Rex Murphy On Institutes Of Higher Whining

by | November 15, 2015

I seem to have more time for Rex Murphy than do most CA writers and commenters. I don’t always agree with the man, but I appreciate his acerbic writing and his crusty, canny sensibilities. Even when his columns strike me as misguided and badly argued, they’re entertaining and contain points I can at least vaguely sympathize with.

Murphy has just knocked it out of the park, however, with a piece on the ridiculous shenanigans currently taking place on American university campuses, particularly Yale and the University of Missouri. His opening paragraph is too good not to quote in full:

The most recent reports say there is a crisis in child services in the United States. The cost of daycare spaces has reached absolutely astronomic levels. Placement at the University of Missouri, for example, easily breaks the $40,000 threshold. And if your toddler is lucky enough to squeeze into Yale, which has some of the most craven caregivers, the most swaddled cocoons and safe spaces on the continent, it will set you back a minimum $60,000. But hey, if you want the very best day care for the intellectually infantile at any of the top Institutes of Higher Whining, that’s why God gave you noses — so you could pay through them.

As an atheist, I prefer to think that the nose is an evolutionary adaptation for detecting the unmistakable stench of an ivory tower gone bad, but perhaps Murphy and I can agree to disagree on that point. We do seem to share a conviction that the politically correct attitudes and extreme sensitivity of some American undergraduates (a small but vocal minority, one likes to think – the American students I’ve personally interacted with have been almost uniformly terrific) are undermining the whole idea of universities as venues for the free and fruitful exchange of ideas. It’s not, of course, entirely or even mostly the students’ fault: they’ll have been trained in a version of that mindset, if not actually browbeaten into it, by teachers, the media, and perhaps even their own bien pensant parents. Perhaps the problem could be solved by making admission to an undergraduate program contingent on completing a period of insensitivity training: a couple of weeks of being yelled at, lightly smacked around and generally treated like pond scum by instructors borrowed from, say, the marine corps. Having experienced that kind of treatment and discovered that it doesn’t really damage a person, even the most previously delicate prospective students might be prepared to confront the typically far milder slings and arrows of university and post-university life with a greater sense of perspective. Of course I’m joking, or at least half-joking, but from the sound of things American educators really do need to find some new approach that will curb the worst and most disruptive excesses of student activism while allowing plenty of room for the robust and even antagonistic expression of all viewpoints – including, to be sure, politically correct ones.

In Canada some parallel tendencies undoubtedly exist, but the cancer appears less advanced and therefore more readily curable. The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF), a Calgary non-profit, recently released its 2015 Campus Freedom Index, “a report measuring the state of free speech at 55 Canadian public universities”. I’ll have more to say – not all of it strictly complimentary – about both the JCCF and the Campus Freedom Index itself once I’ve had a chance to go through the thing properly, but it does seem that the flare-ups of politically correct illiberalism that have been taking place on Canadian campuses are rather minor. Our universities remain primarily focussed on the important business of teaching, learning and intellectual exploration, and we ought to be both proud and grateful that that’s the case.

6 thoughts on “Rex Murphy On Institutes Of Higher Whining

  1. Randy

    “I don’t always agree with the man, but I appreciate his acerbic writing and his crusty, canny sensibilities.”

    He has a mastery of language which is unparalleled. I will miss him when he’s gone, even if I think his politics are terrible.

  2. Randy

    “it does seem that the flare-ups of politically correct illiberalism that have been taking place on Canadian campuses are rather minor.”

    Really? How is it that every time a speaker is scheduled to speak at a Canadian University on the topic of men’s rights through an anti-feminist, or simply non-feminist lens, there are attempts to get them cancelled, and if that fails then they are shouted down in the auditorium, and if that fails, then the fire alarm is pulled. There have been a mere handful of evens where the speaker actually got to speak for more than a few minutes.

    That’s just speakers. Actual men’s groups on campus? Forget it.

    An entire gender forbidden from thinking for itself, and forbidden from speaking in its own interest.

    That’s a pretty big deal, not “rather minor”.

    1. Corwin Post author

      To be fair, the Campus Freedom Index lists one recent case (at Queen’s) in which a vote to de-ratify a men’s group failed, which rather implies that the men’s group is still operating. According to the Index, the record on speakers addressing men’s issues is mixed – some events have (unfortunately, of course) been cancelled as a result of pressure from protesters, others have gone forward despite such pressure.

      Given that the Index only lists cases in which a controversy has arisen, it may be leaving out any number of cases in which a group has been formed or a speaking event has been held without facing any disruptive protests at all. Such cases would also be unlikely to make the news. Do you follow the Canadian men’s movement, if such a thing there be, closely enough to be sure that speaking events and efforts to form groups don’t sometimes go ahead unchallenged? I really have no idea, as I’m not interested enough in either side of gender politics to pay more than casual attention.

      With that said, it’s possible that I’m being unduly optimistic about the situation on Canadian campuses. They do, obviously, have their share of politically correct zealots, and perhaps the number of serious incidents seems small (based on the Campus Freedom Index) partly because the zealots aren’t being challenged as often as they should be.

  3. Shawn the Humanist

    Every generation has it’s ideas that die with it. What’s new is now we call this process ‘political correctness.’

    1. Corwin Post author

      Every generation has it’s ideas that die with it.

      And also its bizarre enthusiasms that go precisely nowhere. Whether or not the censorious, narrow-minded sensibility known as political correctness will appear to fall into that category, a century or two down the road, will depend on whose battalions prevail in the war of ideas. I sure as hell know which side I’m on.

    2. Tim Underwood

      You’re right. Rex is still fun to listen to or to read.

      He is a great practitioner of rhetoric expression.

      Underneath his word-wars is an older gentleman with whimsical ties to first millennium Holy Roman days of clerical thought.

      I don’t think it would be possible for him to harness his rhetorical talents for practical, secular evangelism. He does a good job of lampooning the silly side of a university’s attempt to pacify, at extravagant expense, insecure students.


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