How Many Geese Make a Gaggle?

Despite the title of this post, in it I’m asking a serious question. There have been a number of news stories in recent months about the suppression of freedom of speech on college campuses. University of Missouri, Evergreen State, Yale, Oberlin, Middlebury College, Berkeley, the list goes on.

I think I can identify three distinct positions on whether this constitutes a problem or not. The first position is that it’s a tempest in a teapot, just a handful of instances so, consequently, not a problem. In the “not a problem” camp, there is also a Marcusist strain that not only says that it’s not a problem but such suppression happens, it’s widespread, and it’s good. I’m discounting that view.

The second position is that the issue is present on most if not all college campuses these days and, consequently, is a grave problem because it flies in the face of the very purpose of higher education.

The third is that there’s just not enough data to tell.

Which if any of these positions is correct? If it’s the third, how many colleges, how many incidents would be required for the claim to achieve critical mass and, in particular, before the burden of proof transfers from those who claim it’s a problem to those who say it isn’t or that they don’t know?

The word “gaggle” is a collective noun, a medieval hunting term. There is no authoritative answer to how many geese make a gaggle but it’s at least three. Three or more geese flocking on the ground is a gaggle; three or more geese flocking in the air are a skein.

18 comments… add one
  • Janis Gore Link

    I think it’s disturbing whether it’s widespread or not. Yale, Oberlin and Berkeley are high-profile campuses and students cowing professors under the displeasure is a profoundly illiberal trend.

    i.e., it sucks.

  • walt moffett Link

    Campus wackiness is always going to make the news so put me in the hard to say camp for now. Re: freedom of inquiry and speech at public universities, it should be just another thing for the citizen to keep an eye on and rhubarb about as needed.

    To the meta of “no platforming”/censoring opposing views etc, this has always been with us, it is on the uptick and mass hard drive sledge hammering is not too far away.

  • Look at the question through the prism of risks and issues. A risk is something that could happen. An issue is something that’s already happened or is happening.

    You mitigate risks, i.e. take preventive actions. You remediate issues, significantly more serious steps.

    View #1 says it’s not even a risk. View #2 says it’s an issue. View #3 says it’s a risk.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I hold the second view with the provisio that I don’t think free expression is “the very purpose of higher education.” The purpose of higher education is to learn the materials; learning about other views that one was unlikely to encounter from where you grew up is a benefit, certainly for liberal arts studies.

    I feel like I benefited from actual diversity in college, and would like my kids too as well.

  • Janis Gore Link

    PD, the whole point of a liberal education is to learn how to argue ideas. If one refuses to even listen to the other side, the education is nothing more than job training and wasted money.

  • Modulo Myself Link

    There’s very little going on that has to do with teaching and curriculum. No one is banning books. Israel and unionizing grad students are much bigger issues within universities. Milo wrote a book and it was dogshit. Ben Shapiro writes things and a dim religious aunt enjoys it. This is not the stuff that free speech is made of.

  • I don’t think free expression is “the very purpose of higher education.”

    Learning is uncomfortable. If you’re comfortable, you’re not learning. Fear of being found out isn’t conducive to learning, either.

  • PD Shaw Link

    @Janis, professors can introduce ideas in their classrooms. A large part of the public controversy is the ‘open forum’ aspect in which a University invites Stephen Hawking, their rules require accepting Milo, and one of whom is there to bait controversy from useful idiots.

  • PD Shaw Link

    MM: “This is not the stuff that free speech is made of.” You are against free speech.

  • PD Shaw Link

    @Dave, I think I would distinguish btw/ professors who can teach/create an open dialogue with their classrooms, actual diversity of the student body, and the public speaking. The first two are more important, the last is what gets the headlines and the backfilling from non-liberals about how only speech that serves the greater good is worthy of being called speech.

  • Modulo Myself Link

    No, I’m just telling the truth. I actually have a weird penchant for reading stuff that I completely disagree with.That’s how I ended up here. I don’t see you or Dave actually doing the reciprocal. I guess I’m curious what you have read that makes you uncomfortable.

    Anyway, I think a trans person who wants to be a moral philosopher should have to read arguments about how they are a disordered person. That’s education.

    But I don’t think a trans student should have that yelled at them while they are walking to class. I support the right of the person to yell that at them but I’m not going to pretend it’s anything other than hateful crap. And I’m not going to be alarmed, for example, if the trans person decks the person who yelled it. You can’t build free speech on crap, unless you live in a cult. Conservatives have given up on actual arguments in almost every academic field other than economics, and they rely on the latter. Good for them, I say. But it’s awful and narrow, and completely terminal.

  • What do you think of students assaulting a professor for defending someone who held views with which the students disagreed? That’s what happened at Middlebury College. The someone wasn’t a professional provocateur like Milo Yiannopoulos, either.

  • Modulo Myself Link

    Eugenics is not a view.

    I despise Charles Murray but he should be allowed to speak without there being violence.

    But it’s like a bar fight–nobody should have a bottle broken over their head but telling black people that they have to listen to both sides re: their genetic inferiority is disgusting.

    I mean, even if you happen to believe that there’s weird trick of nature in which black people can’t do the IQ tests quite like the whites, you should grasp at least that. But Murray and his ilk don’t—because they’re just into it for the pathetic need for superiority, which I’m sure is obvious to black people.

  • Modulo Myself Link

    You realize that you have backed yourself into a corner where you have every legal right not to be assaulted but you can’t expect sympathy? Like you can’t call someone’s mother a whore and a slut and then be like Free Speech when you get punched. Most people, in my experience, learn to avoid or back out of situations in which they are being provoked to this end. That’s a process of growing up and weighing the world. Blowhards are not a threat, physically. But if your entire idea of free speech is just being an asshole and a blowhard there’s something off about that.

  • Janis Gore Link

    Attendance at extracurricular speeches is just that — extracurriculare. No one forces black students to listen to such speeches.

    Hopefully, at least some of the attendees are capable of dispassionate analysis of speech content.

    Milo is a different case altogether. He was never anything but a a rabble rouser and a jerk. Campuses are well rid of him.

  • CuriousOnlooker Link

    I put myself somewhere between camp 2 and 3 in the short term, and 1 in the long term.

    In the end, life doesn’t end with college, and people have to find a job after college. From what I know, skills like teamwork, convincing communication, and clear thinking are and will always be valued over dogmatic thinking, bullying and ostracization. If students are not learning useful skills in college, they will fail in the workplace. That will get picked up and fewer students will pick the school and governments will fund it less.

    PS : I doubt schools can really let it really effect their programs. Most universities have significant foreign student population (i.e. Chinese) that pays a big part of the budget. If Chinese students need to learn dogma, how to shut free expression – they have a lot cheaper choices then an American university.

  • Janis Gore Link

    Bt the way, I haven’t heard the term “skein” of geese for a long time. Thanks for that reminder.

  • Andy Link

    I’m probably between 2 & 3. I remember a lot of stuff from college in the late 80’s that’s similar to what’s going on now (at least many of the issues are the same), but the tone and justifications for violence seems worse.

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