September 17th, 2021


The showboating student, hard at work

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published Dec. 1, 2015

There is much to do for the student with awakened conscience. Scrubbing out the moral stains on America, to make the grove of academe the bright spot of the fruited plain, is a job bigger than anyone first imagined.

But a new wave of Nancy men is hard at work. Amherst College in Massachusetts, whence so much politically correct moonshine bubbles and flows, is finally getting around to throwing Lord Jeff out of his job as Official Mascot. Minerva, the Roman goddess of the arts, will be changed in the spirit of the times to keep her place as the inspiration of students of Union College. Another Indian tribe has fallen to the white man at the University of North Dakota. The Fighting Sioux are reduced to mere birds.

All across the land university administrators are chipping away with trembling hands at names of American heroes, early professors and benefactors on statuary and buildings, all to assuage the pain of students, many of whom are of minority races and religions. But not all. Many students of paler hue, including some of that palest hue of all, are demanding that everyone feel their pain, too.

The Amherst mascot, Lord Jeff, is actually a figment based on Gen. Jeffery Amherst, a British general who defeated the French in the French and Indian War. The Americans in Massachusetts, grateful that they would not have to become Frenchmen, named the town and the college for Amherst. He was accused of sending blankets infected with smallpox to Indians helping the French, but some historians say it never happened.

Never mind, the students demanded that all traces of Lord Jeff be removed from college memorabilia, seals, documents and imagery. Even if he hadn't done the bad stuff he was guilty of having "an inherent racist nature." The students demanded that the college president make a speech condemning such bad thought. He's working on it.

Observant women at Union College in Schenectady discovered that the college motto was taken from a French phrase and translated as "Under the laws of Minerva we all become brothers." The motto dates from a time, before 1970, when all the students were men and probably always had been, and Minerva was a lady. Retaining the motto as historical remnant was never considered. Even a goddess can't get no respect.

Minerva has been a busy goddess, often hanging out with a bad crowd. She's on the seal of the state of California and now that she has come out California will soon need a new goddess. Bad news for faint-hearted generals at the Pentagon, always looking for routes of retreat: Minerva is depicted on the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest decoration for bravery. And there's guilt by association: Minerva was prominently depicted on the Confederate $100 bill.

That's worth not very much in today's U.S. dollars, but it ought to be enough to get a good riot started, particularly at Washington's National Episcopal Cathedral, where consciences are on the boil since someone discovered two tiny Confederate flags depicted in stained-glass windows depicting Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson humbled in prayer. The dean of the cathedral, notoriously easy to rattle, is treating it as if someone had found an evangelical Protestant, maybe even a Presbyterian, in the pulpit of the cathedral.

The current froth on campus may be more than evidence of rowdy students, who have always been with us. The kids may be learning a little history, and lessons learned on campus can be applied later to the boss when they're out in their first jobs. They will be surprised by how eager a boss will be to get their assistance in cleaning up his act.

This current crop of students, generously donating their time and energy to cleaning up the stains their elders wrought, is getting an easy time of it. Once, years ago, students at Boston University, fed up with news of injustice somewhere, built several shanties in a prominent corner of the campus to protest. The shanties were meant to represent revolutionary change, but most people, including the college president, thought the shanties were not a treasure, but trash. The president, the late John Silber, told them to clear the ground, or he would. They didn't, and he did.

He instructed the campus cops to escort the students to the paddy wagons with a little music. "I want you to sing, loud, 'Just a shanty in old shanty town.'" He wanted to demonstrate that he did not see their cause as deeply felt or an offended conscience, "but showboating of a very insincere kind, and I see through their pretensions." Alas, he did not become the model of the American college president, and everyone would live unhappily ever after.

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