Recent events at Yale confirm my suspicion that universities are oppressively Leftist places not because of professors but because of students. The university’s initial warning against “insensitive” Halloween costumes was silly but harmless; it was then criticized as such by another professor, but it was only when some students got wind of the fact that someone on campus was defending freedom of expression that the freakout began.
I joined the faculty at my university in 2010, a time of significant financial strain in higher education. Departments were told to cut their budgets by 5-10% years in a row. I remember one time talking with another professor about the likely effects of the most recent round of budget cuts. His concern was that with declining state funds, a larger percentage of the university’s income was coming from tuition, and once tuition became a clear majority of the funding the dynamics of the university would be ruined: we would become employees of the students. This seemed like a strange worry to me at the time–shouldn’t we be at the service of our students?–but although the older professor was more liberal than me in the ordinary political ways, he had thought things through from a more properly reactionary perspective than I had. Society is not a social contract; the sovereign’s duty is to his subjects’ good, but he is not under their authority. His master is God. The university is not a business; the faculty’s duty is to our students’ good, but we are not their servants, and they are not our customers. Our master is truth.
In previous discussions of academic freedom, JMSmith, Bruce Charlton, and I pointed out that the freedom in question has always been understood as the autonomy of the academic guild against interference by some outside force like the Church or the state. It has little to do with the freedom of individual scholars against their peers, even though it is often formulated so as to seem to be about this. In other words, “academic freedom” is the defense of a particular authority, which makes it easier for me as a reactionary to get behind it. It also seems that to effectively mobilize the faculty to defend their authority, the outside subversive threat must be identified and acknowledged.
Today, the main threat to academic freedom on campus is the students. Not all or even most of them, of course. There is a vast silent majority that just wants to learn and/or be credentialed. That silent majority doesn’t matter, though. When a howling mob of grievance majors comes for your scalp, none of the students who appreciate the time you put into constructing lectures, helping them during office hours, etc. is going to be there to defend you. What matters is the howling mob. They are now the most feared and most powerful force on campus. Now they even dare to challenge us, we the professors who should be their masters! With impunity they attempt to intimidate some of our own number, demanding apologies, demanding resignations.
My fellow professors, for a thousand years, we have ruthlessly advanced our dominion over the university system, fighting off all rivals to our power and prestige. And right we were to have done so, because authority’s first duty is always to preserve itself. Today, a new rival has arisen from among our own students. While they are certainly terrifying, we should not quit the field of battle yet. They are demos, we are logos. The university is just a circus unless we’re in charge. Really, there is no reason we should tolerate mobs at all. This is not free inquiry or individual expression. When a mob forms around an isolated target and starts shouting or chanting, this is an attempt at intimidation, pure and simple. Protests should never be allowed on campus, not even “peaceful” ones, because to gather a large crowd of impassioned youth simply is to threaten violence. Anyone caught at one should be immediately expelled. Anyone disrupting class should be expelled. Anyone caught faking a hate crime should be expelled.
On paper, the position of the faculty is still formidable. If it weren’t for a party of Populares from within the ranks of the faculty itself, we could perhaps have already neutralized the threat. Then again, on paper, the position of the pope and episcopate in the Catholic Church is formidable. On paper, they control everything. However, having allowed themselves to be subverted from below, these official princes of the Church are utterly impotent. The university is not nearly so far gone as the Catholic Church. We are still in many ways a functioning hierarchical society. Unlike the clergy of the Church, the professorate still inspires both admiration and fear. Whereas the homily in an average parish will have little relationship to official Catholicism, a lecture in a calculus class still at this late date will be a close match to “official” calculus. But the example of Catholicism shows how quickly a hierarchical society can be subverted. Come, professors, you don’t want us to end up as miserable as priests, the academy as trashed by Leftist acting out as the Catholic Church, do you?
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