Friday, February 3, 2017

‘Daddy’ Should Drain the Academic Swamp - by Jay Schalin

It is difficult not to cackle with irony at the possibility of President Trump -- he of the monosyllabic vocabulary, odd sentence structures, and Joe Six-pack mentality -- forcing  Ivory Tower elitists to raise their sights above their current postmodern descent.
Instead of fiddling while Berkeley burned, Trump quickly responded to the anarchy that prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking after an invitation by the campus Republican Club. Upon witnessing scenes from the spectacle, which included thousands of protestors, numerous fires, smashed windows, and at least one vicious beating, the President tweeted
If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view -- NO FEDERAL FUNDS?
Milo, for those still unaware of his emergence as a public figure, is an outrageously flamboyant gay Breitbart editor who is the most popular speaker on college campuses nationwide. He, along with Trump, is a leading figure in the fight to end the overbearing political correctness in speech that stifles the national dialogue.
Milo adoringly refers to Trump as “Daddy,” which may be a truly appropriate moniker. Intellectuals and pundits (including myself) can discuss the free speech issue ad nauseum, citing the most learned philosophers, jurists, and Founding Fathers. But Trump’s reaction was instinctive, from the gut and to the point: when Junior drives the car into a ditch, he loses the car keys. When he buys thousands of dollars worth of pornography on the Internet, he gets his credit card taken away. And when he shouts over everybody else at the dinner table, he gets a sharp rap on the knuckles with a butter knife.
The actions of the Berkeley rioters went far beyond those out-of-control teenagers. According to a CNN article:
Black-clad protesters wearing masks threw commercial-grade fireworks and rocks at police. Some even hurled Molotov cocktails that ignited fires. They also smashed windows of the student union center on the Berkeley campus where the Yiannopoulos event was to be held… More than 1,500 protesters had gathered at Sproul Plaza, chanting and holding signs that read: "No safe space for racists" and "This is war."
But the real problem is not the illegal activity of the protestors and rioters -- they were clearly not acting in the school’s name. The problem is academia’s ongoing failure to ensure that varying viewpoints can be expressed on public campuses. In a remarkably ironic twist, while Berkeley is an esteemed institution for many reasons, it is best known as the home of the 1960s “Free Speech Movement.”
In this case, Berkeley’s chancellor, Nicholas Dirks, initially tried to live up to his school’s free speech legacy by rejecting calls to cancel Milo’s appearance. But he did so in such condemnatory language that he may have helped to stoke the impeding protest even further: “In our view, Mr. Yiannopoulos is a troll and provocateur who uses odious behavior in part to “entertain,” but also to deflect any serious engagement with ideas. He has been widely and rightly condemned for engaging in hate speech directed at a wide range of groups and individuals… we have also clearly communicated to the BCR that we regard Yiannopoulos’s act as at odds with the values of this campus.”
Dirks also said the school was providing extra security and that the school would “not stand idly by while laws or university policies are violated, no matter who the perpetrators are.”
But in the final analysis, rather than taking all the steps necessary to ensure Milo’s appearance came off, the Berkeley administration caved in to the pressure and canceled it.
Afterward, the school issued a statement condemning the rioters, but overall, the school’s defense rings hollow. There were many signs that rioting was a near-inevitability in the build-up to Yiannopoulos’s appearance. For instance, members of the Berkeley Republicans had their addresses posted on the Internet and were inaccurately called white supremacists and fascists -- an overt act of intimidation. It was clear that Milo was not going to be facing an ordinary protest, but hard-core radicals hell-bent on silencing him.
And it also appears that the university was more concerned about empowering the protesters than promoting the marketplace of ideas. The event was scheduled for 6:00 p.m. Things were out of hand well before then -- it was cancelled at approximately 5:00 -- and the school called for help. According to the university newspaper, “Mutual aid officers from the city of Oakland and from Alameda County arrived at Berkeley around 7:45 p.m. to assist UCPD and Berkeley city police.”
Then university made an astonishing admission: “No arrests had been made by UCPD as of 9:30 p.m.”
In other words, the school was clearly not doing everything possible to stop the violence and punish perpetrators. Instead, it was giving them tacit approval, managing their rampage rather than stopping it. It thereby made a different statement: that, while the administration pays lip service to free speech, conservatives are not really welcome at Berkeley.
President Trump heard that message and he cut through the academic fog with a simple tweet. There are so many ways academia has left the world of reason, civility, prudence, and practical common sense behind, to the detriment of the nation. For every sensible college president, such as Purdue’s Mitch Daniels or UNC-Wilmington’s Jose Sartarelli, there are dozens -- or even hundreds -- who are tools of the political left. Board governance has proven ineffective on so many levels. Faculty bodies are often dominated by their most radical elements.
So the nation has two choices. The first is to accept the status quo and adopt a Panglossian “this is the best of all possible worlds” attitude, as has been the case up until now. Or, we can follow Trump’s lead and use the last line of defense in the culture war: the power of the government purse.
And it can be a powerful weapon indeed. Except for a few private schools, academia feeds primarily at the public trough, through financial aid, state appropriations, and research funding. Although nobody wants it to come under government authority more than it already is -- it provides many worthy services and employs many worthy scholars and scientists -- certain segments of the Ivory Tower have been steering the academy into an intellectual ditch. Financial waste abounds as well.   
Americans have shown their disapproval with the direction the left has been leading the country by voting Republicans into office in overwhelming numbers. It is time for those elected to act instead of sitting on their hands as they have done. And to recognize that it is their job to ensure that universities spend their government funds wisely and to ensure that public academia maintains a vibrant intellectual atmosphere instead of both expressly and implicitly silencing alternative views.
Despite his rough-hewn manner of speaking and unintellectual unfamiliarity with lofty theories, it may be that “Daddy” really does know best.