LTE: Homer contemplates problems facing college campuses, presidents

Sanjay Paul October 27, 2017 0

Colleges, notes Homer, have to deal with several unpleasant things. Take campus speakers. If you invite the wrong sort of speaker, you will make some donors very unhappy. And very unhappy donors can be very costly to a college. Among some Elizabethtown College alumni, memories still linger of Bill Ayres’s visit to the College. It was a long time ago, predating even Homer’s arrival at the college, and so Homer has to rely on hearsay accounts from disgruntled alumni that Mr. Ayres did indeed give a talk at the College.

Since then one Mr. John Bolton has given a talk on campus, undoubtedly stirring the blood of many a liberal campus denizen at the time. While invitations to controversial figures on both the left and right may seem to suggest an ideological balance in the choice of speakers by the College, there are those whose sense of outrage remains undiminished.

But campus speakers now spawn a new concern. If you bring certain speakers to campus, you also have to worry about extensive security precautions. This seems to be a perennial problem at places like UC-Berkeley, where an invitation to a far-right demagogue is enough to bring out hot-headed far-left opponents into the streets. Security costs for such visits balloon, and if colleges decide it is not worth the trouble, they are accused of smothering free speech. How does a college president sleep these days?

The area of microaggressions is also rife with discontent. Professors have to worry about the content of their lectures and the words they use, lest they create a classroom environment for some students that is inimical to learning. Critics, typically on the right, scorn the mollycoddling of “snowflakes.”

And now there is a new threat to contend with. At Etown, but also at other colleges, posters linked to Identity Evropa, a white supremacist group, have appeared on campus. “Our generation, our future, our last chance,” one of the fliers stated (according to the local CBS station in Philadelphia). “What was it,” thought Homer—a cry for help? A plea for promoting group identity? Or something more sinister?

In any event, more sleepless nights for college presidents who regard universities as the last preserve of undiluted inquiry and unfettered speech.

Colleges are also preparing for gun violence. In the wake of mass shootings, notably Virginia, classrooms are being fortified with chains and such to enable students and faculty to lock down rooms from the inside. Will these be effective during an “active shooter” incident? Perhaps. But the rapid proliferation of concealed carry laws also means that more people will be carrying guns, increasing the likelihood of further incidents. A couple of years ago, an Idaho professor literally shot himself in the foot while giving a lecture—his gun went off accidentally. Fortunately, not much harm was done. Perhaps a minor foot injury for the hapless professor, accompanied by a major dose of embarrassment.

As if all this is not enough, colleges are having to worry about the ultimate in macroaggressions: nuclear war. The University of Hawaii recently sent out an email with the subject line: “In the event of a nuclear attack.” North Korea appears to have developed missiles capable of reaching Hawaii, and, in a reprise of the early Cold War years, authorities are asking citizens to listen for sirens warning of a nuclear attack. A detailed FAQ from the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency notes, helpfully, that sheltering may be needed for up to 14 days.

The Hawaii FAQ also notes that the explosion will only cover a diameter of six miles, and “more than 90% of the population would survive the direct effects” of the explosion. Only about 10 percent, or 140,000 people, are likely to die instantly.

There is a silver lining for college presidents on the U.S. mainland. Unlike their Hawaiian counterparts, they do not have to send out emails saying “In the event of a nuclear attack.”

At least, not yet.


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