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Donald Trump’s election triggered an avalanche of grief and defiance on many college campuses, and administrators are accommodating the grieving students through a variety of efforts, but a top official at one of America’s best known traditional schools says the actions of both students and administrators are way off course.
Since Trump became president-elect on the morning of Nov. 9, schools around the country are taking great pains to comfort students traumatized by the GOP victory. Some are setting aside “election processing spaces.” Others options include counseling for students, vigils, and even sharing the suicide hotline numbers. The University of Michigan Law School even planned a therapy event featuring Play-Doh before eventually canceling it.
Not all campuses are seeing so much volatility. One is Hillsdale College in Michigan. The school is well known for is 172-year refusal to accept any federal money. Even federal student loan money is no good there.
Hillsdale Provost Dr. David Whalen says the emotional fragility seen on so many campuses comes as no surprise. .
“These are really the predictable consequences of an entirely politicized environment in higher education,” said Whalen.
“For a long, long time now, higher education has been entirely political. It’s forsaken it’s original purpose to foster a keen-sighted intellectual awareness on the part of students and instead indoctrinate them politically. This is what you get. You get what can only be described as an infantilized student body,” said Whalen.
In addition to creating an environment where such emotional demonstrations are becoming common place, whether about election results or perceived discrimination, Whalen says the way administrators are responding to the outcries is also very harmful.
“If the student is in your face, shouting and bellowing demands, you have failed that student in some fundamental way. The most important thing at this moment is not publicity but what you can do to restore the student to a receptive educational context,” said Whalen.
“You’re a teacher. That’s a student. The student needs you. The student needs to be informed by you in some significant respect. Don’t forget that’s your primary role,” said Whalen.
So why do administrators regularly cater to the student demands. Whalen sees multiple reasons.
“Administrators are often quite sympathetic with the students making the demands. They wish they could move as quickly as the students are urging them to move,” said Whalen. “The second reason is they, in too many cases I should say, lack the moral and intellectual resources to respond to the students or at least respond coherently.”
“The administrators, as a rule, are very concerned with appearances; too concerned about appearances and not sufficiently concerned…about the moral and intellectual formation of the students, of the intemperate person making the demands,” said Whalen.
The result, he says, are college graduates not ready to face the real world.
“It’s the same thing that happens when you give in to a two-year-old’s demands repeatedly and then they hit adolescence. You get somebody who is completely incapable of governing himself,” he said.
Why does this not happen at Hillsdale? Whalen says students at Hillsdale know exactly what is expected of them.
“The students here understand they are partners. They are colleagues in an enterprise. They are not consumers unhappy with a product they are buying. They are undergoing a formation that they have to contribute to willingly. They’re plugged in. They’ve bought in. They’re engaged,” said Whalen.
Due to it’s independent nature, Hillsdale attracts a more conservative student body than most colleges and universities but debate and disagreement are everywhere on campus. Whalen says the difference is how students are taught to approach their disagreements.
“We educate them in the western intellectual tradition, which is a tradition of massive argument, disagreement and debate. We’re not indoctrinating people with conservative stuff. We’re just presenting this tradition that has arguments about everything from economics and the relation of the state to the individual to the existence of God and the nature of evil, everything imaginable,” said Whalen.
“When you wrap your mind at difficulty, under pressure and in strain around the most serious arguments about the most serious things, you turn into a pretty intellectually adept, responsible, mature person,” said Whalen.
The 2016 election brought fierce debate to campus, particularly during the primary season. Whalen was proud of how the students approached those debates without resorting to what’s being seen on other campuses.
“The debates were vigorous but civil,” he said. “There weren’t breaking up of friendships and shouting down dormitory hallways. There was a lot of very vigorous, very serious disagreement, but it was done with civility and respect. People didn’t assume that someone with a different point of view was morally deficient,” said Whalen.