The Center for Equal Opportunity’s Roger Clegg convened a press conference in Madison, Wisconsin. The gathering intended to discuss findings from the CEO’s disturbing study of how the University of Wisconsin has misused and abused the school’s racial preferences admissions scheme. Using internal data obtained, in part, through a lawsuit against the university, the study revealed the existence of “severe” discrimination, based on race and ethnicity, in admissions at the Madison campus, and at the UW Law School.
Clegg’s press conference occurred at the Madison DoubleTree. As he fielded questions from the media, and some hostile ones from UW students and faculty, chants of “Power to the People!” erupted from outside the hall. The hotel’s general manager reported that “when threats were made by the protesters to rush the hotel, we secured all entrances to the property . . . Unfortunately when escorting meeting attendees out of the hotel through a private entrance, staff were then rushed by a mob of protesters, throwing employees to the ground.” The mob eventually broke into the conference room and rushed over to Clegg, who was then chatting with reporters. Here’s how the Capital Times (hardly a conservative paper) described the resulting scene: “Some were getting in Clegg’s face and chanting,” forcing him to “make his way through the throng.”
The “throng” that harassed Clegg was not exactly a spontaneous eruption. Instead, the protest built off the efforts of Damon Williams, the university’s Vice Provost for Diversity & Climate. In 2008, Williams came to the school, the flagship of the state’s cash-starved university system, with a $150,000 annual salary and the responsibilities as “chief diversity officer.” Asked later about what stimulated his career path, Williams responded, “Tupac Shakur will talk about thug-life hitting him like the Holy Ghost. Well, when I was in boarding school issues of power and privilege hit me like the Holy Ghost.” Being a diversity officer, he continued, was “something that deeply spoke to me because it was about how do we make change from an organizational, leadership perspective.”
Shortly after the CEO released its study, the diversity officer swung into action, releasing on his official website an “important announcement.” Describing the CEO document as “a troubling communication . . . that involves a threat to our diversity efforts,” he invited students to “an urgent meeting . . . to discuss this matter,” and to participate so “we can be in community regarding our response.”
At the meeting, Williams offered a curious defense of the university’s pattern of discrimination. He didn’t challenge the CEO’s data. Instead, he issued a faith-based call to action, commenting that “we believe in what we’re doing. We believe it to our toes.” And he tossed off ad hominem attacks against Clegg and other CEO officials, wildly claiming (without substantiation) that they had “as their mission to systematically dial back the gains from the Civil Rights era.”
Williams then urged direct action against Clegg’s press conference. “Don’t wait for us to show the way,” he told students—who the campus newspaper reported “were already assembling poster board to make signs against the CEO president’s report and visit.”
We live in an era of feigned offense. Advocates on both sides of the political spectrum (ranging from efforts of the anti-gay National Organization of Marriage to shield its donor base, to the wild denunciations of some Wisconsin labor activists against the Kochs) make specious charges of harassment as a way of deflecting attention from the weakness of their basic arguments. Such dubious claims are all the more unfortunate because they dull our collective senses to real instances of political or ideological harassment. On campus, the use of intimidation tactics to shout down inconvenient speech usually has been reserved for university critics of Israeli national security policy—as Ambassador Michael Oren discovered last year at the University of California, Irvine.
Yet as shameful as Oren’s experience was, at least there was no indication that the Irvine administration played any role in marshaling the mob. At the University of Wisconsin, on the other hand, administration’s seeming endorsement—even stimulation—of “thug-life” (to borrow a phrase) tactics against Clegg illustrated not merely the bankruptcy of the university’s “diversity” rationale but also an abdication of the UW’s moral and educational mission.