Chronicle of Higher Education op-ed: Academe’s Disturbing Indifference to Racism; College Presidents Are More Concerned With Reputation Management Than Racial Justice, by Eddie R. Cole (UCLA):
On a Saturday night earlier this fall, approximately 300 Northwestern University students gathered to march for the abolition of the university police force. A Whole Foods window was smashed, campus and community buildings were spray-painted, and a Northwestern banner was removed, burned, and left at the home of Morton Schapiro, the president.
The following Monday, Schapiro emailed the campus: “I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, the overstepping of the protesters. They have no right to menace members of our academic and surrounding communities.” Schapiro condemned the defacing of property, and also chants that he said went into the early hours of Sunday morning: “f— you Morty” and “piggy Morty” — the latter of which he suggested bordered on anti-Semitism. “It is an abomination and you should be ashamed of yourselves,” he wrote. “If you haven’t yet gotten my point,” he continued, “I am disgusted by those who chose to disgrace this university in such a fashion.”
“Abomination,” “disgrace,” shame, disgust — it is rare to hear a sitting college president sound off with such vehemence. Indeed, it was exactly such passion and moral abhorrence that was lacking from college presidents’ anodyne statements on police violence earlier this summer (“a true master class in the passive voice,” wrote Jason England and Richard Purcell in The Chronicle Review, of one such statement).
Nowhere in Schapiro’s nearly 700-word email did he disclose that students had first presented their concerns about campus police on June 3 following the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Nor did he mention that months had passed since Northwestern administrators promised to release their police budget to the public, or reference reports that show Black students representing only 6 percent of his university’s enrollment while Black people account for up to 40 percent of police stops initiated by campus officers.
Faculty members in the Department of African American Studies were quick to respond:
It is only when your own pleasant suburban life was disrupted by student protestors that your expression of outrage and dismay to our university community rose to a level beyond the banal, the tepid, and the timid.
Pushback also came from Jewish students, faculty members, and alumni, who dismissed his anti-Semitism claim, calling it “a cudgel to denigrate Black radical protest.”
What are we to make of this incident?
Some will fixate, as Schapiro would have them, on the details of Northwestern students’ behavior. But that would miss a larger point. What the incident reveals is that presidents still too often shy away from the moral authority their institutions grant them — except when opportunities to police student dissent arise. Is it surprising that the destruction of property and uncivil behavior animated Schapiro more than police violence and racial injustice? In a word, no. His actions — and inactions — fit a pattern of modern academic leadership more concerned with safety, civility, and reputation management than with enacting meaningful social and racial justice. ...
It is not enough to simply talk about racial equity and social justice. Today — as in the past — college presidents must ensure that campus policies and practices match their public proclamations if they want to effectively address racial justice.