by Robert Oscar Lopez
Impotent caterwauling about colleges and universities has a long and hallowed tradition on the American right. Think of William F. Buckley, often deified in the political imagination as the best that the right wing could ever produce. He launched his career with a book called God and Man at Yale, complaining about the immoral drift of teaching at an elite Ivy League university. When this was published in the early 1950s, only about 7.5% of white males finished four years of college (see here), and they were far ahead of everybody else. By 2014, as reported by PBS, roughly 40% of working Americans of all races held a college degree. Today the 1950s curriculum that worried Buckley feels like idyllic nostalgia.
Not only did the teaching plummet in quality, but the costs rose exorbitantly, debts ballooned, and academia created a vast empire of godless wackos, thugs, and perverts (hence the title of my book, Wackos Thugs & Perverts, which I humbly recommend).
Buckley’s mission could almost be described as prophetic; he stood watching the spiritual collapse of a great nation and sought to stop the downfall from happening. Yet his mission also became a disturbing cottage industry. Many conservatives made fabulous names for themselves complaining about the pitiable state of academia. Indeed, generations of right-wing leaders internalized the basic concept that a true conservative must confront the left in the realm of ideas.
Right-wingers pioneered new solutions: homeschooling, for-profit colleges, think-tanks, independent book clubs, and conservative accredited universities. But there’s a problem: everything conservatives did failed. The problem got worse, and worse, and worse, until now the whole country feels imperiled by the possibility that colleges have destroyed the minds of so many tens of millions of people, there may simply be no way to correct course.
I traveled to Budapest for the World Congress of Families in May 2017. While there, in this romantic city sometimes called the “Paris of the East,” I had a unique opportunity to speak with academics who survived the Communist occupation. The oppression they described sounds similar to the evils haunting American colleges and universities: show trials, smear campaigns, surveillance, censorship, secret files, spies, students snitching on teachers, blacklisting, and the rest. As I spoke with one woman only ten years older than I, she said: “We follow what is happening in American universities with a lot of heartbreak. We have been there before. The difference is we never had that many people enrolled in colleges.”
Where do we expect these legions of “crybullies,” rioters, student council despots, and bias-incident informants to go? They have absorbed a passive-aggressive civics of speech codes, orthodoxy, and Orwellian language games, which they find mirrored in the culture all around them. Like the Red youths churned through the Bolshevik thought factories, they may take over the country and do to America what the SJWs did to Middlebury. A lot is at stake.
Is it enough? Is it enough that Buckley and his intellectual descendants saw the problem and named it? I am not so sure that hagiographies or awards for defending freedom are in order. With the resources, connections, and intelligence that conservatives had, their 65-year battle for the campuses stands out as a uniquely spectacular failure, a flop of Biblical proportions. The prophet Zechariah summarized the fiasco of “God and man at Yale” in the swinging 510s BC in Jerusalem:
For the idols speak falsehood
And the diviners see illusions;
They relate empty dreams
And offer empty comfort.
Therefore the people wander like sheep;
They suffer affliction for there is no shepherd.
My anger burns against the shepherds,
So I will punish the leaders (Zechariah 10:2)
In simpler terms, we always have what Jesus said: “If the blind guide the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14).
A Dynasty of Prophets: On higher education, we have had a dynasty of prophets: Lionel Trilling, Allan Bloom, Roger Kimball, Dinesh D’Souza, David Horowitz, Mike Adams, and Ben Shapiro. But were they shepherds? Was I a shepherd? I must ask myself that with more than a little remorse. These famous education critics have all held honored stations in a Via Dolorosa, sharing their prescient distaste for the direction of America’s intelligentsia in tones ranging from lugubrious to histrionic to snarky.
But when are conservatives going to get serious about stopping what is far deadlier than just a few frat boys being taught ungodly things about Nietzsche at Yale? The Republicans have an astonishing level of control over the government. When will they take decisive action to stop the rot in colleges? My book outlines six practical and doable steps—doable if we are willing to avail ourselves boldly of our republican powers—and I summarized them in the Daily Caller. But interestingly, my article mocking California State University for its campus lunacy got 1,125 Facebook shares while my piece on how to change higher education with shrewd legislative strategy received a total of … 15. I suspect three or four of those were me!
I’ve given umpteen interviews (most linked here), recorded almost 100 podcasts with around 25,000 listens, and strained my friendships with increasingly risky commentary (see here, here, and here). Liberal readers will hear nothing about changing academia. Conservatives have to be the ones to save America from this—but they are incurably hooked on their diet of impotent caterwauling. They do not like being forced to consider the drastic but necessary measures that could plausibly turn the situation around.
Part of me says, “oh, just give up. This 747 is going to crash into the Himalayas, you angered just about everyone you know, you’ve done your part. Shut up and let whatever’s going to happen happen.”
But can I really say that? This situation is really, really bad! Baptist colleges now gladly sponsor clubs devoted to “LGBTs.” Note that this term unites homeless pre-teen boys in Thailand who sell themselves in drag to survive, and Sean Patrick Maloney, an arrogant homosexual lawyer who made partner at the chic Willkie Farr & Gallagher and now enjoys a comfy seat in the United States House of Representatives. An entire college was shut down by violent fanatics angry that a white man would not leave the premises for a day devoted to “people of color.” And…note that this term unites multibillionaire Carlos Slim and orphans dying of AIDS in Zimbabwe (which would have undoubtedly befuddled even the most radical contemporaries of Buckley). The march to collective aphasia and educational self-obliteration isn’t just a minor disaster that someone can wait to say, “I told you so” about. It’s an existential crisis for America.
So I will try something a little different. Assuming that conservatives just want to keep academia as nutty as it is so they can continue to make careers out of mocking it, I present the six best ways to keep the situation exactly the way it is now!
1. Make this entirely about free speech. Just repeat the phrase “First Amendment rights” over and over again, each time any news breaks about college debauchery. This will keep things exactly the way they are now. Liberals will know to respond with their Pavlovian rejoinder: “but the First Amendment does not require that you have a platform.” And as long as you just argue about your right to disagree with the left, you never have to discuss in depth what is so incredibly wrong about the left. As a bonus, you will never be forced to state what you believe or act like you take yourself seriously, since it’s all about how great it would be if we could have a free debate (about whatever).
2. Keep your focus on famous guest speakers. Guest speakers have almost zero to do with the general direction of a college. They are sideshows organized with slush funds that student activities offices extort in fees from students who largely do not want to listen to anything off-campus people have to say, since they are already taking 5-6 classes per semester. Guest speakers are usually celebrities from the conservative nomenklatura, whose arguments make for bumper sticker slogans or Twitter memes—which is great! It will keep everyone very stupid and simplistic. Also, people like Ann Coulter or Milo, who have no intentions of any long-term work to reform education, will be grateful for this extra boost that keeps them in the news and rich on book sales.
3. Stress civility and showcase the liberals you are friends with. Is there anything other than civility that conservatives should show to a political camp that has demonized, blacklisted, shunned, threatened, mistreated, silenced, and beaten them for three generations? Of course not! Didn’t Jesus tell us we should throw pearls to swine so they could turn and rend us? Didn’t He say that if a village doesn’t want to listen to you, you should never wash the town’s dust from your feet and instead just keep on begging the people who hate you to like you? You have to make sure liberals like you, especially the ones who treat you like dirt! Make sure you co-publish a book with a liberal who got your conservative friends fired, denounce your fellow conservatives on any panels that liberals might invite you to, and give liberals the keynote slot at conferences you hold. This will keep everything running the way it’s gone since 1951. The alternative would be to find conservatives who have had no voice until now to get a voice—which would mean extending a platform to people whom your liberal oppressors have labeled untouchable.
4. Make sure nobody threatens the universities’ money. As long as you fog the conversation with platitudes about diversity of opinion, nobody will notice the trillions of dollars in federal money that hold up universities because of tax exemptions, student loan guarantees, and grants. It is imperative that you never make the liberals who dominate universities feel worried that this money might be cut off. That would make the liberals upset and feel bad about how horrible they are. They might actually stop mismanaging universities! You can’t have that. Families love spending $200,000 of their life savings so their kids can ape the upper class. Who doesn’t have little nest eggs like that just lying around waiting to be cracked? Never make this about money! This is about you and liberals having a dignified debate about ideas, nothing else!
5. Be as pompous and elitist as possible. If you have any discussion of what’s going on at universities, you must be sure to give most of your attention to conservatives who speak in lofty and pretentious language. Focus as much as possible on Stanford and the Ivy League. If you absolutely must discuss what is happening at state schools, invite someone from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, UCLA, or UC Berkeley. Make it all about economics and only economics and conservative infighting (west coast and east Straussians!). If you pretend that there are no students who will really never know the difference between a noun and a verb, then nobody will expect you to invite the part-time instructor wailing about such things as he/she shuttles back and forth to 3-5 campuses stringing together a food-stamp level of subsistence on adjunct pay. If some groundling contingent faculty moan about the benefits to be gained by simply letting many college students become welders, bookkeepers, or travel agents, stand strong in your insistence that human “dignity” means studying Schopenhauer and Kant. Anything less than that may expose you to accusations that you are a raaacist! It must be known to all that you are just as magnanimous and winsome to second-generation Trinidadian Americans who check the “African American” box as liberals are, especially when they are in your senior seminar and have shown they really know to work a bowtie. The world of bodegas, nail shops, check-cashing windows, and layaway-plan furniture stores must never intrude upon the cosmic tranquility of your D.C. conference rooms, book signings in glassy pavilions, and receptions at five-star restaurants.
6. Stay carefully within the framework of tenure. It is important that all discussions leave the tenure system intact. Never truck with anyone who blasphemes against the tenure system. Tenured faculty deserve to remain as they are, since their rebarbative conduct and haughty indifference to ethics have made this whole cottage industry of campus crisis management so lucrative for conservatives. You must not open the door to the many griping adjuncts, jobless PhDs, and teaching assistants to point out the labor abuses in the system. Labor abuses?! For Heaven’s sake, do you want to start sounding like a crazy leftist? Those are the ranks where those other conservatives toil—the ones you don’t want encroaching on your publishing contracts or stealing your airtime.
If you follow these six faithful steps, I can guarantee—nothing will change! People who love the status quo will have much to celebrate.
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