Time for Christians to Leave Universities That Are Not Our Own
A few days after the murderous rampage of Palestinians from Gaza into southern Israel on October 7 of last year, a former Hamas leader called for a “day of rage.” The rage he was calling for was directed toward—not on behalf of—Israel, over one thousand of whose people had just been murdered, beheaded, raped, burned alive, and maimed, with several hundred more taken hostage. Even more baffling than the timing of this indignation was the explosion of support for it. Millions have taken up the call in cities across the world
Back in 1969, on October 8 of that year, as it happens, left-wing student activists in Chicago called for and staged their own “day of rage.” The ’69 rage was organized by leftist radicals who went by the name, Weatherman. It was designed to “bring the war home,” meaning to turn protests and civil unrest into open revolution. One of the organizers promised in an interview ahead of the Chicago protest that “thousands and thousands” were going “to fight back, to fight the government, to fight their agents, the police1.” These would-be revolutionaries thought of their fight against the U.S. government to be morally equivalent to the Allies’ fight against fascism during World War II, a level of left-wing self-righteousness that won’t surprise many in 2024.
Given their aspirations, the day of rage in 1969 was a bit anticlimactic. Only a couple hundred showed up. All the leaders were arrested after their midnight brick-throwing rampage through Chicago. “Small,” as Bryan Burrough describes in his book, Days of Rage: America’s Radical Underground, the FBI, and the Forgotten Age of Revolutionary Violence, “but ready for havoc2.” The incident nonetheless inspired a generation of American terrorists.
A couple months after the “days of rage” in 1969, a group of 400 young Weatherman, gathered for a five-day party in a dance hall in Flint, Michigan. STDs, drugs, and speeches to launch the revolution. “We’re against everything that’s good and decent in honky America,” one from among the Weatherman brain trust promised from the stage. “We will burn and loot and destroy. We are the incubation of your mother’s nightmare.”3
Weatherman made good on the promise. For the next several years they bombed stuff and issued calls for justice. Weatherman actions were soon accompanied by those of other underground terrorist groups in the U.S. who undertook bombing skyscrapers, federal buildings, the Pentagon, the U.S. Capital, and courthouses, among other targets. Underground radicals assassinated policemen, kidnapped an heiress, and robbed banks with an aim toward ending oppression and overthrowing the United States government. In 1972 alone there were almost two thousand bombings in the U.S.—by Weatherman (eventually renamed Weather Underground) and other freedom fighters—more than five per day for an entire year. Eventually, Weather fell apart over its inability to overcome its whiteness. Bernadine Dohrn—the charismatic woman at the head of Weather—repented years later of her own “naked white supremacy, white superiority, and chauvinist arrogance.”4
In retrospect, it’s easy to see this era of radicalism as a precursor to our own. In many ways it is. However, for all of the considerable fire-breathing and mayhem from leftwing radicals in the 1970s, they achieved nearly nothing, in the short term. Burrough puts a fine point on it:
In every conceivable way, the young intellectuals who had come together in 1969 to form Weatherman had utterly failed: failed to lead the radical left over the barricades into armed underground struggle; failed to fight or support the black militants they championed; failed to force agencies of the American ‘ruling class’ into a single change more significant than the spread of metal detectors and guard dogs.5
Considering these spectacular failures, the victory of Weatherman’s political ethos over “America’s ‘ruling class’” in recent years is remarkable. The nearly hegemonic takeover of the most elite institutions by identity worship and oppression-hunting must be staggering for the wrinkled old Weathermen still alive today, even those who became professors after their revolution fizzled and have contributed to universities’ leftward lurch.
The lesson of the failures of America’s radical underground is that it wasn’t a failure. The liberal consensus that won the Cold War proved—and is still proving—impotent to combat an ideology whose raison d’être is to burn “everything good and decent in honky America.” The seeds of revolt have had a long gestation.
Today our society’s tolerance and outright support for burning, looting, and destroying is much higher than it was back then. If this wasn’t clear to you in the summer of 2020, then it should be from the immediate and widespread reactions to the Hamas attacks three months ago. University students, professors, and many others were quick to cheer. The timing was fortunate for university lefties. These days the pretexts for their righteous indignation erode with equinoctial regularity, so a constant search for new ones is essential. The call for a day of rage against Israel coincided with, for instance, the collapsing narrative of George Floyd’s death that has inspired so many up to this point.
The hypocrisy is galling, of course. The crowd cheering Palestinian atrocities overlaps a great deal with the people who demand trigger warnings for fiction. Universities, such as the one where I teach, that churned out an endless stream of “statements” on George Floyd, held “learning circles” on antiracism, and radioed in marquee radicals such as Angela Davis to amplify the post-Floyd “reckoning,” hardly mustered a peep about Hamas. Meanwhile, our student body chants for Palestine to reach “from the river to the sea.” It’s pathetic how many at Christian universities similarly fall right in line.
For anyone who still needed one, Claudine Gay’s unremorseful resignation last week is a clear sign of the depth of the problem in American higher education. It took uncovering dozens of instances of plagiarism (“a new conservative weapon,” we are told) to mount enough pressure to push Gay out. One credible instance of plagiarism should be fatal to any university president, let alone an Ivy League president.
If it takes this much malfeasance to oust the most important university administrator at the most prestigious university in the country, how much funny business do you think the legions of ladder-climbing educrats at more modest institutions get away with because they have the right kind of politics, identity, or outrageously squarish glasses frames? The heights of bureaucratic takeover in American higher education would be enough to make a Soviet Commissar of Education blush.
Gay’s copy-paste habits are not even the most morally objectionable thing America has learned about her in recent months. She was first in the news because of her testimony before Congress related to antisemitism on college campuses. In her testimony, Gay, along with two other presidents of elite American universities, was unable to unequivocally condemn calls for genocide against Jews at Harvard by pro-Palestinian activists. The testimony was a powerful parable of moral decay on campuses, sufficient to get Penn’s president to resign even without the mountain of plagiarism Gay faced. (Penn’s president is also white, a fact conveniently ignored by those insisting Gay’s ouster is about anti-black racism.) The congressional testimony of three of our country’s leading academic lights should be mandatory viewing for every high school senior in America before they decide whether they want to go to college.
A New Era of Clarity
The good news is that we have entered an era of renewed clarity when it comes to the goals of the left. Following the failures by Weather Underground and other 1970s bomb throwers to garner popular support, the left has been busy obfuscating what used to be clear calls for revolution with academic theory. Their success is evident. Our public discourse is soaked with asinine jargon in service of the burning and looting and destroying it accompanies. It took longer than it should have, but lots of people now know how to identify left-wing doublespeak.
What the Hamas-Gay fiasco has underscored, is the extent to which Americans have learned to decode this language. “Duplicative language” is what you call plagiarism when done by a social justice champion. “Antiracism” means “racism.” “Mostly peaceful protests” are flamier than a Derek Webb album. We all have our favorite examples.
Some of them are more violent than others. “Decolonization” means doing what Hamas did last fall—executing, raping, abducting, filming, posting, cheering. “Silence is violence” justifies real violence when someone does not agree with your cause. “Erasing trans people” is an accusation of genocide, an accusation that prepares the way for justifying a proportionate response. This moral logic was demonstrated last spring by White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre, who responded to a mass murder at a Christian school in Nashville by a woman who thought she was a man, with a reminder that trans people were under attack. The message was clear: Christians brought this upon themselves by insisting that women are not men. The cheering on the streets all over the world in the immediate aftermath of the Al-Aqsa Flood on October 7 demonstrates a similar moral logic, namely, that terrorism is to be expected until political goals are met.
The brazenly violent rhetoric is not a good sign. Nor is the fact that it’s far more ubiquitous now than it ever was in 1969. However, it is a good sign that more are learning to believe people when they tell you what they want. Acquiescing to demands for decolonizing, dismantling, or deconstructing, no matter how metaphorical or inane those demands seem to be (“Decolonize math!”), emboldens the kind of logic that justifies violence. As one activist, incredulous that people were upset by Hamas’ live-streamed attack, helpfully reminded Twitter while it was still happening: “What did y’all think decolonization meant? vibes? papers? essays? Losers.”
Don’t be a loser. Decolonization doesn’t mean vibes. Too many people still think that renaming a street after Rosa Parks or painting another mural of St. Floyd will appease the current impulse toward destruction. It won’t.
A New Era of Action
The resignation of (so far) two out of three of the university presidents who testified before Congress in December is a considerable victory for anyone who cares about the integrity of American higher education. These are among the most powerful institutions of higher learning in the country, which means that the multi-pronged tactics outlined by Chris Rufo that were deployed for holding them accountable have chalked up another win. Rufo aims to retake America’s elite institutions, and sees this victory as a movement in that direction, along with legislation he’s championed in various states to dismantle DEI infrastructure. In Texas, for example, the state legislature gutted DEI offices for all public higher education in 2023. Right before the law passed, Rufo profiled my university’s DEI antics here.
These changes are good and should be celebrated, but it remains to be seen how much they will actually change. As Rufo well knows, DEI offices in universities are neither the originators nor exclusive preserve of today’s virulent forms of identity politics. Claudine Gays are everywhere. The march through the institutions, alas, has been phenomenally successful. Rufo wrote a manifesto last week calling for counter-revolution. He’s right: “The fight is here.” But if he or anyone else expects that to mean Gay’s resignation signals that we are on the cusp of restoring America’s compromised leadership class, they are going to be disappointed. The resignation of every college president in the country couldn’t do that.
What else, then, can we do to fight?
Christians in America should organize a break—right now—with every college and university—secular and Christian—that does not unabashedly represent and promote Christian values. If you are a student, don’t enroll. If you are an alumnus, don’t send your money. If you are a donor, stop donating. If you are a parent, don’t send your child. If you work at such an institution, get a different job as soon as you can.
This is offense, not defense. “Evangelical Christians” constitute more than 20% of college graduates in America.6 An organized boycott of these institutions would have at least three valuable and immediate effects. It would (1) accelerate the decline in enrollment that most colleges and universities are currently experiencing, (2) create more demand for new and revitalized institutions of Christian higher learning, and (3) supply growing values-aligned economic networks (e.g., New Founding) with young Christians seeking jobs with like-minded businesses. All of these are already underway. An exodus from hostile non-aligned colleges would speed each of them up.
In the short term, Christian families, churches, and businesses would need to make provision for students who would otherwise be in college to pursue other things. This might be complicated in some instances. But in most cases, it will mean a college-aged student is making money rather than spending (or borrowing) it—not exactly a huge sacrifice.
When supply in higher education eventually catches up with demand through institutional revitalization (existing Christian universities gutting compromised programs and departments) and the creation of more new colleges, young Christians who want a Christian liberal arts education will enroll in college with work experience, money, and clarity of purpose those things can bring. Likely some of these Protestant exiters from college (Prexit?) will not end up returning to college, which would also be a win: too many people go to college as it is. This is our chance to reprioritize the means by which we construct aligned Christian communities. Entrepreneurship, manual labor, marriage, child-rearing, farming, service to local churches, creative production, civic leadership—all of these and more ought to be held up as high-prestige callings for young Christians to pursue because of their indispensable value for building civilization. None of them requires a Harvard degree.
As for excellence in the highest echelons of academic learning? There’s work to do, but we’ll be fine. It’s not as if Protestants haven’t built world-class colleges and universities before.
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