woody zimmermann 120There is an apocryphal story about an ambitious young lad who joined the Marines, expecting to dazzle the young ladies with his snazzy dress uniform and impressive military bearing. But he was shocked (shocked is wot ‘e was…) to learn that he would be sent on dangerous missions (wearing unfashionable clothing) to bust things up and kill people – missions where he might actually get hurt or killed. In high dudgeon (is there any other kind of dudgeon?) he demanded that the Marines stop their “offensive” speech, dress and behavior. At this writing, his fate is unknown. (The Corps deny ever hearing of him…)

This tale may or may not be true, but a modern variant on it has emerged in recent days at the University of Missouri (a.k.a. “Mizzou”) – although with different results. There, an absurd tale about a Nazi swastika said to be drawn with feces in a dormitory hallway sparked a student protest in which several key members of the school’s Division-1 football team went on “strike” – refusing to attend practice or play in games unless university officials correct the climate of “racism” on the campus. (At this writing, those players remain unnamed.)

Seeing their season headed for the proverbial commode (so to speak), the coach and several other players quickly joined the football strike, hoping to resolve the issue and quash a threat to a primary source of Mizzou’s revenue. Missing a scheduled football game could cost as much as $1 million. (If someone says, “It’s not the money,” you can be pretty sure it is the money.) During the uproar over this artificial crisis, both the chancellor and president of the university unexpectedly quit. Outgoing president Tim Wolfe issued a statement expressing a hope that his departure would restore calm to the campus.

In a related incident, a Mizzou professor also resigned after receiving death threats for the “crime” of refusing to postpone an exam while the campus protests were ongoing. Whether he issued an exit-statement is unknown. (It might have been unprintable in a family newspaper.) Later reports indicated that the university did not accept the prof’s resignation, but this writer can’t see how anyone can be compelled to work who doesn’t care to continue. Is some special academic persuasion employed? (Perhaps the torture-chamber?)

The poop-Hakenkreuz story was later shown to be a complete hoax. But no explanation has been advanced to explain how that would somehow symbolize white-on-black racism. Nevertheless, the campus erupted in widespread rallies and demonstrations in which factions of students and faculty seemed to go completely off the rails.

One guest professor of “mass communication” (whatever that is) was filmed demanding that a reporter from the university’s student newspaper leave the scene of a rally he was trying to cover. When he refused to leave, the excited red-haired prof – perhaps the hair explains all – screamed for “…some muscle to help get this guy outta here…” Whether the “muscle” came to her rescue remains unknown. (Mercifully, we didn’t have to see the whole thing.)

Although that teacher later apologized publicly for her inappropriate “strategy,” Mizzou officials subsequently dismissed her from her Communications Department post. This might spell dos vidanya for her new, ground-breaking “mass communication” stratagem which bans reporters from public events. (As Tom Lehrer so eloquently put it, “It makes a fellow proud to be a soldier…”)

While it’s mildly amusing to poke fun at madcap displays like the one given by this dizzy redhead, it’s a bit more worrisome to consider what has become of what we once called institutions of “higher learning” – possibly with tongue in cheek. In one clip being aired on radio stations, a hysterical young woman is heard accusing someone – perhaps a professor – of violating her “safe space.” It’s not clear if she was a university student. (Please, God, may she not be…)

But it’s not just happening at Mizzou. Across the (formerly) Land of the Free, universities and colleges have become – as one TV pundit put it – “little sanctuary cities of restricted speech.” (Say what?) Instead of free-wheeling forums of “anything goes,” schools have steadily descended into grim “stalags” of Nein! – except for what the campus speech-cops decide is sufficiently “non-offensive.” Even Halloween costumes are now carefully scrutinized for possible offense – both real and imagined. (Evidently, campus ghost and hobgoblin blocs are very sensitive…)

At these rarified asylums for the perpetually aggrieved (for which students pay upwards of $60,000 a year), offense has become the new weapon of choice for disrupting a university, or even shutting it down entirely. In one audio clip, a professor and a female student are heard arguing about who decides what’s offensive. She says, “If it hurts me, it’s offensive...” – to which the prof replies: “Suppose everything offends someone? Should we all stop talking or thinking? How far does this go?” It’s not clear if this student is the same one who starts screaming about her “safe space” being violated. (Whatever you thought you knew about a woman’s “safe space,” you can forget it. It’s a whole new world now.)

In recent days, radicals across the country have realized that they can seize control of universities simply by claiming that they are “offended” by something that was said or done – either real or imagined. And, as Mizzou demonstrated, a school’s valuable athletic programs can be shut down and administrators forced out if minority students can be convinced that the “offense” was a racist comment or action.

This is heady power indeed. It makes the old 1960s campus sit-ins and teach-ins look like play-time in the romper room. In the ‘60s, no one dreamed of actually making administrative heads roll – a call now sounding at more than one university.

Until now, many educators have been joyously riding the wave of grievance to polish their reputations for “sensitivity” to everyone’s feelings – apparently unaware that the wave might submerge and drown them at an unexpected time. Finally, that very thing has happened. The Mizzou uproar should warn these “riders on the storm” that unless they develop a spine and regain some common sense about halting the unending parade of grievance and offense, their school might be next in Big Media’s crosshairs, and their heads the ones rolling from the surgical scaffold.

Universities and colleges are supposed to be safe places for the free exchange and debate of ideas – not “safe spaces” where timorous students are protected from troublesome ideas. They can’t be deformed into prisons of intimidation, unlimited offense and restricted speech without mortally wounding the school’s integrity. Students or employees who disrupt campus life should face immediate discipline – including suspension or expulsion, as appropriate. Thuggish behavior must not be empowered by pusillanimous administrators. And certainly, no faction of students, faculty or staff should be permitted to dictate who runs the place. I predict that Mizzou will sorely regret what it has allowed here. Who will be able to govern such a madhouse?

Enough is enough. This wave of anarchy must be stopped. Resignations forced over imaginary poop-swastikas? The world is laughing at us. And it’s well deserved.