Sticking to Principles in US Universities

By Nita Chicooree Mercier

Recently, the U.S. Congress summoned the presidents of three prestigious American universities — Harvard, Pennsylvania, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — to answer for their students’ anti-Semitic slogans and calls for eradicating Israel and Jews during protest marches staged in key cities. A Republican Congresswoman grilled the three presidents on whether the slogans chanted by their students breached the code of conduct set by the universities. This particular session at the Capitol sent a message that lofty principles cannot be compromised and sacrificed on the altar of controversial ideologies.

Describing the entire session as an embarrassment for the three presidents is an understatement. By stating that such slogans are condemnable only when translated into action, the President of Penn University found herself trapped in a confusion of values, advocating for action before sanctions. It did not take long for the Republican Congresswoman to destroy her argument and compel the Penn University president to admit that she failed to ensure students respected the university’s code of conduct. Like her counterparts, Harvard University’s first African-American president, Claudine Gay, tried to navigate her way out by repeatedly offering the same answer: “It depends on context.” She was grilled during the heated interrogation. After the resignation of the two presidents, it took Harvard administration one month to remove its president. Leftist editorialists cried foul and criticized the boards of the prestigious colleges for yielding to the will of a right-wing party.

What does the special session at Capitol Hill reveal? It exposes to a global audience the moral bankruptcy that has undermined every institution — politics, media, NGOs, UN agencies — without sparing academia. It is the perfect example of a confusion of values, ethics, and morals that grips elite institutions in the U.S. and beyond its frontiers. It is widely acknowledged that the world has gone topsy-turvy. The very failure of the Ivy League universities, which draw bright students from around the world, to show appropriate discernment on serious issues is symptomatic of the rot that has set in for years. It shows the extent of ideological indoctrination gripping university campuses — a simplistic binary worldview shaped by leftist utopia that aligns with imported radical religious ideologies to shape the minds of students from the Middle-East and Southeast Asia, funded by dubious foreign organizations to spread propaganda and influence public opinion abroad.

Add the woke movement originating in American campuses, giving voice to categories who have supposedly awakened to their status as oppressed minorities — women against men, coloured people against privileged male whites, LGBTQ against heterosexuals, poor against rich, socialism against capitalism — and you have a simplistic world outlook of binary categories operating in a confrontational mode. It leads to creating highly fractured societies, and unfortunately, such inane concepts spread to universities in Europe and other places in a stupefying mass movement of sheepish mimicry.

However, the resignation of the presidents of the top three elite colleges sends a positive signal. It sets things straight for those still confused with the concept of free speech and the consequences of propagating harmful and vicious ideologies. It lays bare the lack of critical thinking in universities that allow 22-year-olds to stage mass protests and occupy streets without a clue about what they are protesting against. Both universities and media outlets fail to develop critical thinking based on history and knowledge, leaving young minds ill-equipped to handle issues related to nations and politics involving ethnic and religious angles. Secondary schools do not educate students on the history of nations in the modern world. A partial, one-sided view in the media leaves the bigger picture to be filled with emotional and irrational outbursts by ill-informed crowds.

Moreover, protestors failed to realize that universities are funded by billionaires who might not appreciate loud calls for extermination resonating during mass protests in major cities. Threats to withdraw funding by the richest, including Indian billionaires, compelled the administration to be more demanding on the code of conduct that their students are expected to abide by. Right from the outset, top American companies blacklisted students of Harvard who signed a petition to condemn Israel for the current situation without a single note of compassion for Israeli citizens who were victims of an attack on October 7th.

A crucial point is that if universities fail to educate students on history and the contemporary world and promote critical thinking, are the students sufficiently informed and intellectually mature to shout vicious slogans and occupy streets in mass protests? In that case, should universities not fulfill their primary purpose of solely imparting knowledge? No indoctrination of leftist utopian dreams, no simplistic and binary vision of antagonistic groups clashing with one another, no propaganda for obscurantist religious world outlook — just a place to impart in-depth knowledge on various subjects.

Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 12 January 2024

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