Former Williams President Morty Schapiro wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in March on the “The New Face of Campus Unrest.” It is not good. Let’s spend a week dissecting it! Today is Day 4.
A decade or so ago, I returned from Shabbat services at my synagogue to learn that a student had hung posters mocking the Holocaust Remembrance Day posters distributed in the dorms. The message had been turned into a celebration of Hitler’s birthday; the picture of concentration camp victims had for some reason been replaced by a marijuana leaf. It is hard to imagine a more disgusting display.
Longtime readers will know that Morty is referring to Mary Jane Hitler, a controversy we covered in detail. Is Morty’s summary a fair one?
First, note that he elides the manner of distribution of the posters. The originally posters (example above) were “distributed in the dorms” — as if they had been left in a common room — while the Hitler posters were “hung.” In fact, both posters were distributed in an identical manner: hung on the doors of student rooms. Below is one of the parody posters.
Second, “the picture of concentration camp victims had for some reason been replaced by a marijuana leaf” is wrong. The marijuana leaf replaced the Star of David symbol on the original posters. This is, perhaps, a small point and I am certain that Morty is not trying to be misleading. (Why would he?) But it does remind us all testimony is inherently unreliable, especially years after the fact.
Third, “celebration of Hitler’s birthday” is a misleading description of the intention behind the posters. Recall the Administration’s own description:
The student who admitted that she had produced and hung the second posters said that her doing so was intended as a use of her right to provoke discussion about the appropriateness of the first ones.
Indeed. These posters were clearly parodies of the original Holocaust Remembrance posters. They were, intentionally, nonsensical.
Fourth, note the Morty’s provincialism in the claim that “It is hard to imagine a more disgusting display.” Hard for whom? I can easily imagine many more worse displays! In fact, doesn’t Morty have some Northwestern colleagues who are, say, African American rather than Jewish? I suspect that they would find praise of the KKK or the Confederacy much more disgusting than these Hitler/marijuana posters.
Fifth, I am unimpressed with Morty’s empathy. Why turn this student into the other? She made a mistake. Wasn’t it Morty’s (and Williams’s) job to, you know, teach her? To help turn her into a better person? But why even try when it is so much easier (and profitable!) to turn her into the enemy.
And, eight years later, she is a wife and mother, moving on with her life as so many before her have done, as so many graduates in 2016 will soon do.
I am leaving names out of this discussion, but surely our faithful readers will appreciate that the student is marrying someone connected to this saga but, not, fortunately, the original creepy boyfriend.
Back to Morty:
But here is the question we asked: Did the student hang those posters randomly, or instead single out the rooms of members of groups targeted by the Nazis such as Jews, blacks and gays?
“blacks?” Come on Morty! Although the Nazis were, obviously, no friends to blacks, any accurate accounting would put blacks far down on the list of Nazi victims. If you believe Wikipedia, any fair three word summary of Nazi victims would definitely not include blacks and might not include gays. But Poles and Ukrainians — much less Catholics, Communists and deaf people — are not major constituencies of a modern, major university president, so Morty does not list them.
If it had been the latter, it might have constituted verbal assault. But it was the former, and in our view that was protected free speech. This wasn’t an easy decision, or perhaps the most expedient, but it was the right one.
Tell us all how brave you are Morty! How, exactly, would it have possibly been “expedient” to punish this student, a student who was clearly exercising free speech in exactly the same manner as the students who put up the original posters? Any attempt to punish the student would — if she fought it — lead to disaster. And this student was a fighter.
Of course, this passage is just a throw-away story — meant to demonstrate the good sense (put him on your corporate board!) and bravery (nothing expedient!) of our fearless author. But I just couldn’t resist taking a guided tour through one of my favorite Williams controversies.
They don’t call me Nazi Hunter for nothing!