On campus, social norms no longer apply.
The university, long exempted from social norms and rules, has gone wild in the 21st century — or rather, regressed to pre-puberty.
The University of Missouri campus police now request that students — a group not known for polite vocabulary — call law enforcement if someone disparages them with hurtful names.
On the same campus, a media professor shouts for students in the vicinity to strong-arm a student photographer to stop him from taking pictures in a way that she does not approve. Other staff members try to block and push away a journalist they find bothersome. Since when do thuggish faculty, in Michael Corleone fashion, call in muscle to intimidate students who are exercising their First Amendment rights?
Since when do quite privileged Yale students — in mini–Cultural Revolution style — surround and, teary-eyed, shout obscenities at their professor? Their target was declared to be guilty of some infraction against the people by an ad hoc court of whiny elites, poorly acting the role of the Committee of Public Safety. Apparently his offense was to suggest that students should not become hysterical when they see Halloween costumes they don’t like. Shouting down guest speakers, disrupting events, and mobbing individuals would not be tolerated at Disney World, so why on campus?
The assumed impoverished black student at the University of Missouri who went on a hunger strike to protest “white privilege” was raised in plentitude as the son of a multimillionaire corporate executive. The young woman who yelled obscenities at Yale over Halloween costumes is likewise a child of privilege. Campus outbursts reveal more about the anxieties and neuroses of the adolescent and pampered than about existential issues of hunger, violence, or bias.
Campus feminists demand new codes concerning sexual congress, largely as a result of an epidemic of rather callous campus hook-ups. They allege that one of four women on campus will inevitably be sexually assaulted. But if that were true, and parents believed it, then they would be unwise to send their children to Princeton or UCLA. Indeed, they would prefer that their kids party not at the University of Michigan but in the safer streets of Detroit. Apparently, the security concerns at USC involve not the nearby Watts neighborhood, but the student union on campus. Should frightened women at Stanford flee the quad for supposedly safer hangouts in East Palo Alto? Is there a “reign of terror” on campuses in Washington, D.C., similar to the one that is hitting neighborhoods around the Capitol?
The strangest campus derangement is the graft of Victorian prurience onto postmodern crudity. Students who are quite sexually active, and routinely use drugs and alcohol, nonetheless revert to virginal preteens who must be shielded from rough language or mere rudeness. They demand Victorian rules of sexual etiquette, but not commensurate 19th-century notions of abstinence, housing segregated by gender, dress codes that discourage randiness, or prohibitions against drug and alcohol use. Pick-and-choose campus feminists do not wish doors opened for them, but insist that sex codes delineate the stages of arousal, from foreplay to postcoital pleasantries. How strange that “adult” students want to dress up in little kids’ costumes on Halloween, and then act like children terrified of scary things in the night.
There is another common denominator to this epidemic of madness. Why are universities free from norms that apply to other American institutions? Is it the implied social contract that their educational mission is so sacred and so dutifully fulfilled that they simply cannot follow the rules or expectations that the rest of us do?
Free speech is guaranteed under the First Amendment, but not necessarily at universities. They assume that their own codes supersede the Bill of Rights and can limit any sort of expression that a minority of students arbitrarily defines as hurtful. Equal pay for equal work may be a national rallying cry. Yet for some reason, academia expects that it can pay a graduate-student teaching assistant or a PhD-holding part-time instructor a fraction of what it would pay a tenured full professor for teaching the identical class. The gulf between a full professor and a part-timer — in terms of money, power, and status — far exceeds that between the WalMart manager and his greeter at the door. And at least the latter pair have far different tasks. Is such disparity liberal?
Drug companies are sometimes rightly blasted as price-gougers. But rarely so colleges. Yet in lock-step fashion they consistently have raised their tuition charges at rates well above the annual rate of inflation. Strict rules govern how non-profit foundations spend their money; these rules usually include a set percentage of annual expenditure of total assets, which must be accompanied by reasonable overhead costs. Yet there are no commensurate rules for tax-free university endowments and budgets, which might explain why the numbers of non-teaching staff have soared, while administrative compensation has well outpaced faculty salaries.
Coal miners do not have tenure. Neither do carpenters. Wall Street CEOs have no guarantee of life-long employment. Nor do lawyers, doctors, or groundskeepers. Why do academics?
Does guaranteed job security ensure freedom of expression, diverse political views, and edgy theories? If so, why then do faculties donate overwhelmingly to the Democratic party, include few conservative voices, and conduct melodramatic witch-hunts against those who are skeptical of global warming? If tenure gave us all that, what might follow from no tenure — too much political diversity, too much free expression, too many divergent views?
Crony capitalism is a favorite charge against duplicitous corporations that use insider knowledge and friendships to leverage favors from government, both to profit inordinately and to stifle competition. But even the croniest of capitalists could not match the university Ponzi scheme of having the government guarantee student loans, which in turn guarantee that rising tuition will be paid in full without audit, even as the cost soars above the rate of inflation — all on the wink-and-nod expectation that millions of students will subsequently default and the government will cover the huge tab. How could a university admissions officer in good conscience extend a “package” of $100,000 to $200,000 in student loans over a four- or five-year stint on campus, with the full knowledge that it would be almost impossible for an unemployed or partly employed graduate to pay back what he had borrowed?
Consumer protection and truth in advertising are iconic in America. So how then do universities all but promise students well-paying jobs upon graduation, and instead turn out graduates who are neither educated nor — if employment statistics are accurate — especially employable? The Obama administration has a tendency to hunt down two-year for-profit tech schools that supposedly do not follow through on their big promises to find jobs for their federally indebted computer-technician or accounting graduates. But that is a small con compared to the gender-studies or environmental-studies major from Duke, Wellesley, or Swarthmore whose $250,000 college investment led to a low-paying internship or administrative-assistant billet — or a basement bedroom back home.
Diversity as defined by the Obama administration amounts to proportional representation: If a police force or DMV office does not have minority employees in the same ratio as their presence in the general population, then “disparate impact” is declared and remediation is required. There is no excuse that “merit” has led to a work force that does not look like America. Campuses agree, at least in terms of faculty and admissions, but why then is the football, basketball, or tennis team exempt? How can it be that there are almost no Asian linemen, no Latino basketball centers, no African-American swimmers?
Is that any more a ridiculous question than why there are not more African-American classics professors or Latino physicists? How can it be sinful that African-Americans are underrepresented in the library, while it is apparently admirable that in marquee football programs they are vastly overrepresented, at least by the metrics of the diversity industry? How Orwellian to see black scholarship football players threatening to boycott their next game unless the University of Missouri met their racial quotas for staff and faculty, when they inordinately represented 50 percent of the team — five times the proportion of African-Americans in the general population. Did they justify their “overrepresentation” on the politically incorrect doctrine that merit trumps the federal guidelines of “disparate impact”? Or was it more cynical: While less-important areas such as teaching, scholarship, and admissions must be subject to disparate-impact reasoning, existential activities such as football have to be exempt?
One-drop-of-blood racial paranoia characterized the Old South and became a linchpin of Jim Crow segregation. But as we saw in the Elizabeth Warren, Ward Churchill, and Shaun King cases, under its new manifestations, we may have to issue DNA badges and dig up the old racial categories of antebellum Mississippi to express what defines minority status — one-16th, one-quarter, or one-half African-American, Native American, or Latino, but not three-quarters Arab or 100 percent Punjabi or Castilian? And how does one then prove one’s authenticity — a resort to Elizabeth Warren’s assertion of “high cheekbones,” or Ward Churchill’s headdress and buckskins?
Why does the country put up with these absurdities?
Of course, students are young, hormone-driven, immature, and impressionable, and must be given some slack. And, yes, many faculty members are delicate indoor orchids, who can pontificate only in the safety of the campus hothouse and would wilt if thrown outside to face the rat-race on the freeway or in the tire shop. But the reason for exemption is the argument that the university educates youth broadly to write well, read widely, have basic factual knowledge, think inductively, and master the elements of citizenship. Apparently, for that result, we were willing in the past to put up with a lot.
Unfortunately 21st-century American college graduates are the least educated in a century. Declining test scores illustrate this. Grade inflation and a therapeutic curriculum reflect it. The furor over implementation of BA exit exams suggests it. And employers lament it.
Universities went feral and broke their social contract. If campuses can no longer educate students, then why should they be exempt from the norms that the rest of the population must follow?
Campuses claim they are left-wing, but in fact they are no-wing: just fascist, authoritarian, infantile — and incompetent.