The Rise of the Campus Brown Shirts
A fusillade of attacks by students and faculty on commencement speakers and honorary degree awardees at four of our better known schools -- Smith, Haverford, Rutgers and Brandeis -- has tarnished this year's commencement season beyond any in recent memory. Speakers as distinguished as Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, former Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have been forced to withdraw even as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, one of the most courageous fighters of oppression on the planet, had to walk from her honorary degree from a university established in the shadow of the Holocaust. Go figure.
What next? The Bill of Rights gets repealed? An academic "War on Women"? (Three of the four attacked are female.) A new generation of undergraduate Brown Shirts comes back from 1930s Berlin to smash every college window and burn every school library book by unapproved authors in a renewed Kristallnacht?
Of course all of the above dignitaries finally walked away voluntarily from their campus honors, underlining the juvenile absurdity of these same students and faculty, not to mention the paleo-milquetost behavior of their administrations. Mercifully, William G. Bowen, the former Princeton president who replaced Lagarde as Haverford commencement speaker, called out the protestors as "immature" and "arrogant" during his speech, an understatement, to be sure, but welcome nonetheless.
This would all be great fodder for Saturday Night Live, if it still had any spine. Or a tough conservative or libertarian comedy show, if there were one. But in the final analysis, it's not all that funny. Something is seriously wrong with our university system -- as if we didn't know. And the fault is less with the students -- they are what they are and finally just young people -- as with the faculties, especially in the social sciences and what's left of the humanities. (There can't be much left in a system where, even at UCLA, English majors are no longer required to read Shakespeare and Milton. The way things are going, it won't be long before they aren't even allowed to read them voluntarily -- or at least without an introduction warning the student to beware of the author's "privilege.")
I never took literally the famous quote attributed to Churchill: "A man who is not a liberal at 20 has no heart. A man who is not a conservative at 40 has no brain." But it had a certain resonance in reference to basic maturity and common sense. That's why we remember it.
You don't have to be an abject follower of Edmund Burke to realize that the role of a faculty member is to instruct and reveal received knowledge in as impartial manner as possible, not to fulminate on like an arrested adolescent as if he or she were still protesting the Vietnam War what feels like a hundred years later.
What this does is give the younger generation nowhere to go. Some protest in youth is normal, but if the older generation is still taking up so much of the playing field, you leave the younger with no place of their own but the more bizarre and outré extremes. Therefore someone like Hirsi Ali, who should be an international hero of human rights, becomes a villain. And, as it did recently at Dartmouth, the word "fiesta" used by an Anglo for a heart disease benefit becomes an instrument of supposed racial oppression.
We have to put an end to this ASAP. That starts with putting pressure on that arrested faculty and their administration enablers. And the ones to do it are the parents paying a fortune for this nonsense.
(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)