The Wall Street Journal got it wrong this morning.
The center-right paper of record ran an editorial that attacked recent student protests at Yale University for chilling free speech and being rampant with precious whining. The piece got that much right, but I have to object to this:
Someone at Yale University should have dressed up as Robespierre for Halloween, as its students seem to have lost their minds over what constitutes a culturally appropriate costume. Identity and grievance politics keeps hitting new lows on campus, and now even liberal professors are being consumed by the revolution.
Maybe the beret-wearing, campus office-occupying student leftists of the 1960s merited a comparison to Robespierre. But what’s happening at Yale today is something quite different: a slow whine of the pampered, a demand to be coddled. These students couldn’t participate in a debate, let alone a revolution. Far from being Jacobins, they’re more like Émile Zola’s Nana, the quintessential portrait of a spoiled French woman.
The student left once relished challenging the status quo, whether it meant taking on the man or smashing monogamy. Today’s Yalies demand that even the most squeaky-voiced challenge to their orthodoxy be squashed lest it make anyone uncomfortable. Hence the recent protests, which were sparked by a letter from the wife of a professor who suggested offensive Halloween costumes be met with debate rather than censorship. Suddenly, hundreds of people had signed a letter demanding the professor be fired, the campus was awash in protests, and the poor darlings were offering up cringeworthy quotes for the media like “I don’t want to debate. I want to talk about my pain.” After reading that, so do I.
The confrontation that’s gotten the most attention was when one student confronted the perp professor, Nicholas Christakis, master of the felicitously named Silliman College, and idiot-splained that “it is your job to create a place of comfort and home for the students that live in Silliman.” Christakis disagreed, which prompted a conniption from the student (emphasis added):
Then step down! If that is what you think about being a [inaudible] master, then you should step down. It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here! You are not doing that. You’re going against that.
Set aside the creepy implications of eliminating intellectual space and consider the audacity of this statement. As a matter of fact, it’s not Christakis’ job—or anyone else’s in Silliman—to create a home for anyone. Yale University was founded in 1701 and is the third-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. It’s consistently near the top of American university ratings and has maintained a tradition of excellence that’s endured on few other campuses. Students who are admitted to Yale have been bestowed with a rare honor. It’s their responsibility to live up to Yale’s standards, conform to Yale traditions, measure up to Yale itself—not the other way around. The notion of these freshmen plopping themselves on Christakis’ doorstep and pronouncing that a 300-year-old institution owes them something is an affront to everything academia stands for.
In the past, I’ve occasionally defended Millennials when they’ve been unfairly stereotyped by older generations. These protesters severely weaken my case. If students are seeking a cosseted safe space, perhaps Yale is the wrong place to go. A daycare center seems far more appropriate.