Wesleyan University sophomore Bryan Stascavage knew he would ruffle a few feathers when, just a week ago, he wrote an op-ed for the campus newspaper, the Argus, on the subject of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Although supportive of the movement’s goals, Stascavage summed up his painfully balanced piece with this idea: “If vilification and denigration of the police force continues to be a significant portion of Black Lives Matter’s message, then I will not support the movement.”
“Many Americans feel the same,” Stascavage opined. Unfortunately for him, few of them go to Wesleyan. This “cis, het, white man,” as he was promptly denounced, did not just ruffle feathers. He set the whole crazed chicken coop a-cackling.
“Once the article was read by the campus,” said Stascavage, “instead of giving me criticisms, [the reaction] was to call me a racist and to try to get me to never publish again – students screaming at me in public for 15 minutes, people whispering ‘racist’ as I walk by.”
As I argue in my new book, “Scarlet Letters: The Ever Increasing Intolerance of the Cult of Liberalism,” this is the way progressive neo-puritans roll.
“Scarlet Letter” author Nathaniel Hawthorne described his 17th century ancestors as “being of the most intolerant brood that ever lived,” but his Puritans were the picture of tolerance compared to the fascist wannabes who occupy this New England campus – and nearly every other campus – today.
The Wesleyan case unfolded in near textbook fashion. Representatives from the Ankh – “the vehicle of expression and empowerment for Wesleyan’s Students, Faculty, and Staff of Color” – marched over to the Argus offices and mau-maued the frightened female editors into meeting their demands.
This included a first-time-ever front-page editorial to discuss “their outrage” at the editors for allowing Stascavage’s editorial to run.
True to form, the editors begged forgiveness for allowing one of their writers to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy. “We sincerely apologize for the distress the piece caused the student body,” they pleaded.
An apology is never enough for the neo-puritans. They next floated a petition in which the signers would agree to boycott the Argus until the petitioners’ demands were met.
“The boycott will include disposing of copies of the Argus on campus,” reported the now chastened Argus as casually as if suppressing speech and destroying property met everyone’s definition of “boycott.”
The demands were pure neo-puritan boilerplate: defunding of the Argus, required social justice/diversity training for student publications, open space on the front page for “marginalized groups/voices,” and various monitoring, recruiting and featherbedding mandates.
Jack Cahill’s brand new book illustrates how the neo-Puritan progressive movement came to mimic a religion in its structure but not at all in its spirit — order “Scarlet Letters: The Ever-Increasing Intolerance of the Cult of Liberalism”
To his credit, university President Michael Roth did not grovel the way many of his peers would have. In his response, co-signed for cover by Antonio Farias, the vic -president for equity and inclusion (every campus has one), Roth argued, “Debates can raise intense emotions, but that doesn’t mean that we should demand ideological conformity because people are made uncomfortable.”
Interesting too is that most of the individual on-campus responses to Roth’s letter supported him. “I am glad to see that President Roth, unlike many of my fellow students, is willing to defend the ability of students to voice heterodox perspectives,” said one sophomore.
Wrote faculty member Andy Szegedy-Maszak, “A university, particularly one that so prides itself on openness and diversity as does Wesleyan, must be a place where views of all kinds can be expressed, debated and sometimes vigorously disagreed with.”
These dissenters, however, apparently do not run for student government. On Sunday, Oct. 18, just four days after Stascavage’s op-ed appeared, the Wesleyan Student Assembly Senate voted 27-0 with four abstentions to reduce funding to the Argus by half and redistribute that money to other publications on campus.
Said Roth in response, “I am concerned, from what I heard in advance, that the [content] concerns get translated into other issues.” Roth has reason to be concerned. The neo-puritans are at the gate, and if unchecked, they will take over the campus.
“The Republican nominee for president,” I wrote on these pages on June 10, “will be that candidate who best learns that there is no future in apologizing.”
This was a week before Donald Trump announced his candidacy. At the time, I did not even know he was running. Apparently, though, he and Ben Carson both were thinking along the same lines.
Not since S.I. Hayakawa stared down the Black Panthers at San Francisco State in 1968 has a university president distinguished himself for his courage. That stand got Hayakawa elected U.S. senator.
If President Roth makes a comparable stand, he may not get elected senator. In fact, he probably won’t even keep his job. But he could at least remind his peers that it is still a virtue to show some spine.
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