For anyone still keeping up with the University of Virginia’s fraternity gang-rape fiasco, this month brought a bit of good news: the Charlottesville Police Department announced it could find no proof that the alleged gang rape had occurred at Phi Kappa Psi. UVA subsequently reinstated the fraternity after having shut it down a few months before.
This is small comfort to a debacle that has been both shameful and injudicious from start to finish. If there is anything good to be had from the entire mess, it is that a slapdash and irresponsible publication has been justly humiliated, and that an incompetent and malicious journalist has been perhaps permanently outcast from the good graces of the Fourth Estate. So far as I can tell, Sabrina Rubin Erdely has not been heard from publicly since last tweeting at the end of November. That is fine by me; indeed, if she finishes out her career as an obscure copy editor at a small-town bi-weekly, I do not think journalism as a whole will be worse off, even if the small-town bi-weekly suffers.
Yet the Rolling Stone fiasco is on the main depressing and discouraging, if for no other reason than it has starkly highlighted the fundamental hollowness of our institutions of higher learning, saturated as they have become by the often-toxic influence of academic leftism.
A Microcosm of U.S. Colleges’ Sick Culture
Indeed, UVA provided a perfect example of the moral bankruptcy one often finds at the average American college. In the wake of the Rolling Stone article, the university suspended Greek life on campus with no due process whatsoever; a University of Virginia law school student demanded that Phi Kappa Psi be treated as a “criminal street gang” subject to asset seizure by the government; the fraternity house was vandalized; and effectively the entire university lined up against a group of young men who had been viciously slandered in a national media outlet based on the strength of one uncorroborated and unexamined accusation. “The whole [fraternity] culture,” claimed UVA English professor Alison Booth, with no irony whatsoever, “is sick.”
The University of Virginia, in other words, behaved shamefully and with no civic decorum: from its administration to its faculty to its studentry, the entire institution displayed the aplomb of a sulky teenager unwilling to think critically about even the most basic of ethical considerations. UVA’s president, Teresa Sullivan, should be apologizing profusely to the members of Phi Kappa Psi along with the whole fraternity community. Instead, she’s forcing fraternities to adopt pointless new rules on the basis of a single allegation that even the police now dispute.
Would that this kind of illiberal folly were limited simply to the University of Virginia: Thomas Jefferson would roll over in his grave, and that would be the end of it. But our country’s universities and colleges are steeped in this stuff. From coast to coast, the vanities of progressivism are having a profoundly negative effect on our institutions of higher learning.
Feminism Steps Up to Fill the Place of Eugenics
Unsurprisingly, much of this bankrupt ideology centers on feminism, which has filled the role that eugenics once filled in American universities: a crystalline instance of peak Progressive thought animated by bigotry and pseudoscience. Modern feminism drove much of the witch hunt on UVA’s campus, for instance, and it can be seen at plenty of other colleges, as well. Sarah Edwards, an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota, recently published a study that purported to show that one in three college men would rape a woman if the word “rape” wasn’t used and if they were told they could get away with it. The study itself cited flawed and disproven data in its opening paragraph, bad enough, but it also surveyed only 86 men at UND, a tiny sample whose results are assuredly not indicative of 30 percent of all men everywhere, or probably even 30 percent of men on UND’s campus. Nine of the young men claimed that, even with the word “rape” thrown in, they would still rape a woman; this may seem shocking until you consider the likely reality that, as Ashe Scow put it wryly, “nine college boys didn’t take the survey too seriously.”
Pointing out the deficiencies of a highly suspect study, however, is not enough to repair the intellectual rot that permeates so much of our campuses these days. A kind of frantic Progressive paranoia runs through much of academia, a certainty that the world is a brutal and inhumane place—for everyone, that is, except white men. Earlier this month, Harvard’s “Voices of Diversity Project” published a study that claims to express the difficulties women and minorities face on college campuses across the country. A number of these experiences were stark examples of prejudice, yet many if not most of the researchers’ interpretations of these events are highly subjective, prominent among them “microaggressions.” These undetectable phantom slights, according to the researchers, force these students to “spend a great deal of time in internal dialogue” and “feeling apprehension and anguish” about bringing up the perceived microaggressions out of fear that “they will only be told that they are overly sensitive or even that they are imagining it.”
Leave aside for a moment the likely possibility that most microaggressions are imagined, and instead focus on the absurd suggestion that any American university is actually hostile in any way towards women or minorities. The only college explicitly named in the study—Missouri State University—has a politically correct diversity apparatus that takes every opportunity to heighten the standing and prestige of non-white, non-male university students: a Division for Diversity and Inclusion, a “theatre organization” called “Giving Voice” that aims to “represent the challenges of underrepresented, marginalized, and oppressed persons;” an outreach series called “Shattering the Silence” that has thus far addressed “microaggressions,” “diversity” and “cultural stereotypes;” and “Heritage Months,” special month-long celebrations that “[honor] the heritage and history of different groups” (during last October’s LGBT History Month, you could attend a seminar on “Homophobic Dilemmas of Pop Culture,” drop by an “LGBT Alliance/Spectrum Mixer,” and, to finish out the month, participate in the “Big Gay Talent Show”). There’s also an Office of Multicultural Services, an LGBT Resource Center, and—later this year—the Statewide Collaborative Diversity Conference.
No sane person could look at this panoply of ultra-left-leaning, hyper-tolerant offerings to Missouri State students and conclude that the university is hostile towards any group of people. When you also consider that the majority of modern American college students are among the most open-minded and culturally-sensitive human beings to have ever existed—young men and women that will go out of their way to avoid “microaggressions” and positively prostrate themselves to atone for them—then the Harvard study appears even more nonsensical and bizarre, and its unstated agenda becomes even starker: the point is not to shed light on a hostile campus climate, but to convince everyone that the hostile climate exists in the first place. Like the wreckers and the kulaks of the Soviet Union, “microaggressions” have become the scapegoat for a deeply flawed and wholly subpar way of doing things. To justify the increasingly useless liberal arts degrees that modern universities churn out, the leaders of these universities must fabricate a vicious and threatening world against which the university itself is arrayed: the point of higher education in these circles is less about education and more about Big Gay Talent Shows and a war against invisible insults.
Do Students Even Want to Think?
In defense of the college administrator, there is ample evidence that the modern university student is not capable, or even desirous, of what Steinbeck called “the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected.” The average college student appears to be genuinely fearful of the world and eager to exert a suffocating kind of control over it. At the University of Chicago last week, the Maroon student newspaper ran an editorial with the headline “Land of the Free?” The implicit subhead might have read: “We can fix that.” The Maroon’s editorial board, you see, does not like free speech: it wishes the University of Chicago would regulate speech that “offends” and “insults” people.
“Vile” and “cruel” speech, according to the frightened crack team at the helm of the Maroon, should be suppressed for the sake of “students’ mental well-being or safety.” Since the editorial board of the Maroon is a direct threat to both of those things, it’s a wonder the editors don’t self-censor and shut down the newspaper altogether. Jokes aside, it is worth reflecting on and savoring the naked insanity of this call for suppression. The privileged, moneyed elect of one of the most elite universities in the country is admittedly, openly afraid of insults and offense, so much so that they wish for the powers that be to regulate them out of existence. The men and women of the Maroon are simply cowards, first for desiring open censorship of words they dislike and second for being too timorous to admit their cowardice outright. As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education points out, the Maroon board is not alone: speech is heavily regulated at most U.S. colleges.
These are our universities and colleges; this is what they do. With a professorship drifting ever-leftward, we should not be surprised. From the feminist witch-hunts at UVA to the frank misandry of UND, from the microaggression scares taking place with no sense of awareness alongside a liberal diversity mega-complex, to an unequivocal call for censorship at one of the top institutions in the nation—these are clear snapshots of the state of American higher education in the twenty-first century.
To turn these and many other colleges around will require a conscious effort on the part of faculty and students, taxpayers and donors, administrations and boards. Education is meant for what the Vatican once termed “the formation of the human person in the pursuit of his ultimate end.” The fear, the sociological gibberish and the amateur despotism of many of our institutions of higher learning are working towards no such noble goal, and indeed seem to be working in direct contravention of it. It will not be easy to reverse this trend—but if we don’t, we’ll be left with college campuses that foster and encourage lynch mobs and thought police in place of actual education. Why would we want to send our young men and women to such dreadful and hateful places?