Pomona Professor John Seery‘s article, “Somewhere Between a Jeremiad and a Eulogy,” is a moving description of the changes at elite liberal arts colleges over the last 30 years. (See here for a shorter version.) Almost everything he writes about Pomona is just as true of Williams, including the death of faculty governance, the growth of college staff and out-of-control administrator salaries. Let’s spend a week two weeks going through it. Day 6.

Critics of American higher education these days frequently call for the entire edifice to be disrupted and dismantled on the grounds that tenured radicals promoting “political correctness” run the show and create an atmosphere that silences dissenting views. But that’s an outdated and misdirected critique.

Really? Doesn’t seem outdated to me! Williams bans speakers. Here’s what happened at Pomona just a year ago:

As the 2017 school year came to a close, protesters at Pomona College staged a sit-in, symbolically unregistered themselves from sociology classes and called for rescinding a visiting scholar post that was awarded to Alice Goffman, a white sociologist who chronicled the impact of prison and policing on black youth. In an open letter to the sociology department they demanded “peer-appointed influential student positions on the hiring committee.”

Sure sounds like an “atmosphere that silences dissenting views.” And Goffman is a liberal! Imagine what would have happened if Pomona had tried to hire a conservative — much less someone who voted for Trump!

First, tenure is fading; only 24 percent of undergraduate college courses in the U.S. are taught by tenured or tenure-track professors.

Again, Seery conflates two separate issues: what is happening in colleges in general (the decimation of tenure) versus what is happening at places like Pomona/Williams (tenure as strong as ever). If anything, tenure protections (or at least faculty confidence) are stronger now than 30 years ago, at least at Williams, because the rate at which tenure is granted has increased from 20% to 80%, approximately.

Second, the professorial radicals who came of age in the sixties are retired or dead, and professors who have achieved tenure subsequently have often acceded to the new Administrative Order of academe. Yes, there remain professors who espouse crazy theories, but not to the point that such textbook radicalism would threaten their jobs.

Are today’s radicals better than those of a generation ago? No! I think they are much worse, mainly because they seem much more eager to silence/punish views with which they disagree. It is hardly a surprise that the most strident critics of the College’s banning of Derbyshire were among the faculty’s oldest members.

If you look closely, the most unabashed forms of politically correct scripting on campus—the hunt to root out microaggressions and supposedly traumatizing speech—originate from the bloated administrative wing of campus, often from the Dean of Students Office(s). The people ventriloquizing students, through relentless sensitivity campaigns, about safe spaces, hate speech, structural oppression, and diversity imperatives are the deans and deanlets of residential life (as one of my colleagues puts it, the “Residential Life Industrial Complex”).

Exactly correct. (And I love the phrase: Residential Life Industrial Complex!) Consider a recent example from Williams:

On Monday, members of the Davis Center placed signs along the path on the lawn outside of the Paresky Center and the Congregational Church. The signs contained facts and statements related to the College, Williamstown and Native American history. Shawna Patterson-Stephens, director of the Davis Center, was the primary organizer behind the project.

Doesn’t Shawna Patterson-Stephens have anything better to do with her time? If we must have a Davis Center, then it ought to be run by a professor.

“Oftentimes, attempts to bring awareness can have a sense of irrelevance, a sense of ‘that happened to those people over there,’ but a project such as these signs brings the issue closer to home,” Angela Wu, assistant director of the Davis Center, said.

The Davis Center has a director and an assistant director?!? As always, if College employees, on their own time and spending their own money, want to protest, more power to them! Protest is cool. But I am pretty sure that these protests occurred during the workday, using signs constructed from materials bought by Williams.

“In recognition of Indigenous People’s Month, the Davis Center wanted to provide recognition [of] native people’s culture and the legacy of injustice that has historically been committed against the indigenous community via these signs,” Dominic Madera ’21, a community builder at the Davis Center, said.

“It’s incredibly wrong that we live on and claim land as our own that we acquired by killing, harming and moving American Indian bodies,” Katie Manning ’20, a community builder at the Davis Center, said.

The Davis Center has (multiple!) “community builder[s],” students that the College pays to protest itself!

Read the whole thing. Again, if students want to protest, great! But I bet that Manning/Madera are paid for the time they spent putting up those signs by the College. The whole article is either a brilliant parody or the perfect illustration of the Residential Life Industrial Complex.

Back to Seery:

Such people present elaborate and intensive “orientation” programs for the students. They have money to hire students to hector other students about the need for making everything warm and welcoming. On the academic side of things, the deans are constantly hiring outside “diversity trainers” and “leadership consultants” and “workplace bullying” experts to come in and present all-day workshops on said issues. There’s a whole bureaucratic apparatus in place and it isn’t faculty driven at all—though some faculty members take advantage of it, once the incentives and cues are put so clearly into place.

“Hire students to hector students” sure sounds like Madera/Manning are doing.

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