More than 2,000 miles away, administrators at UC Santa Cruz felt otherwise. Chancellor Cynthia Larive and Interim Chief Diversity Officer Judith Estrada issued a statement that began like this:
We are disheartened and dismayed by this morning’s not guilty verdict on all charges in the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse … We join in solidarity with all who are outraged by this failure of accountability.
UC Santa Cruz is a public institution with roughly 19,000 students and 1,000 instructors who, one can safely say, do not all share the same viewpoints. But Larive and Estrada emphasized their personal feelings and openly pledged solidarity (meaning “unity or agreement of feeling or action,” by one definition) with others based on whether they too feel angry. This is posturing, not engagement with a campus community. I wrote to Larive and asked her to clarify why the jury should have found Rittenhouse guilty, if that’s what she meant by “failure of accountability.” A university spokesperson, Scott Hernandez-Jason, responded, “The campus message speaks for itself.”
Indeed, it does. America has never known a time without sensational murder trials that seize the public’s attention and inflame passions. I have an old-fashioned answer to how a university should behave in these cases: It should stay neutral and promote reasoned analysis and debate. But Larive and Estrada made a different choice. And they aren’t the only university leaders who have done so in the days since the verdict. Rather than encourage independent scrutiny, administrators on many campuses have issued statements that presuppose answers to hotly contested questions, and assert opinions about the not-guilty verdict in the case and its ostensible significance as though they were matters of community consensus.