The Left Eats Its Own at MU
A little background on how I ended up living in Missouri and writing about the ongoing spectacle of liberal self-destruction at the University of Missouri.
In my final year of my Ph.D. program at Purdue in the mid-1970s, I attended a Modern Language Association convention at a hotel in New York City. It was here that most of the hiring was done. Unable to afford the hotel, I stayed with my widowed mother in our apartment in a Newark public housing project. On the morning in question, I got up, checked my white privilege, and took the PATH into New York.
At the hotel, I found myself in an elevator with two other graduate students, a black male and a white female. They were happily discussing their interview schedules: she had eight lined up; he had fourteen. I and the other males in my Purdue department had collectively zero. At that moment, I realized that despite my Big Ten Ph.D., my straight A record, and my writing skills, I had no future in academia. I headed instead for the real world and found it in Kansas City.
On several different occasions over the years, I have taught as an adjunct at the University of Missouri campus here in KC. (How about them Royals?) I know MU politics well and have watched up close the university's desperate forty-plus-year quest to recruit and retain minorities both as students and as faculty, African-Americans especially.
No one here is fooled by the ubiquitous Equal Opportunity posters. These signs, all understand, are a vestigial reminder of MU's brief liberal moment. Today, blacks are the first hired and last fired, and they get paid more for the same work. Nothing unique here – this situation prevails at essentially every major university in America and most of the minor ones. But at MU, as elsewhere, everyone on campus pretends that the opposite is true.
For the last seven years, Missouri has had a Democratic governor to orchestrate the pretending. Fear of his own base caused Gov. Jay Nixon to pretend Ferguson protestors had a case. Ditto at MU. During his tenure, Nixon has appointed a liberal Board of Curators, and they in turn chose the liberal businessman Tim Wolfe to head up the MU system. Wolfe has no operational responsibility at the flagship campus in Columbia.
As far as I can tell, the protesters singled him out rather than MU-Columbia Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin because Wolfe did not choose to meet with the protestors, that being the chancellor's job. Under pressure from his deans, Loftin resigned anyhow.
As the social justice movement enters its Jacobin phase, I can only wonder what a James Meredith might think about the incidents that caused the protest. An Air Force vet, James Meredith risked his life to integrate the University of Mississippi in 1962, a harrowing tale well chronicled in William Doyle's An American Insurrection. Less well-known is that Meredith became a Republican and an adviser to Sen. Jesse Helms.
By contrast, the three incidents that triggered the MU protests are scarcely worthy of a Facebook meme, let alone a book. The president of student government said that people in a passing pickup truck shouted racial slurs at him. (Meredith was never in any danger of being elected student body president at Mississippi.) In early October, a drunken white student made a "hurtful" remark to members of the Legion of Black Collegians (LBC). He was promptly thrown out of school. In a third incident, someone reportedly smeared feces into a swastika in a dormitory bathroom. What this has to with African-Americans I am not at all certain.
These were incident enough, however, to trigger a hunger strike, a walkout by the black half of the football team, the resignations of the university president and chancellor for no particular offense, and a national media firestorm.
In Missouri as elsewhere, liberal baby boomers dominate academia and the media that report on their shenanigans. Just as they pushed the university to the left during their youth, their progeny, equally convinced of their own righteousness, are doing the same to them.
This helps explains why today's activists have abandoned "liberal" and adopted "progressive" as their preferred self-designation. The word switch mirrors a political reality. If old-school liberals could content themselves with honoring a fixed set of principles, progressives, like sharks, have to move forward. At the risk of tautology, progressives "progress." Their identity depends on it.
MU documents this progression on a website titled Multicultural Mizzou. The liberal phase begins in 1950, when MU admits its first black students. The progressive phase begins unannounced in 1968, when the LBC is founded to give "black students a voice." Progress going forward only re-segregates the campus. The administration pretends not to notice.
In 1970, the university launches a black studies program. In 1971, it opens a "Black Culture House." In 1974, the LBC presents the university with 15 predictable demands. In 1988, the LBC starts a racially separate homecoming program, the preparation for which the drunken white student interrupted last month.
The list goes on. Over time, Multicultural Mizzou starts boasting about its new programs for women, gays, and Latinos, but in that these groups contribute little, if anything, to the school's money-making sports programs, they are not likely to succeed in getting a president axed, no matter how profoundly their "safe spaces" have been violated.
At this intermediate stage in the movement's evolution, progressives at MU and elsewhere have the power to hector and humiliate. Indeed, they have shamed many a poor soul out of a job – MU's Wolfe and Loftin the most recent – but they have sent no one to a gulag. That could change.
Once elected to high office, Democrats too cowardly to say "all lives matter" will yield to the mob as surely as their bourgeois comrades did in Revolutionary France. Alas, they will discover, as Wolfe and Loftin did, that liberal heads are often the first ones on the chopping block. The only real question for them is how long that chopping block remains a metaphor.
Jack Cashill's new book, Scarlet Letters: The Ever-Increasing Intolerance of the Cult of Liberalism, documents this very phenomenon.