The Current Crisis

Caught in the Ivy

These days it doesn't pay to be Big Man on Campus.

By 11.5.03

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One of the benefits of being the editor-in-chief of a libertarian-conservative magazine is that I am almost never invited to an American university. Thus when I do find myself on one of those lush fields of flamboyant poppycock it is as an explorer looking into pristine wilderness and for the first time --Christopher Columbus spying the natives of the Caribee, Ponce de Leon observing Florida. The campus's bizarre wilds strike the eye with intense vividness and leave a deep impression. What dialect is it that these profs employ? Could anyone in the outside world understand them?

Last week I spent two days at one of the Nation's most famous law schools, where what is called a "reunion" was being held. It was a memorable occasion.

Rarely have I been in such a lewdly self-congratulatory ambiance. Never have I witnessed such ravishing self-love, and I have been to Hollywood, California. Our Nation's educators tell us of the incalculable importance of instilling self-esteem in their students, and it was a pleasant surprise to see that they extend this practice to themselves. Though let me add, that after spending two days with such obvious ignoramuses I developed a pretty good feeling about myself too. This self-esteem mania might be contagious.

Anyone familiar with how far university alumni publications depart from the reality of campus life when they depict it to potential financial supporters knows that for many years universities have been boldly deceiving outsiders. Most universities are, at least when it comes to educating undergraduates, merely delivering what was once thought to be a high school education. Moreover those undergraduates are living in conditions not unlike those of a slum; the facilities might be relatively new but the petty crime and hygiene are deplorable.

Yet if my two days on campus are any indication, universities have now gone beyond deceiving outsiders. Today their leading personages deceive each other, and no one seems to mind. At the law school reunion that I attended I sat in on an evening panel-discussion of Brown v. the Board of Education, that 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing "separate but equal" schools. It could have been a very interesting panel. The panelists, all alumni, had clerked for the Supreme Court justices involved in the case.

Actually it turned out to be another instance of university people blithely deceiving each other and everyone in the audience -- at least I heard no complaints. I might have if I stayed for the whole potlatch, but I tired from all the cloying self-reverence and the many howlers. To take the assembled at their word segregation was such an obvious wrong so easily uprooted, some in the audience might have wondered why these clerks from yesterday did not just go down south and announce the practice suspended forthwith.

The most blatant deception practiced that night was by the panel's moderator, whom I later discovered is also one of the campus's most egregious left-wingers, a paradigmatic left-winger among left-wingers. He beamed with pride and introduced panelist Charles Reich, author, the moderator told us, "of The Sorcerer of Bolinas Reef." But wait. Reich's most famous book was that 1970 classic of failed prophecy and foolish analysis, The Greening of America. Why was Prof. Reich not introduced as the author of that stupid book? Why mention Sorcerer? As I heard more nonsense from the other panelists the answer became apparent. The world has turned out to be an utterly different place from the hippie paradise Reich had prophesied in 1970.

Thus it was prudent to identify the distinguished prof only with this minor book, Sorcerer, which hardly anyone had read and which would cause Reich no embarrassment. Actually I read both books. The minor book is worse than Greening. Prof. Reich -- he who in the late 1960s celebrated libidinous excess, drugs, and hippie youth -- had lived a monkish life before Greening appeared, a life made dull by an abstemious diet and nerve-wracking celibacy right into middle age. Then he discovered that his male member was not meant solely for urination. It was actually, as we say these days, a dual-use technology. Eee-yow what a mid-life crisis he had after that, and he was foolish enough to write all about it. In fact, many of us from the 1960s thought the old boy had croaked in a haze of controlled substances and perspiration. But no, he has returned to an Ivy League law school faculty and dresses like a salesman at Brooks Brothers, an establishment he once associated with Rotary Club fascism.

There were other absurdities on "reunion" weekend, but already I have been too rude. I may never again be allowed on any campus in North America. My picture may appear on campus bulletin boards, right next to the warnings about the campus rapist and CIA recruiters. And I do so like to visit a campus at least once a decade, about as often as I visit zoos.

(Note: The name of the university I visited has been withheld to protect the innocent.)

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.