Black protesters and their allies shut down a speech by a conservative gay activist at DePaul University in Chicago last night. That’s not news, of course– it’s just what the campus left does.
The news is that the security guards hired for $1000 to protect the speaker, Milo Yiannopoulos (after, he says, they threatened to let demonstrators cancel the talk if he didn’t pay), just stood around and made no effort to ward off the protesters.
This is an interesting breakthrough in college treatment of speakers: two separate levels of incompetence in protecting free speech. Neither the campus guards nor the hired Hessians did anything. We look to the president of DePaul–the Rev. Dennis Holtschneider–to get the money returned, reprimand the campus guards for also doing nothing, apologize for the neglect, and make sure the speaker is re-invited as part of the required apology.
No—just kidding. President Holtschneider is, by reputation, one of the shakiest defenders of free speech at large on America’s censorship-minded campuses.
In 2006, Holtschneoder was co-winner of the annual Sheldon given for worst college president of the year. Holtschneider scored a rare triple in the campus censorship sweepstakes:
1) Cracking down on a satiric affirmative action bake sale like the ones routinely sponsored on many other campuses.
2) Suspending an instructor without a hearing or even notification of charges after a testy out-of-class argument with pro-Palestinian and Muslim activists.
3) Making an unusually strange move after pro-choice students ripped up an administration-approved anti-abortion exhibit, he penalized the pro-lifers for posting the names of the 13 pro-choicers who admitted destroying the display.
Penalizing the wrong party is a familiar move in the Sheldon competition and is deeply admired by judges. Sheldon Hackney, for whom the Sheldon is named, set the standard there: when an entire press run of the school paper was stolen at Penn because it contained a column opposing affirmative action, Hackney penalized not the thieves, but the campus guard who caught them.
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) said Holtschneider talks a good game on free speech but doesn’t deliver on the promises.
Holtschneider is now in position to contend for his second Sheldon, which is like getting into the Hall of Fame twice. But he will have to keep failing at his regular rate. Competition is so keen.
Jack Fowler, on National Review Online’s “The Corner,” wrote, “Congratulations to the 2015 Sheldon winner. And condolences to the students.” Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit) said naming Peter Salovey of Yale the winner was “a good call, though it was a rich field this year.”
Perhaps with a touch of regional pride, Charlie Sykes, a well-known Milwaukee blogger, hailed the achievement of Michael Lovell, president of Marquette (Milwaukee) in finishing so high among the five worst presidents. “Okay, so Marquette President Mike Lovell didn’t win gold, but taking home aThird Runner-Up medalas the fourth worst college president in America is no mean feat, especially given the stiff competition. Think of it as the Super Bowl of academic awfulness, cowardice, and unprincipled appeasement. And 2015 was a banner year. We suspect that if Lovell – who seems quite clueless about the actual issues involved here – goes ahead and actually fires McAdams that he will start the year as a front runner for winning the 2016 Sheldon.”
The Heartland Institute put out this statement: “The governing boards of UC-Berkeley, Marquette, Missouri, Virginia, and Yale should follow the lead of the University of Chicago, Purdue, and the University of Wisconsin system and pass the ‘Chicago standard’ resolution that reaffirms free speech rights on their campuses.”
One of the most common reader reactions to the Sheldon was regret that Tim Wolfe of the University of Missouri didn’t win it. An NRO reader wrote, “I’d have given the award to Tim “Fold Like a Cheap Suit” Wolfe of Missouri. Quitting your job because a handful of students are unhappy with you has to be one of the most pathetic performances out there.” Another said, “I’m disappointed it wasn’t Wolfe. His will be the most damaging precedent for higher education, long term.”
In California, the Orange County Breeze was disappointed that local Sheldon candidate Janet Napolitano didn’t win, asking, “Who managed to be even worse? Last year, competition was extraordinary. Many college administrators trampled one another in their zeal to oversee campus ruin and collapse…. Go read the entire article and ask yourself how we got to the point that college administrators can be so easily bullied and the tender feelings of college students became the Law of the Quad.”
We are reviving the Sheldon award for worst college president of the year. It is named for the late Sheldon Hackney, who presided over many college disasters, including Penn’s water buffalo controversy and the theft of a complete edition of the University of Pennsylvania student newspaper that included a column criticizing affirmative action. The thieves were not reprimanded or otherwise punished but the campus cop who caught them was—a nice touch.
Here are the four finalists for 2015:
Tim Wolfe, University of Missouri, 4th runner up: Wolfe couldn’t seem to cope with racial protests based on three reported racist remarks and a swastika drawn on a campus wall in feces. Wolfe fumbled the issue for months without taking any action. Then a black graduate student went on a hunger strike, the football team refused to play, and politicians demanded action. At an emergency meeting, on the brink of tears, he quit, saying he hoped his departure would alleviate the pain on campus. “This university is in pain right now … and it needs healing,” President Tim Wolfe said in the university-approved language of feelings. Then he quit, saying his departure might help alleviate the pain.
Michael Lovell, Marquette, 3th runner up: A student who opposed gay marriage attempted to discuss the issue in a philosophy class, but the graduate student who taught the class refused to allow it. She said that the gay marriage issue had been settled and that class discussion of it would hurt the feelings of gays. John McAdams, a Marquette professor and conservative gadfly, wrote about the incident on his blog, which resulted in hostile mail and reported death threats to the graduate student. McAdams was suspended (though Marquette quibbles about the word), forbidden to set foot on campus, and still remains suspended more than a year later. In discussing the case, President Lovell has talked generally about disrespect and harassment. What he hasn’t said is why the Catholic position on gay marriage can’t be discussed in class on a Catholic campus.
Teresa Sullivan, University of Virginia, 2rd runner up: When Rolling Stone broke the story of the brutal (and bogus) rape at the university, Sullivan misjudged the impact and boarded a plane to Amsterdam for a conference three hours after the rape story lit up the Internet. Then, with no investigation or hearing, she suspended the allegedly offending fraternity and all other campus fraternities and sororities as well, extending the suspensions well past the time when the hoax started to unravel. She has issued no apology for the suspensions and offered no reimbursement for fraternity members forced to move into motels and hotels because of the suspensions. The activists and their allies who vandalized the accused frat drew no criticism from her or her administration. She imposed credible new rules for frats, but otherwise every move she made on this issue was wrong.
Janet Napolitano, Chancellor, University of California (Runner Up—If for any reason our winner can’t fulfill his duties as winner of the Sheldon, Ms. Napolitano, would wear the crown: Janet Napolitano, chancellor of the University of California, approved and issued a long list of statements that could no longer be uttered by university faculty because they are considered hurtful microaggressions. The list included, “America is the land of opportunity,” “America is a melting pot,” “There is only one race—the human race” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
Like most campus controversies these days, this one pitted free speech versus hurt feelings, a struggle that colleges typically resolve in favor of feelings (as long as those doing the feeling are non-Asian minorities, gays or women).
Napolitano’s effort to quell positive remarks about America was so strikingly risible that in a normal year she would have won the Sheldon award hands-down. But she had to settle for a silver medal because of what happened at Yale.
Peter Salovey, Yale: In the biggest collapse of the year, Yale President Salovey committed millions of dollars to appease racial protesters with a basket of goodies likely to enlarge the stature of the “diversity” movement on campus and its drive for mandatory courses in race and ethnicity. Those goodies included five years of conferences on race and diversity, four new minority professorships and a doubling of budgets of the four student minority centers that Yale probably shouldn’t have at all unless it wants to keep furthering separatism—one each for Blacks, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian- Americans.
Salovey managed to produce a major victory for protesters complaining about strikingly weak and vague issues (a teacher’s opinion that Yale shouldn’t have told students what Halloween costumes to avoid, a feeling of racial discomfort among some blacks on campus, and a false report that a black student had been turned away from a fraternity party).
When a group of protesters confronted Professor Nicholas Christakis, husband of Erika Christakis who wrote the controversial costume memo, one student is heard saying, “Walk away. He doesn’t deserve to be listened to.” When Nicholas started to explain himself, a student yells, “Be quiet!” and then proceeds to lecture him. When Nicholas calmly and politely says, “I disagree,” the protestor explodes, screaming, “Why the fuck did you accept the position?! Who the fuck hired you?! You should step down!” Then, finally, “You’re disgusting!” Had the protester been a white male, he likely would have been expelled or suspended. But the perp was a black female. So no action.
The trigger for the protests was also peculiar. For a large number of students to go berserk over a mild and non-racist email dissenting from a Yale instruction on Halloween costumes was remarkable and Salovey might have politely said so.
As Peter Schuck said on this site, “University officials like us bear some responsibility for the aggressive, obsessive ethnic emphasis practiced on our campus. Through some mixture of cowardice, complaisance, and genuine conviction, we cater to the sensibilities of the most outspoken, politicized students by donning a kind of “kick me” sign. In this atmosphere of identity politics, students have strong incentives to dramatize their wounds as proof of the authenticity of a larger, more heroic social agenda….”
Missing from Salovey’s performance was any sense of authority. When the protestors demonized Erika Christakis for her costume memo, and when protesters cursed and threatened her husband, Nicholas (“We know where you live”), Salovey didn’t seem to notice or care. He declined to fire the husband-wife pair, as protesters demanded, but made no effort to keep them when Nicholas went on leave and Erika quit teaching at Yale because, she said, the university lacks civil dialogue.
Worst of all, the transformation of universities from actual places of learning to institutions primarily obsessed with race and identity has advanced mightily through Yale’s defeat. For demonstrating weak leadership and incomprehension at an elite university, the Sheldon goes to Peter Salovey.
John Leo is the Editor of Minding the Campus
John Leo is the editor of Minding The Campus, dedicated to chronicling developments within higher education in an effort to restore balance and intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years, and was syndicated to 140 newspapers through the Universal Press Syndicate.