For decades, the American university system has been creeping towards both moral and intellectual bankruptcy. But the events last week at Yale and the University of Missouri suggest we are reaching a tipping point, and that campus culture is transitioning from painfully idiotic to wantonly destructive. Even at the height of the Vietnam war protests, administrators endeavored, with varying degrees of success, to keep the inmates from running the asylum. Now it appears that students can invent accusations for the sake of validating narcissistic identity politics and bring institutions to their knees.
At Yale, what started with a missive from an administrator warning about offensive Halloween costumes turned into a full-blown panic, involving the likely fictitious report of a “white girls only” fraternity party and an all-too-real “March of Resilience” on campus that drew thousands of students. The tenor of the “debate” was captured by a video showing angry students confronting Yale dean Jonathan Holloway—a black man—and demanding he be fired for not doing anything about a racist fraternity party no one can prove took place. In a related confrontation, a student angrily tells Professor Nicholas Christakis, “It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here! You are not doing that.” A college professor stands accused of trying to create an intellectual space? How dare he!
But that’s nothing compared with what happened at Mizzou. The origin of the hysteria there is vague, beginning with a general concern over what happened when police killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, giving rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. The student activists, calling themselves “Concerned Student 1950” (for the year the university was integrated), said the university hadn’t done enough to address a series of racial incidents, among them the smearing of a swastika made out of excrement on the wall of a dorm bathroom.
Since campus activists have faked a number of supposed hate crimes in recent years, Mizzou was forced to release photos of the poop swastika to assuage public doubts. University officials also noted “an intoxicated individual said ‘bitch ass nigga’ to a white resident, when having a heated interaction with multiple black residents in the third floor lounge, which is the same floor this bathroom incident happened on.” (They did not note the race of the suspect.)
We also have clear evidence of a student photographer on assignment—Missouri is renowned for its journalism school—being shoved by protesters who had previously been seeking attention. At one point a professor participating in the demonstration directs her ire at the photographer being assaulted. “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?” she yells. “I need some muscle over here.” The professor in question, Melissa Click, teaches in the communication studies department: “Current research projects,” the university website informs us, “involve 50 Shades of Grey readers, the impact of social media in fans’ relationship with Lady Gaga, masculinity and male fans, [and] messages about class and food in reality television programming.”
Then the football team got involved with the protests. The team threatened to boycott its next game unless their demands were met. The economics of college football being what they are, a single canceled game could cost the university more than $1 million. The football team’s demands included the resignation of university president Tim Wolfe. On November 9, Wolfe and University of Missouri chancellor R. Bowen Loftin both resigned. The university also acceded to students’ demands to create a new position of “vice chancellor for inclusion, diversity and equity.”
Then Mizzou’s student body president warned that the KKK was invading campus—before backtracking on the claim. A professor who insisted on holding class in spite of the protests was so besieged he offered his resignation. Next, the school sent out a campus-wide announcement telling students if they hear anything offensive to call the cops. So, we’ve come full circle: Students, first outraged that the police are institutionally racist killers, are now leaning on police to keep them safe from hurtful words.
At a well-functioning university, such spurious and inflammatory accusations would produce ridicule and disciplinary action. Instead, the university has affirmed these students’ delusions of persecution. This is an alarming abdication of responsibility. It nurtures destructive fantasies and diminishes the real injustices in the world. Mob rule, purges, and shouting people down are serious steps not towards but away from a more just society. But that is the atmosphere our colleges are indulging and cultivating.
“Our demands must be met in totality to create systems of healing within the UM system,” said Marshall Allen, one of the original members of Concerned Student 1950, at a November 10 protest. Caving in to the “totality” of student demands is not how you create educated citizens. It’s how you create budding totalitarians.