How Emory’s Student Activists Are Fueling Trumpism

Mar 30, 2016

Photo credit: Mpspqr/Wikimedia

By Conor Friedersdorf

Had Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign for the White House somehow infiltrated the ranks of Emory’s student activists and blackmailed the university’s President James W. Wagner, it could scarcely have orchestrated a spectacle more helpful to Trump’s prospects, or damaging to the values that protect vulnerable groups, than what they accomplished on their own this week. After someone wrote “Trump 2016” in colored chalk around campus, several dozen student demonstrators objected that the banal campaign message scared, upset, or offended them, and administrators responded by going Orwellian.

The Emory Wheel reports that Wagner will review footage from campus security cameras to uncover who made the chalkings. “He added that if they’re students, they will go through the conduct violation process,” the newspaper stated, “while if they are from outside of the University, trespassing charges will be pressed.” Ponder the precedent. An academic authority figure will use surveillance to track down and punish someone for urging support for a political candidate. If possible, he will marshal criminal law to do so. As Jesse Singal wrote at New York, that is “extremely creepy, and a sign that something has gone seriously wrong.”

Can you imagine how campus progressives would have reacted if a university president threatened to have someone punished or charged with trespassing for chalking “Obama 2012” or “Bernie 2016” on campus sidewalks? But these students see no need for viewpoint-neutral standards about politicking in presidential elections.

The shortsightedness of all involved is staggering. Set aside the brazen illiberalism of their actions and briefly consider this from a consequentialist perspective.

For starters, leftist activists are far more likely than anyone else to use sidewalk chalk and should be pushing to dispense with existing, rarely enforced campus regulations. The medium is unusually suited to the powerless, too: It is cheap, easy to use, and very hard to suppress. Yet they’re signing on to surveillance and punishment for chalk-wielding activism, as if it hasn’t even occurred to them that their allies stand to lose the most from future crackdowns, whereas Donald Trump 2016 could foreswear sidewalk chalk forever without suffering from it at all. I don’t know whether these students have an incoherent theory of how power works, or haven’t thought the matter through, but future leftist activists may rue their behavior.

What’s more, if the sidewalk-chalker is unmasked and punished, the effect will be to fuel the popularity of Trump 2016, not to undermine it. This is so obvious to everyone outside the bubble of campus leftism that I begin to wonder if activists at Emory don’t understand that, or just don’t actually care about outcomes beyond their bubble.


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15 comments on “How Emory’s Student Activists Are Fueling Trumpism

  • “If there were pro-Hitler things around the campus or swastikas, Emory would have taken a stance on it,” she said. In October 2014, Emory University officials said the FBI had joined an investigation into swastikas that were painted on the exterior of a historically Jewish fraternity house.

    From ABC News. (highlights the fallacy of the false comparison )

    Sigh! Take a bucket, wash the chalk off the walls and sidewalks and then grow up!



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  • I now see this hyper pro-social leftism, this uber-diligence to create safe spaces for any that they suspect may be harmed by an idea or attitude, is entirely about creating very public badges of goodness. There is quite as much vacuity of thought as those wearing the Religious Badge of Goodness but possibly an even greater self serving display. The condescension it shows to “harmed” groups was quite sickening enough.



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  • Thank you, Roedy. You clarified my thoughts…

    The problem is entirely the fact of the ridiculous posturing over some chalked graffiti.

    Why would anyone react to students’ bizarre upset of it so?

    Why?



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  • Why?

    The answer is: money.

    These days, university administrators in the US care, first and foremost, about money – even the slightest risk of seeing falling revenues from reduced student enrollment, however remote that risk may be, makes them go berserk.

    It’s sad, but Academia in the US is gradually becoming dominated by a business-like mentality, in which true scholarship and education take a second seat.



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  • Hi Cantaz [#5],

    These days, university administrators in the US care, first and foremost, about money …

    Surely ’twas ever thus?

    There’s a tension between what teachers and students need and what the school wants. The school needs money, it can’t run on fresh air. Everybody else wants to teach, or needs to learn.

    Wind back the clock and the first universities relied on Kings, Lords and the Church. Studying the bible and finding blasphemy were high on schools’ to-do lists.

    A modern university must sell itself to new students. Every year the admin. staff and teachers have to think about what students want from a university. In a perfect world students want high quality (research, reputation, alumni, academics at the peak of their respective disciplines), but the admin. staff know that new students are just as likely to be swayed by a beautiful campus, a wide range of extra activities, being close to a town that offers other attractions and – of particular importance to the students because, in many cases, they’re still children … security.

    The fate of a university that does not try to present a good story on security is potentially disastrous.

    Don’t forget that shopping for, and paying for, university also means parents are involved. You can bet they too care about security.

    In recent years universities have realized that the best sales pitch includes poll results of current student satisfaction. It is not possible to ignore the student body (if indeed it ever was – the history is not clear but in 1209 it’s thought that students at Oxford disbanded and many went to schools in Cambridge, thus creating a new university there).

    … even the slightest risk of seeing falling revenues from reduced student enrollment, however remote that risk may be, makes them go berserk.

    That seems to be true of administrators. The surprising thing to me is that academic staff don’t promote their perspective on quality – after all they would, we must surely presume, prefer to teach at a prestigious institution.

    It’s sad, but Academia in the US is gradually becoming dominated by a business-like mentality, in which true scholarship and education take a second seat.

    I don’t agree. I like the fact that universities must compete for the brightest young minds – it sharpens society’s understanding of the value that tertiary education provides. Done properly it also weeds out those unlikely to benefit from a university education, and prepares students for a more rigorous and challenging environment than the one they’ve had.

    It is the academics who fail to stand their ground – to promote the principles of no-holds-barred debate and rhetoric, to challenge accepted norms, to question dogmas, to promote critical thinking, to re-think hero-worship (such as the current vogue for victimhood), to explore the facts, to measure the evidence; in short, to promote quality in education … who are failing the students, their universities, society at large and, most illogically and incoherently of all, themselves.

    Academics must understand that they have a leadership role which is at odds with the leadership role of administrators.

    It’s called creative tension, and it’s the reason the they have what US universities call “tenure”.

    Peace.



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  • Hi Stephen of Wimbledon,

    Academicians in the US do know quite well that their role is at odds with that of their administrators.

    The problem is that, since the 2008 financial crisis, administrators (whose numbers have been swelling, BTW) have been demanding more and more that academicians become, first and foremost, “entrepreneurs”, that is, revenue generators.

    This is creating an environment and general mindset in which it is becoming increasingly difficult for academicians to “stand their ground”, as you put it – BTW, talking about “tenure”, it is not by chance that in some states, like Wisconsin, laws guaranteeing tenure in public Universities are being expunged…



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  • Hi Cantaz,

    Academicians in the US do know quite well that their role is at odds with that of their administrators.

    Well that’s good news. Where are they in this story?

    The problem is that … administrators … have been demanding more and more that academicians become … revenue generators

    I see that comment as supporting my point. If academics fail to stand for quality in teaching, cutting edge research and robust dialog across the campus then they fail to lead – QED.

    This is creating an environment and general mindset in which it is becoming increasingly difficult for academicians to “stand their ground”, as you put it …

    Leadership means standing out. Leadership means being the face, the personification, of the argument. Leadership therefore entails taking risks by taking a position. Leadership requires you to take a position, defend it and then negotiate the settlement.

    Academic life at university is about leadership, or it is nothing. Fail to lead and you’re no longer professing, you’re an Instructor reading from a textbook.

    … about “tenure”, it is not by chance that in some states, like Wisconsin, laws guaranteeing tenure in public Universities are being expunged…

    Fail to use leadership and you create a vacuum.

    If academics fail to lead on institutional quality then to politicians charged with the distribution of limited resources those with tenure look like free riders.

    My message to academics remains unchanged. Lead on free speech, or lose tenure, lose quality, lose academic freedom … perhaps even: Lose the university.

    Peace.



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  • Hi Stephen of Wimbledon,

    the problem is, what you (and I) define as leadership (i.e., leading on free speech, leading in “quality” research etc.) is less and less recognized as such by the administrators – as I pointed out above, what is increasingly requested and rewarded in today’s US Universities is that faculty become, first and foremost, revenue generators. Period.

    This myopic approach of running Universities as if they were mere corporations biases the whole system by rewarding applied areas of inquiry/research, and penalizing basic research areas, let alone areas of inquiry that administrators tend to consider as marginal in terms of their ability to “bring in the dough” (e.g., the liberal arts)

    Philosophy professors may well stand out and vehemently defend free speech on campus (as I have witnessed in more than one occasion) but in the long run that doesn’t really matter much if the administrators/politicians, in the meanwhile, strip them of tenure and threaten to close down their department, unless they start bringing in more cash…



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  • I have to agree, Cantaz.

    A fully free market education system, if it can be made to serve a wealth generator to the wealth generator’s advantage will come to serve that wealth generator and decline into a mere and suffient tutoring.

    The state based system may wish to offer its tax payers, by contrast, the engaged self-fulfilment that comes from the process of education. I want to be a professional human rather more than a dedicated maker/consumer.

    Too short term in the scale of their investments at the moment, the wealth generators may come to see the same way in time. Happy folk make more stable and reliable markets, they have wider interests too…



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  • 13
    fadeordraw says:

    1stly, I like what you’re saying Phil.

    2ndly, I agree with comments about water and brushes for dealing with graffiti. However, given the number of post-secondary institutions in the US, it’s hard to imagine the incident as other an isolated demonstration of incompetent management. David Hume liked to point out that one should have on hand or in one’s back pocket, at least two cause and affect occurrences, preferably considerably more, prior to explanations and exclamations. William Blake warned that, “to generalize is to be an idiot”.

    3rdly, our post-secondary institutions are more and more oriented to the human resource needs of existing and anticipated economies (both public and private). My hypothesis is that the percentage of 16-24 years olds who experience a liberal arts university education remains, taking variables in consideration, amazingly to between 15 to 20% over the past 50 years. I’m thinking that medicine and engineering have watered down considerably the undergraduate requirements to read and discuss a book, in essay and before a seminar. Yet some of us those, perhaps, within the 20%, are very appreciative to consider ourselves among the:

    “a professional human(s)”

    on the planet.



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  • Hi Cantaz, Hi Phil,

    As far as I can see I’m failing to get my message across.

    It might be due to dogma.

    It might be due to a lack of understanding or communication skills on either, or both, sides.

    It’s probably that I’m not understanding something. Blowed if I can see what.

    I give up.

    Peace.



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  • SoW #14

    I’m sorry you’re not going to persist.

    I do though think that because current US academic administrator contracts are less than three years, standing on principle will simply lead good folk out of the profession very rapidly. The market is not equipped for the long term investment needed to cultivate beyond the needs of the 80%. Education is the one area where you really shouldn’t just meet the needs of your still ignorant customer.



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