Editor's note: this article was originally published by Minding the Campus on April 24, 2019.
In higher education, disgraceful scandals and major embarrassments once arrived one by one. Now, they appear in clusters, like epidemics we should have been expecting. Take the University of Tulsa, suddenly in the grip of a “strategic plan” aimed at marketing the university to students who are career-oriented and lured by the idea of fighting for social justice.
Towards that end, University president Gerard Clancy is demolishing the university’s signal intellectual strength—its liberal arts program. We know about this mainly because Jacob Howland, a philosophy professor at the University of Tulsa, has unleashed a 3,500-word cri de coeur, Storm Clouds Over Tulsa, in City Journal. It is well worth reading if you have any indignation left in your cellar over the fate of the humanities and the direction of our civilization.
This Tulsa news comes with the regular tide bringing in the news of feckless college administrators doing all they can to diminish what little is left of the intellectual seriousness of the institutions over which they preside.
The College Fix has nailed several of these travesties. Steve Hayward at Powerlinehas kept up a close watch—see especially “The College Apocalypse, Continued.” Minding the Campus keeps the spotlight on key stories. Campus Reform tracks the efforts to suppress conservative speech and speakers.
The Federalist often breaks news of higher education’s free fall into inanity. The Wall Street Journal pays attention. The New York Times does too, but you have to hold the article in front of a mirror to get the story the article is trying to hide. I hasten to add that Quillette, The American Mind, The American Thinker, Frontpage, American Greatness, RealClearEducation, The New Criterion, and perhaps a dozen other sites offer sharp-eyed observations of the American higher education’s accelerating descent. I rely on them all.
But I can’t recapitulate them all. What follows is a selective review of the intellectual measles epidemic. Let’s look at what’s happening at Williams, Middlebury, Yale, Trinity, Columbia, Concordia, Villanova, and Sarah Lawrence.
A new National Association of Scholars report on the resurgence of racial segregation in American higher education embargoed until April 29, does not apply to my mentioning a new student proposal endorsed by the student newspaper at Williams College. As The College Fix reports, a group of activists at the college, the Coalition Against Racism Now, is demanding that the college create race-based “affinity housing.” This is part of the push-pull of what we call neo-segregation. Some students want to live in “safe spaces” of racial homogeneity. Many colleges think this is actually a good idea. Will Williams College capitulate?
President Laurie Patton at Middlebury College canceled a scheduled speech by a Polish statesman, Ryszard Legutko, three hours before he was to deliver it. I say, Patton, though officially the word came from the provost and the dean of students. I doubt they were freelancing.
Patton was the college president who in March 2017 decided that it would be a good idea to let Middlebury students bury Charles Murray under an hour of raucous abuse, before shuttling him to a private room to give his scheduled talk to a television camera. Patton also was the college president who couldn’t locate the students who physically attacked Murray and Middlebury professor Alison Stanger, and who handed out wrist slaps to a handful of the other protesters. In the same spirit this time she canceled Legutko’s talk because of “potential security and safety risks.” Some students were irate that Legutko has on occasion criticized multiculturalism and gay marriage. At Middlebury, the heckler’s veto is king.
This story, however, has a fascinating hiccup. Some students and one professor, Matthew Dickinson, defied the administration and had Legutko speak anyway. No protest, no riot. The story has been covered especially well in Powerline, including Scott Johnson’s “Learning from Legutko at Middlebury.” The Wall Street Journal also published as a coda to the affair an editorial praising Professor Dickinson and his students for standing up to college’s feckless administration, “Cowardice and Courage at Middlebury.”
Yale’s follies in the last few years are kaleidoscopic. AEI’s Michael Rubin, writing in the Washington Examiner (March 4) provided a good round-up, “Yale Pays the Price for Subordinating Scholarship to Social Justice.” Unwilling to rest on its laurels, Yale had already embarked on a new folly. A gay and lesbian group of law students called “Outlaw” sent an email to the Yale Law School condemning Alliance Defending Freedom, the organization that represented the Colorado cake shop owner in the case where he was accused of illegal discrimination for not making a cake for a gay wedding.
The Daily Wire captured the early details. The Outlaws declared that “ADF is a hate group that does not belong on our campus and does not deserve legitimatization.” Outlaw also called on the Law School to bar students from receiving Summer Public Interest Fellowships if they associate with “organizations that discriminate against members of its community.” This was understood to mean any organization that upholds traditional Christian teachings on homosexuality.
Heather Gerken, dean of Yale Law School, promptly granted everything Outlaw asked for and profusely thanked its members for their leadership. Senator Ted Cruz responded with a letter to Dean Gerken on the “blacklisting of Christian organizations.” Various legal scholars attacked Cruz for misinterpreting the Constitution. The Federalist published an account by a Yale Law student, “I Thought I Could Be a Christian and Constitutionalist at Yale Law School. I Was Wrong.”
I’ll hazard the prediction that this controversy has a long life ahead of it, perhaps including the kind of lawsuit that could end up at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut has won its place on this dishonorable mentions list by its decision to put roadblocks in front of students attempting to gain recognition for their Churchill Club. The mission of the club, in its own words, is “to read books and to confront ideas that we believe to be underrepresented in the Trinity College curriculum.” Its opponents among the students found this insufferable and invented a procedure whereby the would-be club would be subjected to prolonged and hostile scrutiny. The affair is aptly summarized by Helen Lamm writing in American Greatness on “Appeasement in the Academy.” Churchill, it appears, has been chosen by the campus left as a “symbol of white supremacy.” Those of us who thought he was an exemplar of statesmanship were mistaken and now must submit to the campus regimen of having our thoughts cleansed by progressive students who know better.
Columbia University has a special place on this list by virtue of The New York Times having taken up the story. The print edition provided Sharon Otterman’s “A Student’s Effort to Confront Racism on Campus,” which became in the digital version, “Black Columbia Student’s Confrontation With Security Becomes Flashpoint Over Racism on Campus.” The video of the brief confrontation has quickly spread across the internet. A 23-year old black male student, Alexander McNab, defied repeated requests from security guards to show his ID as he entered the all-female Barnard College after 11PM. The security guards eventually restrained him until they could see his ID, then let him go, the affair lasting about 20 seconds. Columbia University responded by suspending the six security guards and opening an investigation into their “racism.”
The best response to this so far has come from another black Columbia student, Coleman Hughes, writing at Quillette, in an essay, “Cowardice at Columbia.” Hughes:
The McNab affair involved neither police nor brutality. Public safety officers (who don’t carry guns) used the minimum amount of force necessary to get McNab to comply with their request that he identify himself. They pushed him against a countertop for 20 seconds before letting him go. I challenge those who believe this was excessive to name an alternate course of action which would have compelled an unknown man to produce identification.
The video itself is worth watching for McNab’s performance. It comes across to me as premeditated, as though he knew what incident he wanted to provoke and what he would say if he succeeded in provoking it. Hughes reaches a similar conclusion:
The only winner to emerge from this fiasco is McNab himself. A talented and prolific essayist in the anti-racist mold, McNab has received national attention over this incident and has been invited to pen a personal essay about his experience for the Columbia student newspaper. This he can add to an already impressive collection of pieces bemoaning his experience as the proverbial black-man-in-America. For twenty seconds of physical discomfort, that’s not a bad outcome.
The liberal arts college that is part of Concordia University in Montreal invited Harvard Professor Harvey Mansfield to give a talk about the Great Books. Then it disinvited him via a letter from Mark A. Russell, Principal of the college. Disinvitations have become so common in higher education that it is hard to pick one out as deserving special recognition. This one, however, involves Harvey Mansfield on Great Books, which is a bit like disinviting Tocqueville from a seminar on democracy on the grounds that he knows too much. Mansfield offered a fascinating account in The Wall Street Journal of what went on behind the scenes to convince the pusillanimous Principal to revoke the invitation. It begins with a letter from 12 Concordia alumni who dislike Mansfield’s book, Manliness(2006). Mansfield’s archaic view that differences exist between men and women is, apparently, no longer acceptable in Montreal.
The Wall Street Journal again—this time, an article by Professors Colleen Sheehan and James Matthew Wilson, “A Mole Hunt for Diversity ‘Bias’ at Villanova.” I am not a passive observer in this instance. I drafted and have been circulating a petition urging Villanova to uphold the intellectual freedom of Sheehan, Wilson, and the rest of its faculty against the imposition that they identified in their article. The issue might appear small to anyone outside academe. Villanova’s administration added to the evaluation forms that students fill out at the end of the semester some questions about how well the teacher advances the causes of “diversity” and “inclusion.” The questions compel ideological conformity among the faculty, at least some of whom have reservations about “diversity” and “inclusion” as educational goals. The questions also mislead students by making them think the value of their courses can be gauged by the degree that their teachers kiss the toes of the diversity idol.
Villanova has pushed back against Sheehan and Wilson with a statement on the website of the President, signed by President Peter Donohue and Provost Patrick Maggitti.
Sarah Lawrence College
This matter has been unfolding since last October when Sarah Lawrence College professor Samuel Abrams published an op-ed in The New York Times, “Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators.” Abrams, a professor of politics, identified himself in the article as “conservative-leaning” and he criticizes the college’s Office of Diversity and Campus Engagement for sponsoring “a politically lopsided event” intended to bring together supporters of a wide range of progressive causes. He goes on to report on his survey of 900 “student-facing” college administrators around the country. Liberal administrators, he finds, outnumber conservative administrators twelve to one. I would have imagined an even greater disparity, and indeed Abrams found that in New England the ratio is 25 to one.
The response to the op-ed was surprising in one key respect: Abrams was attacked by Sarah Lawrence students. His office door was vandalized, and flyers appeared on campus alleging that he is a racist. The college president, Cristle Collins Judd, waited three weeks before making any response to the attempted intimidation, and then gave only tepid support for Abrams’ free speech. Pen America came to his defense. The students who attacked Abrams, calling themselves the Diaspora Coalition, issued a list of demands on March 11, including demands against Abrams.
What caught the most public attention was the demand, “All campus laundry rooms are to supply laundry detergent and softener on a consistent basis for all students, faculty and staff.” But the Diaspora Coalition had lots of demands in the direction of neo-segregation, including:
Students of color should not be forced to resort to racist white professors in order to have access to their own history. It is crucial that the College offer courses taught about people of color by people of color so that students may engage in and produce meaningful work that represents them authentically.
We demand there be newly tenured faculty of color – at least two in African diasporic studies, one in Asian-American studies, one in Latinx diasporic studies, and one in indigenous/native peoples studies.
We demand there be at least three more courses offered in African diasporic studies taught by Black professors.
It was in this vein that Diasporans got around to reiterating their hatred of Professor Abrams:
Sarah Lawrence must confront how the presence of Sam Abrams, an anti-queer, misogynist, and racist who actively targets queer people, women, and people of color and is an alumnus of an institute with direct ties to a neo-Confederate hate group, affects the safety and wellbeing of marginalized students.
Nor had they forgotten his New York Times article:
The article revealed the anti-Blackness, anti-LGBTQ+, and anti-woman bigotry of Abrams.
All this conducing to the conclusion that Sarah Lawrence College must denounce, repudiate, and fire Professor Abrams; humiliate him, and despoil the ashes of his mortal remains:
We demand that Samuel Abrams’ position at the College be put up to tenure review to a panel of the Diaspora Coalition and at least three faculty members of color. In addition, the College must issue a statement condemning the harm that Abrams has caused to the college community, specifically queer, Black, and female students, whilst apologizing for its refusal to protect marginalized students wounded by his op-ed and the ignorant dialogue that followed. Abrams must issue a public apology to the broader SLC community and cease to target Black people, queer people, and women.
President Judd responded to the Diaspora Coalition in early April, making no mention of its demands concerning Professor Abrams, but offering solemn reassurances that she and Sarah Lawrence College agree with all the Diaspora Coalition’s guiding principles:
These three, cross-generational emphases embody goals and priorities that are shared by the College’s trustees and senior leadership as pillars of our Sarah Lawrence values. While there will be disagreement about the distance SLC has traveled in this regard, and even about the best way to achieve these goals, it is important to recognize that we share the same commitment and see the opportunity always for constructive dialogue to advance the College.
This comes close to the perfected form of capitulation to radical activists and should serve as a template for pre-emptive surrender for woke college presidents across the country.
Tulsa Blues, Again
As this survey shows, the University of Tulsa has a long way to go if it wants to earn recognition for that special combination of intellectual mediocrity and political lean-forwardness that distinguishes run-of-the-mill progressive conformity from awe-inspiring flagitiousness. President Gerard Clancy’s “Strategic Plan” may, in Professor Howland’s words, be a “perfect storm” that sweeps together “the confident ignorance of administrators, the infantilization of students, the policing of faculty, the replacement of thinking with ideological jargon, and the corporatization of education.”
But has Tulsa begun to contemplate like Williams College the beauty of racially segregating students to give them that extra jolt of “safety”?
Has Tulsa, like Middlebury, found a way to demean an internationally recognized leader in the struggle for political freedom and at the same time capitulate to an anti-intellectual mob?
Has Tulsa yet found a way, as Yale Law School has, to ostracize Christian students and organizations?
Has Tulsa succeeded as Trinity College has in demonizing one of the greatest statesmen of the last several centuries, and if so, on the grounds that he “symbolizes white supremacy”?
Has Tulsa shown its willingness to punish innocent security guards, as Columbia University has, for carrying out their assigned work with minimum force and no injury, in the context of aggressive racial provocation?
Has Tulsa yet disinvited, as Concordia University has, one of the luminaries of American scholarship, on the grounds that he once wrote a book that irritates feminists?
Has Tulsa yet established a system of student course evaluations, as Villanova has, that authorizes students to disparage professors who insufficiently bend their necks to the yoke of political correctness?
Has Tulsa’s president learned, as the president of Sarah Lawrence has, the advantages of ingratiating himself with progressive radicals while leaving a prominent professor as bait for the wolves?
Yes, President Clancy has taken a major stride towards ruining the University of Tulsa’s reputation for excellence in the humanities. Tossing out core liberal arts programs and reducing the rest to the status of utilities is a start. Pouring money into sports programs, new buildings, and more administrators show the right spirit of despoliation. Salting the board of trustees with moneyed friends whose highest idea of education is worker credentialing shows initiative. Professor Howland has compiled a flattering list of your accomplishments.
I have no doubt you mean well. That adds pathos to the story of how you are leading a university down a path that will surely lead to its dissolution within a generation. The future of a small, regional private university does not lie in turning it into the equivalent of a utilitarian public university married to progressive political nostrums. If it has a future, it lies in achieving and sustaining intellectual excellence.