Videos from Evergreen State College in Washington state show mobs of students—mostly but not only black—haranguing their professors and accusing them of racist abuse. The college president, George Bridges, is heckled, insulted, mocked, and ordered to stand with his arms firmly at his sides because his gestures are considered threatening to the students, who have invaded his office and refused to leave. Bridges complies meekly with all demands, including buying gumbo for his captors.
It’s tempting for anyone who cherishes the liberal (in the original sense of the word) purpose of the university to view the outrage at Evergreen (and Middlebury, and Berkeley, and Claremont McKenna, ad nauseam) as an American recurrence of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, when students were encouraged by the ruling class to torment any teachers suspected of reactionary deviance. But the modern college campus is staffed and led by progressives, who have created the conditions for, and invited, students’ PC tantrums. In Marx’s classic formulation, history is repeating itself, but as farce.
By academic training, George Bridges is a sociologist whose work has focused on the criminal-justice system from the standpoint of race theory. In one of his most cited articles, “Racial Disparities in Official Assessments of Juvenile Offenders: Attributional Stereotypes as Mediating Mechanisms,” published in 1998 in American Sociological Review, Bridges observes that white youth are excused for delinquency on the basis of “external factors,” such as poverty or family problems, while black youth in similar trouble are blamed for “internal factors” like poor impulse control or inherent criminality. Thus, according to Bridges, black youthful offenders unfairly receive harsher punishments than their white counterparts. Judges and probation officers, he says, should second-guess their professional judgement through the lens of critical race theory, which holds that the doctrine of white supremacy influences every aspect of society and the legal system.
In the Evergreen videos, we see Bridges struggling to be as passive and compliant as possible with the crowd of angry students occupying his office. When he is yelled at for saying “Please,” he apologizes. When he admits to having a claustrophobia-induced panic attack, he is derided and told to “get to work” transcribing the mob’s demands. Bridges could have called the campus police at any time to end the illegal occupation of his office and his imprisonment, but he ordered them to stand down—presumably because, according to his own academic doctrine, police intervention is necessarily fascist and racist.
The spectacle of Bridges’s humiliation is initially horrifying, but it isn’t clear that he disagrees with the students. In fact, he seems to appreciate, or even enjoy, being forced to submit to what he, after all, likely acknowledges as a just cause. In an August 2016 op-ed in The Seattle Times, Bridges condemned the dean of the University of Chicago for dismissing the importance of “safe spaces” for students on campuses. “Trigger warnings can alert students to genuinely distressing content that could otherwise cripple their learning,” he wrote, worrying that students “often lack confidence in their capacity to succeed, believing that they don’t belong at a major college or university (the so-called ‘impostor syndrome’).”
Clearly, Bridges believes that his role as college president is to make sure that every student, no matter how rude, nasty, or stupid, feels that they “belong”: that they are not imposters. So he will absorb every insult and acquiesce to every indignity in order to extend the charade that what is going on in his office is a serious effort to achieve justice, instead of a riot of spoiled children.
Conservatives will be forgiven if they take grim satisfaction in watching aging campus radicals harassed and intimidated by their spiritual children. But the bigger picture is worrisome: the academy as an ideal place of learning and growth is basically gone, except for a few notable redoubts; we lost it decades ago. Perhaps when the Left’s long march through the institutions has thoroughly wrecked the university, we can use the rubble to rebuild.
Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images