeat that failure so often in the important writing he now undertakes. A mind as formidable as Coates’s ought not stop with descriptive analysis, however compelling its portrayal of the problem. It should push itself to hazard a prescription, to call for some specific redress.

Pastor Anyabwile is of course right. He should also know that revival is not policy.

So what policy is out there? Maybe Peter Moskos is on to something about what California and Chicago police can learn from New York City’s patrol people and their supervisors:

Last year in California, police shot and killed 188 people. That’s a rate of 4.8 per million. New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania collectively have 3.4 million more people than California (and 3.85 million more African Americans). In these three states, police shot and killed (just?) 53 people. That’s a rate of 1.2 per million. That’s a big difference.

Were police in California able to lower their rate of lethal force to the level of New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — and that doesn’t seem too much to ask for — 139 fewer people would be killed by police. And this is just in California! (And California isn’t even the worst state; I’m picking on California because it’s large and very much on the high end.)

Now keep in mind most police-involved shootings are not only legally justifiable, they are necessary and good at the moment the cop pulls the trigger. But that doesn’t mean that the entire situation was inevitable. Cops don’t want to shoot people. They want to stay alive. You give cops a safe way to reduce the chance they have to pull the trigger, and they’ll certainly take it.

I really don’t know what some departments and states are doing right and others wrong. But it’s hard for me to believe that the residents of California are so much more violent and threatening to cops than the good people of New York or Pennsylvania. I suspect lower rates of lethal force has a lot to do with recruitment, training, verbal skills, deescalation techniques, not policing alone, and more restrictive gun laws. (I do not include Tasers on this list.)

If we could bring the national rate of people shot and killed by police (3 per million) down to the level found in, say, New York City (The big bad NYPD shoots and kills just 0.7 per million) we’d reduce the total number of people killed by police 77 percent, from 990 to 231!

The thing is, we don’t need the Holy Spirit’s miraculous powers for this. Providential control is always appreciated.

America IS Great Again

Don’t worry about the news cycle or the outrage porn associated with it. David Harsanyi looks beyond the headlines:

Homicide rates, for example, have been falling to the point where in 2014 — the last year of FBI data offered — it was at 4.5 per 100,000 people, which is the lowest rate recorded since 1963, when it was at 4.6 per 100,000 people. We know there was a slight uptick in violent crime in 2015, probably making it the second lowest year for homicides in the past 50. . . .

Put it this way: In 1990, in New York City there were 2,245 homicides. In 2015, there were 355. In 1992, Los Angeles County had a record high of 2,589 homicides. There were 655 over the last 12 months. In 1992, Chicago saw 943 murders, or a rate of 34 murders per 100,000 citizens. Although it still owns a far higher murder rate than most major cities, in 2014 there were 432 murders and in 2015 488. Last year, Dallas saw a spike in murders, yet the 10.7 homicides per 100,000 residents was the city’s fourth-lowest total since police started keeping track in 1930. In Denver 95 people were murdered in 1992, 34 in 2014, and 50 (a nine-year high) in 2015.

As Harsanyi says, it’s not 1968. That year was scary. This year seems like the last two years. The Ferguson Effect seems to be trumping the Francis Effect.

When Bathrooms Were Safe Spaces

Driving cross country and using rest stop facilities made me aware once again that just because a bathroom is male or female is no guarantee of comfort. What if another patron is attracted to men and finds me(eeeeEEEE!) particularly handsome? What am I supposed to do?

In fact, a recent piece in Christianity Today by a gay Wheaton College alum confirms those the plausibility of these questions:

By far the worst aspect of my college experience was the dorm’s group bathroom. At the beginning of the year, most shower stalls had two curtains. One hung past the entrance to the water spout, and the other hung a few feet farther out, past a small bench where we could put clothes and a towel. As the year progressed, some of the curtains would rip and fall down. I always tried to use an area with both curtains intact, because I feared falling into sin. Afraid of homosexual thoughts, I felt that I could not form close connections to the other men on my floor. Such a compulsive paradigm isolated me further from people who would have wanted to help.

So, well before the rise of transgender self-consciousness and legislators quarreling over access to bathrooms, men and women, boys and girls, have been sharing facilities with people whose sexual orientations make them uncomfortable. Truth be told, I even shared a suite of rooms in Divinity Hall (at Harvard) with the man who led the Gay-Lesbian Caucus. And I turned out okay (right?).

If we can share bathrooms with gays and lesbians, can’t we do the same with trans?

Did Memorial Day Give Us the Confederate Flag?

What’s the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day? The straight answer is that the former commemorates soldiers who died in battle, the latter honors all soldiers (even Bowe Bergdahl?). The funny answer is we get Memorial Day off as part of a three-day weekend to kick-off summer. On Veterans day we work in preparation for Thanksgiving and the big holiday season (some call Advent).

The difficult answer is that Memorial Day started to remember soldiers who died in the Civil War, Veterans Day for troops in The Great (Pretty Good?) War. Now, just like with three-day weekends for Presidents, Labor, and Columbus, we lump all soldiers into holidays that originally referred to specific wars.

You have to wonder if this is the best way to remember veterans or deceased soldiers when you get one day for all of those soldiers. David Rieff has a new book out arguing that remembering the past can actually be harmful:

What I’m saying is, there are examples—not a few, but quite a number of examples—where remembering, far from leading to truth, justice, and reconciliation, has led to more war. Three obvious examples of that are the Balkans in the 1990s, where I was a correspondent; Northern Ireland, for 30 years and, some people would say, for 800 years; and the Middle East. And in all three of those cases it seems to me that invoking history, invoking the wounds of the past, the crimes of the past, the conflict of the past, has led to more bloodshed.

In the case of the United States, our memories of the past don’t necessarily lead to bloodshed, but they do make us uncomfortable. Memories of slavery and segregation put whites and blacks in awkward relations that leave persons with no experience of owning slaves or Jim Crow feeling the legacy of racism should all inform interactions between whites and black, from chance encounters on the subway to public school hiring practices.

But how much is our own government to blame for the way some southerners keep the memory of the Confederacy alive? Memorial Day originally was all about remembering the Civil War, with blacks, Yankees, and Southerners all vying to honor their side:

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Right on either side of Alabama, there are two places with the same name.

Like the one over in Mississippi, this Columbus was founded in the 1820s and sits just a few minutes from countryside in almost any way you drive.

Residents say it was here, in the years after the Civil War, that Memorial Day was born.

They say that in the other Columbus, too.

It does not take much for the historically curious in either town — like Richard Gardiner, a professor of teacher education at Columbus State University here — to explain why theirs is the true originator of a revered American holiday and why the other is well-meaning but simply misguided. . . .

Waterloo, N.Y., was designated the official birthplace of Memorial Day by presidential proclamation in 1966, and indeed, beginning in May 1866, Waterloo held an annual townwide commemoration.

But women in Boalsburg, Pa., which has a claim as the holiday’s birthplace, began decorating graves each year as early as October 1864. In and around Carbondale, Ill., according to the Jackson County Historical Society, there are two markers making such an assertion in two different cemeteries. James H. Ryan, a retired Army colonel, has descended into the Logan archives and come out with a strong case for the town where he lives, Petersburg, Va.

This — readers, please take note — is just a partial and by no means definitive list.

But the claims of the two Columbuses, eyeing each other across Alabama, are among the more nuanced and possibly the most intertwined.

Maybe the solution is Rieff’s distinction between memory and history:

History is really about the past. There’s the great English novelist L.P. Hartley, who wrote a book called The Go-Between. And the first line of that book is “The past is another country. They do things differently there.” History is about the difference between the past and the present. Memory is about using the past for the purposes of the present, or for some group in the present. History is critical history … Memory serves the present. History is the material out of which this collective memory is made. But collective memory, commemoration, is not history. If it is history, it’s so simplified and reduced to be, as I say, to be closer to myth than to history in any usable sense.

That distinction may explain why this Old Life historian gets the last Monday of May 2016 off from research to do yard work.

Roman Catholics and Calvinists Together

It may not be ecumenical, but Michael Sean Winters understands what some of us have been sayin‘:

What is it about bathrooms? Throughout the Jim Crow South, there were separate restrooms for blacks and whites. When I bring my dad, my uncle and my niece to Puerto Rico every winter, my niece claims the one bedroom with the private bathroom and the guys share the other one. Three hundred years ago, it was a mark of honor to be able to accompany the monarch as he took his toilette. Now, privacy seems most significant, and therefore the most easily endangered, when we discuss bathrooms.

Still, even I have been taken aback by the current “bathroom wars,” fought over the issue of whether or not transgender persons should use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender at the time of their birth or to the gender by which they now identify themselves.

I am surprised, first, that this issue has seemingly become the next frontier in the civilizational struggle for equality. I understand that the issue is of great concern to the sliver of the population that is transgender. A family I know has a child that just changed his gender, and the process, and the result of the process, has certainly not been without anxiety and stress. The fact that the legal struggle seems focused on schools, when all kids are going through puberty, seems especially designed to throw gasoline on the fire. My sense is that this issue has less to do with the people it ostensibly concerns and more with those who are professional culture warriors on both the left and the right.

It baffles me that the Obama White House has latched on to this issue as a key part of its legacy. The fact that his administration has done so does not evidence the breadth of concern for other human beings and their travails. No, it evidences the degree to which some on the left, especially those with power, glom on to whatever issue seems trendy and cool at the moment. As Thomas Frank points out in his new book Listen Liberals, the “creative classes” that dominate the liberal establishment are far more animated by the need to get someone an abortion than they are to get people a job. Furthermore, how is this a federal issue?

It also baffles me that conservative critics of any accommodations being made for transgender people use such false and inflammatory language to describe the situation, warning darkly that the Obama Administration rules would allow men to prey on your daughters in the bathroom. (What is to prevent predators from doing that now?) A transgender person who now identifies as female and desires to use the women’s bathroom is probably going to cause less of a stir in the ladies’ room than in the men’s room. Think of Caitlyn Jenner. The way she looks now, I can’t imagine feeling comfortable if she walked into the men’s room.

Jimmy and Freamon Never Had It This Good

Back then they needed a search warrant. Not now:

Shemar Taylor was charged with robbing a pizza delivery driver at gunpoint. The police got a warrant to search his home and arrested him after learning that the cell phone used to order the pizza was located in his house. How the police tracked down the location of that cell phone is what Taylor’s attorney wanted to know.

The Baltimore police detective called to the stand in Taylor’s trial was evasive. “There’s equipment we would use that I’m not going to discuss,” he said. When Judge Barry Williams ordered him to discuss it, he still refused, insisting that his department had signed a nondisclosure agreement with the FBI.

“You don’t have a nondisclosure agreement with the court,” replied the judge, threatening to hold the detective in contempt if he did not answer. And yet he refused again. In the end, rather than reveal the technology that had located Taylor’s cell phone to the court, prosecutors decided to withdraw the evidence, jeopardizing their case.

And don’t imagine that this courtroom scene was unique or even out of the ordinary these days. In fact, it was just one sign of a striking nationwide attempt to keep an invasive, constitutionally questionable technology from being scrutinized, whether by courts or communities.

The technology at issue is known as a “Stingray,” a brand name for what’s generically called a cell site simulator or IMSI catcher. By mimicking a cell phone tower, this device, developed for overseas battlefields, gets nearby cell phones to connect to it. It operates a bit like the children’s game Marco Polo. “Marco,” the cell-site simulator shouts out and every cell phone on that network in the vicinity replies, “Polo, and here’s my ID!”

Thanks to this call-and-response process, the Stingray knows both what cell phones are in the area and where they are. In other words, it gathers information not only about a specific suspect, but any bystanders in the area as well.

And they wouldn’t even need Pryzbylewski to break the code.

No peace, no justice.