Education

On College Campuses, Where Are the Adults?

Student protesters disrupt a speech by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos at Harvard University, September 28, 2017. (Mary Schwalm/Reuters)
Kids act like babies, and teachers ignore the mess — or add to it.

Last week, political scientist and author Charles Murray spoke at a dinner in Manhattan about the death, as he calledit, of the American Dream. The “Disinvitation Dinner,” is given annually by Lauren Noble’s William F. Buckley Jr. Program to honor a speaker who has been kicked off a college campus for espousing unpopular views.

Murray wished to warn his audience that our unelected bureaucracy, invested with law-making power by a lazy legislature, is threatening Americans’ natural tendency to take care of themselves and their neighbors. These views may not be terribly contentious, but it doesn’t take a lot to upset a college student these days.

And Murray has upset students tremendously: In 1994, he and Harvard psychologist Richard Herrnstein wrote The Bell Curve. The book suggested that, based on available data, one cannot entirely rule out the possibility that some aspects of intelligence are hereditary. Hence, college students believe, Murray is a racist fascist bigot so dangerous that even seeing a photograph of him may cause mental damage.

What is particularly shocking is that students can be so delicate and so violent at the same time, like oversized toddlers who careen around a room smashing into everything.

This is no joke — one year after student protests ended Murray’s visit to Middlebury College, the editor of the student newspaper had to apologize for printing a photograph of Murray, saying, “I recognize that [the picture] may be especially jarring, particularly for students of color who feel that Charles Murray’s rhetoric poses a threat to their very humanity.” In other words, don’t even look at Murray or your igloos will melt.

What is particularly shocking is that students can be so delicate and so violent at the same time, like oversized toddlers who careen around a room smashing into everything. The protests at Middlebury were no peaceful sit-in: Students screamed at Murray, pulled fire alarms, jumped on the hood of his car as he tried to leave, and sent his faculty interviewer to the hospital with a twisted neck and a concussion.

The responsible students were not arrested or expelled or even suspended. Some were disciplined internally. The professors are afraid of their students, and with good reason: If it all comes down to shouting and punching, 20-year-olds have the edge.

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that Reed College, of Portland, Ore., is rewriting its core humanities course to take the focus away from the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman and give half the course over to studying Mexico City and Harlem. According to the students, the original course was “oppressive” and “Caucasoid.” It is not clear that any of the students know where the Caucasus is, but presumably it is the birthplace of Whitey. Echoing the Middlebury protests, students shouted and grabbed microphones and threatened professors with violence. So naturally Reed told the students that they were right and that Reed is very, very sorry.

The students will now be satisfied, they say, once some additional “white” texts are cut “as reparations” for the past damage inflicted by teaching them.

College students have always been self-righteous, ignorant, and arrogant. But universities were traditionally run by adults with the purpose of turning boys and girls into men and women.

A recent Gallup-Knight survey reported that 53 percent of college students think that “diversity and inclusion” are more important than free speech, and more than a third of students believe they ought to shout down a speaker with whom they disagree. A mere one in ten favor violence when shouting doesn’t work.

This is hardly surprising — college students have always been self-righteous, ignorant, and arrogant. But universities were traditionally run by adults with the purpose of turning boys and girls into men and women.

Now the adults have surrendered their authority. Professors ask students to call them by their first names. They apologize for being racist all the time: See the shocking videos of Yale professor Nicholas Christakis confronting a gaggle of indignant students — indignant because the professor’s wife, also a professor, suggested that one might dress up on Halloween without fear of “cultural appropriation.”

The obliging, genteel, overwhelmed professor is confronted by a tall student who steps out of the crowd, goes nose-to-nose, and demands, “Look me in the eye.” One wishes that the professor had promptly told the student he’d be expelled and then called campus security. Instead, Christakis humbles himself and pleads for a reasoned conversation. As a reward for his efforts, he was subsequently forced to resign, along with his wife.

But blaming the students for the situation is the wrong answer: This is the fault of the universities. It is up to adults to act like adults, to enforce standards of behavior and respect and discipline. The faculty is there to teach and build character, not to be the students’ chums or playground companions.

Today’s professors might remember how their own teachers carried themselves: They wore jacket and tie, and they failed students who didn’t learn the material. And, just as a good parent always supports the other parent’s decisions, the faculty reflexively supported its professors when the students behaved like children. Today’s universities can learn this lesson quickly or simply cease to exist — in their desire to be relevant, they will have dissolved the distinction between teacher and student, and the $200,000 liberal-arts degree will dissolve with it.

NOW WATCH: ‘Free Speech On Campus: Can It Be Saved?’

Daniel Gelernter — Dan Gelernter is an occasional contributor to National Review and the Weekly Standard and is CEO of the tech startup Dittach.

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