College president apologizes after offending students by saying "all lives matter"

I’m glad she walked it back. It’s a pretty outrageous statement.

Between garbage like this, Star Chamber justice for students accused of crimes, and the cost of tuition, why would any kid go to college anymore? Ah, right: Because we as a society agreed at some point that a B.A. is a prerequisite for any job more exalted than fry cook. If you want to work, you do your time at drunken sleepaway camp.

Carry on, then.

“We are united in our insistence that all lives matter,” read the e-mail, in which [Smith College President Kathleen McCartney] made clear she was strongly behind the [Eric Garner/Michael Brown] protests, writing that the grand jury decisions had “led to a shared fury… We gather in vigil, we raise our voices in protest.”

But she soon received backlash from students for her phrasing. They were offended that she did not stick with the slogan “black lives matter.”…

In response to student backlash, McCartney apologized in another campus-wide email Friday, saying she had made a mistake “despite my best intentions.”…

“I regret that I was unaware the phrase/hashtag “all lives matter” has been used by some to draw attention away from the focus on institutional violence against Black people,” she wrote.

Only by reading the two e-mails she sent out can you appreciate how stupidly Orwellian the backlash was. Some critics of the protests had been answering the “black lives matter” slogan with the phrase “all lives matter.” McCartney, who was palpably not being critical — she announced a vigil for Garner and Brown in her first e-mail and refers to herself in the second as a “white ally” — unwittingly used the same phrase to make the protesters’ point, i.e. that Garner’s and Brown’s lives shouldn’t matter less because they’re black. Her sympathy couldn’t have been clearer. She got flamed anyway. Says Charles Cooke, “a woman just apologized for having failed to repeat a mantra that she didn’t know existed.” I don’t know how to explain the impulse to punish someone who’s straining to show that she’s on your side except as an artifact of petty totalitarianism. It’s not enough that one doesn’t share the forbidden sentiment; one mustn’t speak it aloud either, even inadvertently, for fear that someone who hears it will misunderstand and then they’ll share the forbidden sentiment. The virus must be contained. The fact that McCartney is the resident authority figure on campus probably encouraged it too. When you’re looking for a reason to be outraged and the president of the college says something that can be kinda sorta twisted into a criticism of your position, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, why not grab it and run with it? For $40,000 a year, you’re entitled now and then to a pantomime of fighting the power.

What I want to know, and which we’ll never know, is what McCartney herself thought of this stupid, stupid, stupid “controversy.” Could be that she was genuinely sorry for the misunderstanding, but maybe not; maybe the impetus to grovel was less about sincere regret than about quickly short-circuiting any nascent attempts by junior Social Justice Warriors to turn this into an excuse to protest her office, hold sit-ins, complain to the trustees, etc. I think that’s a factor in why Columbia and Harvard were so willing to let law students postpone final exams over Garner and Brown too. Even if the administrators share the general public’s feeling that a student who can’t cope with grim news well enough to take a test probably isn’t someone you want to invest in as an employee, it’s better not to resist. Doing so might make you a co-conspirator in the dreaded “all lives matter” counterrevolution, and no self-respecting university administrator wants that.

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David Strom 8:41 PM on January 30, 2023