November 13th, 2015

The resignation of Mary Spellman: another bear dances

[NOTE: The dancing bear reference is to this quote from Allan Bloom’s 1989 description of the behavior of most faculty and administrators in response to Cornell’s crisis in 1969:

[S]tudents discovered that pompous teachers who catechized them about academic freedom could, with a little shove, be made into dancing bears.]

The latest bear to dance is Claremont McKenna’s Dean of Students, who resigned today amidst a controversy that is described thusly. Note how well it mirrors that at Mizzou:

…[A] group of over a hundred students gathered around the Hub patio in a demonstration led by students in the CMCers of Color group…

Prior to the protest’s start, CMC junior Taylor Lemmons ’17 announced in a post on Medium that in protest of the lack of support she believes DOS has shown towards students of color and of other marginalized identities, she is undergoing a hunger strike until Dean Spellman resigns from her post…

In an email from President Chodosh sent to students before the protest, Chodosh committed that the college will move forward with hiring two new positions, one under the umbrella of student affairs and one under the Dean of Faculty and academics, to support diversity and inclusion on campus. With the support of these two new positions, he added, the College has “authorized the creation of a new programming space to support campus climate (identity, diversity, and free speech)” which “will be dedicated to collaborative, educational work by students, professional staff, and other experts on diversity, identity, civil rights, and free speech issues on our campus.”…

One of the primary demands articulated in the open letter (released earlier today) from CMCers of Color, SAGA, APAM, BSA, and GenU was the creation of a resource center on campus for students of marginalized identities. At the demonstration, President Chodosh publicly committed to providing a temporary space for a resource center in the interim period while they work on establishing a permanent center.

Apparently, that particular dance was not good enough. After a one-day hunger strike (even I could accomplish one that long) Spellman resigned, as had her predecessors Wolfe and Loftis before her. In her letter, she wrote:

To all who have been so supportive, please know how sorry I am if my decision disappoints you. I believe it is the best way to gain closure of a controversy that has divided the student body and disrupted the mission of this fine institution. Most important, I hope this will help enable a truly thoughtful, civil and productive discussion about the very real issues of diversity and inclusion facing Claremont McKenna, higher education and other institutions across our society.

Indeed. I’ve long noticed—haven’t you?—that bowing to the pressure of a small group of determined demonstrators with non-negotiable demands invariably “enables” a thoughtful, civil, and productive “discussion.” Actually, as many of the demonstrators at Mizzou made clear, a “discussion” was not the goal. But educators love that word “discussion.” It’s second only to “dialogue.” And a dialogue is not a one-sided set of demands accompanied by a hunger strike.

What started the ruckus at CMC? Words, of course:

In October, a student shared an article with Spellman that she had written about feeling marginalized at Claremont McKenna. Spellman’s responsed that she is trying to better serve students who don’t fit the “CMC mold.”

Spellman’s emailed reply went like this:

Thank you for writing and sharing this article with me. We have a lot to do as a college and community. Would you be willing to talk sometimes about these issues? They are important to me and the DOS staff and we are working on how we can better serve students, especially those who don’t fit our CMC mold.

Notice that what Spellman was very clearly offering was a discussion. However, anyone who’s not been asleep for the last 20 years or so can see the problem in that last phrase. It’s going to hurt someone’s feelings, even though—and this is especially important—that idea is the sort of thing that was in the very article that the student had called to Spellman’s attention, and which occasioned Spellman’s response:

Maybe most of us have felt out of place at Claremont McKenna College for one reason or another, but my feelings of not belonging cut deep across economic and racial lines…

Within the first weeks of school, I told an upperclassman Latino that I felt like I was admitted to fill a racial quota. Why would they want me here? Impostor syndrome is prevalent among first-generation students. These feelings caught me by surprise as I had never known what it felt like to be the “minority” in my predominantly immigrant, low-income Latinx hometown…

Students of color often report feeling unwelcome at predominantly-white institutions, and CMC is far from an exception. Our campus climate and institutional culture are primarily grounded in western, white, cisheteronormative upper to upper-middle class values…

Some will think I am overreacting. Some will say I do not belong at CMC and should have transferred (which I cannot afford). Some will believe I am “biting the hand that feeds me.”

I suggest you read the whole thing. But the excerpts I’ve offered go a long way, I think, towards explaining some (not all, by any means) of what’s happening at Mizzou and CMC and other places around the country. The emotionally-laden demands of the students for more and more of a feeling of safety and inclusion can never be assuaged because they have their origins in the nature of the affirmative action and diversity programs themselves, which have fostered what this student refers to as “imposter syndrome” and is explained here. Irony of ironies; but it makes a certain amount of sense psychologically as a reaction in those with who seem to have a somewhat fragile sense of self-worth and accomplishment.

Note, also, when you think about Spellman’s phrase “our CMC mold,” that the protesters were making demands on the behalf of “marginalized” students, a phrase that I assume they were using even before Spellman wrote her otherwise-impeccably-PC note.

Here is Spellman’s previous statement in response to the matter of her offending email:

In a demonstration on Wednesday afternoon, students confronted Spellman, who apologized for her “poorly worded email.”

“The CMC mold is a thing I talk about with students every day,” she said. “They come to me and tell me how they don’t fit in … That is what I am referring to as the mold.”

Spellman’s resignation comes a few days after the resignation of junior class president Kris Brackmann, who stepped down when a photo of her from Halloween circulated on Facebook. The picture features two female students wearing sombreros, fake mustaches and ponchos, with Brackmann posing in front as a dancer from Justin Bieber’s music video, “Sorry.”

Shades of Yale’s Halloween costume brouhaha.

Expect to see more and more and more of this sort of sequence of events, as craven administrators cave to the pressures of their empowered and angry students’ demands.

[ADDENDUM: The editorial board of the student newspaper at CMC offers an impassioned defense of liberty, criticizing the demonstrators and Spellman’s reaction. Well worth reading the entire thing, but here’s an excerpt:

…President Chodosh. We were disappointed to see you idly stand by and watch students berate, curse at, and attack Dean Spellman for being a “racist.” For someone who preaches about “leadership” and “personal and social responsibility,” your actions are particularly disappointing. You let your colleague, someone who has been helping your administration for the past three years and the college for six years, be publicly mocked and humiliated. Why? Because you were afraid. You were afraid that students would also mock and humiliate you if you defended Dean Spellman, so you let her be thrown under the bus. You were so afraid that it only took you five minutes to flip-flop on their demand for a temporary “safe space” on campus. Your fear-driven action (or lack thereof) only further reinforced the fear among the student body to speak out against this movement. We needed your leadership more than ever this week, and you failed us miserably.

Apparently the editors are not happy to see bears dancing. Good.]

15 Responses to “The resignation of Mary Spellman: another bear dances”

  1. T Says:

    For those who missed it yesterday, here is Ed Driscoll’s take on how university administrators should respond (via Instapundit:

    HOW A COLLEGE PRESIDENT SHOULD RESPOND:

    Here’s how Boston University’s John Silber responded to student protests in the 1970s, as spotted by Steve Hayward of Power Line:

    Then they put up the shacks. I told the police, “Go ask them three questions: Do you have a title to the property? (They built them on our property, not theirs.) Do you have a building permit? We have to have building permits. Have you got a clearance with the historical commission, because this is a historical district? If the answer is no to those three questions, then you tell them, ‘We’ll give you about 15 minutes to remove your shanty. And if you don’t, you’ll be arrested.’ ” I said, “Now, none of them are going to remove their shanty, so you’re going to have to arrest them. But I want you to be very gentle, and I want you to take them to the paddy wagon singing, ‘It’s just a shanty in old shanty town.’ ” Because one point I want to get across to these students is, I do not take them seriously. This is not some very deeply felt, high moral cause on their part; this is showboating of a very insincere kind by most of these students, and I want them to understand that I see through their pretensions.

    [November 12, 2015] Posted at 2:59 pm by Ed Driscoll ,

    IMO it’s not just the aggressiveness of Silber’s response, but more importantly the acknowledgement and recognition of nothing more than student showboating.

    As Instapundit so often cautions: You get more of the behavior that you enable.

  2. J.J. Says:

    These students feel out of place? Did they do any research before matriculating? I visited four different schools (Colo. A&M, Colo. Sate Teacher’s College, Colorado University, and Colorado School of Mines.) For me, Colorado U. was the best fit, but even there I was a minority – not racial but economic. When other students were attending football games, I was working selling programs before the games and serving food to the radio and newspaper reporters during the games. When other students were going home or partying on the weekend, I was washing dishes or waiting tables in boarding houses on campus. I cleaned houses on days when I had no afternoon classes. My clothes were heavily worn and unstylish, I didn’t have a car (or even a bicycle), I always bought used books, lived in a boardinghouse where we had a communal bathroom and an unheated sleeping loft for 25 students. There were many times when I felt unhappy, put upon, inferior, and wanted to quit. But I didn’t and became the first member of my family to ever graduate from college. When I graduated, I didn’t owe any money and I had three job offers from oil companies. Today, I treasure that experience.

    I have zero sympathy for these students and no respect at all for college administrators. Back in the day, students flunked out (about 1/3 of each freshman class), were put on probation for bad grades/conduct, and some were dismissed for unethical or criminal conduct (cheating, theft, lying, etc.) Schools did not have an unsustainable business model back then like they do today. They weren’t primarily after money and enrollment. They could afford to be choosy about who was in the student body. Debate was allowed and there were a few Red Diaper babies on campus who tried to instigate chaos but the administration wouldn’t allow them to get out of control. In debate good manners were strongly encouraged and the tone was mostly civil.

    I will never give another dime (and I encourage others to do the same) to any university until they once again become primarily institutions of meritocracy, democracy, and capitalist leanings.

  3. K-E Says:

    The best would be to continue on life as normal. Tell professors to conduct classes as they always have. Dock points for missed assignments or missed classes (some of my professors kept attendance and would take away points if you didn’t show up). No one gets out of finals because they are ‘scared’ or are participating in some protest action. Fail them, if need be. Boot out the students who failed too many classes, especially those on scholarship. Take back any sport scholarship for athletes who refuse to play or don’t show up to class. Etc.

    So easy to combat this. I love that likely the hippies of the 60s and 70s are the ones running these universities. Oh, the irony! LOLOLOL.

  4. Matt_SE Says:

    The Academy, quite apart from its declarations to the contrary, is NOT a place where dissent and rational discussion is fostered. The entire faculty has to some extent been selected for groupthink and compliance. In the STEM fields, these considerations are much, much less important than whether the subjects can perform, but it’s still there in the background.

    In the humanities, dissent and free thought are almost nonexistent.

    The point being that nobody should be surprised when faculty and administrators prove to have spines of jelly. That’s what they were hired for.

  5. Daniel in Brookline Says:

    Neo: it’s getting a little closer to home —

    We have been advised by the Cambridge Police Dept. and the HSBA that CRLS students will be marching today through Harvard Square in solidarity with the University of Missouri students. They will leave CRLS at approximately 2:45 and should arrive in the Square around 3:00 p.m. and will continue their march to Central Square. We expect traffic will be disrupted for a short period of time.

    Stay tuned.

  6. neo-neocon Says:

    K-E:

    In his book, Allan Bloom has a great passage about how shocked the liberal professors and administrators of Cornell were in 1969 when their own students turned on them.

    Can’t find it at the moment.

  7. vanderleun Says:

    I hope they are all forced into resigning. Enough of these milquetoasts. They deserve to eat what they’ve cooked.

  8. Cornflour Says:

    In one respect, this is much worse than what happened at Missouri. When the Missouri football team threatened to boycott the remainder of the season, the university stood to lose millions of dollars. Given the university’s complex contractual relationships with the SEC and television networks, the loss would have been many millions of dollars. Also, Missouri probably would have been sued by the SEC and the television networks involved. All this could have jeopardized the future of sports at Missouri.

    At Claremont McKenna, there were no such threats. Their president demonstrated pure cowardice in either demanding or encouraging the resignation of the offending dean. The repercussions of this could be wider than the Missouri incident.

  9. Surellin Says:

    If I recall, while the Dancing Bear Syndrome was spreading from Cornell to just about every other university in the country, there was one magnificent exception. U. of Chicago held firm, maybe even expelled a few students pour encourager les autres, and miraculously had no more trouble.

  10. Mr. Frank Says:

    Part of what we are seeing is one of the downsides of affirmative action admissions — mismatching. The black kid who would have done fine at Southeast Missouri State attends U of M and is well below average in grades and test scores. He also has less money than many of the white kids. The university uses him to look integrated while the kid takes an academic beating.

  11. parker Says:

    I am with vanderleun, the faculty and administrators have reaped the whirl wind of their own creation. They deserve to resign in humiliation and abandon their ivory towers for the reality of main street.

  12. Lizzy Says:

    While painful, I’m glad I read Lissette’s essay AND the editorial denouncing the whole brouhaha.

    It’s striking that Lissette writes mostly about her feelings, and repeatedly blaming others for making her feel certain ways. Sure, she throws in some historical instances of others feeling out of place or being marginalized before her time on campus, but it all comes down to her not feeling good about herself, her family, her culture. She insists others are responsible for making her whole. This is not just the antithesis of the American spirit, but basic life skills (being responsible for your own dang happiness).

    The editorial in response to Lissette’s drama is refreshing in that it isn’t steeped on pop-psychology phrases, self-absorption, and the weird new diversity lexicon (“Latinax”?). It is clearly stated, uses common language, and without having to make reference to daddy (weird that the Yale article “Hurt at Home” also references daddy).

    I guess we know who is benefiting the most from their CMC education.

  13. M J R Says:

    I understand Rush Limbaugh put his finger on it yesterday: it’s not about safe space, or about anything else specific [it never is, according to David Horowitz, regardless of the topic or pretext, it’s always about the revolution]. It’s about getting the black/negro component of the Democrat base sufficiently riled up so that they will turn out in big numbers for Hillary! in 2016.

  14. ErisGuy Says:

    All this could have jeopardized the future of sports at Missouri.

    Please, don’t let anyone know about this most excellent possible outcome. They might take it.

  15. Ymarsakar Says:

    Bunch of weaklings. They should have stayed until the Breiviks came out.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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