Calling Out (with) Hope – At least become like Calvin …

While this is a piece that stands on its own, it may read differently if you understand my take ‘On Faith, Individualism, Decency, Tolerance and Public Policy’ – a piece that precedes this one in this blog.

“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28:

Hath not a Jew eyes? hath not a Jew hands, organs,
dimensions, senses, affections, passions? fed with
the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject
to the same diseases, healed by the same means,
warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as
a Christian is?  
Shakespeare, William  – Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1 http://shakespeare.mit.edu/merchant/full.html

 

Recently America has seen an increase in something between deep religious parochialism and outright religious intolerance. Mr. Trump’s campaign for President has fanned such feeling, but is not responsible for generating them. For some time now, religious parochialism has been practiced in what would seem the most unlikely of places – some Liberal Arts Colleges!! There is a group of colleges which will not hire folks who are not Christian, or some even narrower religious category. They include, and I’ll touch upon the mentioned ones in this piece, Wheaton, Calvin, and Hope Colleges. I would not be surprised if there are other institutions, either Christian or affiliated with other religious denominations who also practice the “we will hire only our religious kind” type of parochialism. If there are, I would be grateful if someone would share their names with me.

Recently in the news was Wheaton College, in Illinois, U.S.A.. The powers that be at Wheaton College are so Christian that they have a problem with a tenured faculty member, Larycia Hawkins, “standing in religious solidarity with Muslims” and stating that they “worship the same God.”  The institution’s reaction to the professor’s statement seems so bizarre that I am simply going to suggest that in my book any attempt to explain and justify the actions of Wheaton’s powers that be is making a case for a society that I will find deeply troubling. I can only ask, what are they thinking? The Wheaton administration first suspended Hawkins, then began termination proceedings against her, before both parties reached a “confidential agreement under which both parties will part ways.” In case you are interested in some of the details of this incident I give you the following links.

 I wouldn’t be surprised if you were not aware of the existence of such religious parochialism. My life centers around American liberal arts colleges and for the longest time I was simply unaware that folks who thought this way also taught undergraduates. About a couple of years ago I learned that Calvin College and Hope College (both in Michigan, U.S.A.) excluded folks from being hired if they were not Christian. In fact I have visited Calvin and Hope after knowing that there was no chance of my being hired in these institutions and I did not think too much about it. I remember walking around the Hope campus wondering how an institution can be so parochial in its hiring practices. But I didn’t act on those thoughts. I’ll come back to talking about Hope College in some detail soon. But first a word about Calvin because it presents an interesting contrast with Hope – a difference I think, that matters.

Calvin College is upfront about its hiring practices. The Faculty handbook clearly states – “For regular appointments (i.e. tenure track and renewable term appointments), it is expected that a department will conduct a thorough examination of candidates… Although a variety of procedures may be employed, each examination must address the candidate’s reformed Christian commitment, teaching ability…” (http://www.calvin.edu/admin/provost/handbook/Handbook.pdf).

In fact the college defends this policy with great clarity. On the college’s website it explains – Calvin College is a Christian institution situated within the Reformed tradition. As such, the college may, under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and various relevant statutes, lawfully discriminate on the basis of religious and confessional criteria in its hiring, personnel practices and admissions. One example is the College’s use of religious faith, confessional commitments and church membership as conditions of employment for faculty and administrators with faculty status. Another example…” (http://www.calvin.edu/admin/hr/handbook/employment/#hiring)

As much as I think Calvin College is parochial and wrong-headed in its hiring policy, I deeply appreciate Calvin’s transparency. Calvin clearly is willing to unambiguously articulate the rationale for its discrimination policy. It seems to me that when institutions want to discriminate based on some deeply held belief/value/principle/faith then at the very least they should have the courage to be open and articulate about their beliefs and the form of discrimination. Clearly Calvin has more than met that minimal yardstick.

Not so with Hope College. Based on public documents, websites, etc. you will be hard pressed to figure out that to be hired by Hope College you must be a Christian. In its jobs page (http://www.hope.edu/jobs/) the college says – “Hope College places a high priority on sustaining a supportive environment that recognizes the importance of having diverse faculty and staff in order to best prepare our students for successful careers in our multi-cultural nation and global community. Applications with diverse backgrounds and cultures are encouraged to apply. Hope is an equal opportunity employer.

If you read that and thought that Hope College encourages folks with diverse religious backgrounds – Atheists, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, and the all-encompassing Non – Christian Others including Zorastrians –  to apply, you will be demonstrating a reasonable grasp of the English language, but will be wrong. For in that A to Z list, anyone who does not belong to category C and applies for a job at the Holland, MI’s liberal arts institution which encourages applications from people of diverse backgrounds and cultures will find that it is a Hopeless (the pun is begging to be made multiple times!) endeavor. Even if they think you are the best person for the job, they will reject you once they know that you are not a Christian! Let me repeat that, even if they think you are the best person for the job, they will reject you once they know that you are not a Christian! I’d been told that by a few people very familiar with Hope’s hiring practices. When I heard about this, in the abstract I didn’t think highly of it, nor did I think much about it. But then…

It happened to a colleague of mine. He is not Christian­­­ by birth. He applied for a position at the Philadelphia Center (http://www.tpc.edu/), which is managed by Hope College. He understood that Hope hired only Christians for on campus positions, but wasn’t sure this restriction applied to the off-campus Philadelphia Center, especially since he thought that there were other faculty at the Philadelphia Center who were not Christians (if that is , true, it further puzzles me!). So when he interviewed he asked and was assured by the Dean for International and Multicultural Education at Hope College that “being Jewish was not a bar to serving as the Executive Director of TPC.” Unfortunately, in spite of “having been the choice of the Search Committee for the position” my colleague was informed by the same Dean who assured him earlier that being Jewish was not a sufficient condition to deny him the position that “the expectations for this position had changed and that the Executive Director would now need to meet the same standards for employment as would any Hope College faculty member, namely, to be a Christian.” The quotes in this paragraph are from a letter my colleague wrote to the President and Provost (two different people) of Hope College after he learned that not being a Christian was the sole reason for his not getting the position at the Philadelphia Center. It is worth pointing out that the thrust of my colleague’s letter to the President and Provost of Hope College did not focus on his personal disappointment, but rather on the “relationship between Hope College and The Philadelphia Center (TPC).” Those details are tangential to the central point of this piece and so I will not address them here. But  it shows what a classy guy he is, and is an indication of TPC’s loss.

In his response to my colleague the Provost at Hope College addressed what he thought was the relationship between Hope College and the TPC. That made sense given the thrust of my colleague’s note. But he also said, “Allow me to begin by saying that I regret that your valuable time – to say nothing of the emotional investment involved in applying and interviewing for the directorship of TPC – was ill used (sic) by our process. I take personal responsibility for this, and I apologize on behalf of Hope College. Our intention from the outset was to hire an executive director who would meet the standard criteria for executive positions on our home campus.  We regret that these expectations were not made sufficiently clear to applicants.” He forgot to add, “and to the Dean from our institution who has been with us for about twenty years and who was involved in the search.”

It is not difficult to make clear that you hire only Christians. Just say it in your advertisement.  It is not unreasonable to ask, “Why does Hope College not make it clear that to be hired by Hope College you must be a Christian? If it is a matter of deeply held belief/value/principle/faith then it seems to me that there must be no confusion whatsoever about what the expectations and religious criteria are. And making the expectations and religious criteria clear are far from difficult. One just needs to say, “ONLY CHRISTIANS NEED APPLY.”

So what is the difference between Calvin and Hope, both of which hire only Christians (though, Calvin seems to be narrower in defining who is worthy of being hired) – Calvin is open and clear, whereas Hope is not. As much as I think both of them are deeply parochial and wrong-headed, I think Calvin’s openness and transparency is worth appreciating. Also, given that a Dean, who thought it was okay for a Jewish candidate to be hired, and his superiors (presumably the Provost and the President) disagreed calls into question how deeply conscientious (and as someone who read this piece before I posted it commented, and contentious) a position is the “hire only Christians” position at Hope. And one need not be too cynical in concluding that if Hope College is not clear about its hiring criteria based on religion, they might think that there is a strategic advantage to the obfuscation and lack of clarity. One wonders what that might be?

It seems quite obvious that Calvin and Hope (and others I am sure, even if I am ignorant about them) are not breaking the law. That surprises me. I am not sure how I feel about whether what Hope and Calvin do should be legal. It is complicated and I’ll hopefully get to tackling it in the near future. But one thing I do know, legal or not, if you are acting on a matter of faith and conscience, then be as open and transparent about it as you can.

I hope someone at Hope is listening. In fact my guess is that there at least some part of the Hope faculty are deeply troubled by this religious litmus test. As I said, I hope someone at Hope is listening.

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With Friends Like These…

Real friendship is shown in times of trouble; prosperity is full of friends. – Euriides

For all that went wrong with Rajat Gupta over the last couple of years, there was one silver lining in his dark cloud. He seemed to have a group of friends who sang his praises and were determined to remind the world that a good man had been wronged. In a piece  I wrote slightly over a year ago about Rajat Gupta, I quoted Jagdish Bhagwati who said, “There will be cynicism among some people, but the vast majority will see him as a good man, who got caught on the wrong side of the street.” My next sentence in that piece was, “In fact, there is a website friendsofrajat.com, where a number of people have attested to his integrity, decency, and goodness.”

But a year later, with only an appeal to the federal courts standing between him and jail, and a book by Anita Raghavan (The Billionaire’s Apprentice…) which argues that Gupta’s need to keep up with the Joneses (or at least, the Gates, Kravii, and Paulsons…oh those billionaires) explains how his “story went awry,” his friends seemed to have abandoned him.

The friendsofrajat.com site no longer exists. Go to it and GoDaddy greets you and inquires as to whether you want to search for sites similar to friendsofrajat.com. A click here and a click there and you learn that the friends of rajatgupta.com site can be yours for $ 69.99 (what would a price be without the .99) and some commission. Kind of ironical that the friendsofrajatgupta is/are kind of cheap!  If you want to buy the site, click here.

I now feel bad that I didn’t download the contents of the site when I could. I would have if I thought the site would not exist in the future. On that site were glowing testimonies of more than 300 (I didn’t count, and am relying on Sandip Madan’s count – more on Sandip Madan below) friends who signed an open letter to tell the world who the real Gupta was, and how the charges against him were unfounded at worst, and the result of his decency at best. The public testimonies that he is incapable of being someone who indulged in an act “the functional equivalent of stabbing Goldman in the back”  no longer exists. What does this tell us?

Either that his ‘friends’ no longer believe what they said. If that is true, they must say so. Or that, those testimonies were simply a mechanism to influence in some small way the outcome of the charges against Rajat Gupta – a strategy more than testimonies. Or, …

There is at least one exception to Rajat Gupta’s friends those who seem to have publicly abandoned him – Sandip Madan. As recently as May 31, 2013 on his Things Blight and Beautiful, Madan blogs “Rajat continues to maintain he’s not guilty as he appeals his conviction and sentencing, and  I continue to root for him.” Madan’s faith and respect for Rajat Gupta seems unshaken given the unfavorable outcomes of the judicial process, and an image that is tarnished forever. I take Madan to be saying, “It doesn’t matter to me what you guys say, I know my friend.”

I hope that one of Gupta’s friends reads this piece, and revives the public support for Rajat Gupta that the site symbolized. I’ll be happy to put up the $69.99 + commission – though I am sure that that is not the binding constraint. If it is merely an oversight, I hope the site comes back. Not because I am a friend of Rajat Gupta (I do not know the man), but because, if what his ‘friends’ said is true, then it must be part of the public record.

I only remember one name from those who signed on to the open letter and wrote testimonies on behalf of Rajat Gupta. That person was Mukesh Ambani. I remember saying then, “With friends like these… ”

On Technology, Twitter and Tripathi

There is an old saying – opinions are like anal orifices, everybody has one. Technology has made the act of public flatulence easy and costless. And we have a number of twits who seem to be constantly stinking up the place.

As children some of us played the game of telephone, where a message started with person ‘A’ and got passed from child to child till the mangled message was announced by person ‘B’. The point of the game was to teach kids to listen carefully before passing on rumors. As adults we play the game of twitter. In this game we take our unconfirmed, yet ‘reported’ pieces of news, punctuate them with our opinions and pass them along. Doesn’t matter if what’s being passed along is true; doesn’t matter who it hurts. All that matters is us using our digits to pass on the word and some judgment. As I said, technology has made the act of public flatulence easy and costless.

I got up rather early this morning and as I do on most mornings, I logged on. I was informed that Mike Muguleta and Sunil Tripathi were the Boston marathon bombers. Word spread. I hadn’t heard of Muguleta, but was familiar with Tripathi. I normally don’t get on to Twitter, but today I thought it was worth seeing what the search ‘Tripathi’ would bring up. On Twitter, as elsewhere, a large number of folks condemned the young man based on no evidence. Amongst the ‘let’s pass on the word’ players on Twitter was Michelle Malkin. The lady is irritating …, but the less said about her and others who helped spread the word that Tripathi was the man, the better.

The people who were in my thoughts rather immediately were Sunil’s immediate family – especially his mother and sister. I know nothing about them except that Sunil has been missing for about a month and his sister has been in the forefront of searching for him. As someone with a son in college when I first heard about Sunil’s disappearance I quietly said, “There but for the grace of God, go I!” And I’m not even a believer.

This morning those sentiments came back. My wife and I tried to imagine what Sunil’s family was going through. How were they reacting to the reports? Were they thinking, “My God, it all seems so much worse than the worst that we could imagine?” They had sent their kid off to a wonderful college, the way a whole bunch of people I know have done. He got into Brown – they must have done something right. Did they believe what was being said about their son? Were they blaming themselves?

The sad part is that Sunil is still missing. How unfortunate must your circumstance be if you get comfort knowing that your son was not the guy who was responsible for the bombings? His family has just gone from being miserable, to being incredibly miserable, to being miserable again. It is at times like this I hope I was a believer. Then in good conscience I could say a prayer for them and hope it would help. Now I can only think about them, and…

Unfortunately many of those who helped spread the rumor will rationalize it, if they give it another thought. And sometime in the future, once again many of us will use technology to indulge in another act of easy and costless public flatulence.

Hope someone uses that same technology to pass a word to Sunil’s family. You are all owed an apology. Somebody should say sorry to you all. For what it’s worth – I am deeply sorry for the what ‘we’ have done to worsen you already tragic circumstances.

And an apology goes out to the Muguleta family. Though I know absolutely nothing about them, the apology is in order. Because, somebody should say sorry!

Excuse Me – But Can I Say This, Or …?

My mother believed in her children’s ability to make independent decisions. She saw no contradiction between that and her telling me once, “You can get married to anyone provided I approve of her!” It seems that the freedom of speech and free expression meets a similar set of conditions in India today. Suppressing speech and artistic expression is no longer a once-in-a-while event and a deviation from the norm.

It was a group of self-appointed defenders of Muslim sensibility in the state of Tamil Nadu that objected to a movie titled Vishwaroopam made by the talented Kamal Haasan. I haven’t seen the movie and so do not know what the fuss is about. All that I know is that its detractors allege that it had scenes which hurt Muslim sentiments. That was enough reason for the state government to ban the movie in Tamil Nadu, while different levels of the judicial ladder rescinded the ban, and rescinded the rescinding of the ban in a forty-eight hour time frame. Never mind that the same movie was shown in neighboring states (Karnataka, Kerala, and Andhra Pradesh) with very little to no effect on Muslim sensibilities. Things have now settled, with the Muslim groups winning – Kamal Haasan agreed to cut scenes which the guardians of Muslim sensibility found objectionable. An unfortunate outcome!

In Jaipur, of all places at a literary festival,  Ashis Nandy, a sociologist, author, and T.V. pundit had to pretzel what he meant (and later apologise) after he strung together words which, when reported, sounded like him saying that Dalits in India are more corrupt than…. It wasn’t enough to challenge him, say he was wrong, and engage him intellectually, on something he quite definitely did not mean (for a transcript of what he said, click here) – not that it should matter even if he meant it. Nor was it enough to simply ignore him. An FIR (First Information Report) was filed against him with the police on the grounds that he had transgressed the law by running afoul of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. So much for sticks and stones may…. To be clear, I am not suggesting that Nandy’s arguments have merit. In fact I think they don’t. What I am suggesting though is that he is entitled to his perspective, and should be able to air it without fear of reprisal if given the opportunity to do so.(For a “Dalit” response to Nandy, click here to hear Dr. K. Satyanarayana, a Dalit scholar and activist.)

While the Supreme Court ensured that Nandy would not be arrested in this instance, the court was clear as to where its heart was. As The Hindu reported on February 1, 2013, “Even as counsel Aman Lekhi began his submissions and asked the court whether a law could penalise an idea, the CJI shot back: “Why not? When an idea is not in the public interest, he can be. Whatever your intent, you can’t go on making statements. Tell your client he has no licence to make such comments.” It was not a question of an idea being punished but the manner in which it was made. “Every person has his own idea, but it should not disturb others. Statements are to be made in a responsible manner. Why do you say something which you don’t intend?” (my addition CJI – Chief Justice of India). Clearly the CJI does not believe that the only speech that needs a stout defense is offensive speech. Apparently, we all need to defer to people’s sensibilities. Furthermore, it doesn’t matter if people are really hurt by what we say; they just have to say that they are hurt, and we’ve messed up.

In Jammu and Kashmir the victims of the censoring absurdity are a group of teenage kids who put together a rock band. In a state which has been rocked (pun intended) by violence off and on since 1947 one surely thinks politicians, civil society, religious leaders, and anybody else who matter have more important things to worry about than fully clad young girls making music. But, no! A mufti (apparently the official state sponsored cleric) issued a fatwa (simultaneously translated as edict, ruling, advice, threat) which essentially suggested that music is un-Islamic, and some nonsense about Western influences and the disintegration of society. The girls seem to have succumbed to the threats and have said they will disband. The timing of all of this seems curious since in August 2012 the girls were featured on NDTV, a prominent Indian media outlet. Nobody seemed to have paid attention then when the news was positive. But now, with a fatwa, and … let’s check out what’s happening.

It seems that in this case the mufti and his message seem to have gone awry. The state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who by past actions and statements seems to realize that we live in the 21st century has come out in support of the girls. I predict the young women will sing again, and ironically the mufti may have done their musical careers some good.

The tragedy is, I can list a number of other cases recently where speech and other forms of expression have been stifled by self-appointed protectors of the India way. Even without scratching the surface, it is clear that parochial perspectives (often there aren’t even interests!) misinform these acts of subversion. What’s happening?

I suspect these are symptoms of a deeply insecure group of individuals and groups who seem threatened in the face of change. It isn’t that they are protecting something wonderful. When confronted with the unfamiliar and at times the unimaginable they are lashing out. They think they are losing control of a social ethos of which they were never in control. In this mix is a weak political structure, pandering to every sub-group. The pandering seems inevitable in a political climate dominated by regional, sectarian, and parochial powers and where ascension to power depends on political coalitions. Fear and opportunism stand up well to liberal values. Give me a multicultural society, social transformation at a tremendous pace, an ever changing political landscape, and I will give you an assault on values like the freedom of expression, speech, and the rights of the individual.

There’s little one can do in the short run with individuals and groups in society as they protest free speech and expression. One hopes that over time they will see that the more things change, the more they stay the same, and will back off. Or, it is possible that they will overplay their hand, and will be the victims of a backlash. However it mustn’t be too much to expect that all the organs of the state – the executive, legislative, and judicial branches – will deliver the word and spirit of Article 19 of the Indian constitution, which amongst other things delivers the right to freedom of speech and expression. I’m not holding my breath. And I wonder, will I be okay if I say that?

Tragedies and Technical Solutions – Homicide in Newtown to Rape in New Delhi

In 1968, Science published an article by Garrett Hardin which popularized the term ‘The Tragedy of the Commons’. There is very little in Hardin’s article that I find useful or worthy – in fact I think of it as reactionary, regressive, and wrong-headed.  However it did bring into prominence the notion initially propounded by Wiesner and York (Scientific American, 1964) that there exists a class of problems for which there may exist no technical solutions. In the context of the twin tragedies of the school killings in Newtown CT, and the gang rape in New Delhi, it is worth asking what role technical solutions can play in public policy responses.

Wiesner and York defined a technical solution as a solution “in the area of science and technology only,” and Hardin defined it as, “one that requires a change only in the techniques of the natural sciences, demanding little or nothing in the way of change in human values or ideas of morality.”   To Hardin’s techniques of the natural sciences, I’ll add legal and administrative steps that the state and civil society can take to influence the actions of individual and develop social institutions . Such technical solutions can include laws, incentive mechanisms, administrative changes, educational programs, etc. In contrast to technical solutions one can think of attitudinal transformations – changes that come about due to events and circumstances that result in paradigmatic shifts in social norms and mores. Japan’s stance on nuclear weapons post Hiroshima-Nagasaki, and the American public’s acceptance of security measures post-9/11 are possible examples of attitudinal transformations. Clearly in some cases changes that occur can be ascribed to both technical changes and to attitudinal transformations; but for the most part, these are clearly distinguishable.

There is much in common between the circumstances and reactions in both the U.S. and India to the tragedies. Some of these similarities are:

  • The Magnitude of the Problem: In both cases the particular incident is not a rare event – they are simply extreme examples of the norm. Gun violence in America occurs daily with the President’s home town Chicago itself registering over 500 gun related homicides in 2012 – or approximately 18 per 100,000 people. In a speech in Newtown following the tragedy President Obama said, “…there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”  The level of homicides in America is in order of magnitude greater than that in comparable countries like Canada, Germany, Britian…trust me, it is a pretty large list.When it comes to rape and the abuse of women in India one needs no data to make the case that the every part of the country, rural, urban, wealthy, and poor, has a deep problem. A recent Reuters Thomson Foundation poll ranked India last when it came to the status and condition of women among the G20 countries. An article more than six months ago points out that, “Reports of women being snatched from the streets and gang-raped in moving cars are frequent in Delhi and surrounding areas.”
  •  Shame, Outrage over the ‘Normal: In both cases, the incidents (Newtown and New Delhi) have resulted in dramatic outpourings of national shame, anger and outrage. Following the Newtown tragedy the American media – visual and print – had wall to wall coverage of the tragedy. From talking heads to columnists to letters to the editor, in one voice everybody agreed that what happened in Newtown reflected the worst of America and that things should change. In his speech President Obama declared, “We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end.  And to end them, we must change.” The gunning down of 20 kids and 6 of their teachers is a matter of shame and outrage. But they are simply another, albeit gruesome, chapter in a series of events which should have evoked such shame and outrage all along.The reaction in India to the gang rape in Delhi has resulted in a media blitz. Television programs are full of discussions about the maltreatment of women and what should be done about it. Constant reference is made to the oppressive, patriarchal nature of society in general, and the ineffectiveness of the police and judicial system to deal with rape and other atrocities against women. Leading newspapers have dubbed the event a national shame and a reflection of the ugliest aspects of society. The young woman who was raped and who has now died is being hailed a fighter and martyr whose death should not be in vain. Her death is a matter of shame and outrage. It is simply another, albeit gruesome, chapter in a series of events which should have evoked such shame and outrage all along.

Put simply, in both cases there is a realization that there is a serious problem, reflecting badly on the country and society. Across the board people would like to stop these frequently occurring tragedies. What can be done?

The Newtown tragedy has resulted in calls for at least two legal and/or administrative changes. The first is the age-old call for gun legislation. The most probable change that will happen now is a reinstatement of the federal ban on automatic assault weapons. The evidence suggests that this will do very little to deal with the fundamental problem. More stringent measures like banning all guns except those suitable for hunting and sport will simply not see the light of day. The honest debate as to whether such measures will make much of a difference (the evidence is mixed), coupled with the axiomatic American attitude about the sanctity of the right to bear arms ensures that even if banning guns is a solution to gun violence, it is a non-starter.

The NRA’s response to the tragedy has been to call for the posting of armed guards in schools. If they are consistent and have been following the string of shootings in the U.S. recently they should also advocate for armed guards in theatres (Denver), shopping malls (Arizona), and colleges (Virginia Tech.). In fact the NRA’s suggestion simply doesn’t pass the laugh test and is clearly a defensive response to the public mood for some sort of gun legislation.

In India there have been calls for all sorts of changes to combat the rape epidemic. They range from calls for retributive justice – castration, emasculation, the death penalty – to more sober measures like increased policing, and paying greater attention to the criminal prosecution of accused rapists.  It is indeed appalling that there should be calls for what I call the ‘more sober measures’. The probability of getting convicted of rape in India is so small, that it would be wrong to suggest that accused rapists get due process; it simply is the case that rape victims get no process.

The measures outlined above are far from all the technical solutions that can be implemented to try to deal with the problems of homicides in America, and rape in India. This is not the place to outline all the possible actions that can be taken by the state or civil society. However I predict that both in the context of guns in America and rape in India two things will be true. First it is far from clear that undertaking the actions that are called for will result in the outcomes one hopes for. At the best of times it is difficult to clearly sketch out the results of a policy measure given the omnipresent law of unintended consequences. But the deeper tragedy is that most measures that many are calling for will not see the light of day. America will not see meaningful gun legislation. India will not see the suggested changes in the public safety and judicial infrastructure that may make things better. Outrage, a sense of shame, and call for change are low hanging fruit which are easily captured. The possibly more meaningful fruit are pretty high up and a combination of social and historical forces will ensure that they are not plucked. The seeds of technical solutions at least need a non-hostile, if not cooperative soil to bloom. Unfortunately in the case of homicides and gun legislation in the U.S., and issues of rape and women’s safety in India the soil is far from conducive to plant any seeds from the technical solutions seed bank.

As much as it saddens me to say it, in years to come we will all see more homicides and mass shootings in America, and hear of how common rape and atrocities against women are in India. It seems both these are problems without technical solutions. The present tragedies are not enough to effect attitudinal transformations. They have affected many and society is deeply saddened by them; just not deep enough to make changes or change ourselves.

Memo to Penn State Board of Trustees – Please Pass it Along

Apparently Penn State’s Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet this weekend to ratify the university’s agreement with the NCAA. Yahoo reports that the Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees told her fellow trustees that they were leaders of the university, and that they needed to lead. That would be nice. And in case they plan to act on the need, I have a memo for them. It is a workable outline. The details can be filled in if they are willing to think on these lines.

To: The Board of Trustees, Pennsylvania State University
From: The guy who writes the No Consensus Here blog.
Subject: Center for the Study of Corruption in College Sports (CSCCS)
In the wake of all that has happened since the Sandusky tragedy, there are a number of levels at which the university must respond. One of these is to take a forward looking, thoughtful, intellectually rigorous approach to being able to understand the circumstances and culture which led to the tragic events on your campus. The still unfolding tragedy is one of a number of tragedies associated with college sports in America. The easy part of the analysis is to understand that these tragedies are cultivated on ground fertilized by incredible amounts of money involved in college sports, and watered by the jingoistic, emotional investment of alumni and other well wishers who want to see their institutions victorious in stadia and sporting arenas. The more difficult part is to tease out the causal financial, social, and power relations that lead to unwanted outcomes in college sports. This memo proposes a start in that direction. It proposes that Penn State University establish a Center for the Study of Corruption in College Sports.

What Will the Center Do and How Will It Do it?
This memo is not the place to outline all that is wrong and corrupt with college sports in America. Suffice to say, among the things that college sports can be charged with are that it is exploitative and ethically challenged. Different aspects of these two ‘Es’  can be studied from the perspective of many an academic discipline including economics, ethics, law, medicine, politics, and sociology. This is precisely what the center should do.

It isn’t very difficult to put the infrastructure into place. The center can start with a core group of 20 people – a Director, eight other faculty, eight post-doctorate positions, and three secretarial staff. Clearly this core group will collaborate with interested folk across the country in developing a research program. While it is difficult to predict the path that academic research will take, it clearly must be to understand different aspects of the seamy underbelly of college sports in America. The more structured mandate of the center will be to establish academic and outreach programs in a number of areas related to college sports.

What About the Finances?
I haven’t crunched the numbers, but it seems to me that If the university was to pledge $60 million (symbolism matters) then the program will be well funded. An endowment of $60 million should conservatively generate a working fund of about $3 million – a decent sum to start the ball rolling. Part of raising the money will be Penn State’s way of putting its resources where its apologies are, as it starts to dig itself out of the nightmarish circumstances in which it finds itself. Also, I think if Penn State takes this step, there will be a number of folks who will be willing to contribute to the project. I can already see the outlines of a proposal that can go to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation!

And Where Will You House This Center?
A fitting place to start will be somewhere in Beaver Stadium. As the center grows over time, it may outgrow Beaver Stadium, and may need a building of its own. In fact, ideally, over time, one can hope that the center does such a good job of understanding and changing the culture of college sports in America, that it no longer needs to exist. However, we all know that is not going to happen soon.

So instead of worrying about how to end the story, I request that you do the needful to establish the Center for the Study of Corruption in College Sports (CSCCS).

The Jonah Lehrer Tragedy Hits Home

Another one bites the dust!

I see a pattern! Joe Paterno and Penn State football; then Rajat Gupta; and once again I write about a fallen hero – Jonah Lehrer.

Jonah Lehrer was seen as bright, cool, young, and hip. Malcolm Gladwell’s blurb in the jacket of Lehrer’s latest book IMAGINE: How Creativity Works says, “Jonah Lehrer’s new book confirms what his fans have known all along – that he knows more about science than a lot of scientists and more about writing than a lot of writers.” To be honest, I disagreed with Gladwell’s estimation of Lehrer, understanding it to be a sop to a fellow writer to help him sell books. Unfortunately every once in a while, an act of you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours, misfires. Important note to blurb writers, be careful how and whom you praise.

Lehrer’s book has been recalled by its publisher as a result of his being exposed as someone who made up quotes and attributed them to Dylan (as in Bob), and then lied to cover up his fictactious (fiction parading as fact) ways. Click here to read the article by Michael Moynihan in the Tablet which exposed Lehrer.

One wonders why people think they can get away with plagiarism and fictactation in this day and age where search is so easy, and the probability of getting caught is so high.  Lehrer is not the first person to get caught making up stuff – remember Stephen Glass, James Frey, Greg Mortensen – and I suspect he won’t be the last. I simply cannot explain why they do it.

Interestingly Lehrer was booked by the college where I teach to come and present a convocation to incoming freshman on, I imagine, how creativity works! As can be expected on an academic campus, where I suspect matters of intellectual dishonesty are viewed more seriously than elsewhere, Mr. Lehrer made people rethink the invitation to him. After what I imagine were very thoughtful deliberations,  the college has canceled his appearance and made alternative arrangement to help students reflect on matters of creativity and ethics when they come here in a couple of weeks. These are never easy decisions and I am glad that I don’t have to make them. But for what it’s worth, I sent my (now rejected) recommendation to the powers that be.

What I suggested was,

 “… However now that he has been invited, and given what has ensued, I wonder if Lehrer can be requested/persuaded to speak/reflect on what he is going through now. While I agree that we should be clear about our rather absolutist stand on academic integrity, I also think there is much that our students can learn from how successful people mess up and how coming clean is the best next act after messing up. I’d also tell Lehrer that we will not pay him for his appearance on campus, but would be happy to make a contribution to a mutually acceptable worthy cause.”

 What’s in it for him? A respectable avenue to start rebuilding his trust.

I can think of many reasons why the college did not follow my suggestion. I’d like to reflect on why I think this would have been another reasonable path. I think it is important to give those who mess up, a place to reflect in a meaningful way on why they did what they did. I think we can all learn from the careful reflections of those who were held in high esteem for acts that were considered praiseworthy, but who were all too human. We seldom hear from people who are capable of being thoughtful, who mess up. If we have to understand the meaning of being human, it is as important for us to hear from those who have fallen, and from those who are mediocre, as it is to hear from those who rise above the rest of us. To be clear, fallen, and mediocre are not synonyms. There can be mediocre people who have not fallen, and fallen people who are exceptional.

I’m not looking for a mea culpa, or an apology. What interests me is an explanation. I hope Jonah Lehrer will offer one someday. If he does, I hope he publishes it somewhere prominent that I can read it. If not, I hope he sends an email to someone at the college where I teach with a request to post it on the Faculty listserv.