The events of the past year on campuses have been beyond disturbing.
We are witnessing nothing less than a cultural purge of dissenting views on a wide range of topics in the name of social justice. No disagreement is tolerated, not even the slightest deviation. That purge has been going on for many years, but seems to have intensified and is turning on speakers, professors and fellow students.
Yale is a particularly vivid example.
A faculty couple were harassed and confronted in threatening tones when one of them (the wife) dared raise the question of whether students were overreacting to Halloween costumes, Yale SJW Student to Professor: “I want your job to be taken from you.”
“Do not interrupt me. I was not angry and now I want your job to be taken from you. I don’t want you to have this job. I am disgusted knowing that you work at Yale University, where I will get my degree…
Sir, you do not want to play this game with me, OK? Understand that. Look me in my face first of all, and understand that you are such a disappointment to this university…
You want free speech? Here’s how it works. Someone speaks, you listen.”
The purge at Yale also includes smashing allegedly politically-incorrect historical stained-glass windows, a frenzy to rename buildings, and the demand to drop white poets from literature classes, in an attempt to erase rather than confront history. What is happening at Yale is happening at many campuses.
At Harvard Law School there was a successful removal of sheaths of wheat from the Harvard Law shield not because the symbol itself was racist, but because it reflected the crest of the slave-owning Royall family. My former classmate and now Harvard Law Professor Annette Gordon-Reed wrote in opposition:
I write to express a different view about whether the Law School should change its shield, mindful of the heartfelt sentiments expressed on the other side and cognizant that mine is the minority view…. Maintaining the current shield, and tying it to a historically sound interpretive narrative about it, would be the most honest and forthright way to insure that the true story of our origins, and connection to the people whom we should see as our progenitors (the enslaved people at Royall’s plantations, not Isaac Royall), is not lost.
The intellectually intolerant atmosphere on campuses is compounded by physical shout-downs and shut-downs of unpopular speakers. At Middlebury, a Student Mob Attacked a Speaker and Sent Professor Hospital. Listen to the robotic chanting of the students. They are beyond reason and beyond dialogue.
The synchronized chanting to shut down speech on campus is becoming all too common, such as happened to Heather Mac Donald at Claremont McKenna College recently:
We’ve noted how even Cornell University, not known as a hotbed of radicalism compared to other universities, has become hostile to conservative speakers, as I wrote in For conservatives at Cornell University, high price for free speech.
The purge isn’t just shout-downs and shut-downs. It’s a demand that professors and other students not deviate one iota from the prevailing campus views, lest they be publicly shamed as racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, transphobic, and so on. Those labels can be devastating to careers, and fear of being labeled even when not warranted is enough to shut up most people on campus.
In a recent incident, a politically conservative distinguished Cornell faculty member and chemist, David Collum, received that form of this purge treatment when he opposed grad student unionization, and was on the receiving end of a smear campaign culminating in a vicious letter to the editor of the student newspaper. I wrote in opposition, Letter to the Editor: Prof. David Collum, Chemistry, is owed an apology and a retraction:
On April 20, 2017, The Cornell Daily Sun published a lengthy letter to the editor from seven graduate students: Kevin Hines, Robert Escriva, Ethan Susca, Mel White, Rose Agger, Kolbeinn Karlsson and Jane Glaubman.
The letter impugned the integrity of Cornell world-renowned Prof. David B. Collum, chemistry in the most serious ways, accusing him of being a rape apologist, misogynistic and unfit for the position of department chair. Several of the letter writers were graduate student union supporters active in the union vote drive. Prof. Collum has been widely criticized by union supporters for opposing the union drive. The letter appears to be payback.
In publishing that letter, The Sun gave a platform to a smear campaign against Prof. Collum in a manner that did not allow Prof. Collum to respond or provide for a verification of the context of the supposed evidence. I have researched several of the key tweets and quotes attributed to Prof. Collum in the letter, and it is clear that the way in which they are presented in the letter is misleading at best, and, in some cases, presents a false portrayal.
How many professors on campus would have dared defend a colleague falsely accused of being a “rape apologist” for fear that that or some other label would have been used against them?
I’ve thought about Yale, and Berkeley, and Middlebury, and Cornell, and Claremont McKenna, and other schools a lot recently because of the Collum attack and the ease with which some students were willing to try to destroy a man’s reputation to shut him up.
Historical analogies always are imperfect, particularly when comparing present events to bloody events of the past. We try not to go Godwin here.
But the analogy I’ve been thinking of and mentioning to people lately is the Maoist Cultural Revolution. When a commenter mentioned it in response to my post about the attack on David Collum, I decided to write about it:
The tactics on campus have not reached the violence of the Cultural Revolution, but the attacks on speakers, professors and students deemed ideologically unacceptable, and the destruction of politically incorrect history, are eerily similar.
NPR reports how the Cultural Revolution started in the schools, students were the most vicious enforcers, and professors were the targets, Chinese Red Guards Apologize, Reopening A Dark Chapter (emphasis added):
The early phases of the Cultural Revolution were centered on China’s schools. In the summer of 1966, the Communist Party leadership proclaimed that some of China’s educators were members of the exploiting classes, who were poisoning students with their capitalist ideology. Indeed, the educated classes in general were marked as targets of the revolution.
The leadership gave Communist youth known as Red Guards the green light to remove educators from their jobs and punish them….
One of the highest-profile apologies comes from Chen Xiaolu, a Red Guard leader at Beijing’s elite No. 8 high school. He is also the son of Chen Yi, a leading Communist revolutionary and former foreign minister, and that allows him some latitude to speak out.
“On August 19, I organized a meeting to criticize the leaders of the Beijing education system,” Chen, now 67, recalls. “A rather serious armed struggle broke out. At the end, some students rushed onstage and used leather belts to whip some of the education officials, including the party secretary of my school.”
Chen says he was against the violence, but the situation spiraled out of his control….
Students beating up their teachers was a shocking reversal in the Confucian society, where educators were once held in the highest esteem…. “Teachers were made to stand onstage, bow their heads and confess their crimes,” he says.
The Guardian reports how a critical part of the Cultural Revolution was the removal of names and signs of the past:
Chinese students sprung into action, setting up Red Guard divisions in classrooms and campuses across the country. By August 1966 – so-called Red August – the mayhem was in full swing as Mao’s allies urged Red Guards to destroy the “four olds” – old ideas, old customs, old habits and old culture.
Schools and universities were closed and churches, shrines, libraries, shops and private homes ransacked or destroyed as the assault on “feudal” traditions began.
Gangs of teenagers in red armbands and military fatigues roamed the streets of cities such as Beijing and Shanghai setting upon those with “bourgeois” clothes or reactionary haircuts. “Imperialist” street signs were torn down.
Party officials, teachers and intellectuals also found themselves in the cross-hairs: they were publicly humiliated, beaten and in some cases murdered or driven to suicide after vicious “struggle sessions”.
I don’t fear the cultural revolution on American campuses turning as bloody as in mid-1960s China, though I do think we have violence ahead. The new Cultural Revolution on campuses doesn’t have to turn violent in order to accomplish its goals.
Any professor or student who speaks against the crowd — be it about Halloween costumes or grad student unionization — is at risk. People get the message. They shut up.
Update: I had not seen this at the time I wrote the post, but it’s well worth the read, It’s not just controversial speakers who are silenced by threats. Students like me are, too. It reflects just about everything I wrote about above.
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