Doubling Down on Swarthmore Madness

by Stanley Kurtz

A week ago, in “Swarthmore Spinning Out of Control,” and “Swarthmore’s President Chopp Replies to My Queries,” I reported on an egregious case of campus political correctness at Swarthmore College. Since then, the story has taken off. Danielle Charette, the conservative student “clapped down” by radical protesters who took over a Board of Managers meeting, published her own version of events in the Wall Street Journal. Thomas Sowell has a piece on Swarthmore today at NRO, and there’s a story today here as well. Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars and co-author of the Bowdoin Report, weighed in yesterday.

Now, a story by Joy Resmovits at the Huffington Post on the Swarthmore fiasco breaks new ground. Although it may not be surprising, it’s fascinating to see key figures in this incident, contacted by Resmovits, doubling down on their behavior, notorious though it may now be.

Kate Aronoff, the fossil-fuel-divestment activist who wrote, “F*** your constructive dialogue,” openly rejecting the principle of tolerance, and indeed the “liberal project” itself, seems not to have changed her mind. “This idea that we have the luxury to sit back and have long, drawn-out conversations is false to me,” she told Resmovits when asked about the meeting takeover.

Rebecca Chopp, Swarthmore’s president, whom I criticized for inaction at the takeover and afterwards, continues to treat what happened as “robust civic discourse,” rather than intimidation. Although radical students seized control of a public meeting from Swarthmore’s Board of Managers and clapped down conservatives, Chopp tells Resmovits, “The board has a firm policy of not trying to shout down students. So long as it’s fairly orderly — and this one was fairly orderly . . .”

So Chopp now defines preventing radicals from silencing conservatives as refusing to “shout students down.” That is an Orwellian reversal. Openly intolerant students who silence others are themselves granted total deference. Chopp’s public abdication of responsibility, even after having had time to consider the matter, means that campus radicals have nothing fear next year. Conservatives at Swarthmore, on the other hand, have been all but officially abandoned.

Resmovits also contacted Bill McKibben, the leader of the national fossil-fuel-divestment movement. On the day Swarthmore student activists took over the Board meeting, McKibben cheered them on. Have details of the incident made him think twice about his followers’ tactics? Apparently not. “I think they’re doing a great job,” McKibben told Resmovits, when asked about the behavior of divestment activists at the Swarthmore protest.

Finally, Resmovits checked in with Hannah Borowsky, one of Harvard’s divestment activists. (I covered Harvard’s fossil-fuel divestment campaign here.) Borowsky gently hints that Swarthmore-style takeover tactics may be coming to Harvard next year.

So let it be recorded that the fossil-fuel-divestment movement, from Bill McKibben on down to the campus grassroots, has embraced and endorsed the conduct of its activists at the Swarthmore board-meeting takeover. That amounts to a great big “F*** your constructive dialogue” to divestment opponents, moderates, and liberals throughout the academy. Implicitly, and in Aronoff’s case, explicitly, this is a rejection of the foundational principles of liberal education itself. If administrators out there are anything like Swarthmore’s president Rebecca Chopp, the “liberal” in liberal education may not have much of a future anyway.

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