Briefly, this is the deal: Last year, a student at Brown University, Chris Robotham, set up a secret Facebook group with one purpose: to allow students to talk about possibly controversial issues. They had to go below ground, because free discussion was impossible above ground.
That’s how bad an atmosphere of intimidation and censorship had become.
I would like to add some notes, here on the Corner.
1) Not by design but by coincidence, I have done two pieces recently on higher education: one called “What Are Your Pronouns?” and the new one on Brown. (The former piece is about linguistic screwiness on campus: If you see a guy, you’re not supposed to assume that the pronouns that apply to him are “he,” “him,” and “his.”)
I have lived in a conservative ghetto, so to speak, for a very long time. I’ve worked at two conservative magazines for the last 20 years. (Ah, blessed freedom.) I consume the right-wing media, in steady gulps.
Sometimes, when I read or hear something, I think, “Is that just hype? Right-wing hype? Or is it real and important?” Take all the horror stories from campuses: Are they just isolated incidents, the expressions of a fringe, or do they stand for something pervasive?
I have no doubt: They stand for something pervasive.
From time immemorial, we have laughed at such places as Oberlin, Bennington, and Reed: They are playgrounds of the kooky Left. But the University of Missouri? Mizzou?
It seems that the country’s universities are ruled by an army of Professor Clicks.
2) Lately, some young people have asked me, “Was it as bad when you were a student?” I have responded, “No, I don’t think so.” But maybe I remember too hazily.
In 2002, I gave a speech called “The Conservative on Campus.” It was in honor of the 20th anniversary of the Harvard Salient, the conservative paper at that school. Here is a paragraph:
People weary, I guess, of conservatives’ war stories from campus. I guess we sometimes look whiny and self-pitying. I certainly don’t want to be whiny and self-pitying — we should leave “victimhood” to others. But I do want to be realistic, and I tell you that there was a whiff of violence in the air, on that campus of mine. There really was. Of course, you have to be careful whom you talk to this way, because you could be marked off as an exaggerator or paranoid or worse. But, again, I remember, I was there. You got the clear sense that, if you weren’t careful in what you said or did, things could turn out very badly for you.
3) I have a young colleague who graduated from Brown University — Brown itself! — in 2010. That was two seconds ago. I asked him, “Did you have to keep your mouth shut?” He said, “No, not at all.” One could talk freely and openly.
I have another young colleague who graduated from Yale even more recently. One second ago! Yale has been the site, in the last several weeks, of crazy assaults on free speech. I said to my colleague, “Was it this way when you were there?” “No,” he said, “not at all. This is new.”
4) At Brown, Chris Robotham has a goal for his secret group: to shut it down. He hopes there will come a time, and soon, when it’s not necessary to be underground. You’ll be able to talk freely — without fear of ostracism or other penalties — above ground.
Recently, I was privileged to moderate a discussion between Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter. (A public discussion, I mean! I was not in the kitchen of this long-married couple or anything.) Introducing Midge, I noted that she shut down her Committee for the Free World — after the Berlin Wall fell down.
Organizations go on forever, on whatever pretense. Rarely do they say “Mission Accomplished” and dissolve. (Think of the NAACP.) Midge’s did. Though, of course, there is always a need for a committee for the Free World.
5) I have a little good news, ’mid the gloom: pushback. Political correctness on campus — dogma, indoctrination, bullying — is being mocked. This will lead you to Neel Kolhatkar’s stunning video. (Kolhatkar is an Australian comedian.) And here is a South Park parody.
As long as there’s parody — as long as there’s ridicule — we may be okay. That’s a very strange sentence to write, but I trust you know what I mean.