Whether President Hiram Chodosh of Claremont McKenna College (CMC; of anti-Heather Mac Donald riot fame) is currently the worst college president in the country is somewhat beside the point. With its continuing capitulation to rioters who prevented Mac Donald from delivering her “War on Police” talk as originally scheduled, the College’s fifth president seems to have crafted a regime designed to be a model of how low universities can sink. But Chodosh does not deserve all the blame; there is a history.
While he appears to be slow-walking any sanctions against the rioters into the summer, his dithering (disguised as care and attention to process and student rights) serves mainly to invite further violence against faculty and students.
The school has not been a stranger to violence, including bombs and arson during the height of the Vietnam-era protests, but nothing of this sort has ever happened in the school’s 70-year history. By the 1960s the small college, part of the Claremont Consortium, boasted one of the finest political science departments in the country, with superb faculty in other liberal arts fields as well. Brilliant teachers challenged conventional thinking and demanded excellence: Just in political science, Harry Jaffa, joined briefly by Leo Strauss; Martin Diamond; and Bill Rood were principals. They created fiercely loyal students, many of whom went on to distinguished careers. Guided by the force of founding College President George Benson, the Department boasted scholars of conservative political dispositions and free-market economists, a rarity for a non-sectarian school. In an academic world dominated by leftist ideologues, CMC stood out for its quality. And that early tradition continues to this day.
But though the school was prized to those familiar with the growing crisis in higher education, its Board of Trustees mistook its mission and got caught up in bringing the school to the highest ranks of national universities as determined by readily recognized but pedestrian outlets like U.S. News and World Report. They succeeded, though not in the way they wished: by abandoning its unique excellence and pursuing mainstream standards and imitating the so-called venerable schools in their vacuity. The Administration came to take U.S. News ratings more seriously than the quality of its education. The result: a nationally infamous school, rivaling Yale and Middlebury in their infamy.
Yet an instructive history must allow that the current cowardice and misjudgment reflects earlier bad character. More recently there was the sacking of the Dean of Students (on clearly false accusations), the hate-crime hoax, perpetrated by a visiting professor, that Jaffa for one spotted immediately as a hoax, but which tied up the Colleges with rallies and teach-ins. Earlier CMC’s relative conservatism drew radical (and literal) fire from leftist terrorists in the late sixties. First-hand accounts of bombings, fires, and intimidation and the dishonest response to them can be found in Jaffa’s The Reichstag is Still Burning (one of the most insightful essays from that period) and Ward Elliot’s review of key episodes of the time, together with my own student recollections.
Past administrations managed largely successful media cover-ups of violent acts on campus. The latest generation of administrators follows its predecessors but insists on its moral superiority; it lacks the sense of shame the older generation likely had.
After 49 years at CMC the redoubtable Elliot (a former rugby player) also bravely entered the mob and obtained footage of the mob scene until they prevented him from further filming. And another venerable faculty member, scientist Tony Fucaloro, was physically restrained when he attempted to enter the scheduled venue. Later, some students accused Fucaloro of criminal assault on the human barricade.
As an alumnus, what I find even more pathetic is the failure of truly peaceful counter-demonstrators to prevent CMC and far more numerous non-CMC persons from disrupting a college event. Heather Mac Donald relates the story of one student who was playing music intended to ridicule the rioters, but apparently a girl rioter stole his broadcasting equipment and beat him up. Septuagenarian profs aside, no one, it seems, stood up against the barbarians. Such types no longer seem to “fit the CMC mold,” as it were. CMC even lacked a “library man.” Or, it seems, a culture that produced sufficient numbers of students like him.
Though the ranks of courageous and conservative students may have been diminished by CMC’s recent admission practices, some sense appears to exist. Fewer than 50 students from CMC (student body of around 1,350) have signed a petition of several hundred students supporting the rioters. The petition features a clip of them forcefully preventing professor Fucaloro from entering the Heather Mac Donald speaking venue. The petition clearly endorses violence.
Without fierce devotion to civilized behavior, all expressed devotion to free speech is mere talk.
If the present and its precedents are terrible models, to whom should we turn? Consider this advice of a distinguished scholar and college president:
[W]hen I had to do with the administration of an educational institution, that I should like to make the young gentlemen of the rising generation as unlike their fathers as possible. Not because their fathers lacked character or intelligence or knowledge or patriotism, but because their fathers, by reason of their advancing years and their established position in society, had lost touch with the processes of life; they had forgotten what it was to begin; they had forgotten what it was to rise; they had forgotten what it was to be dominated by the circumstances of their life on their way up from the bottom to the top, and, therefore, they were out of sympathy with the creative, formative and progressive forces of society.
Thus Woodrow Wilson reflected on his years as President of Princeton, separating sons from fathers and money from the both of them as well. He would later go on, in Bluto Blutarsky manner, to become one of the worst presidents in American history. His spirit infects both American politics and our system of higher education.
As we approach the College’s 70th Commencement on May 13, a graduate might reflect on the meaning of the “responsible leadership” of its mission statement that he or she has been taught by the last few weeks. The Dean of the Faculty, Peter Unvin, has managed to add to the degradation by proposing to the faculty a model for quiet capitulation toward the accused rioters, perhaps involving a summer remediation (“an educational or community service process, e.g., a paper, tutoring, a civil debate, etc.,” presumably not graded by Heather Mac Donald) and pledging to seniors who might not be permitted to graduate on time “we will reimburse you for all cancellation fees you and your family may incur for travel and hotels as a result of this decision.”
What are the rioters to conclude but that violence works, depending upon the cowardice of your enemies is a good bet, lying/presenting alternative facts about the episode is essential, opposing a mob is preposterous, and — above all — all will be forgiven by those who don’t want to make waves (after a few winks). That’s what the supposed adults have taught the students. I don’t know that the CMC degree is thereby devalued — after all, this reflects corporate behavior, too. Just read Dilbert.
Chodosh, a former professor of international law, is recipient of a Gandhi Peace Prize (not the really prestigious one awarded by the government of India).
Gandhi allegedly drank a daily glass of his own urine for health reasons. Whether Chodosh engages in such practices is his own private matter. But in practicing this version of Gandhianism he welcomes everyone to dispense their bodily wastes on college visitors, faculty, students, and on his own person. It’s beginning to smell.