Mizzou madness

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is author of 10 books on international and American politics, including the forthcoming “New Warfare:  Rethinking Rules for An Unruly World.”  In addition to teaching courses in international politics, international organization and law, and U.S. foreign policy, he has served as chair of the Political Science Dept. at UM-St. Louis.

By Martin Rochester

As a faculty member of the University of Missouri system, I have watched with a mixture of amazement and horror at the events that have unfolded since Nov. 9, when a relatively small group of student protestors at UM-Columbia forced the resignation of UM president Tim Wolfe as well as UMC Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin. 

Amazement, because perhaps never before have so few students been able to get so many college administrators to display so much cowardice over so little provocation, as the Mizzou protests have emboldened the radical left to hold campuses hostage to threats of disruption all across the country. Horror, because perhaps never before have we seen quite this combination of totalitarianism and stupidity at work on college campuses. 

The late 1960s also saw campus demonstrations, but they at least could be understood as reactions to the vilest forms of racism, along with anger over the Vietnam War. Although there remain legitimate concerns about racial and social justice today, we clearly now live in a much more inclusive society and there is no major war taking the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. 

Moreover, when I was a graduate student at Syracuse University 50 years ago, political correctness had not yet taken root. I do not recall experiencing the kind of police-state atmosphere we now see, exemplified by an email that went out to Mizzou students following the Wolfe and Loftin resignations, asking anyone witnessing “hurtful” comments to report the name of the perpetrator to the campus police for possible disciplinary action. 

The same collegians who utter obscenities at university officials and their peers claim a right not to be “offended” by even the slightest counterpoint to their worldviews, their psyches so fragile as to require “trigger warnings” in advance of any ideas that might deny them a “safe space.” A growing number of commentators, both liberals and conservatives, have criticized these sophomoric types as “snowflakes and “Little Robespierres.”   

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Their faculty and administrator enablers have been called worse, and rightly so, for preaching about the importance of “diversity” and then failing to defend those who would dissent from the protestors. Many such leaders are planning to impose a “cultural competency” curriculum, which cannot help but conjure up the ideological reeducation camps administered by Pol Pot and Mao. 

Never mind that in Columbia, as in most communities, the local campus is probably the single most diverse place in town, yet the site of the largest grievance industry  (over racism, sexism, or whatever).   

I have no idea how valid the complaints of Mizzou students are regarding the existence of a climate of racism on campus. Truthfully, I doubt anyone can say for sure. Has anyone bothered to do a reliable survey of the 35,000 students in Columbia? No. Nonetheless, there are rumors of a compulsory anti-racism training video to be administered to all UM faculty and staff, including at UM-St. Louis, which has among the most diverse minority student populations in the state (over 18 percent African-American). 

Look at what is going on elsewhere, including at our finest universities.

Even before the Mizzou incident, Yale experienced turmoil over a memo circulated by its Intercultural Affairs Council instructing students in proper Halloween attire, urging them not to wear “insensitive” costumes (say, Mexican or Native American garb).The wife of the head of a residential college at Yale elicited the f-word from irate students who called for her resignation when she emailed that Yalies were capable of making Halloween selections on their own and that “the ability to tolerate offense is the hallmark of a free and open society.” Yale President Peter Salovey, in response, said he heard the student protestors’ “cries for help,” suggesting just how scary the ivory tower is becoming.

Not to be outdone, Columbia University saw several hundred students gather on the quadrangle in November to chant “We love black criminals,” extending to rapists and murderers the same warm welcome the school had given Iranian president and Holocaust denier Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a few years earlier. But just watch the howls should someone like Dr. Ben Carson be invited to campus.   

Meanwhile, Princeton Tigers showed they could be as silly as Mizzou Tigers or Columbia Lions. Several students staged a sit-in at President Christopher Eisgruber’s office, insisting that buildings and programs named after Woodrow Wilson, the former Princeton president and former U.S. president, be renamed due to his “racist legacy.” They seemed ignorant of the fact they were calling for expunging an iconic figure long considered the father of American progressivism and the liberal welfare state.  

Such is the take-no-prisoners attitude of the current generation of college revolutionaries, who, not content to stop with the purging of slave-holding Founding Fathers such as Washington and Jefferson from our pantheon of national heroes, are now mining the twentieth century for more possibilities. Eisgruber’s reply was that he would consider removing a mural of Wilson for starters. Princeton also banned the title “masters” of residential colleges. What’s next – renaming master’s degrees?

The University of Ottawa has canceled a yoga class over a “cultural appropriation” of a non-Western practice. The University of Vermont has held a three-day retreat for students who “self-identify as white” to “confront their white privilege.” Students at Lebanon Valley College have demanded the renaming of Lynch Hall due to its racial overtones, dishonoring a former college president and – who knows? – raising the possibility that U.S. Attorney-General Loretta Lynch might not be considered as a commencement speaker. 

And the beat goes on.   

There are very real problems of racism, poverty, and other concerns that deserve attention and, indeed, protests. But they risk being ignored and inviting a backlash as there is growing resentment against what even the left-leaning New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has called the “sanctimonious bullies” who are dictating demands.  

We each have to decide where we stand on these issues. Me? I self-identify as an old white guy who just hopes that the Thomas Jefferson Library on my campus will still be around when I retire.