To appreciate the significance of recent events at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts and at the University of Arizona in Tucson, it helps to recall briefly some landmark moments in the College Administrator Hall of Shame.
Claremont McKenna College, October 2015: a Hispanic student writes a lachrymose oped denouncing Claremont’s “western, white, cisheternormative upper- to upper-middle class values” that, she says, make her and other minority admits feel out of place. The dean of students thanks the student for her oped and asks if she would be willing to meet with Claremont’s administrators to help them “better serve students, especially those who don’t fit our CMC mold.” The phrase “not fitting the mold” was used by Claremont’s minority students themselves to describe their status; nevertheless, protests, hunger strikes, and marches engulf the campus, demanding the dean’s resignation for having described minority students as not fitting the school’s “mold.” The dean grovels before an angry group of students for over an hour, apologizing for her poor choice of words and promising to make amends. Claremont’s president Hiram Chodosh offers not one word of support for the dean, who soon resigns.
Yale, November 2015: a mob of minority students surrounds a respected Yale sociologist, Nicholas Christakis, and berates, screams, and curses at him for two hours. The students’ rage was triggered because Christakis’s wife, a child psychologist, had suggested in an email that Yale undergrads could choose their Halloween costumes without guidance from Yale’s diversity bureaucracy. One girl shrieks at Christakis: “Be quiet! . . . Who the fuck hired you? . . . You should not sleep at night! You are disgusting!” When Christakis meekly disagreed with another student’s claim that free speech allows “violence to happen on this campus,” the student shouts back: “It doesn’t matter whether you agree or not . . . It’s not a debate.” Four Yale diversity bureaucrats silently observed the professor’s scourging from the edges of the mob without coming to his defense.
In response to the Christakis auto-da-fé and other contemporaneous race-based agitation, Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, announces that he had “never been as simultaneously moved, challenged, and encouraged” by the Yale community as in the previous two weeks. “You have offered me the opportunity to listen to and learn from you,” Salovey added unctuously.
No student was ever disciplined or even reprimanded for the grotesque insubordination showed to Christakis. Indeed, Yale even conferred a race-relations prize on the girl who shouted “it’s not a debate” and on another of Christakis’s tormentors. In such an atmosphere of adult capitulation, the harassment of the Christakises predictably continued for months. Christakis’s wife, Erika, resigned from Yale entirely, and the couple gave up their positions as masters of a Yale undergraduate residential college.
Emory University, March 2016: minority students barge into the president’s office demanding protection from “Trump 2016” slogans that had been chalked on campus sidewalks. The slogans jeopardized their safety and made them “afraid,” the students said. The next day, taking a page from the Salovey playbook, president James Wagner thanked the students for teaching him about their victimization: “I learn from every conversation like the one that took place yesterday and know that further conversations are necessary.” Wagner announced a four-point social-justice plan to “honor” the students’ concerns, including a conduct-violation review of the Trump chalkings. Wagner deployed the usual bait-and-switch: paying lip service to free speech and then immediately hollowing out that abstract endorsement with “safety” rhetoric: “As an academic community, we must value . . . the expression of ideas . . . [But] at the same time, our commitment to respect, civility, and inclusion calls us to provide a safe environment that inspires and supports courageous inquiry.” “Safety” is a code word for suppression.
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, September 2016: a student mob screamed obscenities and insults continuously during a campus debate on the resolution: “Black Lives Matter is harmful to racial relations in the United States.” Administrators and campus police stood by passively during the shout-down and did nothing to restore the debaters’ ability to speak; no discipline was meted out to the silencers. The Women’s Studies Center gave an award for social activism to the student who had inspired the shout-down, as Stanley Kurtz reported in National Review.
University of California, Berkeley, February 2017: black-masked anarchists wield pipes and poles to beat people assumed to be attending an imminent campus speech by anti-PC crusader Milo Yiannopoulos. The vandals hurl explosive devices at police officers and destroy university and private property. The university cancelled the speech and never investigated who the violent protesters were, even though students admitted to participating. Several Berkeley professors praise the anarchists for their “efficient” use of force.
Evergreen State College, May 2017: students storm a class taught by biology professor Bret Weinstein. “Fuck you, you piece of shit,” screamed one student. “Get the fuck out of here,” screamed another. “Fuck what you have to say. This is not a discussion,” yelled a third. Weinstein, a lifelong progressive, had refused to obey an edict from Evergreen’s Director of First Peoples Multicultural Advising Services that all white faculty cancel their courses for a day and stay off campus.
The students followed up with a similar expletive-filled tirade against Evergreen’s president, George Bridges. In the spirit of Salovey and Wagner, Bridges groveled before his protestors. “Let me reiterate my gratitude for the passion and courage you have shown me and others,” he fawned. “I want every one of you to feel safe on this campus and be able to learn in a supportive environment free from discrimination or intimidation. . . . For a long time, we’ve been working on the concerns you’ve raised and acknowledge that our results have fallen short. . . . This week, you are inviting us into the struggle you have taken up.” Bridges let loose with a cornucopia of diversity booty. Weinstein and his biologist wife, Heather Heying, were eventually hounded out of Evergreen.
Texas Southern University, October 2017: students shout down Texas State Representative Briscoe Cain during a Federalist Society event, denouncing him as a racist and an opponent of the trans community. The police eject the disrupters from the room, but TSU president Austin Lane calls them back in and cancels Cain’s talk on the false pretext that the Federalist Society had not followed the protocols for inviting an outside speaker. No one was sanctioned.
Middlebury College, April 17, 2019: Provost Jeff Cason and Vice President for Student Affairs Baishakhi Taylor cancel a speech by a Polish member of the European parliament two hours before it was scheduled to take place. Hundreds of students and over a dozen professors had demanded via petition that the Middlebury Political Science Department and the Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs withdraw their co-sponsorship of Ryszard Legutko’s planned talk on “Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies.” The petition claimed that Legutko’s criticism of identity politics would bring “harm to students” and threaten their “emotional and mental wellbeing.” Corroborating Legutko’s diagnosis of the West’s current tyrannies, the Middlebury totalitarians toggled seamlessly between strong-arm tactics and protestations of fragile vulnerability. The petition urges Legutko’s sponsors to “recall the events of March 2, 2017 where the administration, including President Laurie Patton and the PSCI [Political Science] Department failed to listen to the voices of students.” Those “events” were the shut-down of a speech by political scientist Charles Murray and attendant violence: after activating fire alarms, pounding on walls, and shouting, the student mob assaulted Murray’s host, political science professor Alison Stanger, giving her whiplash and a concussion. Murray just missed being beaten himself.
The anti-Legutko petitioners were just getting started in their Mafioso imitation, however. They announced that the talk’s co-sponsors had until 8 pm April 16 to respond to their demands or they would take “more decisive action(s).” When the director of the Rohatyn Center pointed out that ultimatums are “highly inappropriate,” the petition leaders complained about their “physiological needs” and about having to organize protests “without financial compensation” (emphasis in original). They primly reminded the director that “in the future, we would appreciate not being accosted in person in such an unsettling manner.”
Provost Cason and Vice President for Student Affairs Taylor claimed that they could not guarantee the safety of Middlebury “students, faculty, staff, and community members,” given the planned protests. Perhaps if the students who assaulted Stanger and shut down Murray in 2017 had received anything more than de minimis punishment, the Middlebury administration would have had more confidence in the possibility of a violence-free event. Since the campus is by now well on notice that any challenge to its orthodoxies will trigger a totalitarian backlash, top leadership should have had an agreement with the local police department to send officers as needed.
(After the cancellation, Middlebury political science professor Matthew Dickinson hosted Legutko in his class, at the urging of several students. Credit goes to both Dickinson and his class. Keegan Callanan, director of the school’s Alexander Hamilton Forum, which had invited Legutko initially, has asked him to return the next academic year. Middlebury should seize the opportunity to redeem itself.)
The backdrop to these administrative capitulations to student thugs is routine self-censorship on the part of faculty and students. Only the bravest dare challenge the precepts of campus victimology. Courses are not offered, books not assigned, research not done, and speakers not invited who would provoke another self-pitying outburst of rage. When the campus Left denies the free-speech problem on campuses, it does so by ignoring this pervasive self-silencing.
Given the ubiquity of administration cowardice, any instance of adult leadership should be celebrated. And the last two weeks have offered two signs of hope. On April 9, at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Professor Camille Paglia, famed nemesis of victimology feminists everywhere, gave a university-wide lecture entitled “Sexual Duality and Sexual Multiplicity in Western Art.” A self-described “non-binary” student, Joseph McAndrew, had organized a protest against the speech after failing to get it moved off campus. McAndrew was upset by recent interviews Paglia had given. In one, she challenged the seriousness of campus rape allegations brought six months after the fact and decried students’ reflexive stampede to the college bureaucracy for every perceived personal problem. In another interview, she observed that trans identity had become a fashion statement and called sex-reassignment surgery for children and adolescents a crime against humanity, since children are too immature to make such a life-altering decision.
McAndrew masterfully blended victimology and the consumerist model of education in his complaint against Paglia. “We’re giving a space for her following to come, into our safe space that we pay to be in,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. A photo of the protest shows a group of well-fed, healthy, eminently protected, privileged teenagers sitting in a lobby under a large banner reading “Camille Paglia, Stop Victim Blaming.” They hold signs such as “Sexual Assault Is NEVER the victims [sic] fault.” A male lays his head on the shoulder of a female, who gives him a supportive hug; presumably both procured affirmative consent for this Platonic embrace.
About 30 minutes into Paglia’s lecture, someone pulled a fire alarm, following the Middlebury precedent. All 17 floors of the building where Paglia was speaking had to be evacuated into the nighttime streets of downtown Philadelphia, while protesters continued to chant: “Trans lives matter! We believe survivors!” (The trans community apparently is allowed to use the “lives matter” trope without being accused of racism, unlike those naïfs who dared to suggest that “all lives matter” or “blue lives matter” during the height of the Black Lives Matter fury.)
On many other campuses, such tactics would have been greeted by either dead air from the administration or an expression of concern for the University of the Arts’ wounded “survivors.” President David Yager, however, denounced the repressive mindset spreading from American campuses to the culture at large. The suppression of speech “simply cannot be allowed to happen,” he wrote in a campus-wide email the day after the shutdown. “I firmly believe that limiting the range of voices in society erodes our democracy. Universities, moreover, are at the heart of the revolutionary notion of free expression: promoting the free exchange of ideas is part of the core reason for their existence. . . . Artists over the centuries have suffered censorship, and even persecution, for the expression of their beliefs through their work. My answer is simple: Not now, not at UArts.” While his email did not mention the protest or the fire alarm activation, which would have been ideal, the protesters understood that Yager was referring to them.
The university should identify the individual who pulled the fire alarm and subject him to discipline. Otherwise, students may conclude that there is no downside to disrupting speakers, even if they don’t wrest an apology from the administration for having allowed such pariahs onto their campus. Indeed, the Paglia opponents have now launched the usual self-engrossed Change.org petition demanding that Paglia be fired and replaced with a “queer person of color.” Yager must also apologize for his “wildly ignorant and hypocritical letter,” and the administration must sit down with a group of “survivors” and trans students—a group that “must include students of color”—to discuss “how they can best be supported moving forward.” (Judging by the photo of the anti-Paglia sit-in, however, the administration will be hard-pressed to come up with “students of color” to join the delegation desperately in need of support.) The petition ends with a stiff admonition: “UArts: you are disrespecting your students and putting them in danger. Do better.”
The hysteria over Paglia is particularly ironic, since her scholarship celebrates the fluidity of sex and gender in art; she was investigating transsexual identity decades before it became an adolescent status symbol. But today’s students will never let their own ignorance stand in the way of a good temper tantrum.
The University of Arizona has gone one better than Yager. On March 19, two agents from the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol were giving a presentation at a job-recruiting fair, having been invited by the undergraduate Criminal Justice Association. Protesters invaded the room and continuously screamed “murder patrol” and “murderers,” preventing students from listening. “We won’t stop until you get off our campus,” the protesters shouted, as they hounded the agents into their cars. In a sharp departure from the norm, the campus police have filed criminal-misdemeanor charges against the disruptors, for “threats and intimidation” and “interference with the peaceful conduct of an educational institution.” And the university president, Robert Robbins, after issuing a bland statement about “ensuring safety” for students and respecting others’ right to speech, followed up with a far more explicit denunciation. The “incident with the Border Patrol officers” was a “dramatic departure from our expectations of respectful behavior and support for free speech on this campus,” Robbins wrote. “Student protest is protected by our support for free speech, but disruption is not.” The administration was reviewing potential violations of student and employee codes of conduct, he said. Robbins’s turnaround followed criticism from the National Border Patrol Council and Judicial Watch, but as Stanley Kurtz has observed, the important thing is that the university is now pursuing sanctions, regardless of the impetus.
The University of Arizona has been a hotbed of Chicano activism, so the president’s stand is even more noteworthy. Naturally, faculty and students are demanding that all charges be dropped and that the CBP be permanently banned from campus so that, in the words of the faculty petition, the “learning environment does not further traumatize or disrupt the emotional, physical, psychological and holistic well-being of our students.” Robbins, of course, must resign if the demands are not met. The Department of Mexican-American Studies has issued a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
Robbins is under enormous pressure to back down, but so far he has supported the filing of misdemeanor charges against the students. Whether or not the Pima County Attorney’s Office goes forward with the case, Robbins must make sure that the disrupting students face serious internal punishment.
These recent cases reveal that administrative paeans to free speech have no effect on student grandiosity. Following any rebuke, whether mealy-mouthed or stern, students and their faculty enablers respond with even more self-important assertions of their victimhood and of their right to protect that victimhood by force. Ringing declarations of First Amendment principles are not enough to defuse the growing threat to civil discourse; consequences are needed.
Every year, thousands of college students graduate and carry into society the same megalomaniacal confidence in their own righteousness that has turned campuses into zones of conformity. Those graduates regard any disagreement with their own political outlook as a manifestation of “hate,” and as such, fair game for suppression. Democratic politicians and the mainstream media have adopted the same tactic, defining political disagreement as “hate” rather than the product of a good-faith difference in world view. Any college presidents not already committed to the premises of the victim revolution should follow the lead of Robbins, Yager, and, before them, the University of Chicago’s Robert Zimmer. The preservation of our Enlightenment culture of reason and violence-free discourse rests on their shoulders.
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