You Bet Your Life At Occidental College

Trigger Warning: This will make you laugh, so if you believe in social justice, avert your eyes immediately.

Among the many shticks on You Bet Your Life was that if you said the “secret word,” a toy duck with a Groucho ‘stache and glasses would drop down from the ceiling with a $100 bill. It was always a common word, the sort one would say in the usual course of banter.

There is almost nothing about this show that could survive today, and certainly nothing that would cut it at Occidental College.

Occidental is looking at microaggression policy after the student group Oxy United for Black Liberation last month submitted a point-by-point list of radical demands — including that campus security ditch their bulletproof vests.

Rather than rejecting that out of hand, Occidental administrators — like their counterparts at the University of Missouri and Yale — said they’d consider the demands. Soon enough, microagression monitoring was on the table.

It’s not enough that the microaggression police are on the job, but their work will be done through secret snitches.

Perhaps most worrying, the plan calls for a microaggression monitoring system that would allow students to report faculty members for offending them. The plan explains that this is necessary to correct “power imbalances between faculty and students.” But students will have too much power if they are granted the right to be safe from microaggressions—which are, by their very nature, subjective and relatively inconsequential. How are professors supposed to teach if they have to worry about being reported and investigated for unknowingly saying the wrong thing to a student?

A few years ago, I proposed that faculty take back the classroom, not only because it’s their friggin’ job to teach students, but because there must be a “power imbalance” if students are going to learn anything. That’s the point of education, to teach mush-minds, not to let children dictate the terms of surrender.

Yet, young people call concepts such as a teacher teaching “condescending,” and demand an equal voice even though they couldn’t be less equal.  Rather than take this route, students have gone from concrete complaints to the ephemeral bitch of microaggressions.

A “microagression” is something that isn’t plainly offensive, but might be taken that way if someone looking to be upset thinks hard enough.

So now there will be a microaggression hotline at Occidental, where the duck will drop with a bludgeon in place of a c-note.  But it’s important to realize that this isn’t being rammed down the faculty’s throat, in violation of every precept of academic freedom as well as the dereliction of their duty to expand students’ minds and teach them ideas that might not comport with their absolute certainty of right and wrong.

No, the faculty is right on board.

The libertarians at Reason magazine interviewed several students to see if, say, “God bless you” might be a microaggression (as other schools have ruled it). Sure, came the answers.

And it’s not like they don’t realize what’s at stake here.

Mandatory diversity training of all faculty puts even seasoned professors in the position of being told what ideological assumptions they should or even must have. Academic freedom requires professors to follow their own research where it takes them regardless of the opinions of paid consultants.

Finally the requirement that all professors, even hard science professors, incorporate “issues of cultural and racial identity and diversity in their curricula,” violates basic tenets of academic freedom and scholarly independence.

If the faculty decides they want to be burned at the stake, who’s to tell them otherwise?  They want to be martyrs to the cause.

We recognize and are inspired by the leadership of Oxy United for Black Liberation and their call for widespread institutional changes in the culture of the College. We affirm that Black lives matter and also affirm the broader ideals of social justice to which their call speaks. We recognize that the structural racism and other forms of oppression of the College violate our commitment to ensuring equity and excellence in our educational programs for all of our students. We also acknowledge that our collective inaction as a faculty body makes us complicit in the failures of the College to make our Mission a lived reality. For this we apologize for failing you, our students.

Oh, you haven’t begun to fail your students.

In a chat about issues swirling around college and law school, a judge made a point to me the other day that, as much as the students are out of their childish minds, that’s to be expected of students. That’s why they’re in school, to learn, because they don’t already know and because they’re still children.

The problem was that we expect the grown-ups in colleges and law schools to behave like grown-ups, to make mature decisions and talk the students off the ledge of insanity.  Instead, faculty and administrators are empowering and enabling the children by acquiescing, and maybe even encouraging, their recreating the educational experience into some Kafkaesque joke of social justice.

The judge had  an excellent point.  That children behave like children is nothing new, even if the manifestations, as demonstrated by anyone taking microaggressions seriously. suggest that they’re just not all that bright anymore and certainly enjoying too fabulous a life if someone saying “God bless you” is enough to make them cry and pull out their hair.

A few years ago, it was still within the realm of possibility that professors could stand at the classroom podium and tell her students that she is the teacher, they are the students, and they do not run her classroom.  Now, it’s not only impossible, but the teacher is begging for her knuckles to be rapped by whatever nonsensical trifle offends the craziest future catperson in the room.

Ah, I wrote “future,” and a duck just dropped from the ceiling.  But its mouth was empty.

15 thoughts on “You Bet Your Life At Occidental College

  1. Richard G. Kopf


    Occidental College, Yale and Missouri and the like are beyond hope. Law schools on the other hand must not be allowed to give into this nonesense. They owe real people (clients) the obligation to turn out real lawyers. Anything short of that is academic malpractice that will have severe adverse consequences to those who require the help of lawyers.

    If I taught at a law school (a very unlikely scenario), the first statement out of my mouth on the first day of class would be this:

    “This is the only warning your will get from me. I herewith advise you, indeed I promise you, that I will offend you. My motivation is didactic, but you have not yet earned the intellectual, moral and ethical chops to question my motivation.. So, if you aren’t willing to be offended, get the fuck out my class now.”

    All the best.


    1. EH

      My motivation is didactic, but you have not yet earned the intellectual, moral and ethical chops to question my motivation
      Hell no. This is grade-A, ivory-tower, bullshit.

      Professors have a monopoly on expertise IN THEIR SPECIFIC SUBJECT. They don’t have a monopoly on expertise in general, nor on intellectualism, and certainly not on morality. Nor are they necessarily even experts in pedagogy: just because they know something about a subject doesn’t mean they know how to teach it (as anyone can attest, if he has had a shitty professor.)

      And with all due respect to RJK, who seems to have an incredibly hard job, that is just as true for judges. I know that judges get treated like they’re the smartest guy in the room, and they get expert-level deference in a hugely broad variety of fields and on a huge variety of fact patterns. But that doesn’t mean that the deference is actually justified.

      Sure: If you can’t take being offended, don’t sign up to be a student. But if you can’t stand to have your motivations and expertise questioned, don’t sign up to teach.

      1. SHG Post author

        There is one gaping hole in your logic. It’s not that Judge Kopf (or I) “can’t stand to have your motivations and expertise questioned.” It’s that students have not yet earned the authority to challenge them. And yet, many students (and, ahem, young lawyers as well) feel they possess the qualifications to dismiss their teacher, despite lacking the education, knowledge or experience.

        Why do young people find it so easy to explain why the teacher is unworthy, while ignoring their own unworthiness? Special snowflake?

        1. paul

          When is that right achieved. You have many posts about prawfs getting it wrong (or perhaps they are about cdls being right), should a student then, upon finding your blawg and becoming enlightened not be able to challenge or question that prawf? Experience is a good measure certainly, but it cannot be the only measure. Yes students are unworthy but that doesnt mean they theoretically cannot spot unworthiness. It pains me to make this argument given the trends but I really hope some students are challenging professor Eric Posner.

          1. SHG Post author

            No law prof would have a problem with a student questioning or challenging something substantive he says in the ordinary course. If anything, it’s what they try to inspire, with the caveat that it be thoughtful. That said, we’re not talking about engaging in a discussion, but students who demand that the teacher acquiesce to their view, bend to their will, “value” their opinion.

            There are times when students (like commenters) raise a contrary but really illuminating point. There are times when a student is just totally wrong, yet adamantly insistent that he’s right, and to not agree is to disrespect or not value his opinion. That’s where he crosses the line of engagement.

            But you then add, “that doesnt mean they theoretically cannot spot unworthiness.” Perhaps, but somebody is still the teacher, and it’s not the student. It’s a lot like court. The judge may be a dolt, but he’s a dolt in a robe. You still call him “yer honor,” because he’s the judge and you’re not. If the student is as smart as he thinks he is, then he can do things differently when he gets his endowed chair. But as student, he’s there to learn, not to teach, and not to prevent the teacher from teaching.

            1. EH

              Speaking of logic, your argument appears to be based on the assumption that the teacher is actually correct, fully informed, and properly applying the best thought process.

              This is not always true. I certainly had some professors who were experts in their field–my awesome Civ Pro professor helped to rewrite my state rules of procedure, and knew them better than anyone I’ve met before or since. But I also had professors who were assigned to teach a class outside their expertise, and who were basically learning as they taught.

              Sometimes they were plain old wrong. Other times they were so caught up in their opinions that they would brook no argument, even on issues like constitutionality which were and are still being debated.

              Do those behaviors deserve respect? Not in my book.

            2. SHG Post author

              No, it’s not always true, but it is inordinately more probable, which is why the teacher being “actually correct,” etc., is the presumption. That you’re struggling with the notion that the teacher presumably knows more than the student is deeply disturbing.

            3. Marc R

              That’s another great, separate point: law school teaches you, regardless of any particular professor, how to get what you need from that class. If your professor is a communist or feminist or hardass or whatever, if you can’t tailor your answers to make them feel as if you learned from them then what what will you do in front of a judge? “Sorry, client, this judge is really stubborn and hates the rules of criminal procedure so instead of filing a motion that he’ll find has merit; we’ll file a JQC complaint if our disqualification motion fails.”

        2. EH

          Again with all due respect to Judge Kopf, but if he doesn’t mind being questioned he shouldn’t tell folks they “have not yet earned the intellectual, moral and ethical chops to question [his] motivation.”

          With respect to “Why do young people find it so easy to explain why the teacher is unworthy, while ignoring their own unworthiness?”

          It’s probably the same reason that some teachers find it so easy to explain why young people are unworthy, while ignoring their own unworthiness: such failures are always easier to see in someone else.

          Obviously teachers are usually better educated than students overall. But we’re in a profession where we shouldn’t accept things without proof and inquiry–motivations and competence included. Good professors won’t have an issue demonstrating those things.

          1. SHG Post author

            If you made this argument to me as your prof, I would hand you a dime. It’s that idiotic.

            The reason it’s so easy for a teacher to “explain why young people are unworthy” is factual; they have neither the education, knowledge nor experience to be otherwise. This isn’t a flaw. It’s what students are. That’s why they are students. It’s why they are there to be educated.

            1. Dragoness Eclectic

              I’m going to have to agree with Mr. Greenfield here. (Who doesn’t need tummy rubs from me, I’m just showing off on my own behalf) and add a point: college students are still children in many ways, with children’s overzealous, black-and-white thinking, easily convinced that they are Right and anyone who disagrees with them is Wrong. Or as they said back in my mother’s day, “know-it-alls”.

              p.s. Your broken captcha is micro-aggressing me.

              I’m a software engineer, not a lawyer, but when I was fresh out of college, I was convinced that I knew better than all the old foagy programmers because I’d been taught the Right Way to Program. Thirty-plus years later, I really know better than most of today’s young hotshot programmers, because I’ve had 30+ years of experience. I can also assess what I learned from my professors, keep what is useful and discard what isn’t, because I’ve had 30+ years of experience and learning. Now I consider myself worthy to evaluate my old profs, because I have the chops to be them; back then, I was a ignorant young twit with an over-inflated opinion of herself.

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  3. Dawgzy

    Whatever happened to office hours? Occidental is the kind of college that sells itself as having a good student:faculty ratio. Students whose feelings tell them that they might be offended surely ought to approach teachers in good faith- talk it over. Of course, the smelly little orthodoxy is that this is not feasible due to concerns over power imbalances, possible retaliation, etc. perhaps first statement might be,” if something in this class concerns you, let me know. I (might) prefer to do this face to face, but an anonymous note or e-mail might be preferable. I’ll consider such feedback seriously, but IF I respond in any way, it might not satisfy you. This might be the basis for further dialogue , perhaps not. But, enough. We have a quarter’s worth of serious material to learn. That’s the priority. Now let’s get to work on it.” Oxy was once a school I would have liked to be a student. Now, if I were considering a college to attend, I’d conclude that I couldn’t be my robust, sometimes crude and candid self. I wouldn’t want to spend 4 years self-censoring. And if I ever “got lucky” with a coed, perhaps living in dread that I’d get branded as a rapist.

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