Brown’s Abuse of Ray Kelly: A Metaphor of the Academy


ray-kellyTwo weeks ago, New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly arrived at the prestigious Brown University to deliver a speech.

It never happened. Student protesters, determined to silence Kelly, shouted him down.

In an attempt to abate the hostility of his audience, Kelly is said to have remarked:  “I thought this was the Academy…where we’re supposed to have free speech.”  A Brown administrator on the scene also expressed incredulity regarding the “inability” of these Brown students’—self-avowed “social justice activists” —“to have a dialogue[.]”

Jenny Li, the (Brown) student who organized the anti-Kelly demonstration, explained that in advance of Kelly’s appearance, she and other students petitioned the university to cancel the event. However, when administrators refused to accommodate them, Li and her fellow activists “decided to cancel it for them.”  Their victory in doing so, Li adds, is “a powerful demonstration of free speech.”

Christina Paxson, President of Brown, expressed her “deepest regret” to Commissioner Kelly and assured everyone that the protesters’ conduct is at once “indefensible” and “an affront both to civil democratic society and to the university’s core values and the free exchange of views.”

To date the disrupters have not faced any disciplinary action.

The significance of this episode has little to do with its specifics and everything to do with the fact that it supplies us with a microcosmic perspective on the contemporary university.

First of all, no one, much less an eminently sensible man like Ray Kelly and seasoned academics like the aforementioned Brown administrators, can possibly believe that the contemporary Academy is an oasis of “free speech” and open-ended dialogue.

In fact, as anyone who’s spent any amount of time there knows all-too well, the university is much more like a puddle of free speech and dialogue than an oasis.

While the incident in question admittedly involves students, the latter are simply marching to the beat of the drums of the faculty and administration, not just of Brown, but of colleges and universities throughout the country.  They at once reflect and reinforce an academic culture that has been at least a half-of-a-century in the making.   

It is at once tragic and scandalous—and let there be no mistakes about it, this is one of the great scandals of our age—that there is far less individuality and “free speech” in our country’s liberal arts and humanities departments than can be found among any random collection of construction workers or plumbers.

While there are exceptions (yours truly is a case in point), the overwhelming majority of academics in the liberal arts are left-wing ideologues.  This is no criticism—just a brute fact.  There is indeed a prevailing ideology, an orthodoxy, really, that draws the lines of acceptable inquiry, of discourse.  For lack of a better name, we can call this orthodoxy “Political Correctness,” for it is the same orthodoxy that has long drawn the lines of acceptable discourse in the popular culture.

The only difference is that non-academics, like construction workers and plumbers, say, have the daring and imaginativeness to transgress the orthodoxy’s boundaries.  Academics, in contrast, seek to strengthen these strictures on speech.

In other words, the relationship between the academic and his society has been radically subverted.  Worse, the lion’s share of the blame for this subversion rests upon his (or her) shoulders.

There is another point that can’t be lost upon us.

Traditionally, a liberal arts education was intended to render students preeminently civil by making them into articulate, knowledgeable conversationalists capable of both drawing upon the inheritance of their civilization—Western civilization—as well as enriching it.  It was an education that required great humility from those who would undertake it, for the present generation, it was understood, was just one voice in this millennia-old conversation linking the past with the present and future.

The attitude on display at Brown and exemplified by Jennifer Li is not only entirely incompatible with a traditional liberal arts education; the former and the latter are mutually antithetical.  There are two reasons for this.

For one, today’s students, like their teachers, are generally contemptuous toward the past.  The past is viewed as a “dark age” ridden with “white racism,” “sexism,” “homophobia,” “speciesism,” “xenophobia,” etc.  The present bequeathed to us by our past, as Barack Obama memorably remarked, is something the needs to be “fundamentally transformed”—i.e. destroyed.  As for future generations, while lip service is routinely paid to them, it is not difficult to show that if the interests of unborn human beings threaten to impede present designs, then they too must be marginalized.

Secondly, academics and the student activists who they are busy away creating are angry.  And they spare no occasion to express that anger.  Since at least the time of the 1960s the expression of anger has been treated as tantamount with the expression of authenticity.  However, since no one cares to try to reason with an angry person—regardless of how authentic he may fancy himself to be—about any topic, much less controversial topics, conversation is impossible with the perpetually angry.

And so too is a genuine liberal arts education impossible as long as pride and anger are the emotions that the academy insists upon fostering.

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  • objectivefactsmatter

    “Jenny Li, the (Brown) student who organized the anti-Kelly demonstration, explained that in advance of Kelly’s appearance, she and other students petitioned the university to cancel the event. However, when administrators refused to accommodate them, Li and her fellow activists “decided to cancel it for them.” Their victory in doing so, Li adds, is “a powerful demonstration of free speech.””

    Just like the animal farm, some speech is freer than other’s.

    • laura r

      explain this: how does a “student” cancel an appearance? if they were disturbing it, why didnt the college have the police remove the students? im lost on this. the artical tells me zero. why cant they re-scedule?

      • gman213

        A student didn’t “cancel” the appearance. What cancelled it was a lack of leadership and a failure to take charge of an incident early on and have the protestors arrested. Now, we will see if the Brown University president has the will to punish those involved. If she doesn’t, then we can assume that the inmates are in fact running the asylum, since it appeared so on that evening.

        • laura r

          ok basically the administration canceled him. guess the students run the school, not the admisitrators. yes most of the higherups were on the side of the students. these kids are like old fuddyduddys, more like my parents. meaning that everything is a “NO”. they are unable to mind their own business, they like to control. when i was their age, i cared less who spoke where. also demonstrations should not be allowed on campus. just classes. get in, your homework, get out. i dont get this. dont like something just dont go. students should have no say in these matters.

      • objectivefactsmatter

        “explain this: how does a “student” cancel an appearance?”

        Political pressure.

        http://legalinsurrection.com/2013/10/the-angry-face-of-the-brown-u-shout-down/

        “why didnt the college have the police remove the students? im lost on this. the artical tells me zero. why cant they re-scedule?”

        Because the dominant culture of most campuses is radical leftism. That includes the administrators. The students get it from the establishment, not the other way around as some times portrayed.

        • Jeff Ludwig

          Agree. Very important point!

  • objectivefactsmatter

    “However, since no one cares to try to reason with an angry person—regardless of how authentic he may fancy himself to be—about any topic, much less controversial topics, conversation is impossible with the perpetually angry.”

    Which is the entire point. They don’t want to reason with anyone.

    • Drakken

      Well since reason and logic are out, a nice 2 by 4 goes a long way in showing them the error of their ways.

      • objectivefactsmatter

        One certainly should not be afraid to use it if the occasion calls for it. In the case of the protesters, they should have been immediately escorted out. No “requests.”

        Law and order are passe. It’s about “radical democracy” to these freaks. Or selective anarchy is more like it.

        Modern anarchists want the “right” to disobey when they feel like it BUT expect the sovereign to protect their real and perceived “rights.”

        • Drakken

          The problem with anarchist is the law of unintended consequences, the heavy hand, when dealing with these useful idiots, usually after too much nonsense, comes down hard and heavy.

          • objectivefactsmatter

            The idea of anarchy as an alternative to living under a sovereign comes from very naive ideas about human nature. Only the establishment is evil in their minds. Take away the state and you level the playing field. You don’t need laws or law enforcement because you can build consensus in your community before acting on concert.

            The thing is that lunatic student groups that actually think it would work have no clue at all how much freedom they gain from their sovereigns protecting their lame behinds to sit around and think about these delusional ideas.

          • objectivefactsmatter

            The idea of anarchy as an alternative to living under a sovereign comes from very naive ideas about human nature. Only the establishment is evil in their minds. Take away the state and you level the playing field. You don’t need laws or law enforcement because you can build consensus in your community before acting on concert.

            The thing is that lunatic student groups that actually think it would work have no clue at all how much freedom they gain from their sovereigns protecting their lame asses to sit around and think about these delusional ideas.

  • PhillipGaley

    I’m going to say that, the nation suffers now the rancid fruit of parenting lacks, . . . on a broad scale.

  • G. Tod Slone

    Excellent, perhaps rare, quotable wisdom in this article, provoking me to observe that the right-wing today seems far more supportive of the principles of democracy, than the left-wing. Like Horowitz, I too was part of the 60s, but somehow seem to have migrated over to websites like FrontPage, P-I, and Europe News and have battled with left-wing ideologues in great dialogues de sourds.. Anyhow, note the egregious hypocrisy in Christina Paxson’s statement, considering that Brown University is listed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education as a red-light institution; that is, amongst the worst regarding freedom of speech and entrenched speech codes. Thanks to M. Kerwick, I shall be doing a cartoon on her with that regard. And I shall be taking a RISK in doing so because Brown University is one of only eight universities that subscribe to The American Dissident… and it’s been over 15 years of knocking on university library doors! For other cartoons on dhimmis, professors, poets, and journalists, see my blog site.

    G. Tod Slone, PhD and Founding Editor (1998)
    The American Dissident, a 501c3 Nonprofit Journal of Literature, Democracy, and Dissidence
    http://www.theamericandissident.org
    wwwtheamericandissidentorg.blogspot.com
    todslone@hotmail.com
    217 Commerce Rd.
    Barnstable, MA 02630

  • CowboyUp

    These people are not only using force to prevent the speaker from exercising their right to speak, they’re also denying those there to hear what the speaker has to say their right to hear it. They need a lesson on the importance of civility and respecting the rights of others.

    • gman213

      Those protestors don’t care about civility or respect. They have been raised in an entitlement age, they are special, they are the ones important. If their ideas are important to them, then they must be right, thus they force those ideas on others without regard to the others. Spoiled, petulant, brats who will one day grow up…hopefully.

  • tagalog

    Perhaps Brown University would be well-advised to cancel Ms. Li’s Brown education for her.

    • cjkcjk

      Cancel her edumacation!? She’s far more likely to win an award or be elected student council president.
      I’m not kidding nor exaggerating one iota.

      • tagalog

        In the ancient days of my university education, they used to kick students out for participating in unauthorized anti-Vietnam War demonstrations on campus.

        Times have certainly changed.

  • Donald J DaCosta

    Their victory in doing so, Li adds, is “a powerful demonstration of free speech.”

    This is the blatant immaturity, ignorance, hypocrisy and bigotry of the academic left. She apparently has not a clue that what she claims she reveres, free speech, she and her equally clueless cohorts just denied to Ray Kelly. These are the self
    righteous “intellectuals” who believe they should be “in charge” and everyone else should just shut up.

    An excellent article by Mr. Kerwick concerning one of, if not the, most important problem in 2013 America. On an intuitive basis perhaps one of the most significant factors responsible for the popularity of the Harvard Professor of
    constitutional law and the re-election in 2012 of Barack Hussein Obama.

  • Drakken

    It would seem that our academic institutions have out lived their usefulness and are in great need of a massive purge. Unless and until we take off the gloves of PC and give the left a nice healthy taste of their blatant hypocrisy, this will continue.

  • herb benty

    These Marxist, Western hating “professors” should be in jail for sedition, never mind enjoy “tenure” to indoctrinate American kids in Communism- a system that many brave young Americans died fighting!

    • cjkcjk

      I can assure you that people like Ray Kelly and Jack Kerwick are far more in danger of imprisonment/bodily harm than Jenny Li or any of the professors.
      This is all going to end in a bloodbath.
      Historical RULE: The longer it takes to reach blood, the bloodier it will be.

      • herb benty

        Ya, the dam finally bursts.

  • thirdarmy

    Jenny Li is very similar to the Brown Shirts during the 30s in Germany.

    • Jeff Ludwig

      Yes.

      • tagalog

        Have any students engaged in any book burnings of the writing of any of those dead white males who shaped the Western discourse for 24 centuries?

  • Jeff Ludwig

    What an excellent article. In the early 1970′s I was teaching at Boston State College (not Boston College), and students went on strike against the Vietnam War. A group with armbands on came into my philosophy course and insisted that the class not be about philosophy but “about” the Vietnam War, I was a young instructor, and handled the matter poorly, partially because at that time I was against that war as well. However, I stil had enough common sense to know that these students had given way to pure thuggishness. I should have exited the class and invited any and all reasonable, truthful, and responsible students to follow me out the door. Instead, I sat and listened to their “instruction.” We’ve descended even further along the low road since then. Students are arbitrarily denying free speech to other students and speakers on campuses. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is doing a great job of fighting for campus free speech, but it is truly a herculean task and uphill all the way. FIRE is doing a little better than Sisyphus, but the picture is still grim for a so-called “free society.”

  • tagalog

    Reading Thomas Hobbes is enlightening (no pun intended) on the issue of the role of the state vs. anarchy, and the value of order vs. license.