This semester, I began my twenty-sixth year as a professor in the UNC system. Over the course of the last quarter century, I have seen a sharp increase in the raw intellectual ability of our students. Unfortunately, I have also seen a sharp decline in the emotional maturity of our students. These students are increasingly unwilling to debate ideas they find to be objectionable. Unfortunately, in this age of social media, they are also more likely to engage in mob-like behavior when confronted with ideas that challenge campus orthodoxy.
Recently, this tendency to elevate emotions above ideas was on full display at our flagship campus when a mob that included many UNC students toppled the statue of Silent Sam. I wish to make some suggestions about how we should deal with this kind of behavior. But first I wish to say something about the psychological mentality that is driving it. That mentality is often misunderstood and therefore mischaracterized by cultural commentators.
We make a serious error when we characterize today’s progressive students as “snowflakes.” The epithet wrongly implies that these kids are incapable of handling an opposing viewpoint due to emotional weakness. The mischaracterization is understandable given that our campus speech codes explicitly tell students they have a right to be shielded from ideas that make them feel “uncomfortable” or which they might deem to be “offensive.” Were we to actually enforce these codes uniformly, a form of reverse Darwinism would soon shape campus debate.
Indeed, it is a truism to suggest that allowing the ideas of the easily offended to trump those of the less easily offended would effectively facilitate the survival of the ideas of the least emotionally fit. But that is not what really happens on our campus today. What we really facilitate is narcissism. Indeed, if there is one message that our campus speech codes send, it is that one’s emotions should trump other people’s ideas. When we broadcast that message, it is not the emotional weakling who takes it seriously. It is the aggressor who hates people with an opposing point of view — and who has an inflated sense of his own self-worth.
Unfortunately, the campus speech code is not the only mechanism that contributes to our students’ aggressive tendency toward censorship. The students also have bad role models in the form of law-violating administrators and professors who try to silence people simply for expressing contrary views — and believe they can do so with impunity. Some notable examples from the UNC system follow:
*At UNC-Chapel Hill, an assistant dean was implicated in the theft of a student newspaper. Faced with the prospect that a liberal candidate for SGA President was going to be defeated due to an article accusing him of sexual assault, these “liberals” stole the newspapers on the eve of the election. The administrator allowed the thieves to hide the stolen newspapers in his office. He was also later sued by a Christian organization for viewpoint discrimination. In that case he tried to derecognize the group for making their officers subscribe to orthodox Christian values. The students won but the administrator retained his position.
*At UNC-Greensboro, the Office of Student Life (OSL) hired a man with ten felony convictions for downloading pornography, including pictures of children being anally raped. After he was hired, the office used student fees to hire a porn star to lecture students on how to “safely” engage in sodomy. While the felon was working in the OSL, administrators blocked conservative groups from receiving student activity fee money and then illegally diverted it to gay activists who did not attend the university.
*UNC-Wilmington hired a convicted terrorist who went to prison after transporting bombs for the Weather Underground. Prior to that, he was convicted for committing an assault during a Weather Underground riot inside a public high school. He was also indicted for stealing a rifle and firing it into a police station. None of this deterred UNCW from hiring him. In fact, once hired, he boasted about his terrorist past, including his propensity to plot the bombing of his political enemies. This did not get him fired. Instead, he was promoted to full professor and then became a UNCW administrator.
*Also at UNC-Wilmington, a full-time administrator (and part-time volunteer for Planned Parenthood) was involved in a plot to surround and falsely imprison pro-life students who were legally assembled on campus. Police foiled the illegal plot after she broadcast her involvement on social media. Later, when she left the university, school officials insisted that her misconduct was not a factor in her departure.
I could go on and on with examples of UNC faculty and administrators who are criminals with strong anti-free speech tendencies. But the reader already gets the point that our problems in the UNC system are twofold:
- We have implemented campus policies that have produced a generation of narcissistic students who are inclined to resort to rioting on campus as a means of political expression.
- We have a culture of corruption in the UNC administration that turns a blind eye to criminal censors as long as they censor the right people.
The state legislature recently dealt with the first of those problems by passing a comprehensive free speech bill aimed at eliminating campus speech codes. But it will take years to correct the campus culture of narcissism that has resulted from leaving the illegal codes in place for decades. Locating and criminally prosecuting the UNC students involved in the toppling of Silent Sam will go a long way toward correcting the culture of campus narcissism.
But the real question is what UNC will do if the State Bureau of Investigation finds that university faculty and administrators were involved in the recent criminal vandalism on its flagship campus. Will the university prosecute its own or will they turn a blind eye towards the leftist criminals in their midst?
History teaches us that it will probably be the latter.