Thomas Sowell

There is an article in the current issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education -- the trade publication of the academic world -- about professors being physically intimidated by their students.

"Most of us dread physical confrontation," the author says. "And so these aggressive, and even dangerous, students get passed along, learning that intimidation and implied threats will get them what they want in life."

This professor has been advised, at more than one college, not to let students know where he lives, not to give out his home phone number and to keep his home phone number from being listed.

This is a very different academic world from the one in which I began teaching back in 1962. Over the years, I saw it change before my eyes.

During my first year of teaching, at Douglass College in New Jersey, I was one of the few faculty members who did not invite students to his home. In fact, I was asked by a colleague why I didn't.

"My home is a bachelor apartment" I said, "and that is not the place to invite the young women I am teaching."

His response was: "How did you get to be such an old fogy at such a young age?"

How did we get from there to where professors are being advised to not even have their phone numbers listed?

The answer to that question has implications not only for the academic world but for the society at large and for international relations.

It happened because people who ran colleges and universities were too squeamish to use the power they had, and relied instead on clever evasions to avoid confrontations. They were, as the British say, too clever by half.

"Negotiations" and "flexibility" were considered to be the more sophisticated alternative to confrontation.

Most campuses across the country bought that approach -- and it failed repeatedly on campus after campus, when caving in on one set of student demands led only to new and bigger demands.

The academic world has never fully recovered. Many congratulated themselves on the restoration of "peace" on campus in the 1970s. Almost always, it was the peace of surrender.

In order to appease campus radicals, all sorts of new ideologically oriented courses, programs and departments were created, with an emphasis on teaching victimhood and resentments, often hiring people whose scholarly credentials were meager or even non-existent.

Such courses, programs, and departments are still with us in the 21st century -- not because no one recognizes their intellectual deficiencies but because no one dares to try to get rid of them.


Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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