The Folly of Stoking Campus Racialism
This column by ACRU Senior Fellow Robert Knight was published November 15, 2015 by The Washington Times.
Bernard Sanders has joined the campaign to shame U.S. colleges that has taken off in the wake of events at the University of Missouri, where top administrators resigned last week over allegations that they didn’t do enough about racist incidents.
Sen. Sanders, like all of his fellow candidates at the Oct. 13 Democrat presidential debate —- except former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb —- eschewed the concept that “all lives matter” and instead embraced the slogan “black lives matter.” On Nov. 11, he upped his identity group creds by tweeting, “I’m listening to the #BlackOnCampus conversation. It’s time to address structural racism on college campuses.”
He probably doesn’t mean restructuring the Missouri football team, which operates on the merit system and whose roster is nearly half black, compared to the 7 percent of blacks on the Missouri campus and 13.3 percent of African-Americans in the U.S. population.
Speaking of the football team, it was their threatened boycott of the next game that helped seal the fate of University of Missouri System President Timothy M. Wolfe and main campus Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, who resigned as of the end of the year.
Since Sen. Sanders has not insisted that, in the name of equality, more Asians and Jews should be playing linebacker, he must be talking about not enough affirmative action for academic outcomes, such as graduation rates. Or he could be talking about the reluctance of college officials to turn over their campuses entirely to racialists who employ Marxist tactics to intimidate anyone in their path.
Sometimes college officials themselves do the intimidating, such as mass communications Assistant Prof. Melissa Click, who asked for “muscle over here” to stop a freelance photographer from covering a rally cheering the resignations. Caught on camera, she later apologized.
It’s beyond ironic that with millions of people desperate to enter or stay in the United States illegally, college students can claim that they are living under an oppressive regime. Jonathan Butler, whose hunger strike led to Mr. Wolfe’s resignation, told an interviewer that, for him, the campus “is an unlivable space” and that “I’m already not treated like I’m human.” Jonathan’s dad is a railroad executive who earned nearly $7 million last year and has a net worth of $20 million. I’m not saying that a rich kid can’t have an opinion or fight for a cause, but sometimes perspective is needed.
None of this means that racial incidents are not important breaches of civility and that the perps should not face serious repercussions. It’s not clear what the college administrators should have done differently. But they did let the situation get out of control and spread. A Missouri University of Science and Technology student was arrested last Wednesday for what police said were social media postings in which he threatened to “shoot every black person” that he saw on the main campus in Columbia. If he’s guilty, throw the book at him.
Rudeness of any kind should be discouraged. But the drive to eliminate any offense has become an onerous threat to freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry on campuses.
What’s needed now is courage and leadership on the part of college administrators to take their schools back.
But campus officials seem utterly intimidated. Last Tuesday, a University of Missouri email told students to call campus police if they’re offended by someone’s remarks. The email acknowledged that although certain speech isn’t always illegal, the Office of Student Conduct can punish students.
The university’s student conduct code defines harassment as “unwelcome verbal or physical conduct” against “actual or perceived membership in a protected class… that creates a hostile environment.”
This is getting dangerously close to Canada’s hate speech law, under which anyone can be hauled before a human rights tribunal for violating political correctness.
Again, we can agree that authorities should come down hard on actual bullying, such as using racial epithets or implied threats of violence. The problem is that campus radicals have redefined what constitutes an offense, which is any disagreement with progressive ideology.
If you say out loud, for instance, that you believe marriage is only the union of a man and a woman, you’re committing a hate crime. What about saying that some factors in addition to slavery helped ignite the Civil War? Hate crime. What about saying that America has been a uniquely powerful force for liberty and justice in the world? Insensitive to other cultures —- a hate crime.
Colleges are a way station between parental supervision and the adult world. Students are supposed to be enriched by boundless learning and to acquire skills and knowledge to allow them to compete with others for jobs.
All too many, however, are learning how to take offense and to use the system to exact revenge. They should not be allowed to get away with it.
The cure for “structural racism” and animosity of all kinds is the Golden Rule, variations of which are found in many faiths, but spoken most evocatively by Jesus, who said: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”