Roger’s Rules

A Moment of Sanity at Oberlin

Some years ago, I conceived a business idea which I hereby make available free and for nothing to any enterprising soul who wishes to do a bit of good for the community. You know how there are services that store “cord blood” of newborns which, being rich in stem cells, could be used later in life to treat various diseases?  My idea is somewhat similar.  Here’s how it would work.  Whenever an aspiring academic bureaucrat is appointed to the presidency of a college or university, this service would undertake, for a small recurring fee, to receive and safely store his testicles in a secure undisclosed location for the duration of his tenure. Upon proper certification indicating that an individual was no longer overseeing an educational institution, the testicles would be returned, intact, and fully functional. Studies have shown that disuse is injurious to this delicate organ, and since vanishingly few college presidents acknowledge their possession of what the vernacular denominates cojones, this innovative prophylactic approach to healthy living would benefit not only many individuals but also, by reducing the number of future claims on scarce resources, the larger health care network. Other obligations make it impossible for me to pursue this obvious money-maker, but I look forward to seeing it instituted very soon.  If a pilot project is deemed advisable, I venture to suggest that a good start might be Yale University, whose ambulatory blancmange, Peter Salovey, is the proud winner of the 2015 Sheldon Award for Worst College President. Boola-boola.

Thus endeth my entrepreneurial spiel.  But I am not quite done with awards.  For Marvin Krislov, the president of Oberlin College (tuition, room, and board this year: $64,266), deserves a real award for providing a partial counter-example in extremis to my general proposition concerning the eunuch-like nature of the Confraternity of College and University Presidents. The example is only partial because Oberlin , under his watch,  has distinguished itself as a poster-child for the weaponized PC-madness that has gripped college campuses with the ferocity of a medieval plague. Back in December, there was a flurry of well-deserved ridicule directed at Oberlin for the 14-page list of “demands” issued by members of the Black Student Union. The document is similar to, but possibly even more insane than, the lists propagated by black students at Yale, Amherst, the University of Missouri, Princeton, and other institutions. The gastronomic elements of the protests — the demand, for example, that fried chicken be made a permanent part of the dining hall menu — elicited the greatest hilarity. But the document was minatory as well as mad.  Here’s a bit from the opening:

Oberlin College and Conservatory is an unethical institution. From capitalizing on massive labor exploitation across campus, to the Conservatory of Music treating Black and other students of color as less than through its everyday running, Oberlin College unapologetically acts as [sic] unethical institution, antithetical to its historical vision. . . . [T]his institution functions on the premises of imperialism [oh dear], white supremacy [gosh], capitalism [nice buildings you have there, Oberlin], ableism [somebody has to shovel the walks], and a cissexist heteropatriarchy [I give up]. Oberlin College and Conservatory uses the limited number of Black and Brown students to color in its brochures, but then erases us from student life on this campus. You profit off of our accomplishments and invisible labor, yet You expect us to produce personal solutions to institutional incompetencies. We as a College-defined “high risk,” “low income,” “disadvantaged” community should not have to carry the burden of deconstructing the white supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist system that we took no part in creating, yet is so deeply embedded in the soil upon which this institution was built.

From there we got to an astonishing list of “unmalleable” demands, including.

We DEMAND a structural change in institutional graduation requirements:

a. Intro to the Black Experience or a similar course must be instituted as a mandatory requirement for all students before graduation.
b. Departmental requirements for students to take Western/Classical centered courses must be eliminated, if NOT then we demand all students MUST also take an equivalent course in the African Diaspora.

“African Diaspora” is nice. The students “DEMAND” that various buildings be repaired or upgraded, that new professors be hired, that a long list of current professors be granted tenure or put on a tenure track, that “students of color” receive more grants and free housing between terms, and that Oberlin hire  “Black/non western health practitioners because not everyone finds comfort and healing solely from a psychologist.” One of my favorite demands was that “spaces throughout the Oberlin College campus be designated as a safe space for Africana identifying students.” The document ends by insisting that this astonishing and unmannerly performance should be regarded as “demands and not suggestions.” A final flourish threatens  “immediate” though unspecified action should the demands not be met.

Unlike presidents at Yale, Princeton, Amherst, and elsewhere, Marvin Krislov took his time before responding to this preposterous congeries of demands.  And when he did respond, it was to say “Nuts to you,” or words to that effect. More precisely, he refused to respond directly at all to such an insulting, uncivil, not to say megalomaniacally juvenile performance.”I will not respond directly to any document that explicitly rejects the notion of collaborative engagement,” he wrote.  “Many of its demands contravene principles of shared governance. And it contains personal attacks on a number of faculty and staff members who are dedicated and valued members of this community.”  That’s a start.  Krislov should follow it up by expelling any student who indulges in a repeat performance.

I am not so utopian as to think that Marvin Krislov’s resolve marks a turning point on American campuses. But it is perhaps an early indication that a limit has been reached.  If he were really serious, Krislov would take that list of demands as an occasion to end all Oberlin’s affirmative action programs, for teachers as well as students.  He might also seek to address come curricular deficits, by abolishing courses in pseudo-disciplines like Black Studies (“Africana Studies” at Oberlin)  and Women’s Studies (“Gender,  Sexuality, and Feminist Studies” at Oberlin), for example (to make it easy, he could just abolish anything ending in “studies”). Here’s part of the description of the “Africana Studies” program from the Oberlin website:

As an academic major, Africana studies prepares students, not only as adept critical thinkers, presenters, and researchers, but also as valuable global citizens.

Alas, there is no word about preparing them to be able to write grammatical English. And the more closely you look at what is taught — browse through the actual course offerings — the clearer it becomes that almost everything taught under the rubric of “Africana Studies” is an exercise in racial grievance mongering.  Something similar can be said about the courses offered  under the rubric of “Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies.” If he really wanted to rest easy, Krislov should also reorient the music program to serious, i.e., Western classical, music, leaving jazz for the recreational hours of those that enjoy that demotic form of entertainment.

It won’t happen, not yet anyway, and more’s the pity. Still, Marvin Krislov deserves commendation for at least standing up to these ignorant, proto-totalitarian thugs.