Reprinted from the Press and Journal
Things sure have changed since the late Bill Buckley wrote his classic “God and Man at Yale.” Back when the National Review founder’s jeremiad against academia’s entrenched liberalism first hit the scene, the enemy was godless collectivism.
As a young graduate, Buckley penned his scathing work to reveal the leftist ideology taught at America’s third-oldest university. His goal was to awaken Yale alumni to the fact that their proud alma mater no longer taught the principles of Christianity and moral law.
Nearly a half-century later, Buckley has failed in his crusade. Yale is still a hotbed for Keynesian economics and secular humanism. But the Ivy League University has gone further than instilling students with a love of big government. It has reached the end point of liberalism, becoming a coddle factory for overly sensitive undergrads.
This past Halloween, the country was forced to witness an Ivy League-level temper tantrum in New Haven, CT. Yale students, upon being told to not be so uptight about offensive costumes, went into a frenzy that would make a pampered preschooler blush.
As the night of ghouls and ghosts approached and students readied themselves for an evening of boozing, the university’s Intercultural Affairs Committee sent out a campus-wide e-mail, discouraging the wear of “feathered headdresses, turbans, wearing ‘war paint’ or modifying skin tone or wearing blackface or redface.”
The worrywart Committee maintained that Yale was still a place of “free expression” but that “cultural appropriation” was frowned upon (cognitive dissonance must not be a prerequisite).
Erika Christakis, Associate Master of Silliman College (one of Yale’s residential colleges) had good enough sense to think the e-mail went too far. “I don’t wish to trivialize genuine concerns about cultural and personal representation,” she wrote in her own e-mail to students. “Is there no room anymore for a child or young person to be a little bit obnoxious… a little bit inappropriate or provocative or, yes, offensive?
The student body reacted with a resounding “No!”
They responded in kind with their own letter, calling her suggestion “jarring and disheartening.” These vexed whiners accused Christakis of using “harmful stereotypes and tropes to further degrade marginalized people.”
Christakis’ husband, Nicholas, who is master of Silliman College, attempted to meet with the offended students only to be berated and humiliated in public. Watching the video of Mr. Christakis being dressed down by Jerelyn Luther, a globe-trotting female student from a well-off family, over his insensitivity is cringe-inducing.
A grown man and authority figured felled by a petulant brat – that is the state current state of American higher education.
The situation in Yale is not unique.
Across the country, from the University of Missouri to Claremont McKenna to Princeton, students are making outrageous demands on the basis of perceived racial oppression. They want more minority faculty members, more ethnically-centered classes, and more funding for mental health services.
One Yale student complained in an e-mail that the costume controversy left her feeling threatened. “I have friends who are not going to class, who are not doing their homework, who are losing sleep, who are skipping meals, and who are having breakdowns,” she whimpered.
“And I don’t want to debate,” she declared, in an affront to free speech, “I want to talk about my pain.”
Poor babies! A big mean adult said something you disagree with, so it’s obviously worth throwing away your health and career over…what exactly? Not having your worldview affirmed? Not being given enough pats on the head?
These kids (“adults” is far too gracious of a designation) go to one of the most elite universities in the country. They have access to the echelons of power that track the course for our country. And they’re crying about having their feelings hurt?
How did we even get to the point where college students have regressed to their toddler years?
There are plenty of causes to point fingers at, but the puerile attitude students are taking toward free expression is the result of unfettered liberty in academic discourse. In other words, liberalism has given rise to the baby-scholar.
“Academic freedom,” University of Notre Dame constitutional studies professor Patrick Deneen writes, “is not a particularly conservative principle.” Early liberal philosophers like John Stuart Mill argued that academic freedom was necessary to smash old prejudices holding people back from the progressive future. This approach, says Deneen, would mean the “liberation of people from societal norms in favor of ‘individuality.’” And that individuality must negate all other notions of objective truth or generally-accepted principles.
When a student demands that free speech as a virtue be replaced in favor of her pain, the triumph of the individual over universal values is complete. The unhinged screaming at a professor in the Yale courtyard is not the repudiation of free thought – it is the logical outcome of removing any rational limits from the process of learning. If it seems confused, grasping, directionless, and generally unthoughtful, that’s because it is.
Unhinged from Truth, educational freedom turns into educational slavery. Just as an unmoored boat floats away when the waves become choppier, academic freedom drifts to unhealthy places when not tethered to the Good.
Thankfully, the infantile liberalism so present in university is on a crash course with reality.
The world ain’t fair. It doesn’t give two licks about your feelings.
Yale students, as well as all college students, will learn these lessons upon graduation.