Evergreen professors minimize the campus mob: 'Some disruptions were problematic and counterproductive...'

Three professors at Evergreen State College have written a defense of the school, its students and their protests. The professors are responding, in part, to Bret Weinstein and also to former Provost Michael Zimmerman who has been critical of the school in articles at Huff Post. The piece opens by criticizing Zimmerman for his failure to focus on the threat to the campus. “In nearly 8,700 words, Zimmerman couldn’t find one word to mention the threat of a massacre on his own campus, and how it created fear among students, staff, and faculty of color,” the authors write.

That’s true but also somewhat misleading. Zimmerman did include excerpts from emails (maybe written by some of the same professors who wrote this response?) in which professors at the school say Professor Weinstein’s decision to appear on Fox News has invited threats against the campus. Were those references to the specific threat made by a man in New Jersey? I can’t say for sure but the topic of threats was definitely raised.

The rest of the article is broken down into 10 points. I won’t have time to look at all of them but I will address a few. Point 1 alleges a “pattern of right-wing attacks on racial equity in higher education.” In support of this claim, the authors quote a bunch of sympathetic media outlets: Huff Post, the Guardian to support the idea push back against some of the extremism on college campuses is part of a trend and that therefore, “It should come as no surprise that Evergreen, a public liberal arts institution with a history of social justice teaching and student activism, would be one of the main campuses to be targeted.”

This is again, misleading. I doubt most people, myself included, had ever heard of Evergreen State College before the videos of what took place went viral. Since then, I’ve probably written 15-20 stories about the school. My point is, there was no plan to target Evergreen. Evergreen became a topic of national conversation for one reason: The behavior exhibited by its students and faculty was astoundingly awful. Students who interrupt a class, berate a professor, demand his resignation and refuse to let him speak then try to block police from coming to the scene–all over an innocuous note thoughtfully questioning some changes to the format of the school’s Day of Absence. This was followed by videos of the same students shouting at and mocking other professors and later making demands of the school president including that they be excused from homework.

Few of these awkward details are mentioned by the authors. In fact, here is how they describe what took place:

Some disruptions were problematic and counterproductive, as the May 23rd video began to go viral, giving right-wing groups a meme they had been looking for to hammer Evergreen.

“Some disruptions were problematic and counterproductive” is the new “mistakes were made.” And again, no one was desperately waiting for a chance to hammer Evergreen. No one cared about Evergreen until it became obvious the school was overrun with far-left protesters who felt confident enough to threaten people’s employment over any vestige of disagreement with their agenda.

The authors are similarly dismissive of the student who were carrying baseball bats around campus: “they organized a ‘Community Watch’ and armed themselves with baseball bats. Like the disruptions of the previous week, the baseball bats were problematic and counterproductive…” The authors don’t mention the $5,000 of vandalism including broken windows done to the school at the same time these students were marching around with bats.

Skipping to point four: “The Tucker Carlson interview unleashed a flood of hate toward Evergreen.” This appears to be true and yet (wait for it…) also misleading. I have no doubt that after this became a national story there were threats made against people at Evergreen. I don’t support that behavior of course. It’s an unfortunate reality that whenever one side of the aisle criticizes the other, there are people on the fringe who go too far. Again, I’m not excusing threats I’m just saying that this is not a problem limited to Evergreen College or the left. This sort of thing happens to people on the right all the time.

There are two ways to look at this problem. One is that people are responsible for the “climate of hate” they create. In this case, that seems to be what the authors are arguing vis a vis Bret Weinstein. It’s his fault that all of this hate came their way. But if you believe that, then you also pretty much have to believe people on the left are responsible when someone acts badly in response to a “climate” created by people on that side of the aisle.

Is the progressive resistance to Trump, including the Women’s March, responsible for multiple threats against GOP lawmakers (which have been plentiful this year)? Is anti-Trump rhetoric even responsible for the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise? I wonder what the authors of this piece would say about that. Does the climate of hate cut both ways?

My guess is that they would say “Of course not!” And that’s the other approach to this problem. Yes, there are people who take everything too far, but people discussing an issue on television aren’t responsible for the behavior of the fringe. That’s the approach most of the left wanted to take after the shooting in Alexandria (and Dallas and Baton Rouge). In short, it’s not Bret Weinstein’s fault some people acted like jerks. He didn’t ask them to be jerks any more than the progressive professors at Evergreen asked people to make threats against conservative lawmakers.

There’s a lot more to absorb in the piece but a lot of it dwells on the ideas that Evergreen was targeted and that Weinstein and other critics are responsible for that. I’m fairly certain, speaking as one of the critics, that neither of those things is true.

David Strom 10:01 PM on September 26, 2022