Monthly Archives: June 2017

Liberal Lessons in Taking Back America

Marshall Ganz, shirt sleeves rolled up, spread his arms wide with a “join me.” Hands came together, slowly at first, then in a flurry of rapid, synchronized thwacks. A member of the old left — he dropped out of Harvard in 1964 to fight for civil rights in Mississippi and for California farmworkers with Cesar Chavez — Dr. Ganz was teaching the unity clap, the audible calling card of the United Farmworkers of America 50 years earlier.

“It’s not a trivial thing at all,” said Dr. Ganz, who had returned to his studies and is now a Harvard professor. Clapping is a collective action that builds cohesion and gets attention, and chanting is “a way of celebrating and honoring the values that are being enacted through this work.”

This was the fun stuff. Political organizing is tedious. It involves gathering people, setting group norms, defining roles and goals. And dogged on-the-ground labor.

These also happen to be the core aims of Dr. Ganz’s audience, members of an unsanctioned “school” created last spring by Harvard graduate students cold-cocked by the Trump victory. For those on the left, the election yanked away the scrim of sweet reason.

“For a long time we have been able to think that things have been pretty O.K.,” said Yasmin Radjy, one of 11 founders of the Resistance School, four sessions on political advocacy and action held in a lecture hall at the John F. Kennedy School of Government. Opposing forces now look more threatening. It is what spurred the students to invite professors and political veterans to lecture on the tools necessary to drive sustainable political change. Semester two is in the works.

The Resistance School focuses on “practical skills for taking back America” at a moment when front-porch politicking seems lost to likes and shares, online memes and long lists of diversity demands.

A 50-person army, many in their navy blue Resistance School T-shirts, operated in teams with elflike efficiency at the Kennedy School, working at odd hours to produce video highlights, lecture notes, syllabus materials and homework assignments. During lectures, students gathered in the “war room,” its conference table dotted with room-temperature pizza slices, to live tweet and select questions for the speaker from Facebook submissions.

In a wave of interest that surprised the founders, the videos have had more than 175,000 views; Yale and Grinnell students held “watch parties.”

To the audience, the Resistance School offered fresh information. “I think we sort of lost the idea that there was a need for organizing,” said Nina Vyedin, Vassar class of 2011. Co-founder of Indivisible Somerville, a chapter of the Indivisible project directing communities in opposing the Trump agenda, she and her under-30 group had been “passively active,” donating to a campaign or posting a Facebook status. “We have lost community,” said Ms. Vyedin, who works at Microsoft. “We need to rebuild it.”

Right and Left React to Betsy DeVos’s Changes to Campus Sex Assault Rules

The political news cycle is fast, and keeping up can be overwhelming. Trying to find differing perspectives worth your time is even harder.

Education Secretary Betsy Devos discussed the proposed new rules on the handling of campus sexual assault cases last week. CreditJacquelyn Martin/Associated Press“Our campuses are not exempt from the Constitution. There is no excuse for government-mandated kangaroo courts in any part of American life, especially in America’s institutions of higher learning.”

Mr. French believes that critics of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s plan to reform Title IX procedures for cases of sexual assault on college campuses “believe and propagate a pile of junk science seasoned with a heaping helping of far-left ideology.” He questions the statistics most often cited by “true campus ideologue” activists that “come unglued at the mere mention of ‘due process.’”

“If today’s activists think due process is so terrible, what would stop them from working to remove it from our courts?”

Ms. DeVos hopes to establish a firmer definition of sexual assault, which Ms. Schow hopes will stop the trend “creating victims out of students who aren’t actually victims.” Due process can never be an impediment to justice, Ms. Schow writes, and “removal of due process” might have impact beyond college campuses.

“In a few cases, the accused may actually be guilty — but gets off because his rights were violated by his school. Why even have schools get involved in criminal matters in the first place?”

Ms. Markowicz defends the reforms to Title IX introduced by Ms. Devos by condemning the “utterly unfair procedures” common under the Obama-era system. Under the previous system, she writes, “‘defendants’ don’t get lawyers. Due process, of the sort we’re used to in real courts, is tossed by the wayside.” She concludes her column by noting that “we wouldn’t allow women to be treated this way.” Read more »

Quoting Ms. Graves in the Guardian”The sexually accused are overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly white (57 percent, according to RAINN)”1)…

According to Ms. Graves, it all comes down to the fact that Ms. DeVos “is simply defending the people she and her boss have always been most interested in defending,” white men “who’d grown used to having the world at their feet.”

“The proof will be in the details of what the Trump administration produces. Still, you don’t have to be a DeVos-like conservative to have serious qualms about the existing approach — and to bristle at the dismissal of such concerns.”

“There is every reason not to trust” Ms. DeVos and the Trump administration when it comes to policing sexual assault on college campuses, writes Ms. Marcus. However, she still finds herself praising — “albeit tentatively and preliminarily” — the education secretary’s attempt to address the “seriously flawed” way in which colleges handled assault investigations, an “overcorrection” in response to the Obama administration’s attempts to get colleges to “take sexual-assault allegations seriously.”

After More Than 20 Years, Newark to Regain Control of Its Schools

NEWARK — In 1995, when Marques-Aquil Lewis was in elementary school, the State of New Jersey seized control of the public schools here after a judge warned that “nepotism, cronyism and the like” had precipitated “abysmal” student performances and “failure on a very large scale.”

For more than 20 years, local administrators have had little leverage over the finances or operations of the state’s largest school district. Choices about curriculum and programs were made mostly by a state-appointed superintendent, often an outsider. The city could not override personnel decisions.

Now, Mr. Lewis’s 4-year-old son is in prekindergarten, and things are changing. With the district improving slowly but steadily in recent years, the state board of education is expected on Wednesday to approve a plan that would ultimately give Newark control again over its public schools with their almost $1 billion budget and 55,000 students.

“Our district has been through a lot of storms, and there were some people who jumped off the boat,” said Mr. Lewis, chairman of the Newark Public Schools Advisory Board, an elected body that has little power under state control. “But there were some people who stayed on, and now everyone wants to come to Newark and be a part of history.”

Christopher D. Cerf, center, was brought in as superintendent of Newark Public Schools in 2015 by Gov. Chris Christie. Mayor Ras Baraka credited Mr. Cerf for being open-minded. “Sometimes you go to a church to infiltrate, and become a deacon,” he said.

CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

The vote comes just two months after the board approved a plan to return control to Jersey City, the state’s second-largest public school system, after almost three decades. And while two other cities — Paterson and Camden — remain under Trenton’s supervision, the 2017-18 school year represents a milestone in the protracted and contentious history of state control.

Newark’s schools have improved — the high school graduation rate is now 77 percent versus 54 percent in 1995; on state tests, the district now ranks in the top quarter of comparable urban districts; low-performing schools were closed while charter schools expanded. The district is retaining more of its best teachers, and fewer of its least effective ones.

But the decision to give authority back to the city is in many ways a recognition that state control is an idea whose time has passed. Around the country, 28 other states enacted similar policies, fueled by a desire to hold districts more accountable. Many of the districts taken over were in heavily minority low-income cities. At present, around 60 districts are under some form of state management, said Kenneth Wong, chairman of the department of education at Brown University.

When New Jersey took over the schools, it was thought of as an emergency intervention. In evaluating the legacy of state control, Paul L. Tractenberg, an emeritus professor of law at Rutgers University, said that the idea went “badly off the tracks” by failing to provide sufficient funding and turning into a “really endless state operation.”

“I’ve devoted my professional life to trying to improve urban education, so I’m the last person to say, ‘What a failure,’” said Mr. Tractenberg, who established the Education Law Center in 1973 to fight for more equitable funding for urban schools. “But I’m also a realist, so I’m not going to say we found a magic bullet and everything is fine now.”

Students at Technology High School in Newark on the first day of school. It has been more than 20 years since the city had authority over its schools. CreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times

Indeed, test scores and other metrics barely budged for years. Newark’s first state-appointed superintendent, Beverly Hall, a former New York City education official, clashed with parents and educators, and left the district in 1999 with a staggering deficit amid questions of fiscal mismanagement. Later, as superintendent of the Atlanta schools, she was indicted in a widespread cheating scandal, but died in 2015 awaiting trial.

Just as polarizing, if not more so, was Cami Anderson, a veteran of the New York City schools under former chancellor Joel I. Klein who was appointed by Gov. Chris Christie in 2011. Her plan to reorganize the schools, which included closing low-performing ones and opening many charter schools, and creating an open enrollment system that did away with some neighborhood schools, played a role in the fractious 2014 Newark mayor’s race won by Ras J. Baraka, a former teacher and high school principal. She resigned the next year.

In 2015, Governor Christie tapped Christopher D. Cerf, a hard-charging former state education commissioner and yet another disciple of Mr. Klein’s, as the next superintendent. In an interview at City Hall, Mr. Baraka said that he had expected the latest outsider to be “very rigid” and “carry the governor’s water.”

But the two men instead forged an unexpectedly productive relationship. A new teachers’ union contract, signed in May, featured little of the rancor from years past, and Mr. Baraka has helped to defuse tensions between charter and traditional schools. Charter enrollment has tripled in the past five years and Ms. Anderson’s much maligned open enrollment plan has been modified with more community input.

In the interview Mr. Baraka credited Mr. Cerf for being open-minded. “Sometimes you go to a church to infiltrate, and become a deacon,” he said.

Bannon Expected to Address Berkeley

The University of California, Berkeley, has erupted this year in response to planned speeches by conservative flamethrowers like Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter. On Tuesday, another figure was added to the mix: Stephen K. Bannon, the right-wing media executive and former chief strategist to President Trump.

Mr. Bannon has agreed to speak this month as part of Free Speech Week, a four-day event organized by The Berkeley Patriot, a conservative student publication. Mr. Yiannopoulos is also scheduled to appear.

Bryce Kasamoto, a Berkeley Patriot spokesman, confirmed that Mr. Bannon and Mr. Yiannopoulos would appear at the event, which runs from Sept. 24-27. He indicated that there would be additional speakers but said he could not name them yet because his group was “still working with the university and law enforcement to finalize our itinerary.”

Dan Mogulof, a spokesman for the university, said the event’s organizers had not submitted any of the information or forms required for the university to provide security: a description of the events, for example, and a police services request form. The requirements are outlined in Berkeley’s events policy, he noted, and “they just have not completed any of that.”

Protesters started a fire on Berkeley’s campus in February during a rally against the scheduled appearance of Milo Yiannopoulos. The speech was canceled. CreditBen Margot/Associated Press

Mr. Mogulof said that university officials had already let some deadlines slide, but that they could not wait beyond the end of this week.

overnight,” he said. For a speech by the conservative commentator Ben Shapiro on Thursday, organized by the Berkeley College Republicans, the university is bringing in “a huge number” of police officers and “spending hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he added. “The logistics are exceedingly complex.”

Mr. Kasamoto wrote in a Facebook message that he and others at The Berkeley Patriot “aren’t sure specifically what paperwork they are referring to, but we will work to get all of this clarified in a good-faith and collaborative manner.” He added, “We hope that ‘campus officials’ will contact us directly about any of their concerns regarding our efforts to make this event a success for the Berkeley community.”

Mr. Mogulof said that the student organizers “know exactly” what the requirements are and that university officials had “repeatedly asked” them to provide specific documents.

Berkeley has been a hotbed of controversy this year, with a series of planned — and, in some cases, later canceled — speeches by conservatives whom opponents accused of promoting bigotry and hatred.

In February, Berkeley canceled a speech by Mr. Yiannopoulos— a former Breitbart News editor who has gleefully rejected “political correctness” and denigrated feminists, Muslims, transgender people and other groups — after initially peaceful protests on campus turned violent. Ms. Coulter, a conservative commentator known for many similar stances, was scheduled to speak in April, but the university canceled the event a week beforehand, saying it could not assure “the safety of Ms. Coulter, the event sponsors, audience and bystanders.” Both speakers had been invited by the Berkeley College Republicans.

Conservatives, including Mr. Yiannopoulos and Ms. Coulter, have accused the university of suppressing free speech. In February, Mr. Trump posted on Twitter: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”

Many supporters of the planned speeches noted that Berkeley was the birthplace of the free speech movement and a cradle of liberal activism in the 1960s, and accused its students of having different standards for liberal and conservative speech. Opponents argued in response that the views Mr. Yiannopoulos and Ms. Coulter promoted against marginalized groups should be outside the bounds of civil discourse.

But Mr. Shapiro is still expected to speak as planned on Thursday, and Mr. Yiannopoulos and Mr. Bannon remain scheduled for later this month. In August, Mayor Jesse Arreguin of Berkeley asked the university to cancel Mr. Yiannopoulos’s speech, and the university declined, saying it would not reject student groups’ invited speakers based on their political beliefs.