BPALC’s speaker series offers more narrow-minded alarmism than intellectual inquiry

Griffin Perrault, Opinions Co-Editor

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The stated purpose of the Bucknell Program for American Leadership and Citizenship (BPALC)  is brief, auspicious and, above all, quite noble: “The Program […] focuses on developing thoughtful and informed civic leadership, exploring fundamental ideas in the pursuit of truth through higher education, to aid in developing informed citizens.” Among the topics explored by BPALC include such innocuous matters as “the nature of civic and economic liberty, the proper relationship between government and civil society, [and] the proper role or roles of religion in public life…” This series of descriptions, available on the organization’s blog page, is interspersed with illustrations by Giovanni dal Ponte and Raphael, along with a reproduction of the first page of the U.S. Constitution. Every aspect of the program’s representation suggests a nonpartisan, independent group of civic-minded individuals committed to educating young students on tenets of national pride, duty and responsibility.

When the BPALC translates these goals into reality, however, one could reasonably observe that they are far more committed to large-“R” than small-“r” Republican virtue. This is most evident in the organization-sponsored speaker series on “Campus Politics and the Liberal Arts.” The series ostensibly intends to debate questions surrounding “political correctness” and “free expression and due process rights on campus,” two of the most salient bogeymen in recent conservative discourse. And yet far more damning than the intended purpose of the series are the speakers themselves. Despite the BPALC’s consistent and unwavering jeremiads about the vital role of “viewpoint diversity” in academia, this years’ speakers appear to present only one side of a particularly contentious issue; ironically, for a crowd so concerned about liberal indoctrination, that side seems overwhelmingly conservative.

While some of the presenters have explicitly identified themselves with the conservative cause — such as September’s speaker Samuel Abrams of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank affiliated with such reactionary darlings as National Review editor Jonah Goldberg, former National Security Adviser John Bolton and former Vice President Dick Cheney — others have not been so quick to associate with an establishment party, comfortable to simply parrot reactionary pablum without the party label. April speaker Peter Boghossian, for instance, is notable for his 2017 “Grievance Studies” stunt where, along with James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose, Boghossian wrote over 20 fraudulent papers, seven of which were accepted and published in a variety of academic journals. The goal of the hoax was to underline the lack of academic standards in the so-called “Grievance Studies,” such as race, sexuality and gender studies. Besides being the ultimate in punching down, Boghossian’s hoax has been criticized by academics such as Carl Bergstrom as an “uninformative […] hollow exercise in mean-spirited mockery” and “woefully naive about how the [peer review] system works,” while columnist Daniel Engber noted that “[o]ne could have run this sting on almost any empirical discipline and returned the same result.” Recent speaker Allen Guelzo, who directed the “Lincoln at Gettysburg” talk weeks ago, is otherwise notable for his controversial assertion that “the Constitution was never proslavery,” a claim repeatedly debunked by professors in a variety of academic fields. And during last year’s “’60s at 50” symposium, “Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965,” author Mark Moyar insinuated that the Vietnam War, responsible for over 50,000 American deaths and nearly 10 times that on the Vietnamese end, was an overall necessary military maneuver to prevent the spread of communism.

Likely the most contentious of BPALC’s speakers is the Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald, author of racist screeds like “The Immigrant Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s” and “The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture,” as well as the 2008 article “The Campus Rape Myth.” The latter warns of a pernicious “campus rape industry” which at once promotes “dour antimale feminism […] and the promiscuous hookup culture of student life.” Comparing recent Title IX oversight improvements to “Bentham’s Panopticon,” Mac Donald makes a bizarre and flimsy claim that rape services somehow undermine university duties to educate students, asking why “schools [are] offering workshops on orgasms and sex toys instead of on Michelangelo’s Campidoglio or Pushkin’s ‘Eugene Onegin?’” The reality of the situation, of course, is that there is no such tradeoff, but Mac Donald appears to show a remarkable incapacity to think outside of absolutes and zero-sums; an improvement of safety and comprehensiveness must come at the expense of some nebulous traditional value. This extends to her recommendations regarding campus sexual assault; Mac Donald claims that intercourse, “an activity originating in inchoate desire, whose nuances have taxed the expressive powers of poets, artists, and philosophers for centuries,” simply eludes the litigative power of campus risk-management; the subtext is, of course, that they should not even try.

The speakers of the BPALC series do not, in short, provide “various kinds of critical perspectives” on issues of campus politics, political correctness and sexual assault. In point of fact, these speakers seem to agree on the essential “facts” of the case: that leftists are utilizing tools of a “victimhood culture” — a term coined by December speaker Jason Manning — in order to suppress free speech and due process rights on campus; that liberal indoctrination has stymied the investigative potential of academia in order to conserve its own ideological underpinnings; that the draconian mandates of Title IX “produce a pacified, cowering citizenry,” as March speaker Laura Kipnis puts it. The modalities of these opinions vary slightly, but they all tend to identify the same culprit: leftism in higher education. In reaching this stalwartly partisan conclusion, the speakers frequently stumble over even the most basic facts about the processes of peer review, rape crisis and other systems they have associated with this liberal encroachment. Theirs is not the thesis of a speaker series, or a program, which claims to value “diverse intellectual inquiry;” it is a statement of purpose for a clandestine group of reactionaries who want to launder partisan — even openly racist and sexist — opinions through perfunctory and unreliable research and openly dishonest inference from the same. It is also funded directly through the Office of the President.

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