Cross off another place for students to hear views outside of the usual oppression and grievance studies fare. A paper presented earlier this month at the conference of the independently funded Center for Political and Economic Thought on the campus of the first American college of the Catholic order of Benedictines, St. Vincent College in idyllic Latrobe, Pennsylvania, has resulted in a censorship order by the college president.
The center, according to the website, is an “interdisciplinary public affairs institution of Saint Vincent College,” which “sponsors research and education programs, primarily in the fields of politics, economics and moral-cultural affairs” in order “to advance scholarship on philosophical and policy concerns related to freedom and Western civilization with particular regard to the American experience.”
It’s ironic, for the presentation that led to the censorship order was precisely about “freedom and Western civilization with particular regard to the American experience.” Titled “Black Privilege and Racial Hysteria in America,” it highlighted the dangers posed to it.
Watching this presentation by Hillsdale College professor of government David Azerrad on video, I was reminded of participating in the same conference in 2015, when I presented my paper on the black libertarian journalist George Schuyler to an audience of students, faculty, and community members and enjoyed the collegial exchange too rare in academia these days.
But the biennial events at St. Vincent seem to be in danger from a kind of panic, which ironically fit the theme of this year’s post-Covid conference, “Panic, Policy, and Politics,” as evidenced by a quickly issued statement of apology. The talk by Azerrad, who was born in Canada, was an exposition of the double racial standards afflicting America today and a plea to preserve the qualities that make America exceptional and great: equal treatment under the law and reward by merit.
Azerrad’s examples, such as the exaggeration of black accomplishments (commonly in lessons about George Washington Carver), prohibitions against uttering the “n” word by white people only, the capitalization of black and not white, hundreds of points awarded for race in college admissions (resulting in high dropout rates), much harsher punishments meted to January 6 protestors than George Floyd rioters, and the disparities in crime rates and media coverage (Dylann Roof versus the forgotten black driver who mowed down white participants in a Milwaukee Christmas parade), ruffled some students.
But in answering questions, Azerrad went to great pains to point out that he acknowledged the injustice of the past. No students behaved uncivilly (unlike the Allen West event at the University of Buffalo) and the conference went on.
In fact, as one of the conference participants, Keith Whitaker, explained at Minding the Campus, “In contrast to the ‘grown-ups’ at St. Vincent, the students who attended the lecture were not panicked. Some of those ‘in real life’ calmly shared their hurt, resentment, and (frankly) their misunderstanding of the argument. (And Prof. Azerrad calmly answered them).”
St. Vincent College President Father Paul Taylor, however, who had followed the herd of college presidents in issuing statements about Floyd, even after the dean’s apology accused Azerrad of making “hurtful and divisive” statements and “diminish[ing] the accomplishments of American Black leaders.” He sent out an announcement stating that henceforth all prospective speakers and topics would have to be submitted to the college for approval.
Events following the conference further affirmed Azerrad’s warnings. Another black man steeped in anti-white hate, Frank James, is a suspect in the recent mass shooting on a Brooklyn subway. Police departments and mainstream media declined to describe James’s race when he was a person of interest, part of a trend, as documented in a Washington Free Beacon study.
In 2015, the conference’s theme was “Diversity, Conformity, and Conscience in Contemporary America.” I commented on the form of “diversity” in Schuyler’s time, which he called “hokum,” one of his favorite words. A monk in the audience pointed out to me the anti-Christian origins of the word. Although I felt a twinge of guilt, I was grateful for the additional knowledge. Such exchanges are needed.
Conference papers are published and placed in the library for future use. My paper appears in the volume with the title of the conference. Schuyler has been “disappeared,” I pointed out, and falsely portrayed as an “accommodationist” and worse. But he saw patronization as a form of racism. In his 1927 essay, “Our White Folks,” he blasted “white folks” who think of blacks as “childish, shiftless, immoral, primitive” and “incapable of self-government or self-restraint.”
Is this what President Taylor thinks?