By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
The campus leftists are feeling their oats these days. They appear to have been emboldened by how easy it has been to get campus administrators to appease them on the issue of commencement speakers. They are taking the proverbial “yard.” One is tempted to speculate that they have gone too far, becoming so irrational in their demands that the people who matter in educational circles — alumni with money — will step in and put an end to their petulance. We’ll see.
If the reaction at The New York Daily News (a quite liberal publication these days, under publisher Mort Zuckerman) on Sunday, May 18 means anything, a consensus may be building that it is time for the grownups to put the student and faculty radicals in their place.
In an editorial entitled “Smug and speechless: Campus correctness stifles free exchange,” the editors at the News reacted to the decision of Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, in response to threats of student protests, to rescind her commitment to speak at this year’s graduation at Smith College:
“Riding the high horse of imagined moral superiority, the students and faculty of leading universities are driving away voices that fail to meet their standards of political correctness. This closing of the American mind is an embarrassment to institutions based on the free expression of ideas.”
Who protested Lagarde’s appearance? Hundreds of students, faculty, and alumni of the all-female school, who, according to the News, “signed an online petition that lambasted the IMF as a force ‘strengthening of imperialist and patriarchal systems that oppress and abuse women worldwide.’ Think about that. Lagarde, one of the world’s most powerful and accomplished women, is not welcome on a campus whose ethos centers on the empowerment of women, all because Smith’s political arbiters disagree with IMF policies aimed at eradicating poverty through investment in the world’s poorest nations.”
The News went on to observe that Lagarde’s decision to back out of her speech comes “on the heels of a vote by Rutgers University faculty to condemn the selection of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a speaker. Rice rightly bowed out. Just last week, former University of California at Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau pulled out of Haverford College’s commencement after petitioning students demanded an apology for his handling of an Occupy Wall Street protest.” The News recommends that the “grand prize for intolerance” go to “Brandeis University, which invited the Islam-criticizing activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali to receive an honorary degree — and then just as quickly revoked the offer,” after being pressured by Muslim groups.
The News draws the appropriate conclusion: “Don’t blame just the students and faculty, whipped into a frenzy with the ease of a click to create a change.org petition. Equally responsible are university officials who stampede away from perceived risks and refuse to do their jobs as the adults on campus. Too many institutions of higher learning are so cravenly in thrall to tuition-paying customers that they are squandering their legitimacy as centers of free and independent thought.”
Perhaps the academic liberal establishment will take the appropriate lesson from what is going on. They were willing to look the other way when campus leftists protested and physically assaulted right-to-life representatives and conservatives such as Ann Coulter and Patrick Buchanan when they were invited to speak on campus. Now that mainstream liberals such as Lagarde and Chancellor Birgeneau are the ones being denied the right to speak, the implications of the ascendancy of modern political correctness are becoming clear to those in charge at our universities. They are seeing the Frankenstein monster they created as it threatens to smash their comfortable little worlds.
On another topic: Thomas Sowell vs. Attorney General Holder. Because Sowell and Holder are both black, Sowell is able to confront Holder’s policies in the direct way that white commentators shy away from, for fear of being accused of racism. The policy in question is Holder’s threat to take legal action against schools where minority students are disciplined more often than white students.
I have no way to conduct a poll to corroborate my theory, but I would be willing to bet that large majorities of non-blacks, when they heard of Holder’s intentions, said something to themselves they would never say in public, or perhaps only to their closest confidantes: “What’s wrong with black students being disciplined more than whites? Maybe they misbehave more often.”
The people who say this to themselves may be racists. That’s not impossible. But my conviction is that most of them are simply saying that there are large numbers of black students, because of family and neighborhood circumstances, who are in need of discipline in school. There is no reason to assume that school discipline is meant to oppress the one being disciplined. Its purpose is to help students correct their faults, so that they and their classmates can take advantage of the educational opportunities being offered by the school system.
Sowell says precisely that, in the thoughtful and rational manner we have come to expect from him: “Relying on racial statistics tells you nothing, unless you believe that black male students cannot possibly be more disruptive than Asian female students, or that students in crime-ridden neighborhoods cannot possibly require disciplinary actions more often than children in the most staid, middle-class neighborhoods.”
Sowell observes that “one of the biggest obstacles to educating children in many ghetto schools are disruptive students whose antics, threats, and violence can make education virtually impossible. If only 10 percent of the students are this way, that sacrifices the education of the other 90 percent.”
Disciplining those disruptive minority children is not racist; it is an action directed toward their best interests and the best interests of the majority of the black children in those classrooms.
Sowell is convinced that Attorney General Holder knows this. Why then, asks Sowell, does he pursue this “numbers game”? Sowell’s answer? “The most obvious answer is politics. Anything that promotes a sense of grievance from charges of racial discrimination offers hope of energizing the black vote to turn out to vote for Democrats, which is especially needed when support from other voters is weakening in the wake of Obama administration scandals and fiascos.”
Then the knockout punch: “To sacrifice the education of children, especially children for whom education may be their only ticket out of poverty, is truly a new low. As someone once said to Sen. Joe McCarthy, ‘Have you no sense of decency, sir?’”
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