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Charles Rollet - Northwestern University

Speaking from the well-heeled confines of the University of Chicago’s International House on Wednesday, Bill Ayers said he was “amazed” to see himself on TV “cast as some kind of public enemy” with close ties to Barack Obama during one of the 2008 election’s biggest controversies.

At the event meant to promote his new book Public EnemyConfessions of an American Dissident, Ayers slammed the “opportunistic media” and the “eager campaign staffs of the right, the middle, and even the moderate left” for resurrecting the Weather Underground, a radical far-left group Ayers co-founded which bombed government property and banks throughout the 1970s.

“Bernadine and I had hosted the initial fundraiser for Obama and uncharacteristically donated a little money to his campaign,” said Ayers, reading an excerpt. “We lived a few blocks apart and sat on a couple nonprofit boards together. So what? Who could have predicted it would blow up like this?”

Ayers’ association with Obama, first brought to the mainstream by TV host George Stephanopoulos, ultimately sparked Sarah Palin’s famous accusation the Democratic nominee was “palling around with terrorists.”  Ayers, who has never apologized for the Weather Underground’s violent past, devised a strategy of “turn away, no comment, no elaboration, no clarification, no response” in the heat of the controversy.

But during his event at the University of Chicago, Ayers frequently brought up the “unexpected love” and support he received from his family and friends during the tumultuous 2008 election.

He regaled his audience of mostly elderly supporters by detailing several domestic scenes with his wife, Northwestern University law professor Bernadine Dohrn, and their three adult children, Malik, Zayd, and Chesa. For example, he recalled a “long slow lunch” during a summertime retreat in the mountains in which his sons offered to create a “fully protected financial escape pod” in case things went sour.

Ayers said his new book is ultimately not about the election but rather about “teaching and parenting” and living a life that “doesn’t make a mockery of your values.” He urged his audience to “try to be good citizens, try to be moral people.”

Ayers’ wife Bernadine Dohrn was also at the event, with Ayers introducing her as his “partner in crime,” adding, to laughter from the audience, “she hates it when I say that. It’s a metaphor.”

Dohrn was another prominent member of the Weather Underground, and spent almost a year in jail after she and Ayers turned themselves in to the authorities in 1980. She was released with most of her charges dropped due to prosecutorial misconduct and was later hired by a prestigious Chicago law firm whose head at the time was a family friend, paving her way to academia.

Speaking next to her husband, Dohrn addressed the paradox of having once been on the run from the law and her current position as a law professor by saying that “the academy is filled with people who’ve committed violence.” As examples, she cited Ann Coulter and generals who “tortured at Abu Ghraib” getting invited to speak at colleges across the country.

“The academy does not have clean hands, let’s just agree,” said Dohrn.

Charles Rollet is a senior at Northwestern University, and was a summer 2013 College Fix Fellow at The Daily Caller.

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Northwestern University is busy implementing an ambitious program for diversity on campus. University officials have created a “Social Inequalities and Diversities” requirement, which all students will have to complete before they graduate.

The goal of the requirement is multifaceted. The draft proposal states that once completed, students will be able to “expand their ability to think critically”, “recognize their own positionality in systems of inequality,” and “engage in self-reflection on power and privilege.”

The exact details of the requirement are not finalized, but there are two main components. One will involve students taking an already-existing class, which addresses diversity and inequality in some way.

The other component of the Social Inequalities and Diversities requirement will be a “co-curricular requirement.”

According to the draft proposal, the co-curricular requirement will put students in small groups to “build relationships” and “develop strategies to improve student relations.”

But what the diversity co-curricular requirement actually is remains unclear.

In addition to the mandatory new diversity curriculum, three new full-time diversity jobs have been created at Northwestern, bringing the total number of campus diversity administrators to seven.

Together, the seven administrators will head up a new committee called the Diversity Leaders’ Group. According to an article in The Daily Northwestern, the group was formed due to a “need for collaboration” among Northwestern’s seven diversity officials.

University president Morton Schapiro announced the Diversity Leaders’ Group in an April 1 email to the Northwestern community. The group will “begin strengthening a coordinated approach” to enhance diversity on campus, Schapiro wrote.

Amid all these changes, the majority of confusion surrounding Northwestern’s new diversity program centers on the still undefined co-curricular requirement. All that is clear is that every student will be required to fulfill it—whatever it turns out to be.

In an interview with The College Fix, Director for Campus Inclusion and Community Dr. Lesley-Ann Brown said that “no decision has been made” on its exact nature yet, although the “Sustained Dialogue” program may be used.

“Sustained Dialogue” is an extracurricular program used at a number of institutions around the country. It is designed to educate students about race, gender, and class issues.

During an NU Faculty Senate meeting on April 3rd, some faculty expressed concern about how students would fulfill the co-curricular requirement.

Clarifying that the “logistics are still in the works,” Mary Patillo, a sociology professor, said that the requirement would be “a peer-facilitated activity and it will be run out of student affairs.”

“Our endorsement here would be endorsing the idea that peer-to-peer dialogue is as important as the kind of pedagogical substantive critical thinking [in the curricular requirement],” she said.

Fix contributor Charles Rollet is a junior at Northwestern University.

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(Image by Dave Cobb/Flickr)

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Northwestern’s Associated Student Government passed a controversial resolution this week endorsing gun control.

The final version of the resolution, titled “Students Support Gun Control,” states “the Northwestern student body supports improved gun regulations.”

ASG also created a gun control committee that will “compose an open letter to our representatives in the United States government to work together to make bipartisan movement on gun control.”

The main controversy over the resolution was whether the student government could take positions on political issues without marginalizing students with different opinions.

Dane Stier, the President of Northwestern’s College Republicans, took issue with the vote:

“The last time I checked, it’s not ASG’s mission to remind Congress to do its job or to decide what Northwestern’s ‘official’ opinion is on national issues,” he said.

Stier also accused ASG of bias in its passage of the resolution.

“I’ve been talking to several students who see this as just another step of discrimination against conservative and libertarian students, and that’s upsetting for me to see and for them to experience,” Stier said.

“We tried to make ASG aware of this, but apparently political diversity is excluded from their definition of diversity.”

Stier was the co-author of a different ASG resolution crafted in response to “Students Support Gun Control.” Titled “Political and Partisan Issues,” the resolution argued for restraint on ASG’s part with regard to partisan political issues not directly connected to students. It failed to pass.

One of the main authors of “Students Support Gun Control,” Steven Monacelli, explained his reasoning for the resolution in an interview with The College Fix last week:

“To me, this is about students speaking up about an issue that disproportionately affects them and other young people,” he said.

On ASG not respecting ‘political diversity,’ Monacelli commented.

“People are entitled to different political opinions, and yes we should respect them. So obviously it would be bad if ASG were to act in such a way that literally restricted the rights of students to express their opinions,” he said.

“However, because we have a majority vote and we can clearly list who voted up and who voted down and what number of senators voted, I don’t see any sense of political discrimination.”

At the same meeting that “Students Support Gun Control” was passed, ASG also passed a resolution supporting Northwestern’s total divestment from the coal industry.

Fix contributor Charles Rollet is a junior at Northwestern.

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Image source: Stanislov Yanchenko / Wikimedia Commons

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Activists at Northwestern University are demanding the establishment of a Native American Studies program as well as special scholarships for Native American students. The demands stem from controversy surrounding university founder John Evans.

Evans’s name is hard to ignore on Northwestern’s campus. As one of the university’s founders, he not only gave his name to the university’s alumni center, but also to the city Northwestern is located in – Evanston.

But student activists are trying to change the way John Evans is viewed, citing his controversial life story.

Evans was governor of Colorado during 1864′s Sand Creek Massacre, in which large numbers of Arapaho and Cheyenne women and children were killed. Even though the massacre itself was committed by Col. John Chivington, Evans was accused of covering it up and was asked to resign from his post by President Andrew Johnson, which he did.

The Native American and Indigenous Student Alliance or NAISA was formed at Northwestern last year, over a century after Evans’ death in 1897. NAISA soon created the Memory Project, which was aimed at raising awareness of Evans’ role in the Sand Creek Massacre.

The group then released a petition in November which made a list of specific demands for Northwestern to fulfill, including the university’s recognition of Evans’ responsibility for the massacre, the establishment of a Native American Studies program, and the admission of  two students from the Arapaho and Cheyenne nations “on full scholarship with each undergraduate class.”

The petition brought attention to NAISA’s cause, and on January 23rd the group publicly called for a “Commission on Truth and Justice” to be established on the matter in a guest column for The Daily Northwestern. The column charged that “throughout his life John Evans remained our chief benefactor, making this University one that was built on the blood of native peoples.”

The column was timed to appear before Northwestern’s “Founder’s Day,” a celebration of the day the state of Illinois approved the university’s act of incorporation on January 28th, 1851. It was signed by four students and Gary Fine, the John Evans Professor of Sociology at Northwestern.

Because of NAISA’s campaign, Northwestern has been cautiously referring to “Founder’s Day” as “our 162nd Birthday” instead.

But in a more important victory for NAISA, the university has also decided to form a committee to investigate its most controversial founder.

“I am ecstatic that a university committee is being formed,” said NAISA co-president Adam Mendel. “My only concern is the composition of the committee. My hope is that it will bring together scholars and administrators from various departments, as well as representatives of the Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes.”

Despite such concerns, Mendel is confident the committee will justify NAISA’s activism: “As for the outcome of the committee, I do think its results will be favorable to our cause,” he said.

And Northwestern just might concede on some of the petition’s other points, though the extent to which they will do so is unclear.

“I know for a fact the administration has already begun examining programs to recruit more Native American students to Northwestern and to find ways of providing support,” Mendel said.

Charles Rollet is a student at Northwestern University.

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Are the topics of race, class, and gender over-emphasized in college history courses? According to the National Association of Scholars (NAS), the answer is yes.

In its latest report Recasting History: Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History?, NAS charged two large American universities with teaching a twisted version of American history.

Starting in 2010, the NAS investigated American history classes at the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M, concluding “we found that all too often the course readings gave strong emphasis to race, class, or gender (RCG) social history, an emphasis so strong that it diminished the attention given to other subjects in American history (such as military, diplomatic, religious, intellectual history).”

“The result is that these institutions frequently offered students a less-than-comprehensive picture of U.S. history,” said the report, clarifying that “the situation was far more problematic at the University of Texas than at Texas A&M University.”

So what’s the evidence?

“Of the faculty members we studied, 78 percent at UT and 50 percent at Texas A&M were ‘high assigners’ of race, class, and gender readings, meaning that more than 50 percent of the readings they assigned focused on race, class, and gender,” said Ashley Thorne, the director at the Center for the Study of the Curriculum at the NAS.

The NAS also consulted a list of 100 “milestone documents” of US history published by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which included texts such as the Gettysburg Address and the Declaration of Independence.

“Of these 100, only 23 were assigned, and these were assigned by only five faculty members (out of the 46 total), two at A&M and three at UT,” said the report.

“In other words, 89 percent of faculty members teaching lower division U.S. history courses assigned none of the 100 key documents.”

Overall, this focus on race, class, and gender, according to the NAS’ report, has resulted in “a narrowing conception of our nation and the elevation of racial, class, and sexual identity into the central story of America.”

The NAS thus recommended American universities change their ways by taking measures such as reviewing the curriculum, identifying “essential reading,” and “depoliticizing history.”

But in academia, the response to the NAS’ report has been far from welcoming.

After the study was made public, UT released a statement saying that it “paints a narrowly defined and largely inaccurate picture of the quality, depth and breadth of history teaching and research at The University of Texas at Austin.”

Some history professors at the university also disagreed with the report.

Clarifying that he can’t speak for the profession as a whole, American history professor H.W. Brands said “I don’t believe I overemphasize race, class and gender. I’m not even sure what is meant by that allegation.”

He explained: “I certainly talk about race: how can a teacher discuss slavery or the civil rights movement without doing so. As to class, the Populist movement of the 1890s was all about class; I can’t ignore that. Gender: Women make up half the population (not to mention more than half my students). Their story must be told.”

At other universities, the response to the NAS allegation that classics were being ignored in favor of “race, class, and gender” themes was also often unapologetic.

Kathleen Belew, who teaches American Studies at Northwestern University, said “I think that having texts that reflect the experiences of our students is more important than reading the texts that would have been considered classics by a particular demographic 50 years ago.”

However, others agree with the report’s conclusions.

George Leef, the director of research at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said “the fact is that doctoral programs in history have come to be dominated by people who want to use their positions to inculcate trendy leftist ideas in their students.”

“That is why we find far more history profs these days who have written their dissertations on something like ‘The Oppression of Women in the Garment Industry’ than on, say, some aspect of the Constitution,” Leef added.

And the NAS, which has been described as a politically conservative organization, is adamant it began the study without any preconceptions about whether American history courses at UT and A&M were heavily focused on race, class, and gender.

“It’s what we found- we began the study with no clear idea of what was going to be the nature of the curriculum,” said Peter Wood, the president of the NAS.

“It jumped out at us as fact–this is what was going on at these two universities; that is to say, that a very large number of the syllabi focused on race, gender, and class, as [if it were] the aspect of American history that was the most important thing to teach.”

Fix Contributor Charles Rollet is a junior at Northwestern University.

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Image Source: IMPA Awards / Wikimedia Commons

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Crowds of students, teachers, and others streamed into Northwestern University’s Fisk Hall on November 10th to attend the Midwest Marxism Conference, organized by the Chicago-based International Socialist Organization.

The day-long event opened in a crowded auditorium with a passionate speech from Becca Barnes, a teacher and member of the Chicago Teachers Union.

In her speech, Barnes heavily criticized the recent election, praised the CTU’s recent success as the “type of democracy” the US needs, and characterized the American capitalist system as “fundamentally inhumane.”

She was unsparing of newly re-elected President Obama.

“Both Obama and Romney support capitalism, aim to maintain US imperial dominance in the world, and are committed to implementing austerity necessary to restore the profitability of the American capitalist class,” she said.

Barnes also called for a revolution in America in which workers would overthrow the “capitalist class” and “create a genuine workers’ democracy.”

“Never has it been so easy to see, from the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, that revolution is back on the table. It’s not only possible – it’s necessary,” she said.

The conference was lengthy, lasting from 10am to 8pm. It featured numerous lecturers and workshops, along with a Socialist bookshop called Haymarket Books.

There were twelve workshops in total, whose topics varied. Classical Marxist theory was approached in lectures such as “Lenin’s Theory of the Revolutionary Party” and “Education & Capitalism.” Yet other workshops, such as “from Apartheid to the New Jim Crow: Racism, USA” and “The Democrats: A Critical History,” addressed more American issues.

Workshop attendees were instructed to “raise your fist” after each presentation if they wished to ask questions or comment.

In the workshop “The Meaning of Marxism,” Socialist Worker journalist Eric Ruder explained basic Marxist theory to a filled classroom.

He addressed the conundrum that most people today seem relatively well-off under capitalism.

“We’re so much more productive as a society, literally thousands of times more so, except we let huge proportions [of people] actually die of starvation and material want, for no particular reason,” he said. “It’s a social problem, not one of material wealth.”

Towards the end of the lecture, Ruder used toothpaste as an example of capitalism’s inefficiencies.

“If you no longer have one section competing against another, you start to eliminate all kinds of waste,” he said, referencing toothpaste brands Colgate and Crest.

Ruder then described the “wastefulness” of toothpaste’s price: “About 90% of the price you pay for toothpaste goes into packaging, advertising, and profit, and 10% is the actual contents of the toothpaste.”

“If you look into our economy as a whole, there is waste of that sort everywhere that you look,” he said.

Ruder concluded his presentation with a quote from the Communist Manifesto. He stated that once the working class takes power through revolution, “in place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

Another workshop titled “Imperialism: Capitalism Wages War” was hosted by Brian Bean, and discussed war from a Marxist perspective.

In his lecture, Bean cited tracts from the Soviet leader Nikolai Bukharin, and said that war and imperialism are “woven into the fabric of global capitalism.”

Bean stated that war as we know it is an “outgrowth of capitalism,” and urged that “the beast must be slain.”

“The ruling class is going to do it [start wars] again, and again, and again, until capitalism is abolished,” Bean said.

The conference ended with a lecture from author Marvin Surkin on his latest book, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying: A Study in Urban Revolution, followed by dinner and drinks at local bar The Celtic Knot.

Despite being held in Fisk Hall – where Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism is located – the Midwest Marxism Conference was not covered by the university’s newspaper of record, The Daily Northwestern.

It was covered, however, by Breitbart.com author and activist “Rebel Pundit,” who was expelled from the event before it ended.

Conference attendees were informed that they were not allowed to use recorders or take pictures without explicit permission from the conference’s organizers.

Fix contributor Charles Rollet is a junior at Northwestern.

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(Image Source: IISH / Wikimedia Commons)

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