December 11, 2001 9:20 a.m.
The right reaction to the Sommers CSAP outrage.By Stanley Kurtz is also a fellow at the Hudson Institute
The National Review
The reaction to " Silencing Sommers," my last piece for NRO, has been overwhelming. This story of Christina Hoff Sommers, a nationally respected critic of feminist excess, being silenced, grossly insulted, and effectively ejected from a government conference at which she had been invited to speak, has been posted and reposted with outraged commentary all over the web. The National Association of Scholars has issued a statement condemning the treatment of Sommers, and many people are asking what can be done to redress this wrong. This incident seems to have crystallized the widespread feeling that both free speech and academic standards have been sacrificed to multiculturalist and feminist orthodoxies, not only in academia, but in all of our ruling institutions.
The uproar over the silencing of Christina Hoff Sommers has been such that Charles G. Curie, the Bush administration's newly appointed administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in the Department of Health and Human Services has sent a letter to National Review Online formally responding to the controversy. That letter contains much that deserves praise. Yet Curie's response to the Sommers incident raises warning flags as well.
To his great credit, Charles Curie says that he was appalled to learn what happened to Christina Hoff Sommers, and forthrightly acknowledges that she was both "censored" and "silenced" by government officials. Curie also lets it be known that he has personally apologized to Sommers for the behavior of his agency. For all of this, Curie deserves praise. It's a rare day indeed when a victim of "political correctness," however egregious, receives a formal public apology and an admission of guilt. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Curie is a brand-new Bush appointee, now forced to deal with the misbehavior of the Clinton-appointed officials who have been running his agency.
But Curie's letter also raises the disturbing prospect that those who have perpetrated this outrage will get away with a mere slap on the wrist, and that the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention (CSAP), (the division of SAMHSA whose shoddy programs Sommers was criticizing and whose managers silenced her) will continue to waste literally hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on silly, unproven and even counterproductive ideologically driven programs.
In his letter, Curie says that "corrective action is being taken in this case," but fails to specify what that action is. True, Curie says that he has "made it clear to the staff involved in the incident that I expect them to treat all guests with dignity and respect, and ensure comity among meeting participants." But that hardly rises to the level of what is needed to redress the egregious wrongs of this case. More important, Curie bemoans the fact that "incidents such as this can overshadow the valuable work being accomplished at SAMHSA."
It may well be that valuable work in stemming the tide of drug abuse is being accomplished at SAMHSA, but the truth is that the CSAP division of SAMHSA (the division where Sommers was silenced) is a disaster and ought to be abolished. At a minimum, CSAP's current administrators must be replaced, and rigorous procedures for evaluating program effectiveness need to be instituted. If NRO readers want to know how they can help to right the wrong that was visited upon Sommers, convincing the Bush administration to abolish CSAP is the way.
Last Friday, in response to the Sommers incident, Sally Satel, (author of the recent and important critique of political correctness in medicine, P.C. M.D.) published a piece called, "The Sorry CSAP Flap: It's Worse Than It Looks." Satel's article exposes the sham of an agency that CSAP has become. Serious academicians, Satel says, regard the CSAP as a laughing stock both for the scientific illiteracy of its administrators and for the agency's refusal to seriously evaluate its own programs. Many scholars avoid projects sponsored by CSAP, just because they don't want to be tarred by its third-rate intellectual reputation. Projects can consume thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours without ever seeing the light of day, and other programs actively avoid gathering data that would permit an evaluation of their effectiveness.
Worse, CSAP's projects are guided by a highly questionable multiculturalist orthodoxy, deeply hostile to the very idea of science. Satel tells of a million dollar project meant to stem the tide of drug addiction in African-American youth. In addition to transmitting to African-American boys a series of extremely contestable claims about the origins of Western intellectual and cultural traditions in Africa, the program's evaluation was written at the level of a high school science project without the pre-tests or post-tests that would have made it possible to judge whether an Afrocentric curriculum actually does reduce drug abuse among African-American boys.
But the most revealing thing about this CSAP boondoggle (the "Rights of Passage Primary Prevention Program") is its claim that "scientific colonialism" is part of what is responsible for oppressing African American men to the point where they must turn to drugs. Not coincidentally, as Christina Hoff Sommers was put upon by the crowd at the CSAP conference (most of whom were CSAP agency, staff, invited consultants, and CSAP grantees) the charge hurled against her was that her demand for scientific studies of CSAP program effectiveness was racially insensitive. So the Sommers affair is not a single isolated incident of misbehavior. It is part and parcel of the ideology that governs CSAP merely a symptom of the profound intellectual and ideological rot at the agency. It is high time that the Center for Substance Abuse and Prevention was abolished. CSAP is, even now, wasting $484 million dollars of the taxpayers money on useless, quite possibly counterproductive, programs that have little or nothing to do with drug use and everything to do with indoctrinating America's youth with multiculturalist and feminist orthodoxies. Whatever is of worth at CSAP can easily be transferred directly to SAMHSA. The rest must go. Charles Curie's forthright apology and public admission of agency wrongdoing in the Sommers affair is praiseworthy indeed, but an apology and a slap on the wrist to the administrators in question doesn't begin to get at the problem.
The newest spin on the war against terrorism is that it is restoring America's faith in government. To a degree, I am sympathetic to that view. When it comes to combating terrorism at home and rooting it out abroad, aggressive and well-financed government action is necessary. I have even broken with some conservatives in giving qualified support to the President's faith-based initiative. To a degree, we need to acknowledge that government is larger now than in decades past. If we allow it to subsidize secular radicals without also aiding cultural traditionalists, we will simply be institutionalizing the immense financial advantage currently enjoyed by the cultural left.
Yet having said all that, we need to remember the power of the conservative critique of big government-even in the midst of this war. The Sommers affair is a salutary reminder of exactly that. Here, under the guise of preventing drug addiction, a government agency is doling out literally hundreds of millions of dollars, simply to purvey the highly contested and questionable cultural ideologies of Afrocentrism and androgyny. No wonder the public doesn't trust the government. The truth is, the public is in fact being lied to. Ideologically driven bureaucrats are hiding their tendentious cultural agendas behind uncontroversial public rationales-spending our money to indoctrinate America's youth in the left's favorite orthodoxies. And as scholars like Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel have long documented, the problem is pervasive at both HHS and at the Department of Education. The days of calling for the abolition of the Department of Education may be gone, but surely we can demand that irredeemable agencies like CSAP be done away with.
In the wake of the Sommers incident, many have asked what they can do to help. Some are apparently writing to Fordham University to protest the outrageous conduct of Professor Jay Wade, who publicly insulted and silenced Sommers at the CSAP conference on "Boy Talk." So long as the protests remain forceful, but also within the bounds of civility, that's all to the good. But to really stop this sort of incident from happening again, people need to contact the Bush administration itself. Charles G. Curie, the new Director of SAMHSA (which includes CSAP) can be reached here. Tommy Thompson, Secretary of Health and Human Services, can be reached here. The White House can be reached here.
This campaign is anything but a shoe-in. Just this Thanksgiving, Tommy Thompson announced major new initiatives in the Girl Power! program. Obviously, whether he realizes it or not, Secretary Thompson has already been captured by the feminist ideologues at CSAP. The harsh truth is that, if something like the Sommers incident cannot bring about the abolition of Girl Power!, CSAP, and allied government programs under a Republican administration, no less then conservatives will never be able to rein in intrusive and culturally tendentious government boondoggles at all. So this is a test of our mettle. Let our rallying cry be, "Abolish CSAP!"