|Punching a Hole in the Higher Education Bubble?|
By Ben Boychuk
Thursday, November 12 2015
At the risk of allowing a wish to replace a thought, maybe the student unrest on college and university campuses across the country this week and last will hasten the collapse of the higher education bubble.
Let’s face it, it’s long overdue.
America spends far too much money on far too many student amenities and far too little on education. In the 2012-2013 academic year, post-secondary schools — public, private and for-profit — spent $499 billion. Of that, 27 percent went to classroom instruction at public institutions, compared with 33 percent at private universities and 25 percent at for-profit schools.
Universities such as Yale or Missouri will spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year on services to make students feel welcome and safe.
They have diversity officers, diversity centers, diversity dinners and diversity dorms.
They have rape crisis centers and women’s resource centers and Take Back the Night marches.
They have ethnic studies majors, women’s studies majors, queer theory, gender theory and critical race theory. And they have trigger warnings and “safe spaces” galore.
What they don’t have — not in any meaningful sense any longer — is freedom of speech. The First Amendment is passé.
Pay attention to what’s happened at the University of Missouri. Students under the banner of Concerned Student 1950 (the year blacks first gained admission to Mizzou) for weeks have been demanding the administration do something about reports of racial slurs. Then some sick person allegedly smeared human excrement into the shape of a swastika, although at this writing no evidence of same has been produced. Things came to a head when the university’s NCAA Division I football team vowed to go on strike unless University President Tim Wolfe stepped down.
Wolfe tendered his resignation last Friday. So did the UM-Columbia chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin.
“This is not — I repeat, not — the way change should come about,” Wolfe said in his resignation announcement. “Change comes from listening, learning, caring and conversation. Use my resignation to heal and start talking again.”
Naturally, Wolfe’s resignation satisfied no one. On the contrary, it has inspired other students to make similarly outlandish demands at Ithica College in New York, Smith College in Massachusetts and Claremont McKenna College in California. Expect more to come.
Meantime, the protestors continue to insist that their very public protests in public places should be treated as private events with no media coverage. That University of Missouri faculty member who called for “muscle” to remove a student journalist? Her name is Melissa Click. Until Tuesday, she was a “courtesy appointment” at the University of Missouri’s fabled school of journalism. She resigned that position and offered an apology to Tim Tai, the student photographer she wanted removed. Another student photographer, Mark Schierbecker, says he has filed an assault charge against Click.
Evidently, Click’s antics were too much for other faculty at the J-school. They demanded her appointment be rescinded. She will still teach in the communications department, though.
See, it’s one thing to fight the university power structure, institutional racism and other phantom injustices. “Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted,” as journalists sometimes say. But afflict the afflicters? That’s beyond the pale.
On Tuesday evening, J-school president and dean David Kurpis sent an email to 12,000 alumni and donors that went on at great length how the incident with Tai and Click offered many “teachable moments.”
Most important, Kurpis reiterated that the school takes a strong stance on inclusiveness. But it could be stronger still. To that end, Kurpis reports, “a respected inclusivity expert will come to the School early next semester to help faculty, staff and student leaders develop the skills that promote learning through difficult dialogues on a routine basis.”
That should be edifying.
There is a petition circulating to have the University of Missouri Board of Curators fire Melissa Click from the university altogether. Maybe instead they should give her Tim Wolfe’s job.
Is Click qualified for the position? Who cares! She showed on Friday that she could command the respect and obedience of the mob. Enough with the half-measures and lame promises of greater “inclusiveness,” more diversity training and all the rest of it. Make the capitulation complete and official: The University of Missouri is no longer a place of free inquiry.
And not just Mizzou. At Yale last week, students screamed, yelled and cursed at a house master and her husband for their rather mild defense of free expression at Halloween. In a feat of irony only un-ironic university students could accomplish, they screamed, yelled and cursed at panelists on campus for a conference about freedom of speech. Yale’s president met with minority students and apologized for failing to “make them feel safe” at one of the most elite universities in America.
This is madness. And the problem is worsening with time. University administrators capitulated to most students’ demands during the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s. They showed weakness when they needed to assert their prerogatives as educators.
The best that could be said for the left-wing student protesters at the time was that most of them still adhered to the old liberal understanding of free speech. That isn’t true with the Millennial campus left. A Pew Research Center poll published earlier this year found that 18 to 29-year-olds’ support for freedom of speech and freedom of the press was lowest among all demographic groups. They believe the right to avoid any and all offense should trump the individual’s right to express offensive views.
That’s a generational and cultural shift, and one that defies any obvious policy solutions. The only possible reform would be a sudden change in Americans’ attitudes toward higher education. Perhaps only breaking the yoke of the four-year-degree will restore sanity to our college campuses.
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