Sunday, April 24, 2011

Caitlin Flanagan wrong about something, again

She's in the WSJ writing about why fraternities should be shuttered.

First, the statistic that one in five women are sexually assaulted sometime during the college years is very, very suspect. Heather MacDonald has a good piece about the implausibility of said stat, Of course, this is not meant to suggest that sexual assault does not occur at all, nor does it mean that the claims of sexual assault should be treated with anything with seriousness and compassion. It simply means that the one in five statistic is suspect and should be treated as such, and that Flanagan undermines her own credibility by citing it uncritically.

I'm more open to her claims about why colleges shouldn't permit fraternities. In my own experience, the Dartmouth fraternities did not pose any substantial threat to women. Of course, my experience is only my own experience, and I recognize that other women of very similar temperament and interests had much worse experiences with the Dartmouth system than I did. Experiences just vary like that.

I do worry that the Yale case that she cites will simply make things worse by creating more university bureaucracy and making it harder for universities to respond appropriately. On the other hand, my own experiences lead me to be less optimistic. Getting to the bottom of many of these stories and figuring out how to do right by all involved is surprisingly hard. Is three cocktails too much to make her capable of consenting? What about four? Yes, there should be less due process given to the alleged assailant in one of these cases than is given to a criminal defendant, but how much is enough? Does he get to cross-examine witnesses? What about the cases that involve pure speech -- e.g. the alleged chanting in the Yale case? How to balance students' rights to freedom of expression with the (private) school's interest in promoting civility? These are not easy questions, and most Dartmouth administrators and college administrators generally are not exactly Solons. Rather, in my experience, they are more like friendly but not particularly intellectual Pavlov-trained Labrador retrievers* who have been taught to salivate and run around in hysterical circles if one yelled the word "LITIGATION!" at them enough times. Okay, they rarely just salivate and run around in circles. They schedule candelight vigils, write tendentious and over long e-mails that use the words "diversity" and "community" many times, and bring in outside activists to lecture at equally tendentious panels in which the panelists cite bogus "one in five" statistics like the one above, thus making the Review guys angry**, thus making everything worse. People who are attuned to fearing litigation are not good at responding sensitively and subtly to hard questions. They are not good at nuance, at looking at all sides of an issue, or at

So, if the Yale plaintiffs win, the machine that I describe will amp up more. And don't get me wrong -- I'm sure that on some campus, somewhere, it's accomplished something good. But often times, it doesn't work well at all. And I'd prefer to see institutions left alone so that these situations can be handled with the lightest possible touch.

*Note: not goldens.

**Yes, my dear right-wing brothers in arms, we have sometimes over-reacted to these crises, too. And yes, we have thus been complicit in making things worse.

1 comment:

  1. The "problem" of fraternities is easily avoided by not attending their parties, no?

    Sure, the Yale thing was annoying, but the idea that someone really felt threatened is ridiculous? Mad or annoyed, sure, but not in actual danger. I see that as really no different than the many "take back the night" vigils that were common on my college campus. It was a bald power play by women against men, subtly saying "I might say you raped me, and you know they'll believe me, so you better not do something that annoys me."

    This of course detracts sympathy from the women who are truly raped.