Middlebury College just completed its final round of disciplinary hearings for students involved in March’s violent disruption of a lecture by Charles Murray, the influential but controversial social scientist.
The punishments to date have been laughably lax. Guilty students have been presented with non-official “probation” letters that’ll vanish upon graduation.
This toothless response reflects a deeper rot. Middlebury, like many prestigious colleges, has steadily gravitated away from its core educational mission and now serves primarily as a sort of finishing school for the ruling class. Professors and administrators alike are simply expected to shower students with affirmation—and then hand over a degree securing smooth entry into America’s elite. College has become four years of expensive fun. This is what parents and students now demand.
This change—from institutions of learning to institutions of affirming—threatens the nation’s future as colleges foster a vicious strain of anti-intellectualism.
At over $60,000 a year, Middlebury’s tuition buys much more than books, lodging, and classes. Students also get a campus-wide square dance, dining halls that host culinary “world tours,” lavish fitness facilities, and an annual winter carnival complete with fireworks, a hot chocolate bar, and snow sculptures.
The student body is ultra-affluent. Middlebury is among a small handful of schools with more students from the top one percent of the income distribution than those from the bottom 60 percent. And on graduation, newly christened alums are typically funneled right back into their elite enclaves, taking jobs at places like Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, and Amazon.
Middlebury cultivates a campus culture allergic to any threats to students’ egos. After the Murray fracas, its student government both rejected a resolution reaffirming the school’s commitment to free expression and passed one demanding modifications to the student handbook to allow protesters to shut down speakers.
Students even bullied the chair of the political science department into publicly apologizing for co-sponsoring Murray’s talk. In his confessional, apparently unaware of the irony that he was referring to people who wouldn’t stop screaming, he apologized for contributing to students’ “feeling of voicelessness.”
This transformation of the nation’s top schools has fueled the rapid rise of professional administrators. Over the last couple decades, their ranks have expanded much faster than those of actual educators.
Administrators aren’t particularly loyal to the core higher-ed mission of discovering and disseminating knowledge. Many are failed academics whose only talents are regurgitating on cue vacuous corporate jargon—“innovating in strategic processes,” “developing new thought leadership platforms,” and so on—and attending conferences with each other. And in student grievance, they have found an endlessly renewable energy supply.
Consider Yale, another elite college rocked by student hysterics. As I detailed in my documentary released earlier this year on We the Internet TV, that campus erupted after lecturer Erika Christakis pushed back against creeping administrative controls on students’ Halloween costumes. Over a thousand students participated in a massive follow-up protest, where undergrads complained to reporters about a non-existent campus epidemic of racist Halloween costumes and a non-existent “white girls only” frat party. Some waited outside a campus free speech conference to spit on attendees as they left. Others surrounded Erika’s husband, Nicholas, also a Yale professor and world-class academic, pelting him with profanity and screaming him into silence.
A small group of Yale professors stood up for the Christakises in an open letter. Tellingly, though, two of the three professors that drafted it refused to be named out of fear of retaliation from the administration.
Dean of the College Jonathan Holloway and President Peter Salovey left the couple out to dry, sending out a campus-wide email telling students “we failed you.” And then the administration jumped at the chance to expand itself, launching a $50 million “inclusivity” initiative that included the creation a new deanship.
This is an unlikely alliance between corporate middle-management and self-styled student radicals, adolescent zealotry getting pimped by bureaucrats. And it’s playing out all over higher ed. Over the last two years, usually in response to some rash of undergrad intolerance, colleges and universities have hired about 75 new “diversity” administrators.
What happens in colleges matters. Students at Middlebury and Yale will go on to run the country, and the intellectual habits they pick up as undergrads will stick. With American politics now suffering toxic levels of incivility, we need these institutions to return to their real purpose.
Rob Montz is a fellow at the Moving Picture Institute. Find his work at: RobMontz.com. Check out his interview with TAC executive editor Pratik Chougule at Fearless Parent Radio: http://fearlessparent.org/free-speech-controversy-us-elite-universities-episode-104/