Student protesters more akin to Puritans

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tags: student protests



Niall Ferguson is professor of history at Harvard, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution, Stanford, and the author of “Kissinger, 1923-1968: The Idealist.’’  Thumbnail Image - "Student Center Concerned Student protester color" by Mark Schierbecker - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons.

While the world has been gripped by epoch-making events — from jihadist massacres in Paris to downed warplanes in Syria — American universities have been gripped by events that are better described as emoji-making. Like the emoticon with the smile and the tears, I cannot decide if these events make me want to laugh or cry.

Since the wave of student protests began, commentators whose own degrees are date-stamped from the 1980s have been scratching their heads. Are the protesters “little Robespierres,” thirsting to tear up the constitutional guarantee of free speech? Are they pathetic products of lifelong mollycoddling, who just can’t cope with challenging ideas?

Or are they simply the heirs of the generation of 1968, the original campus revolutionaries? I can almost see the nostalgia in the faces of some of my older colleagues. “Fifty years ago,” they are saying to themselves, “that would have been me staging a sit-in at the dean’s office.” As opposed to sitting in it every day from Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, which is what they do now.

Predictably, the capitulations have come thick and fast. The president of Missouri resigned, along with his chancellor. Claremont McKenna’s dean of students quit on Thursday. At Duke, the dean of the Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, in response to a question about faculty members’ opinions, told a campus forum on “bias and hate”: “You can’t be a great scholar and intolerant. You have to go.” 

Last week, Brown University published a $100 million plan to double the number of minority faculty members and improve diversity. Princeton somewhat less ambitiously replaced the word “master” with “head of college” (presumably Master of Arts is still allowed). My favorite headline was from the Yale Daily News: “Faculty Divided On Free Speech.” Bravely speaking out against the First Amendment — as long as his students still allow him to — was professor Jason Stanley, author of the classic Orwellian article “When Free Speech Becomes a Political Weapon.” ...




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