Understanding Black College Protests

Joesph Kay, American Renaissance, May 28, 2017

And how to stop them.

Since the late 1960s, college campuses have been plagued by hundreds of race-related protests. Despite all the administrative accommodation—even outright surrender—demonstrations continue. To be sure, no two are alike—some peaceful, others violent—but in order to understand them, let us start with a historical overview.

Stage One: Campus at Rest. Black students have always been part of the college landscape, since long before affirmative action. Nearly all, however, were admitted because they could do the work and “fitted in,” never demanded special treatment, let alone entire departments catering to their racial identities. There might have been an occasional incident, such as being rejected by an all-white fraternity, but these incidents passed unnoticed. Everything was peaceful.

Stage Two: Racial Outreach. Beginning in the late 1960s, as a result of the Civil Rights movement and court decrees such as the 1976 Bakke decision, schools began admitting large numbers of blacks. Nearly all were unprepared for college work. Universities offered a variety of academic remediation programs, such as blacks-only summer school “bridge” programs to teach the basics. In a few cases, the administration created a Black Studies Department but this was intended as an academic enterprise that usually tried to attract distinguished black faculty, including African scholars to teach African languages; social justice was not on the agenda.

These early outreach programs invariably failed, since hastily recruited, fresh-out-of-the inner-city street kids could not do the work despite remedial efforts and generous grading by liberal professors. These new students were troublesome, but campus problems were almost entirely crime-related: shoplifting, sexual assault, marijuana dealing, and the like. Campus unrest, such as the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964/65, the Columbia protests of 1968, and the campus-wide strike at Yale in 1970 was led by whites and was not about race.

Stage Three: Campus Transformation. By the late 1980s or early 1990s, the agenda shifted from increasing the number of blacks on campus to transforming the campus to make blacks feel “at home,” and to correct what was seen as overpowering if not debilitating whiteness. “Diversity” was now official orthodoxy, and was implement top to bottom. Universities also increasingly focused on “retention,” so students who once would have flunked out now stayed on and even graduated, thanks to majors such as Black Studies.

Stage Four: The campus, to use a nuclear physics term, goes “critical.” Intensified recruitment had failed to attract qualified black students and faculty, but to meet quotas for non-whites, recruitment for students, faculty, and administrators moved ever farther toward the left side of the bell curve. Whereas earlier blacks on campus might have been challenged by Math 101, today’s recruits are utterly bewildered.

Meanwhile, since it is impossible to recruit enough competent black faculty, the problem is solved by hiring black administrators who understand that their cushy jobs depend on keeping the racial grievance pot boiling.  To this end they invent bogus explanations for black academic failure: structural racism, micro-aggressions, white privilege, and stereotype threat. Further pressure for diversity now comes from white students marinated in the “diversity-is-our-strength” dogma.

NAACP Protesters

Credit Image: © Orlando Sentinel/TNS/ZUMAPRESS.com

Consider a typical set of demands: Students at UCLA want $40 million out of the school’s endowment to fund “a comprehensive effort to address the underrepresentation of African-American students, faculty, and staff at our university.” They also want free housing for black students, campus safe spaces, mandatory cultural awareness training for all students, and sundry other accommodations. These demands are in response to innocuous incidents: The white student body president was caught making black gang signs, or someone posted the rap sheet of Freddie Gray, the Baltimore man who died in an arrest gone bad.

At University of Chicago, “students of color” just issued 50 demands, including the usual stuff: free tuitions for illegals, special club houses for blacks, Hispanics, and Asians; and entirely new departments of Black Studies, African Studies, Caribbean Studies, and Asian-American Studies.

What Explains the Protest Mania?  

There are two major factors driving these periodic upheavals. The first is the intellectual deficiency of most of today’s black students. The second are the incentives for school administrators to give in.

Blacks would not protest if they were of the same intellectual caliber as whites and Asians. The wider the average gaps, the more frequent the protests, which can be seen as a kind of “self medication.” After weeks of classroom frustration, it is euphoric to take over the president’s office and watch him squirm when you present 25 non-negotiable demands. Thanks to social media, the cost for organizing a protest is about zero, and who can resist the instant camaraderie and media coverage that comes from waving homemade signs and chanting anti-racist slogans?

It is as if these students believed that administrators have special, almost magical powers that can cause dim students to succeed, so obtaining a diploma just requires putting pressure on white functionaries. Tom Wolfe called it Mau-Mauing the flak catchers. This exaggerated view of white capacity harks back to the slogan “Moon and the Ghetto” of the 1960s—if Washington can send a man to the moon, it can fix the inner-city.

The tip-off to the therapeutic, non-rational nature of these demands is that most are impractical, illegal, or academically irrelevant. Can the administration really double the size of the black faculty in only a few months? Do the UCLA protestors really think they can extract $40 million from the state of California? Do innumerate students even know what $40 million is? And how, for example, will protestors benefit from forcing the colleges to raise the wages of campus food workers or from divesting from firms running private prisons? Other demands are punitive, such as asking for demeaning written apologies from the college president.

Campus protestors are unlike professionally run interest groups that have specific goals and negotiate their demands rationally. Protest feeds on itself, like thrill-seekers who must always find new excitement to sustain their high. Demonstrators become adrenalin–driven “protest junkies.”

But why do school administrators tolerate this nonsense? Why not immediately call campus security? Mainly because these demands, no matter how foolish or expensive, personally cost administrators nothing. These are utterly unlike labor union demands, which could bankrupt a firm and cost the CEO his job. No board of trustees warns the school’s president that hiring more black teachers could mean cutting his travel budget. Expenses may be trimmed but they will be invisible—not filling an empty faculty position in the Classics Department.

In the short run the extra money needed for surrender can be raised by increasing tuition, squeezing a few rich donors, or pleading for more government funding. Universities are not competitive businesses for which soaring expenses must be covered by increased revenue. They are more like public utilities that can meet increased costs by charging more for services

Meeting black demands is actually a bonanza any administrator who measures his status by the size of his budget. Building a cultural center, hiring black psychologists and sensitivity counselors, setting up new departments, adding yet more Deans with titles such as Senior Associate Director of Admission for Access and Inclusion (I have not made this up)—all this means larger bureaucratic empires and even salary increases because of new responsibilities. Protestors and administrators often have symbiotic relationships; black agitators never insist that the school slash the president’s entertainment fund to pay for a new black-themed residency hall.

Furthermore, an administrator who immediately caves in to even the most outrageous demands is likely to be applauded for “managing” potentially violent conflict. The solution is always to spend other people’s money, and college administrators are never fired for being wimps. Any hardliner who ordered arrests would be judged inflexible and insensitive to the plight of blacks on today’s white-dominated campuses. “It’s only money,” and what’s money when it comes to giving hope and making amends for past injustices?

Finally, black protestors are the perfect useful idiots for radical administrators. For social justice warriors masquerading as university bureaucrats, having black students advance your agenda—often with the threat of violence—is a godsend. All the campus brouhaha will intimidate those who might resist today’s cultural Marxism. Fans of ideological indoctrination can always blame protestors for the onward march of campus totalitarianism: The protestors forced me!

Can this Go On Forever?

The short answer is “no,” but it can last for some time. It is not easy to stop empire building or self-medication. Eventually—hopefully—pressure will come from outside, from state legislatures, trustees, or donors, all sick of this embarrassing behavior.  What happened at the University of Missouri may be a sign of things to come: the university’s total surrender to of protestors caused thousands of parents to enroll their children elsewhere, and tuition revenue fell sharply.

The real source of the problem—unqualified black students—could be quietly eliminated. Tactics might include substituting immigrant or second-generation African or Caribbean blacks for American blacks, who have a weak work ethic and like mindless protests. Administrators could surreptitiously welcome lawsuits against egregious demands, such as “blacks only” housing.  Parody might help, too: White students could demand a Department of Hillbilly Studies. Even better, admissions officers might suddenly discover that although recent court decisions permit racial preferences they do not require them.

Black protest will not end until colleges return to the “Campus at Rest” state, in which a small number of black students are admitted on ability rather than to fill quotas. This will not happen until universities recognize that blacks cannot perform at the same level as whites. Every year, college administrators seem ever more determined to deny the obvious.

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Joseph Kay
Joseph Kay is a retired academic who suffers from compulsive truth-telling disorder.
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