Creating Students, Not Activists

National Association of Scholars

Rent-a-mobs strike and strike again at college and university campuses across America. Today they are Jew-haters, whose vitriol and the naked desire to render America’s campuses Judenrein is new. Yesterday their causes were “sustainability,” or the George Floyd riots, or conservatives speaking on campus. The putative cause changes, but tactics and the general goals remain the same.

It is a playbook sixty years old: a student mob “protests” and an administration pusillanimous, or acting as an accomplice, makes as many concessions as public opinion will allow—and at worst, slaps the wrist of students who have committed illegal acts. Since the students never suffer consequences for their misdeeds, but instead receive reward after reward, the administrators thus invite new student mobs to make new demands. Intimidation, threatening violence, and working hand in glove with acquiescent administrators have played an indispensable role in the constant leftward ratchet of academia since the 1960s. In the last forty years, with the rise of action civics, an entire academic and administrative apparatus has emerged within the universities, dedicated to organizing intimidating mobs that will radicalize the university and the republic. Action civics has institutionalized mob intimidation.

The mobs desecrating the American flag, smashing windows, chanting genocidal slogans—this always was the end game of the advocates of the right to protest, action civics, student activism, direct action, and all the other euphemisms for radical thuggery. It is the end game of the broader movement to turn the goal of universities from the search for truth to the search for power. Anti-fascism, after all, originally denominated the Communist goons brawling on the streets of Weimar Germany with the Nazi goons—most of whom happily enough served the Nazis after 1933, since smashing heads always was the real attraction, and Nazism and anti-fascism served that goal equally well. What we see now is not an unfortunate byproduct of well-meaning ideals. Mob thuggery is what the “activism” assembly line was always intended to produce.

Liel Liebowitz put it cogently that our elite universities are a national security threat. Indeed, as we approach Election Day, American citizens and policymakers should keep firmly in mind that what is happening at our universities also may well serve as a dry run for organizing rent-a-mob intimidation of (frequently acquiescent) mayors and governors in the conduct and follow-up to the 2024 election. They also should keep in mind that the student thugs and their sympathizers are being groomed to rise in civil society and the political world so that they may act across America as they have acted at our universities. Policymakers and citizens must be prepared to defend American liberty from mobs and their accomplices.

The National Association of Scholars has sought for two generations to uproot the academic activism machine for the sake of our colleges and universities and our republic. We have researched its nature, and thought out policy solutions to remove it, in publications including The Politicization of the Pennsylvania Public University System (2005), Inside Divestment (2015), Making Citizens (2017), Social Justice Education in America (2019), Critical Care (2020), Freedom to Learn (2021), Hijacked (2022), and The Company They Keep (2023). The stakes now are dreadfully clear. But so too is the road to reforming our universities. American policymakers and citizens possess the means to shut down the activism machine.

They can shut down the activism machine, not free speech, due process, or academic freedom. The petty tyrants who eagerly suppress free speech and due process obviously should not be taken seriously as they pose as defenders of liberty to tolerate mob thuggery. Yet, we must seek to reform the ivory tower while maintaining the actual freedoms that underpin the academy. To focus on dismantling the activism machine will aid us in this pursuit. To shut down the activism machine is to focus on removing financial and administrative support for illegal conduct and to cease tolerance of that illegal conduct. If education reformers use this frame to guide their policies, it will ensure that they seek tailored reforms that preserve and strengthen the liberties that undergird the university.

First, education reformers must replace the leaders of America’s colleges and universities with men and women determined to enforce the law. Freedom of speech is not freedom to intimidate and riot. President Ben Sasse of the University of Florida shows what can and should be done: a clear statement of what is and is not permissible, and a credible warning: you will be suspended or expelled if you break the law. State policymakers should remove from office every public university president who is not prepared to state clearly that he will defend the law and to act immediately and effectively to support that statement. State policymakers also should cease funding of public universities that will not maintain law and order. Counties and cities also provide substantial funds to colleges throughout the nation: county and city policymakers also should defund colleges that will not uphold the law. State policymakers and private donors also should end all financial support to private universities whose presidents will not maintain law and order.

American policymakers and citizens also must replace university presidents with men and women who can speak with moral clarity. Institutional neutrality always has been an illusion, and now the concept is being used to institutionalize moral equivalence between Jews and Jew-haters. University presidents must be able to say forthrightly: The cause of Hamas is the cause of rape, torture, mass murder, and would-be genocide; I condemn as morally reprehensible every student, faculty member, and administrator at my institution who supports Hamas. Every state legislature’s education committee should summon every public university president, ask them if they will speak these words—and fire them if they will not. Federal higher education committees should subpoena every private university president, in descending order of endowment size, to determine if they can even mouth these words of common decency. The American public should note how very few of the current university presidents will be able to do even that much. They should do so above all because the ability to speak with moral clarity is a practical prerequisite to restoring law and order on our campuses. University presidents who can’t speak clearly about Hamas now obviously will not possess the character to act courageously to remove the activism machines.

Americans then must cut off the financial support of the activism machine—which, overwhelmingly, has been public funds. That always has been the point of service learning, action civics, and the rest of the activist infiltration of the academy—to divert government funds for Far Left purposes. When Jew-haters demand that our universities boycott Israel, they demand that the public tax dollars that provide universities their revenues and their assets be diverted to aiding Hamas in its genocidal war against Israel. When they demand that universities divest from oil companies or adopt ESG investment guidelines, they likewise seek to hijack taxpayer funds for partisan purposes. When they use mob intimidation to secure these funds, they are engaged in thinly disguised robbery of public money. Our colleges and universities depend upon a constant flow of federal, state, and local dollars in the form of student loans and grants, as well as a host of other grants to support research and teaching. Policymakers at every level of government should condition financial support of universities on a series of linked reforms:

  • A large number of the Jew-hating rioters are foreign students admitted because they pay full tuition, and because their governments provide large-scale funding to colleges and universities. Governments should condition their support for universities on full transparency about foreign funding, one-for-one reductions of public aid in proportion to funds received from foreign sources, and immediate expulsion from the university and the country of foreign students who join rent-a-mobs on American soil. State policymakers also should permanently reduce American universities’ susceptibility to hostile foreign influence by establishing minimum enrollment percentages for state residents of 90 percent.
  • Eliminate all “service-learning,” which is the pedagogy of action civics—the pedagogy that trains “activists” to organize, fund, and propagandize for rent-a-mobs.
  • Conduct program reviews of all departments staffed by education reformers outside the academy, and remove all departments dedicated to activism—“studies” departments above all. Faculty members who believe that their profession requires political activism are not real professors. They must be removed from the university. Those who have taken illegal actions to support the rent-a-mobs should be removed immediately.
  • Reform undergraduate and graduate admissions programs to select for academic excellence, not activist experience.
  • Eliminate all university administrative positions dedicated to supporting the activism machine, including such administrative units as “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (DEI) bureaucracies, student life, residential life, and sustainability. Above all, fire every administrator who complicitly supports the rent-a-mobs.
  • Select accrediting organizations that do not require support for the activism machine.
  • Reform academic standards so that students spend their time studying and have no spare time to participate in the activism machine.
  • Restore true freedom of speech. It should be noted that the claims that Jew-hating thuggery is really freedom of speech are even more hollow than previous claims that shouting down a speaker is a form of free speech. University administrations, especially DEI and Title IX bureaucracies, have been crushing freedom of speech for a generation, along with freedom of religion, freedom of association, and due process. The same activists who protest “micro-aggressions,” in other words, cheer on the macro-aggressions of their mobs. Activist mobs, whether Jew-hating or “environmentalist” or “pro-trans,” use the faculty and administration to silence any opposition to their hatred. Freedom of speech must be restored—and cannot be, so long as the activism infrastructure dominates college campuses.

The reform of the universities must root out the entire radical ideology that supports rent-a-mob activism, not just the specific instances of Jew-hating. American universities suffer from poisonous hatred of categories including whites, men, Christians, heterosexuals, and, fundamentally, Americans. The activism machine happened to seize on Jew-hatred because of the mass murder of civilians by Hamas on October 7, but they would, and will, seize on other hatreds. The shout-downs and mobs that have stifled freedom on American campuses are no more tolerable when they are not animated explicitly by Jew-hatred. The hatred of whites, men, Christians, heterosexuals, and Americans frequently pairs itself with anti-Semitism. All these evils, rooted in the bastard Marxism of identity politics, must go.

In other words, an extraordinary amount of higher education must be reformed. It is not just that academia is full of intolerant radicals who believe in imposing their political agenda and suppressing all opposing speech or action. It is not just that they have seized control of the hiring process to ensure that, to the best of their ability, only fellow radicals are hired in higher education. It is not just that they no longer teach any subject that contradicts their ideology and impose their propaganda on every course. It is that all this radicalization is fundamentally intertwined with a specific imperative toward “activism” and “protest”—the subordination of university education to the funding and support of radical rent-a-mobs. We must remove the activism infrastructure from our universities—that infrastructure remains a cancer that requires chemotherapy.

That broader goal should be the guiding star of education reformers. We should move deliberately toward that end. We should frame our policies so that the American people will know that we draw upon our nation’s traditions of reform through broad consensus. First, let us dismantle the activism machine—and as we do so, let us plan the further necessary reforms of our universities, deliberately, prudently, and with the preservation of academic freedom uppermost in our minds.

Immediately, American citizens should support policymakers who demand an immediate restoration of law and order on our campuses. Above all, they must support reforms that do not rely on the universities to reform themselves. They have proven themselves incapable of doing that job. Policymakers must appoint new men and women to lead our universities. They must set up administrative mechanisms to enforce reform from outside. They must be willing to defund universities that are unwilling to eliminate their activism machines.

If they do not, there will be no Jews, no open dissenters from the radical party line, and no liberty on American campuses. Nor any education, for that matter—only training in how to organize an effective pogrom.

Photo taken by Neetu Arnold of the University of Pennsylvania campus protests

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