Commentators are mocking the antics of ersatz college students, calling them “snowflakes,” “crybullies,” and the “pink guard,” the latter indicating their intellectual and moral kinship to Mao’s red guard. But where does responsibility for all the silliness lie? With the administrators.
Consider the words of three university presidents, whose attitudes appear to be ubiquitous. In resigning his presidency, Timothy Wolfe, of the University of Missouri, said, “We need to use my resignation – please, please – use this resignation to heal, not to hate; and let’s move forward together for a brighter tomorrow.” Where leadership was required to make it perfectly clear that the university is not a habitat for melodramatic play-acting, Wolfe instead validates the actors by begging them not to hate and then leaves the scene.
Peter Salovey, of Yale University, stated, “I see the pain that certain kinds of costumes cause some students on our campus, and I think we want to create a campus environment where everyone feels welcomed and valued, and that kind of pain should be not a typical experience.” Pain engendered by a costume at Yale!
At Amherst College, President Biddy Martin stated, “I could not be sadder about the pain that many of our students are feeling or more determined to meet their demand for change.” Pain again – very touching!
Although disturbing, this behavior is not new. In Closing of the American Mind, Alan Bloom, while describing the campus madness of a half a century ago, wrote:
The professors, the repositories of our best traditions and highest intellectual aspirations, were fawning over what was nothing better than a rabble; publicly confessing their guilt and apologizing for not having understood the most important moral issues, the proper response to which they were learning from the mob; expressing their willingness to change the university’s goals and the content of what they taught.
One could argue that the behavior of the pusillanimous university officials back in the 1960s was worse than that of their spineless brethren of today. Indeed, the administrative class of the 1960s began the destruction of the university as a place of serious learning.
A mere handful of years following appeasement of the mob, the universities had impoverished their course offerings with pabulum so that students would be amused instead of educated (science not escaping unscathed). Whereas the appeasers of the 1960s made a conscious decision to reject civilization, their betrayal has bequeathed us faculty and administrators who possess only marginal contact with civilization. They can fawn and crawl more easily because they know of nothing to defend.
Lest the defense of civilization seem a grandiose mission for education, hear Will Durant:
“Man differs from the beast only by education, which may be defined as the technique of transmitting civilization…its language and knowledge, its morals and manners, its technology and arts – must be handed down to the young, as the very instrument through which they are turned from animals into men.
The question for the leaders of our educational establishment is simple: Do you desire men or beasts? No doubt, they will run from the question and try to hide behind twaddle like diversity and inclusiveness. But in the enduring words of Joe Louis, “They can run but they can’t hide.” Just as Billy Conn lying flat in the ring validated Louis’ hypothesis, the mayhem on today’s campuses demonstrates the culpability of university leaders in the flattening of what was once higher education
Geniuses the Young Don’t Read
And what of the civilization that is being eradicated, the one that has given us Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Locke, Voltaire, Hume, Kant, Gauss, Michelangelo, Bach, Mozart, Dostoevsky, Cervantes, and Einstein? Any decent undergraduate education will at minimum, introduce the student to the work of all twenty. What kind of men would in deference to the demands of a mob, deprive the younger generation contact with the genius of mankind?
They are the kind Hannah Arendt chastised in “The Crisis in Education,” when she wrote, “In education this responsibility for the world takes the form of authority…. Authority has been discarded by the adults, and this can mean only one thing: that the adults refuse to assume responsibility for the world into which they have brought the children.”
Although often lost in the din of narcissism and cowardice, there is still outstanding faculty on our campuses, even at Yale, home to historian Donald Kagan and political philosopher Steven Smith. One can view Kagan’s course, “Introduction to Ancient Greek History,” and Smith’s course, “Introduction to Political Philosophy,” on YouTube. Both courses exhibit what is best in the university. Kagan discusses the strengths and weaknesses of Athenian democracy, and how the loss of moral fiber, contributed to the Athenian defeat at Chaeronea – an invaluable lesson for potential future leaders.
Smith brilliantly weaves the story of political philosophy from ancient Greece to American democracy. What a repast: Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Tocqueville. At the conclusion, Smith addresses the situation today: “How can we begin a comprehensive reeducation of today’s political science? The only answer–and the best answer I can give you today–is simply to read old books. These are our best teachers in a world where real teachers are in short supply.”
If the Yale administration were truly concerned with the welfare of its students, a superb course of action would be to require them to read old books and take Smith’s course. No doubt, this is too much to ask from a university whose Liberal Arts Education webpage boasts, “There is no specific class you have to take at Yale…Yale is one of the only universities in the country that lets you try out your classes before you register. The first ten days of each semester are known as ‘Shopping Period.’” Should it be surprising that recent videos from Yale look more like shopping malls on Black Friday than an institution for the transmission of civilization?
In the end, we are left with a core question: Fundamentally, what kind of people are these who debase our universities and let civilization be trampled under the feet of the mob? We turn to T. S. Eliot, who has written their song:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar