News this morning is that Princeton University is going to “consider” student demands that Woodrow Wilson’s name be removed from the campus. The New York Times reports:
The document held administrators to a series of spoken statements they had “verbalized” during the sit-in and committed them to write emails “to initiate the process to consider removal” of a mural of Wilson from a cafeteria in a residential college named after him. Administrators also said they would “collect information on the campus community’s opinion” on whether the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, a prestigious public policy school, should continue to bear his name.
Let’s see whether Princeton crumples shamefully over this. I suspect Princeton’s administration, like pusillanimous college leadership just about everywhere, is playing for time, hoping that the campus craziness dissipates or loses momentum as final exams approach over the next few weeks and everyone goes home for the Christmas holidays. But there are reasons to think college administrators have miscalculated.
In one sense the current campus craziness is a revival of the Occupy Wall Street movement from a few years ago. Occupy Wall Street gradually dissipated because it suffered a classic case of Gertrude Stein’s Oakland problem: there was no there there. Occupy Wall Street was merely an expression of rage, chiefly from losers and leftist poseurs, against success and inequality, without any discrimination as to the source or nature of inequality. Occupy was unsustainable precisely because of its substantive superficiality and sheer emotivism. I wandered into a couple of Occupy “teach-ins” when there was an Occupy encampment at McPherson Square in Washington, and noted the utter vacuousness of the discourse. It could have been a Monty Python skit.
The campus left and their faculty sympathizers are much the same (and likely are some of the exact same people as the Occupiers). The rage against inequality and “privilege” is vaguely defined, and is informed by no serious account of justice or concrete reforms. What do the campus protesters want? Politically-incorrect names (like Woodrow Wilson!) eliminated; more deans and chancellors for diversity and inclusion; more campus centers and safe spaces (increasingly race segregated—separate but equal is back!). Mandatory “sensitivity training” sessions for everyone. (Gee—that won’t spawn any kind of backlash or contempt.) And this changes the world how?
This agenda is lame even as a cloak for the acquisition of power, which is one reason college presidents give in so easily. What’s one more dean of diversity when you can just tack it in to the tuition bill? Now, if the protesting students demanded free tuition for all “oppressed persons,” that would be different! Here and there some student mobs are demanding just that, but note that no university has given in to that one yet. Where’s “No free tuition, no peace!”
Occupy Wall Street dissipated ultimately because it had no institutional infrastructure to sustain it, in addition to having no serious ideas. But every expansion of the college infrastructure of political correctness ensures not only the perpetuation of politically correctness, but that there will be sequels in the future. Jonathan Haidt warns in an interview this week:
It’s going to get much, much worse over the next couple years and at that point some universities may start changing policies. By that point, many or maybe most American parents won’t want to send their children to the top universities, and there will be an enormous market opportunity for second-level universities that offer a much less coddled campus culture.
The only way to stop this from getting worse is for some college administrators to grow a spine, and tell protestors that if they aren’t “comfortable” at Yale or Princeton, they’re free to attend college elsewhere. Faculty who don’t like it are free to take jobs at other universities too.
And speaking of one such university that does not coddle the stupid grievance culture, kudos to Ashland University, home of the great Ashbrook Center, where the student government voted unanimously for a resolution condemning the student protestors at Missouri, Yale and elsewhere:
Be it further resolved that the students of Ashland University denounce the actions of students at Yale University, The University of Missouri, Ithaca College, Claremont McKenna College, Dartmouth College and any other institution, who are fighting against free speech and open debate, and;
Be it further resolved, that the students of Ashland University denounce those in the faculty and administration of these schools who have failed to stand against these students and who have failed to stand up for University education guided by free inquiry and reason.
P.S. Just what is the job description to be a college president these days anyway? “Must be willing to accept a large salary and suck up to alumni. Advanced degree preferred. Gutless wimpery required.”