Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Simkovic: A Well-Organized Campaign To Bait, Discredit, And Take Over Universities Is Exploiting Students And Manipulating The Public

Following up on my previous post, Conservative Law Prof Heckled by CUNY Protestors:  Michael Simkovic (USC), A Well-Organized Campaign to Bait, Discredit, and Take Over Universities Is Exploiting Students and Manipulating the Public:

Key takeaways:

  • Many lectures about “free speech” are not really about “free speech,” but rather are intended to provoke a reaction that will discredit universities.
  • When such reactions occur, many news stories about them are created, shaped, and disseminated by a well-funded network that wants to transform and take over universities.
  • Students, professors, administrators should not take the bait; nor should journalists. ...

The purpose of media exaggeration of incidents at universities appears to be to discredit universities in the eyes of conservatives, libertarians, and moderates. The anti-university campaign is working. Pew reports that individuals who lean Republican have traditionally held mostly positive views of universities, but those views became less favorable after 2010, and turned sharply negative around 2015 to 2016. ...

The anti-university campaign appears to be supported by a network of organizations funded by wealthy conservatives and libertarians including the Koch Brothers. ...

Republican resentment toward universities is evident at the national level.  Recent legislation increased taxes on universities while leaving other 501(c)(3) educational organizations such as think tanks unscathed.  

Universities face a well-funded, well-organized, and cynical campaign to discredit them.  It would be prudent to teach students to express their views without providing fodder for those who seek to use them for propaganda.  The most effective way to counter the campaign against universities may be to share information through a resource such as Sourcewatch, and then schedule more interesting, possibly unrelated events to compete with provocateurs.  Few things discourage would-be provocateurs more than empty seats.  Those who feel they must protest should do so in a quiet, gracious manner that emphasizes human dignity and mutual respect.  Universities should strive to welcome those with different values and avoid even a hint of political coercion. 

When students are goaded into tactical mistakes, journalists should ask themselves whether mean-spirited provocations by seasoned political operatives preying on vulnerable teenagers and inexperienced young adults genuinely deserve news coverage.  The United States faces serious economic challenges which get far less attention than this stage-managed political theater.

I have had the privilege of teaching, learning from, working with and befriending decent people of all political persuasions over the years.  It disappoints me to see some of them allow themselves to be used as cannon fodder in a misguided war against education.

Legal Education | Permalink


I believe the poster above meant "Goldwater Institute" not "Goldberg Institute." The "crazytown" link is to the Goldwater Institute, which has ties to both the Koch Foundation and Eugene Volokh.

Posted by: Goldwater not Goldbert | May 10, 2018 6:39:20 AM

Mike, Mike, Mike,

Money to influence a university or have philosophy X or theory Y taught in it is very, very different than trying to discredit a university. You want to talk about discrediting a university? Maybe look to all the HBS professors who mindlessly spout shareholder value theory as an absolute diktat (even though it has no basis in law or even much in business theory) and how that influence has rocketed across private industry and affected the lives of pretty much everyone in the United States.

I’d love to learn more about the “Goldberg Institute Model Legislation” except… there is no such thing as the Goldberg Institute. There is a Goldberg Clinic for Chronic Disease Reversal, a Lindner-Goldberg Child Care Institute, and a Goldberg Research Institute of Pharmacology; that’s all Google is returning me for “Goldberg Institute.” IN TEN PAGES OF RESULTS. Forget about Googling “Goldberg Institute Model Legislation.” And no, I’m not going to your crazytown link.

“Read the Chronicle of Higher Education and New York Times coverage about Koch control over GMU. They asked for a lot of "regulations."”

Yeah, no. Why don’t you actually provide the evidence for your own assertions? Would you ask the lawyer on the other side of the aisle to prove your case for you too? C’mon.

At best, you have some very tenuous circumstantial evidence that Koch may be trying to influence one university. This is very, very far away from “A campaign to bait, discredit, and take over universities.” To paraphrase Kerr and Bernstein and all the other law professors who signed their names in the Prawfsblawg comment section, this whole thing is silly and a sad little hill to die on. I mean, what you’ve shown isn’t nearly as nefarious as what’s going on with the various Pope Family foundations and the University of North Carolina. Go chase that ball, if you must.

Oh, one last thing:

“The stuff about the students having poor impulse control doesn't come from the author of the essay. It comes from a very well known and highly influential libertarian author and strategist, Johan Norberg.”

I Googled Johan Norberg. I don’t see any evidence that he has the slightest background or education in neuroscience, psychology, or psychiatry, so how much weight am I really supposed to give his expertise here? For all I know his theory on poor impulse control among college students came from the back of a cereal box.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 6, 2018 10:06:10 PM

Thanks, Honest. Still seems imprudent to me for folks who hide behind anonymity to be throwing around accusations of cowardice. Or even lessons in logic. Man up,

Posted by: Mike Petrik | May 6, 2018 4:44:40 PM

Read the Chronicle of Higher Education and New York Times coverage about Koch control over GMU. They asked for a lot of "regulations."

Posted by: Koch regulations of GMU | May 6, 2018 4:11:11 PM

"Pray tell what regulations . . . do you suppose they've demanded?"

The Goldberg Institute Model legislation linked to in the article. It would affect all public universities.

Posted by: Merit | May 6, 2018 4:07:37 PM

@ Mike Petrik:

Look up the logical fallacy "tu quoque" sometime.

Posted by: Honest Abel | May 6, 2018 7:51:35 AM

"Giving money to law schools to make them more pliable, and then attacking them for not being pliable enough, and defunding and regulating them so they need more donor money, are complementary strategies."

Good lord man, do you not know that the Koch's entire shtick is deregulation? Pray tell what regulations of Antonin Scalia School of Law, I mean Antonin Scalia Law School, do you suppose they've demanded?

I'm often derisively called a scamblogger, even though at this point only a fraction of my higher ed thoughts are devoted to law schools. Nevertheless, were I to try to discredit the ABA, say, or my alma mater, I'm pretty sure it would not involve an eight-figure donation to either of those organizations.

Also who put these chemtrails in my vaccines?!

(but please don't stop; I've made too much popcorn)

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 5, 2018 10:28:55 PM

Volokh seems like a .... coward ...." says the person who is too cowardly to sign his name.

Posted by: Mike Petrik | May 5, 2018 7:10:51 PM

If you consider a speech by a well-regarded law professor like Josh Blackman to be irresistible bait, you're too easily baited.

Posted by: Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk | May 3, 2018 7:00:21 PM

The stuff about the students having poor impulse control doesn't come from the author of the essay. It comes from a very well known and highly influential libertarian author and strategist, Johan Norberg.

From the essay:
"In 2011, at an Atlas Network dinner, the Keynote speaker Johan Norberg explained how to “win converts” to libertarianism by targeting the young and naïve:

“Get them when they’re young. . . . The prefrontal cortex is not really developed until you’re 25 . . . especially those parts that deal with controlling your impulses and thinking long term. . . . That’s a good thing . . . That’s really important. . .”

Norberg compared the young to “fish” who must be lured with the proper bait:

“Young people believe in change. . . . If we want someone to devote his life to [the libertarian] cause and to alienate . . . friends, teachers, parents, and siblings . . . [we must present] libertarianism [as] a radical philosophy that challenges the powerful and the vested interests . . . all those who . . . want to tell us how to lead our lives. . .”

This messaging strategy dovetails nicely with anti-university propaganda. . . ."

There are links to Norberg saying these things on video.

Posted by: Libertarians Target Students with Poor Impulse Control | May 3, 2018 12:52:15 PM

If the best defense of William Jacobson is that *only* one civil rights protestor and *two* cops were killed because of activities of white nationalists (instead of 3 civil rights protestors), then Jacobson must be truly indefensible.

Posted by: Body count | May 3, 2018 12:42:35 PM

It would be hard to top the silliness of Mike's earlier blog post where he proclaimed, without any evidence, that all gargantuan increase in law school depression from 8% at matriculation to 40% by 3L was entirely the result of genetic predisposition and not from the environmental stresses of law school/the legal profession, even going as far as to say that mental health is an immutable characteristic like height, which is objectively false. In fact, there is an overwhelming consensus among people who actually study mental health issues that genetics is only responsible for about 40% of the puzzle. Nevertheless, I think Mike has topped himself here. I feel like I'm reading one of the rejected notebooks from that movie "Seven."

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 3, 2018 8:58:18 AM

Giving money to law schools to make them more pliable, and then attacking them for not being pliable enough, and defunding and regulating them so they need more donor money, are complementary strategies.

Carrots and sticks, my friend. Carrots and sticks.

Posted by: Carrots and Sticks | May 3, 2018 7:43:41 AM

"Many lectures about 'free speech' are not really about 'free speech.'"

Free speech and assembly are rights, at least on public campuses. It doesn't have to be the topic of discussion. The content is only relevant if it does not constitute protected speech.

"Students, professors, administrators should not take the bait."

Then they should stop squelching speech they don't like, beating people up, and setting things on fire.

Simple solution, compromise. It's in the Constitution...

Posted by: MM | May 2, 2018 6:10:26 PM

Some of the responses seem to doubt that Volokh said things that video recordings clearly show him saying. See this quote:

Volokh has publicly advocated video surveillance of hecklers (“never interrupt the enemy when he is making a mistake … but always videotape him”) and using internet publicity to inflict “libertarian-approved-pain [on] university administrators.” Volokh also advocated suing universities. IHS-affiliated faculty appear to have made similar pitches across the U.S.

When you watch the videos, the really chilling thing is the huge smile on Volokh’s face when discusses videotaping people and inflicting pain on them. Volokh seems to really take pleasure in hurting people.

Volokh has seen a copy of Simkovic’s essay. He has remained silent, rather than issue a denial, because he knows full well that he said exactly what Simkovic reports him having said. Volokh is probably afraid to issue a denial because he realizes that someone may have recorded him saying things that are even worse and may be waiting to impeach him if he lies.

That may be why Volokh’s buddies are responding for him while he hides.

Volokh seems like a sadist and a coward, sending other people to do his dirty work.

Posted by: What Volokh Said | May 2, 2018 12:59:49 PM

Simkovic's article is Leftist nonsense. He begins with a falsehood; only one person died in Charlottesville due to the demonstration/riot. Including the two Virginia State Troopers who's helicopter crashed, miles away, is rank dishonesty. That could have happened any day, any time. To attribute it to the demonstration is deplorable.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | May 2, 2018 4:02:06 AM

And a better organized campaign of intimidation by people like this

Posted by: Mike Livingston | May 2, 2018 3:43:35 AM

And to think it was just yesterday it was revealed that George Mason University's econ department reshaped itself to Charles Koch's wishes in exchange for large donations. Does this fall under "baiting" or "discrediting" universities, I wonder? [rolls eyes]

And of course the Kochs are widely rumored to be behind at least $10 million of the $20 million given to GMU's law school as part of its renaming to the Antonin Scalia School of Law, which was quickly re-renamed the Antonin Scalia Law School after the internet had great fun telling GMU what the first renaming looked like when abbreviated. Something tells me that Mike has no problem whatsoever with GMU Law School getting eight figures from the Kochs. I'm sure "data" or "math" or a similar pseudonym will swoop in to correct me if he, I mean Mike, feels differently.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | May 1, 2018 2:48:44 PM

Those dastardly Koch brothers and their nefarious plan to . . . have mainstream conservatives speak on college campuses! Is there anything they won't do?!?

Posted by: Lonnie | May 1, 2018 12:55:35 PM

A truly disappointing and bizarre piece, professor. It effectively assigns no moral agency to the students. They are just tragically dumb children that are brought to violence and riot over the slightest offense. We must tip toe around their preferences to avoid further violence and attacks in the future. That is disturbing line of argumentation,. That gives thugs the right to a hecklers veto, rewarding reprehensible and dangerous behavior.

The reality is Satan could speaking at these universities complete with funding from the evil, illumanti like Koch brothers TM and Captain red skull. His speech cannot harm anyone, nobody is compelled by force to attend or listen. Those however that interupt, scream down people and hit standers by with bike locks are solely responsible for their actions. If you don't like the media covering this obstruction of basic consitutional rights, then stop doing it. Period. It's as simple as that. The rest of the conspiracy mongering and posioning the well is totally irrelevant and a logical fallacy to boot. But it is a interesting ad hoc rationalization of simple tribal affinity.

Posted by: The Woke one | May 1, 2018 11:35:35 AM

Many lectures about “free speech” are not really about “free speech,” but rather are intended to provoke a reaction

Freedom Riders were not really about taking bus rides either. They were intended to provoke a reaction to inform the wider public that a problem existed.

Posted by: AMTbuff | May 1, 2018 11:07:39 AM