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The De-Eroticized University

Most readers of this blog will already know the speech codes—viz. sex codes—that the Department of Education seeks to impose on universities, under the guise of preventing sexual harassment. Eugene Volokh has a lucid summary and the Office of Civil Rights of the Department of Education a tedious tongue-lashing about what constitutes sexual harassment.  The acts that keep Diversity Offices at full employment can range from telling a dirty joke to reading Anna Karenina. Similar directives go back into previous administrations, so, once again, the battle is not about a personality (even a powerful one such as Obama) but about the Administrative State.

It turns out, as Volokh notes, that sexual harassment at an institution of higher education might be found in any public or private discussion of sex, love, or eroticism. This means that the speech constituting the core purpose of higher education would have to be scrutinized by Washington bureaucrats. This is dangerous professionally—terrify your favorite male professor by sending him a DVD of David Mamet’s Oleanna, about a supposed episode of sexual harassment. And, more important, the vague codes enforce a debilitating self-censorship on professors and students that simultaneously increases the blandness and the freakishness of higher education.

oleana

But what defenders of free speech on campus, such as the estimable FIRE, among others, may miss is the contradictory place the university has become. Having embraced the sexual revolution and encouraged an atmosphere of promiscuity, much of higher education has now created a legalistic, centralized crackdown on talk about sex. We have become what Tocqueville implied our condition would be without the influence of mores: a bureaucratic nightmare. If we can’t rule ourselves, we will have rules, myriad of them, made for us.

This (for now) soft despotism reminds us of the great contemporary classic, Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi’s memoir of teaching western literature during the Iranian cultural revolution. She teaches a small, private seminar of women great western literature, while in society and in her regular classroom she sees, among other terrifying sights, the compulsory veiling of women, their harassment by revolutionary guards for any show of “immodesty”—the slightest glimpse of hair, which might excite a man, might result in the miscreant woman being punished.

Teaching under the tyranny gave Nafisi (the American –educated daughter of a former mayor of Tehran) a better appreciation of, among others, Jane Austen. She has revolutionary political significance far greater than the proletarians Nafisi wrote about in her dissertation. By promoting female virtues, Austen is a subversive in Tehran—and in democratic nations as well. It is the restraint of propriety, not perverse tyranny, which makes touching Emma’s hand such an erotic moment. Reading Austen is a nearly forbidden pleasure that evinces the civilizing effect of great literature. (Among her acknowledgements, Nafisi thanks “Paul” [no last name, but we know by context which Paul this is] for “introducing me to [Leo Strauss’s] Persecution and the Art of Writing.”)

Prior to her confirmation hearings, now-Justice Elena Kagan disclosed that she reads Austen’s Pride and Prejudice every year. What does the novel say to her about manners, vulgarity, the differences between men and women? Might someone on the Judiciary Committee, who didn’t mistake Pride and Prejudice for a broadside on affirmative action, have asked the nominee to explain how the rule of law might abate the coarsening of our culture? Or at least how the rule of law presupposes a certain culture? Or don’t we see the connection?

Reader Discussion

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on May 16, 2013 at 10:43:23 am

I might have included this clip from "The Big Bang Theory" though it bears little resemblance to what has been taking place in the university. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3l5_MjR0Dw
See as well my take on Big Bang Theory and political philosophy. http://www.libertylawsite.org/2013/04/24/the-big-bang-theory-meets-its-maker/

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Image of Ken Masugi
Ken Masugi
on May 16, 2013 at 11:27:57 am

[...] The De-Eroticized University – Ken Masugi, Liberty Law Blog [...]

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Image of THURSDAY MORNING EDITION | God & Caesar
THURSDAY MORNING EDITION | God & Caesar
on May 16, 2013 at 14:59:42 pm

[...] of the combination of permissiveness in sexual behavior and the regulation of sexual speech is the de-eroticized campus.  One part of the goal is banning genuinely philosophic inquiry from campus. Read and talk [...]

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Image of The Obama Administration’s Neo-Puritanical Repression | Scientific News
The Obama Administration’s Neo-Puritanical Repression | Scientific News
on May 17, 2013 at 14:07:39 pm

[...] such things and kvetch about them, conservative Ken Masugi has noticed the left’s game of destruction in the name of liberation [...]

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Image of Classical Values » This new “freedom” is getting to be worse than the old “tyranny”
Classical Values » This new “freedom” is getting to be worse than the old “tyranny”
on May 28, 2013 at 22:22:58 pm

[...] Read the whole thing. I don’t know how much good liberalizing India’s sexual mores would be without first more liberalization in markets. I often think of the US’s own problems when it comes to the sexual revolution of the 1960s: more STDs, more pregnancies, and more costs associated with public health. Another downside was the attempt, by certain feminists, to destroy the very libido of men that Dalmia recommends liberalizing. The Attempts by these authoritarians can still be felt today, especially in American universities (see Ken Masugi’s thoughtful piece on this problem). [...]

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Image of Liberalization in India, and NOT Just in Markets | Notes On Liberty
Liberalization in India, and NOT Just in Markets | Notes On Liberty
on June 04, 2013 at 14:22:45 pm

So, Mr. Masugi, what's your solution to the improper response by these universities to reports of rape? You criticize the efforts of others to reduce the disturbing phenomenon where college students are sexually assaulted but then have their allegations dismissed or diminished by college administration, as in the cases of the University of Montana. Yet, you offer no solution of your own. Do you simply not care? Is it more important to you to maintain an "eroticized" university - (what???) - than to protect countless young women and men from sexual assault? Please enlighten those of us who are highly confused by your claims.

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Image of Siri
Siri
on June 06, 2013 at 01:24:38 am

[...] college campuses. Accusations on op-ed pages have ranged from “No Sex Talk Allowed” and “The De-Eroticized University” to “Federal Title IX Enforcers Effectively Define Dating and Sex Education as ‘Sexual [...]

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Image of Conservatives Slam Efforts to Address Rampant Sexual Harassment As ‘De-Eroticizing Universities’ | Women Born Transsexual
Conservatives Slam Efforts to Address Rampant Sexual Harassment As ‘De-Eroticizing Universities’ | Women Born Transsexual
on July 03, 2013 at 09:25:14 am

I didn't know that rape and harassment were erotic.

I appreciate the right-wing, "family-values" crowd for letting me know.

But for God's sake, please keep your twisted sense of values away from MY family. We're Christians.

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Image of Ignatz
Ignatz
on July 10, 2013 at 05:45:25 am

[...] President Obama wants to restrict free speech at college, interfere with campus dating and “de-eroticize” university life. The reasons can be found in a single line of the May letter from the [...]

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Image of Debate Rages Over Obama Definition of College Sexual Harassment | TIME.com
Debate Rages Over Obama Definition of College Sexual Harassment | TIME.com
on July 10, 2013 at 07:48:37 am

[...] it, President Obama wants to restrict free speech at college, interfere with campus dating and “de-eroticize” university life. The reasons can be found in a single line of the May letter from the [...]

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Image of Debate Rages Over Obama Definition of College Sexual Harassment | Barack Obama
Debate Rages Over Obama Definition of College Sexual Harassment | Barack Obama
on July 10, 2013 at 11:07:29 am

[...] it, President Obama wants to restrict free speech at college, interfere with campus dating and “de-eroticize” university life. The reasons can be found in a single line of the May letter from the [...]

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Image of Battling for a Broader Definition of College Sexual Harassment | ReadIt Haven - Global News
Battling for a Broader Definition of College Sexual Harassment | ReadIt Haven - Global News
on July 10, 2013 at 14:40:27 pm

[...] it, President Obama wants to restrict free speech at college, interfere with campus dating and “de-eroticize” university life. The reasons can be found in a single line of the May letter from the [...]

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Image of Debate Rages Over Obama Definition of College Sexual Harassment | ACROSS THE FADER – US
Debate Rages Over Obama Definition of College Sexual Harassment | ACROSS THE FADER – US
on July 10, 2013 at 17:01:07 pm

[...] President Obama wants to restrict free speech at college, interfere with campus dating and “de-eroticize” university life. The reasons can be found in a single line of the May letter from the [...]

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Image of Debate Rages Over Obama Definition of College Sexual Harassment | Welcome to the Doctor's Office
Debate Rages Over Obama Definition of College Sexual Harassment | Welcome to the Doctor's Office
on July 27, 2013 at 15:02:08 pm

Don't worry Ken, Yale Sex Week is still a thing. You can get your collegiate "eroticization" on there!

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Image of American Hindu Convert
American Hindu Convert

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.