A response to university activists

As I read reports of American campus activism by mindless, ignorant (mostly privileged) troublemakers, I long to see honest, courageous and intellectual rebuttals from university presidents and chancellors. Instead we read that they often grovel, apologize, capitulate and sometimes resign their posts.

Recently, I read about a black African student “Rhodes Must Fall” campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes benefactor of Oxford University in England. There was, however, some pushback from university officials. (Links below)

Lord (Chris) Patten of Barnes, Chancellor of Oxford, was quoted in an email I received (attributed to the Daily Telegraph):

Education is not indoctrination. Our history is not a blank page on which we can write our own version of what it should have been according to our contemporary views and prejudice.

The following abbreviated comments from a letter to the agitators attributed to someone at Oxford’s Oriel College (where Rhodes’ statue resides)—actual or not—could well serve notice to any student censors of history on either side of “The Pond.”

Cecil Rhodes’s generous bequest has contributed greatly to the comfort and well being of many generations of Oxford students—a good many of them, dare we say it, better, brighter and more deserving than you.

Oxford, let us remind you, is the world’s second oldest extant university. Scholars have been studying here since at least the 11th century. We’ve played a major part in the invention of Western civilization, from the 12th century intellectual renaissance through the Enlightenment and beyond.

And what were your ancestors doing in that period? Living in mud huts, mainly. Sure we’ll concede you the short lived Southern African civilization of Great Zimbabwe. But let’s be brutally honest here. The contribution of the Bantu tribes to modern civilization has been…zilch.

You’ll probably say that’s “racist.” But it’s what we here at Oxford prefer to call “true.”

At Oxford…we will always prefer facts to petty grievance-mongering, identity politics and empty sloganeering.

…you are perfectly within your rights to squander your time at Oxford on silly, vexatious, single-issue political campaigns. We are well used to seeing undergraduates—or, in your case, postgraduates, making idiots of themselves. Just don’t expect us to indulge your idiocy, let alone genuflect before it.

We do not discriminate over sex, race, colour or creed. We do, however, discriminate according to intellect. We prefer to see quality of those ideas tested in the crucible of public debate. That’s another key part of the Oxford intellectual tradition you see: you can argue any damn thing you like but you need to be able to justify it with facts and logic—otherwise your idea is worthless.

Your Rhodes Must Fall campaign is not merely fatuous but ugly, vandalistic and dangerous. We agree with Oxford historian RW Johnson that what you are trying to do here is no different from what ISIS and the Al-Qaeda have been doing to artefacts in places like Mali and Syria. You are murdering history.

Understand us and understand this clearly: you have everything to learn from us; we have nothing to learn from you.

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/12133584/Oxford-campaigners-refuse-to-back-down-over-Cecil-Rhodes-statue.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/12073349/Its-time-to-say-No-to-our-pampered-student-emperors.html

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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