Sit back in your easy chair once again fellow adults because it’s time for another episode in the long-running college campus series “Give Me What I Want or I’ll Cry.” You know the one — where self-styled activists of the collegiate left take a moment out from feeling all the feels to lose their fucking minds over imagined slights and the alleged systemic oppression all around them. This time, we travel to Western Washington University, where students have submitted to the school’s administration an extraordinary list of demands that includes, among other things, the power to hire and fire faculty and to fire campus police officers who engage in “microaggressions.”
A group calling itself the Student Assembly for Power and Liberation — because sure, why not — wants sweeping changes made to its school in the name of social justice and its throughly misguided plan would indeed radically transform Western Washington University. The petition — which anyone can sign online, by the way — begins by noting that the university sits on traditionally Native American lands and that the school therefore has to recognize the “legacy of colonialism” upon which it was built. It also blames the school for upholding the “white supremacy” and “systemic oppression” that’s at the core of American society. Remember, this is all in the first few lines, before any actual demands are issued.
The demands, though — that’s where the real magic lies. The students want Western Washington University to create a specific College of Power and Liberation, which would be committed to teaching social justice. This wouldn’t simply be a new college within the existing university; they want an entirely new building created just for their pet cause, a move that would potentially cost the university a giant pile of money. From there, the students say they want $45,000 set aside annually granted to “students and faculty doing de-colonial work on campus” and a 15 “persxn” panel — yes, they used the ridiculous gender neutral, non-patriarchal buzzword “persxn” — created and given the Orwellian monicker “Office for Social Transformation.” This office would “monitor, document, and archive all racist, anti-black, transphobic, cissexist, misogynistic, ablest, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, anti-semitic, and otherwise oppressive behavior,” and would have the power to discipline students and fire even tenured professors and administrators who violate its orthodoxy.
“We demand the recognition of an unsafe classroom environment due to… oppressive behaviors,” the list of demands states, “and a justifiable cause for an investigation of tenured faculty that could lead to discharge.” As Conor Friedersdorf at The Atlantic notes, “It is difficult to imagine Western Washington University attracting high-quality hires, or maintaining a classroom environment conducive to free inquiry or vital discussions about race, so long as a student panel could revoke tenure for thought-crimes.” But it’s not just faculty this student group wants the power to hire and fire: the discipline committee, according to the students, should also have the authority to fire campus police officers should they violate a “three-strikes” policy against oppressive behavior, including the aforementioned “micoaggressions.” The students have also, needless to say, instituted a timeline for these demands to be met. Give us what we want, or else.
Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard has already responded to the petition and that response can be summed up like this: Okay, kids, sure thing. We’ll get right on that. Shepard figuratively pats these would-be student radicals on the head and reminds them not only that their demands violate university policy and federal law but that they can knock themselves out trying to come up with a way to pay for the draconian changes they’re proposing. (In a moment of beautiful irony, Shepard refers to the entire petition as “problematic.”) The students have of course come back with their own response to Shepard, using the collegiate activist boogeyman of university athletics as a cudgel to claim that if money can be spent there it can be spent on “protecting the marginalized.” As for the legality aspect, well, they don’t really have much on an answer on that one. It’s sort of like “something something federal laws are systems of oppression.”
Again, Friedersdorf has the proper reaction, pointing out, “The idea that the Washington legislature would stand by while Western Washington spent millions that it doesn’t have, even as an activist-run Committee for Social Transformation expelled students and terminated tenured faculty, is laughable. And lawsuits from disgruntled faculty members and students alone could bankrupt the institution if it began to violate their due-process rights so flagrantly. The vast majority of adults observing campus life know this.” And there’s the magic word: adults. As much as these entitled children may disagree, now more than ever — and maybe because they’re dealing with entitled, unrealistic children play-acting as fearless warriors for justice — the adults need to step in and refuse to allow total control to be ceded. The grown-ups at Western Washington University, if they know what’s good for them, won’t give in to the tantrums of the students in their charge. Their charge — not the other way around.
We’ve already seen what happens when the adults don’t assert their authority — listen and carefully consider, certainly, but assert their authority as people with more life experience when it comes to ludicrous demands of the kind the WWU kids are making. Some of the causes underlying these students’ demands may indeed be noble, but as for solutions — predictably, they’re living in an all-or-nothing fantasy land of dystopian demagoguery that would create more problems than it solves.