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Oberlin Is An Insane Asylum

Everybody’s talking about the new Nathan Heller piece in The New Yorker, profiling the new left-wing student activist generation at Oberlin College.  [1] And boy, is it quite a read. You can read it and guffaw at the crazy Social Justice Warriors, but there’s something deeper going on there (and on many other campuses). Here’s the nut graf:

Such reports flummoxed many people who had always thought of themselves as devout liberals. Wasn’t free self-expression the whole point of social progressivism? Wasn’t liberal academe a way for ideas, good and bad, to be subjected to enlightened reason? Generations of professors and students imagined the university to be a temple for productive challenge and perpetually questioned certainties. Now, some feared, schools were being reimagined as safe spaces for coddled youths and the self-defined, untested truths that they held dear. Disorientingly, too, none of the disputes followed normal ideological divides: both the activists and their opponents were multicultural, educated, and true of heart. At some point, it seemed, the American left on campus stopped being able to hear itself think.

Heller doesn’t take a position at all on any of this, just lets Oberlin voices speak. And it’s damning. For example:

This spring, at Oberlin, I tracked down Cyrus Eosphoros, the student who’d worried about the triggering effects of “Antigone.” We met at the Slow Train Café, a coffee joint on College Street, one of the two main streets that make up Oberlin’s downtown. (The other is called Main Street.) Eosphoros is a shy guy with a lambent confidence. He was a candid, stylish writer for the school newspaper and a senator in student government. That day, he wore a distressed bomber jacket and Clubmaster glasses. His hair was done in the manner of Beaver Cleaver’s, with a cool blue streak across the top. Eosphoros is a trans man. He was educated in Mexico, walks with crutches, and suffers from A.D.H.D. and bipolar disorder. (He’d lately been on suicide watch.) He has cut off contact with his mother, and he supports himself with jobs at the library and the development office. He said, “I’m kind of about as much of a diversity checklist as you can get while still technically being a white man.”

Oh for eff’s sake. More:

Half a century ago, Eosphoros might not have had access to élite higher education in the United States. In that respect, he is exactly the sort of student—bright, self-made, easily marginalized—whom selective colleges like Oberlin have been eager to enroll. So I was taken aback when he told me that he’d just dropped out for want of institutional support.

“There’s this persistent, low-grade dehumanization from everyone,” he said. “Somebody will be, like, ‘Yeah, I had a class with a really great professor, and it was wonderful,’ and I’ll be sitting there, like, ‘Oh, yes, that was the professor who failed me for getting tuberculosis,’ or ‘That was the professor who, because I have double time on exams, scheduled them during lunch.’

I googled Cyrus Eosphorus. On the first Google results page was an op-ed he wrote earlier this month for the Oberlin Review [2], which introduced his piece promisingly:

Editor’s Note: This op-ed contains discussion of medical malpractice, ableism, transphobia and homophobia. 

Oh goodie. Eosphoros launches into a crackpot rant against a local Catholic hospital.

The directives contain no statements on queer people or psychiatric treatment, so the Mercy Health system appears to be making its own decisions there. However, in my experience, it consistently and dangerously provides sub-par treatment on those grounds as well.

Last year, the College forcibly institutionalized me at Mercy Regional Center in Lorain.

Oh, I bet they did! More from young Eosphorus:

While hospitalized in Lorain, the psychiatrist on call asked me what I had to look forward to; I excitedly told him about my plans to propose to my girlfriend. He informed me that I was suicidal due to “anxiety” — this time provoked by “being in a same-sex relationship.” I am a man, but he didn’t believe me the fourth time I told him, either.

Because you have a vagina, you weirdo! No wonder the shrink thought this cat was crazy.

Nathan Heller meets a liberal professor who was targeted by a student he snapped at in class, and who denounced him to the administration for creating an “unsafe” environment:

“On or about December, 2014, student character changed,” Roger Copeland, a professor of theatre and dance, announced early one afternoon. We were sitting at a table in the Feve, a college-town grill. Copeland was wearing an extremely loud Hawaiian shirt. He has thinning silver hair, glasses that darken in the sunlight, and a theatrical style of diction that most people reserve for wild anecdotes at noisy cocktail parties. At one point, I looked up from my notepad to find that he had donned a rubber nose and glasses.

At which point you take nothing else Roger Copeland says seriously. A grown man, having a meeting with a reporter from The New Yorker, behaving that way. Patch Adams meets Chairman Mao.

Here’s where it gets seriously dark. Heller talks to the head of the Comparative American Studies program, which is said to be responsible for a lot of the radicalism on campus:

How, then, to teach? Two years ago, when the Black Lives Matter movement took off, “it felt like it was going to be a moment when we were really going to have a national conversation about police brutality and economic inequality,” Kozol said. She was excited about her students’ work in Cleveland and elsewhere. “But then, at some point, it became really solipsistic.” A professor who taught a Comparative American Studies seminar that was required for majors went on leave, and, as she was replaced by one substitute and then another, Kozol noticed something alarming: the students had started seating themselves by race. Those of color had difficulty with anything that white students had to say; they didn’t want to hear it anymore. Kozol took over the class for the spring, and, she told me, “it played out through identity politics.” The class was supposed to be a research workshop. But students went cold when they had to engage with anyone outside their community.

Kozol tried everything she could think of. She divided the seminar into work groups. She started giving lectures. She asked students to write down one thing they would do to contribute to a more productive dialogue. Only one person responded. So she did what she had never done in two decades of teaching: she dissolved the course mid-semester and let students do independent study for a grade.

Something is very, very seriously wrong at this place, and with a society that produces people like this. When Heller meets with the university president, Marvin Krislov, the man tells the reporter that he loves getting together with students over ice cream to work out their problems.“There is nothing like ice cream to bring people together,” he says.

Yeah, he said that.

The sense of entitlement among these students is simply off-the-charts. One girl named Megan, a Bronx native who “identifies as Afro-Latinx,” expresses her exhaustion after the living hell that is life at Oberlin:

Then she wanted to get as far away from the United States as she could. “Working my piece of land somewhere and living autonomously—that’s the dream,” she said. “Just getting the eff out of America. It’s a sinking ship.”

Babe, you come from the Bronx. You would be lucky to be able to grow a Chia pet.

Heller transcribes a priceless snit-fit among minority students he meets with, who apparently just make stuff up:

But the alumni reactions were the worst, according to Adams. “They are quick to turn around and call twenty-year-old students the N-word, and monkeys, and illiterate uneducated toddlers, and tell us to go back to Africa where we came from, and that Martin Luther King would be ashamed of us,” she says. “We knew realistically that most of those demands were not going to be met. We understand legality. We understand finances—”

Thank you, Tawana Brawley. How many people in this room believe that alumni of one of the most legendarily liberal colleges in the nation call black students racist names and tell them to go back to Africa? Nobody? Right. Let’s continue:

“We see the pattern of nonresponse,” Slay says.

Zakiya Acey furrows his brow. “The argument was ‘Oh, so students ask for this, but it’s not legal,’ ” he says. “But it’s what I need. And it’s what this country needs, and it’s my country. That’s the whole point. We’re asking—”

“We’re asking to be reflected in our education,” Adams cuts in. “I literally am so tired of learning about Marx, when he did not include race in his discussion of the market!” She shrugs incredulously. “As a person who plans on returning to my community, I don’t want to assimilate into middle-class values. I’m going home, back to the ’hood of Chicago, to be exactly who I was before I came to Oberlin.”

Yes, this person in dire need of a straitjacket is griping because a 19th-century German Jew writing a dense book of economic and social theory while sitting in the British library didn’t factor race into his analysis of capitalism. And so it goes.

Please read the whole thing, [1] especially if you have children who are thinking of applying to college. You would ruin them if you sent them there, or to other colleges also overrun with SJW derangement. The college professor who sent me this piece comments:

The stories tell the ways in which, like Dostoevsky’s demons, students have turned against their teachers. Really, however, the subtext of the story is the abandonment of authority by one generation, and what happens to the next generation when adults forgo their obligation to enrich and pass on an inheritance. (This is what I refer to as the “Friday Night Lights” problem: a culture falls apart when adults are interested only in their own happiness, and the kids are left to their own devices to figure out ways to survive amidst heartbreak and dissolution.) When a president believes he can still the students’ pain and quiet their confusion with ice cream socials, and a professor – while wearing a rubber nose and glasses –  complains that students won’t look him in the eyes, you know that authority has ceased to function. Students will have no choice but to adopt the empty slogans of their elders, having no knowledge of a rich cultural inheritance to draw upon, and fill them with their rage.

There’s a part of me that takes pleasure in the irrationality of the contemporary cultural left destroying itself. But these are actual lives here, and institutions that people now gone have loved, and took generations to build. All being dismembered by ideology and pathology. This doesn’t just happen, though, and Oberlin is not the only school like this. This sickness says something about the American ruling class. Only because he takes his cues from a culture like this could a President of the United States order every public school in the country to let boys who think they are girls use the locker room. The backlash in this country when it all starts to come apart is going to be a terrible thing to behold. If you’ve read your Dostoevsky, and if you know your early 20th century history, you know where this kind of thing went in Russia.

UPDATE: Great comment from DancerGirl, who, it may interest some readers to know, is black and a liberal:

“The most revealing thing said by a student in the article is, “l can’t produce the work they want me to do.””

Maris, that line hit me like a 2×4. He’s so busy doing whatever, he can’t do what he went there to do — learn.

But I have to take issue with the sparseness of your excerpt because you left out the context, in which he complains about the way in which the courses are set up. “You know, we’re paying for a service. We’re paying for our attendance here. We need to be able to get what we need in a way that we can actually consume it. . . . I can’t produce the work that they want me to do. But I understand the material, and I can give it to you in different ways. There’s professors who have openly been, like, ‘Yeah, instead of, you know, writing out this midterm, come in to my office hours, and you can just speak it,’ right? But that’s not institutionalized. I have to find that professor.”

I read that passage and wanted to kick everybody’s ass. All of them.

1) “I’m paying for my education, therefore, I should decide how I will be taught.” This reasoning is also known as the logical breaking point of the customer service model in higher education. If he is so convinced that he can decide how he should be taught and examined, I don’t think school is the right place for him. Student, teach yourself. (See also, Yale English majors who resent having to read — get this — canonical British writers. Why, you might ask? Because they were white and male; the students wish to “decolonize” the English curriculum by abolishing the requirement that they read the people who established it. You see, no one writing in the Western tradition today was ever influenced by Shakespeare, Milton, Donne, etc. Check it out:http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2016/05/24/yale_students_want_to_remake_the_english_major_requirements_but_there_s.html [3])

2) “I can’t take an exam in order to prove baseline competence in a class, and it’s unreasonable to expect me to do so. But I know the material, really, I do, and if you just let me come to office hours and chat, I’ll prove it to you!” I will grant that instructors have evaluated student learning through oral exams for millennia, but somehow, I don’t think he’s looking for a Socratic dialogue with his professor.

3) If I were the department chair for the professor he described, and I learned that he or she had engaged in such shenanigans, I would raise holy hell. And if he or she didn’t have tenure, it would go in the file. Because that is professional malpractice.

Who broke this generation, and how do they get fixed?

143 Comments (Open | Close)

143 Comments To "Oberlin Is An Insane Asylum"

#1 Comment By mdc On May 25, 2016 @ 3:11 pm

“When it comes to colleges, I’m thinking St. John’s Great Books program is about the only non-STEM academic program that’s sufficiently rigorous. I wonder how long they’ll be able to hold out.”

Math and laboratory science courses are required every year of every student at St. John’s. And the program is flourishing.

#2 Comment By Andrew On May 25, 2016 @ 3:11 pm

I love the idea of a student rejecting Marx because he didn’t figure race into his analysis. “Don’t give me that white privileged Marxist bulls–t!” What’s a good white leftist professor to do when faced with a student like that?

Anyone who rejects Marx is doing the right thing, even if for the wrong reason.

#3 Comment By CatherineNY On May 25, 2016 @ 3:14 pm

The one thing I’ll say in favor of Oberlin is that the ice cream get-together’s are wholesome, and very much in the tradition of a school that helped give birth to the Temperance movement. To be really in tune with their forebears, they should eat Graham crackers with the ice cream: [4]

#4 Comment By Charles Curtis On May 25, 2016 @ 3:19 pm

I’m still confused here.

This “Cyrus Eosphorus” character is a girl who wishes she were a boy? A Latina who has taken an occultic Persian Greek moniker that basically translates into English as “Sun Morningstar?” Eosphorus or Phoshorus being also basically Greek that translates into Latin as “Lucifer?”


Awesome, man.. I mean girl, or whom or whatever. Way to represent. Way to clarify exactly where you’re coming from.

Way to (un) ironically clear up all ambiguity.

Rod, you shouldn’t encourage these people by validating their fraudulent misrepresentations of themselves – “On the first Google results page was an op-ed *he* wrote earlier this month for the Oberlin Review” – He? Please. I mean, come on.

It’s like with “gay marriage” where the only operative question is “can you have a baby with your so called spouse?” Can ejaculating into another man’s rectum get you back a baby?

The question that needs to be posed to Cyrus here is the same. Can you enter into a relationship with a normal (cisgendered, sane, blah blah blah) woman and not violate her trust with your pretensions? Can you have a child with her?

No? Conversation over. You’re not a man.

Why are we even having these discussions? This all is really just diabolical nonsense.

#5 Comment By Kyle W On May 25, 2016 @ 3:55 pm

@DancerGirl: Good grief, the headline on that Slate article you posted. The idea that identity politics has gone so far that it sees *nothing* redeemable in SHAKESPEARE chills me to the bone. God help us, we’ve become so absolutely devoted to the Revolution we’re producing functional illiterates in its name.

#6 Comment By Jen On May 25, 2016 @ 4:00 pm

I was interested in reading the New Yorker piece as I know several people who graduated from Oberlin. Then I discovered that you did your usual act of cherry-picking the most outrageous parts and drawing a very broad conclusion.

By those means, should I take the recent story about two Christian pastors involved in a sex trafficking ring and assume that all Christians are pedophiles? I mean, I read it on the internet!

Granted, there are probably some very weird people at Oberlin. But I suspect that if you actually visited, you’d probably see what you’d see on every campus in America — a lot of serious students going about their business, and a handful of loud SJWs trying to draw attention to themselves.

[NFR: Yeah, right. I invite all readers to take a look at that New Yorker piece and see if I’ve distorted its message. — RD]

#7 Comment By Lord Karth On May 25, 2016 @ 5:07 pm

mrscracker writes: “No, that was not a typo. One semester mucking out the septic tanks and one semester digging in the fields, or whatever. Give them a broad range of actually useful skills.”
That’s exactly what my oldest daughter did to pay her room & board at college. She worked on campus through the summer, too, drove a tractor,did maintenance(including septic tank issues) & all the landscaping work for the school.”

Magnificent. I commend her, for doing that. I commend you, for sending her to a school where she was able to do that.

Well done, mesdames ! Very well and very properly done !

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#8 Comment By Lord Karth On May 25, 2016 @ 5:12 pm

Kyle W writes: “God help us, we’ve become so absolutely devoted to the Revolution we’re producing functional illiterates in its name.”

That may well be the point of the exercise.

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#9 Comment By FL Transplant On May 25, 2016 @ 5:19 pm

Oberlin’s been a crazy liberal school for a long, long time. I can remember running into it in 1970 when I was looking at colleges and it was the same then (allowing that back in 1970 it was populated by students who wore overalls and fantasized about joining a commune and “getting back to the land”). Certainly not for me–I graduated from the USAF Academy–but then again, there were a lot of aspects of my “college experience” which you could write up that would read as at least bizarre if not more so as anything that’s currently happening at Oberlein.

I don’t think there’s anyone applying or attending who’s surprised by the school and how it’s run–do you? People who go there are looking for validation and support of their already formed views. To me, it’s no different than an extremely religious, extremely conservative school like Liberty University, Oral Roberts University, Messiah College or Bob Jones University. People choose to attend schools like those to also affirm and extend their already-formed views.

#10 Comment By just a prof On May 25, 2016 @ 5:23 pm

I graduated from Oberlin decades ago. The seeds of this bitterness and anger were evident then. I really enjoyed socializing with classmates who were way smarter than I, and I still keep up with some profs. But the loonies who hated people like me…maybe the craziest people in the New Yorker article were legacies. Wouldn’t surprise me.

#11 Comment By Darth Thulhu On May 25, 2016 @ 5:39 pm

Rod wrote:

[NFR: Yeah, right. I invite all readers to take a look at that New Yorker piece and see if I’ve distorted its message. — RD]

Read the piece this morning. What I found odd at first, but interesting as the article went on, is that the reporter has this consistent pattern of writing down truly bizarre details that at first seem extraneous … but as the piece goes on, the endless litany of bizarre details becomes a creepy “shadow” of the literal meaning of the interviews.

The interviews themselves are all very serious and high-minded, but the endless stream of oddball details being displayed to the reporter makes him convey the idea that there really is not much There there. The liberal academics don’t have any coherent way to defend their work and pass it on, and meanwhile everyone involved spends much of their time in bizarre acts.

There’s two ways to interpret the juxtapositions:

1) Sleight-of-hand ad hominem, trying to pull a Maureen Dowd and slander people with peripheral trivialities without ever engaging with their actual words.

2) A subversive “second story” lying underneath the first, but unarticulated, that all of these people are crazy. Lacking any actual evidence or argument beyond “look at all the quirks”, of course, that story never actually gets developed.

In that, I think Rod has accurately perceived and zeroed in on all of the reporter’s “look at all the crazy people” subtext, but the reporter doesn’t ever end up articulating anything useful with it.

[NFR: Well, the New Yorker is not known for its right-wing, culturally conservative editorial slant. That said, what would you have had the reporter do? The “nut graf” (thesis paragraph) that I identified said that from his visit to Oberlin, he learned that the left cannot even hear itself think. What do you think that means? I wasn’t sure when I first read that line, but after going over the whole piece, I think he’s trying to convey that nobody IS thinking, that the students are engaged in hysterical emotional displays, and the authorities don’t know what to do, except to accommodate them. The place comes off as a liberal arts bedlam, where there’s so much noise and disconnection from anything resembling rationality that nobody can bear to listen to anybody else. — RD]

#12 Comment By FL Transplant On May 25, 2016 @ 5:45 pm

Lord Karth: Are you familiar with Deep Springs College?

#13 Comment By Reinhold On May 25, 2016 @ 6:14 pm

I had a friend who went to Oberlin who told me she took, in her first year, a course called “Intro to the Black Experience.” You reap what you sow, Oberlin.
Send these kids Down to the Countryside!

#14 Comment By Darth Thulhu On May 25, 2016 @ 6:35 pm

Rod asked:

Well, the New Yorker is not known for its right-wing, culturally conservative editorial slant. That said, what would you have had the reporter do?

Own up to the crazy subtexting and rise up to be better than a Maureen Dowd sneer-piece.

The Big Story isn’t the academic discussion of the inability of the liberal profs and the liberal admins to communicate with the radical subfraction of ultra-left students. It’s part of the Big Story, sure, but it isn’t apparently the real thrust of the investigation.

The real thrust of the reporter’s investigation is, as DancerGirl notes, that:

1) These students can’t Do The Work
2) These students are actively trying to avoid having to Do The Work
3) These students are being ill-served by profs and admins who are happy to take their money and shuffle them along without insisting that they buckle down and Do The Work
4) All of the rad-lib claptrap is rising up as a series of pathetic excuses to try to wave away the need to be able to Do The Work
5) The profs and admins don’t want to have a confrontation, so they “accept” the rad-lib claptrap while soullessly shuffling these student tuition-sources through the bureaucracy without ever insisting on the importance and essentialness of the ability to Do The Work

That’s the real story. The reporter’s Dowd-esque streaming litany of silly quirks and unconvincing excuses hints at that story, but the reporter never knuckles down and actually writes that story.

That story would generate some intense and serious backlash, so maybe the reporter backed off from writing it out of fear. But “the campus left ideologues have trouble talking to each other” is a much, much smaller story than Oberlin Defrauds Students by Avoiding Any And All Educational Standards.

#15 Comment By Anne On May 25, 2016 @ 6:44 pm

This is all interesting, sorta, but I fail to see what any of it has to do with the price of beans, or arugula, for that matter. These Black Lives Matter protesters on college campuses may be the precursor of a real student movement, but so far the “microaggressions” they cite matter about as much to most black or student lives as, well, the price of arugula. There are so many more compelling issues college students could and should be protesting,from ever-spiraling tuitions at private schools to curricula requirements that seem calculated to keep students in school and paying those inflated tuitions for even longer than four years. From what I can observe, most students these days are working much harder, paying much more, piling up incredible debt and getting far less from a college education than we Boomers ever imagined possible back in the heyday of the Free Speech Movement and all the truly disruptive protest on college campuses. But ice cream with the President and clown noses? The breakdown of an institution? At Oberlin? How could anyone tell?

#16 Comment By Court Merrigan On May 25, 2016 @ 6:59 pm

[NFR: Who is more likely to be running the institutions of US society in the future, graduates of community college, or graduates of Oberlin, Smith, Wesleyan, Yale, etc.? — RD]

While I resent the implicit elitism on behalf of my students,you’re not wrong. That said, the Oberlin kids will find that you can’t run an institution in the real world (i.e., not a college) or much if anything else as a clown show, and they will conform accordingly. Just give them time.

I mean, remember when the hippies were gonna burn it all down and start over? These kids aren’t nearly as far out ( in both senses) or radical in their politics as those kids were.

I’m kind of sorry, to be honest, that I grew up in the buttoned-down 80s. These kids are way more interesting ( I’m not saying they aren’t misguided) thank Michael J Fox.

[NFR: Elitism? It’s realism. I wouldn’t want any of my children going to these colleges, even if it were free and they were guaranteed a plum position in the Establishment. But don’t kid yourself about the backgrounds of the people who rise to the top and those who don’t. It’s not about character, and not about ability. It’s about social status and social credentialing. A black kid who graduates from Oberlin has, on balance, a better shot at rising within the meritocracy than a white kid who graduates from your community college with perfect grades, because one has an Oberlin diploma and will have learned social strategies to rise within that world, and the other will not have. I don’t like it any more than you do, but this is the world we live in. — RD]

#17 Comment By pauln On May 25, 2016 @ 7:01 pm

“When the backlash comes, and it already is, there is not going to be anything terrible about it. This isn’t 19th century Russia and Dostoevsky was a just a boring writer with a funny name.”

Ferris Cosimano, you’re my hero…..

You should try some of the Russian classics in the original. Did you know that the entire first page of War And Peace is in French except for the phrase nu,dravstuyte, zdravstuyte ? Apparently Tolstoy expected his readers could handle it. Wonder how many Oberlin students manage more than one language?

In any case, the simple way to smoke out every SJW on the planet is to require a year of Freshman Calculus, because that requires more discipline than any of them have. Seriously, some kind of beginning Calculus and learning a language other than English are perfectly reasonable requirements for any legitimate college degree.

#18 Comment By Anne On May 25, 2016 @ 7:28 pm

Re the claim that Oberlin’s administration always accomodates protesters, that, at least, is inaccurate. Last winter when rightwing media were all abuzz with talk about liberal schools accomodating protesters, President Krislov of Oberlin, the most liberal liberal arts college of them all, responded to Black Lives Matter demands with an absolute refusal “to respond directly to any document that explicitly rejects the notion of collaborative engagement.” He also condemnex their “personal attacks” on faculty and staff members, whom he defended as “dedicated and valued members of this community.” So ice cream lover or whatnot, Krislov shouldn’t be characterized as an accomodationist.

#19 Comment By Captain P On May 25, 2016 @ 7:42 pm

Wow, what an article. I think the author had a great insight into his observation that “millenials” conflates two very different mini-generations, that he calls “Builders” and “Firebrands.” I graduated college only 7 years ago, right as the housing crisis hit and the Great Recession got started. My cohort struggled to find jobs, or (because grad school always becomes more popular when the economy is bad) get into grad schools we would have been able to a year earlier. We “Builders” weren’t shedding tears over the fact that it was hard to be a full-time activist and write our finals; we were shedding tears over job offers getting retracted and colleges eliminating graduate programs due to the recession.

College students these days are totally unrecognizable to me.

#20 Comment By Edward Hamilton On May 25, 2016 @ 8:01 pm

In the interest of avoiding epistemic closure, I made an intentional decision to work my way through [6] piece on Salon today — and was surprised to find myself feeling like I was appreciating the institutional deterioration of campus culture in a much deeper way. (At Salon, mirabile dictu!) Obviously there’s a lot of Chomsky’s perspective that I find problematic, but I think that the central insight of her argument is one that I haven’t seen nearly as well-articulated elsewhere, including here.

Her argument, in effect, is that the economic and class-oriented aspects of academic experience are being concealed by the intense focus on race and gender as a sort of smokescreen that co-opts liberal thinkers into passively accepting the corporatization of higher education. In an ideal world, a more useful Left would be providing a powerful counterbalance against the transformation of college from an intellectually motivated culture into one that revolves around business concerns, at the expense of the traditional faculty-student relationship. But since modern liberals can’t help but intermingle their causes — c.f. how Occupy Wall Street protests inevitably attracted all kinds of weird cultural movementarians with no interest in financial regulation! — all of the pressure that could have been brought against the real threat of monetization of academic world can instead be trivially deflected by administrators into conceded protest demands that relate to symbolic cultural issues. By throwing tinder on the student anger surrounding how horrible right-wing Christians are oppressing sexual minorities (not really a problem on most college campuses to begin with), administrators redirect student protests toward these issues and make themselves look sympathetic and responsive. Then they can ignore the greater economic injustices associated with rising debt loads, replacing permanent faculty with desperate underpaid adjuncts, and creating massive layers of bureaucratic cruft that bleed away money from government-subsidized programs originally intended to improve the quality of the workforce.

The result is a double tragedy. The Left, instead of doing the good it ought to accomplish by critiquing the baser aspects of corporate greed (the original purpose of the OWS movement) has been neutered and transformed into a frenzied mob arguing over semiotic power and tribal purity. And all these new administrative positions required to monitor the fulfillment of student demands provide the university with one more excuse to fleece students (and their parents, and their future spouses/children) by hiring utterly superfluous staff members into lifelong sinecures.

Please, please, read through the Chomsky piece, choke past the more tendentious bits, and come away with a greater appreciation for how everyone involved in this contrived war between the cultural right and left is being abused in order to prop up the next financial crisis.

Honestly, I suspect that college administrators are thrilled to death to hear that students are refusing to read Marx because he fails to punch all the correct identity-politics tickets. The American left is swiftly being domesticated into an anodyne collection of useful idiots serving the self-interest of a class of shrewd economic elites. Ayn Rand couldn’t have planned it any better herself.

#21 Comment By ShammasseyAlumni On May 25, 2016 @ 8:41 pm

My husband and I graduated in ’71 from Oberlin. About 20 years ago we asked to be taken off the alumni mailings because of the news that a Sado/Masochist “club” was one of the sanctioned organizations on campus. I guess I’m not terribly surprised that education has taken a back seat to full-fledged nominalism. I think the comment, above, about these institutions being “money/tuition-machines” has some merit. And everyone is complicit. I recall faculty and admission types saying things like, “if you’re smart enough to get in here–you don’t have to prove anything (doing the work).” Certainly students like to hear that–and not be challenged to get even the basics of a classical education from which they can then rebel. Sad.

#22 Comment By Myron Hudson On May 25, 2016 @ 8:46 pm

Darth Thulhu, I believe you absolutely nailed it. The students and whoever is paying their way are being completely ripped off by the University. The salacious details are just that.

These kids will not rise to power in any way, shape or form. That would require that they do The Work. Once these underpowered flowers leave their hothouse, they will be outdone and passed over at every turn.

#23 Comment By Julia On May 25, 2016 @ 11:15 pm

I have one standard comment, which I learned by the way from the righteous left, which sums up my feelings on a lot of these issues and which I believe will bear out to be true.

Not sustainable.

#24 Comment By KS On May 26, 2016 @ 12:02 am

While this all sounds kooky, probably the concern is overstated as we are looking at outliers. Students need something to rebel against, something to feel righteous about. Most settle down after a while and realize what Joseph Campbell said, that you can’t ‘fix’ the system(at least not in the sense as we typically imagine in college), but you can learn how to live in it.

In general, the anglo-saxon ethos has been a sneaky practicality, paying lip service to ideals, but plodding along with just boring common sense. Nothing wrong with this as such. It is always wise to wear our ideals lightly. None of them are true in any absolute sense, and the processes of nature continue as they do, regardless of our ideals and expectations.

Is this good old fashioned common sense in danger of being completely lost – probably not.

#25 Comment By Anne On May 26, 2016 @ 8:24 am

@Edward Hamilton,

Thanks for the tip about the Aviva Chomsky piece at Salon. I haven’t read it yet, but from what you say Chomsky has uncovered the real problem in academia, which ironically, is much the same as the one playing out on the right side of the public arena: As with working-class Trump voters, who are being played by a rightwing con man after decades of being fleeced by Republican corporate interests that had re-channeled their anger toward cultural war, students, who might otherwise recognize their own real enemy in the corporatization of higher education, are instead falling for a leftwing version of the cultural war smokescreen and reacting much the same. Why aren’t students protesting their real problems on campus? Why are workers following a billionaire con artist after decades of voting for the party of corporate greed? It’s the Culture War, stupid.

It turns both sides into their own worst enemy, and they proceed to do the rest.

#26 Comment By Mastro On May 26, 2016 @ 8:31 am

I’ve been reading the bio of Robert Noyce- one of the founders of Intel-

His mom went to Oberlin and wanted to be a missionary- a big job for Oberlin grads back then.

My how things have changed.

#27 Comment By David Pittelli On May 26, 2016 @ 8:42 am

Oberlin President Krislov: “There is nothing like ice cream to bring people together.”

Doesn’t he know what a triggering microaggression that is to the African-American community, half of whom cannot digest lactose and will get sick if they eat ice cream? Bigot!

#28 Comment By Lost My cookies On May 26, 2016 @ 9:14 am

I think DancerGirl noticed the real problem, the idea that students are customers and should be treated as customers outside of the bursar’s office and the bookstore. Customers are always right. Students, by definition, aren’t.

#29 Comment By bpbatista On May 26, 2016 @ 9:30 am

I grew up in Lorain County (where Oberlin is located) and spent a lot of time in that town. The college has been an insane asylum for decades. It’s current decrepit state is only a matter of degree — not kind. Anyone who sends their kid to Oberlin College should be prosecuted for child endangering.

#30 Comment By tyates On May 26, 2016 @ 11:05 am

I went to Goddard College for a little while which isn’t all that different. The environment was very unstructured and is actually really good for students who are highly motivated and can work independently. Unfortunately 95% of college students are not like that. Most Goddard students are though, because that’s what they attract and expect.

OTOH at some point you wonder what you’re paying for if you do all the work yourself. I didn’t stay that long and ended up catching the Internet wave. After about a decade I got into a top MBA program. Now I’m a self taught expert in two fields, computers and finance (MBA only teaches you introductory finance) and an amateur historian. A school isn’t going to turn you into a lifelong learner – you either are or you aren’t.

#31 Comment By Tom S. On May 26, 2016 @ 11:10 am

My son currently attends St. John’s College, and is thoroughly enjoying the academic rigor there (and they do teach Math and Science–from original sources).

I have to say from his description of his classmates, that there are plenty of SJWs, “snowflakes,” video game addicts, and whackos there, as I suppose there are at most colleges. Rod will be gratified to learn that one of my son’s friends is an Eastern Orthodox Catholic whose devotion is such that he does not cut his hair or shave, and wears only dark clothing that does not expose any skin, no matter what the weather is.

This anecdata suggests that colleges continue to be places where emerging adults can let their freak flags fly, sort out various issues, learn a bit about co existing with others, and emerge somewhat prepared for today’s workforce or grad school. A few will no doubt succumb to the blandishments of radical professors, and will inhabit positions in ethnic and gender studies’ departments, sociology, and poststructuralist English departments, where they will be ignored by the 80% of the students who have to take the courses in order to satisfy degree requirements.

#32 Comment By Dantes On May 26, 2016 @ 11:49 am

Did Ozzy Osbourne go to Oberlin?

Crazy train lyrics:

Inheriting troubles I’m mentally numb
Crazy, I just cannot bear
I’m living with something’ that just isn’t fair

Mental wounds not healing
Who and what’s to blame
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train
I’m going off the rails on a crazy train

#33 Comment By JN On May 26, 2016 @ 2:06 pm

I read the article last night, and while I completely agree with you, Rod, about the craziness of this all, I was struck that the students really do feel mis-led as to the purpose of attending Oberlin. I wonder how Oberlin and other elite colleges markets itself to prospective students? I wonder if the first step for colleges hoping to avoid this SJW insanity is to put in bold font on the front of their brochures, “X College is a place where your convictions will be challenged, where your professors will engage you in complex arguments, and where your classes will be challenging but rewarding.” Maybe that would scare off those students who don’t actually want to do any work.

#34 Comment By Carl Eric Scott On May 26, 2016 @ 2:35 pm

Attending the St. John’s College Graduate Institute program was one of the very best things that I ever did. Happy memories. Abiding benefits and pleasures.

#35 Comment By Richard M On May 26, 2016 @ 2:40 pm

“When it comes to colleges, I’m thinking St. John’s Great Books program is about the only non-STEM academic program that’s sufficiently rigorous. I wonder how long they’ll be able to hold out.”

I’d throw in Thomas Aquinas College (Santa Paula, CA) as well. It’s also a Great Books Program, and you can’t escape going through Euclid.

But yes, a thin list beyond that.

#36 Comment By TBlakely On May 26, 2016 @ 3:05 pm

It’s a ‘kinder, gentler’ version of Mao’s Cultural Revolution with pampered students in the role of the thugs who went around and terrorized those who were denounced as ‘bourgeoisie’.

In the current version, victims are those who don’t sufficiently hew to the SJW belief system. It has the same mob mentality and cruelty of the original Cultural Revolution just, thankfully, without the guns, knives and clubs.

#37 Comment By Joe Y On May 26, 2016 @ 4:17 pm

Enjoyed your piece, but one note. While Marx’s ancestors were Jewish, his parents converted to Lutheranism and Marx was born and bred in the faith, though he later became an atheist, of course. Engels came from an old German-Lutheran family.

#38 Comment By fencesdecks On May 26, 2016 @ 4:21 pm

Missing from your article is the way that the administration and faculty are, in fact, setting parameters for the students. Out of 14 pages of demands, they agreed to 5 specific requests, with a willingness to discuss some of the other issues. They were clear that demands such as firing faculty and staff, or granting immediate tenure were off the table.These students are idealistic and feel great urgency. The school is teaching them how to engage with institutions and how to bring about change. It’s a messy process, and some will probably go away feeling that they’ve been treated unfairly. Others will learn and become leaders and will go on to improve our society. Oberlin is a challenging school, and there is no indication that student are being allowed to slip through without meeting the school’s high academic standards.

#39 Comment By fencesdecks On May 26, 2016 @ 4:44 pm

Just returned from my Oberlin reunion. Here is what some of my fellow alums are doing: A physician whose practice is focused on caring for homeless people, a pediatrician whose work centers on caring for victims of child abuse, a person who organizes community gardens and a farmer’s market in the poor neighborhoods of a struggling city, a social worker who helps teens transition from foster care to independent living, a counselor for gifted students who are the first in their generation to attend college, a public health specialist who works with service worker unions to be sure that custodians are not exposed to toxic chemicals on the job. All are bright and talented, and could be making much more money in other fields, yet they feel committed to improving the lives of the more vulnerable members of our society. Do you really find them to be absurd?

#40 Comment By Howard Schwartz On May 26, 2016 @ 6:09 pm

What we see at Oberlin, and elsewhere, is what I call the normalization of the pristine self, which is a self touched on by nothing but love. There are no pristine selves, once we get beyond infancy, but these people expect and demand to be treated that way. This is a profound and dangerous cultural shift. Let me recommend my article on the 2013 racial hoax at Oberlin, presented at Legal Insurrection:


And also, at Legal Insurrection, on the way it plays out in the concept of microaggression:


#41 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On May 26, 2016 @ 10:12 pm

Shut down the universities, put everyone to work building high speed rail systems across the United States. Oh, and reopen the insane asylums. Some people really belong in one.

#42 Comment By John G On May 27, 2016 @ 1:57 pm

You can go to many schools and with a little effort find students and faculty who make goofy comments. Oberlin has its share of goofy left-wing students, and they get far more attention than they should. Oberlin is also an extremely serious academic institution and its students work very hard, do excellent work, and are admitted to top graduate schools around the country. Its science programs are extremely strong for a small school.

#43 Comment By Axxr On May 27, 2016 @ 11:46 pm

For JN and is suggestion for a disclaimer above:

Having been and taught at elite northeastern universities, I’m afraid you’ll have to be more explicit about it than your disclaimer is, as much of the language that you use has already been appropriated (i.e. it is “being intellectually challenged” to protest microaggresions, and thus laudable).

I’d say it needs to read:

“[College X] continues in the traditions of western civilization and the enlightenment. If you come, your job is to learn, understand, and critically examine what has become known to science, industry, and the arts over the centuries, and to gain the skills needed to convey these things to others. Yours will not be a mission of protest, nor one in pursuit of diversity. Yours will be a mission of apprenticeship under the world’s elites.”

Of course, at this point, enrollments would fall through the floor as all of the young idealists raised on a steady diet of victimhood and identity politics would turn away and apply to the school that promises near riots in the streets to valorize strong feelings about selves, race, gender, and sexuality.