They Must Fear Us: A Modest Proposal

Details aside, it is hard to conclude that our side is winning the campus battle. If we were a publicly traded firm, stockholders would be furious. That unpleasant reality acknowledged, let me suggest a key but never articulated explanation for our failures: universities are not afraid of us. Machiavelli got it right: “Ideally, a prince should be both loved and feared, but this state of affairs is difficult to attain. Forced to make a choice, it is much better to be feared than loved.” To be blunt, we are well-civilized, violence-phobic intellectuals, lacking deep pockets, often retried, mostly out-of-shape physically, and frequently far from power, so campus Pooh-Bahs can safely ignore us. Nobody gets nervous encountering us in a dark alley. Our erudite petitions and letters only draw a polite “thank you for your concern…” before being trashed.

It is possible for our side to terrorize woke administrators. Here, for example, is a hypothetical letter to President Martin of Faber College that will surely concentrate his mind:

December 21, 2121

Dear President Martin:

Speaking on behalf of Students for Intellectual Freedom (SIF), for which I am the faculty advisor, I am saddened by your recent announcement that our groups will no longer be permitted on campus. While I applaud your statement upholding vigorous intellectual debate as a bedrock principle of Faber College, we disagree with your view that SIF’s recent statement of principles make some students uncomfortable and that SIF’s support of open debate is inimical to overcoming historical injustices.

While we reluctantly accept your decision, I also feel that it is necessary to warn you that at least some individuals are unwilling to abide by your graciousness. And it would be irresponsible not to advise you of this troubling situation.

Specifically, I’ve heard rumors circulating about disgruntled students who claim to know your address, the names of your children, where they attend school, their schedules, and the location of where your wife has her weekly haircut. There is also talk about somebody recording an encounter between yourself and a Chinese graduate student at a local motel. Finally, reports have likewise circulated about a plan to kidnap your beloved cat, Puffy (deadname, “Fido”), and impaling them on a stake on the quad on Parent’s Day weekend to “send a message.” Unfortunately, I have no idea of the identities of these individuals who would undermine our community’s commitment to intellectual integrity.

Sincerely,

Professor Walter P. Schwartzbart

Department of Humane Studies

No doubt, Professor Schwarzbart’s missive will draw rapt attention and his next letter will be picked up with trembling hands. And if the good professor should appear at the president’s doorstep, he will be greeted with great seriousness.

It’s easy to dismiss this imaginary letter as humor, but the indisputable reality is that the threat of violence has been part of the campus “war of ideas” since the 1960s, especially regarding race.

I witnessed this firsthand when beginning my academic career at Cornell University in 1969, and it is on-going. The “Big Bang” was the Spring 1969 take-over of the Willard Straight Hall by a group of heavily armed black activists, which shaped Cornell’s racial animus for decades. More was involved than the initial incident. One of my distinguished colleagues on the “wrong” side temporarily hid under an assumed name in a cheap motel. Stories circulated of white students being randomly beaten by blacks while Daniel Patrick Moynihan (then famous for his critical analysis of the Negro family) had to cancel a public lecture required for his candidacy for the John L. Senior chair when the administration feared black violence.

Of the utmost importance, Cornell’s administration completely caved, nobody was punished, demands were largely met, and the formula was established—if you want something from a university, the threat of violence works. College students may not be geniuses, but they learned the lesson that violence-tinged extortion delivers.

Recall the racial upheavals during 2015-16 at the University of Missouri that resulted in a student hunger strike and the largely black football team threatening to sit out the season. A Politico headline once announced, “Universities Fear a Violent 2018” and told how campuses are upping security, training campus police in mob control, placing tighter restrictions on would-be campus speakers, and banning access for non-student groups altogether. Another 2018 headline was “Anti-Fascist Organizing Explodes on US College Campuses.” Efforts to bring conservative speakers to campus such as Charles Murry and Heather Mac Donald have often been met by violence. When Murray tried to speak at Middlebury College, his car was met by protestors who jumped on it, pounded it, and tried to prevent it from leaving campus. And it goes without saying that black protests, often on the edge of violence, are common to the point of no longer even being newsworthy.

Notably missing in this mayhem are faculty trying to uphold the intellectual integrity of higher education. Surely if a few professors occupied the College President’s Office and refused to leave until their list of 19 non-negotiable demands for color-blind merit was accepted, it would be man-bites-dog headline news. It is not that we are silent—we offer our statements of principles, sign petitions, and invite brilliant speakers to extol academic freedom; rather, we are exceedingly civilized in an environment that “privileges” unruly disruptors.

Now, given our civilized aversion to threats of mayhem, what is to be done? Being a realist, let me suggest that we learn to make a nuisance of ourselves, embarrassing the Mucky-Mucks and their empty-suit lackies. Royal Pains in the Butt, so to speak. We may be incapable of physically intimidating our enemies, but there are other ways of being feared. Goodbye Mr. Chips, so to speak. We may be wimps, but it would not take much effort to be nasty, mocking wimps. Our hero should be Jonathan Swift, a man feared for his biting, sarcastic wit.

How about manning an off-campus table during Parent’s Weekend to inform parents about what they are really getting for the school’s inflated tuition? Or helping sympathetic students tell the outside world about the Marxist brainwashing that occurs in Post-Colonial Dance 101? Why not publicize the iffy academic credentials of the latest Dean of Inclusion and Diversity? Or the salaries of professors teaching seminars in hip-hop? Campus absurdity is one of the world’s greatest renewable resources, so let’s utilize it.

Disgusted faculty can contribute to a website recounting student “work” that is tolerated in today’s life of the mind. My personal favorite was a truly foolish student who submitted a dreadful “paper” that included the $25 bill from “My Professor Sucks” paper-writing service. Such war stories might be a regular feature on Tucker Carlson Tonight with schools and culprits clearly identified.

Language is great for shaming crackpot enemies. Dictatorial college presidents will be called “Dear Leader” and all diversity proposals will be “Great Leaps Forward” and will certainly exceed the targets of the latest “Five-Year Plan.” Savoyards can pitch with titles so the campus will now have Generalissimos of Retention and Lord High Conquerors of Hate and Microaggressions. The very idea of “Diversity is our Strength” should be repeatedly mocked, perhaps calling it “The Sacred Creed About Which There Can Be No Dispute.” Strident ideologues will be denounced for their misology—hatred of reasoning and logic—and with faked seriousness will be asked if the heliocentric theory is a “white idea”?

Will such tactics work? It’s hard to say, but they will undoubtedly out-perform the current “safe” strategy of offering up brilliant but politically inconsequential missives. Put another way, we are fighting the wrong war and thus easily ignored. Perhaps it is time for our side to get a bit nastier and snide, make the pandering administrators nervous about the “crazy professors.” The good news is that professors excel at this sort of thing.


Image: Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito, Public Domain

Robert Weissberg

Robert Weissberg

Robert Weissberg is a professor emeritus of political science at The University of Illinois-Urbana.

5 thoughts on “They Must Fear Us: A Modest Proposal

  1. I would call this an instance of bad timing. But a certain “Dr. Ed” seems to approve of attack last week on our constitutional government, incited by the President after a two campaign of blatant lies about the election. And no one else has spoken up in opposition to these opinions, Fine company you are keeping here.

  2. I suggest that what happened in Washington, DC (and outside a half dozen state capitals) yesterday needs to be viewed in this context.

    Now, there are a lot of questions needing to be asked, starting with where were all the cops? (The last time I was down there, there were men with fully automatic rifles standing on the steps of each of those buildings — polite enough, one gave me directions, but there was a heavily-armed security presence there.) What idiot would leave a window-washing platform available for troublemakers when you are expecting trouble? What idiot expects a perimeter fenceline, let alone a flimsy one, to hold without officers standing behind it? And we don’t know how much Antifa was involved in this, but there is evidence they were.

    But notwithstanding this, it raises the question I have been asking for the past 30 years: What are you going to do when the right starts adopting the tactics of the left?!?

    As Kors & Silverglate mentioned in Shadow University, administrators have always presumed that will never happen and hence the concerns of the conservative (and even moderate) students can safely be ignored. But that Rubicon was crossed yesterday and while it was really no more violent than a “building takeover” in academia, the fact that conservatives were willing to do it has been noticed.

    More important is the size of the mostly-peaceful crowd. There were as many people there as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had at his “I have a dream” speech!

    That’s really significant…

    Yesterday’s violence, while reprehensible, wasn’t like 1954 when Puerto Rican nationalists fired 30 rounds from the gallery, or 1983 when someone else set off a bomb in there, or a few years ago when the GOP softball team was shot up — all leftist violence that is quietly forgotten. There clearly are two different standards and that’s why you simply can’t make the implicit threats that the left routinely does with impunity.

    But there’s a wave of populism washing across this country right now, it’s bigger than Trump, and it’s going to wash across academia. It’s going to wash across academia whether academia wishes it to or not. What started yesterday is not going to end soon.

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