Not only are these manifestos’ depictions of the institutions overblown, but many of the demands in question would destroy the institutions themselves. At Dalton, all of the new hires and the shunting of 50 percent of donations to New York City public schools would represent an enormous financial strain; eliminating tracked courses would be a huge blow to student competitiveness. At Bryn Mawr, where the administration essentially gave the “strikers” what they wanted, protests left students there bereft of genuine education for weeks in favor of simplistic agitprop hovering around the single topic of anti-racism. Some parents said they planned to withdraw their children from the school, and the optics of the strike, including especially the unpunished intimidation of students in disagreement (who may have constituted the majority of the student body), will likely reduce future applications. If Northwestern did commit the amount of money it would take to even make the appearance of attempting to uproot “racism” from Evanston, that would mean less funding for, as an example, counseling for Black students and the new Black student center currently under construction. And a Princeton supervised by a punitive Star Chamber of people appointed to smoke out “racism” would instantly become the least attractive of the Ivies to students, parents, and even faculty.
In our times, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and various public-health officials piously refrained from criticizing protesters gathering in close ranks and shouting together in the middle of a pandemic driven by an airborne pestilence, opining that agitation for racial justice was more important than spreading a lethal disease. We must wonder, then, how confidently university leaders will be able to resist the demands that would destroy the very functioning of their institutions.
But awkward and painful as it may be, they must. They must resist destructive demands, even by self-proclaimed representatives of people of color, and even in a society where systemic racism is real. To give in to anti-intellectual, under-considered, disproportionate, or hostile demands is condescending to the signatories and the protesters. It implies that they can do no better, and that authorities must suspend their sense of logic, civility, and progress as some kind of penance for slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, and the deaths of people such as Floyd. That “penance” would hurt only the community in the end, through lower educational quality.