In recent weeks, college campuses across the country have been home to some troubling scenes — and demands. The common denominator in virtually all of them has been race.
At Dartmouth, students stormed the college library, vilifying other students who were apparently guilty of nothing more than SWW (as in studying while white).
At Yale, video captured a student screaming at a professor and demanding his resignation over his wife’s (a fellow professor) admonition that everyone should calm down and think twice before making a big deal over Halloween costumes.
The University of Missouri campus was convulsed over racist graffiti and racial expletives that may or may not have had anything to do with university students. During an ensuing demonstration, a faculty member was caught on camera calling for “some muscle” to get rid of a student journalist who was simply covering the event. In the end, the university’s president and chancellor resigned.
To date, Minnesota schools have not been home to anything approaching any of this. In the name of keeping it that way, leaders of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system have taken a curious step — a step that could have the unintended consequence of provoking what they hope to prevent.
In an open letter last month to “students, faculty and staff,” the chancellor and 30 MnSCU presidents caution that we are “not immune to racism” right here in Minnesota — before reminding us of the “ugliness of racism and intolerance,” as well as its “painful impact” on the lives of all concerned.
Fair enough. The statement then asserts that “we cannot deny the existence of racism and intolerance or pretend that we do not hear racist and hateful language.”
Here’s where things start to become more problematic. In this day and age of invented and proliferating “microaggressions,” just what is “racist and hateful language?” Can people of all racial hues utter such language? Here the statement is silent.
It is also silent on the twin subjects of racist policies and racist behavior. Do they exist in MnSCU? If so, what are they and why weren’t they jettisoned long ago? Why the emphasis on language alone? And just how is language going to be policed?
Silence reigned on another front, as well. It might have been Minnesota-nice had MnSCU leaders assured students and faculty that a repeat of anything like what has happened at Dartmouth, Yale and Missouri will not be tolerated here. Such an assurance surely would have been consistent with a reaffirmation of what their letter dubs “our core value” — that MnSCU colleges and universities should be “places of hope and opportunity where everyone can create a better future for themselves, for their families, and for their communities.”
Of course, they should. And, of course, they are. Do our leaders not believe this? And do they not see the threat posed by silence in the face of the sort of bullying mentioned above? Does Minnesota nice really mean toleration of what should obviously not be tolerated?
In the light of the darkness that has descended upon many institutions of higher learning across the country, MnSCU administrators should have included a pre-emptive statement to the effect that every MnSCU campus, in its entirety, is a safe place. Moreover, there will be no mini-safe spaces for the ideologically pure of mind scattered here and there. Every nook and cranny of every campus will be safe for every student’s pursuit of hope and opportunity.
Instead, they have presented us with what amounts to an exercise in pre-emptive groveling. Instead of having the backbone required to have our backs, the chancellor and the presidents prefer to pat everyone, themselves especially, on the back for all that has been done to combat racism, even as they insist that “there is much more work to be done.”
What that needed “work” might be they do not tell us. Perhaps that’s because they don’t know. They don’t yet know what demands might be forthcoming from the very sort of protests they could be encouraging by issuing statements such as this one. Pre-emptive groveling can only lead to more of the same, especially if the initial attempt doesn’t do the job. And, rest assured, it won’t.
For the time being, it’s apparently enough to implement clichés. We need to “engage with each other with empathy and concern,” “build bridges across (our) differences,” “rededicate ourselves to listening better than ever before” and “work together with an abiding commitment to deliver solutions.”
Just what those solutions might be remains the great unknown — at least until marching orders arrive, whether top down (via edicts from the federal government) or bottom up (in the form of a list of demands after offices have been occupied).
In lieu of specifics, we are told that “we cannot stand indifferent in the face of this historical challenge to eliminate racism and intolerance in our communities.”
Preferring not to be indifferent, I would contend that a real, perhaps even a historic, opportunity was missed here. How about a statement not just to students, faculty and staff, but to our state’s citizens and taxpayers as well? I wouldn’t presume to write the whole thing, but what follows might be a start:
MnSCU colleges and universities are busily serving a very diverse body of students. While diversity comes in many forms, our students do have one important thing in common: they haven’t been coddled or pampered on their way to us. Given our good fortune, we want to assure you that we have no intention of making the mistake of resorting to that sort of mistreatment while they are with us. We are not Dartmouth or Yale or even Mizzou, thank God.
In addition, since we are quite busy with the business of education, and since our uncoddled students are busy leading busy lives, we refuse to let either the occasional unhinged racist or the itinerant race hustler deter us from pursuing our core value: offering hope and opportunity to all of our students, each one of whom we hope will seize what we have to offer and run with it.
And, by the way, if any insider or outsider should attempt to disrupt our efforts, they will be dealt with. Dartmouth and Yale and Mizzou may have time for such dangerous silliness, but we don’t. Dartmouth and Yale and Mizzou may be willing to sacrifice real academic freedom, but we won’t. Dartmouth and Yale and Mizzou may be willing to coddle the already overly coddled, while excusing the inexcusable, but we aren’t.
After all, the hopes and opportunities of all of our students are at stake.
John C. “Chuck” Chalberg is retiring from Normandale at the end of this semester and is a senior fellow with the Center of the American Experiment.