George F. Will describes one of the latest university skirmishes with “wokeness”.
George F. Will: “Wokeness in all its self-flattering moral vanity comes for a statue at Princeton,”Washington Post, January 6, 2023 (7:00 a.m. EST);
The madness he describes, of “woke” students demanding this statue be removed or that name removed from a building on the basis not of reason but of their uninformed infantile rage, is a welcome reminder that freedom must be defended not only at the gates against outsiders, but also in the inner sanctums where future leaders are groomed and basic attitudes toward democracy and its essential freedoms are forged.
Who is really at fault when ignorant student mobs demand this or that action by a university administration in subservience to some mindless incantation of a higher cause, like opposing racism?
In the French Revolution, the higher cause was “Reason” and the enemies were the Church, the aristocracy, and those opposed to Reason. Ultimately “enemies” included anyone who disagreed with the zealots. Many heads were chopped off by the new machine called the guillotine.
To be sure, the “woke” themselves are at fault, for it is their obligation to get an education and to free themselves from their own ignorance and prejudices.
But professors are also at fault, to the extent they fail to stand up to the demands of Unreason in their classrooms. They have a duty to foster the development the Enlightenment values of their students, from freedom of expression to the defense of diverse opinions held by individual students.
“Woke” students make their demands from a position of overweening self-righteousness. They demand that they be protected from views that might make them uncomfortable.
But surely it is the duty of the professor to protect all of hus or her students from the stunting intellectual effects of enforced conformity.
Many a professor wants to do just that, but without strong backing from university administration officials they often cannot perform this most essential function of their jobs out of fear that their jobs or prerogatives (e.g., teaching the courses they want to teach) may be adversely affected.
So, in the end, winning on the battlefield of ideas ends up being a question that is decided by university administrators.
How tragic this situation has become, even at our best universities, is revealed by the recent Stanford University administrative guidance on “appropriate” speech.
1) Sheila McClear, “Stanford Releases ‘Harmful Language’ List of Hurtful Words to Eliminate; The Elimination of Harmful Language Initiative seeks to rid Stanford, and perhaps the world, of troubling terms like ‘American’,” Los Angeles Magazine, December 29, 2022;