Founded in 1971 and boasting an acceptance rate of 98.9%, Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, has welcomed fashionable radical thinking from the outset. Its official motto (we kid you not) is that tired Sixties mantra “Let it all hang out” (in Latin, Omnia Extares). It calls itself a “progressive college,” whatever that means. It prides itself on not giving out grades, on not requiring students to declare majors (it doesn’t have conventional academic departments), and on not having any required courses.
In 1999, the commencement speaker at Evergreen’s graduation ceremony was cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose salvation from the death penalty was a trendy left-wing cause at the time. (In 2001, his death sentence was commuted to life without parole.) Among the college’s most famous alumni, meanwhile, is Rachel Corrie, the pro-Palestinian activist who, in 2003, while engaged in an aggressive International Solidarity Movement effort to prevent the Israeli Defense Forces from destroying a tunnel used by terrorists to smuggle weapons, was accidentally run over by a bulldozer. Her death under these circumstances made her an instant martyr to the anti-Israeli movement, and turned a photograph of her, screaming with rage and tearing up an American flag, into an iconic image.
Anyway, that’s the kind of student Evergreen produces.
In recent months, U.S. campuses have been the center of a great deal of discord, with vociferous and sometimes violent groups of left-wing or anarchist students trying to shut down speakers they don’t like or have professors fired for making politically incorrect statements. In the process, these students have often caused harm to the targets of their wrath and committed acts of arson and vandalism. In late May, it was Evergreen’s turn to make national headlines. At the center of the story was biology professor Bret Weinstein. Now, one of the annual “progressive” traditions at Evergreen is something called the “Day of Absence,” when black students and professors voluntarily stay off campus and instead hold meetings and discussions elsewhere to discuss racism and tolerance.
This year, however, the organizers of the “Day of Absence” decided to switch things around – instead of allowing blacks to skip class, they ordered whites to do so. Weinstein refused, and explained why: “There is a huge difference between a group or coalition deciding to voluntarily absent themselves from a shared space in order to highlight their vital and underappreciated roles…and a group encouraging another group to go away. The first is a forceful call to consciousness, which is, of course, crippling to the logic of oppression. The second is a show of force, and an act of oppression in and of itself.” He added that he would be on campus that day doing his job and that he would encourage other whites on campus to do the same. “On a college campus,” he wrote, “one’s right to speak – or to be – must never be based on skin color.”
Weinstein has also come under fire for opposing a recommendation by Evergreen’s Equity and Inclusion Council that all faculty hires be defended by the administration on ground of “equity,” a vague term apparently referring to racial balance or some such thing. Weinstein’s attitude toward this policy proposal was that it’s a mistake to place such emphasis on superficial attributes. “The most important thing,” he said, “is that the person in front of the room knows something about the subject and has insight in teaching.” In response to these thoroughly reasonable positions, Weinstein became the target of absolute rage on the part of a large group of Evergreen students. What exactly happened? Tune in tomorrow.