In 1999, the Evergreen State College of Washington featured convicted cop-killer and Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal as its commencement speaker via a recording. Abu-Jamal was on death row and could not attend, yet the college eagerly gave him a platform to speak. Eighteen years later, Evergreen State refuses to protect the physical safety and free-speech rights of its own professors from the threats and aggression of student protesters with a sadly familiar illiberal bent.
In a shakeup of Evergreen’s traditional Day of Absence — a day when black students leave campus to evoke the spirit of the Douglas Turner Ward play — student activists this year requested that all the campus’s white members leave instead. Bret Weinstein, an evolutionary-biology professor and Bernie Sanders–supporting progressive, sent an e-mail to his fellow professors taking issue with the change-up on the grounds that while it made sense for students of color to willfully leave campus to “highlight their vital and underappreciated roles,” forcing every white member of campus to leave would be “an act of oppression in and of itself.”
Within days, vitriolic student mobs took over Weinstein’s classroom, screaming at him, calling him a racist, and demanding his resignation. When videos of the mobs made it to YouTube, the protesters demanded that the videos be taken down. Rather than ignoring the disruption and demands of students — including “the immediate disarming of police services” and “mandatory sensitivity and cultural competency training for faculty, staff, administrators, and student employees” — Evergreen’s president, George Bridges, actively enabled them, excusing protesters from homework, instituting said mandatory sensitivity training for all college employees, creating a new equity center, and launching “an extensive forensic investigation” to “seek criminal charges” against whoever posted the videos to YouTube. While local police chief Stacy Brown told Weinstein to remain off campus as law enforcement could not guarantee his safety, Bridges lauded the protesters’ “passion and courage.”
In short, the threat of violence has suppressed open discourse at Evergreen State, and the administration has assisted the student mob every step of the way.
In a live episode of The Rubin Report yesterday, Weinstein told host Dave Rubin (the gay, liberal former Young Turk from Los Angeles who was accused of “Nazi sympathizing” by Evergreen State students on Twitter) that he did not personally blame Bridges for the mob fury, and that while the protesters have plunged Evergreen State into a crisis, the school itself is composed of “learning communities that really function.”
Weinstein is wrong that Evergreen State is worth saving. Public funding constitutes 46 percent of Evergreen’s annual revenue — $55.2 million from state appropriations and $32.3 million in state and federal grants. A public college that cannot defend the First Amendment or even the basic safety of its professors doesn’t deserve a cent of the taxpayers’ money.
A public college that cannot defend the First Amendment or even the basic safety of its professors doesn’t deserve a cent of the taxpayers’ money.
Campus Reform reports today that Washington State legislators have finally reached the same conclusion. Lawmakers led by Republican representative Matt Manweller have introduced a bill to revoke $24 million in annual funding from the school immediately.
“These students and their administration are trying to undo the Civil Rights Movement,” Manweller told Campus Reform. “They are trying to re-institute a Jim Crow approach to education that Americans rejected over 50 years ago.”
If passed, the bill — which will be accompanied by a formal request to the state Human Rights Commission to investigate Evergreen’s civil-rights infractions — would send a strong message to the increasingly violent anti-free-speech protesters who have recently shut down speaking events at public universities such as UC Berkeley and Cal State LA.
Washington’s Democratic governor, Jay Inslee, just won reelection and would almost certainly veto any bill defunding Evergreen if it reached his desk. But with the razor-thin Republican majority in the state legislature currently imperiled by a looming special election, Washington still has an immediate window of opportunity to show other states how to defend the public’s constitutional rights to free assembly and discourse.
While the government cannot — and should not — crack down on the actions of private universities, it has a legal and moral duty to uphold the Constitution in public spaces. Washington’s legislature ought to defund Evergreen State and bring the country one step closer to breaking the student mob’s chokehold on the American college campus.