It started with a New York Times front page article last month called, "College Students Protest, Alumni's Fondness Fades and Checks Shrink." The gist of it is in the title: that alums are getting wise to some of the full-on craziness going down on campuses. I was quoted a bit, saying, among other things, "this is not your daddy's liberalism," and "I don't think anything has damaged Yale's brand quite like that," referring to the widely-viewed video of "Shrieking Girl," which can only be properly appreciated by viewing it yourself:
Two weeks later, a Yale professor named Jim Sleeper wrote a piece for the Sunday Review called, "Political Correctness and its Real Enemies." He started out by repeating a few of my quotes...
NEW HAVEN — Last November, Scott C. Johnston, a 1982 Yale graduate, was attending a conference organized by the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at his alma mater when student protesters disrupted it. Soon after, he watched an online video of a black Yale student hurling imprecations at a professor who headed her residential college for failing “to create a place of comfort and home.”
Such protests have prompted Mr. Johnston and other alumni to cease funding what they see as coddled children and weak-kneed administrators. “I don’t think anything has damaged Yale’s brand quite like that” video, he said. “This is not your daddy’s liberalism.”
The article, as you will see, is an incoherent mess. Had I tried to turn this in as a paper in high school, it would have been handed back dismissively with the word "rewrite" scrawled in red ink. I urge you to read it yourself to see if you can figure out what the hell he's trying to say.
But let me try.
"What the video didn’t show were the hundreds of white students having their first frank conversations about race with minority classmates."
First conversation about race? Seriously? Is anything else discussed on campus these days? Identity politics trumps all.
"A thousand students of all colors joined a vibrant campus “march of resilience” — I know, because I was on campus last fall."
Well, Sleeper, so was I. I was at that conference, the one progressives tried to shut down, the one Sleeper neglects to mention was a conference on free speech. Oh, and he also leaves out that as we were leaving, some of us were spit on. But he manages to get in that we were there for the Buckley Program. Read: it's just a bunch of crazy right-wingers, so discount anything they say. He goes on...
"Free speech and open inquiry are alive and well on campus."
(Sorry, can't help it.)
Sleeper, of course, is talking about colleges in general, not just Yale. So, why then would the University of Chicago feel the need to explicitly state that they won't ban speakers? Why is it that all speakers who are banned are conservative? Why is it that a friend, who has a son at Yale, recently told me that conservative undergrads have learned to keep their mouths shut? You see, Sleeper lives in a bubble where open debate consists of sparring shades of progessivism. He thinks debates between Code Pink and the Progressive Student Alliance on whether Donald Trump is the devil or merely evil constitutes "free speech and open inquiry."
"But it isn’t the protests per se that damaged open inquiry and expression, but the frenzied way they have been portrayed by the right."
Frenzied? Frenzied was Professor Christakos being surrounded by shouting students because they were upset about the mere concept of insensitive Halloween costumes (think Frito Bandito), and then being hounded out of Yale altogether. Frenzied was 200 students trying to physically break up a free speech conference and then spitting on attendees. (You can read my full account here.)
Frenzy is the default condition of the Left these days, having elevated the emotion of outrage to a virtue. The Right, on the other hand, is about as frenzied as a garden club meeting. We have day jobs.
"What motivates (conservatives) is not the defense of free speech, but an ideology that condemns “politically correct” activists and administrators and dubiously recommends “free markets” as the best guarantors of such rights."
Okay, I confess I have no idea what Sleeper is talking about here. Free markets are great, but he seems to conflate them with free speech. Hey Professor, they're both good, they're both necessary, but they're not the same.
"If anything, the real threat to free inquiry isn’t students, but that same market imperative that First Amendment defenders claim to hold dear. Most university leaders serve not politically correct pieties but pressures to satisfy student “customers” and to avoid negative publicity, liability and losses in “brand” or “market share” — terms that belong in corporate suites but appear, increasingly, in deans’ offices."
This is where Sleeper really leaves the rails. He's (apparently) saying that the threat to free speech isn't from the students who specifically want to place limitations on it, but from we evil people on which the university relies for donations. Here, he's seizing on my use of the word "brand," implying that somehow those of us who work in, and support, market economies are somehow subverting universities' missions of free inquiry.
You see, those of us who are the most vocal about free speech on campus are really, deep down, the ones trying to subvert it, all to feed our corporate agenda. Got that? Professor Sleeper: I could just as easily have said "reputation" instead of "brand." Might that have spared us the tortured logic?
"Today wealthy donors back groups like the Intercollegiate Studies Institute: the Bradley Foundation, the Scaife family foundations and the Koch brothers’ DonorsTrust ( for donors who don’t want to go public) that funnel money to, among others, the David Horowitz Freedom Center... and Campus Watch..."
When you're starting to lose even your leftie audience, shout "Koch brothers!" It's Pavlovian. Follow Sleeper's logic here: there are people - Kochs! - who give money to universities who also give money to conservative causes, and therefore college administrators dance to their tune.
For anyone paying the faintest attention to campus politics these days, the notion that administrators are doing anything - anything at all - conservative, is risible. If there were truth in this, things would be a whole lot different, starting with the status of Professor Sleeper's tenure.
"(Conservative's) selectively legalistic “free speech” strategy helps turn collegial contentions into rhetorical battlefields by hyping and even provoking progressive offenders."
So, by defending free speech, it is we who are the bad guys, not Shrieking Girl and her friends. Sleeper thinks we need to be more sensitive...
"...freedom requires self-restraint and respect for others."
Translation: we need more safe spaces, trigger warnings, micro-aggression training, and banning of insensitive conservative speakers. (I am getting good at translating from the liberal.)
"The reason is that conservatives’ yearning for ordered liberty is being debased not by liberals but by the casino-like financing and predatory lending and marketing of a “dynamic capitalist economy.'"
Whaaaaaat? Stop, please just stop, before you teach again.
"If collegiate civil societies are lurching into ditches as often now as the “free speech” campaign claims, that’s partly because the larger society is, too. Yes, some students are as intemperate as the Republican presidential nominee, and some deans accommodate them. Their behavior may not be your daddy’s liberalism, but what their outraged critics are selling isn’t his conservatism, either."
And, yes, there it is kind readers. In a singular act of logical gymnastics, Sleeper's big close manages to wedge in Donald Trump, ignoring the fact that all the "intemperate" students, like "Shrieking Girl" and the would-be expectorators, are on Sleeper's side of the aisle.
The New York Times should be embarrassed that they run pieces like this, but it's what we've come to expect.