Off Kilter On Campus

College campuses have always been curious enclaves, removed from the hurly-burly of normal life.  The concentration of young students, fresh from the restraints of their childhood homes, exposed to new ideas and groups and exercising their personal freedoms for the first time, makes for a kind of hot-house atmosphere where superheated emotions and actions can come to seem almost normal.

That’s a big part of the reason why colleges are such a fertile ground for protests.  It’s been that way since at least the ’60s.  The reasons for the protests can change — when I was in college in the late ’70s, after the Vietnam War had ended and the economy was in the dumper, some students worried about their job prospects were actually agitating to let the CIA back on campus to recruit students — but the fact of protests is almost an assumed part of the college experience.  If you’re not going to protest in college, you probably won’t protest anything, ever.

So I’m not worried about the existence of protests at colleges.  Nor does it concern me if college presidents decide to resign in the face of protests, as happened at the University of Missouri.  I obviously don’t know the full back story of what’s been happening at Mizzou, but I doubt that a little unrest, standing alone, would be sufficient to topple a university president.  If it was, the president probably wasn’t that suited to serve as the ultimate decision-maker in such a stilted environment.

f8ede305-f224-42bc-82a1-7df2166210f7_cx0_cy5_cw0_mw1024_s_n_r1What bothers me, though, is that the recent incidents at campuses like Missouri and Dartmouth indicate that students don’t really seem to understand the full range of freedoms that we are entitled to exercise in America.  In a well-publicized incident at the University of Missouri, students congregating in a public space prevented a journalist from taking photos and exercising his indisputable First Amendment rights to do so.  (Even worse, the student actions were apparently supported by an assistant professor of mass media studies, who obviously should know better.)  More recently, at Dartmouth, a Black Lives Matter demonstration saw protesters entering private study spaces, disrupting, physically harassing, and shouting obscenities at students who were studying for exams rather than joining in the protest.

These incidents, and others, make you wonder what students are being taught on college campuses these days.  If an assistant professor of mass media studies doesn’t understand how the First Amendment works, then perhaps it’s not the students’ fault, and college administrators need to do a better job of hiring instructors.  It also makes you wonder about how media-savvy the current crop of student protestors are, too.  The old-line protestors of the ’60s craved every bit of media attention because they understood it would help their cause; they would no more have tried to block a photographer than they would have listened to Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians in their dorm rooms.  Were the Mizzou students afraid that Mom and Dad might see that they were out on the quad, camping in tents?

The key point of it all is understanding of, and tolerance for, the rights of others.  We tolerate student protests for various causes because they have the right to assemble and advocate for whatever changes they wish.  But journalists have the right to cover those protests and take photographs without being blocked, pushed, or harassed, and students who exercise their rights not to join the protests of others have the right to make that decision without being pressured or verbally or physically intimidated.

Some people are calling today’s college students pampered crybabies.  That may be true, but it’s only true in the sense that it has always been true for the last 50 years, where college campuses have increasingly become a kind of zone of alternate reality.  (Visit a college campus and look at the recreational and social facilities that colleges are building to attract students, and you’ll see lots of tangible evidence that inevitably will lead students to think they’re special.)  The real problem isn’t pampering, it’s education — and the protestors ultimately will learn a very hard lesson when they leave the rarified land of ivory towers and encounter the hard realities of a world in which others aren’t going to hesitate to enforce their rights.  The first college agitator who thinks he can stage a sit-down strike to force his unpleasant boss into quitting, or bully his co-workers into supporting his approach to workplace politics, is going to find himself with a pink slip and an abrupt career change.

It would be better for the students and their future lives and careers if they learned that lesson while still on campus.

Slavery And The School

Richard has a very interesting piece in today’s Columbia Missourian about the role of slavery in the history of the University of Missouri. It addresses, in detail after fascinating detail, the slave-owning pasts of some of the central figures in the early history of the school, and the efforts of their descendants to try to atone for that fact.

IMG_0741It’s an excellent piece about a very difficult subject, and it poses a question that is impossible to answer for those of us in the modern world: how could a person like James Sidney Rollins, who professed to be enlightened and was such a strong supporter of public education that he earned the title “father of the University of Missouri,” nevertheless have justified and rationalized being a slave owner, unable to recognize the fundamental, unforgivable injustice in his claim to own fellow human beings?

I urge all of our Webner House readers to read Richard’s piece and think about how many of the institutions of modern America have some roots in that terrible institution that will forever be a stain on America’s past. Stories like Richard’s that reveal more of that past do us all an important service.

Here’s To “Thees” And “Thous”

IMG_5040We’re here in Columbia, Missouri for a quick weekend visit with Richard.  This morning we were walking around the beautiful campus of the University of Missouri and came across this neat little fountain with the Missouri Tiger and an inscription of the Missouri alma mater.  Written in 1895, it’s a classic of the genre, complete with references to “man and maiden” and drinking a toast while voices are raised in song:

Old Missouri, fair Missouri, Dear old varsity.
Ours are hearts that fondly love thee, Here’s a health to thee.

Proud art thou in classic beauty Of thy noble past
With thy watch words honour, duty, Thy high fame shall last!

Every student, man and maiden, Swells the glad refrain.
‘Till the breezes, music laden, Waft it back again.

Proud art thou in classic beauty Of thy noble past
With thy watch words honour, duty, Thy high fame shall last!

I’m partial to Carmen Ohio, of course, but any alma mater with so many “thees” and “thous” is pretty strong.

A Bit Closer To Home

The geographic orbit of the Webner clan will tighten come January.

Richard told us yesterday that he will be working next semester at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  The University of Missouri apparently requires students getting their Master’s degree in journalism to have a professional internship in the last semester of their second year, and Richard will be fulfilling that requirement at a fine newspaper in the Steel City.  Russell, meanwhile, moved into his new lodgings in the Detroit area yesterday.  He’ll be starting work toward his MFA at Cranbrook Academy of Art on Monday.

So, after years of Richard hundreds of miles to the west and Russell hundreds of miles to the east — each honoring the unwritten but apparently ironclad “no parents within 8 hours driving time” buffer zone — our family circle will shrink spatially.  With Richard and Russell each in a neighboring state, we’re looking forward to seeing them more often, and the fact that they will be located in interesting places we haven’t had a chance to explore yet makes the prospect all the more enticing.

The world is a big place, and New Albany, Ohio is just one tiny spot on the globe.  As parents, we want our children to dream big dreams and then try to make those dreams a reality.  That means having the independence and self-assurance to go out on their own and move far away if necessary as they pursue their passions and interests and work to build careers and lives that make them happy.

We understand this, intellectually — but our hearts tug in the opposite direction.  It will be wonderful to have the boys a bit closer to home for a few months.

Mo’ Mizzou

The Missouri campus is a pretty place, in large part because — in the areas we’ve walked through, at least — they’ve avoided throwing up the ugly, uninspired, Bauhaus-style abominations of the ’60s and ’70s that mar so many college campuses.  In their place are classic college buildings that are designed to appeal to parents interested in scholarship and academic achievement.  For the students, however, the appeal may lie more in the bars, bistros, and coffee shops that surround the campus.

On To The Show-Me State

We’re in Columbia, Missouri, moving Richard into his new place and getting it ready for the coming year.  After the drive from Chicago and some unloading, we had some sushi, walked around downtown, and then took a quick stroll through campus.

The central quad of the UM campus is a beautiful place, dominated by six enormous, somewhat scarred pillars.  They are all that remains of one of the first buildings on campus, which was destroyed by fire long, long ago.  The columns give the grassy area a wistful, Romanesque — and very distinctive — feel.