They’re not burning books on campus, but it is only a matter of time until they do.
Burning books is an attempt to destroy ideas. Preventing speakers from disseminating ideas is no different.
Ideas must now be vetted in identity politics. A white male student can be shouted down as exhibiting privilege or “whiteness” without anyone having to deal with his idea.
Try that with a privileged minority student, and you’ll find yourself hauled before the diversity Star Chamber.
If the leftist professors and the diversity-based bureaucrats did not have enough access to a captive audience of impressionable minds in the classroom, there are now the“residence life” programs in the dormitories where the Workmen’s Circle of the Soviet Union is being resurrected.
Instead of mechanistic thinking being excoriated, the target is white privilege.
Universities in the liberal arts were supposed to embody the best knowledge and ethics of the Western tradition and faithfully transmit them to the next generation. They were supposed to be a haven for open discourse, for tolerating ideas whose value was based not on whose identity they promoted but how well they could be defended against an empirical reality.
Those days are gone. How did we create this absurdity and how do we stop it?
The first major change in universities came with affirmative action, a process whose benign intent to overcome racial prejudice and whose initial abhorrence of quotas was quickly and eagerly transformed into minority privilege.
Meanness does not end in middle school. Students who could not perform were mocked and shamed. Many minority students came to the university with few of the basic skills that other students took for granted.
They encountered insults mired in racism. To deal with the problem, schools instituted overbroad speech and decency codes, most of which were unconstitutional.
A diversity bureaucracy was created. So too were intellectually questionable studies programs more concerned with embracing a view of the world than pursuing the conduct of inquiry or rational thought, which incidentally is currently labeled “whiteness.”
As the bureaucracy grew, so too did the need for administrators. Programs in higher education administration produced a new class of professional bureaucrats.
Steeped in the political correctness theme of the evil of white privilege and the sanctity of minorities that survived it, the new class was on a mission to morally rearm the universities.
Universities are status communities where reputation is everything. The conflicts are intense because reputations are at stake.
And what better way to take control than for sanctimonious administrators to be the repository for accusations of racism, sexism, and homophobia — accusations that could tarnish one’s status if not destroy a career.
Bureaucracies are like cancers; they constantly need to grow. Even when there are faculty hiring freezes, the bureaucracy recruits. Over time, the ratio of bureaucrats to faculty increases.
Without diverse students, there can be no diversity bureaucracy. These students must be recruited irrespective of their qualifications.
Consequently, they experience academic frustration, and frustration leads to anger and militancy.
Leftist faculty provide political channeling and justification for that anger, which manifests itself in disrupting speakers and obnoxious and sometimes violent behavior.
When such behavior occurs, it is blamed on the institution, the larger society, or the speaker. The students are not responsible because they were incited. Moreover, as a professor at Loyola Marymount in Southern California has argued, violent protest advances progressive causes. I presume we should have more of it!
The bureaucracy itself needs these issues to justify its existence. If there are no diversity issues on campus, there is no need for an identity-based bureaucracy, sensitivity sessions, and a shadow university’s indoctrination sessions in the residence halls.
The alienated students are empowered to decide what ideas can be heard and what political positions are acceptable.
I have personally experienced students pronouncing certain books unacceptable for class because they did not like their point of view. Had they read the books? Of course not!
The reality of college life in legitimate courses of study is that learning is difficult and time consuming. An engineering examination cannot be substituted by a term paper downloaded from Google and rewritten by graduate student “helpers” in the writers’ laboratory.
Students majoring in legitimate fields have neither the time nor energy to protest. They are not working out their anger by stopping ideas from being disseminated or challenging the use of certain books for class.
In engineering schools, the quip is that if you don’t go to the bathroom, you’ll have 15 more minutes every day to study.
As a society, political forces will not permit us to tear down the vacuous majors that are the repository for the less motivated and prepared students. Moreover, our financial structure benefits from the insurmountable debt that these students will incur and, lacking meaningful skills, will not be paying off for decades.
We need a campus sandbox in which they can play at getting an education, and perhaps a “safe place” where they can burn the books they find offensive. Maybe we can create periodic orchestrated riots, so they can vent their frustrations.
In the meantime, we must separate the real work of the universities from this nonsense and dismantle the ever-growing, dysfunctional diversity bureaucracy that unnecessarily inflates the cost of an education for everyone.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. Follow him @salomoncenter