George Boardman: The only thing micro at UC is the thinking of its administrators
Many of our best and brightest 18 year olds are leaving the friendly confines of western Nevada County this week for new adventures as college students. They’re in for a lot of change.
Nobody will care how many generations their families have lived here, and it’s unlikely they’ll encounter any teachers who went to school with their parents, or students they’ve known since kindergarten. If they’re going to school in the Bay Area or Southern California, most of their fellow students won’t be able to find Grass Valley or Nevada City on a map. Don’t bother to mention Nevada County — they’ll just confuse it with the state.
Certainly, they’re in for new experiences that will change the way they view the world. Many of their fellow students will be racial or ethnic minorities they’ve never interacted with before; they’ll spend much of their class time in large lecture halls where nobody knows their name, and nobody will care if they go to class.
And if we are to believe the mandarins who run the University of California system, many of their fellow students will be sensitive souls who are easily offended by thoughtless remarks and disturbing ideas.
Just ask UC President Janet Napolitano, who has instituted a series of seminars for the deans and department heads at the 10 UC campuses to educate them about “microaggressions and the messages they send.” The seminars are promoted by Napolitano as a place to talk about “the best way to build and nurture a productive academic climate” and help attendees meet their “responsibilities” to do so.
So what exactly is a “microaggression?” Apparently, it is words or phrases that can unknowingly offend a young, impressionable student. For example, professors are advised to avoid saying, “America is the land of opportunity,” because the statement “asserts that race and gender do not play a role in life successes.” Really.
You’re not supposed to ask your fellow students where they’re from or where they were born because that suggests the person you’re asking “is not a true American.” And you thought that was an innocuous social icebreaker.
Now here’s a tricky one. You should never ask a post-doctoral minority student whether he or she is lost in the halls of the chemistry building because “the statement assumes the person is trying to break into one of the labs.”
I guess that means a student should assume that any minorities they see in the chemistry building are post-doctoral students who know exactly where they’re going. If they’re lost and too shy to ask for help, tough.
Here’s one more I particularly like: A professor should not ask a Latino, Asian American or Native American student to “speak up more” in class because they’re being told they must “assimilate to the dominant culture.”
This is part of a trend in recent years at major universities to discourage the clash of ideas and impose an orthodox view of the world. Some students are demanding “trigger warnings” about material that may be emotionally distressing. Others are insisting that some political points of view are just too offensive to discuss.
The usual conservative suspects have bashed the notion of microaggression, and they’ve been joined by the liberal Los Angeles Times, which wrote in a recent editorial:
“It’s troubling when an institution tries to squelch debate or discourage controversial ideas, but it’s downright alarming when this occurs at a university — and even worse when it’s the University of California, whose Berkeley campus was at the center of the Free Speech Movement in the 1960s.”
“…colleges have always been bastions of free expression because the learning process requires students to debate controversial and occasionally disturbing ideas. UC has done a disservice to that noble academic goal.”
But don’t expect the UC mandarins to deviate from their course.
Fox raises the bar
It’s easy to understand the media’s fascination with Donald Trump, particularly if you subscribe to the notion that reporters are people walking around with a can of gasoline looking for a smoldering fire.
That notion also helps to explain Fox News’ handling of the first Republican presidential “debate,” a program that proved to be disillusioning for many Fox News loyalists. Given the network’s well-deserved reputation for providing “fair and balanced” coverage of all things conservative, people expected the two-hour program to be a pep rally, an opportunity for the Republican candidates to show and shine.
Instead, we were treated to a modern version of the Spanish Inquisition, where the candidates were tested on their fealty to conservative orthodoxy as defined by Fox boss Roger Ailes. Megyn Kelly took on the role of Tomas de Torquemada as the “hammer of heretics,” and The Donald didn’t handle it well. I’m sure Democrats were pleased that much of the following 72 hours were spent discussing Ms. Kelly’s menstrual cycle.
Fox got what it wanted — high ratings — but it set a high bar for the debates that follow. I don’t know what CNN’s been planning for the next debate Sept. 16, but you can bet there won’t be any softball questions lobbed at the candidates. You can also forget about any off-the-wall questions like George Stephanopoulos’ query to Mitt Romney about banning contraception.
But that’s OK. Fending off Trump and the media will help steel the eventual Republican nominee for the campaign ahead. At least they don’t have to explain what was on an empty computer server.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union.
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