Our Politically Correct Campuses Are Beyond Satire
By George F. Will
thanks this [Thanksgiving] day for some indirect blessings of liberty,
including the behavior-beyond-satire of what are generously called institutions
of higher education. People who are imprecisely called educators have taught,
by their negative examples, what intelligence is not . Melissa Click is the University of Missouri academic who
shouted “I need some muscle over here” to prevent a photojournalist from
informing the public about a public demonstration intended to influence the
. Click’s academic credentials include a doctoral dissertation
titled “It’s a ‘Good Thing’: The Commodification of Femininity, Affluence and
Whiteness in the Martha Stewart Phenomenon.” Her curriculum vitae says she
studied “advanced feminist studies.” Advanced. The best kind.
A grammatically challenged Ithaca College professor produced
this cri de coeur on the school’s president: . “There have been a litany of
episodes and incidents during (his) tenure here which have led to frustration
because, when brought to his attention, the view of the protesters is that he
has been unresponsive.” Symptomatic of Ithaca’s intellectual flavor is another
professor who says agriculture is “capitalist, racialized patriarchy.”
. The University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, an irony-free
campus, declared “politically correct” a microaggression. The master of Yale’s
Pierson College said his regrettable title reminds distressed students of
Wesleyan’s student government threatened to cut school
newspaper funding for publishing a column critical of campus leftists. . Wesleyan
created a “safe space,” aka a house, for LGBTTQQFAGPBDSM students (Lesbian,
Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Flexual, Asexual,
Genderf---, Polyamorous, Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/Submission, Sadism/Masochism). A Washington State University professor said she’d lower the
grade of any student using the term “illegal immigrants.” Another warned that
white students who want “to do well” in his “Introduction to Multicultural
Literature” should show a “grasp of history and social relations” by “deferring
to the experiences of people of color.”
. Still another Washington State teacher, in her syllabus for “Women
& Popular Culture,” warned that students risk “failure for the semester” if
they use “derogatory/oppressive language” such as “referring to women/men as
females or males.”
. The University of Tennessee’s Office of Diversity and
Inclusion, worried that students might be uncomfortable with gender-specific
pronouns (he, she, him, her), suggests gender-neutral noises (ze, hir, xe, xem,
University of California sensitivity auditors stipulated “hostile”
thoughts include “I believe the most qualified person should get the job” and “America
is the land of opportunity.”
. The University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point’s list of racial
micro-aggressions includes “America is a melting pot” and “There is only one
race, the human race.”
Some Johns Hopkins University students proclaimed themselves
micro-aggressed by the possibility of a Chick-fil-A restaurant on campus.
(Chick-fil-A’s CEO defines marriage as Barack Obama did until 2012.)
. Mount Holyoke College canceled its annual production of “The
Vagina Monologues” because it is insufficiently inclusive regarding women
without vaginas and men who, as the saying goes, “self-identify” as women. “Gender,”
said a student, “is a wide and varied experience, one that cannot simply be
reduced to biological or anatomical distinctions,” and the show “is inherently
reductionist and exclusive. . ”
Writing in Berkeley’s paper, two geographically challenged
students objected to a class featuring Plato and Aristotle and other “economically
privileged white males from five imperial countries (England, France, Germany,
Italy and the United States).”
. A branch of UC Irvine’s student government passed a
resolution against the display of flags. Written by a student in the School of
Social Ecology (“transformative research to alleviate social inequality and
human suffering”), the resolution said flags are “weapons for nationalism” and “construct”
dangerous “cultural mythologies and narratives” and “paradigms of conformity”
and “homogenized standards” and interfere with “designing a culturally
. Students on Columbia’s Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board
suggested trigger warnings for those who might be traumatized by reading Ovid’s
“Metamorphoses,” wherein some myths portray bad sexual behavior. But a feminist
blog warned that the phrase “trigger warning” itself needs a warning attached
to it because it might remind people of guns.
. So, give thanks 2015 has raised an important question
about higher education: What, exactly, is it higher than?
The Modern University Is Failing Students in Every Respect
From cost to employment prospects, the state of American higher education is dismal for students.
By Victor Davis Hanson
Modern American universities used to assume four goals. First, their general education core taught students how to reason inductively and imparted an aesthetic sense through acquiring knowledge of Michelangelo, the Battle of Gettysburg, “Medea” and “King Lear,” Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy,” and astronomy and Euclidean geometry.
Second, campuses encouraged edgy speech and raucous expression — and exposure to all sorts of weird ideas and mostly unpopular thoughts. College talk was never envisioned as boring, politically correct megaphones echoing orthodox pieties.
Third, four years of college trained students for productive careers. Implicit was the university’s assurance that its degree was a wise career investment. Finally, universities were not monopolistic price gougers. They sought affordability to allow access to a broad middle class that had neither federal subsidies nor lots of money.
The American undergraduate university is now failing on all four counts. A bachelor’s degree is no longer proof that any graduate can read critically or write effectively. National college-entrance-test scores have generally declined the last few years, and grading standards have as well....
Universities entice potential students with all sorts of easy loan packages, hip orientations, and perks like high-tech recreation centers and upscale dorms. On the backside of graduation, such bait-and-switch attention vanishes when it is time to help departing students find jobs.
College often turns into a six-year experience. The unemployment rate of college graduates is at near-record levels. Universities have either failed to convince employers that English or history majors make ideal job candidates, or they have failed to ensure that such bedrock majors can, in fact, speak, write, and reason well.
The collective debt of college students and graduates is more than $1 trillion. Such loans result from astronomical tuition costs that for decades have spiked more rapidly than the rate of inflation. Today’s campuses have a higher administrator-to-student ratio than ever before. Those who actually teach are now a minority of university employees. Various expensive “centers” address student problems that once were considered either private matters or well beyond the limited resources of the campus.
Is it too late for solutions? For many youths, vocational school is preferable to college. Americans need to appreciate that training to become a master auto mechanic, paramedic, or skilled electrician is as valuable to society as a cultural-anthropology or feminist-studies curriculum.
There are far too many special studies courses and trendy majors — and far too few liberal-arts surveys of literature, history, art, music, math, and science that for centuries were the sole hallowed methods of instilling knowledge....
Colleges need to publicize the employment rates of recent graduates and the percentage of students who complete their degrees so that strapped parents can do cost-benefit analyses like they do with any other major cash investment. A national standardized exit test should be required of all graduates. If colleges predicate admissions in part on performance on the SAT or ACT, they certainly should be assessed on how well — or not so well — students score on similar tests after years of expensive study.
Finally, the federal government should hold universities fiscally accountable. The availability of federal grants should be pegged to a college’s ability to hold annual tuition increases to the rate of inflation. At this late date, only classically liberal solutions can address what have become illiberal problems.
“The moral compass at Western universities is simply broken. The moral north points south and the moral south points north. Thus, the good — most especially America and Israel — are regarded as villains, and the worst are portrayed as victims.
“The situation is the same regarding truth.... Outside of the natural sciences, truth is not pursued at the university — indeed, the existence of objective truth is largely denied. “Truth” (it is likely to be put in quotes) is a function of race, gender, and class. There is, therefore, no truth about Ferguson, only white truth and black truth....
“[I]f you do not share the universities’ values, it could be a big mistake to send your children to college before they are intellectually and morally prepared for the indoctrination-rather-than-education they will receive there. Therefore, prepare them morally and intellectually and, if possible, do not send them to college right after high school. Let them work for a year, or perhaps travel (for example, given the antipathy to Israel on campuses, a trip to Israel would be both morally clarifying and maturing). The younger the student, the less life experience and maturity they have, the more they are likely to embrace the rejection of your values.
“The sad fact is that if you love education, revere the life of the mind, care about the pursuit of truth, think young people need to receive wisdom from their elders, and value moral clarity, the university is the last place you would want to send your 18-year-old.”
From the Nazis to the Stalinists, tyrants have always started out supporting free speech, and why is easy to understand. Speech is vital for the realization of their goals of command, control and confiscation. Basic to their agenda are the tools of indoctrination, propagandizing, proselytization. Once they gain power, as leftists have at many universities, free speech becomes a liability and must be suppressed. This is increasingly the case on university campuses.
Back in 1964, it was Mario Savio, a campus leftist, who led the free speech movement at the Berkeley campus of the University of California, a movement that played a vital role in placing American universities center stage in the flow of political ideas, no matter how controversial, unpatriotic and vulgar.
The free speech movement gave birth to the hippie movement of the '60s and '70s. The longhair, unkempt hippies of that era have grown up and now often find themselves being college professors, deans, provosts and presidents. Their intolerance of free speech and other ideas has become policy and practice on many college campuses.
Daniel Henninger, deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, updates us on the campus attack on free speech and different ideas in his article titled "Obama Unleashes the Left: How the government created a federal hunting license for the far left."
Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, one of the nation's most accomplished women, graciously withdrew as Rutgers University's commencement speaker after two months of campus protests about her role in the Iraq War. Some students and professors said, "War criminals shouldn't be honored." One wonders whether these students would similarly protest Hillary Clinton, who, as senator, voted for the invasion of Iraq.
Brandeis University officials were intimidated into rescinding their invitation to Somali writer and American Enterprise Institute scholar Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whose criticisms of radical Islam were said to have violated the school's "core values." Brandeis decided that allowing her to speak would be hurtful to Muslim students.
I take it that Brandeis students and officials would see criticism of deadly Islamist terrorist gang Boko Haram's kidnapping of nearly 300 Nigerian girls, some of whom have been sold off as brides, as unacceptable and violative of the university's core values. Azusa Pacific University, a private Christian university, canceled a planned address by distinguished libertarian scholar Charles Murray out of fear that his lecture might upset "faculty and students of color."
In response to the cancellation, Murray wrote an open letter to the students, which in part read: "The task of the scholar is to present a case for his or her position based on evidence and logic. Another task of the scholar is to do so in a way that invites everybody into the discussion rather than demonize those who disagree. Try to find anything under my name that is not written in that spirit. Try to find even a paragraph that is written in anger, takes a cheap shot, or attacks women, African Americans, Latinos, Asians or anyone else."
Unfortunately, such a scholarly vision is greeted with hostility at some universities.
Earlier this year, faculty and students held a meeting at Vassar College to discuss a particularly bitter internal battle over the school's movement to boycott Israel. Before the meeting, an English professor announced the dialogue would "not be guided by cardboard notions of civility." That professor might share the vision of Adolf Hitler's brown-shirted thugs of the paramilitary wing of the Nazi party in their effort to crush dissent.
Western values of liberty are under ruthless attack by the academic elite on college campuses across America. These people want to replace personal liberty with government control; they want to replace equality with entitlement. As such, they pose a far greater threat to our way of life than any terrorist organization or rogue nation.
Multiculturalism and diversity are a cancer on our society. Ironically, we not only are timid in response but feed those ideas with our tax dollars and charitable donations.
Undoing the Brainwashing that Students Get in College
By Thomas Sowell
This time of year, as college students return home for the summer, many parents may notice how many politically correct ideas they have acquired on campus. Some of those parents may wonder how they can undo some of the brainwashing that has become so common in what are supposed to be institutions of higher learning.
The strategy used by Gen. Douglas MacArthur so successfully in the Pacific during World War II can be useful in this very different kind of battle. MacArthur won his victories while minimizing his casualties — something that is also desirable in clashes of ideas within the family.
Instead of fighting the Japanese for every island stronghold as the Americans advanced toward Japan, MacArthur sent his troops into battle for only those islands that were strategically crucial. In the same spirit, parents who want to bring their brainwashed offspring back to reality need not try to combat every crazy idea they picked up from their politically correct professors. Just demolishing a few crucial beliefs, and exposing what nonsense they are, can deal a blow to the general credibility of the professorial pied pipers.
For example, if the student has been led to join the crusade for more gun control, and thinks that the reason the British have lower murder rates than Americans have is because the Brits have tighter gun control laws, just give him or her a copy of the book Guns and Violence by Joyce Lee Malcolm. As the facts in that book demolish the gun control propaganda fed to students by their professors, that can create a healthy skepticism about other professorial propaganda.
There are other books that can likewise demolish other politically correct beliefs that prevail on campuses. My own recent book, Intellectuals and Race, has innumerable documented facts that expose the fallacies in most of what is said about racial issues in most college classrooms. For those students who have bought the campus party line on Third World nations, the classic study of that subject is Equality, the Third World, and Economic Delusion by the late P.T. Bauer of the London School of Economics. He made a veritable demolition derby of most of what has been said in politically correct circles about the relationship between rich and poor countries.
For those students who have been conditioned to regard the welfare state as the solution to social problems, there is no book that exposes the actual human consequences of the welfare state more poignantly than Life at the Bottom by British physician Theodore Dalrymple. He has worked in both low-income neighborhoods and in prisons, so he has seen it all.
Although Britain is the setting for Life at the Bottom, Americans will recognize very similar patterns here. Problems found in low-income black ghettoes in the United States are found in low-income white neighborhoods in Britain, where none of the usual excuses about racism, slavery, etc., apply. The only thing that is the same in both countries is the welfare state and its poisonous ideology.
If your student has been led to believe that “comprehensive immigration reform” — amnesty, in plain English — is the only way to go, a devastating book titled Mexifornia by Victor Davis Hanson, introduces some cold, factual reality into a subject usually discussed in sweeping and lofty rhetoric.
A book that offers a choice between the island-hopping strategy that MacArthur used in the Pacific and the all-out assault across a broad front that was used by the Allied armies in Europe is titled The New Leviathan. It has 13 penetrating articles by leading authorities on such subjects as national security, ObamaCare, environmentalism, election frauds and more. Parents who want to follow the MacArthur strategy can recommend reading one, or a few, of these articles, while those who want to follow the strategy of attacking all across a broad front can recommend that their student read the whole book.
However the battle is fought, what is most important is that the battle be fought, since the young are the future, and the propaganda of today can become the government policies of tomorrow.
Many years ago, as a young man, I read a very interesting book about the rise of the Communists to power in China. In the last chapter, the author tried to explain why and how this had happened.
Among the factors he cited were the country’s educators. That struck me as odd, and not very plausible, at the time. But the passing years have made that seem less and less odd, and more and more plausible. Today, I see our own educators playing a similar role in creating a mindset that undermines American society.
Schools were once thought of as places where a society’s knowledge and experience were passed on to the younger generation. But, about a hundred years ago, Professor John Dewey of Columbia University came up with a very different conception of education — one that has spread through American schools of education, and even influenced education in countries overseas.
John Dewey saw the role of the teacher, not as a transmitter of a society’s culture to the young, but as an agent of change — someone strategically placed, with an opportunity to condition students to want a different kind of society.
A century later, we are seeing schools across America indoctrinating students to believe in all sorts of politically correct notions. The history that is taught in too many of our schools is a history that emphasizes everything that has gone bad, or can be made to look bad, in America — and that gives little, if any, attention to the great achievements of this country.
If you think that is an exaggeration, get a copy of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn and read it. As someone who used to read translations of official Communist newspapers in the days of the Soviet Union, I know that those papers’ attempts to degrade the United States did not sink quite as low as Howard Zinn’s book.
That book has sold millions of copies, poisoning the minds of millions of students in schools and colleges against their own country. But this book is one of many things that enable teachers to think of themselves as “agents of change,” without having the slightest accountability for whether that change turns out to be for the better or for the worse — or, indeed, utterly catastrophic.
This misuse of schools to undermine one’s own society is not something confined to the United States or even to our own time. It is common in Western countries for educators, the media and the intelligentsia in general, to single out Western civilization for special condemnation for sins that have been common to the human race, in all parts of the world, for thousands of years.
Meanwhile, all sorts of fictitious virtues are attributed to non-Western societies, and their worst crimes are often passed over in silence, or at least shrugged off by saying some such thing as “Who are we to judge?”
Even in the face of mortal dangers, political correctness forbids us to use words like “terrorist” when the approved euphemism is “militant.” Milder terms such as “illegal alien” likewise cannot pass the political correctness test, so it must be replaced by another euphemism, “undocumented worker.”
Some think that we must tiptoe around in our own country, lest some foreigners living here or visiting here be offended by the sight of an American flag or a Christmas tree in some institutions.
In France between the two World Wars, the teachers’ union decided that schools should replace patriotism with internationalism and pacifism. Books that told the story of the heroic defense of French soldiers against the German invaders at Verdun in 1916, despite suffering massive casualties, were replaced by books that spoke impartially about the suffering of all soldiers — both French and German — at Verdun.
Germany invaded France again in 1940, and this time the world was shocked when the French surrendered after just 6 weeks of fighting — especially since military experts expected France to win. But two decades of undermining French patriotism and morale had done their work.American schools today are similarly undermining American society as one unworthy of defending, either domestically or internationally. If there were nuclear attacks on American cities, how long would it take for us to surrender, even if we had nuclear superiority — but were not as willing to die as our enemies were?
With Howard Zinn, contemporary American academia found its court historian. Zinn, who died January 27 at 87, was like a gigantic echo chamber, accurately reproducing — and actively reinforcing — every left-wing cliché with which the academy has abetted its sense of election these past several decades. “You see how smart he is,” saith the tribe, “he thinks exactly as we do.” Zinn’s biography tells us that he was the author of “more than 20 books.” But only one matters: A People’s History of the United States. Published in 1980 with appropriately modest expectations — it had, I read somewhere, an initial print run of only 5,000 copies — the book went on to sell some 2 million and is still going strong. Its Amazon sales rank as of February 1, 2010, was 7. Seven. That’s a number most authors would climb over broken bottles to achieve 30 days after their books were published. Here it is 30 years on.
How to explain such phenomenal success? The publisher had doubtless assayed the book’s intellectual merits and proceeded accordingly. Left out of account was the presumption of its political message. The extremity and consistency of that message — that America is and always has been an evil, exploitative country — guaranteed its success among the tenured radicals to whom we have entrusted the education of our children. More to the point, this history “from the perspective of the slaughtered and mutilated” nudged out all other contenders for the prize of becoming the preferred catechism in American — that is to say, anti-American — history.
A People’s History is the textbook of choice in high schools and colleges across the country. No other account of our past comes even close in influence or ubiquity. No other, more responsible, telling of the American story had a chance. How could it? Given a choice between a book that portrayed America honestly — as an extraordinary success story — and a book that portrayed the history of America as a litany of depredations and failures, which do you suppose your average graduate of a teachers college, your average member of the National Education Association, would choose? To ask the question is to answer it. What this means is that most American students are battened on a story of their country in which Blame America First is a cardinal principle. No element of our heritage, from the derring-do of Christopher Columbus to the valor of the U.S. military in World War II, escapes the perverting alchemy of Howard Zinn’s exercise in deflationary revision.
To his credit — well, it’s not really to his credit, since he offers the admission only to disarm criticism, but Zinn is entirely candid about the ideological nature of his opus. All history, he says, involves a choice of perspectives. Maybe so. Are we therefore to assume all perspectives are equally valuable? Zinn employs this relativist’s sleight of hand in order to promulgate his preferred species of intolerance, which appeals to latitudinarian sensitivities only because it is an intolerance fabricated in opposition to the established order. If “all history is ideological” (it isn’t really), then why not make your choice based on what appeals to your political sympathies, truth be damned? That’s the takeaway of Zinn’s admission, and it’s all he offers to explain his decision, which he details at the beginning of his book, to tell the story of
the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of Scott’s army, of the rise of industrialism as seen by the young women in the Lowell textile mills, of the Spanish–American war as seen by the Cubans, the conquest of the Philippines as seen by the black soldiers on Luzon, the Gilded Age as seen by southern farmers, the First World War as seen by socialists, the Second World War as seen by pacifists, the New Deal as seen by blacks in Harlem, the postwar American empire as seen by peons in Latin America.
In other words, what Zinn offers us is not a corrective, but a distortion. It is as if someone said to you, “Would you like to see Versailles?” and then took you on a tour of a broken shed on the outskirts of the palace grounds. “You see, pretty shabby, isn’t it?”
The one indisputably valuable thing about A People’s History of the United States is the way it illustrates a melancholy fact about the place of reasoned argument in human affairs. In brief, it occupies a lamentably attenuated place. Placed in opposition to a wish driven by the Zeitgeist (that’s German for “what the New York Times preaches”), reasoned argument doesn’t stand a chance. Item: Soon after A People’s History of the United States was published, the historian Oscar Handlin wrote a devastating review of the book for The American Scholar (which was still a respectable magazine).
“It simply is not true,” Mr. Handlin noted,
that “what Columbus did to the Arawaks of the Bahamas, Cortez did to the Aztecs of Mexico, Pizarro to the Incas of Peru, and the English settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts to the Powhatans and the Pequots.” It simply is not true that the farmers of the Chesapeake colonies in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries avidly desired the importation of black slaves, or that the gap between rich and poor widened in the eighteenth-century colonies. Zinn gulps down as literally true the proven hoax of Polly Baker and the improbable Plough Jogger, and he repeats uncritically the old charge that President Lincoln altered his views to suit his audience. The Geneva assembly of 1954 did not agree on elections in a unified Vietnam; that was simply the hope expressed by the British chairman when the parties concerned could not agree. The United States did not back Batista in 1959; it had ended aid to Cuba and washed its hands of him well before then. “Tet” was not evidence of the unpopularity of the Saigon government, but a resounding rejection of the northern invaders.
And on and on. In any normal world, Zinn would have stolen away in the middle of the night, fled to a mountain fastness in Peru, and taken up llama ranching. In this world, however, he went on to fame and fortune.
Oscar Handlin left Zinn’s “deranged ... fairy tale” in tatters. But the eye of love continued to regard it as an unspoilt beauty. Hence the 2 million copies, the Amazon ranking, the exuberant grief that taxed the powers of hyperbole commanded by obituarists across the republic as they competed with one another to freight the word “progressive” with ever more awesome pulpit tones.
The obituaries of Howard Zinn make for interesting, if not exactly edifying, reading. Zinn himself, of course, is the hero of the moment, the model “progressive” warrior who spoke truth to power, struggled against the demons of American imperialism, and condoled the weak, the oppressed, the inarticulate. The villain of the story was John Silber, former president of Boston University and for the 24 years Howard Zinn taught there the bane of his existence. In the obituaries, Silber is invariably described as “conservative” or “right-wing.” In fact, he is a liberal in the antique, i.e., the classical mode.
While a dean at the University of Texas, Silber labored to abolish segregation. He was an energetic supporter of Head Start, was instrumental in Boston University’s involvement in improving an inner-city school, and has battled tirelessly to further the vocation of the liberal arts and the life of the university as a primary institutional home for that vocation. During his disreputable tenure as a professor at Boston University, Howard Zinn did everything in his power to subvert the university, partly by subordinating its intellectual mandate to trendy political causes, partly by short-circuiting with malicious levity the high seriousness of a liberal-arts education. He would, for example, pass around his classes a bag containing bits of paper imprinted with the letters “A” or “B.” Whichever token a student picked denominated his grade, no matter what work he did or didn’t do.
The point? It wasn’t merely grade inflation. More insidiously, it was an expression of contempt for the entire enterprise of which he was a privileged beneficiary. Contempt, in fact, was Howard Zinn’s leading characteristic. Its primary focus was America, because that was the biggest game in town. But he had plenty left over for the rest of the world. As Oscar Handlin observed in his review, “It would be a mistake . . . to regard Zinn as merely anti-American. Brendan Behan once observed that whoever hated America hated mankind, and hatred of humanity is the dominant tone of Zinn’s book.
No other modern country receives a favorable mention. He speaks well of the Russian and Chinese revolutions, but not of the states they created. He lavishes indiscriminate condemnation upon all the works of man — that is, upon civilization, a word he usually encloses in quotation marks.” Howard Zinn has left us. But his repellent ideas — and even more, the contemptuous nihilism that stands behind and fires those ideas — live on.
Roger Kimball is publisher of Encounter Books, and co-publisher and co-editor of The New Criterion. He is also the author of such classic works as Tenured Radicals and The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America.
* This essay appears in the February 22, 2010, issue of National Review.