November 16, 2015

ROSS DOUTHAT: A Crisis Our Universities Deserve.

The protesters at Yale and Missouri and a longer list of schools stand accused of being spoiled, silly, self-dramatizing — and many of them are. But they’re also dealing with a university system that’s genuinely corrupt, and that’s long relied on rote appeals to the activists’ own left-wing pieties to cloak its utter lack of higher purpose.

And within this system, the contemporary college student is actually a strange blend of the pampered and the exploited.

This is true of the college football recruit who’s a god on campus but also an unpaid cog in a lucrative football franchise that has a public college vestigially attached.

It’s true of the liberal arts student who’s saddled with absurd debts to pay for an education that doesn’t even try to pass along any version of Matthew Arnold’s “ best which has been thought and said,” and often just induces mental breakdowns in the pursuit of worldly success.

It’s true of the working class or minority student who’s expected to lend a patina of diversity to a campus organized to deliver good times to rich kids whose parents pay full freight. And then it’s true of the rich girl who discovers the same university that promised her a carefree Rumspringa (justified on high feminist principle, of course) doesn’t want to hear a word about what happened to her at that frat party over the weekend.

The protesters may be obnoxious enemies of free debate, in other words, but they aren’t wrong to smell the rot around them. And they’re vindicated every time they push and an administrator caves: It’s proof that they have a monopoly on moral spine, and that any small-l liberal alternative is simply hollow.

Or as the great Walter Sobchak might have put it: “Say what you want about the tenets of political correctness, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.”

Which might turn out to be the only epitaph for the modern university anybody needs to write.

Ouch. Though the “frat party” angle seems a bit thin, post-UVA.

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