Does university illiberalism matter, or is it just campus hijinks? Cathy Young shows how campus politics is infecting American politics.
The defense of free speech has always been a bedrock bipartisan principle. So it’s unusual to hear a veteran liberal politician excuse campus outrage squads that shout down dissent. But that’s exactly what former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee head Howard Dean did in a recent appearance — and his embrace of the campus left reveals a lot about the nation’s current cultural moment.
On a panel at Kenyon College last month, Dean brought up a notorious incident at Yale two years before. In 2015, lecturer and residence hall co-supervisor Erika Christakis had set off protests with an e-mail defending students’ freedom to wear Halloween costumes — such as ones based on the Chinese-inspired cartoon character Mulan — that some may find culturally insensitive. A viral video showed protesters mobbing and berating her husband, professor Nicholas Christakis. The couple later resigned their leadership posts, and Erika Christakis stopped teaching.
Dean’s take on this was that there are “consequences to free speech.” He caricatured Erika Christakis’s thoughtful, sensitive letter as an ugly screed mocking “snowflake” students and defending racist costumes. He also described the protesters as well-behaved, despite their screaming and bullying. That an academic became a target of red-hot rage for challenging progressive dogma on cultural appropriation did not seem to bother him in the least.