John Leo
Spend a few hours on a computer search, and you get some idea of how the American campus is reacting to the current crisis. It isn't pretty. The first thing you notice is that vigils and rallies tend to focus on feelings. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose. We all have to get our bearings.

But the concern with emotions and personal dislocation seems over the top, as if we need to look inward for therapy more than outward to come together for the fight ahead. An anthropologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill said she was pleased that her students' "thoughtful, passionate varieties of anger are openings to reflection, learning."

Worse, the words the rest of the nation is using -- "attack," "terrorism," "resolve" and "defense" -- don't seem to come up much on campus. Umpteen college presidents put out timid and content-free statements about coping with "the tragedy," and "the events of September 11" as if we have just suffered an earthquake or some other passing natural disaster.

The American Association of University Professors put out a statement that probably would have made Neville Chamberlain throw up. It promised to "continue to fight violence with renewed dedication to the exercise of freedom of thought and the expression of that freedom in our teaching."

What does that mean? That the professors of 1941 should have responded to Pearl Harbor by just logging more class time? Bradford Wilson of the National Association of Scholars, a group that has been struggling to restore intellectual integrity to the campus, called the AAUP statement "fatuous nonsense," "basic Marxist claptrap" and "anti-American in its basic thrust."

The campus flight from reality takes many exotic forms. One is the notion that the terrorists did not really mean to attack America. "Students in my classes see this as an assault on international trade, globalization," said the dean of Columbia University's international affairs school. Another is the attempt to adapt the crisis to the campus fixation on bias crimes.

The most animated rally at the University of California-Berkeley was a protest against a campus newspaper for an editorial cartoon showing Islamic terrorists in hell. Many on the campuses feel that singling out members of any religious or ethnic group as responsible for the attack is a sort of hate crime. The attack "was done by people who hate, and I don't think hate has a color or ethnicity," said one University of Wisconsin student.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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