In Tuesday’s Republican presidential primary debate, Senator Marco Rubio wondered aloud why Americans insist that the only legitimate option after compulsory education is college. “For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education,” Rubio said. “Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less [sic] philosophers.”
Events this week prove Rubio right, and not just in terms of the American economy. University campuses these days produce far fewer philosophers and more outright fascists in shutting down speech and scrutiny. Two incidents in the past fortnight have shone a bright light on the failure of academics to protect the kind of free speech that succeeds in producing philosophers – or educated adults in general.
Speaking of adult formation, the first controversy erupted at Yale, one of America’s elite institutions of higher learning, over the use of … Halloween costumes. The campus free-speech advocacy group FIRE published an e-mail from Yale’s “Intercultural Affairs Committee,” a missive which pre-emptively scolded students who might choose a costume that might be seen as “cultural appropriation and/or misrepresentation” of minority cultures.
This prompted an e-mail response from the associate master of a Yale residential house, Erica Christakis, bemoaning the paternalistic oversight regarding something as harmless as a Halloween costume. “Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity—in your capacity—to exercise self-censure, through social norming, and also in your capacity to ignore or reject things that trouble you?”
As Yale alum James Kirchik later lamented in The Atlantic, the answer turned out to be yes. In part fueled by unsubstantiated allegations that a fraternity had barred women of color from a party, Yale’s student body had a meltdown. Christakis’ husband Nicholas, the master of Silliman College, and Dean Jonathan Holloway were castigated for failing to provide a “safe space.” They also demanded apologies for Mrs. Christakis’ alleged “marginalization of students of color” – simply for making an argument that young men and women who are adept enough to handle the academic rigors of the Ivy League could make their own choice of Halloween costumes and live with the consequences.
What did Yale do? Apologize, of course, for not providing the safe spaces from those whose costumes might provide a triggering experience. “We failed you,” psychologist Peter Salovey told a few dozen protesters in a closed-door meeting. “I think we have to be a better university. I think we have to do a better job.” Clearly, Salovey and Yale’s administration think far less of their students’ abilities than Mrs. Christakis did.
That, however, was the comic relief in Academia this week. After a few unsubstantiated incidents stoked racial tensions at the University of Missouri over the past few weeks (some of which did not take place on campus and which involved a small number of individuals) students began to organize against the administration.
After a claim that someone had created a fecal swastika on a bathroom wall – another claim that has not been substantiated – a student activist demanded that Mizzou president Tim Wolfe “acknowledge his “white male privilege,” recognize that systems of oppression exist, and provide a verbal commitment to fulfilling Concerned Students 1-9-5-0’s demands,” or else the group would organize the campus to push Wolfe out. When some members of Mizzou’s football team (with a record this season of 4-5) threatened to boycott their own games, Wolfe threw in the towel.
Caving to demands reminiscent of a Soviet show trial was bad enough, but what followed was worse. Mizzou students demonstrated anyway after the resignation, and the media flocked to the campus to cover the story. But reporters were prevented from covering the unrest as students at the public university decided to block their access, even if it meant shoving and pushing a young journalist. Mizzou is one of a handful of universities offering a first rate journalism program.
That reputation was tarnished when faculty members joined the students barring reporters from covering the protesters. Melissa Click, an assistant professor of communications who ironically had a courtesy appointment in Mizzou’s school of journalism, joined a crowd of students who decided to enforce a “safe space” from the media when a student photojournalist approached. When Tim Tai stood his ground and tried to cover the story, Click called out for help in physically removing Tai. “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here?” a video captured Click yelling. “I need some muscle over here.”
To paraphrase an old Monty Python routine, come and see the violence inherent in campus progressivism. Academia no longer values an open and robust exchange of ideas, a pursuit of truth, and adherence to actual tolerance. Actual commitment to learning would have prompted scrutiny of extraordinary claims and discussion of differing points of view.
Instead, campuses have become overrun by proto-fascists who want submission to groupthink and are not afraid to call out for “some muscle” to enforce it. In most of these cases, the proto-fascists can find muscle in one form or another to shut down dissent and impose their narrow-minded demands for power. University administrators either shrink from their responsibilities out of fear for their own positions, or have long before joined the cadre of petty martinets patrolling their ivy-covered walls to enforce the groupthink rather than enlighten young minds.
At the very least, those faculty members who incited violence to enforce “safe spaces” on public property should cease drawing a state-funded paycheck.
Yale is a private university, but the University of Missouri gets its funding from the state legislature, along with hefty federal grants. At the very least, those faculty members who incited violence to enforce “safe spaces” on public property should cease drawing a state-funded paycheck. The larger problem goes far beyond Mizzou and Yale, as I wrote in May.
The demise of free speech as a cultural value has accelerated on college campuses, because the elites in Academia and the media are uninterested in preserving the values of individual liberty and want to control the culture rather than inform and educate it. Now that the media has become a victim of the proto-fascists, one might hope that they would understand the existential risk to their own standing. But their lack of curiosity about the origins of the supposed incidents on both campuses prior to reporting them bodes very ill for the prospects of an awakening to the threat to liberty.
At least welders build rather than demolish, and join rather than divide. As Rubio says, we need more welders, and far fewer of the kind of philosophers Academia produces now.
Editor’s Note: For readers interested in this issue, I urge you to read two very powerful articles. They describe in detail how micro-aggression and trigger warnings—two phrases that are common on American campuses—can lead to hypersensitive reactions. From The Atlantic, The Coddling of the American Mind; from VOX, I’m a Liberal Professor and My Liberal Students Terrify Me; and from Minding the Campus, Voices of the Yale/Mizzou Eruptions.