NAS president Peter Wood has written an excellent essay, “Campus Tolerance for Violence” on Minding the Campus. He surveys many recent instances where faculty members and grad students have voiced their support for violence in response to various real and perceived injustices. Rarely does anyone argue back that acts of violence, especially random acts like the murder of the two NYC police officers, can’t accomplish anything good, that victimizing other people won’t redress any wrongs or convince anybody that things should change.
“How does it happen that American higher education provides cosseted professional careers for so many who disdain the basic conditions of free inquiry on which colleges and universities depend?” he asks. “Why does the academic world so often turn a blind eye to advocates of unlawful violence?”
I strongly recommend Wood’s essay for his answer.
Here, I think, is part of it. Increasingly, American education teaches students (starting early on) that it’s their feelings that count. If they feel strongly about something, they’re entitled to act on them. Reason and analysis aren’t important; if anything, they’re meant to deny people the militancy they need. If someone disagrees with you, students learn from their teachers, rational argumentation is not the appropriate response, but that anger and denunciation for having unquestionably evil motives is.
From there, it’s a short step to armchair calls for violence in the service of some great cause. Remember that Professor Steven Salaita, he of the vicious tweets regarding the conflict in Gaza, said that civility is a “racist” concept. To whatever extent students follow their professors as role models, they’re learning some extremely bad lessons.