Last month, late on the Saturday night of homecoming weekend at elite Williams College, some unknown person scrawled a highly unpleasant and ugly graffito on the wall of an upper floor of a student dormitory. The dreaded “N-word” figured prominently in the message, so written to generate the maximum incendiary impact.
Adam Falk, president of the College, was instantly on the case: “A great deal of harm has been done by this vile act,” he said in a public letter to the grieving Williams Community, which was wracked by this horrible, horrible incident. “Since there is no excuse for behavior so offensive, hateful, and harmful — anywhere, but especially at Williams — we will continue to do all that we can to hold the perpetrator(s) accountable.”
He cancelled classes and athletic practice for the following Monday, using the day as an opportunity for “healing” and to teach about the evils of racism and how such attitudes would not be tolerated on his campus. The Counseling Center, Chaplain’s Office, and Multicultural Center advertised psychological help for students who might feel traumatized by this “shock.” A group of students marched to the local police station to demand that the police aid campus security in investigating this “hate crime.” Eventually, even the FBI — the FBI! — was enlisted to investigate this “horrifying,” “vile,” “hateful,” “offensive,” “harmful” act.
A bit of an overreaction? I think so, which is why I wrote a note about the incident for the December The New Criterion. The hysteria continues unabated in bucolic Williamstown. One student who posted several comments on a student website dilating on the “hypocrisy” of race relations at Williams earned the attention of the Dean’s Office: “The posts that I put up on this thread,” he wrote,
got me noticed by the Dean’s office as a suspicious person and I was brought in for an interrogation by the FBI and Sergeant McGowan explicitly because of them the Sunday before reading period. “You seem to be a fairly vocal poster on the online message boards.” They asked for a polygraph test, DNA test, the works.
Think about it: A student expresses his opinion about something. The administration doesn’t like his opinion. Ergo, the administration turns him over to the FBI for interrogation.
That was the way they did things in Stalin’s Russia, but many of us thought a different tradition regarding freedom of expression prevailed in American colleges.
When the “vile,” “offensive,” “hateful” graffito was discovered, two hypotheses crystalized to account for it. The first hypothesis, quickly embraced by President Falk (a physicist) and the more vocal parts of the administration, was that there exists a racist sub-culture at Williams. The idea was that the message was written by a bigot to intimidate minority students on campus. Indeed, many students claimed that the message amounted to a “death threat” against minority students.
What do you think? Is elite Williams College (all in, it will cost you — or whoever’s paying — more than $55,000 per annum to attend) a seething cauldron of racist, sexist attitudes? Or do you reckon it is, like most elite educational institutions, a farm specializing in coddling a herd of well-fed, complacent, eminently politically correct sheep — that “herd of independent minds” the art critic Harold Rosenberg spoke of, lo, these many years ago?
I incline to the latter option. I think you’d have to look far and wide at Williams to discover anyone harboring or espousing anything so outré as a racist opinion. Which is why, when the story of this vile, harmful, terrible, offensive, violent example of hate speech was first announced and President Adam Falk publicly promised to discover and hold accountable the “perpetrator(s),” I had to wonder whether he was being entirely prudent.
Who — just stop and think about it a moment –who in an institution like Williams College, lovely, coddled Williams, where “diversity” is on everyone’s lips but conformity is the name of the game, who at Williams would be likely to commit such a vile, hateful, terrible, etc., etc., act? How President Adam Falk must have prayed that it was a white male student! Then they could have had a public execution, or at least a public humiliation and expulsion — maybe they could have even hoped for a jail sentence — for such a repulsive character. Alas, that person has yet to show up.
And this brings me to the second hypothesis about who was responsible for the offending graffito: namely, that it was the act of a minority student attempting to drum up campus hysteria and to produce a climate in which minority groups could press for more concessions from the College.
Over the past few days, I’ve heard from several campus sources that the culprit is known to students and is in fact a minority student. One source said it was “common knowledge” who the person was. Maybe so. Still, it is not officially recognized common knowledge. The Williamstown police said no arrest had been made. A Williams College administrator told me that he was “100 percent certain” that the culprit had not been discovered, despite the tireless efforts of campus security, the Williamstown police, and the FBI.
“One hundred percent certain” is pretty impressive. It’s nice to know that certitude is alive and well in Williamstown, Mass. It will be interesting to see how long it survives. In the meantime, here are a few questions: why did President Adam Falk and the Williams administration go directly to panic mode over this incident? Didn’t they drastically overreact? Why involve the police, for heaven’s sake, to say nothing of the FBI (who should be off dealing with serious crimes, not an offensive graffito scrawled on a dormitory wall)? Why is a student who expresses unpopular opinions on a web site brought before the FBI with a request for a polygraph test and a DNA swab? Is he a suspected terrorist? Shouldn’t the administration have sought to calm passions, collect the facts, and get on with normal academic life? The culprit has not yet been apprehended. But what if that “common knowledge” turns out to be true and it was a minority student? What then?
There’s a lot of talk about the “higher education bubble” these days. The bubble exists and is growing ever fatter and more fragile as colleges price themselves out of the market. But it is not only in the matter of money that American universities have gone insane. There is also the spectacle, at once risible and dismaying, of their embrace of the politically correct, multicultural agenda. More and more, academic culture is politically correct culture, which means it is devoted not to the discovery of truth and the preservation and transmission of “the best that’s been thought and said” but the nurturing of speech codes and ideological conformity. It’s a travesty of liberal arts education and obscenely expensive to boot. What’s happening at Williams is just one rancid corner of a rotten edifice that is poised to collapse.