Monday, November 19, 2007

Where's Grayson Kirk When You Need Him?

This is kind of amusing, if, like me, you're not a great believer in the efficacy of student campus activism at making the world a better place (and here I'm not considering stoking the egos and salving the guilt of the young and privileged as "better place" effects overall).

It's hard to really raise serious activist hell on campus when the professors and administrators not only have co-opted all the radical positions, and bleat about how much more uber student activism was in their day, but they're your biggest fans and enablers and you really don't want to do anything that pisses them off.

That's not quite what this article says, of course. The writer seems to really long for the resurrection of petulant '60s zombies and psychopaths like those in SDS and the Weathermen. Which is spooky. I suppose it's natural for such a writer to think student shenanigans turned middle America against the Vietnam War rather than repulsing the middle-class taxpayers who funded the state universities and making it that much harder for such folks to advance to any position that involved standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Yippies.

Naturally, such a writer also can't recognize that "98 percent of students" at a meeting of a campus activities organization "saw the war in Iraq as one of the issues most important to them" doesn't mean that 98 percent of them oppose the war and would occupy the president's office to demand an immediate U.S. withdrawal.

But read it anyhow; the neo-progressive cri de coeur and the depiction of the current demoralized reality will cheer your heart on a cold night:

As great as it might seem that colleges and universities are supporting student causes, I actually believe that it has tamed the critical energy necessary to be young, outraged, and active. When you're being funded by a team of white-haired academics in suits, taking real risks -- acts of civil disobedience like sit-ins, hunger strikes, boycotts -- don't seem like such a smart idea. Students rightly wonder whether they will "ruin it" for the next class if they cross the line and lose the school leadership's support. Plus, it's so much easier to just eat the free pizza and cut the three-inch ribbons than to mastermind a rebellious and potentially dangerous student uprising.

The academy, in general, encourages specialization, intellectualization, civility -- not exactly the key ingredients for effective social action. Students are surrounded by professors reminiscing about the glory days of youth activism, when groups like Students for a Democratic Society, the Weather Underground, and the Black Panther Party really ignited social change. But the professors don't seem to make the connection that none of these were school-sanctioned organizations.

If you think your higher education ought to anneal your skin with the heat and sting of dissent, you might be a campus activist for intelligent but sincere patriotism, limits to ethical relativism and moral equivalency, and raising money to help foster democracy and liberty in Iraq and Afghanistan.