Perpetually offended students have notched another win—this time at Ithaca College in New York, where President Tom Rochon was forced into early retirement due to his perceived mishandling of racial slights. Once again, the aggrieved mobs on campuses have flexed their muscle, proving how dangerous it is to disagree with them.
Rochon’s ouster closely resembles the resignations of President Tim Wolfe and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin at the University of Missouri several weeks ago. Like Wolfe and Bowen, Rochon was accused of failing to prevent instances of racial harassment that no administrator could have forestalled. Indeed, Rochon’s alleged shortcomings seem even less compelling than those of Mizzou leadership, given the whiny nature of students’ complaints.
Media coverage of Rochon’s resignation implies that Ithaca was beset by a series of escalating racist incidents on campus, but in reality, there were just two such grievances. Neither stands up to scrutiny, and neither suggest that Rochon’s refusal to intervene was a removable offense.
In October, Ithaca hosted an alumni panel discussion on the topic of improving the college’s educational experience for students. One panelist, ’09 alum Tatiani Sy, a black woman, described herself as possessing a “savage hunger.” Another panelist, ’76 alum Christopher Burch—an older white man—praised Sy’s comment and then began referring to her as “the savage.”
It’s clear from video footage of the exchange that Burch was not using the word disparagingly: in his mind, he had given her a complimentary nickname. This was remarkably poor judgment on his part, to be sure, and after he realized his word choice had been interpreted maliciously, he profusely apologized.
Far from failing to address the non-issue, Rochon released a statement of apology as well:
“Immediately following the event, I (Tom Rochon) apologized to the alumna to whom the comments were addressed. We regret that what was intended to be a visionary moment for our community was diminished by insensitive comments.
“In general, the college cannot prevent the use of hurtful language on campus. Such language, intentional or unintentional, exists in the world and will seep into our community. We can’t promise that the college will never host a speaker who could say something racist, homophobic, misogynistic, or otherwise disrespectful. Even so, we reaffirm our commitment to making our campus an inclusive and respectful community.”
The fact that these entirely reasonable, well-justified sentiments provoked an outcry from students who thought Rochon was neglecting their feelings is a testament to just how far the Overton window has shifted in favor of the microaggressed masses on college campuses.
Rochon bears even less responsibility for the other racial incident: a “Preps and Crooks” theme party hosted by the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity. According to The Ithacan, the proper attire for “crooks” was described as “90s thuggish style… come wearing a bandana, baggy sweats and a T-shirt, snapback, and any ‘bling’ you can find.” Students found this description “problematic,” and Ithaca Vice President Benjamin Rifkin swiftly condemned its “destructive impact.”
Students have every right to be upset about the party theme—although they are truly privileged people if this is the most vexing thing in their lives—but other students have every right to throw costume parties that don’t quite meet offended persons’ expectations. Similarly, the campus administration should feel free to condemn inappropriate behavior, but has no business preventing it. College students are adults and should be allowed to party as they please, without fear of institutional sanction.
In any case, Rochon eventually decided to hire a chief diversity officer, according to NPR, and humor his angry students as best he could. But this wasn’t enough for them. It’s doubtful anything would have been.
In November, three-quarters of participating students voted “no confidence” in Rochon’s leadership. A whopping 78 percent of the faculty did the same. Those are stunning numbers—an overwhelming majority of the Ithaca community thinks its president was doing a bad job. But given that they can cite no tangible reasons beyond the several instances of alleged racial insensitivity, we are forced to confront the plan truth: Ithaca is not a safe-space for the thinnest traces of dissent from organized political correctness.
Rochon isn’t stepping down anytime soon—his resignation isn’t effective until July 1, 2017—which means he will still be dealing with unruly students and professors for quite some time. Hopefully, it will be possible for him to listen to students’ concerns—and defend their absolute right to make such concerns public—while still carving out a space for everyone else to say and do imperfect things without getting run off campus.
In any case, it’s time to start taking student protesters seriously. Frustrated students clearly have tremendous power to bend universities to their will. Everyone who doesn’t want to see college campuses transformed into zones of coddling where language is policed and expression strictly regulated by administrators—at the behest of left-wing activists—should denounce the protesters for fixating on trivial issues instead of fundamentally larger inequalities in higher education.
Just imagine what might happen if hyper-offended students cared half as much about the out-of-control cost of attending Ithaca College as they did about what their neighbors were wearing to frat parties. Tuition at the private liberal arts institution is nearly $40,000 a year—why are students so content to pay for the privilege of oppressing each other?