Friday, November 13, 2015
Missouri and Yale Are But the Beginning
We’ve had the Greatest Generation, the Baby Boomers, the Beat Generation, the Lost Generation, Hippies, the Now Generation, the Me Generation, and now we have the Entitlement Generation. The Entitles believe they are entitled to perfection and an escape from reality. They want trigger warnings and comfort zones. They try to muzzle, silence, and fire those who disagree with them. They believe they are the only ones entitled to Freedom of Speech. They are in the ideal place – the nation’s campuses, where they have been pampered by a liberal professoriate. Today’s colleges need a Father Hesburgh of Notre Dame and Boston University’s John Silber - leaders who recognize the university is a cathedral of learning, and not intolerance. The University of Missouri last week was partially a speakout, or scream out, against white privilege. Tensions had been building over a series of racially charged incidents over the past year. The demonstrators at Missouri knew they had two aces: President Obama and Missouri Governor Jay Nixon. They knew the leaders of the University of Missouri were hapless and would not have the backing of either the state or federal government. Sadly the students built upon the tragedy of Ferguson. They repeated the wrong lessons of Ferguson, which was based on fraud. Michael Brown, the Gentle Giant, did not have his back turned with his hands raised, saying “Hands Up; Don’t Shoot.” He was a thief who reached for Officer Wilson. Even President Obama’s Justice Department found the police shooting justified. Some of the Missouri grievances are legitimate. They have received racist taunts, which are unacceptable. Racism, of all stripes, exists in society. It will manifest itself on campus. Yet the widely publicized feces Swastika on the dorm wall is the work of a deranged mind – not representative of the university. Drunken use of the N word by a teenager is also not representative of the university, but rather the immaturity of teenagers. Payton Head, the African American President of the Student Body, relayed warnings about the KKK. He posted “Working with U of Missouri police, Mo. State Highway Patrol, & National Guard after KKK members had been ‘confirmed’ to be on campus.” He advised the students to stay away from windows and take other precautions. The Missouri University alert system notified students that no threat existed. Head apologized later that the threat was false, and said the student body could impeach him if they wanted. He had earlier claimed in September that as he was walking on campus some men in a SUV yelled racist, sexist and homophobic slurs at him. His credibility is at issue. Brenda Snith-Lezama, the student body Vice President, also African American, has some interesting views on the First Amendment. She said on MSNBC Wednesday that journalists claiming First Amendment rights in reporting the Missouri protests are creating a “hostile” and “unsafe” environment. She similarly said: “I personally am tired of hearing that First Amendment rights protect students when they are creating a hostile and unsafe learning environment for myself and other students here …. I think that it’s important for us to create that distinction and create a space where we all can learn from one another and start to create a place of healing rather than a place where we are experiencing a lot of hate like we have in the past.” The First Amendment problem doesn’t end there at Missouri. Tim Tai, a student was photographing the demonstration for ESPN when a number of protestors confronted him. Professor Melissa Clark, with a courtesy appointment in the Journalism Department, went up to him screaming “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here.” The Journalism Dean said her behavior was contra to the First Amendment. She resigned her courtesy appointment in the Journalism Department. Jonathan Butler, an African American graduate student, initiated a hunger strike demanding that the President resign among other demands. Butler claimed to be oppressed by “white male privilege.” Jonathan’s dad, Eric, earned $8.4 million last year as Executive Vice President for Sales and Marketing at the Union Pacific Railroad. One of Jonathan’s complaints was that during October’s Homecoming Parade the President’s car crashed into him. This incident became a cause celebre of the protestors. Videos show Butler rushed the car. The hypocrisy, naiveté or stupidity of the two student body leaders is notable. The population of Missouri is 83.5% white and 11.8% African American. The demographics of the student body at the University of Missouri is similar: 79% white and 8% African American. In other words, whites elected them as their officers, just as whites helped elect President Obama. The white population, the privileged whites, are the ones who created the University of Missouri. It is the privileged whites, the taxpayers, who support the University of Missouri. And it is the privileged whites who are supporting the financial aid, especially scholarships, that many of these students may be receiving. Now, we can’t be certain that this story is any truer than the false Ferguson Narrative. Yet, Head’s actions sparked the demonstrations and protests at Missouri. The students’ protests were joined last Saturday by 32 African American members of the 4-5 football team promising to cease all football activities until their demands were met, including the resignation of Missouri’s President Tim Wolfe. The President and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin resigned. Here’s what we therefore know about the Missouri protests. Many of the grievances were legitimate, but some were fraudulent. Yale was also experiencing the Black protests in the past weeks. Yale’s Intercultural Affairs Council sent a message October 28 urging students to reconsider wearing Halloween costumes that could offend some students. The request can be viewed as a reasonable request, but it is not a mandate. Erika Chirtakis, the associate master of Yale’s Stillman residential college, sent out a response, also of a reasonable nature. She wrote: “Is there no room anymore for a child to be a little bit obnoxious … a little bit inappropriate or provocative, yes, offensive? That triggered a reaction and backlash. As did the alleged refusal of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), in trouble at other campuses for racist behavior, to admit Balck women and Latinas to a party, saying “White girls only.” The fraternity denies it, but the belief persists in the Yale community. Nicholas A. Christakis, Erika’s husband, and the master of Stillman College, was confronted by a student (the video is disgusting). Dara Huggins, the President of Yale’s Black Women’s Coalition wanted Nicholas to resign from his administrative position. Yale’s President apologized to several minority students for Yale’s “failure to make them feel safe on campus.” The odds are that Nicholas and Erika will not be masters next year of any of Yale’s 12 residential colleges. Students at Clemson last January demanded a suspension of the First Amendment. They demanded the University prosecute “criminally predatory behavior and defamatory speech committed by members of the Clemson University community ….” Capri’Nara Kendall, now a senior at the University of Michigan, recounts a conversation as a freshman. Another student asked the African American if she was attending the University on an athletic scholarship. She was on an academic scholarship. It is insulting to be asked if you’re at the school because you are a jock rather than for your intelligence. Others asked her the same question. However, an alternative explanation is possible. Perhaps a socially awkward teenager couldn’t think of a better way to start a conversation with the classmate. Regardless of whether the question was asked maliciously or innocently, it is demeaning. It also brings up a related problem with affirmative action. Others may think, but probably won’t ask it aloud “Are you here because of your abilities, or because of affirmative action?” The assumption is that as a member of a minority group the student received preferential, or privileged, access. Then we have the follow up at Claremont McKenna College. Tempers were rising for months due to an inadequate response to a number of incidents. Lisette Espinosa wrote an op-ed in which she expressed discomfort as a low-income Latina. Adjusting to college is often difficult for students, even when white and affluent. Mary Spellman, Dean of Students, emailed Lisette, promising to better serve students “who don’t fit our CMC mold.” That was pouring fuel on the fire when the email went viral and ballistic. I think I know what Dean Spellman was trying to say, but it clearly came across as condescending and insulting. Two students commenced a hunger strike, promising to continue until Dean Spellman resigned, which she did on Thursday. Students at Vanderbilt first demanded the firing of Professor Carol Swain and are now just demanding her suspension along with diversity training. Her supposed hatred to minorities was shown by a column she wrote in the Tennessean in response to the Charlie Herbo terrorist attacks in Paris. The conservative African American professor of Political Science and Law wrote: “If America is to be safe, it must remove the foxes from the henhouses and institute serious monitoring of Islamic organizations.” Critics labeled her remarks “Hate Speech.” She is protected by tenure, but Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos did her no favors. He said: “I have heard and appreciated the serious concerns of our many students and alumni who have signed a petition calling for the suspension of Carol Swain…. Professor Swain’s opinions are her own. They do not reflect the opinions of the University in any way. They are not my opinions, the opinions of the provost, or the opinions of university leadership.” Students at Ithaca College want President Tom Rochon fired for inadequate responses to the complaints of the minority students and the failure to increase the number of minority students. These students, collectively representing nationally the “Social Justice Movement,” are demanding free tuition, forgiveness of student loans, and a $15 minimum wage. They feel entitled. They are emboldened by Missouri and Yale. Those of us who lived through the 1960’s remember how the student demonstrations, often, but not always, anti-war and anti-draft directed, spread like a wildfire from Berkeley through America as the students realized university presidents lacked backbones. Chancellor Zeppos is apparently auditioning for the presidency of a major university. University presidents usually rise through the academic ranks, showing an ability to both solve problems and often balance competing interests. It takes a rare talent to please students, faculty, alumni, administrators and staff, and regents/trustees and, if at a public institution, legislators and the Governor. It is clear that today’s young blacks will not quietly tolerate the insults their parents and grandparents suffered through. Nor will other minorities. They take offense to insults and indignities, real or perceived. They want respect. They deserve respect. They have a right to object and protest. That though does not give them the right to act like thugs and bullies, or as I referred 1½ years ago to the faculty and students who drove off conservative commencement speakers as “Academic Neanderthals.” Insensitivity becomes a capital offense in their eyes. So too does failure to respond as they would like. Criticism of them is racism. They cow administrators and faculty. They are a minority on campus, but a loud, bullying minority. Demands for mandatory diversity training may have one benefit. It might muzzle many of the racist statements, but it will not change racist thinking. For fear of saying something that could be construed as hate speech by these agitated students, the students may instead be met by the sound of silence. There will be a backlash, especially at the ballot box. Ronald Reagan was elected Governor of California in 1966 in response to the student riots, beginning with the Free Speech Riots, at Berkeley. The formerly popular incumbent Governor Edmund G. Brown lost by almost 1 million votes.