Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Curmie Contenders: “That’s Just Stupid” Edition

A couple more Curmie contenders, this time in the “That’s Just Stupid” Division.

Other people would be happy for the raise.
The Cleveland State University Chapter of the Association for American University Professors has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against law school dean Craig M. Boise because, in giving several active AAUP members merit increases of $666, he “[in] effect… has called AAUP’s organizers and AAUP Satan.” Really, that’s the charge. In an actual formal complaint.

Moreover, one of the AAUP organizers argued in a memo distributed to virtually everyone on campus that:
[The $666 figure] is a universally understood symbol of the Antichrist or Devil—one of our culture's most violent religious images. Implicitly, but unmistakably and obviously intentionally, [the Dean] used his powers to set faculty salaries as an occasion to brand his perceived opponents as the Antichrist.
”Unmistakably and obviously intentionally”? Nope, it could be that it’s… you know… a third of $2000. Elie Mystal, whose blogging on the Above the Law site Curmie has previously noted with approbation, has some good snark on the topic, closing with his commentary on the law school’s quite logical assertion that “The $666 merit award was the result of mathematical division, not anti-union animus” with this: “Well that explains everything. Clearly, math is the devil.” Curmie has some advisees who would agree.

There’s also a poll on the topic on the Althouse site. As of this writing, “Lawyers and law professors are all satanic and deserve whatever evils they inflict on each other” has a little over half of votes, with “It's obviously retaliation for union activities and there should be a legal remedy” coming in at a robust 2%.

It is, of course, possible that the Dean has an animus against the AAUP. Hell, if this is a representation of the caliber of their members’ thought processes, I’d have one, too. What is particularly troubling here is that, without the silly Satanic accusation, the union might have a point. If AAUP organizers do in fact have exemplary records and the eight listed in the complaint totaled only $4000 in merit raises between them, whereas some individuals got $5000 apiece, that might actually be evidence of something. But the complaint is now subject to a variation of the Christine Vole effect (but presumably unintentionally): one of its assertions is so palpably absurd that the rest of it is also disregarded, even if it has merit.

By the way, if you ever wondered why a leftie like Curmie never joined the AAUP, here’s your answer.

Preventing distribution of these is as stupid as not using them.
We move next to Boston College, where the administration threatened disciplinary action against students distributing condoms and safe sex information from their dorm rooms. The group Boston College Students for Sexual Health had run so-called “Safe Sites” (get it… safe sites?) for some time before receiving word this spring that such a program runs counter to the “responsibility to protect the values and traditions of Boston College as a Jesuit, Catholic institution.”

Katherine Landergan of explains:
The letter, signed by Dean of Students Paul J. Chebator and George Arey, director of residence life, says that “while we understand that you may not be intentionally violating University policy, we do need to advise you that should we receive any reports that you are, in fact, distributing condoms on campus, the matter would be referred to the student conduct office for disciplinary action by the University.”
Be it noted that Boston College does offer a student health insurance policy which covers “doctor’s visits related to family planning, contraception, and ‘in some instances birth control pills,’” in compliance with Massachusetts law.

Of course, BC, as a private Jesuitical institution, may well have the legal right to impose whatever sanctions it chooses. I say “may well have” rather than “has” because it strikes me that there are some 1st and 4th Amendment considerations here, and ACLU attorney Sarah Wunsch mentions the “state’s civil rights act and its applicability to private parties” in her interview with USA Today.

Legalities aside, the BC administration is being just plain dumb. Whether they have the technical right to be puritanical jerks or not, this display smacks more of petulance than of reason, especially if—as the students involved claim—it came out of nowhere: a sudden crackdown after years of knowing about the program. Maybe, maybe, they could legitimately insist that the name of the university be removed from the group’s title. Beyond that, they just look out of touch with reality. That’s fine if you’re Asbury or Liberty or Bob Jones, who really do exist in a different universe from ours, but Boston College has a legitimate reputation as a great scholarly institution. Surely they know that programs like Safe Sites have no effect on the frequency of sexual activity, only on the risks associated with such activity. There’s a difference between being prudent and being prudish. BC has opted for the latter, to their disgrace.

By the way, it might be worth noting that BC has also changed course for the worse in other areas, as well: insisting, for example, that an independent student newspaper reject advertisements for alcohol, cigarettes or birth control before the lease of their on-campus office space would be renewed. As with the condom distribution case, I am reasonably sure the administration has a legal right to behave as they are, but (again) the appearance of silliness ultimately trumps the reasonable things they wanted to accomplish.

Some people can enjoy the music without chemical assistance.
Finally, there’s the decision by the University of Massachusetts to cancel a series of electronic dance music (EDM) concerts from its campus because of concerns raised by a spike in the usage of “Molly,” a purer, powdered or crystalline form of MDMA (better known as “Ecstasy”).

Once again, there’s an attempt to achieve a desired change through convoluted reasoning. It’s hardly the first such process. What it shares with the others is the unlikelihood of success. Raising the drinking age to 21 was intended to reduce drunk driving, because increasing the penalties for drunk driving would just make too much sense as a solution. It paid a short-term benefit by reducing the number of newly-legal drinkers on the road. As soon as that number stabilized again, the percentage of 21-year-old drunk drivers was indistinguishable from the percentage of 18-year-old drunk drivers a few years earlier. Oh, and binge drinking increased on college campuses. This is the same thinking that makes us show ID to buy decongestants (pseudoephedrine is an ingredient in methamphetamine), and why you couldn’t take nail clippers onto airplanes long after 9/11.

Look, I get it. For all its appeal, MDMA in its many forms is a destructive, sometimes fatal concoction. And there does seem to be a relationship between its use and EDM… the same way every other kind of popular music is linked to some kind of potentially abusable substance. Imagine the blues without whiskey or jazz without marijuana. And let’s face it, the term “acid rock” doesn’t refer to the pH content of the music. If UMass wants to ban every kind of music linked to substance abuse, there wouldn’t be much left. (I’m told on good authority, by the way, that Alvin and the Chipmunks are a lot better if you’re high.) I might also point out that there is a positive correlation between football games and beer consumption. I don’t think UMass is contemplating doing away with their football team… although they did go 1-11 this year, so they might be looking for an excuse.

Opposition to public performance, by the way, goes back a long way. In Renaissance England, for example, the Puritans objected to theatre. Part of their concern was philosophical, but part was pure pragmatism: theatre attracted a young, well-to-do, often drunken male audience, who in turn attracted those whose living depended on that clientele: prostitutes, pickpockets, and cutpurses. And those were the people the good burghers really sought to keep out of their towns.

But attempts to influence Behavior X by banning Behavior Y seldom succeed. There are two other problems, as well—other than the obvious-to-anyone-but-a-university-administrator 1st Amendment implications. First, just as it is possible to listen to and enjoy the Grateful Dead without any chemical assistance whatsoever, many people enjoy EDN without MDMA.

Secondly, and even more importantly, the causality seems to be wrong: it’s Molly users who go to EDM concerts, not EDM concert-goers who use Molly. A comment by Jarek Draven on the Mancunion site linked above makes this point:
MDMA does enhance enjoyment of music. ANY music, which you might normally enjoy. It also makes movement feel good. Therefore, it makes dancing more enjoyable, and it just so happens that EDM is great music for dancing. It's really as simple as that. And yes, MDMA sales are associated with dance parties. But to think a school can get rid of MDMA by banning a particular genre of music is pure idiocy.
Needless to say, students at UMass concur. One blames “some stupid kids in another state” for the ban’s impetus; another points out that “It’s not going to prevent anything from happening; people are still going to use ‘Molly,’ regardless.” Significantly, Amherst Fire Captain Jeffery Olmstead makes the point that knowing when and where to set up triage centers actually helps: if the Molly users are all going to be at the concert, he’s in a better position to help those who need it.

The bottom line: post-adolescents will have sex with or without condoms, and they will use drugs with or without concerts. As for the Cleveland State AAUP complaint… well, stupid is what stupid does.

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