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September 12, 2011

More Campus Claptrap about 9/11

Our own Charlotte Allen has a wonderful piece in the Weekly Standard on campus events marking the anniversary of 9/11. While some of the events are rational enough and a few seem moving, the general tone reflects the fact that after a decade, our campuses are still as out of sync with the rest of the country's attitudes and emotions as they were when the attacks occurred. Concern about " Islamophobia," American soul-searching, anti-Western resentments and the future of Islam take center stage, while commemoration of the heroism of the firefighters and the passengers of Flight 93 and the simple evil of slaughtering nearly 3,000 innocent Americans seem beyond the scope of most campus concern.

"Instead," said Allen, writing in advance of the anniversary, "the campus commemorations... will focus on, well, understanding it all, in the ponderous, ambiguity-laden, complexity-generating way that seems to be the hallmark of college professors faced with grim events about which they would rather not think in terms of morality: "Historical and political representations," whatever those are (Harvard), "How do we determine truth and reality?" (more Harvard), and "Imaging Atrocity: The Function of Pictures in Literary Narratives about 9/11" (St. John's University in New York)." This intellectual sludge flowed on many campuses, with the worst examples from Harvard, Duke and NYU.

Today on the Instapundit Web site, a reader identified only as "A Professor at a small Liberal Arts College in New England," wrote that after the towers fell,“ The professional and academic left immediately started with “the chickens have come home to roost,” “it’s our fault for supporting Israel, etc.” The professor recalled this revealing incident: “… just after the second tower fell, I was walking across campus with one of my colleagues. This was at the point when we thought there were 50,000 people dead. Her very first comment was, and I am not making this up or exaggerating it: ‘I am most worried about our Muslim students.’ Most worried. Not a word for the dead, not a word for the suffering, not a word for students who might have lost loved ones, but a concern verging on panic about the utterly idiotic idea that a bunch of students on a small liberal arts campus in New England were about to persecute the four Muslim students in their midst. Political ideology trumped human decency, and elaborate fantasies of deranged redneck Muslim-haters were concocted out of thin air.”

In a column for US News a week or so after the terrorist attacks, I focused on the generally odd campus reactions: “Spend a few hours on a computer search, and you get some idea of how the American campus is reacting to the current crisis. It isn't pretty. The first thing you notice is that vigils and rallies tend to focus on feelings. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. We all have to get our bearings. 

But the concern with emotions and personal dislocation seems over the top, as if we need to look inward for therapy more than outward to come together for the fight ahead. An anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said she was pleased that her students' "thoughtful, passionate varieties of anger are openings to reflection, learning." 

Worse, the words the rest of the nation is using -- "attack," "terrorism," "resolve" and "defense" -- don't seem to come up much on campus. Umpteen college presidents put out timid and content-free statements about coping with "the tragedy," and "the events of September 11" as if we have just suffered an earthquake or some other passing natural disaster. 

The American Association of University Professors put out a statement that probably would have made Neville Chamberlain throw up. It promised to "continue to fight violence with renewed dedication to the exercise of freedom of thought and the expression of that freedom in our teaching." What does that mean? That the professors of 1941 should have responded to Pearl Harbor by just logging more class time? Bradford Wilson of the National Association of Scholars, a group that has been struggling to restore intellectual integrity to the campus, called the AAUP statement "fatuous nonsense," "basic Marxist claptrap" and "anti-American in its basic thrust." 

The campus flight from reality takes many exotic forms. One is the notion that the terrorists did not really mean to attack America. "Students in my classes see this as an assault on international trade, globalization," said the dean of Columbia University's international affairs school. Another is the attempt to adapt the crisis to the campus fixation on bias crimes.…

But the dominant campus notions were ones that the terrorists themselves would surely endorse: that America had it coming, and fighting back would be vengeful, unworthy of America and a risk to the lives of innocents. A speaker at a University of North Carolina teach-in called for an apology to "the tortured and the impoverished and all the millions of other victims of American imperialism." Georgetown is holding a debate titled "Resolved: America's Policies and Past Actions Invited the Recent Attacks." 

Yale held a panel discussion of six hand-wringing professors and university officials who focused on "underlying causes" of the attack and America's many faults, including our "offensive cultural messages." In response, classics professor Donald Kagan said the panelists seemed intent on "blaming the victim" and asked why Yale couldn't find one panel member somewhere to focus on the enemy and "how to stamp out such evil." An article in the Yale Herald expressed sympathy for the motives of terrorists, though not their actions. Another article in the Yale Daily News complained that the government's "simplistic narrative" of what happened on Sept. 11 "prepares the machinery of a warrior nation to kill in response." 

Inside the college bubble, all this passes for rational thought.

Comments (2)

John Leo of Minding the Campus revisits, with great pride, the words he wrote after 9/11 for U.S. News and World Report about the AAUP:
The American Association of University Professors put out a statement that probably would have made Neville Chamberlain throw up. It promised to "continue to fight violence with renewed dedication to the exercise of freedom of thought and the expression of that freedom in our teaching." What does that mean? That the professors of 1941 should have responded to Pearl Harbor by just logging more class time? Bradford Wilson of the National Association of Scholars, a group that has been struggling to restore intellectual integrity to the campus, called the AAUP statement "fatuous nonsense," "basic Marxist claptrap" and "anti-American in its basic thrust."

John Leo smears the AAUP's immediate response to 9/11 as a statement that "probably would have made Neville Chamberlain throw up." If you look at the actual statement (which was a personal statement by the president and general secretary, not an official statement by the AAUP), it's nothing like that.
http://janebuck.org/academic_freedom_in_the_wake_of_911

Leo wonders about the AAUP's defense of freedom of thought in response to 9/11, "What does that mean? That the professors of 1941 should have responded to Pearl Harbor by just logging more class time?"

What does Leo propose that the professoriate should have done after 9/11? Imprison Muslim in camps? Mount machine guns on the roof of a campus building? Launch a team of professors to seek out and kill Osama bin Laden? Support the invasion of random countries on false pretenses?

It seems perfectly wise that professors (and everyone one) should have responded to the act of irrational mass murder on 9/11 with a commitment to rationality and freedom of thought. Not one word in the AAUP statement suggests that they think the American government should have done nothing in response to the "immense violence" of 9/11--it was strictly limited to what professors ought to do.

The reactionary responses by Leo and Bradford Wilson of the NAS to these reasonable ideas were deplorable, but perhaps understandable considering the wave of fear and anger inspired by 9/11.

But 10 years later, Leo actually seems proud to have falsely smeared the AAUP as "anti-American" because it stood up for freedom of thought after 9/11. Personally, I don't see anything American about attacking the patriotism of people who defend free speech.

At least one campus, Northern Arizona University, felt the need to tell two students to stop handing out flags to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11 because they didn't have a permit. Apparently, some campuses are so far gone that they think it's perfectly normal in America to stop people from handing out American flags without a permit. I covered this in a Daily Caller column yesterday:

http://dailycaller.com/2011/09/13/commemorate-911-on-campus-not-without-a-permit/

One of the very telling aspects of this situation is that NAU could spare four administrators and a cop to shut down a two-person demonstration (if you can even call handing out flags a "demonstration"). For those concerned about the over-bureaucratization of academia and its effects on individual rights on campus, this is a shameful Exhibit A.

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