For thoughtful liberals the current campus turmoil is a nightmare. Academic progressives set this bonfire long ago. Now they cannot contain it. Worse, many of their colleagues are dancing around the flames with Dionysian glee, taking advantage of the eruptions to aggregate their own interests and power.
Just ask the Christakises.
Yale University lecturer Erika Christakis announced last week she would not be teaching this spring. Her husband, Nicholas, the Master of Silliman College and an eminent sociologist, will take a sudden sabbatical. In the wake of her now notorious — and beautifully reasoned — email on policing Halloween costumes, the Christakises have been “humiliated, treated as moral lepers for politely expressing the most moderate of views,” as a New York Daily News editorial put it, and “thrown to the mob.”
Faculty support for Erika has not been entirely absent. Over 80 faculty members, most of them in STEM fields, signed a letter of support. No one in the English and History departments saw fit to do so. The letter prompted some students to claim that STEM faculties were “far-removed from reality,” not sympathetic to minority students, and perhaps required remedial courses in ethnic studies.
But this is not just a Yale thing. A Brown University professor — too fearful to use his name — calls what’s going on around him McCarthy-like witch hunts. Indeed, when it comes to Diversity Goodthink and Badthink, we are getting into House Un-American Activities Committee territory of the early 1950s.
Based on non-incidents, hoaxes, and trivialities, firebrands at dozens of colleges and universities are stirring themselves into self-righteous hysteria and rage. Shrieking, finger-snapping banshees command administrators to shut up and listen to their tirades. They know who’s in charge.
Watching learned, accomplished scholars debase themselves, cater to Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter-style demands, and try to negotiate with unreason is both sad and disgusting. But keep in mind, many of those rolling over are not doing so against their better judgment or unwillingly but embracing it as catharsis. It makes them feel better about themselves.
Others — high-minded altruists who have given and loved, only to be whipped by ingratitude — are puzzled and hurt. Still, they wish to make amends and do the right thing. They cannot fathom the frenzied colleagues and campus diversity hustlers who do not share their altruism but instead wish to exploit it.
What seems to be parody emanates from once great institutions. The University of California defines microaggressions as “brief, subtle verbal or non-verbal exchanges that send denigrating messages to the recipient because of his or her group membership (such as race, gender, age or socio-economic status).”
According to the UC president’s office, examples of Badthink include:
Such microaggressions, the argument goes, lead to a “hostile learning environment.”
This is no joke, UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh points out. Berkeley — and the federal government — view this kind of thing as legally actionable. “This is stuff you could get disciplined or fired for, especially if you aren’t a tenured faculty member,” Volokh says.
The driving force is the Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education, often acting in tandem with the Department of Justice. In official notices giving “guidance” to schools and colleges since 2010, both have defined campus discrimination, harassment, disparate impact, and safety in novel, extraordinarily broad, and threatening ways. These so-called Dear Colleague letters — which use the threat of federal money cut-offs to amplify their force — are chilling and authoritarian, no less.
The tools are laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin (Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and sex (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972). Title VI and Title IX Compliance Coordinators are lodged into campus life and, like football coaches, are in some ways more powerful than college and university presidents.
The idea of “safe space” is absurd — until you realize that OCR authorities have decreed that colleges and universities have a legal “responsibility to provide a safe and nondiscriminatory environment for all students.” Thus empowered, calculating agitators and injustice collectors know they can make legal trouble — and that if they do, federal authorities are quite likely to back them up.
The remedies redouble past diversity efforts. Yale pledges $50 million to hire faculty of color and sensitivity training on racism and discrimination for the entire administration. Not to be outdone, Brown outlines $100 million in diversity tribute — and protesters sneer that’s not enough. More scholarships and hires, more cultural centers, more tuition remission, more workshops, more apologies. We’ve been here a long time, and things are not improving.
The only group prohibited from self-protection and exclusive identity, it appears, is white heterosexual men, who must adhere to protocols of inclusion without resistance or complaint. This explains why fraternities are considered devil’s dens. It clarifies why Phi Kappa Psi at the University of Virginia faced shocking, utterly false allegations last year that unscrupulous journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdley and the odious University of Virginia president Teresa Sullivan parlayed for their own benefit.
Many liberals understand that claims of institutional and structural racism on campus are inflated and false. The reality is exactly the opposite. They discern implacable hostility and the desire to destroy. Complaints smell cooked up, bogus, and inauthentic. Demands seem preposterous and limitless.
The students who strike outsiders as narcissistic snowflakes spouting fatuities are not that at all. Many earnestly seek to dispossess “white” America and forcibly erase the inherited past. Not to comply with demands is to hate and possibly run afoul of the law.
The campus upheavals reflect failure of decades-long legal and extra-legal diversity efforts. Faculties and trustees in good faith and with vast generosity have done just about everything they can to broaden opportunity and access for all. The loudest complaints come from the very students whom they have carefully groomed and admitted on a preferential basis.
What if we have flattened the educational playing field? No, actually more than that. What if we have re-graded the playing field to give advantages to just about anyone who can play a diversity card? And still, despite everything, there is disparate achievement. What if some students are able and willing to use educational opportunity better than others? What are we going to do? What are federal authorities going to do?
I don’t think we’ve yet seen the worst of what activists and their allies in government and media have in mind. Everyone — especially scholars and liberals — should shiver at what these blood-in-my-eye discontents wish to coerce American campuses and all of us into being.
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