When the new president of Amherst College invited Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to visit and to speak on campus, he unleashed a familiar chain of events. In a remarkable column, Amherst Professor Hadley Arkes tells the story with a twist worthy of O. Henry. Despite the story’s happy ending, Arkes nevertheless intimates that the president overestimated the civility of the college’s faculty as well as the intelligence of the college’s students, and vice versa: “Mau-mauing Scalia: A report from darkest Amherst.”
Arkes is not humored by the story’s happy ending. His portrait of the instruments of conformity on campus is chilling. And his conclusion renders a devastating judgment that appears amply warranted by the facts:
The news from Amherst has been bouncing around the internet, and by and large, the administration and many of the alumni are pleased: A Scalia was invited; the visit stirred arguments and conversations on the campus; and many students, to their surprise, found something appealing and instructive in a conservative jurist. But in the reactions it triggered, the visit also brought out everything that is unlovely in the colleges of our day. Most of the students were sensible, but many were credulous, and a distressing number, joined by their teachers, managed to debase themselves. The curtain was lifted just a bit, and even the good of the occasion cannot efface what was revealed that day. Shown, in a lingering flash, was something hateful and vicious in the souls of some people who style themselves professors, and take, as their vocation, the shaping of younger souls.