The public university in America and most private universities and colleges are “dead.” By dead I mean that by and large they no longer stand for free inquiry and reasoned discussion and debate. They are being co-opted by various interest groups claiming offenses against them, sometimes by merely being a minority among a white majority. The groups, like the ones at the University of Missouri and Yale University, and now, California State University at Northridge, all have attacked individuals they do not agree with. At Yale the issue was “offensive” Halloween costumes (which one sane (and foolish) voice attempted to say were after all allowed by the notion of freedom of expression), at Missouri, it was a vague accusation of failure to address racial concerns, and at Cal State latter, sexual orientation. In none of the cases did the attackers involved attempt to reason with those they attacked, but instead made demands and even brought charges after a secret investigation. They even shouted expletive-laden epithets at those they opposed. The president and chancellor of the University of Missouri both resigned in obeisance to their detractors.
What happened to diversity of ideas? It appears what these groups want is that everyone bend to their agenda. For example, the group at the University of Missouri demanded that the university president acknowledge his “white privilege” and that the university increase its number and percentage of minority students and hiring. At Cal State the homosexual activists have continued a year-long clandestine attempt, with the aid of a university bureaucrat, to get one faculty member removed, who offered a voluntary course which involved a panel on the family at the Reagan Library.
When universities were founded in the Middle Ages it is true that they were not exactly the epitome of freethought, but they were committed to the pursuit of knowledge using God-given reason and bounded by theology. This at least gave universities a more acceptable set of boundary conditions under which to operate. The eighteenth century Enlightenment loosened the theological bonds and eventually threw them off. That development had a few good, but many negative results. But whether one was theologically orthodox or secular, both sides believed they could achieve absolute and objective truth. On that there was nearly universal agreement throughout the nineteenth century and into the early twentieth century, even when the foundations for truth differed among the intelligentsia. Universities followed the same path as culture and the elite in general.
But beginning sometime in the 1960s, universities shifted their approach, in response partly to pressures brought to bear by New Left student activism. They were urged, sometimes bullied (witness the University of California at Berkeley) to radically revamp the curriculum to meet the perceived need for more socially-oriented education centered on the rights of various groups. Rights talk was certainly in the air, but not traditional rights talk. Rather the rights discussion was much more narrowly focused on the students themselves and their demands to be heard and listened to. In turn, their demands were focused not on traditional pursuits of truth but on the “existential” environment—racial issues, the Vietnam War, capitalism (anti-capitalism actually), even the environment. A certain fragmentation was at work.
This fragmentation was only exacerbated by the rise of postmodern thought in the universities, a strain of “non-thought” that, when its so-called criticism was finished in any given case, left only power as the answer to any issue. Postmodernism in one direction metamorphosed into the political correctness movement. The more viral strain of this movement has come more recently, but the problem on campuses can also be traced back in part I believe to the “therapy society,” for which the influence of modern psychology must bear some blame. Students entering college today are often so permeated with victimhood that they become what some have called, not sympathetically, “snowflakes.” They are simply too delicate to stand up to any challenge to their feelings, let alone their intellectual beliefs. In fact, feelings seem to be their stock-in-trade, backed thinly by the indoctrination they have received in (mainly) public schools.
They come to the university with the idea that no one will or should object to their own closely held beliefs. When those beliefs are somehow challenged or their demands not met to their satisfaction, they react rather barbarically, uncivilly to say the least. And then they find their advocacy group, which immediately springs into action to remove the “cancer” from the university body.
The result is that many college students would like to see the First Amendment revised or abolished. And they often act as if it has already happened. I wonder what they would think if the “thought police” were turned on them? I think I know. But unfortunately, they don’t think at all. But they sure can feel.
As a Christian I certainly feel the weight of my duty to speak truth in love. But at the same time, I will defend the rights (and necessity) for others to speak truth, even if it is not always spoken in love. Our society cannot last long on a steady diet of nothing bot sugary saccharine, so-called “love,” really often a disguise for hate. The truth must sometimes be spoken even if it hurts. If the public and other universities don’t realize that, they will either as we know them or hopefully be forced to allow freedom of speech by law.