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Higher Education Watch
Corporate Costume Consultants

National Review reports on the latest fad in campus PC: “costume sensitivity consultants,” who students can contact to determine whether their Halloween costume is offensive. Apparently several colleges are creating posters and videos explaining to students what kinds of costumes they can and can’t wear, and instructing them to check with various campus officials with bureaucratic-sounding titles if they are unsure whether their outfit might offend somebody.

Conservative critics of campus political correctness are understandably lambasting the trend as another extension of extreme identity politics leftism. But there is also another angle to look at this from, which the Purdue lecturer Freddie DeBoer highlighted in an important New York Times essay last month: The way that university administration resembles a bloated corporate bureaucracy interested in managing students, rather than educating them. After all, what could be more corporate, and less related to the educational mission, than “costume consultants” and official costume instruction manuals? Here’s DeBoer:

As Benjamin Ginsberg details in his 2011 book, ‘‘The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters,’’ a constantly expanding layer of university administrative jobs now exists at an increasing remove from the actual academic enterprise. It’s not unheard-of for colleges now to employ more senior administrators than professors. There are, of course, essential functions that many university administrators perform, but such an imbalance is absurd — try imagining a high school with more vice principals than teachers. This legion of bureaucrats enables a world of pitiless surveillance; no segment of campus life, no matter how small, does not have some administrator who worries about it. Piece by piece, every corner of the average campus is being slowly made congruent with a single, totalizing vision. The rise of endless brushed-metal-and-glass buildings at Purdue represents the aesthetic dimension of this ideology. Bent into place by a small army of apparatchiks, the contemporary American college is slowly becoming as meticulously art-directed and branded as a J. Crew catalog. Like Niketown or Disneyworld, your average college campus now leaves the distinct impression of a one-party state.

As we said in a previous post on DeBoer’s thesis, “corporatization” doesn’t tell the full story when it comes to campus PC. In fact, if universities were more like corporations in some ways—for example, if they didn’t have an activist Department of Education breathing down their necks about Title IX, and if their ranks of make-work administrative positions weren’t being inflated by a constant stream of federal money—then the PC problem might not be as severe.

Still, DeBoer’s framing of enforced conformity on campus seems particularly apt here. Universities are creating “a corporate architecture of managing offense,” complete with professionally produced videos, information sheets, and administrator-consultants. The mix of politically correct ideology with out-of-control bureaucracy is particularly toxic.

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  • jeburke

    Some people are always proposing explanations for campus ‘political correctness” that feature something other than organized suppression of viewpoints that are not leftist — like this “corporatism.” These are all excuses or distractions from the obvious: left-wing authoritarianism has taken over academia and is methodically crushing dissent. Like in Mao’s China, everything is political and only one set of political ideas is permitted.

    • Peter Henderson

      Excellent point! I see it over and over, and IMO it testifies to the fact that organized conservatism is funded by people who are not really conservative and who don’t really want to see any effective counter-action take place. To them, impotent griping is the only allowed response and fully sufficient for their purposes. How many GOP politicians are working up legislation to halt taxpayer subsidy of monolithic and intolerant leftism in academe? Zero, is my guess. I’m sure they have plenty of “excuses.”

      • FriendlyGoat

        Can you describe what the “legislation” you want for academe might actually include?

        • Peter Henderson

          Just speaking for myself, I would reduce the role of government funding to force schools to be more responsive to the “customers” who use their services. I would look for excuses to withhold taxpayer funding from schools that force students to conform to particular opinions via mandatory “diversity training” or who otherwise censor or punish protected speech. The argument would be by analogy to withholding funding from schools that practice racial discrimination. Also – and this is just my eccentric pet peeve – I would oppose funding for psychology and social sciences other than economics, which I see as fake disciplines devoid of genuine explanatory and predictive power. Also, no funding for education schools. There is no science of teaching or educating. That is what I as a voter would support, while other voters would support different restrictions. The main thing is that political correctness in academe needs to be brought within range of the guns of taxpayer veto, since as it stands taxpayers are paying for their children’s brainwashing.

          • Jim__L

            Honestly, if you got rid of the Title IX administration, most of the problems would be solved.

          • FriendlyGoat

            But Sarah Palin said she was a “product of Title IX”. You wouldn’t want to get rid of the sports that produce female conservatives, would you?

          • Peter Henderson

            The government should not have as its project producing either liberals or conservatives or people who exceed the norms for their race, sex, nationality, etc. Sarah Palin is sweet and lovely but putting her on the ticket was just idiotic. Though anything that helped keep that RINO McCain out of office is good.

          • Peter Henderson

            Yes but getting Republicans to do anything consequential in this area is hopeless. They are too busy agitating for tax cuts and fresh wars.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Yes, they are busy agitating for tax cuts—–rather exclusively. When I noticed that about 35 years ago, I stopped any consideration of personally being a Republican.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Well, thanks for explaining conservative thought out in the open.

          • Peter Henderson

            I wish that what I outlined could be described as ‘conservative thought’ but I am afraid most conservative thought on these issues is a lot more timid. Public education – and similarly publicly funded education – is by its nature prone to abuses of the First Amendment. When the state promotes opinions and disseminates valuations of student research and opinion based on assumptions grounded in the work of a small and incestuous elite, it is in effect punishing expression of dissenting ideas in violation of the First Amendment. Most people on the left would say the same thing if the right had obtained a monopoly on academic opinion and were stigmatizing students who defended feminism or gay lib or failed to acknowledge the correctness of the Herrnstein-Murray view on race and IQ. My proposed attack on the credentials of social science is absolutely essential to any viable conservative counter-thrust. Since social scientists condemn widely held beliefs and loyalties on the basis of their shallow and often dishonest research, we must see to it that their unearned intellectual prestige is destroyed.

  • FriendlyGoat

    We hope there are some Christian colleges which are so RC (religiously correct) as to discourage their students from celebrating Halloween at all. We hope there are some students at all other institutions who are so SC (sense correct) that they recognize themselves as being to old to dress up as anything. When I was in college (in the stone age) at a state college, I cannot recall many students actually paying attention to October 31st at all.

    • Jim__L

      Confusion or rebellion? Somehow I doubt that their parents failed to teach what was and wasn’t appropriate. Or, maybe PC really is about re-indoctrination, and the kids really are only “confused” in the same way that Winston Smith was “confused” about Big Brother.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Staying on subject here, I’d be for parents who can tell a college kid that no one in college needs a Halloween costume at all, no?

        • Peter Henderson

          At a certain point kids get to make their own decisions. Personally I think Halloween is great but costumes should be scary. As a kid I always hated it when somebody dressed as a space man or cowboy. I also consider myself a Christian.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m glad you’re a Christian.

        • Jim__L

          Halloween is for most of America the only costume holiday, so it tends to develop Carnival or Mardi Gras style aspects.

          Put that in an environment where some faculty deliberately uses students’ hormones to dissolve their connections to traditional morality, and still other faculty, bureaucrats, and politicians want to impose their own of morality (using tax money from traditional types such as yourself), and you’ve got the situation we’re in today.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The faculty deliberately uses students’ hormones to get college students into Halloween costumes—-or something? We shouldn’t need college counselors to tell kids not to cross ethical lines in costume—–when we needn’t have quasi-grown-ups in costumes at all. Call me a scrooge on Halloween. I think it’s overdone when anyone over 13 is in a suit.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    The American University, which used to encourage the free exchange of ideas as developing each student’s skills at discovering truth, has become a toilet of leftist indoctrination where opposing opinions are forbidden.

    • Peter Henderson

      “has become”? I had a girlfriend from AU back in the late 60s and it was already an outpost of Leningrad.

  • http://www.theaugeanstables.com rlandes

    if we’re talking about wearing a mock suicide belt, then i think we might be dealing with some bad taste. but somehow i don’t think what’s got the “consultants” exercised.

  • Jim__L

    This confuses a basic point of judgement and negotiation — what’s on your “Nice to Have” list, as opposed to your “Want to Have” and “Need to Have” lists.

    Universities aren’t being forced by budgetary pressures to cast off low-priority (practically useless) initiatives like this. Kids are not well served by this sort of example — it’s both incredibly wasteful, and leaves them incapable of negotiating mutually beneficial agreements where you don’t necessarily get everything you want. Polarization starts here.

    • Peter Henderson

      In a manner of speaking, polarization between God and Satan is inevitable and attempts to paper it over are ultimately stupid and counter-productive.

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