CORRECTNESS IS KILLING HIGHER EDUCATION
PART 1 of 2
November 14, 2015
[Author’s warning: this article contains ideas that might make some readers feel uncomfortable, upset, or deeply offended. Once, long ago, when no such warnings were felt necessary, this was known as free speech protected by the First Amendment. Today we might think of it as the expression of a real diversity of ideas.]
At the start of this week as I write this, we saw the spectacle of a potential boycott of a football game by players lead to the stepping down of a university president, along with a chancellor’s promise to resign at the end of the year. They were supporting a student on a hunger strike, demanding that the president of the University of Missouri, Tim Wolfe, resign in the face of his administration’s not having responded sufficiently to allegations of racism on campus: the sort of thing familiar to anyone involved with or who has followed higher education for the past three decades.
That university is in near-chaos! Videos widely distributed online (a good selection here assuming they remain available) show students interfering with a journalist on assignment trying to do his job. At one point he patiently tries to explain to them how the First Amendment protects their right to be there on a public sidewalk just as much as it does his. The response: noncomprehending retorts and shouts. Near the end of one of the videos, a female is yelling at the top of her lungs (one hopes), “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here!” The video ends, so I am assuming he sensed actual physical danger and stopped filming. I might have, too.
Are you reading this sitting down? The woman turned out to be a faculty member, named Melissa Click! Not only that, she was in media communications!
That’s right, we’re talking about one of those people able to leapfrog over men who are actually qualified for academic positions. She was doubtless a beneficiary of “Mizzou’s” (My zoo’s?) “diversity” (i.e., affirmative action) program.
Her colleagues, sensing the potential for embarrassment, called her onto the carpet. She stepped down – from something. She had a “courtesy post” in the department. I’ve been wondering all week, what is a “courtesy post”? I taught at various colleges and universities for over 15 years, and I never heard of such a job. Maybe it is something created since I left, for the really unqualified affirmative action charity cases. She’s still in the department. So I am unsure her “stepping down” from her “courtesy post” means anything. What she was doing is unclear. I sincerely hope she wasn’t teaching!
What started this fracas? As stated in the first paragraph, allegations of racial incidents (timeline here). Exactly what these amount to is also unclear, but their culmination was the demand that the president of the university to resign. So he resigned.* What was he supposed to do, some have asked? The university had responded with calls for “diversity training,” to which students replied with remarks calling the training “a step in the right direction, but it is not enough.” Which begs us to ask, what would be enough? One of the stranger events is that in late October, someone used human feces to plaster a swastika on a restroom wall. At first, this report was not believed; I had filed it away with the rape hoax at the University of Virginia which blew up in Rolling Stone’s face about a year ago. This wasn’t a hoax, though. A police report exists, and a custodian claims to have cleaned it up, but what it proves (beyond the fact that someone on campus is sick) is anyone’s guess. There is nothing to connect it with any other incident. It has been a long, long time, however, since matters of logic and evidence mattered on college or university campuses in the Land of the Free.
It isn’t over at Missouri. The student body president — Peyton Head, who happens to be black — had already made an allegation of a white male shouting a racial slur at him from a red truck. If it happened (there were no witnesses), there would still be no evidence the perpetrator was a student. A university president has no control over what happens off campus. Head also started an inflammatory rumor about sightings of Klansman on campus, claiming to be in touch with the National Guard. When challenged, he retracted the claim. No one else, of course, had seen anything, but he’d sent ripples of fear across the campus for no good reason.
Left wing whackos are clearly not above lying and orchestrating hoaxes to get what they want (think of the Duke University Lacrosse players or the above-mentioned rape hoax). What they are doing is coming ever closer to endangering people’s lives! Suppose a group of radicalized black students ran across a lone white kid who happened to be driving a red truck and decided to follow him home!
Missouri is just one dramatic case. There are others. Yale University experienced racial protests the week before last over an email by an administrator suggesting that Halloween costumes manifesting “insensitivity” could be an occasion for dialogue and conversation — and so shouldn’t be repressed.
Radicalized students rose and demanded her resignation – and that of her husband who taught at the university!
The situation at Missouri proves that we are at the point where racial activists are able to dictate who works there, not just faculty but university presidents! This fact ought to send ripples of fear through everyone teaching at or working at every college and university in the country!
The bottom line: political correctness (PC) is killing higher education! It isn’t just creating a climate in which real education is impossible, but inching towards situations where white students, white faculty members, and even white administrators could find themselves in physical danger if they utter anything “culturally insensitive” minus “trigger warnings,” or inadvertently fail to respect black students’ presumed entitlements to “safe spaces”: safe from white people with thoughts that differ from theirs, that is.
I have made the statement many times in various places online and offline. We warned anyone who would listen 25 years ago that things like this would happen! Back then, PC was confined to a few academic departments and law schools where Marxists or other hard-left faculty had gained tenure. Even then, PC had fellow travelers in left-leaning media, major academic organizations like the Modern Language Association, outfits like the hard-left Southern Poverty Law Center, and groups like the NAACP.
We warned that if PC wasn’t opposed in the name of Constitutional government, including free speech and a genuine diversity of ideas in the context of traditional liberal arts learning, it would spread, via law schools, government, and mainstream media, to every institution in society. It did, and very quickly! For starters, when one looked at Bill Clinton’s cabinet appointments, it was a self-evident elephant in the front room that no man had a snowball’s chance in you-know-where of being appointed Attorney General. After the first two female choices turned out to have broken the law, we ended up with Janet Reno. The Waco holocaust happened two years later under her watch. By this time, PC was making incursions into the military. Remember the arguments over women in combat and whether women should be admitted to The Citadel back in the mid-1990s? A few years later, it was gays in the military.
PC was soon evident in corporate America. People were fired from jobs for not displaying “appropriate” sensitivities to, e.g., gays and lesbians. Businesses were destroyed. I watched and helped document the destruction of Maurice Bessinger’s $40 million barbecue sauce distribution business in Columbia, South Carolina, which fell in a matter of weeks because he flew the Confederate flag over his restaurants in protest over its removal from the State House Dome, and because one irresponsible reporter accused him in the city newspaper of believing in slavery. No one bothered to do any fact checking on the matter. Major chains simply refused to carry his products. Some were under pressure from the NAACP. The irony is, he employed hundreds of black workers in his plant. These men and women lost their jobs when he was forced to shut down.
We also observed back in the early 1990s that the groups claiming PC-based entitlements would increase. Back then, homosexuality was barely on the public radar. If you claimed that PC and Christianity would soon be on collision course, you were called paranoid and told to get help. By the 2000s gay and lesbian sensibilities were everywhere. Now, homosexual groups are able to use the courts to put Christians who refuse to deal with them out of business. They are able to put state-level clerks in jail, forcing them to violate state laws, for refusing to put their signatures on same-sex marriage licenses (as in Kentucky).
As for major colleges and universities today, PC is everywhere. It is an inescapable fact of campus life that blacks, feminists, and gays get special privileges, although the discourse of PC maintains something called “white privilege” as needing to be countered. What is different today is how much PC is coming not from left-leaning faculty but students, and student groups. Even left-leaning faculty are worrying over it, fearful of saying the wrong thing in class! What they have been taught all through school, via PC incursions all the way to the elementary level, is that they are entitled to an environment guaranteeing absolute freedom from ever being offended!
The “lessons” of Missouri are rapidly spreading, moreover: to “social justice warriors” at the University of Michigan, Smith College, Ithaca College, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, even Columbia and Harvard, where minority students are busy assembling demands. Let’s remember: these kids are all on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Their SmartPhones & iPads go everywhere they go. They are networked up all across the country at a level the generation I came up with can barely imagine. Anything dramatic that happens at University X is communicated instantly via social media to every other campus in the country.
Their demands are all about forcing “commitment to diversity”: administrative, faculty, or students. More minority-only scholarships. More cultural centers exclusively for blacks. More “forums on diversity.” That means hiring more blacks at all levels of administration, recruiting more black faculty, and preferentially admitting more black students (the University of Michigan student body is 4% black; that of Missouri was 7% black; at other universities, the percentages are comparable, some more, some less). This means more money diverted from faculty doing the real work of the institution and into politically-created appointments, and bureaucracy to oversee it all. For part two click below.
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Steven Yates has a Ph.D. in philosophy and is the author of Four Cardinal Errors: Reason for the Decline of the American Republic (2011) and Philosophy Is Not Dead: A Vision of the Discipline’s Future (ebook, 2014). He blogs occasionally at WorldPress.com. He lives in Santiago, Chile with his wife and two spoiled cats, and is working on his own online education project, the New Lyceum Academy for Philosophical Studies (website forthcoming).