News last night, that threats of violence by left-wing student activists at the Claremont Colleges disrupted an appearance by my colleague Heather Mac Donald, was as unsurprising as it was dispiriting. A year and a half ago, when highly publicized protests at Missouri and Yale led to copycat eruptions on campuses across the country, protesters at the schools of the Claremont consortium were especially notable for both their militancy and their unreason, with mob leaders at the five schools competing with one another in the sheer idiocy of their “nonnegotiable demands.” Worse, rather than condemn those threatening to shut down their campuses if they didn’t get their way, the administrators responded to the intellectual thuggery with sympathy and understanding.
As a graduate of the oldest of the Claremont Colleges, Pomona, I wrote at the time of how dramatically the character of the school had changed in the half-century since my arrival on a quiet, conservative campus in 1966; and, specifically, of the damage done by student protesters during my years there. The key event—the juncture from which there was no turning back—was the morning 50 or so demonstrators, including me, surrounded an Air Force recruiter in the campus placement office, chanting and heckling and otherwise preventing him from speaking to interested students. We had been forewarned that there would be severe repercussions if we disrupted the session, including possible expulsion, and we took the threat seriously. So when our punishment was announced, we were almost as surprised as we were relieved: “suspended suspension.”
Who, at the time, could have guessed that administrators, those surrogate-parent figures, were such pathetic wimps?
It was all too short a step from that moment to this past Thursday evening, when several hundred student thugs screaming “Fuck white supremacy” and “Black Lives matter here” surrounded the hall where Mac Donald was speaking, threatening with physical violence those seeking to enter. Eventually, Heather addressed an empty room, with a camera livestreaming her talk, even as the protesters screamed and banged on the doors from outside. Things grew so heated that campus cops, concerned for her safety, stopped her talk early and hustled her out.
There are differences, of course. Back then, wrong-headed and irresponsible as we were, we weren’t mean-spirited. Pomona wasn’t Berkeley; we didn’t take ourselves all that seriously. To the contrary, there was an antic element to it all; on some level, we knew perfectly well we were kids, doing what kids do—acting out against the grown-ups. Even the members of the Black Student Union, with their huge Afros, serious demeanors, and just-like-the-Panthers black leather jackets, were, at heart, polite middle-class kids like us, their menace a pose. I’ll never forget the day Jerry Rubin, the Yippie provocateur, spoke on campus, exhorting the crowd to spike the water supply with LSD. Instead of wild applause, the student audience just stared at him in silence; Rubin stalked angrily off the stage. I’d never been prouder of Pomona.
Indeed, though in those days as in these, leftism was the norm, those who took a different view got a respectable hearing in the dorms and dining halls.
No more. These kids have no regard for the once sacrosanct principle that even your enemies have a right to be heard. They are ugly-minded and vicious. And, unlike us, they know for an absolute certainty that there will be no consequences for their behavior. They make me despair for the future—if not of the country, then certainly for Claremont.
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images