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Incidents on 57th Street

 

So, the same week that Justice John Paul Stevens (AB ’41) resigns from the Supreme Court, the Law School jumps to 5th in the US News and World Report Rankings for the first time. It’s not every day that the legal profession gets a boost quite like that.

The arrest of a student on University property is always of interest to the campus as a whole. When the dual shibboleths of race and class emerge in said arrest, however, passions are bound to get wound up and make a deliberative, rational discourse all but impossible. The accepted facts are as follows: Maurice Dawson, an African American fourth-year, was arrested in the A-level of the Regenstein Library for “criminal trespassing and resisting arrest” after he was repeatedly told by a library technician to be quiet. According to several sources, the officers who arrived on the scene proceeded to put Mr. Dawson in a chokehold and drag him out of the Reg. The fact that the accuser and the arresting officer were both African American rarely garners anywhere near the attention of the accusations of racism—a charge that neither goes away nor can be disproven (how does someone go about proving that they are not a racist?). Given the supposedly post-racial features of our society, we should be far past instinctual accusations of racism or racial profiling. We should not need ridiculous gimmicks like the Presidential Beer Summit to smooth over racial animus in America, nor should we actively seek out instances of racial grievances to illustrate banal points. Race should not be the be-all-end-all of any given issue, nor should we be so afraid to talk about it that we simply react in abject horror whenever the accusation of racism is hurled around.

Plato remarks that “poetry is nearer to vital truth than history.” The superiority of poetry to history is certainly the presumption that Students for Justice in Palestine has been recently operating under. For the second time in as many months, SJP has organized an anti-Israel slam poetry fest combining hip-hoppers, traveling independent bookstore acts, and other k’fia-clad types who receive swelling snaps when they manage to rhyme “Israel” with “one big prison cell.” If SJP has given up on historical fact and decided to replace it with daft, nonsensical poetry, then we commend their honest self-reflection. But we suspect, rather, SJP recognizes their common cause with slam. Slam asks that poetry be celebrated not for the sense of its words but for the force of its presentation. Anti-Israel campus groups do not easily give up on their predilection to vacuous intellectual bullying.

With the arrival of Spring Quarter, our wonderfully stoic and serious campus has its wit matched ever so briefly by the splendid flowering of springtime. The administration has, in recent years, sought to amend this situation by providing the campus with a year-round increase in collective “beauty”—and, no, we’re not talking students. The “beautification” of campus, as it has been described, involves the University hiring many construction crews to dig up sidewalks that did not need to be fixed, replace austere gates with slightly more unassuming ones, eliminate through traffic in the quadrangle, and generally create perpetual disruption on an already busy campus. While the University spends good money on superficial improvements, many departments remain well underfunded, and more important projects—like the Milton Friedman Institute—anguish in a state of administrative purgatory. No prospective student has ever, we certainly hope, chosen the University of Chicago based on a recent rearrangement of the slate on its pathways. Do we wish to attract students that would?

Grievance is among the most self-fulfilling of human passions and its central place in our politics is sadly inescapable. Through March and April, the University of Chicago Coalition for Immigrant Rights held a series of events on immigration policy. On April 8th, the Social Sciences building was home to a panel on what was dubbed “comprehensive immigration reform.” Such a reform will require a careful balance of national interest with the desire for woebegotten human beings to be treated with mercy and dignity. The whole event, however, was an exercise in victimization; no attempt was made on the part of the organizers to address real concerns of American sovereignty, entitlement and other costs, and the threat posed by the spillover of the low impact civil war of drug cartels and the Mexican government.  Solving immigration in the United States will require something other than simply being aggrieved.

University of Chicago Coalition for Immigrant Right’s activities were not limited to self-gratifying panels. They have since started gathering signatures on a twofold petition: it urges the University first to set aside money to award significant merit aid to “undocumented” students and, second to lobby Congress to legalize all “undocumented” students who have attended American high schools. The first asks the University to grant special privilege to a subpopulation distinguished by their violation of American law; the second asks the University to cease being an investigative institution in a political world and become an interest-group lobbyist. We doubt the administration will acquiesce to the petition, but the UCCIR deserves credit for boldness—if boldness were a political virtue.

Sexual assault is a strange term. It manages to treat a humiliating, dignity-depriving, and profane act as a subcategory of a category of violence. This is a consequence of a bedfellowship of the sexual and feminist liberations. The former sought to free us from our puritan convention and release our natural impulses; the latter sought to eliminate the differences between men and women. With the conventions that had formerly regulated the darker sides of our nature made impossible by the sexual revolution, public regulations were needed as a replacement in order to protect women from powerful, vengeful, and polyamorous men. To preserve the sexual liberation, one must speak of sex in casual terms. To preserve the feminist gains, one must resort to bureaucratic means. Each liberation is therefore threatened by “inadequate” sexual assault laws, so it is not surprising that the largely student-composed Working Group on Sexual Assault Policy would have worked obsessively since 2007 reviewing the University’s policy. The basic detail of their imagined reform is a centralization of the department-by-department system, so that conflicts of interest in small departments may be avoided. Their product, a referendum against the status-quo, was passed in late April by the student body. With the victory of the sexual liberation and the feminists, conservatives must, in the short term, relent to the bureaucratic mechanism. However, we do not see the reform as an obvious improvement in the bureaucracy, so we are ambivalent about its passage. While one conflict of interest may be lessened, we worry that those professors who volunteer to sit on the centralized review board will have the reverse bias (in favor of the accuser). This loss may be minor; what was really lost was lost a long time ago.

For the past thirty-four years, Diogenes has not needed to look beyond the University of Chicago. This spring marks the final quarter for a defining institution of this University: the professorships of Leon R. and Amy A. Kass. Mr. Kass took a career in biochemical research and an inkling about the indispensability of moral guidance to our technological future and searched for assistance from the classic texts. Chairing the Fundamentals Department for two decades, Mr. Kass taught, to name a few, bioethics, Rousseau, Aristotle, and, as its wisdom gnawed at him, the Hebrew Scripture. In 2001, he lessened his courseload and served as the chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics for five years. The President’s Council represented the magnificent possibility of republican governance: a free-flowing, unpredictable forum of brilliant men and women who, for a short time, made human dignity an explicit precept of our politics. Mrs. Kass has played a significant part in the foundation of the core Humanities sequence Human Being and Citizen, as well as the Fundamentals Major. Her inquiry is also into the human things: philanthropy, love, courtship, and men and women. Through instruction and compilation, Mrs. Kass has provided articles and anthologies that should continue to nourish philanthropic and erotic spirits. Often working together as teachers and writers, and always as dialectical partners, Mr. and Mrs. Kass have been tutors and examples to many a class of the University of Chicago in living sweetly, generously, humanely, and with dignity. Perhaps the greatest testament to Mr. and Mrs. Kass is that Diogenes’ light will still shine upon students and colleagues within our imperfect institution.