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March 26th, 2017

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Surviving the season of the sophomores

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published Dec. 22, 2015

Surviving the season of the sophomores

The year 2015 will be remembered as the season of the sophomores. With their new learning, sophomores can correct all error, make all rough places plain, and fix everything that isn't working right.

Sophomores sometimes mean well, and never again, no matter how long they live, will they know as much as they know in their sophomore year. That's a hard truth for anyone of any age to live with.

The sophomores (and this includes upperclassmen who have never got over being a sophomore) this year sacked several presidents, deans, and other administrators. They have stifled academic freedom on several famous if no longer particularly distinguished Ivy League campuses. A professor at Yale was driven off campus when she suggested that young people be allowed to design outrageous costumes for Halloween night, whether the ghosts and goblins like it or not.

The academic life is particularly attractive to soft men, and when the sophomores tell soft men to jump, they only ask, "How high?"

Sombreros, gifts of a Tex-Mex restaurant near the campus, have been banned at the University of East Anglia as racist symbols mocking Mexicans. A debate about abortion was canceled at Oxford after several young women were offended by the very presence of "a person without a uterus."

Political correctness blights everything it touches, and several brave dissenters in the faculty lounges of Old Blighty have had enough. A group of academics at British universities warn that free speech, the active ingredient in the freedom to inquire, has fallen to the fear that someone, somewhere, may be offended by something they see or hear in a classroom, the commons or on a stroll under the elms.

An entire generation of students, the professors say, is denied "the intellectual challenge of debating conflicting views," because self-censorship is turning campuses into oversanitized "safe spaces."

The scholars, led by Frank Furedi, a sociology professor at the University of Canterbury, and Joanna Williams, an editor of Spiked magazine, write in The London Daily Telegraph that the campaign to sanitize the campus joins a "long and growing" list of people and objects barred from British campuses, including pop songs (with the wrong lyrics), sombreros (that might offend a stray Mexican), and even visiting atheists who might stir controversy (when the proper reaction is to pray for them). This "deeply worrying development" is curtailing freedom of speech "like never before" because almost nothing is safe from student censors.

The British mob eerily resembles mobs at the gates of American universities, but in Britain a number of professors have been roused to fight. May their tribe increase, and jump the pond in fearsome numbers.

Many universities in Britain, like most American colleges and universities, recruit students who are paying customers — or, rather, their parents are — and this puts a fearsome economic weapon in their hands. The small but ignorant and noisy minority are thus enabled to break furniture and smash dishes in the no longer so hallowed halls of academe.

"Few academics challenge censorship that emerges from students," the British professors say. "It is important that more do, because a culture that restricts the free exchange of ideas encourages self-censorship and leaves people afraid to express their views in [fear] they may be misinterpreted. This risks destroying the very fabric of democracy. An open and democratic society requires people to have the courage to argue against ideas they disagree with or even find offensive."

The current cause celebre in Britain is statuary honoring Cecil Rhodes, whose discovery of diamonds made him fabulously wealthy and who left many of his millions to educate the young, including black Africans. More than 8,000 Africans of various hue have studied at Oxford, including student leaders of the campaign to tear down the Rhodes statues. Rhodes held the views on race of nearly every white man of his time. "Remember that you are an Englishman," he told the English youth, "and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life." Rhodes (but not his millions) must be wiped from history.

Rhodesiphobia echoes the demand of students at Harvard who demand that classroom discussions of rape law be prohibited lest someone who was once a victim of sexual assault (gender intimidation?) hear about it and flee in terror.

The sophomores have not yet learned what life is eager to teach them, that comparing their standards to those of a previous generation is a fool's errand. Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, its truths ringing still down the age, and contributed to the Constitution that inspires revolutionaries everywhere. But he owned slaves. Lincoln freed the slaves and saved the Union but he was a white supremacist who was aghast at the idea that blacks might one day vote. Churchill saved Europe from Hitler and the Nazis, but he, too, grew misty-eyed considering Anglo-Saxon legacy. The sophomores will save us from them all.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.

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