Saturday, March 25, 2017

The UT Austin Campus Rape Crisis

Just some notes for later (still taking a break).

Headline in the Dallas Morning News: "15 percent of female undergraduates at UT have been raped, survey says"

Some quick math puts that at about 3000 rapes on a campus of about 40,000 undergraduates. The official crime stats for the City of Austin says there were under 500 rapes in a population of about 930,000 people.

Fortunately, the Dallas News did a follow-up story on the how the survey was done, which casts some light on things:

In the study, rape was defined as "having oral sex with someone, making someone perform oral sex, or penetrating someone's vagina or anus with penis, fingers or other objects without their consent, by use of verbal pressure, taking advantage of them when they're incapacitated, threatening to harm or using force."

An example of rape in the survey, for instance, would be if a perpetrator pressured someone to perform oral sex, after they'd said they didn't want to, by threatening to end the relationship or threatening to spread rumors about about the victim.

I just don't know what to say. I was made aware of this survey through Kate Clancy's Twitter feed, when she retweeted this. These are the people who are constructing the facts about academic harassment. Enough said.

There's video of the press conference here. And the report can also be downloaded here. It really does say, "Fifteen percent of undergraduate females experienced rape since their enrollment" (p. 18).

* * *

(Update March 26)

The Guardian headline reads "Nearly 15% of female undergraduates at UT Austin report being raped". This is misleading in an important sense that is actually emphasized in the study's methodology.* Respondents were not able to "report being raped"; they were asked to answer a series of "behaviorially specific questions" that the researchers then interpreted. As I point out above, the final report phrases the conclusion a bit more carefully: "Fifteen percent of undergraduate females experienced rape since their enrollment."

As far as I can tell, the consensus view among researchers in this area is not to let the respondents themselves interpret their experiences as a "rape" or otherwise. Rather they elicit descriptions of experiences that they then interpret on their behalf as rape. It would seem that if a woman allows her boyfriend to penetrate her anally under "threat" of his "ending the relationship" then the researchers consider this an instance of "rape". Indeed, even if she performed oral sex under those conditions, they would consider her "raped". It's hard to know what to do with this other than simply point it out. In any case, it is not true that the CLASE study found that 15% of undergraduate women reported being raped. The survey wasn't set up in that way. Many of the women that the survey counts in its 15% would probably not describe their experience as a rape.

Jenny Miller at New York Magazine gets the lede right: "The University of Texas at Austin is reporting that 15% of its female undergrad students have been raped."

Endnote 1 of the CLASE report: "The terms employed in this study are used in the context of social science research, and not in their legal context. They are not intended to indicate that the responses of results of the survey constitute or evidence a violation of any federal, state, or local law or policy." I take it this means that we are being told that 15% of UT Austin's female undergraduates have been raped but not necessarily in way that breaks the law (or even a UT policy.) If you've been looking for an example how the terminology of the social sciences has been completely detached from reality, I give you a new species of rape: one that doesn't constitute an illegal act.

* * *

(Update March 27)

Imaginary headline: "Mayor Announces that 15% of women aged 18 to 25 in Austin have been raped."
Imagine journalists not following this up with the Chief of Police.

Actual statement in UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves' message to the UT Community: "[The survey found that] 15 percent of undergraduate women at UT Austin reported that they had been raped."
I have not seen any comment from the chief of the UT Austin PD.

I know that the reason for this is that what the CLASE report means by "rape" has nothing to do with what the police, or anyone else for that matter, means by "rape". My point of the comparison is that we don't let a mayor define behavior that is policed in his city in ways that diverge radically from the way the chief of police defines that behavior. Nor should a university president.

In another post, I'll take up the question of how free social scientists are to define terms for behaviors independently of how they are defined by a society's administrators and enforcers.

The story has reached Newsweek. So far I haven't seen one story that approaches this in a critical way. It's like everyone is writing the same story.

*(Update March 28): In fairness to the journalists, not even the CLASE report's authors seem to understand this point. On page 49, we read "Fifteen percent of female undergraduate students reported having experienced rape since enrollment at UT Austin." I may be wrong about this, but I don't think that question appeared on the questionnaire, i.e., "Have you been raped [or experienced rape] since enrolling at UT Austin?" The correct way to state the result, I think, would have been to say, "Fifteen percent of female undergraduate students reported having experiences since enrollment at UT Austin that constitute rape on the definition used in this study."

Friday, March 24, 2017


With the always informative Andrew Gelman, as well as Brian Nosek and Deborah Mayo.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Taking a Break

Martinus Rørbye, Scene Near Sorrento Overlooking the Sea, 1835.
(Source: Nivaagaard Collection)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Advice to the Next Tim Hunt, Geoff Marcy, and Matt Taylor: BE COLIN MORIARTY!

Specifically, do not apologize (5:30). Don't give them anything. They are ruining everything.

First Mover Advantages

John Leo at Minding the Campus is getting impatient about the administrative response to the protests that shut down Charles Murray's talk at Middlebury College. Over at Reason, Jon Haidt warns of a "huge disruption" to the current business model of universities as the disappointment over what college has become hits home to students and the parents who pay their tuition. I, too, believe that within a decade many colleges, who have been banking on a captive audience for ideological indoctrination, will be forced to close as students find more efficient (and less exasperating) ways to gain the credentials, and especially the skills, they need to succeed in life.

I'm not as sanguine as Jon Haidt seems to be about the alternatives to four-year residential liberal arts education, though I do think it's a road too many students take. (There are too many students going to too many of these colleges without really thinking about the value of what they might be getting there.) I hope that only the ideological superstructure of today's colleges will fall apart, forcing the colleges to fall back upon their permanent infrastructure: a group of buildings, some pleasant grounds, a faculty dedicated to learning, and some longstanding academic traditions. These last will of course include free speech.

I think there are two opportunities that will open up in the wake of the coming disruption. The first is the one that Middlebury is poised (but apparently reticent) to take. It can be the first college to issue stern reprimands against students who are known to have participated in the prevention of Murray's talk. Many of them are easy to identify in the video (since, with their backs turned to Murray, they proudly face the camera.) This will win back the trust of the parents and students who are rightly concerned about the educational climate at Middlebury. The schools that make examples of truly disruptive protesters first will attract the attention of students who want some assurance that their intellectual space will be protected from ideological excesses.

The other opportunity comes out of the rubble of the colleges that fail. College campuses are highly specific places. Once they go bankrupt, they can't easily be converted to other uses. So we do well to think about how a campus can be quickly acquired and staffed, and then begin enrolling students. I'm imagining that some of these campuses may be quite nice architecturally, so the idea will be to design a low-cost, no-frills curriculum that depends mainly on the reading of widely available texts, discussion in low-tech classroom settings, and examination in straightforward written and oral forms. The students will be given an "opportunity grow" through ordinary learning of the familiar kind.

As T.S. Eliot once said, you don't make flowers grow by pulling on them, but by watering and weeding. You give students good books to read, foster lively discussion, (yes, you invite stimulating and sometimes controversial speakers), and you expel students who waste not only their own time, but that of the their fellow students, on pointless protests against their inheritance—the privilege of living in Western civilization.