Author: Rachel Williams

Professor Samuel J. Abrams on Viewpoint Diversity and Faculty Activism

Samuel Abrams joined Buckley Fellows for dinner on Thursday, February 22nd in New Haven to discuss viewpoint diversity and faculty activism. A fellow spoke with him before the talk, and his thoughts are printed below. 

Samuel J. Abrams has previously worked as a Research Fellow with the Hoover Institution. He is a political scientist with interests in political behavior, socio-political culture, and research methods. He is a Professor of Politics and Social Sciences at Sarah Lawrence College, and a faculty fellow with NYU’s Center for Advanced Social Science Research. He received his B.A. from Stanford University, his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard University, and he is an alumnus of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government Program on Inequality and Social Policy.

By: Esteban Elizondo

28 to 1. That is the ratio of liberal professors to conservative professors on college campuses, according to research done by Professor Samuel J. Abrams. This raises the question of whether this majority is suppressing conservative ideas.

“They are,” Professor Abrams states, answering my question before I even get the chance to finish.

What are the consequences, though? Yale students and faculty, particularly in the humanities, have been complicit in the decline of intellectual diversity on campus for years. However, nothing for students, even conservative students, has really changed all that much. Students get Yale degrees and become employed (usually), so what is the risk?

“There is a huge risk,” the professor explains. “Truth emerges from debate and discourse. Grievances need to be aired. If you are going to drive certain people underground, then you are going to drive them away from the mainstream discourse.”

The issue here is now a question of what people believe the role of the university should be, which has seen a lot of change in recent years. University involvement, especially that of elite institutions, now goes far beyond its traditional role of simply educating students. Particularly at Yale, with the rise of the residential college system, the university often finds itself involved in all facets of everyday life. The consequences of residential colleges and consumer-based education has begun to influence education in a negative way. When pressed on the subject of professors intellectually “coddling” their students by not encouraging debate, which he believes is an extension of the consumer-based education, this was the professor’s response:

“First of all, we have shifted to a consumer based model of higher education. People demand things in a way they had not before. That is why we have seen the growth of residential life here at Yale and all over the country,” explains Professor Abrams.

“Coddling is part of that. People do not want to feel that their buttons are being pushed too hard. When we have a room where we command everyone in such a way that the narrow, liberal perspective is the only one, what happens? It is a lot easier. The class is a lot easier to teach when there is no dissent in the room. People are not angry.”

The problem that these environments create is that they undermine what should be any university’s primary mission—to seek out truth through liberal discourse and debate. As of this publication, Yale’s motto is still “Light and Truth.” Seeking out truth through liberal discourse and debate is, unfortunately, a lot easier said than done, especially in the modern classroom. It seems unwise to abandon our greatest tool in the age-old search for truth in favor of comfort, even if it would be easier.

“Learning is hard. Going back and forth is hard. And it’s painful,” the professor claimed, but he does not believe that should stop us from going through the process. In fact, it is our duty to do so.

“Universities in particular, as opposed to the rest of the world, are supposed to be ‘safe spaces’ where ideas can be vigorously debated. This is where that social progress occurs. This is where the civil rights movement occurred. If you think of all the work done in Alabama and Mississippi, it was students from elite liberal arts colleges primary heading down south to do something about it. By suppressing this here, we are stunting our social progress.”

This statement was particularly bold. It implies that the role of universities like Yale is larger than just educating their students within their walls and preparing them for life outside. It implies that Yale has a responsibility to the rest of the country to facilitate progress. Perhaps at our worst we would be carpetbaggers, but at our best we can be models for social progression.

Unfortunately, Professor Abrams is certainly in the minority. Professors who encourage their students to challenge their ideas and the ideas of other students are part of a depressing minority. Right up to the point where he walked straight from dinner at Union League Cafe down the street to Shake Shack to order cheesy fries and a black and white milkshake, he still took the time to address the questions of Buckley Fellows. He is by every definition a student’s professor. This is the type of person the Buckley Program brings to Yale, and this is why you should consider attending one of the Buckley Program talks. You will not be disappointed.

Erica Komisar on the Politicization of Motherhood

Erica Komisar joined Buckley Fellows for dinner on Thursday, February 8th in New Haven to discuss her new book about the importance of motherhood and early child care, and how this is tied to the lack of happiness in our current society. Two fellows spoke with her before talk, and their thoughts are printed below. 

Erica Komisar is a clinical social worker, psychoanalyst and parent guidance expert who has been in private practice in New York City for the last 30 years. Erica is a psychological consultant bringing parenting and work/life workshops to clinics, schools, corporations and childcare settings. She published a new book in 2017, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters. Using current research, statistical evidence, and material from her work as a therapist and social worker, Erica pulls together a cohesive argument about the importance of being physically and emotionally present during a child’s first three years.

We sat down with Erica before our seminar and interviewed her about her new book and the motivation behind the book. She told us that the initial motivation for this book came from her 30 years of practice and experience as a psychoanalyst, and her observation of mental illness in children who don’t receive parental care. “The lack of motherhood in our current society is a real problem, supported by neuroscientific researches, and I felt the need to let everyone know,” Erica said.

We then asked Erica about the reasons for the lack of motherhood in modern society. She stated that the pursuit of achievement is often what takes a mother away from their children, and that this is a harmful trend. “People focus too much on professional achievements that it becomes an obsession,” Erica said. “But achievements don’t bring sustainable happiness. On the other hand, healthy relationships breed happiness.” She raised the “deathbed question” and pointed out that it’s the relationships that we have with our children who will be around at the end of our lives that we will remember and treasure, not money or professional achievements.

We also asked Erica to describe the response to her book, Being There. She noted that the studies she cites throughout her book are not her own research. Rather, she collated findings from research in psychology, neuroscience, and epigenetics. She explained that the ideas of the book are based on scientific evidence, not her personal opinion. Still, Erica’s book elicited an inflamed political response. Though Erica considers herself a “social liberal,” liberals rejected her book, while conservatives have embraced it. In her book, she states that “women can do everything, just not all at once.” Erica considered this to be practical advice, but liberals considered the book “anti-feminist,” which both surprised and disturbed her. While Erica does not consider herself a conservative, conservatives have supported her book. In part, because the book aligns with a conservative outlook concerning the importance of motherhood.

Additionally, we asked whether the negative response to her book was due to a disagreement with her claims about children and motherhood, or whether critics agreed with her premise but did not like that she was discussing her findings. In short, was the disagreement about facts, or about values? Erica responded that when people do not want to hear a message, they do not hear it. One implication of her message is that society is not putting the needs of children first. Pointing this out makes some people uncomfortable. Another implication of her message, she says, is that gender neutrality is a myth.

She describes how her book details the differing brain chemistry between men and women, specifically regarding their experiences of nurturing children. Erica points out that while men and women are equal, they are not the same. She observed that the title of her book, Being There, alarmed feminists, though she considers herself to be a feminist. She believes women should be admired for their choices. But when Erica says mothers have a “moral obligation to prioritize their children over everything else,” critics interpreted this to mean that “society should revert back to the 1950s.” Erica ridicules this, noting that she returned to work when her children aged into toddlerhood.

Toward the end of the interview, we discussed the “happiness” course at Yale (Psychology and the Good Life), and how the course’s popularity reflects the young generation’s anxiety towards their happiness and well-being. Erica suggested that the nowadays students are so anxious about the results and achievements that they lose the point of life. A non-linear path can lead to happiness more often than a pre-planned route.

She noted that many readers have thanked her for writing the book, stating that they are grateful Erica is emphasizing the importance of motherhood. Lastly, she stated that equality is not based on sameness—we should understand people are equal without attempting to erase differences.

 

Rob Henderson is a senior in Grace Hopper College and U.S. Air Force veteran.

Barkley Dai is a sophomore in Pauli Murray College.

The Heritage Foundation’s Mike Gonzalez on American Identity

On Thursday, February 1st, Mr. Mike Gonzalez addressed Buckley Fellows and guests on the topic, “American Balkanization: A Failed 40-Year Experiment. We Need to Return to E Pluribus Unum.” The lecture focused on assimilation, multiculturalism, identity politics, diversity, and the US Census. One Fellow spoke with Mr. Gonzalez before talk, and his thoughts are printed below. 

Mr. Gonzalez is a senior fellow at the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at the Heritage Foundation. After spending 20 years as a journalist, reporting internationally from Europe, Asia, and Latin America for much of this period, Mr. Gonzalez served as a speechwriter in the Securities and Exchange Commission and in the State Department’s European Bureau under President George W. Bush.

By: Kobe Rizk

In the face of increased prevalence of so-called “buzzwords” like “identity politics” and “lived experience,” the William F. Buckley Program had the chance to hear from a speaker who specializes in this atomization of American culture and politics, and has consistently worked across the spectrum to fix it.

Mr. Mike Gonzalez, a senior fellow at the Washington D.C. basked Heritage Foundation, gave a talk to Buckley fellows last week titled “American Balkanization: A Failed 40-Year Experiment. We Need to Return to E Pluribus Unum.” In the talk he outlined several ways in which the government has attempted to categorize races and ethnicity in America, and why exactly such a system of organizing data is harmful and even misleading.

In an interview before his talk, Gonzalez noted that “the things that our government has done” have created identity politics, which he asserted “has become a real problem in our county.”

“We have come to the point on the right and the left where we realized that with the best of intentions, we have done something that has divided the country,” Gonzalez said.

During his talk, Mr. Gonzalez also outlined how immigration has changed during the past century and the way in which all levels of government have reacted differently to immigrants in recent years. Stating that today’s governments tend to put immigrants into “silos” rather than pushing for an American assimilation, Gonzalez says we’ve sacrificed the overall unity of American identity.

One recent way this has been done, according to Mr. Gonzalez, is the Obama administration’s initiative to create a new ethnic category on the United States Census referred to as Middle East & North Africa (MENA), which he says combines drastically different races and cultures into a single category in a way that is unproductive and even harmful.

This is a formula “that further balkanizes the nation,” Gonzalez said in reference to this Obama initiative, further stating that “this is not something that America should be.” But Gonzalez notes that the Trump administration’s view on proposed changes have been largely positive.

“This [MENA] option isn’t going to be on the 2020 census,” said Gonzalez, a victory which he noted was in large part to the work of him and his team on spreading the message about how this change would have been harmful to the work of the Census Bureau while propagating false beliefs about race and ethnic identity.

When asked if America talks about race too much, Gonzalez noted that “America is by no means that most racist country in the world,” and that “America is the only country that fought a civil war about slavery.” He also advised that “we have to discuss these things, it’s no good to keep them hidden, neither should we obsess about them and think they’re determinate.”

Thinking about the future of this American atomization and how it will look under the new President, Gonzales said that “Trump is a disruptor, his M.O. is disrupting, which means he can change things for the better.”

“This president is about change and he wants to change the way things have been done for the past few decades” said Gonzalez. His talk concluded with a question and answer session about the future of American racial and ethnic identity and how his work at the Heritage Foundation is aiming to fix the myriad problems he has identified and form a more unified America moving into the future.

The Buckley Program hosts weekly events with respected and expert speakers like Mr. Gonzalez. These include lectures, dinner seminars, and firing line debates.

 

Kobe Rizk is a first year in Ezra Stiles College and serves as the Publicity Director for the Buckley Program.