by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Most of the commentary so far has focused on the students at the center of the campus crisis, trying to understand why some of America’s most privileged young adults are so angry, so threatening toward elders, and so unwilling to even acknowledge that allegations remain just that, until proven, and that rational debate is the bedrock of civil society. As one Yale student named Jencey Paz wrote in the campus newspaper: “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.” Yale’s administrators, like those at Missouri and Claremont-McKenna, have surrendered to this flood of passion. The Yale residential college master at the heart of the controversy sent a letter acknowledging that his wife’s triggering e-mail about Halloween costumes was “hurtful,” when, as many commentators have shown, it was anything but.
Yet focusing only on the students expressing their grievances and exercising their newfound power is not to explain, but only to account. To understand how things got to this point, we must look past the students, to those supposedly charged with educating them. As James Kirchick asks in an excellent article, “Where are the adults?” Indeed, if you want to understand the pathology of today’s college students, you must look first at the pathology of the professoriate. While students are the instigators, this autumn of discontent is as much about them as it is about their enablers, the professors. …
… The issue is not simply, as is often claimed by conservatives, that the vast majority of American academics are ideologically liberal. Though true, that is not perhaps the salient socio-intellectual element in their makeup. Rather, it is that most professors, and certainly those in the humanities and social sciences, have adopted an oppositional stance to society and power their entire lives, one that becomes engrained and unreflective over time. Their embrace of the political over the intellectual is what Julien Benda decried in the early 20th century as the “treason of the clerks.” It is part of the assumed ethos of being a professor, the belief that one is sacrificing one’s self-interest for the larger community or the dispassionate search for knowledge. This also helps make many professors feel martyrs to the cause of social justice, equality, world peace, and the like. As Jacques Barzun wrote in 1959: “The beleaguered intellectual — it is a badge and a position in life.”