Showing posts with label George Orwell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label George Orwell. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Storino v. New York University: 1984 comes to NYU

Marc Santonocito, Ashley Storino, and Elnaz Pourasgari--all students at New York University--did some bad, bad things! 

During the summer of 2020, they attended some parties without wearing COVID masks. Oh, the horror! The horror!

All three miscreants enrolled at NYU for the 2020 fall semester, but they were soon charged with engaging in behavior that "endanger[ed] or compromise[d] the health, safety or well-being" of the university community. 

Somehow NYU obtained evidence from social media about the trio's summer activities. A New York court summarized NYU's case against them, and I warn you, it is shocking!

Each [student]was captured in at least one photo on social media depicting them unmasked and in physical contact with other individuals who were also not wearing masks: Santonocito arm in arm with other unmasked individuals, Storino cheek to cheek with other unmasked individuals, and Pourasgari touching the face of another unmasked individual.

After appearing at virtual hearings, all three students were suspended from NYU  for the 2020 fall semester.  They sued, and a New York trial court ordered NYU to re-enroll them. 

In the trial court's opinion, NYU's actions were "arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion." The trial court ruled that a university cannot impose the harsh penalty of suspension unless it gives them "clear, unambiguous and full pre-conduct notice" that their summer behavior could result in discipline.

NYU appealed, and an appellate court reversed the trial court and upheld the three students' suspension.  The appellate court ruled that the notices NYU gave the students were clear enough to put them on notice that they might be canned if they attended parties in the summer without wearing masks.

I have two problems with the appellate court's opinion:

First, I don't believe students should be suspended from their studies for attending a summer party without wearing a mask.  In my opinion, students should be free from university surveillance when they are on their summer holidays.

Second, I think NYU's penalties were too harsh. 

After all, NYU required all students to submit a negative COVID test as a condition of enrollment for the 2020 fall semester. Thus, NYU surely knew that none of the three students had contracted COVID over the summer. So why kick them out of school?

NYU is one of the most expensive universities in the world. It costs about $80,000 a year to study there. One might think its highly-paid administrators would have a decent respect for their students' privacy--at least during their summer vacations. 

The Storino case reminds me of George Orwell's 1984. In that novel, Big Brother was spying on people 24 hours a day.  Have we come to such a pass in the United States?

I acknowledge that the COVID pandemic is a serious matter. Everyone--including college students--should take precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

But universities have a responsibility to treat their students with compassion and to enforce their student-conduct rules with moderation and restraint. In my view, NYU acted arrogantly and heartlessly when it suspended Marc Santonocito, Ashley Storino, and Elnaz Pourasgari.


References

Storino v. New York University, 193 A.D.3d 436 (N.Y. App. Div. 2021).




Monday, August 8, 2016

University of Wisconsin at Stout removes historic paintings that might make some students "feel bad": We don't need no stinkin' art!

Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.
George Orwell

In the latest incident of  higher education silliness, the University of Wisconsin at Stout removed two historical paintings from the common areas of Harvey Hall to more obscure locations.  The paintings seem inoffensive enough. One depicts French fur traders and Native Americans canoeing the Red Cedar River, and the other shows a French palisade fort.

Robert M. Meyer
Chancellor of UW Stout
Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering
But UW Stout's Chancellor, Robert M. Meyer, wanted the paintings moved. "There's a segment of Native American students, that when they look at the art, to them it symbolizes an era of their history where land and possessions were taken away from them, and they feel bad when they look at them," Meyer explained.

What a stupid thing to do! Both paintings were commissioned by the Works Progress Administration in 1936. Painted by Wisconsin artist Cal Peters,these works form part of our national heritage of public art that was created during the Great Depression. As I child, I recall seeing WPA murals in the post office of my home town in Oklahoma--depictions of Plains Indians painted by a Native American artist. When I grew older, I realized how privileged I was to have a daily opportunity to see great and historic art every time I visited my local post office.

Are our universities really going to remove historic art because it might make a few people feel bad? I felt bad when I viewed Picasso's Guernica in Madrid, and I felt really bad after visiting the Rothko Chapel in Houston, where I gazed upon a a room full of  Mark Rothko's dark canvasses.  But I would never demand that  a particular piece of art be banished from a public place simply because it makes me uncomfortable.

Perhaps Chancellor Meyer's bizarre move can be explained by the fact that he does not have a liberal arts background. Meyer received his bachelor's degree in industrial education and his Ph.D. in industrial engineering. He may know nothing about the WPA art program; in fact, he may know nothing about art.

But Meyer's politically correct perspective on art and history is shared by people who really should know better.  All over the United States, college administrators are changing the names of buildings and removing campus statuary to expunge the record of historical figures whose views are now politically inconvenient.

In fact, our college presidents have become the modern-day incarnation of Winston Smith, the lead character in George Orwell's 1984. Smith worked in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, where he continuously rewrote the historical record of events to fit the ideology of  Big Brother.

But of course, this politically correct scrubbing of historical figures and events is selective. Jefferson Davis'  statue is consigned to obscurity at the University of Texas because he was president of the Confederacy. But Harvard Law School will never change the name of Langdell Library, in spite of the fact that the building was named for Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell, a nineteenth century anti-Catholic bigot who refused to admit any law-school applicant who had received an undergraduate degree from a Catholic college.

Little by little, and day by day, the intellectual atmosphere of American colleges and universities is descending into a culture of paranoia, cowardice and deception reminiscent of Stalinist Russia. Universities are no longer the guardians of our common culture and shared values. Instead, they are merely the shrill enforcers of the shifting prejudices of postmodern nihilism.

And yet our American university presidents still arrogantly believe that they offer educational experiences that are so valuable that young people should borrow thousands of dollars to get a college education.  What a crock!

This painting makes some people feel bad.

References

Rich Kremer. UW-Stout Moves Controversial 80-year-old Murals. Wisconsin Public Radio, August 5, 2016. Accessible at http://www.wpr.org/uw-stout-moves-controversial-80-year-old-murals