June 19, 2015

"Prof. Althouse - Prof. Volokh said he was going to continue microaggressing. How about you?"

Says a commenter on a post from a couple days ago called "Eugene Volokh gets a memo from his employer (the University of California) about how to avoid 'microaggressions' and he doesn't like it very much."

What Volokh said was (mocking the university's aggressive definition of microaggression):
Well, I’m happy to say that I’m just going to keep on microaggressing. I like to think that I’m generally polite, so I won’t express these views rudely. And I try not to inject my own irrelevant opinions into classes I teach, so there are many situations in which I won’t bring up these views simply because it’s not my job to express my views in those contexts.
Unlike Volokh, I don't "like to think that I’m generally polite." I dislike (and avoid) thinking that, because politeness is subjective, and I'm afraid to count on the belief that other people will think that I'm polite.
And I don't even subjectively see myself as polite. I see myself as someone who cares about clear speech and concision and not wasting other people's time. I like to say something that's as close as I can get to an aphorism and stop and give the other person a chance to think about it and react. I think I sometimes startle my interlocutor by dispensing with the conventional niceties that swaddle the speech of people who like to think of themselves as polite.

But Volokh has a second thing to say that I identify with. I don't think it's my job, teaching students, to express my opinions, and I don't think it's helpful, as students try to absorb and understand an array of judicial opinions, for them to think it might simplify things or improve their chances on the exam if they could only know which opinions I agree with. Often the answer is, I thought about the cases for the purpose of teaching them, and I don't know where I would end up if I were a judge going through the process of deciding a case and wielding the power of government.

There are some things that the UC memo calls microaggression that I just would never do. Here's an obvious example. I teach Parents Involved v. Seattle School District, a case about integrating public schools, in which Chief Justice Roberts speaking of aphorisms! — says: "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." I think the people who wrote the UC memo would regard it as a microaggression for a teacher to say "Roberts nailed it when he said 'The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.'"

Whether I find the idea of "microaggressions" helpful in explaining why I would never say that, I know it's not helpful in any way that I would want to try to help students understand the case. I might say: Roberts nailed it... right? Or is he missing something?

IN THE COMMENTS: Jack Wayne said (referring to something I wrote when Donald Trump announced): "I believe that Ann micro-aggressed when she did a 'non-post' about He Who Will Not Be Named." My response:
The microaggression under discussion is specifically about the way teachers interact with students, about creating a good atmosphere in school for everyone, making things more equal, and getting the benefits of the diverse student body.

Taking shots at politicians and other powerful individuals is an entirely different matter. Aggression there is a writer's choice of style and tone, and I do what I see fit.

My point is that I'm never even tempted to do these microaggression things (whatever they are) toward students. I don't believe I've done them in the past. I don't think there's a question of "continuing" to do them. And memos that frame things as "microaggression" may strike me as badly reasoned or poorly expressed, but they don't impinge on my academic freedom, because they are not about anything that I think I do or should be doing. 

58 comments:

Lem said...

Nails are white privileges 😟

FissionChips said...

Perhaps I am missing your point but this post seems to be obfuscation through elaboration.

I grew up poor in the North Woods and became quite successful through hard work and education at public schools and universities. In the anthropological sense perhaps that could be viewed as a privileged upbringing.

As I also can see the UC Berkeley Campanile from my rose garden, that beautiful view also contributes to my belief that “America is the land of opportunity”.

Do you believe that one should not say or believe that “America is the land of opportunity”?

Peter said...

"Unlike Volokh, I don't "like to think that I’m generally polite." I dislike (and avoid) thinking that, because politeness is subjective, and I'm afraid to count on the belief that other people will think that I'm polite."

And do you think that's tri;u a safe harbor against someone who believes social justice is furthered by denouncing those who are perceived to commit "microagressions," and is just searching for speech (and speakers) to denounce?

Or is it a microagression to assert that such people exist?

rhhardin said...

Unlike Volokh, I don't "like to think that I’m generally polite." I dislike (and avoid) thinking that, because politeness is subjective, and I'm afraid to count on the belief that other people will think that I'm polite.

"Like to think that" is polite modesty. He knows he's polite.

Would would happen to "I like to think that I'm generally not a moron," just out of curiosity.

rhhardin said...

I've had the sound off on Rush most of the show today, though it's still recording to the HD for the archive. Maybe it's too many callers.

traditionalguy said...

Passive aggressive is very polite. It says excuse me loudly before intentionally knocking you over.

Polite is female yin. Direct is male yang.

Half way is boring. As the joke goes, why did the Canadian cross the road? To get to the middle.

Sebastian said...

"it’s not my job to express my views in those contexts" (said Volokh)

Fine in principle, not so easy to apply in practice. For example, I suspect that Volokh finds a way to convey his view that certain second-amendment opinions fit better with the text and meaning of the actual Constitution than others. Especially where that view may affect actual appellate practice, he owes to his students to articulate it.

Of course, the old-fashioned Volokh/AA approach, which I respect, in effect tilts the ideological balance in law teaching to Progressives who don't share those quaint qualms.

"politeness is subjective"

Perceptions of politeness, as of any other conduct, are at least partly "subjective," but politeness is a social code that reduces subjectivities that might otherwise derail interaction.

"Whether I find the idea of "microaggressions" helpful in explaining why I would never say that, I know it's not helpful in any way that I would want to try to help students understand the case. I might say: Roberts nailed it... right? Or is he missing something?"

Except that the notion of microaggression is expanding in a way that can easily snare a conscientious teacher like you. For example, if you were simply to say, "Roberts nailed it, right?," without any further Socratic weasel words, simply as a way to provoke students into taking Roberts' standpoint and thinking it through, you might be perceived as microaggressing.

Institutional speech codes won't stop you, but Volokh also implies, I think correctly, that perceptions of enforced orthodoxy chill the speech of more vulnerable faculty. When he says that will continue microaggressing, I take him to mean that he will actively try to change the climate at UCLA and show by example that free speech should prevail. How about you?

Michael said...

The very idea of "microaggressions" is preposterous and college professors who buy in to the "conversation" about it are much of the problem.

The word should always be met with a dismissive laugh or snort and a look a disgust. The person uttering the word should be made to feel like an idiot for saying it.

kcom said...

Ditto to what Michael said. A laugh of derision is all it warrants.

Bay Area Guy said...

The question isn't whether AA will take continue "micro-aggressing." That;s easy.

The question is whether Volokh, AA, and other courageous professors will call out the Left-wing, neo-fascist bean counters for trying to impose such a policy.

MayBee said...

What about when interacting with fellow faculty members?

Scott said...

Does "nailed it" reference Jesus Christ, Martin Luther, or a guy describing a sexual conquest using a metaphoric nail?

Scott said...

Or Bob Vila?

EDH said...

Bay Area Guy "nails it".

I know it's not helpful in any way that I would want to try to help students understand the case. I might say: Roberts nailed it... right?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

I might say: Roberts nailed it... right? Or is he missing something?

And what sort of discussion would follow, when any student that agrees with Roberts ( or states agreement as part of playing devil's advocate ) has to fear of getting reported to the administration for creating a hostile environment?

Chris Low said...

the memo itself is a microaggression, a lovely self-referential example of why the whole idea is absurd. After all, was Professor Volokh not upset after reading it? And I shudder to think of the trauma inflicted on the poor sensitive souls triggered by some of those examples!

tim in vermont said...

A list of "microaggressions" is nothing more than a list of thought crimes.

Though keeping politics out of the classroom is a nice dream. Kind of like keeping politics away from the holiday supper table.

Donald Douglas said...

I don't avoid expressing my opinions in class. What I avoid is indoctrinating students. When we have a discussion on race, for example, on "Hands Up, Don't Shoot," my opinion on that is that it's a bogus chant, based on a lie. I back my position with a fact, from the Justice Department investigation. So I don't think that's bad teaching. Sometimes students don't like it, because it makes them think hard and question the prevailing narratives. And when so many students are left wing, you're going against the grain. I look at it more like deprogramming, which I think is part of my job as a professor of political science.

R.A. Crankbait said...

A laugh of derision is appropriate for anyone using the "microaggression" term. I also have a micro-violin to play for them.

JackOfVA said...

It's at least nano-aggression to quote Roberts, Since aggression to the SJW crowd seems to inflate daily, it won't be long until it becomes micro-aggression.

Then, in a few more years, it will be a firing offense to refer to any dissenting opinion that does not conform to the SJW's view of the world. Maybe tenure will let you get by with a few years in a re-education camp instead.

Biff said...

Some exercises taken from my firsthand experience:

Exercise 1) A student in a healthcare policy and management class suggests that a market-based solution might have a role in improving the healthcare system. Other students hiss loudly at the suggestion, and the professor encourages the hissers by winking at them.

Identify the microaggression(s).


Exercise 2) A student in a graduate seminar suggests that a Republican politician may have views on foreign policy worth discussing. Other students hiss loudly at the suggestion, and the professor encourages the hissers by hissing with them.

Identify the microaggression(s).

Beldar said...

I understand the distinction you're drawing, Prof. Althouse, between what a con law prof might say (or how she might say it) and what the rest of us might say. Part of a law prof's job is indeed to teach students to have the mental flexibility necessary to argue, on cue, either side of any legal question that is subject to serious and good-faith argument and discussion.

But I live in a non-academic environment, I have my J.D. and license already, and I no longer have to pretend that everything's relative and squishy. I can and do assert that some things, even in con law, are right, and some are badly, disastrously wrong.

So speaking for myself: Chief Justice Roberts ABSOLUTELY NAILED IT.

Lucien said...

I wonder whether the statement, "Under Article I, section 31 of the California State Constitution the University of California 'shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin'" would count as a microaggression?

The Godfather said...

I hope, Althouse, that your refusal to take a principled stand against the concept of microaggressions is just part of your law prof Socratic method (like "did Roberts nail it or miss something?"). Because if you are really willing to give sanction, even the sanction of silence, to the notion that there are opinions that MUST NOT BE EXPRESSED -- which is what this whole microaggression thing and "hate speech" is all about -- then I have misjudged you.

Tell me it isn't so.

Fen said...

The very idea of "microaggressions" is preposterous and college professors who buy in to the "conversation" about it are much of the problem.

Exactly. Its a weapon the SJWs use to limit free speech.

They should not given the courtesy of politeness.

Hyphenated American said...

Are the claims of "white privilege" considered acts of micro or macro-aggression?

Gabriel said...

At the very least, Ann, the micro-aggression policy limits student discussion on whether Roberts reasoned validly, because the micro-aggression policy rules some postulate out of bounds.

You're avoiding the micro-aggression doesn't help the student who gets reported anonymously to the bias hotline. (My university had, and still has, an anonymous hotline to report bias). And it doesn't help you when you are reported for not arguing against the micro-aggressing students.

You may not be interested in the policies that enforce social justice, but they are interested in you. As we have seen, tenure and length of service don't protect you from the process.

Gabriel said...

@Beldar: Part of a law prof's job is indeed to teach students to have the mental flexibility necessary to argue, on cue, either side of any legal question that is subject to serious and good-faith argument and discussion.

That understanding is antiquated in an era where big law firms are afraid to allow their lawyers to argue against same-sex marriage.

The law-prof's job is now not to allow crimethink to be expressed or analyzed without at least a ritual denunciation. Students who fail to denounce it will be reported, as will professors.

Anyone feeling micro-aggressed can report it here, goes right to campus police.



Anonymous said...

By the way, why all the metric units? This is America, people: when someone tells you that "anyone can get ahead if they work hard enough", that's not a microaggression-- it's 0.134 shovelets. And at 15 shovelets to the shove, 22 shoves to the blurt, and 600 blurts to the fumage, it's clearly just a matter of time before you've suffered the 6 fumages that make up one U.S. aggression, or even the 7 fumages for an Imperial aggression.

SteveR said...

The way to solve the "Microaggression" problem is to tell people to grow up.

Jack Wayne said...

I believe that Ann micro-aggressed when she did a "non-post" about He Who Will Not Be Named.

Gabriel said...

@Paul (suspiciously foreign-sounding) Zrimsek:This is America, people.

Are these people American enough for you?

They work to the mil.

Laslo Spatula said...

I can give a woman a microgasm just by making eye contact.

I am Laslo.

kcom said...

And not with your micropenis?

RonF said...

Well, I'm not going to microagress. Because there's no such thing. So I can't.

RonF said...

On second thought, that was an awful thing to say. Anyone who has been subject to microaggressions should fill out the following form and file copies immediately with the Campus Police, the University Chancellor's office and the New York Times.

http://www.redonkulas.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/DA-FORM-IMTWF1.pdf

Rusty said...

Fuck off, shitheads.

Big Mike said...

@Althouse, I doubt you consciously push a viewpoint. Subconsciously may be a different story. But kudos to you for trying to avoid the trap.

exhelodrvr1 said...

Paul Zrimsek,
I believe that is "600 blurts to the umbrage"

Aussie Pundit said...

There's nothing wrong with professors expressing opinions.
Opinions are the result of grappling with the material and trying to make sense of it, which is what we want of professors.

Opinions are just the front line of analysis.

Terry said...

The people who define "microagressions" and assess penalties for committing them are the aggressors. And where do they get the power to do this? The same place they get the power to do everything else: the capitalist system gave them that authority. Remember when people laughed at the idea of "sensitivity training"? They aren't laughing now, are they?

Aussie Pundit said...

Remember when people laughed at the idea of "sensitivity training"?
The concept was once considered to be absurdly effete and earnest.

But the sensitivity trainers have won the day. Laugh at them at your peril.

madAsHell said...

I grew up in a neighborhood full of WWII veterans. I'm thinking that "Listen you dumb fucking bastard..." is a micro-aggression.

Who knew??

SGT Ted said...

The seminar and the memo inspired by it is an insertion of politics in the classroom.

tim in vermont said...

I wonder how many of these academic liberals tell their own children that it is pointless to work hard?

I think that analyses like this one are nothing more than tropes that serve to consolidate liberal power at the expense of the freedom, self reliance, and self esteem of those that they are claiming to help? It is a way to gently slip the harness onto the black community and put them to work in service of white liberal causes.

All the while screwing them by bringing in faster growing populations of low skilled voters for the votes and enticing them with jobs that blacks used to use to enter the workforce.

But in the new environment, such an analysis could not even be allowed to be discussed.

hoyden said...

When Leftists/Liberals lose the debate their response is to change the rules of the debate. Leftists infesting education, media, and government bureaucracy have considerable power to do change the rules of the debate.

Ann Althouse said...

"I believe that Ann micro-aggressed when she did a "non-post" about He Who Will Not Be Named."

The microaggression under discussion is specifically about the way teachers interact with students, about creating a good atmosphere in school for everyone, making things more equal, and getting the benefits of the diverse student body.

Taking shots at politicians and other powerful individuals is an entirely different matter. Aggression there is a writer's choice of style and tone, and I do what I see fit.

My point is that I'm never even tempted to do these microaggression things (whatever they are) toward students. I don't believe I've done them in the past. I don't think there's a question of "continuing" to do them. And memos that frame things as "microaggression" may strike me as badly reasoned or poorly expressed, but they don't impinge on my academic freedom, because they are not about anything that I think I do or should be doing.

David Hampton said...

Microagression? That is the P.C. way to disallow someone from stating an obvious conclusion. Volokh is an immensely qualified constitutional scholar. The University should keep their microagreesive threats to the faculty lounge.

Fen said...

My point is that I'm never even tempted to do these microaggression things (whatever they are) toward students. I don't believe I've done them in the past. I don't think there's a question of "continuing" to do them

I agree. Althouse can insult or offend me all she wants on her blog, and its free speech.

But in a classroom, I don't see how you can teach anything at all if you are constantly dancing around "micro-aggression" eggshells. Its a bullshit made-up word designed to prevent people from speaking uncomfortable truths. It should be retired.
Its about faux-outrage to shut down free speech.

When people tell me I have "micro-aggressed" them, I ask them where it hurts so I can hit them there harder.

Tank said...

My point is that I'm never even tempted to do these microaggression things (whatever they are) toward students.

The whole point with these microaggressions is that you, as a (very) white person, don't realize what you're doing. That is why Althouse needs to go to a re-education camp for re-training. She must confront her (very) white privilege head on, and cleanse herself of the stain of her whiteness. This will take time. A long time. Very long. The whiter you are, the longer it takes. Let's face it Althouse, you are very, very white. Maximum whiteness require maximum cleansing. You'll need to rub and rub until you get to the colored person inside.

Good luck.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

(1) There was a squirrel on the field, and in the dugout, at last night's Phillies game. My perception was that it was terrified, but the TV announcers and many spectators seemed to be delighted.

(2) William F. George recently took a quick swipe at the new Budweiser TV commercial that tells people how to spot a homo. Hint: drinking beer that's not Budweiser gives rise to a nearly irrebuttable presumption.

He didn't actually use the word "homo." He used the term "pretentious twit," if memory serves. Nothing wrong with that. Decorum. Good manners. Time, place and manner restrictions and all that. Point made, all the same.

(3) I was happy to read Mr. Will's essay and to be reminded, thereby, of a word I haven't seen or heard used much in my astonishingly young life, that word being "truculent." I looked up its definition because that's the sort of thing I do.

(4) A preponderating truculence is nothing to boast about.

Terry said...

"As a student in my class, I expect your work to be handed in on time and in the proper format, and please do not trust the spell-checker."
There is a sentence chock-full o' microaggressions.

Big Mike said...

I don't believe I've done them in the past. I don't think there's a question of "continuing" to do them.

That's something Richard Feynman warned against in his famous 1974 Cal Tech commencement address:

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that."

@Althouse, there's a particular world view I perceive in your posts, and not just posts where you're throwing something contrarian out to engage your readers in the fond hope we'll maybe even think about things in a new way. I hope you try to suppress it in class, but first you have to recognize that you have it.

James Pawlak said...

Is this the "academic freedom" defended by the defenders of tenure?

Douglas said...

Like Prof. Volokh, I try not to use my classroom position to propagandize. I don't discuss in class material that is not relevant to the subjects under discussion. I appreciate Prof. Atlhouse's reluctance to discuss her views about whether a particular decision is right or not since that tends to chill the classroom discussion and it's far more interesting to debate with students than to listen to myself talk. On the other hand, I think it's OK sometimes to express a view after the class has run itself into circles trying to figure a difficult case out. And I don't mind telling my corporate finance students my honest views about the Dodd-Frank law or what the goals of fiduciary law should be and why I think the current enthusiasm for corporate social responsibility is misplaced at best. Actually, I usually don't teach or talk about CSR or diversity at all, since I think they are just a waste of time.

Chuck said...

I would have been in favor of putting Hillary Clinton, our third female Secretary of State, on the $3 bill.

On the obverse side of the bill would be a beautiful engraving of Mt. Everest, in honor of Sir Edmund Hillary, for whom Mrs. Clinton is of course a namesake.*

*Some people might be confused why Hillary Clinton would be named after Sir Edmund Hillary, since at the time of Mrs. Clinton's birth, Everest had not yet been conquered by man in a climb, and Edmund Hillary was an as-yet unknown New Zealand trekker. Hillary Clinton was born in 1947. Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Everest in 1953.

But those facts never stopped Hillary and Bill Clinton from casually and repeatedly stating, Brian Williams-style, that Hillary was named by her mother in honor of the famed mountain climber. She mentioned it during a State visit to Nepal, and it appeared in Bill Clinton's memoir. The basic fact-checking in this case ultimately forced the Clintons to abandon the claim.

http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/fighting_words/2008/01/the_case_against_hillary_clinton.html

Aussie Pundit said...

My point is that I'm never even tempted to do these microaggression things (whatever they are) toward students.

The point is that there is no such thing as "microaggression."

Todd said...

Ann Althouse said...

My point is that I'm never even tempted to do these microaggression things (whatever they are) toward students. I don't believe I've done them in the past. I don't think there's a question of "continuing" to do them. And memos that frame things as "microaggression" may strike me as badly reasoned or poorly expressed, but they don't impinge on my academic freedom, because they are not about anything that I think I do or should be doing.

6/20/15, 7:26 AM


Ah but there in lies the rub! It is not at all about what you think. It is about what those in your class think, your audience. If they "feel" they were aggressed against, than they were. Case closed, end of discussion. Your actual behavior has absolutely nothing to do with it. That is the trap.