By Staff at Tallahassee Democrat
The mess at Mizzou is sending ripples of racial unrest through university campuses nationwide, with some significant long-term implications for American education and politics — as well as the news media.
In a little more than 36 hours early last week, thousands of students protesting what they consider the University of Missouri administration’s insensitivity to some ugly racist provocations forced university President Tim Wolfe to resign. The university chancellor also announced plans to quit soon, and Wolfe was replaced on an interim basis by Michael Middleton, a black man who was the deputy chancellor, as well as a former civil rights attorney and student activist at the Columbia, Mo., campus 50 years ago.
By mid-week, protests by multi-racial groups of students had spread to Yale, Virginia Commonwealth, Vanderbilt, Ithaca, Claremont McKenna and Howard University, among others. A “Stand With Mizzzou” rally is planned for 1 p.m. on Tuesday at Florida State.
“It is imperative that we hear all of our students and do everything we can to make them comfortable and safe,” Middleton said as he took over the interim presidency.
Students — like everyone else — need and deserve to live in peace and dignity. Universities have a duty to combat the kind of shouted racist insults students reported at Missouri, where there was also a report of a swastika being drawn on a residence wall with human feces.
But how was Wolfe responsible for these incidents? Like the president at Ithaca, who attended demonstrations demanding his ouster but has not (at this writing) gone into full grovel mode just yet, Wolfe was accused of not being sympathetic enough to students protesting what they consider daily slights of campus life.
That’s what’s especially troubling about this stuff. The protestors are rightly angry about incidents they claim have occurred, but nobody seems to know what President Wolfe or administrators at other universities were supposed to do about it. Maybe they could have gone and held candles at some vigil, or written an impassioned denunciation of “white privilege” in the campus newspaper but, sadly, as long as we have drunken college boys and snooty sorority sisters, we’re going to have ignorant, racist shouts from passing cars and exclusionary soirees at big houses with Greek letters on their facades.
The parents of today’s demonstrators marched, sang, went to jail and sometimes were beaten while protesting tangible, visible injustices — mainly the Vietnam war and the civil rights struggle of the ’60s and ’70s. These young people at Missouri and Ithaca seem to be protesting about feelings. “Sensitivity” is nice, but it’s not a birthright or government entitlement.
Racism seems to be the biggest provocation, but the delicate sensibilities of the politically correct students bruise easily, and university administrators are always ready to cave right in. Students stifled a performance of “The Vagina Monologues” at Mount Holyoke for lack of inclusion of transgender women. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had her commencement invitation jerked at Rutgers, and Smith withdrew its invitation to Christine Lagarde, the French lawyer who is managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Probably the silliest bit of student-enforced censorship was at Yale, where the administration warned everyone about offensive stereotypes in Halloween garb, and an employee answered with an email message saying the university ought to have better things to do than telling adults how to dress up for a costume party. Furious students shouted down an administrator who mildly suggested that this might not be the human rights cause of the era.
“I don’t want to debate,” one student wrote in an op-ed essay at Yale. “I want to talk about my pain.”
Comedian Chris Rock has said he won’t work campuses any more, for fear of wilting some of the hot house flowers incubating there. Greg Lukianoff, head of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, uses the term “catastrophization,” the knack of turning an unguarded word into an emotional catastrophe. Professors are coached to use “trigger warnings,” lest a topic of classroom discussion cause undue angst for some students.
As the campus incidents spread, and accelerate, there are important political implications. The last time it happened, in 1968, news of students occupying university buildings and shutting down campuses helped spark a backlash that elected Richard Nixon. And even Nixon lost a lot of votes to Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who loved to campaign against bearded, sandal-wearing radicals on campuses.
Finally, for all their expensive education, these modern day champions of freedom and equality don’t seem to understand that the same First Amendment protecting their right to assemble and protest also gives the news media the right to cover their activities in public places. At Missouri, students linked arms in a vast circle to keep reporters and cameras out of their encampment and a student photographer was shoved back when he tried to stand his ground and do his job.
Assistant communications professor Melissa Click was seen, in a widely distributed video, telling photographer Tim Tai to leave the area — and calling out, “Can I get some muscle over here,” when he refused. Click later resigned her “courtesy appointment” at the journalism school and apologized for letting her self-conscious radicalism get the better of her concept of free and open communication.
You know, the subject she’s supposed to be teaching the students.
The following day, the protestors reversed themselves and posted signs welcoming the media, and spread handbills urging students to thank the reporters for helping “to tell our story.”
They still don’t get it. The reporters they shoved out on Tuesday did not need their permission to be there, nor was it the protestors’ right to let them in the following day. The media were there to tell “the” story, not “their” story — or the administration’s story, or the racists who shouted the N-word or anyone else’s side of the story.
Schools: Claremont McKenna College Rutgers University – New Brunswick Howard University Vanderbilt University University of Missouri – Columbia Yale University Cases: University of Missouri: Policing of “Hurtful” Speech Yale University: Protesters at Yale Threaten Free Speech, Demand Apologies and Resignations from Faculty Members Over Halloween Email