To Defeat Campus Craziness Don’t Just Treat Symptoms, Cure the Disease

(Photo: Kasto80/Dreamstime)
Don’t turn radical professors into First Amendment martyrs; demand the reform that really matters.

Let’s take a bicoastal tour of one week in campus insanity. Out west, Berkeley had to spend approximately $600,000 to guarantee the safety of a campus speaker, my friend Ben Shapiro. Local “anti-fascists” had targeted as a “white supremacist” a Never Trump writer and an Orthodox Jew who received more anti-Semitic hate from Trump-supporting Twitter accounts than any journalist in America. Thanks to the security lockdown, the event was peaceful, but genius students did chant this bit of idiocy:

All of this insanity is the natural and inevitable outgrowth of a process that’s been ideologically biased for decades. Conservatives can play unconstitutional whack-a-mole all they want with outrageous professors, but taking scalps will do nothing to cure the underlying problem. Far from it. By sometimes demanding that schools violate the First Amendment rights of their radical professors, they create First Amendment martyrs and reaffirm the view that the academy is the heart of the #Resistance.

Consider a recent controversy. Harvard University’s history program attempted to offer a doctoral admission to Michelle Jones, a woman who beat her four-year-old son, left him alone “for days,” then came home and found him dead — an act of unspeakable cruelty. She allegedly reformed herself in prison, earned two degrees, and conducted research critical of Catholic institutions that housed alleged prostitutes. Now? She’s a near-miss at Harvard (university leaders ultimately rejected her over “concerns that she played down her crime in the application process”), the subject of fawning media profiles, and a new Ph.D. student at New York University.

Let’s imagine that Ms. Jones was a white child-killer who dedicated her life to Christ, earned degrees in prison, and then conducted research on, say, the lower percentage of single-parent Catholic-school graduates in prison compared with single-parent public-school graduates. Is there the same interest? Is the nation’s best university engulfed in a bitter dispute over whether she deserves admission to the prestigious Ph.D. program?

Let’s accept, for the sake of argument, that Ms. Jones’s work is so formidable and her redemption so complete that she deserves admission to the best schools. The problem, however, is that those who know college admissions also know that you simply cannot trust the process. The temptation toward radicalism is just too strong.

To be blunt, there will be no lasting academic reform without reform to the hiring and admissions process. Yes, you can protect the free-speech and due-process rights of students through lawmaking and litigation (and that’s valuable), but the academy will continue to be broken so long as the gatekeepers keep breaking it. The bias starts from the beginning. It’s time to diversify hiring and admissions committees. It’s time to end ideological bias at the front end. Any other solution is a band-aid on academic wound that will never heal.


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David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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