Alex Castellanos: The academic institutionalization of entitlement is lobotomizing America's kids
Too many students are wasting their educational years going to college and earning degrees in self-indulgence
We can avoid it no longer. The crisis in academia has reached a boiling point.
Too many students are wasting their educational years going to college – and earning degrees in self-indulgence. The academic institutionalization of entitlement is lobotomizing America’s kids.
If I had been a black college student at the University of Missouri last week, I hope I would have had the courage and conscience to support their effort to end the school’s vestigial racism. In some twisted “Twilight Zone” anomaly, on this campus, the South won the Civil War. It’s impossible to read the students’ heartfelt reports of discrimination and not share their anger and pain.
I also hope I would have resisted student demands to institutionalize their intolerance by censuring speech, muscling journalists, demanding confessions of “white privilege,” and requiring “safe spaces” fenced by race.
As ridiculous as it sounds, the expression of legitimate grievances at Mizzou has devolved into ultimatums that we protect college students from life’s real brutalities – sombrero-themed trick-or-treating, other offensive Halloween costumes, and politically indecorous language.
At least at Yale University, freedom of expression has been preserved: It’s in a bottle of formaldehyde in the Department of Outdated Privilege. Sticks and stones may break your bones, but Yale will not allow mean words to hurt.
An early-childhood education researcher at Yale was concerned that her helicopter-parenting university was “afraid that college students are unable to decide how to dress themselves on Halloween.” I doubt this is how Yale produced five presidents.
Erika Christakis wrote an email to students recommending radical advancement: Lighten up, academe, and trust students to pick out their get-ups. Christakis suggested that Halloween costumes should be allowed to scare people and, in ghastly moments, even offend them. She wrote, “Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”
Crazy talk, a student responded. “It is not about creating an intellectual space! It is not! Do you understand that? It’s about creating a home here!”
An intellectual debate? In academia? Get over it! So much for preparing our kids for thoughtful, independent lives by exposing them to the world and its challenges. In academia, we no longer put steel to stone to hone edges. We sharpen the next generation on mashed potatoes.
On campuses, speakers who don’t echo what students revere have suddenly found themselves nixed from college forums. Even Condi Rice, the first female African-American secretary of state, and first female National Security Advisor to a U.S. president, was not tolerated by advocates of tolerance at Rutgers. That university pledges to “challenge and support our students to think critically … and make informed choices” – unless informed thoughts make waves.
Where did today’s under- and upper-classmen, sorry, under- and upper-class-people, get the idea they are entitled to rich, full lives in “safe spaces,” where their success and superiority is unthreatened? From yesterday’s college students, their indulgent parents.
Boomers built this soft culture of entitlement, where great things are expected, but few have to be earned.
Today’s students are the sons and daughters of parents who refused to face the consequences of their irresponsible social choices and poor economic decisions. A $20 trillion debt? That’s not a problem: It was the solution America preferred over paying its bills and working to renew its economy. Now, we are all entitled to “safe economic spaces” where no one should be denied a $15 minimum wage, our neighbors must pay for our health care, and our retirements are magically guaranteed.
Perhaps I have it backward: Maybe college is preparing them, if only for the entitled lives they have been promised for participating. At the University of Connecticut, students can claim a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Puppetry. At Skidmore, you can twerk to “The Sociology of Miley Cyrus.” At Brown, there is a course “On Being Bored.” At Occidental, in a rare victory for truth in marketing, they can take a course in “Stupidity.”
We are sending the next generation into the world, but not with diplomas of what they can contribute. Instead, on their foreheads, they wear a “Scarlet E,” an emblem of what they are entitled to get.
When colleges make it their business to stop teaching and start agreeing with students, they surrender their purpose: their opportunity to enrich a young student’s development.
In this bizarre world of academic cowardice, we see college presidents tested by students, and students running our universities. Our children have embraced our entitlement culture, enjoying its calories without the guilt.
Every country should have a president. One day, we will, too. He will show up when we need him, to address issues of importance. If we had a real president now, he would have gone to the University of Missouri and done more than bathe Mizzou protesters in praise.
He would have reminded impressionable students that the “black zones” they demand are no different than segregation. He would have informed them that, in silencing others, we eventually mute ourselves. He would have explained that we defeat immorality and injustice by confronting them, not by avoiding the fierce heat of debate. But that is too much to ask.
Where would young, black students in Missouri find a president like that today?