A group of militant black students at Cornell “occupied” Willard Straight Hall. They were armed with shotguns and other firearms with which they threatened violence. Why? To protest Cornell’s “racist attitudes” and “irrelevant curriculum”.
This was on 19 April 1969. The students eventually left Straight and walked away. None were shot or charged or were punished in any way. On the contrary, Cornell’s administrators chose appeasement. To increase “diversity” at the campus, the school “introduced a curriculum in Africana Studies and established the Africana Studies & Research Center.”
Incidentally, some of the courses one can take in this intellectually rigorous program are “Being and Becoming Black” which asks “What constitutes Blackness?”, “The Whites are Here to Stay”, “Women in Hip Hop”, “Performing Hip Hop”, “The Black Radical Tradition in the U.S.”, and so forth.
It wasn’t only Cornell and it wasn’t only American universities’ relations with blacks, of course. Universities were just as anxious to enroll more women and other minorities, and they were as keen on increasing the fraction of all kids attending college. But there was a problem. University courses were hard; too hard to pass for the average kid. Not everybody can understand quantum physics, or Shakespeare, or the Peace of Westphalia, or differential equations, or the lymphatic system.
So, in order to put more kids through the system, the system had to be weakened and changed in its fundamental nature. No longer the place to study “the best that has been thought and said”, or even the place to gain training in a highly specialized subject, it was now primarily the place devoted to Culture as a thing in itself. And now we not only have “degree” programs in Africana Studies, but also Women’s Studies, Communications, Education, Gender Studies, Sports Education, or others that will quickly come to mind. Even these aren’t tepid enough, though. A complaint, and a true one, given by the students at Mizzou was that about half of kids aren’t graduating.
All of this could have been avoided had Cornell and the others refused to buckle under what were, let’s face it, harmless threats. So why did universities surrender when they didn’t have to?
Looking back in Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom, who was a Cornell professor at the time, said, “universities gave way under the pressure of mass movements and did so in large measure because they thought those measures possessed a moral truth superior to any the university could provide.” It wasn’t so much cowardice—though a yellow stripe runs wide over the hierarchy at Mizzou—that led Timothy Wolfe to resign, it’s that he, or at least those around him, believed in his “white privilege” and felt guilt over it.
It was the same at Cornell in 1969. Bloom said that the then provost who appeased the armed thugs “had a mixture of cowardice and moralism not uncommon at the time. He did not want trouble…At the same time the provost thought he was engaged in a great moral work, righting the historical injustice done to blacks. He could justify the humiliation he was undergoing as a necessary sacrifice.”
Prediction: we’re going to see spectacles like the following at Mizzou, at Ithaca College, and at every other place students sense their own anti-“white privilege” power. Bloom said, “immediately after the faculty had voted overwhelmingly under the gun to capitulate to outrageous demands that it had a few days earlier rejected—the leading members of the administration and many well-known faculty members rushed over to congratulate the gathered students and tried to win their approval.”
The race problems on American campuses are iatrogenic. There is already word that Ithaca College, whose boss was under threat for allowing a “hostile learning environment”, has installed a new Chief Diversity Officer, or some such prominence. Many large schools have not one but several such official organizations, each working to (1) ensure everybody keeps race on their minds at every possible moment, and (2) to teach everybody race is not important and is a social construct. Holding two divergent thoughts simultaneously like this is bound to produce insanity.
Everything that happened before will happen again. Coursework is still too hard for a large fraction of students. This creates jealousies and animosities between those that are able and those that aren’t. These we have seen play out then at Cornell and now at Mizzou. Administrators and professors will hit upon the same solution this time as last: hard courses must become less hard, or they must disappear. Both of which, as anybody attached to a university knows, are happening.
Update Mizzou already has a “Black Studies” major. That no “White Studies” is on the books speaks volumes (get it? get it?). Some classes: BL STU 1332-Social Perspectives on Women, Race and Class (same as Women’s and Gender Studies [WGST] 1332), BL STU 1334-Women, Race and Class (same as Women’s and Gender Studies [WGST] 1334), BL STU 3850-Gender, Hip Hop and the Politics of Representation (same as Women’s and Gender Studies [WGST] 3850), BL STU 1790-History of Early Africa (blacks in the antipodes are ignored in these programs), BL STU 2150-African-American Cinema (same as Theatre [THEATR] 2150), and the grievance-reminding BL STU 2200-Social Inequalities (same as Sociology [SOCIOL] 2200).
The quip about the lack of “White Studies” or “Male Studies” is serious. Anybody taking a Black or Womyn’s Studies course or the like is purposely segregating themselves. Animosities cannot die when they are ensconced, and even encouraged, officially. Hence, iatrogenic.