By Vera Schwarcz
After teaching 40 years at Wesleyan University, I ask myself what went so dreadfully wrong? Why this outburst of antisemitism on campuses in the name of “justice” that condones and even celebrates evil?
I saw it coming. There is a raw selfishness and willful myopia embedded in what passes for “liberal education” today.
I first glimpsed it 25 years ago, when I took maternity leave and the students were in an uproar about how I was “disrupting” their studies. I wrote to the campus newspaper explaining that I saw my teaching role going far beyond the dates of ancient Chinese dynasties. I was bearing witness concretely to the importance of building families—something not talked about or taught at elite universities.
Then came the LGBT movement and gay students wanted to write seminar papers only about homosexuality in China. Feminist students only about the women’s predicament. The huge canvas of history mattered less than gonads. Lower regions were literally taking over higher analytical faculties. For many years, gender issues became the driving force in liberal studies. “Justice” became what “I think matters to me only.”
With the “Free Palestine” student organization, vicious attacks became part of university discourse. “Colonialism”—not much researched but broadly condemned—became one of the ill-placed, illogical charges against Israel—the only democracy in the Middle East that supports women’s rights and gay rights. A victim state, repeatedly attacked by Arab neighbors and terrorists, became the victimizer. Israel, a country that fought for its existence against British colonialism was not a subject of legitimate historical inquiry.
When “only what I think matters” discourse became wedded to an inability to name evil, all hell broke loose. This has left our students bereft of any moral compass. Ethical language has all but dried up in the academy to the point that many university administrators are unable to condemn Hamas directly.
We hear a lot about the fears of Jewish students on campus. I worry about them too. At the same time, I mourn the demise of genuinely liberal education that exposes students to truth and helps them evaluate good versus evil. Parents rightfully ask themselves what are they buying for $100,000 per year? Knee jerk condemnations of Jews and the Jewish state and group-think limited to very narrow personal concerns.
Vera Schwarcz is Emerita Professor of History & East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University. A former resident of West Hartford, she currently lives in Israel.
CAP: Flags held at a prior “Day of Rage” attended by Students for Justice in Palestine and other anti-Israel organizations. Credit: A Katz/Shutterstock.