Campus High Jinks and the First Amendment

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WASHINGTON — Well, she did not show up. I am talking about Ann Coulter, the svelte conservative firebrand who was invited to speak at the University of California, Berkeley, and, inadvertently, to show the assembled coeds how a stylish blond dresses. But then, she was disinvited. Hold on -- she was, of a sudden, re-invited but only under certain university conditions. Confusion ensued. Then the speech was lost in the swelling controversy. According to Coulter, "I looked over my shoulder, and my allies had joined the other team." Her allies were presumably members of the Young Americas Foundation.

Honestly, I cannot imagine the stalwarts of the foundation being with the faculty of Berkeley in any joint endeavor, but maybe I am wrong. Life on campus has been changing for years. Things always get worse. Professors once dressed in tweeds; now they dress like little boys.

There's one thing I know for certain: Neither Coulter nor the foundation should want anything to do with Berkeley. In fact, I cannot imagine any intelligent person wanting anything to do with most universities, much less wanting to lecture at one.

I have not spoken on a college campus in 20 years. Then, the venue was Hillsdale College, a remarkable place, and my date there was the first time I had appeared on a college campus since since the early 1970s (when I spoke at what is called an Ivy League institution and some fussy dean asked me to sign the guest book before leaving campus. Clandestinely, I did. I wrote, "Have a nice day, Richard Speck.").

Aside from Hillsdale and one or two other colleges nationwide, why would any intelligent person bother? What kind of audience would I be speaking to? The intelligent intellectually alive freethinking students generally agree with me and are in no need of seeing me talk. As for the protesters, the bed-wetters with their illiterate placards and their nonsensical T-shirts, their minds are too cluttered with politically correct gibberish to contemplate anything I might say. Better they spend their time at the local rape-awareness seminar or Take Back the Night workshop.

The decline began in the late 1960s. Before that, college campuses were pretty much all dominated by liberals: Hubert Humphrey Democrats, Great Society enthusiasts and a few socialists thrown in for a cosmopolitan whiff. Most of the liberals at least conveyed facts and respected those of their students who dissented from their liberal pieties. They believed in the existence of truths -- their truths -- but they were not so insecure in their truths as to be neurotic about them. Boy, are the profs neurotic today.

Things on campus began to change by the 1970s and 1980s. Then, the students who were radicals in the 1960s began to become junior faculty, and then senior faculty. Along with them came the feminists, the racialists and the lecturers on even more extreme brands of esotery. As a result, if there is an old-fashioned liberal on campus today, that liberal is the campus conservative. The rest are radicals and dispensers of New Age nonsense.

The climate on campus now is somewhat an admixture of communist Cuba and kindergarten. One could sense it all coming by reading the radical thinkers whose books were espoused in the 1960s by the New Left students, soon to be junior faculty and now retiring senior faculty after utterly trivializing their institutions. Their sages were goofball Marxists who often ended badly, thinkers like Herbert Marcuse and Theodor Adorno. For Adorno, one memorable goofball moment came a few months before he expired at age 65. One moment he was holding forth on dialectical thought before nearly a thousand students in some crummy auditorium, and the next he was surrounded by bare-breasted maidens showering him in tulips and trying to kiss him. The prof retreated from his dais, retired to his quarters and went into a deep depression. Within months, he assumed room temperature.

This mixture of the infantile and the authoritarian is all over college campuses today. Just last month at the ivy-covered Wellesley College, a bull appeared in the student newspaper explaining that "hostility may be warranted" toward those who are "given the resources to learn" yet "refuse to adapt their beliefs." That sounds like what the North Vietnamese called "reeducation camp." Ann, give Wellesley a wide berth.