Universities as Communities of Young Scholars and Inquirers
In the 1970’s and 1980’s, students, even incoming first-year students, were considered moral arbiters at universities: they sat on the most sensitive committees (regulations, by the way, that I doubt anyone bothered to change formally to reflect the new infantilization of students); they destroyed most of the in loco parentis functions of the university; they freed women from paternalistic special protections, and, to put it in its mildest terms, they lectured a faculty intimidated by them, and, above all, an administration intimidated by them, on what it was to be human, to be progressive, and to be useful to society.
Generally unopposed by administrations uncertain of their own moral and actual authority, students swept away the specific restraints placed upon their voluntary behaviors and made the in loco parentis role of universities seem like some embarrassing vestige of the 19th century.
Rather than arguing for their political beliefs in voluntary, open, unprivileged forums, “teach-ins” and lectures such as those held on the Vietnam War then, the heirs of the sixties, now in power, have institutionalized their views in the in loco parentis role of universities, and they have made their ideological analysis of American society, gender, and oppression the official secular religion of academic life.
Most undergraduates, in this view, enter universities inadequately aware of the effects of American “racism, sexism and heterosexism” on their psyches, their behavior, and the society and its “victims” around them, a set of phenomena that those morally superior and no doubt deeply insightful adults who report to various Deans or Vice-Provosts for Student Life must define and explain to them.
The phenomenon known by Marxists as “false consciousness” (what could workers know, compared to intellectuals and ideologues, about what workers objectively should want?), and the Leninists used the concept to justify the dictatorship of the Bolshevik party – since the workers, of course, inconveniently did not agree with the Bolsheviks about their real interests – over a working class that was deemed not only a victim of capitalism but of its own false consciousness.
As the doctrine now is taught to “facilitators” for variously named programs of “diversity and multicultural education” at hundreds of colleges and universities (for the generation of the Sixties certainly learned how to network), “false consciousness” is labelled “internalized oppression” – most easily identified by the tendency to reject the Administration’s view of reality – and “internalized oppression” is judged to be a particularly insidious means and product of American oppression.
While countless courses in the official curriculum undertake to enlighten students about the unjust ways of their society and the official, politically orthodox views they ought to hold, this is not enough. Too many students remain independent in their thought and values. Thus, the full weight of administrative authority over their extracurricular and private life, their speech, and even their humor and their thought must be brought to bear to give politically correct moral enlightenment and inspiration to undergraduates. The children of the Sixties, in the Sixties, had put the question this way: “What do our elders know, being the product of wicked America?” The children of the Sixties, today, put the question a bit differently: “What do our children know, being the product of wicked America?” Their contempt for students is boundless. In faculty and administrative discussions, the generation that as undergraduates had the whole world accept them as autonomous adults, now refers to undergraduates, constantly, as unenlightened kids and children. “They’re still children” and “they’re still kids” are the two most common responses I receive in response to my demands for the adult freedoms and rights of students in free universities. What hypocrisy? American students are victims of a generational swindle of truly epic proportions!
A few programs and policies stand out on campuses today:
1) “DIVERSITY” AND “MULTICULTURAL” EDUCATION. These are marked, everywhere, by the most tendentious imaginable definitions and notions of “diversity.” They do NOT mean a celebration, deep study and appreciation of assimilation. Do not hold your breath waiting for any of these instances of multiculturalism! They also do NOT mean the serious study of West African Benin culture, or the serious study of Confucian culture, both involving intense linguistic achievement and scholarly inquiry to achieve understanding.
Their “diversity and multiculturalism” have remarkably narrow limits: race, gender and sexual preference (the very public collapse of Marxist tyrannies has made them a bit squeamish about “class”), as articulated by intellectuals just like them. “Inclusion?” Don’t make me laugh! Only the “progressive,” by the would-be multiculturalists’ criteria, or the “oppressed,” by the would-be multiculturalists’ criteria, without “false consciousness,” by the would-be multiculturalists’ criteria, need apply! What a perversion of language their use of “diversity” and “multicultural” has become!
Catastrophically, their view is a humanly and morally impoverished notion of “diversity”: race, gender, and sexual orientation, but not class, psychological type, religion, taste, or private passions. In fact, as any of you who have lived open-heartedly with students know, the single most important “diversity” on campuses, transcending race, gender and sexuality, is that which separates optimistic individuals and passive or depressive individuals, individuals whose parents or upbringing gave them a floor beneath their lives and individuals still struggling to find a belief in their possibilities. The diversity of mastery and self-destructiveness, of optimism and pessimism, of affirmation of life and fear of life: these are so much more striking, and human, than the categories of race, gender, and sexual orientation by which universities today would distinguish among undergraduates.
The approach to mastery and lived self-affirmation taken by universities, however, is based upon the absurd (not to mention patronizingly racist and sexist) notion that ego-strength correlates to externalities, and that whites, men, and heterosexuals have it, while blacks, women, and gays do not! In fact, the most marginalized official “groups” on most campuses probably are evangelicals, traditionalist Catholics, orthodox Jews, or pious Muslims, especially on issues of their views of sexuality, but, indeed, on issues of most of their passionate beliefs. Why not a lived diversity of countless multivariables? Why not universities of free individuals who define themselves? Do universities mean in practice what they nominally preach about “diversity,” about “celebrating all cultures”? They don’t, for the agenda is purely political!
2) THE CRIME, FOR WHICH THIS GENERATION WILL HAVE TO ANSWER BEFORE HISTORY, OF OFFICIALLY DESIGNATED GROUP IDENTITIES. At the intellectual level, the crudeness of group identity is visible. Universities speak of “White,” “European,” and “Eurocentric” as single cultural phenomena, linking Finns and Sicilians, Basques and Iowans, into one identity. In fact, the serious study of Finland would suffice to break down the parochialism of someone never out of Iowa, and the serious study of Iowa might suffice to break down the parochialism of the French.
Think, by way of analogy, of two different models of “Jewish liberation.” My own model would be the right of individual Jews to define themselves as atheists or as orthodox, as Zionists or anti-Zionists, as separatists or assimilationists. Should the children of workers be free to self-define or should they be “represented” by some sectarian group of academic Trotskyites? What have we done to the individuated academic populations by imposing an official group identity upon them?
3) SPEECH CODES, OR THE SPEECH PROVISIONS OF HARASSMENT CODES. In what should be a national scandal, given the crucial importance of an education in freedom in America, universities are the scene of a ferocious assault upon free speech. At public universities, of course, even when unchallenged, such codes are manifestly unconstitutional. At private universities, they are generally unadvertised and, except where essential to fulfill a voluntary, openly advertised sectarian role they form a barrier to that freedom in which, alone, an education worthy of free men and women can occur. Prejudice and ignorance do not disappear when their expression is suppressed; rather, they simply go deeper into people’s souls, and no one has the chance to know how people think, and to respond in appropriate form. Sunshine, not the darkness of the underground, is the best disinfectant.
At the practical level, the speech codes have created an arena of double-standards, of arbitrary, partisan enforcement, and of the raw use of power to enforce a political agenda. In a nation whose essential soul depends upon equal justice under law, the double-standard of speech codes at our universities is teaching the worst imaginable lesson: that one’s freedom should depend upon one’s local power.
4) THE RISE OF IN LOCO PARENTIS RESIDENTIAL SOCIAL WORK. Increasingly, in today’s universities, the Residence Advisor has moved from an intellectual resource to a progressive social-worker whose mission is to bring the benighted children of America into the enlightenment of political correctness. This model violates the freedom, dignity, and autonomy of individual learners and scholars, of free students at free universities. It brings into bold relief the essential conflict and contradiction between a model of an educational and a model of a politically therapeutic university. It underscores the sad abandonment of the adult status won by undergraduates in the 1960’s.
Universities, in recruiting the thought police and social engineers of offices of student life and residence, have hung out “Not Welcome” signs for all those who dissent from their political ideology. Conservatives; moderates; libertarians; Republicans; Catholics; evangelical Christians; Muslims; and non-feminist women are all excluded from the university’s new agendas of “empowerment” and protection from “hostile environment.” What does it mean to educate in conditions of such obvious hypocrisy?
Further, unknown to most faculty, and hidden behind the veil of the confidentiality of campus judicial proceedings, a large number of charges of politically incorrect “crimes” are adjudicated by a “settlement,” the academic equivalent of a plea-bargain. In these settlements, the frightened respondant, as an alternative to potentially crushing penalties, agrees to undergo intrusive and partisan “sensitivity training” on matters of race, gender or sexual preference. Such “sensitivity training” is nothing less than thought-reform more appropriate to the University of Beijing during the Cultural Revolution than to the universities of a free society.
We are denying to students the perils but also the bracing air of freedom: the freedom to find deep alternatives to nominal suppression of bigoted expression; the freedom to judge for and to define oneself; the freedom and beauty of purely voluntary associations.
THE ALTERNATIVES. We lived the “discovery” of difference, which was categorically distinct from, more powerful than, and far more humanizing than the external imposition of “appreciation of difference.” We moved from insults to conversation, from hostilities to various degrees of understanding, from mutual demonization to humanized relationships. People offended each other all the time, but then they learned to talk to each other and, far more often than today’s totalitarians ever could imagine, to understand each other. What price are we paying by denying students that experience today?
The great potential allies of liberty, equal justice under law, and critical intellect at universities are not careerist administrators seeking quiet on their watch (and desperately seeking to prevent the veto of self-appointed spokespersons of self-designated victim groups when they apply for their next administrative position); nor a craven, intimidated faculty that gave up on its responsibility to preserve free institutions years ago; nor indifferent trustees who feel civic by serving without any regard for deeper fiduciary obligation; nor parents who invest in a degree not an education; nor uncomprehending alumni who often celebrate a golden age that never was. No, the great potential allies of liberty on campuses are undergraduates, who at last are beginning to understand their bondage to therapeutic social work and to double standards. The classically liberal, libertarian, and conservative cause at universities should be nothing less than the emancipation of students, and two concomitant and essential operational recognitions:
1) That undergraduates are individuals, free to associate voluntarily, but too dignified to have identities assigned to them by partisan academics.
2) That undergraduates should have the same rights as their peers who go on to factory or professional jobs. Students at private universities that claim to be great centers of free inquiry should have the same rights that students must have at constitutionally obligated state universities: Why should students at Harvard or Penn have fewer First-Amendment protections than students at the University of New Hampshire, or Penn State, or community colleges? Think about it!
Our great universities must be reconstituted as communities of young and not-so-young adult scholars and inquirers, each chosen by those young adults who are its students as a vital center of higher education, but most certainly not chosen by its students as a mother and father, as an intrusive set of therapists, or as a restrictive and selectively enforced set of laws governing voluntary relationships outside of the classroom.
Students must be made to believe with passionate conviction that they have the moral right to be governed by the same laws that govern their fellow citizens, and to learn in an atmosphere of those constitutional rights and protections that are essential to their freedom, dignity, and equality before the law. We must anathematize every university that, without truth in advertising, seeks group-think, the invasion of the soul, and the chilling of debate and expression.
Our children currently matriculate at American variations on the University of Beijing during the Cultural Revolution, and the task of friends of liberty is to deny all legitimacy to the politically correct who would save us from ourselves, who impose rather than argue openly for their analyses of gender, race, and sexuality, and who claim a mandate to be everyone’s conscience and “Red Guards!”
What is the opposite of the University of Beijing? It is a university of individual minds and voluntary associations in pursuit of knowledge and value according to private judgment and private conscience. It is an atmosphere of open inquiry and discussion. It is the right of voluntary association and voluntary group identity! It is a university that recognizes that complex matters of human power and interrelationship must be studied and openly debated, without fear of retribution for opinion and passionate conviction, not reduced to tendentious formulae and speech codes.
The replacement of education by indoctrination must be exposed and excoriated. It should be an occasion of national scandal that students lose fundamental First-Amendment and Fourteenth-Amendment rights by attending so many of our major private universities, sacrificing freedoms still enjoyed by those of their high-school peers who went on to jobs in factories, offices, or farms.
I believe that each and every one of you has a sacred obligation to the pursuit of truth, to the preservation of due process, and to the rule of law not individual will, that is, the equality of individuals before the law. Open your moral eyes even wider: the more that universities coerce and social work human relations at the university, the worse, not the better, things become. I see at most of our universities not bigots-in-training nor oppressors-in-training, but an astonishing preponderance of wonderful and humane students, who would love to communicate and touch other lives beyond the increasingly segregated and balkanized universities in which we all find ourselves. Our “multiculturalism,” increasingly defined tribally, has become the “multiculturalism” of Bosnia; if some had their way, it would become the “multiculturalism” of Rwanda or Beirut.
We welcome our first-year classes not as equal individuals into a community of inquiry, but as historical and genetic embodiments of group-identities, and then we wonder why they have difficulty in overcoming their differences! We have permitted the triumph of anecdote over lived reality, and so we welcome our first-year classes into institutions first described as good places to spend money but then, once they are there, described as places rent by fascistic racisms and other bigotries – and then we wonder why they have difficulty in overcoming their differences. We permit the official assessment of group-relations by careerist ideologues whose budgets, status, and power depend on the very starkness of those assessments. And the more we turn them loose on us, the worse things become, and, lo and behold, the more the alleged need we have of them. What madness to find oneself in the Brave New World of the social work university!
We all need to separate our particular, partisan politics from our obligation to the life of the mind and spirit. How catastrophically timid our universities now are in defense of student rights, today, to open expression, and to the rights of the politically incorrect. Everyone who cherishes freedom, however, must understand something essential: it is indivisible!
Above all, freedom defines us as human and as creatures capable of responsibility and ethics. To cherish freedom and equality before the law is not to approve of all or even of most of the uses individuals make of that freedom: What an absurd notion, and what a vicious form of academic blackmail that absurdity currently is! Rather, it is to cherish freedom itself as a way of being human, and the right to respond to speech with speech, to remonstrate with people, to argue, debate, and even, at times, to change people and persuade them, not by coercion, but by appeal to their free and equal human minds and souls. It is, above all else, our freedom that defines us as human and responsible beings with dignity. Join it with courage. There are no sidelines!
Jeff C. Palmer is a teacher, success coach, trainer, Certified Master of Web Copywriting and founder of https://Ebookschoice.com. Jeff is a prolific writer, Senior Research Associate and Infopreneur having written many eBooks, articles and special reports.