After protesters at Claremont McKenna College shut down a scheduled lecture and Q&A with Heather Mac Donald, a critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, by blocking the venue’s entrance, Hiram Chodosh, the president of Claremont McKenna College, promised to crack down on some student protesters for violating college policy.
Chodosh observed that, despite the protesters’ efforts, a live-stream of Mac Donald’s talk was viewed by nearly 250 people live and had been watched over 1,400 times at the time of his email. “In the end, the effort to silence her voice effectively amplified it to a much larger audience,” he wrote.
He outlined the college’s decision to not physically remove protesters, explaining that “based on the judgment of the Claremont Police Department, we [the college] jointly concluded that any forced interventions or arrests would have created unsafe conditions for students, faculty, staff, and guests.”
Chodosh also took the unusual step of promising punishment for those who blocked all exits and entrances to the Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum, where Mac Donald’s talk was scheduled to take place. “Blocking access to buildings violates College policy,” he wrote. “CMC students who are found to have violated policies will be held accountable. We will also give a full report to the other Claremont Colleges, who have responsibility for their own students.”
Chodosh highlighted the fact that the protest was composed of “a large group of students from the Claremont Colleges, including a small number of CMC students and some individuals from external communities.”
Echoing the statement released Thursday evening by Vice President for Academic Affairs & Dean of Faculty at Claremont McKenna College, Peter Uvin, Chodosh concluded by reaffirming the college’s commitment to protecting free speech:
“Finally, the breach of our freedoms to listen to views that challenge us and to engage in dialogue about matters of controversy is a serious, ongoing concern we must address effectively. Accordingly, we will be developing new strategies for how best to protect open, safe access to our events.”
Just under five years ago, on the thirtieth anniversary of Plyler v. Doe, then-president Barack Obama put forth an executive order that created the immigration policy known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). In higher education, this policy has conferred many benefits upon certain undocumented residents of the U.S., including limited protection from immigration officers and access to public and private financial aid packages.
DACA grants immigrants a two-year grace period during which they are treated as temporary residents and are eligible for work permits. The policy is only available to those who (a) came into the United States before their sixteenth birthday before June 2007; (b) are currently in school, are a high school graduate, or have been honorably discharged from the military; (c) were born after June 15, 1981; and (d) are not a threat to American security.
Those granted DACA status have no path to citizenship, yet they still can receive a number of benefits normally exclusive to legal permanent residents of the U.S. These benefits include being able to obtain a driver’s license in all fifty states, having an ‘exempt non-citizen’ status that absolves them from the fines for not having insurance under the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, being granted special tax refunds and credits, and being able to obtain temporary social security numbers.
The benefits of DACA for its grantees, however, go far beyond these basics and extend deeply into the American higher education system. In twenty states, DACA immigrants are allowed to register for public community colleges, colleges, and universities with an in-state resident status, which halves their tuition costs in many circumstances. In six states, they qualify for state-funded financial aid packages for public colleges and universities. On top of any state-sponsored financial aid packages for which DACA grantees qualify, there are many private scholarships and grants available. States like Utah offer private funding through public universities to their DACA students.
Some private colleges such as Amherst College and Columbia University offer the same need-blind admission policy to both domestic and non-citizen applicants alike. Others, such as Pomona College, a member of theClaremontConsortium, go further and do not differentiate between documented and undocumented applicants for either admissions or financial aid. Pitzer College and Scripps College,alsomembersoftheClaremontConsortium, each offer full, renewable grants for one undocumented first-year student per year. Scripps also recently announced they will follow Pomona’s example and will begin extending need-based financial aid to all undocumented students, regardless of their DACA status, next fall. Meanwhile, at the other Claremont Colleges, Claremont McKenna College and Harvey Mudd College, undocumented students must apply for external scholarships such as the Cal Grant if they require financial assistance, though at Harvey Mudd, they are encouraged to apply for international student financial aid.
Once DACA students have graduated from their respective undergraduate institutions, state law determines the opportunities available to them. In California, for instance, DACA students may acquire licenses to practice law, medicine, nursing, and pharmacy; can study abroad; and, for the University of California postgraduate programs, they are eligible for all financial aid, grants, and fellowships applicable to U.S. citizens.
Nonetheless, even with all of the benefits of the DACA program, DACA students still fear that their information might be passed along to federal immigration officers. While all DACA immigrants’ information has been shared with the Department of Homeland Security, ICE may not access this information at this time. Many DACA students fear that this could change under President Trump. In response to these anxieties, DACA students and their allies have advocated that colleges become ‘sanctuary campuses.’ Like sanctuary cities, they would protect the local undocumented community from deportation and arrest by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers.
Unfortunately for DACA students, neither of these sanctuary environments have any real legal force, as ICE can still conduct raids on a sanctuary campus. The most that these sanctuary communities and immigration activists can do is to refuse to share information with ICE, to hand over undocumented immigrants, or to coordinate with local police as they attempt to assist ICE. Given that ICE only has around five thousand agents, help from local police departments is necessary for successful ICE operations.
Even within the five-college Claremont Consortium, the magnitude of each school’s efforts greatly differ. Pomona’s president David W. Oxtoby acknowledges that calling the college a ‘sanctuary campus’ is not entirely accurate as Pomona cannot offer either literal sanctuary or legal authority in protecting its students; yet, of the five colleges—arguably of virtually all liberal arts colleges—Pomona offers the greatest amount of aid and support to its estimated fifty to sixty undocumented students. Pitzer and Scripps, on the other hand, have declared themselves to be sanctuary colleges, but the services designated for their undocumented students are much more limited than those of Pomona. Harvey Mudd and Claremont McKenna put even less resources toward supporting their undocumented students, have not changed their nondiscrimination policies to the extent which Scripps and Pomona have, and neither institution has come forward offering to help these students find legal aid if needed.
Colleges have been eager to throw public support behind their undocumented students, as evidenced by strong support for DACA among college presidents. All five presidents of Claremont’s undergraduate institutions, along with the presidents of 634 other institutions, signed a letter put forth by President Oxtobythat DACA should not only be sustained, but should also be expanded. Calling DACA’s expansion a “moral imperative” and a “national necessity,” President Oxtoby goes on to state that undocumented students “represent what is best about America.”
Not all college administrators, even those who signed it, are completely on board with the progressive sentiments President Oxtoby expresses in the letter. Claremont McKenna’s president Hiram Chodosh wrote to the CMC community, “I believe that the Statement’s specific advocacy for DACA may … compromise non-partisan values vital to higher education.” All five schools, however, including Claremont McKenna, have promised to offer counseling resources to their undocumented students and to require that Claremont College Campus Security officers not ask students to disclose their citizenship status.
During the height of the racial protests at Claremont McKenna College last November, CMCers of Color issued a list of demands including the resignation of Dean Spellman and the establishment of a permanent “safe space” that would function as a Resource Center for students from marginalized backgrounds.
The student group wrote an official proposal to the administration, but also created a private Google doc with other miscellaneous items they wanted for their safe space, such as kitchen items and a sound system.
Among this list is a Shady Person of Color (SPOC) board, which includes a royal court of five members of the CMC community who opposed the group. Brandon Gonzalez, the King SPOC, is the Assistant Dean of Admissions. Gonzalez led the diversity initiative that CMCers of Color felt misrepresented CMC. The Queen SPOC, Hannah Oh (CMC ’15), was the Editor-in-Chief of the Claremont Independent at the time, and coauthored an editorial critiquing the protestors’ tactics. In a similar vein, Nathan Tsai (CMC ’17), the “Ignorant SPOC,” wrote a letter that garnered 277 signatures in opposition to the protestors’ demands.
Tony Sidhom (CMC ’17) was included on the list because he was critical of the movement as a whole, particularly with regards to the methods they used. Sidhom didn’t agree with the idea that CMC was institutionally racist, and was vocal in raising his concerns at Student Senate.
The Court Jester SPOC, David Brown (CMC ’19), was critical of the protestors’ lack of logistics and data as well as their tactics. Brown told the Independent, “If [CMCers of Color] had provided a single piece of evidence indicating that they were being systematically kept from performing well, I would have believed them. If I, in my own experience, had noticed a single instance where I was being held down based on the color of my skin I would have believed them. But they didn’t, I didn’t, and I don’t believe them.”
“I find the fact that they named themselves ‘CMCers of Color’ an insult. Instead, they purposefully use their name to manipulate their appearance as if to seem they were anything more than just 30 militant new wave liberal students,” Brown added. “I heard one of the protestors called a friend of mine ‘too rich to be black.’ Doesn’t it seem a little strange to you that the people supposedly fighting racism are the ones perpetuating racist stereotypes? The entire notion of fake or ‘shady’ people of color is just blatantly racist. Since when does being a person of color not allow you free thought? The whole point of this is so the protestors can still feel good about themselves by saying that they represent all ‘real’ people of color campus, but in order for them to consider you ‘real,’ you have to be one of them. Martin Luther King, Jr. said he wanted people to be judged off of the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Oddly enough, the protestors have consistently done the opposite. The protestors are the most racist group on campus I’ve seen to date.”
The use of the term ‘SPOC’ to dissociate students of color who dissented from the protest movement was widespread last semester. “Pomona’s new Latinx club was actually planning on creating a ‘SPOC calling-out’ committee” to target Latino students who did not agree with them, stated Kevin Covarrubias (CMC ’18). “The fact that such an idea was even brought up is deeply disturbing. As a 5C community, we should be all for constructively engaging with each other while debating the actual substance of our beliefs, not indulging in baseless ad hominems directed at one another.”
Edit: This story has been updated to include the name of David Brown, who initially requested anonymity.
Back in October of last year, I wrote an article on social responsibility and how the CMC administration’s policies that were strangling the social scene would only result in a self-fulfilling prophecy of more abusive partying.
For a while, it seemed as if things were getting better at CMC. As far as I recall, there were no major cases of unwarranted or excessive intervention during the rest of the fall semester. Maybe it was because the administration had a more laissez faire attitude towards the social scene, or maybe because students were behaving properly while hanging out with their friends – or a combination of the two.
Just two weekends into this spring semester, though, students at CMC witnessed an escalation against the social scene of the kind not seen before (at least in the memory of this senior). Both The Student Life and The Forum have covered the event in recent news articles, but I still feel that some sort of analysis on that night needs to be published. This is because the emails from Dean of Students Mary Spellman and Vice President for Student Affairs, Admission & Financial Aid Jeff Huang after the event underline my belief that there is a lot of misunderstanding between the students and administration on the events of that night.
The main problem I find with the Feb. 3 email sent by Huang was the claim that RAs and Campus Security officers experienced “defiance” from students who ignored multiple requests to disperse. I was in the fringes of that gathering, completely sober and, even though multiple RAs and Camp Sec officers passed within a couple feet of us, we were never told to leave the area. We saw the RAs and Camp. Sec. officers go up to the party in Green Lounge and assumed the party was being shut down, but, still, we were never asked to leave. We looked around the gathering, expecting to be told to leave, but we never saw any of the RAs or Camp. Sec. officers speak to a single individual outside or within the immediate vicinity of Green Lounge.
I would assume that some part of the RAs’ (not to mention, Camp. Sec.’s) training is supposed to deal with dispersing a crowd, but both groups unequivocally failed to move anyone from the area. While I admittedly do not have this sort of training, it seems illogical to try to disperse a peaceful crowd by only going to a minority of belligerent individuals and telling them to leave. If one of the RAs or officers had taken the initiative to talk to any of the people outside Green Lounge, I am sure that they would have found people who would have agreed to leave (myself included). Once group after group of people left, the minority would have had to decide between fighting with the administration for the right to party by themselves or leave to follow every other partygoer.
However, as we know, both the RAs and Camp. Sec. then made the regrettable decision to call the Claremont Police Department to disperse the crowd. This action signified the RAs’ and Camp. Sec.’s failure to do the basic duties of their jobs, not to mention that it was a gross overreaction to a party whose alleged failings were, according to Huang’s email, a drunk “pushing” himself past a “female RA” and an alumnus misusing speakers to say a few profanities (a true first world anarchist if there ever was one).
When the police arrived, they set themselves up in their SUVs and squad cars at the north edge of North Quad with their lights on with the intent of dispersing students through their passive presence. Obviously, the crowd became larger in number as students’ curiosity grew with regards to why the cops were on the edge of campus. I myself waited with my friends to see what was going to happen, as we were not sure what the police would do.
As we all know, after 10-15 minutes, just as students started to get tired of waiting for something to happen, the police SUVs turned on their brights and drove onto campus telling the crowd to disperse. As students pulled out their smartphones to record this ridiculous event, a beer can was thrown in the “direction” of the “highest ranking” police officer on the scene. I don’t know who threw the can, but their act signified the general sense of frustration of the student body towards the overreactions of the administration. As I discussed above, the police did not need to be called in to a party that was, by any measure, very tame (there was not even music for a noteworthy portion of the gathering). There might have been a few individuals who were acting raucously, but that does not mean that the vast, nay overwhelming, majority of students there were posing any sort of real, violent danger towards the CMC community.
By calling the police, the RAs, Camp. Sec., and the administration lost any sort of respect that they might have once had with the student body. The majority of CMC students who went out on that Saturday had no intention of going on a destructive, anarchic spree, but they were all treated as if they were a group of vagrants. It’s honestly sad to see the small amount of trust that the student body and administration had built over the last few months be thrown away so quickly. This sort of action just ties into my previous prediction of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as students will now react increasingly rebelliously towards actions of RAs, Camp. Sec., and the administration when they try to do their jobs, no matter how good their intentions are.
Moving forward, I believe that the administration made a good first step by offering to communicate with students at the Feb. 9 Senate meeting (unfortunately, I was not able to attend that meeting, so I cannot speak to the specifics of what happened there). However, more will have to be done for the students to trust them again. I would recommend communicating that the administration does not condemn all students who decide to hang out with friends on a party night, just those who partake in violent acts toward other students or other members of the Claremont community. For example, I believe most students would agree that the actions of Camp. Sec. were completely justified when they shut down Rage in the Cage last semester after a student punched one of their officers. Additionally, the administration should take immediate steps to make sure that RAs and Camp. Sec. are properly trained to assess how best to disperse a crowd when they need to. From there, the administration will have to keep building the trust of students by acting reasonably during parties and only calling the police when things get truly out of hand (rioting or other types of violence that Camp. Sec. cannot control).
On a side note, I would like to ask alumni to recognize the current delicate social situation at CMC. When you come back on campus, understand that your actions will have an impact on CMC students who are currently attending this college. Please don’t ruin the work that has been done to improve the social climate just because you want to have a fun night reliving your college days.
The road will be long, but, with the right leadership, I still have hope that the CMC social culture will not be ruined for future classes.
Earlier this year, Claremont McKenna College lost perhaps the most famous professor ever to teach under the Bauer Center rotunda. Harry Jaffa was 96, but still just as cantankerous as when he first came to Claremont in 1965.
Before arriving at what was then Claremont Men’s College, Jaffa beat long odds to secure positions at the University of Chicago and Ohio State University when universities weren’t hiring Jews. Jaffa’s mentor at Yale, Harvey Mansfield Sr., even tried to dissuade him from going into academia, despite his brilliance, because of the slim job prospects that awaited him there – but that only made Jaffa more resolved than ever on becoming a professor.
And it was his professors whom Jaffa looked up to more than anyone. After fleeing Yale to continue his graduate studies at the New School, Jaffa took a class with Leo Strauss, a Jewish émigré from Germany and one of Hitler’s gifts to America. Over seven years and a mutual relocation to the University of Chicago, Jaffa took 19 courses with Strauss. Guiding him on journeys through the greatest books ever written and the most profound thoughts ever speculated upon, Strauss freed Jaffa’s mind and showed him that there was more to life than the shadows on the cave wall.
“One of Strauss’s secrets was that he made you feel not a passive receptacle of his insights, but as his partner in the voyage of discovery. He was the captain of the ship. But you were part of the crew. And you sailed together,” Jaffa writes.
At Ohio State University, Jaffa wrote his magnum opus, Crisis of the House Divided, an interpretation of the Lincoln-Douglas Debates. At the time of its publication in 1959, America’s perception of its greatest president had changed drastically. At best, as a new brand of scientific historicism proclaimed, Lincoln was an incompetent leader who fought an unnecessary war that more tactful diplomacy could have prevented. At worst, as many even on the Right thought, he was a power-hungry tyrant.
Jaffa’s book changed the way we think about Lincoln. He showed that Lincoln and Douglas were not simply talking about slavery or popular sovereignty, but they were having the same debate that Socrates and Thrasymachus had over 2,000 years prior in Plato’s Republic. Thrasymachus’ position is that justice is simply the will of the stronger (Douglas’ popular sovereignty), whereas Socrates argues that right and wrong are truths discernible by reason, independent of what the stronger says they are (Lincoln’s view that slavery is always immoral, even if the people want it). This is why Lincoln held the Declaration of Independence – a document that proclaims it a self-evident truth that man is endowed by his Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – in such high esteem, even above the Constitution.
Part of Douglas’ principle of popular sovereignty is that, as an Illinoisan, he has no right to say whether slavery is good or evil to someone living in another state, where the economy, customs, and even morals are supposedly different. The Founders, he argues, understood this and, therefore, implemented a federalist system of self-government and state’s rights in order to ensure that no one state’s view of morality overthrows the rest.
Douglas essentially tells Lincoln that he has no right to judge the institution of slavery in the states of which he is not a citizen. Who is Lincoln to say whether slavery is right or wrong to someone living in a culture of which he is not a part and that he fundamentally does not understand? To do so is the pinnacle of both arrogance and ignorance.
A similar sort of argument is in vogue on college campuses today. When a white student tries to speak on issues pertaining to race, or a cisgender student tries to comment on political questions relating to transgenderism, they are told that they cannot possibly understand the issues because of their identities and privileged statuses. These students are told that their opinions are not warranted and would be better kept to themselves (i.e., shut up). Substitute “white” or “cisgendered” for “Illinoisan,” and this is the same argument that Douglas makes against Lincoln.
Would those who champion identity politics really extend such a morally pusillanimous and intellectually feeble principle to the institution of slavery or to other human atrocities? Should one not denounce slavery in Georgia because he is not from Georgia, or the Holocaust as evil because he is not German? It seems that such a view is only invoked when it is politically advantageous to do so.
One of the enduring lessons of Jaffa is that moral truth is not simply a zeitgeist of the peculiar times in which we live, the background we come from, or the identities we hold. Moral truth is accessible to everyone, everywhere, because it is connected to a permanent view of human nature discernible through reason. Therefore, as Jaffa might have posited, it is irrational to claim that someone cannot understand political questions regarding race, gender, or sexuality just because he does not hold a certain identity. It is not one’s identity as black or white or straight or gay that gives one authority to comment on these questions, but one’s capacity to reason as a human being that does.
This is not to say that one’s judgment cannot become clouded by bias. Everyone holds certain prejudices that are a product of the environment in which they grow up and live. Further, just because moral truth is accessible through reason does not mean that reason is infallible. But without proper evidence to show that one has succumbed to bigoted proclivities or made an erroneous judgment, it is unreasonable to assume that a white person cannot make a contribution to dialogues centered on race, or straight people to discussions of homosexuality, because these questions are essentially different versions of the same debates – those over justice, good, evil, and human nature – that have been raging throughout history.
So, just remember, if anyone tells you that you cannot talk about certain subjects because you do not hold an identity authorized to do so, tell them to read the great Harry Jaffa, because they are beginning to sound an awful lot like Stephen Douglas.
An annual topic of conversation in the Ivy League world is the rise of the economics major. As Kevin Roose points out in New York Magazine, economics has been the most popular major at Harvard, Princeton, and Yale for several consecutive years, with between 11 and 15 percent of degrees conferred in that subject at each school. The major is even growing in popularity at the usually unconventional Brown, where the proportion of students graduating with a degree in economics has risen from 4 to 14 percent from 2003 to 2013.
This is one of the many trends that author and notable higher-education critic William Deresiewicz laments in his recently released Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life. Deresiewicz sees the rise of the economics major as a symptom of what ails academia: students at elite colleges are no longer incentivized to pursue their passions or cultivate potential interests (particularly in the humanities), but instead believe they must do whatever will land them the most prestigious and highest-paying job upon graduation (such as by majoring in economics).
As the cost of higher-education tuition skyrockets around the country, and as more students become saddled with burgeoning student-loan debt, it is difficult for students not to perform cost-benefit analyses of their educations. According to Deresiewicz, these sorts of external, market forces have transformed the university into little more than a stepping stone for the professions, not an opportunity to find one’s true “self” or passion or calling in life.
Deresiewicz’s bête noire in the book is undoubtedly the Ivy League. (He holds three degrees from Columbia, where his father taught, and spent a 10-year stint teaching at Yale himself.) In this respect, Deresiewicz is not straying far from the norm; popular critiques of higher education – such as William F. Buckley Jr.’s conservative cult classic God and Man at Yale, Nathan Harden’s follow-up Sex and God at Yale, and Ross Douthat’s Privilege – often have the Ivies in their particular crosshairs.
But Deresiewicz is also more than familiar with Claremont McKenna College and its students. He spoke on campus most recently Nov. 17 (his third visit in as many years) to promote the book, for which he even spent a month researching at CMC. While the majority of his criticisms are supported with statistics or anecdotes deriding the Ivy League, it is perhaps not surprising that much of what Deresiewicz has to say can easily be applied to CMC. Actually, if one takes the Ivy references and general focus out of Deresiewicz’s work, Excellent Sheep reads as though it were written specifically with CMC in mind.
Take, for instance, what Deresiewicz writes about the trend in higher education to characterize its central mission as one of creating “leaders”:
What they mean is nothing more than getting to the top. Making partner at a major law firm, or running a department at a leading hospital, or becoming a senator or chief executive or college president. Being in charge, in other words: climbing to the top of whatever greasy pole of whatever hierarchy you decide to attach yourself to.
Harvard and Princeton may say that they are creating the “leaders of tomorrow,” but can their students actually take courses or graduate with a sequence in leadership? While the Ivies may promote the idea of leadership – in Deresiewicz’s view, a false one – CMC is obsessed with it.
As for the rise in economics majors: while Brown and Yale see 10 to 15 percent of their student bodies enrolling in economics and wonder if that represents an educational crisis, more than 27 percent of CMC graduates last year held either a single, dual, or double major in economics (Figure 1). And including multi-disciplinary majors that incorporate economics, such as Econ-Engineering or Econ-Accounting, nearly 50 percent of graduates in the class of 2014 received a degree that had the word “Economics” on it (Figure 2).
All this is to say, perhaps CMC is simply ahead of the curve – what Deresiewicz and others are afraid the Ivies and higher education in general are quickly becoming. But comparing CMC to the Ivies or even to other liberal arts colleges is not particularly apt. Deresiewicz put it very succinctly to a student questioner during his Nov. 17 talk: “CMC is a liberal arts school in name only.” Although he probably meant that somewhat condescendingly, there is some truth buried beneath the sneer: CMC is not a typical liberal arts college.
Like many other liberal arts colleges, CMC sees its mission as creating members of society fit to act with the virtues and skills necessary for responsible citizenship and, yes, leadership in a free-market democracy. But, unlike other liberal arts colleges, CMC has sought to fulfill this mission by focusing on the liberal arts that more closely relate to public affairs, such as government, international relations, and economics. CMC has always taught the traditional liberal arts, but it places a special emphasis on those subjects it deems to be more adaptable and “pragmatic” to life beyond the ivory tower. Because of its history as a liberal arts college rooted in public affairs, CMC tends to attract students who are actually interested in those areas of study, who are not necessarily selling-out by taking courses in fields like economics, as Deresiewicz believes is happening around the country.
But just because CMC should not take everything that Deresiewicz says to heart because of the unique niche that it fills in the liberal arts tradition does not mean that his criticisms are completely inapplicable to the school. While economics is and always has been a central aspect of CMC’s curriculum, it is quickly becoming the curriculum – especially, it appears (although correlation does not equal causation), at the expense of governmental studies. While CMC’s dual pillars of economics and government each sat at around 25 percent of all majors in 2004, there is now a nearly 14-point gap between the two (Figure 1). That disparity increases to about a 20-point gap when one includes multi-disciplinary and related majors into the discussion – again, from a relatively equal footing in 2004 (Figure 2).
There are several potential reasons for this apparent shift toward economics and away from government. Two major events that have colored our generational lens to this point are the election of President Barack Obama and the Great Recession. Although one might have anticipated a boom in political interest with the election of a charismatic president like Obama, young people to this point have been dissatisfied with the president and his promises for change. This may have created a greater sense of political disinterestedness in the pool of applicants to CMC in recent years.
“There was a burst of excitement around the election of President Obama,” CMC Government Professor John Pitney said in an interview. “But that’s long since dissipated.”
Couple that political apathy with the largest financial crisis since the Great Depression, which has heightened students’ anxiety about the future – in addition to providing thesis fodder for many an economics major – and a growing disparity between economic and governmental studies at CMC seems like a very natural, short-term phenomenon.
There are also institutional practices at CMC that may be fueling this growing divide – to which Deresiewicz’s criticisms more neatly apply. As Deresiewicz points out, the rising cost of attending college and increasing student loan debt, which undoubtedly motivate more students to think of their education as an investment and select majors that maximize the return on that investment, are obvious factors. But more compelling is the influence of CMC’s Robert Day School, which partially subsidizes the tuition of a select group of students (to the tune of roughly $15,000), who must in turn take courses in economics, finance, and accounting. There is good reason to be suspicious of the influence of RDS, which was founded in 2007, right about when a major uptick in economics majors and a major downturn in governmental studies began (Figures 1 and 2).
“If you look at graduates, the number of government majors is definitely down; one cause is RDS,” Pitney said. “It’s a basic rule of thumb that when you subsidize something, you get more of it, and if you subsidize economics majors, you get more of them. People who otherwise might have majored in government are majoring in economics.”
Although students do not have to major in economics to become Robert Day Scholars, if one is already required to take a certain number of economics-related courses in order to qualify for the scholarship, then it makes little sense not to add at least a dual or double major in economics to one’s degree. Furthermore, while $15,000 is probably not enough to convince students passionately interested in unrelated subjects, such as the humanities, to major in economics, for those at the margin – debating between, say, economics and government, which are subjects that overlap in many ways – the financial incentive and the resulting prestige associated with becoming a “Robert Day Scholar” may be enough push them over the edge.
“I know people who were motivated to go RDS because it was a lot of money and their families needed the money or they needed the money,” CMC Philosophy Professor Paul Hurley said in an interview. “And if that person is doing RDS instead of being a government major, that’s a problem; they should be choosing the course of study that’s best-suited to their interests, not the course of study that’s best-suited to immediate financial incentives.”
Yet, while some students are undoubtedly incentivized by financial considerations provided by RDS to change or alter their major toward economics, perhaps that is not the primary method by which RDS has transformed CMC’s student body.
“I think, if we get rid of the external world around us, the incentive to major in economics or STEM-related activities, I think that the fact that there are more faculty around to teach economics classes, classes in a great diversity of economics, I think that’s more important than the financial incentive,” CMC Economics Professor and Dean of the Robert Day School Brock Blomberg said in an interview. “I’d say about half of the increase is due to the interest in more practically focused education, and the other half is that we’ve been able to hire more faculty to interest students.”
Although the narrative that the Robert Day School drives students interested in literature and philosophy to become economics and accounting majors against their better judgment is the more compelling argument for the School’s critics, perhaps the more persuasive one is that RDS has given CMC a certain image to prospective applicants. RDS, especially with its B.A./M.A. program in finance, is a very unique and visible institution, one not readily available to students at other colleges. With the creation of the Robert Day School, perhaps CMC has become a Mecca of sorts for students interested in economics; perhaps high school seniors interested in economics are simply taking notice and applying to CMC in greater number. Even more, once students get here, they may be more interested in taking a diverse array of economics courses – such as those related to environmental and political economics, rather than your run-of-the-mill micro- and macroeconomics courses – offered by an impressive array of RDS professors.
The question going forward is how CMC should adapt to change: If one believes that the rise in economics majors poses a problem to CMC’s intellectual diversity and public affairs tradition, then how should the administration react? Is the answer to curb RDS’s influence? How? And by how much? Should the response to uneven growth be to cut everyone down to the same level?
Or should departments feeling squeezed-out by RDS respond by trying to broaden their appeal to students?
Programs such as the Dreier Roundtable, which may have the side-effect of increasing student interest in governmental studies and attracting more applicants who are interested in politics – in addition to its other missions on campus – may go a long way toward evening out the balance at CMC. But $200 million is a difficult threshold to overcome. (Congressman Dreier’s goal is to raise $1 million for the college over several years.) How do we ensure fair competition without punishing success?
After spending nine months in the State of Israel, Bryan Turkel, a brother of Alpha Epsilon Pi and a proud Zionist, returned to Claremont McKenna with full intention of displaying his identity. Upon his arrival, he placed a mezuzah at his doorpost. His father bought it for him in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest city, and Turkel viewed it as a sign of his redefined commitment to his faith and culture. A week later, in a statement of Zionist pride, he hung a large Israeli flag over his window in Green Hall. To him, both items symbolized what was a transformative experience that defines him to this day.
However, within a week or two of it being unfurled, his Israeli flag was stolen. Someone had damaged the screen to his window and snatched the flag from the outside. This act was seen as a political act protesting his Zionism, and could not have been connected to his commitment to Judaism. However, someone stole his mezuzah three days later. The timing was suspicious, as he had been targeted for a second time and the culprit specifically targeted his cultural and religious identity. In a matter of 72 hours, the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism became nonexistent; the vandals blurred the line that should have separated the two ideologies.
Unfortunately, such incidents have occurred frequently, but they intensified over the summer. Following Israel’s counteroffensive against Hamas terrorism, massive protests condemning Israel’s acts of self-defense spilled over into attacks against the Jewish people as an entity. In France, anti-Zionist protestors torched synagogues following anti-Israel rallies. When I was in Boston this summer, people held signs that used the ancient anti-Semitic blood libel against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, claiming that he was thirsty for Palestinian blood. Even after the final ceasefire agreement came to fruition in late-August, many college campuses have experienced problems where Jewish institutions faced scrutiny and were targeted by anti-Israel groups for supposed or blatant support for Israel. This disturbing phenomenon of conflating Zionism with Judaism explains how the acts committed against Turkel unfolded.
This must end here and now. The misconception inspiring such attacks is that all Jews are Zionists and vice versa. Such notions are simply incorrect, as there are plenty of Jews that do not identify as Zionist and there are many Zionists who are not Jewish. When discussing Jewish faith and culture, we talk about how our cultures differ in dialects, customs, and food, but we all share the same texts, the same language, the same core values, and, most notably, land of origin. Jews also come from many tribes, including places like Europe; Ethiopia; North Africa Spain; Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. The Jewish people originated from the land of Judea, where the modern State of Israel lies. There are archaeological, religious, and historical connections between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. Attacking a Jewish student in any of those aspects is anti-Semitic. But when it comes to Zionism, the Jewish identity must be separated from politics.
Like every other state in the world, the State of Israel is not perfect. It faces challenges within a hostile environment where its neighbors have historically or continuously called for its destruction. The same way Americans criticize the Obama administration or every other presidency, criticizing Israeli policy and its government has a place in dialogue and debate. But as long as individuals do not cross the boundaries of demonizing, delegitimizing, or holding double standards against the Jewish state, including calling Netanyahu a blood thirsty tyrant or denying Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, then one can argue objections to Israel are not anti-Semitic. One can debate a Zionist or a pro-Israel student without incorporating aspects of Jew-hatred in the same manner that anyone can criticize the United States without being anti-American.
We as a community must redefine the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. If we continue to conflate political Zionism with Jewish identity and culture, then it will surely keep dividing communities and putting Jewish people in danger. Simultaneously, the same must be said about criticizing Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and terrorism while not conflating Arab and Palestinian identities as equitable to the terrorist-supporting governments. This means that one can be pro-Palestinian as well as pro-Israel, since one can support the self-determination of both peoples while criticizing the actions of those in power in either or both sides of this emotionally-charged conflict.
My greatest concern, however, remains the safety of the Jewish community in Claremont. After Turkel had his second mezuzah torn down a few weeks ago, the end of the blatant anti-Semitic acts in the consortium seems farther than it should. If we wish to seek a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israel conflict, as I do, then we must work together to encourage fruitful, respectful dialogue while fostering a safer place for every Claremont College student to show his or her identity proudly. But it starts with drawing clear boundaries between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. I will not stand idly by as the same hateful ideology that sent my people through gas chambers and pogroms mix with an opposition to the actions of a free democracy. Such conflations are baseless and have no place anywhere, especially on college campuses.
________________ CORRECTION: The sentence “When discussing Jewish faith and culture, we talk about how our cultures share the same texts, the same language, the same core values, but our differences lie in dialects, customs, food, and, most notably, land of origin.” has been changed to: “When discussing Jewish faith and culture, we talk about how our cultures differ in dialects, customs, and food, but we all share the same texts, the same language, the same core values, and, most notably, land of origin.”