Professors as Petty Tyrants

April 1, 2014

By Mona Charen at National Review Online

The mother of the 16-year-old pro-life demonstrator who suffered a rough confrontation with a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, has shown a rare civility — the spirit liberals are forever bemoaning the lack of but rarely exhibit themselves.

The event: A small group of pro-life activists visited UCSB to demonstrate against abortion. They bore posters and leaflets and set up their display on the campus’s “free speech zone.” Professor Mireille Miller-Young was offended, no, “triggered,” by the photo of an aborted baby on Thrin Short’s poster. Together with two or three students, the professor grabbed a large sign, and then pushed and scratched the girl who attempted to take it back. This was captured on video by the pro-lifers. “I was stronger, so I took the sign,” Miller-Young explained later.

Miller-Young has since been charged with misdemeanor theft, battery (Short’s arms bore scratches, also photographed), and vandalism (Miller-Young and her students cut the sign to pieces).

Throughout the unpleasant encounter, the professor and her students let fly with profanity and insults.

The civility: Catherine Short, mother of Thrin, issued a statement reading in part: “Unfortunately, along with the expressions of support we have received, we have become aware of individuals engaging in ad hominem attacks against Miller-Young. We do not condone this, and we ask that such attacks stop.”

The university administration issued a statement on the episode dripping with contempt and disgust for the demonstrators. Vice-Chancellor Michael Young described the pro-lifers as “outsiders” and “Evangelical types” whose words can be “disruptive.” Not surprisingly, pro-lifers were offended.

Still, perhaps because one’s expectations of academia have sunk so low, the rest of his statement merits at least tepid applause. “The price of freedom for all to speak is that, at times, everyone will be subjected to speech and expression that we, ourselves, find offensive, hateful, vile, hurtful, provocative, and perhaps even evil,” Young wrote. “So be it! . . . Our Founding Fathers — all white men of privilege, some even slave owners — got it right when designing the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

The surprising section of that paragraph is not the description of the Founders as white men of privilege and so forth — that’s boilerplate these days — it’s the endorsement of free speech, which cannot be taken for granted on college campuses. (See, e.g. Unlearning Liberty, by Greg Lukianoff.)

Nor can academic seriousness. While it’s nice to see that UCSB endorses free expression, however reluctantly, there’s another story contained in this kerfuffle that ought to make sensible people’s heads swim. Want to know what this taxpayer-funded professor teaches? Glance at the course catalog and you’ll find three courses that seem to amount to the same thing. “Sexual Cultures,” “Genders and Sexualities,” and “Women of Color: Race, Sex, and Ethnicity.” The first course is described thus:

Seminars focus on the political, social, and cultural dynamics of sexuality in modern society. Offerings may explore sexual representations, economies, laws, identities, performances, literatures, technologies, relationships, communities, and customs in the United States or abroad. Topics may vary.

That not a course description; it’s word salad. The other classes are indistinguishable. Miller-Young, a tenured professor, is also a self-described expert on pornography. Actually, reading excerpts from her forthcoming book and an opinion piece she wrote for the New York Times last year, it’s not too much to say that she’s an enthusiast for porn, which she describes as “empowering” for women. Her book will be titled “A Taste for Brown Sugar,” and contains constructions like this that apparently pass for English at UCSB:

They use the seductive power of brown sugar to intervene in representation, to recuperate their subjectivities, and to make a living . . . in the porn industry’s complex sexual economy . . . black women grapple with a hierarchal system shaped by racial and gender difference and discrimination. . . . Like countless enslaved women who fought in ways big and small against slavery’s tyranny, black sex workers in porn enact forms of antiracist and antisexist counterinsurgency.

I don’t know what it means to “recuperate” my “subjectivities,” but I do submit that this kind of intellectual degradation is deeply destructive of the high ideals a university should uphold. This professor is a petty tyrant capable of assaulting a 16-year-old. Far worse, she is representative of an entire class of witless ideologues who tenaciously indoctrinate their students and have put down deep roots in our universities.

Schools: University of California, Santa Barbara