About one thing ISIS and its fellow Islamofascists are right: The West is dissolute. They well understand, as Matthew Hennesey observes in City Journal, that it is "far easier to hijack a population in thrall to moral relativism than to conquer a free people who know why they're free and are committed to remaining so."
As is invariably the case with societal decline, the rot starts at the top. Last week, Yale college students surrounded, cursed, and demanded the expulsion from his home of Professor Nicholas Christakis, the Master of Silliman residential hall, because his wife Erika sent out an email (subject line: dressing yourselves) suggesting that it was not her business to pre-censor Halloween costumes – for instance, a white student wearing a sombrero and thereby "appropriating" a Latino student's identity.
Christakis himself had suggested that offended students could look away or explain to the wearer of the offending costume his or her -- my specification of just those binary pronouns is itself an offense according to some university speech codes -- objection. In a scene reminiscent of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Christakis, flanked by senior Yale officials, subsequently confessed his sins and sought forgiveness from the offended students.
Somehow I cannot imagine the hothouse pansies at Yale so distraught by the hypothetical possibility of identity appropriation taking up the cudgels against radical Islam. The spirit of "Live free or die" does not exactly course through their veins.
Nothing surprising about that. Yale offers 26 courses in African-American studies; 64 in Ethnicity, Race and Migration; and 41 in Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies. By way of contrast, its course book lists two offerings on the Constitution one taught by a visiting professor, and three on the generation of the American Founding, all taught by a single professor.
One of the biggest dangers of mass immigration today is that the American education system no longer makes any effort to Americanize newcomers at any level. Indeed Janet Napolitano, President of the University of California, placed "America is a melting pot," on her recent list of "micro-aggressions" to be avoided. The phrase, however, captures the idea that America is the first Western nation not based on ethnicity, but rather on a common constitutional faith.
American universities have become the most illiberal institutions in society. They are obsessed with diversity of all sorts, except the one that ought to count most at institutions of higher learning: diversity of thought. Conservative faculty members in the humanities and social sciences are rarer than sightings of the Loch Ness Monster.
Increasingly, both administrators and students show themselves to be either ignorant of or antipathetic to the values protected by the First Amendment. The Vice-President of the University of Missouri student government writes, "I'm personally tired of hearing that 1st Amendment rights protect students who are creating hostile and unsafe learning environments."
The scope of hostile and unsafe, however, is virtually boundless. For many black students the failure to proclaim "Black Lives Matter" – as opposed to "All Lives Matter" – is enough. (Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. would have been appalled by the focus on black lives only.) "Where are you from?," a pretty common question when two people meet each other, can often be a "micro-aggression," according to the afore-mentioned UC President Napolitano, implying the one being asked doesn't really belong or is not a real American.
Boston University prohibits the thought crime of holding "sexist thoughts" – no doubt to be defined by a $100,000/yr. university vice-president for gender equality. Yet the same school found a student newspaper guilty of "harassment" for publishing verbatim violent quotations from the Koran and citing facts about the status of women in Saudi Arabia. Northeastern University prohibits the use of internet to send "annoying" messages.
A survey by the William Buckley Project at Yale found that university students prefer such speech codes to free speech by a margin of 53% to 36%. And in a survey of 9,000 academics, less than a fifth felt that it would be safe to hold unpopular opinions on their campus.
The demand by minority students and their supporters for "safe spaces" on campus is not one for a place where they feel less vulnerable and less out of the mainstream. Afro-American, Latino, Asian, LGBTR, and Jewish students at Yale all have their own cultural centers or offices of student resources.
No, the "safe spaces" they seek are mobile indoctrination centers where they can hector non-minority students to "check their white privilege" and demand that they recite the catechism "Black Lives Matter." The underlying assumption is that all whites are racists and no student of color can be a racist by definition. By the way, both those propositions were part of the orientation program developed in 2007 for incoming students at the University of Delaware. The developer of that orientation cum indoctrination program was recently elected vice president of the American College Personnel Association.
The demand to be free from exposure to hurtful messages subjectively defined is not a right extended to others. Indeed minority status is often used as a free pass to make other students feel unsafe on campus. Minority students at UCLA and Berkeley circulated petitions last year to ban Jewish students who had visited Israel from serving on student government. Students of Justice for Palestine recently linked tuition rates to the university's "Zionist administration [that] invests in Israeli companies, companies that support the Israeli occupation, hosts Birthright programs and study programs in occupied Palestine . . . ." For "Zionist administration" read "Jewish."
A number of student groups recently protested a lecture by Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz at Johns Hopkins University on the grounds that his views on Israel and denial of Israeli war crimes against Palestinians are "not open to debate of any kind" and violate the university's "anti-harassment policy."
WHILE YALE STUDENTS were hyperventilating about hypothetical Halloween costumes – prompting Yale President Peter Salovey to announce a new $50 million diversity initiative -- at the University of Missouri, the president and chancellor resigned in the face of the football team's refusal to play until a black graduate student "victim of white privilege" (whose father earns a paltry $8 million dollar annual salary) ended his hunger strike. His specific grievance: President Tim Wolfe's insufficient show of concern over two reports of racial epithets shouted at black students and the smearing of a swastika (not generally considered an anti-black symbol) fashioned from excrement.
Two instances of the "N-word" shouted by drunken bigots on a campus of 35,000 requires the president of the university to resign in disgrace? What should he have done to prevent that? Have these students studied any history? It took 500 federal marshalls for James Meredith to enroll at the University of Mississippi in 1962, and federal marshalls remained on campus to protect him the entire time he was resident on campus. Have they at least seen the movie about unremittent and vicious hazing Jackie Robinson had to endure when he broke the color barrier in major league baseball?
Have those so convinced of America's "systemic racism" noticed that Americans twice elected a black man president and South Carolina has a black Republican senator? The bulk of campus bigotry today, Jonah Goldberg observes, is directed at "pro-life Christians, pro-Israel Jews, . . . climate change skeptics, traditionalists of every stripe. . . , and, of course, anyone who can take a joke."
LONGITUDINAL STUDIES of every generation of university students over the last eighty years show rates of psychological and emotional problems increasing, including skyrocketing rates of narcissism. The latter no doubt owes much to the self-esteem movement in education and the helicopter parenting that attends it. And there is something a bit narcissistic about today's minority students trying to squeeze themselves into the role of earlier heroes of the civil rights movement.
Modern-day campus feminists, despite the fact that women now constitute a decisive majority on nearly every campus, still remain solipsistically fixated on their own "oppression," while remaining studiously oblivious to the real outrages against girls and women around the world – e.g., Boko Haram's kidnapping of Christian school girls, ISIS fighters using captured Yazidi women as slaves, female mutilation and denial of basic rights, including that to an education, throughout the Muslim world. One overwrought Yale student even had the effrontery to draw parallels between female Yale students and captured Yazidi women.
To the extent the tears of minority students that so moved Yale President Salovey and Amherst President Biddy Martin are genuine, and not just a new way of mau-mauing guilt-ridden liberal administrators, they represent primarily a mental health problem. (Indeed greater access to mental health professionals had been among the chief demands of minority students.)
Sadly, however, the anxiety felt by many minority students is not going to be solved by larger budgets for minority cultural centers, or yet another effort to recruit more minority faculty, or forcing white students to take courses in ethnicity studies or be lectured about "white privilege."
Nor will campus symbols celebrating diversity do much. I doubt that when my Slonim-born grandfather entered Harvard in 1919 there were many campus symbols signaling Harvard's quest for diversity or a major effort to place a welcome map before Jewish students. Indeed Harvard soon thereafter instituted religious quotas to keep Jews out.
The anxiety that many minority students feel stems not from systemic prejudice, but often from misplaced beneficence. Many soon realize that as a consequence of affirmative action they have been admitted to colleges and universities for which their high school records and SAT scores show them to be at a significant disadvantage. Universities should invest substantially in helping them overcome educational disadvantages, but it is an illusion to think that will always be possible.
THE MELTDOWN OF AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES is a crisis for America. But it does give us cause for thanks on two grounds. First, it should remove any temptation on the part of Orthodox parents to spend upwards of $60,000 a year on an elite education, which increasingly looks like the world's worst buy.
And second it helps explain why Israel is the only Western country not weakened by a collective death wish in the face of radical Islam. Israeli youth are not primarily shaped by their university education but rather by the yeshivos or the real-world experience of the army both of which are institutions with little tolerance for spoiled brats