When black students, armed with rifles, took over Willard Straight Hall in 1969 in reaction to a burning cross outside Wari House, they made their demands known. There was a stump outside the Straight, and students thereafter stood atop it to announce their purposes. The stump is gone, and black Cornell students now make their demands in secret.
These are the demands issued by Cornell University Black Students United in the secret meeting with President Garrett. They include mandatory for-credit courses for all undergrads, grads, and professors about “privilege” and “white hegemony;” curtailing academic freedom for all professors on social justice issues; hiring Gannett doctors, psychiatrists, and other counselors based on race; renaming the Cornell Plantations; shaking up the “white” Greek system; redirecting funds from other strapped humanities departments to create tenure lines and stipends for majors/PhD programs in minority studies; make Black Students United the official spokespeople for all People of Color on campus with direct access to the president. President Garrett is to reply by Monday. The Cornell community has a right to know and debate, before decisions are made.
The problem with these demands is that they affect every student’s life and education. The demands seek to recreate higher education around the feelings of one identity group, and come at the expense of others.
A group, calling itself the Black Liberation Collective, has decided to put itself in charge of campus unrest everywhere. Who is in this group, and what gives them the authority to speak for others is unclear. But they have put together a website of The Demands, aggregating the various demands being made at colleges across the country. The effort is worthy of appreciation, even if it’s a brutal slog to get through the website.
Fortunately, Wally Olson waded through the morass of demands, noting some of the more bizarre ones:
“We demand an increase in tenure-stream faculty whose research specializes in …Black Queer Studies, Hip-Hop Studies,…Decolonial Theory.”
— Walter Olson (@walterolson) November 24, 2015
“White professors must be discouraged from leading and teaching departments” studying colonized/enslaved people/societies [UNC Chapel Hill] — Walter Olson (@walterolson) November 25, 2015
“We DEMAND that campus police participate in the University-wide political education….Policing as an institution must be abolished.” [UNC]
— Walter Olson (@walterolson) November 25, 2015
What could possibly go wrong? And these barely scratch the surface of the demand for the recreation of college administration and curriculum held captive by an identity group at the expense of all other students.
Then again, Phil Hanlon, the president of Dartmouth, condemned both the students who protested in the library and attacked other students there studying, as well as the students who were there only to study and were attacked for it.
In a survey of the demands, FIRE notes that many return schools to the days of speech codes with “repercussions.”
For example, students at the University of California, Los Angeles and Boston’s Simmons College demanded that administrators provide “repercussions” for microaggressions.
But microaggressions, by their nature, are nearly always examples of constitutionally protected expression. Rules against this kind of expression, therefore, are virtually certain to infringe upon freedom of speech.
At Johns Hopkins University, activists have asked for mandatory diversity training and “impactful repercussions” for those who make black students “uncomfortable.”
Even so, FIRE takes the disturbing position that imposing mandatory thought indoctrination is acceptable.
While students have the right to ask for mandatory education programs on racial issues, those who create and administer those programs must do so in ways that do not require students or faculty to express themselves in approved ways on pain of punishment.
Perhaps they mean to limit it to the “right to ask,” not to receive. But not likely. It’s unclear whether FIRE endorses the forcible shaving of heads before being sent to the re-education camps.
But before we condemn college students too broadly, Jonathan Adler at Volokh Conspiracy notes that the Princeton Open Campus Coalition raises the obvious, and politically untenable, issue with the demands.
This dialogue is necessary because many students have shared with us that they are afraid to state publicly their opinions on recent events for fear of being vilified, slandered, and subjected to hatred, either by fellow students or faculty. Many who questioned the protest were labeled racist, and black students who expressed disagreement with the protesters were called “white sympathizers” and were told they were “not black.” We, the Princeton Open Campus Coalition, refuse to let our peers be intimidated or bullied into silence on these–or any–important matters.
First, we wish to discuss with you the methods employed by protesters. Across the ideological spectrum on campus, many people found the invasion of your office and refusal to leave to be troubling. Admittedly, civil disobedience (and even law-breaking) can sometimes be justified. However, they cannot be justified when channels of advocacy, through fair procedures of decision-making, are fully open, as they are at our University. To adopt these tactics while such procedures for debate and reform are in place is to come dangerously close to the line dividing demonstration from intimidation. It is also a way of seeking an unfair advantage over people with different viewpoints who refuse to resort to such tactics for fear of damaging this institution that they love.
We worry that the proposed distribution requirement will contribute to the politicization of the University and facilitate groupthink. However, we, too, are concerned about diversity in the classroom and offer our own solution to this problem. While we do not wish to impose additional distribution requirements on students for fear of stifling academic exploration, we believe that all students should be encouraged to take courses taught by professors who will challenge their preconceived mindsets. To this end, the University should make every effort to attract outstanding faculty representing a wider range of viewpoints–even controversial viewpoints–across all departments. Princeton needs more Peter Singers, more Cornel Wests, and more Robert Georges.
There is hope. The entire letter is worth your time to read, and reflects both a recognition that black students have legitimate concerns, worthy of discussion, but that all students don’t want to be held captive by one identitarian group’s forcible demands to recreate education based on their feelings.