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Why Colleges Fold to Students’ Anti-Intellectual Hysterics

Middlebury College just completed its final round of disciplinary hearings [1] 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 [2].

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 [3], dining halls that host culinary “world tours [4],” lavish fitness facilities, and an annual winter carnival [5] 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 [6]. 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 [7].

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 [8] and passed one demanding modifications to the student handbook to allow protesters to shut down speakers. [9]

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 [10].”

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 [11].

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, [12] 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 [13]” frat party. Some waited outside a campus free speech conference to spit on attendees as they left [14]. 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. [15] 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 [16].” 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. [17]

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/

28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "Why Colleges Fold to Students’ Anti-Intellectual Hysterics"

#1 Comment By Sydney Harrington On May 23, 2017 @ 10:32 pm

Oh please. I teach at one of the elite colleges mentioned in this column. The idea that the students here get gratuitous affirmation in lieu of real education is risible.

#2 Comment By Peter On May 23, 2017 @ 11:55 pm

Colleges have always been keen on censoring unfashionable opinions. If you want to put an end to all this nonsense you just need to get people in positions of power to stand up and affirm the right to hate and express hate. Since nobody is willing to do that, we are stuck on the slippery slope to total censorship. No, I don’t endorse hate but the right to express antagonisms not one’s own is implicit in plain vanilla freedom of speech. Neither “speech act theory” nor the “fighting words” concept nor anything else vindicates the wish to deprive others of the First Amendment right to express views seen as hateful or offensive by others. I am exposed to speech that I perceive as intended to offend me every time I turn on the TV so if I have to put up with it why shouldn’t others? But if equal protection cannot be, let the protected one be me! I guess that last sentence disqualifies me as a “conservative,” a group known for its masochism.

#3 Comment By Peter Donoghue On May 24, 2017 @ 5:09 am

If these are America’s future business and political leaders, the outlook is bad!

#4 Comment By WorkingClass On May 24, 2017 @ 6:07 am

What happens in colleges matters.

Not really. The working class has a life of it’s own. We never see these people and they never see us.

#5 Comment By Centralist On May 24, 2017 @ 7:37 am

I think what you are seeing here is the fundamental rotting of civil discourse. Both sides of the aisle are guilty of this and it is made worse by the internet which has created cloistered thought bubbles. I personally find Murray’s studies lacking some depth yet I still read them to give the criticism. My personal views shaped by a strong intellectual curiosity force me to research what I disagree with to understand if I really do or if it is just my own uniformed prejudices at work.

I feel most people lack this as many Americans rarely read anything and fewer even buy books. I believe there is a gentleman in a high office that once bragged he had never read a full book because he got everything he needed from it from a simple summary. This outlook I think is far to common amongst us.

#6 Comment By Cash On May 24, 2017 @ 10:17 am

Come on, Rob. This is really sloppy work.

You danced around but never answered the question in the title. Why do administrators and faculty allow themselves to get bullied? The kids bound for Wall Street aren’t protesting. Because they’re apolitical careerists. Besides, it’s too risky if Goldman’s HR folks google their name.

Schools can exercise the nuclear option: expulsion. That’s the end of a Wall Street career before it starts and everybody knows it. One or two well-chosen expulsions for violence directed at a speaker and everyone will get the message that free speech has powerful defenders on campus.

But here’s the thing. Are the protestors actually students? The Berkeley protesters came prepared to be violent. Just look how they were dressed. The Yale protesters were probably students. Middlebury — 50/50?

#7 Comment By Ithaca Farmer On May 24, 2017 @ 10:21 am

For starters, Middlebury was never an elite institution. It has been a finishing school since the sixties. As for Yale, I am bewildered as to what is happening.

#8 Comment By Michael N Moore On May 24, 2017 @ 10:29 am

While educators are becoming migrant laborers, higher education has been taken over by parasitical administrators. If you had a cushy, high-paying job on a nice campus wouldn’t you do anything to please your $60,000 a year customers.

#9 Comment By Positivethinker On May 24, 2017 @ 10:52 am

Colleges are now a second round of preschool. Only purpose is to make students feel good so they go home and rave to their parents about how wonderful their 4 (or 5) years are. This then hopefully (from colleges’ point of view) translates to alumni giving back. Its all about money folks…

#10 Comment By March Hare On May 24, 2017 @ 11:22 am

What needs to change most fundamentally is the notion that these schools are part of a pipeline to influential jobs after graduation.

Just think of how much better adolescence would be if adolescents were not under constant pressure to get into the “best” school possible. Can anyone tell me with a straight face that an Ivy League graduate is better prepared for Wall Street, based on her EDUCATION? Please, the principal function of these schools is to serve as the minor leagues for tomorrow’s good old boy networks.

#11 Comment By Susan On May 24, 2017 @ 11:29 am

It’s sad when students and administrators have an equal level of maturity not because of the maturity of the students but because of the immaturity of the administrators.

#12 Comment By john arno On May 24, 2017 @ 12:06 pm

We are living in a time where up is down, wrong is right, and liberals demand special rights (as though the Bill of Rights isn’t enough, but then they never read those). These are treacherous times for liberty and justice. Devil worship and pedophilia are rampant throughout government and educational institutions. Scandals are so commonplace, they are no longer scandals, but subdued under highly-contested arguments over their voracity as to being fake or real news, and under the weight of that argument, the real story is lost.

Children today never grow up because society has apologetically, through endless political correctness, allowed them to decline into a state of moral depravity, where ethics are only situational, and according to each person’s personal interpretation and expression–all of which is OK.

Think for one minute, about the current and future consequences to our nation arising from the outcome of the bad management of these juvenile, imbecilic spoiled brats. At the altar of political correctness, inclusion, and the fear of being labeled a racist, educators and politicians have created a student culture unlike none in our history–a sort of hippie generation on steroids.

College and university students participate in violence and hate speech, (albeit protected speech), destruction of private and government property, and a policy of only including those who agree with them, and in so doing, carry out a clearly racist, non-inclusive agenda. Moreover, thoughtful examination reveals theirs is an agenda, at its core, of selfish motivations. They are in deed, the “It’s all about me” generation, and much of what they promote advances that agenda.

The irony of all this only escapes those who actively or passively participate in this insanity. This includes educators, parents, politicians, and the young adults engaged in ceaseless on-and-off campus tantrums and buffoonery sans amusement.

In the midst of all this, the lesson is that political correctness and situational ethics is selling this country out and rapidly removing keystone elements of what is, or was exceptional about it. All of this of course, if you ask any of these Saul Alinsky-types of loud-mouth, idiotic, deserving brats, you will learn from them there is not and never has been anything about America that is exceptional. To suggest anything to the contrary is racist and non-inclusive–just ask them.

Our educational system on its own merit is substantially a complete failure. Those who rise above the cesspool of its politicized environment and GROW UP to make a real contribution to society, do so because they focus on getting an education and doing something productive with their lives, not protesting for something else they want or think they need at the expense of others.

But take heart. History proves what happens to most of these idiots. They fail in life, because they refuse to assume responsibility for themselves, and ultimately become de facto wards of the government.

When I grew up, most nearly all of my contemporaries were very much like the idiot campus protestors of today. Many of the issues were the same, only now characterized differently under the cloak and dagger of political correctness. While some of my contemporaries eventually figured out they were fencing windmills and got on with their lives, most became a generation lost to drugs, protests, welfare, failed marriages, and lived an unfulfilling life. My only compassion for the same youth of today arises from my fear they are headed down the same path to a future void of any meaningful use of their human ability, lost in the system they so vehemently opposed in college, and will spend their youth and in deed, much of their lives living life on terms that in the end, no one remembers, and no one cares, because they GAVE NOTHING BACK to the society that GAVE THEM SO MUCH.

#13 Comment By TR On May 24, 2017 @ 12:45 pm

Since pretty much the same thing is happening at non-elite, non-ruling-class institutions, you’re obviously not on the right track. Well, you’re right to focus on administrators. Assume that administrators–even the “diversity” ones–are careerists and not ideologues and you should come up with something better.

#14 Comment By Mike Alexander On May 24, 2017 @ 12:55 pm

This article is a bit silly. Does the author really think the students who will go on to careers in finance, or government (i.e. the future ruling class) are the same people as the protesters? I looked up Middlebury and found that 15% major in economics and 16% go into finance. 13% major in history, poly sci or International studies and 13% end up in the government (many I supposed through an intermediate law program. 6.6% major in environmental studies and 4% end up in an environmental field. This makes sense. About a quarter major in natural science and another 16% in social sciences other than economics. These folks like will end up academia, technology, healthcare, consulting.

I suspect most of the protest ringleaders come from just a small section of the student body, which I will proxy by those majoring in gender, sexuality & feminist studies, religion, philosophy & environment, and African studies who total 0.9% of the student body.

These are not the future ruling class.
What you are seeing is the same sort of lobbying that military contractors do with the government. What do you suppose that 0.9% is going to do for a living? They are going to staff the diversity positions that their protests are going to create a demand for. Is this consciously in their minds at the time they are protesting? Probably not, they are just kids. But in the end it will work out that way. Just another example of cultural evolution in action.

#15 Comment By Cash On May 24, 2017 @ 12:56 pm

The unpardonable sin on campus is academic dishonesty. Plagiarize and you’re expelled. Yes, there may be lesser punishments for footnote violations. But the point is, the faculty generally take a no-mercy approach, no matter that the customers are paying $60k/year.

Shouting down speakers, even without violence, needs to be the other unpardonable sin on campus.

Warn students the way Chicago did a year or two ago that the proper response to a bad argument is a better argument. We debate everything and no one has a right to shut down the conversation because he’s offended.

#16 Comment By GM On May 24, 2017 @ 1:06 pm

Didn’t George Bush go to Yale? Some job they did finishing him.

What students get out of college depends on their level of curiosity. And that has been mostly crushed out of them by K-12.

Currently in America corporations have unlimited free speech rights but people no longer do. As Trump would say—SAD.

#17 Comment By cdugga On May 24, 2017 @ 2:17 pm

I am college educated and must grudgingly accept that some trolling is above or below my ability to comprehend, with no purpose beyond some entertainment value contained in the responses. Great picture. Lets discuss what is going on there.

#18 Comment By mrscracker On May 24, 2017 @ 2:26 pm

I know that private colleges are struggling financially & some have had to shut their doors. Maybe they’re reluctant to lose students by enforcing discipline?

#19 Comment By Brian W On May 24, 2017 @ 2:35 pm

“Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.” Mark Twain

#20 Comment By Kurt Gayle On May 24, 2017 @ 4:36 pm

Rob Montz describes reality: “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.”

No one could say it better, Mr. Montz. However, not only do your words accurately describe the process of “Colleges Fold[ing] to Students’ Anti-Intellectual Hysterics,” TAC’s accompanying photo Shutterstock photo — “Multinational group of cheerful students taking an active part in a lesson while sitting in a lecture hall” — represents a brilliant accessorization of your thesis.

In fact I suggest to TAC readers who are interested in The College/University Games the Elites Play take a quick peak at Shutterstock’s 90 “similar images to ‘Multinational group of cheerful students taking an active part in a lesson while sitting in a lecture hall’”:

[18]

#21 Comment By balconesfault On May 24, 2017 @ 5:07 pm

It may well be that Middlebury punishments were lax, because according to many students their non-violent (although arguably overly aggressive – surrounding and pushing on a car may be literally “non-violent”, but it is also an incitement) protests were met with force by private security forces and by the schools VP of communications, who was driving Murray from the event.

Given the amount of money that Middlebury takes from its students, I’d imagine there would have been lawsuits against the University for their part in escalating the incident if they’d been more aggressive in their punishments.

I give the author credit for not including recent incidents involving Coulter or Yiannopoulos, which would certainly strained the meaning of the term “intellectual”.

That said, I’m not allowing students off the hook here. There are proper rules for non-violent protest, and the students at Middlebury blew right past them. I only thank God that Middlebury has a no guns on campus policy.

#22 Comment By Thomas Dunn On May 24, 2017 @ 7:05 pm

I paid “full freight” ( no needs discount b/c I made too much) to put 2 kids through Muhlenberg College. Cost $400k. One graduated cum laude with a degree in biochemistry and couldn’t even find a job as a lab tech. Overqualified. In retrospect, I should have ponyed up a down payment for a Macdonalds for each of them and skipped college.

#23 Comment By Hibernian On May 24, 2017 @ 8:13 pm

@ GM: Currently in America people have a level of free speech which is high compared to people in other countries, including some democracies; unfortunately it is declining. As per “Citizens United” we have that right whether we are operating in the corporate form or otherwise. Fixed it for you.

#24 Comment By Hibernian On May 24, 2017 @ 8:17 pm

@ Mike Alexander:

“These are not the future ruling class.”

They will be if we don’t wake up.

#25 Comment By David Pascual On May 24, 2017 @ 10:26 pm

College as a “finishing school for the ruling class” is a very good description of my own experience at a small, expensive and somewhat prestigious liberal arts college.

You have these rich kids who come from a very insular suburban environment and they need to be prepared for life in the big city. So they spend 4 years away from mom and dad in a safe environment where they can experience “diversity” ie. live close to a sprinkling of people from other backgrounds, races and nationalities who have been carefully selected by their school.

They can also polish a bit their general education, which is usually quite poor. And they are taught the ideology of the ruling class. Sure, just a few students will become radicals, but most will learn that it is simply bad manners to oppose publicly, say, the legalization of gay marriage. Something akin to picking one’s nose. The idea is to avoid a social faux-pas with your future coworkers at Goldman Sachs. If you also learnt things such as “Gender is a social construct” you will be able to project a veneer of intellectuallity or “social awareness” as an added bonus.

Another important function of the school is to enable its students to establish personal relations with each other that will be useful in their future careers. Colleges provide a “fun” environment that fosters such relationships as part of the package.

This is what parents expect and what they pay handsomely for. That such places are very sensitive to the wishes of their clients, the students, should come as no surprise. When situations such as those described in the article happen, the obvious concern of the school administrators is not “freedom of speech” or what not. It is to deal with the situation as quickly as possible without upsetting the clients.

#26 Comment By Mike Schilling On May 25, 2017 @ 10:24 am

If only one of the students had punched Murray, he could be elected to Congress.

#27 Comment By Mia On May 25, 2017 @ 7:23 pm

I think it’s high time to delist the elite status of the Ivy Leagues entirely. They have become a complete joke in a number of ways over the past few decades at least, and since they seem to be more concerned with coddling silly ideas for their very privileged clientele, no need for us to look to them for our nation’s political or cultural leaders. Let’s see if there are some worthier public or private universities that can tow the line in rationality instead and let the Ivy League graduates check their privilege by not being brought into the conversation anymore. (After all, the only ones talking about checking privilege are the ones who have it.) Can that possibly be done?

#28 Comment By Nyte On May 26, 2017 @ 8:10 am

“The unpardonable sin on campus is academic dishonesty. Plagiarize and you’re expelled. Yes, there may be lesser punishments for footnote violations. But the point is, the faculty generally take a no-mercy approach, no matter that the customers are paying $60k/year.”

I don’t think you’ve been in college for quite some time. Unpardonable . . . in the age of wikipedia unlikely. I guess it all depends on where one goes to school. I look back on my life and this full of instances and lessons. When I think of political correctness, I think of a days when one wondered if they irked the wrong professor or said the wrong thing thing to the wrong girl or associated with the right girl or group, spoke the right way . . . having gotten a political boot, a speaker with peculiar ideas about social conditions, just doesn’t measure up.

Political awareness in an institution where politics meant knowing it’s a good idea to keep you head down and steer clear of anything that might even hedge on something controversial. It’s nice to know that one can generally date who they like, or hang with someone different, even hold hands with someone on the wrong side of the tracks.

But his notion of safety from menacing ideas that it requires near riot behavior is hard to accept is the appropriate or acceptable answer. Even if you are as black as coal and the history supports that political correctness actually meant you as target, stifling a discussion because the content is offense, just doesn’t make sense to creating an environment of in which blackness is treated for the benign factor it is by shutting down speech to protect yourself from its content.

It seems much wiser and academic just not to attend. Justified as one’s feelings might be, there’s no white lynch mob dragging you off to hear a lecture blacks are perceived as having a low EQ score. If you really want to challenge the power, challenge why immigrants are given preferential treatment and the expectation that you must pander to their wants and desires.

I would think that 200 years of sitting in the back of your country would be worth a fight. I guess it takes a bowl of courage you just don’t have to stand for what those who went before paid so a dear a price to gain.