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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sexual Harassment on College Campuses: A Wider Picture of Intolerance in Political Correctness

In his commentary on “Sex and the College Dean” in The Wall Street Journal, William McGurn bemoans what he calls the “surrender [of] what little moral authority [deans and college presidents] have left to their in-house counsel and off-campus government authorities.” McGurn points in particular to the rising influence of lawyers in college administrations. “Today deans have given way to lawyers. The consequence has been endless gestures to raise ‘awareness,’ constant upgrading of procedures and the proliferation of committees—all designed primarily to limit the institution's civil liability. Thus Rutgers says it is working on making the school ‘more inclusive’” after a gay student killed himself after his roommate posted video secretly shot of the gay student having sex in the dorm room. Not to completely dispute McGurn’s “lawyer thesis,” I do, however, want to broaden the explanation based on material provided by McGurn himself.

Specifically, the “more inclusive” language McGurn cites is the signature of the political-correctness movement that has swept college campuses in North America since the late 1980s. Whereas McGurn claims that deans of students have gone from being adults to legalists in seeking to minimize their school’s liability, I contend that those deans have gone from being adults to ideologues as well. So Yale fraternity students chanting outside women's housing that "No means yes. Yes means anal," was red meat to any (male or female) feminist dean of students within earshot. For such a “dean” (a loose term applied to deans of students), seething anger would be the driving force, albeit dressed up as a salubrious and well-meaning  need for the “campus community” to be “more inclusive.” Such administrators often use community as a subterranean weapon to impose their will ideologically under the rubric of description. “We are an inclusive community” is meant to assert rather than merely describe. To use Nietzsche’s celebrated parlance, the statement is essentially the will to power of a weak person who seeks to dominate nonetheless.

At Yale, political correctness (PC) is not limited to administrators (male or female). Indeed, McGurn reports that based in part on the frat’s chants, “16 female students and alumni are claiming under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act that the campus is now a ‘hostile sexual environment’ that denies women the same opportunities as their male counterparts.” As a Yale alumnus, I am highly doubtful that the campus is now such an environment even in spite of some immature frat guys who surely must have known of the dominant PC feminism on the campus; those students are more guilty of abject stupidity than careless (and likely drunken) insensitivity. In making this point, I am not excusing their behavior—rather, I want to put it in some kind of perspective without resorting to legalisms.

Yale’s campus is so politically correct that the sensitivity training needed might be for women and racial minorities—particularly on how they should treat white males who come from states like Oklahoma and do not necessarily think like Northeastern liberals. White conservative male students really do feel marginalized at Yale. A drunken fraternity incident does not outweigh the overall atmosphere of the campus enforced by the tyranny of the majority ideology.

At Yale, if you write on race, gender or poverty, you are in. I knew a graduate student in the humanities who secured an assistant professorship and wound up in film studies by writing on comparative slavery. To the outside world, the Yale club consists of legacies such as George W. Bush (he was in a frat). In actuality, the club is political correctness, and exclusion does not stop at the gates to Old Campus.

My more general point is simply that deans of students are apt to be strongly invested in political correctness. Together with a counseling educational background, the political correctness is the driving force behind all the sensitivity programs; the lawyers are likely simply nodding in agreement.  It is important to realize that justice has virtually nothing to do with the involvement of either the “deans” or the lawyers; the latter want to push responsibility away from their clients (a nice lesson for college students) whereas the former are acting out unresolved anger.  

So to understand the driving force in the contemporary campus climate, it is important to recognize the depth of anger underlying the politically-correct movement on college campuses. To be sure, various grievances can be funneled into the need for sensitivity sessions; the issue is not necessarily anger at real injustices. To be sure, there is no excuse for humiliating minority students, such as the gay student at Rutgers; his roommate was rightly brought up on charges and morally condemned for his betrayal alone.

As for the Yale frat incident, there is a difference between what those students did and actual rape. The two should not be conflated. Also, it is important to remember that, as McGurn observes, college kids with raging hormones are not going to behave like forty-year-olds. Traditional college students are in college just after high school, so they are in that “in-between” phase in which there is still a need for adults—not just lawyers and ideologues with an ax to grind. It is important for authority figures—particularly those in settings such as colleges wherein the administrators do stand in for parents (particularly with first degree undergraduates)—to be adults in terms of resisting their own wider agendas. It is also important for the rest of us not to generalize the Yale frat incident, for it runs strongly against the grain of a very politically-correct campus.


William McGurn, “Sex and the College Dean,” The Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2011, p. A15.