St. Lawrence University and The Effort To Rescind The Honorary Degree Of Susan Collins

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the call by alumni and professors at St. Lawrence University to strip Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) of her honorary degree in light of her vote to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh.  The university has now confirmed that they have never rescinded an honorary degree and will not start with Collins.  Putting aside the prevalent “rape culture” declared by almost a hundred faculty members, the two letters reflect the diminishing hold of intellectual honesty and integrity at our places of higher education.

Here is the column:

When Republican senator Susan Collins joined 49 of her colleagues to confirm Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court, critics pledged to defeat her in the next election. Indeed, advocates who oppose Kavanaugh raised millions in contributions that would be released to her next opponent if she dared to vote for his confirmation.

Faculty and alumni of St. Lawrence University, however, are not satisfied in changing her future. They want to rewrite part of her past. In a raw act of retaliation, they are demanding that the college rescind an honorary degree awarded to Collins in 2017. Just one year ago, Collins was honored for her independent thinking and integrity, but now professors and graduates want her stripped of the degree for exercising such values in opposition to their own views. For exercising such independence, she is now denounced as lacking “integrity and commitment” to justice.

The demand could easily be dismissed as the expression of the far left element at a well known liberal institution. In the end, it is unlikely that St. Lawrence will take this extreme action. Collins is, arguably, its most famous living graduate. However, it is part of a rising wave of intolerance across the country against conservative views, including actual assaults committed by faculties and students.

Before her Senate vote on Kavanaugh, Collins gave a thoughtful speech explaining why she had demanded further investigation into the allegations of sexual assaults raised against Kavanaugh and why she concluded those allegations remained unproven or refuted. One could certainly disagree with her logic or her view that no further investigation was necessary. According to one poll, more than 40 percent of Americans agreed with her, while 51 percent opposed the Kavanaugh confirmation.

Yet, almost 2,000 alumni and dozens of faculty at St. Lawrence want to punish Collins for reaching a conclusion opposite from theirs. She now is deemed to have deviated “from the path” and thus lacks the “core values” of the school. Of course, there was a time when “core values” were defined as tolerance of opposing views and the exercise of free speech.

If the letter of the graduates is hard to fathom, the cause becomes clearer when you read the letter from the roughly 100 professors supporting the action against Collins. The letter shows precisely why students could leave St. Lawrence with so little notion of intellectual integrity and tolerance. The professors implausibly assert that their call for this punitive action is “not rooted in partisan loyalties or disagreements.” Instead, their disagreement with her vote is considered sufficient justification to rescind the degree as a “fitting consequence to her detrimental and unprincipled actions.” The professors not only denounce the “rape culture” at St. Lawrence but declare that this culture “no doubt influenced the actions Senator Collins took during the Kavanaugh hearings.” That is right, Collins voted out of her own facilitation of a “rape culture.”

Across the country, faculty members have led students in shocking demonstrations against free speech and even violence against those with opposing views. While the violence is thankfully rare, the response can be unnerving. At the University of California at Santa Barbara, feminist studies professor Mireille Miller Young led her students in attacking pro-life advocates, stealing their display, and then committing battery on a young woman. Despite pleading no contest to criminal assault, Miller Young not only was retained but widely supported by faculty and students, including those who viewed the pro-life advocates as “terrorists” who should be kept off campus. This week, the University of Oregon gender studies department is featuring her as a speaker.

Last week, a Ryerson University employee attacked pro-life students on campus. Earlier, California State University assistant professor of public health professor Greg Thatcher led students in wiping out pro-life statements of students after telling them that they had no free speech outside of restricted zones. He is wrong but was still retained as faculty. Earlier this year, University of New Hampshire professor Joelle Ruby Ryanscreamed profanities and tried to shut down an online talk show host who was calling for free speech protections on campuses. Last year, Middlebury College professor Allison Stanger was injured by protesters after she merely accompanied a controversial speaker to campus.

For too many professors and students, free speech is now viewed as a privilege to be enjoyed only by those with whom they agree. Indeed, the intolerance shown in the St. Lawrence campaign is often disguised as principles in works like “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” by Dartmouth professor Mark Bray. This movement denounces classic liberalism. It rejects the notion of protecting free speech for its own sake and rejects “coexistence” in favor of a goal “to end their politics.”

Academic institutions once prided themselves on a broad array of divergent views and values. There was not a single “path” but rather common “principles” allowing students to find their own place in this world of ideas. It was based on mutual respect and tolerance for those holding opposing positions. Today, campaigns on campuses like the one at St. Lawrence reflect how ignorance of, and even hostility toward, these basic values is fueling our age of rage. Faculty are replicating their own intolerance in students who have been taught that free speech means the right to shut down or punish those with opposing views.

There is no longer a willingness to accept that people like Collins could come to good faith but opposing conclusions. It is easier to declare the Maine senator to be a champion of a “rape culture.” It may be true that critics will “end the politics” of Collins in the next election. That is fair game in a representative democracy. That is a right such as free speech protected by democratic institutions. However, this is different.

These professors and graduates are seeking to retroactively punish Susan Collins for reaching a conclusion different from their own. The professors denounced her for undermining the “crucial role of evidence based decision making in democratic processes” simply because she came to a different view of the evidence by using her once heralded independent judgment. These professors and students vividly demonstrate how power without principle is little more than a mob dressed up as a movement.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

85 thoughts on “St. Lawrence University and The Effort To Rescind The Honorary Degree Of Susan Collins”

  1. The infiltration of the education system from preschool to graduate school is responsible for today’s rage, intolerance, and the physical danger in which people who hold different views find themselves in. We are witnessing the decay of our great nation from a beacon of freedom and intellectual thought to some future dystopia.

    The curriculum in most public schools teach children Liberalism and Progressivism, and often pain conservatives in a very negative light. Universities have increasingly become extremist Leftist madrassas. Our country produces college graduates who shake with rage or fear when presented with opposing point of views. They believe that speech is a form of violence. They are unable to critically reason their way through a debate, and instead the majority of them flounce from one ad hominem to another.

    It is highly disturbing.

    We are such a prosperous people that migrants from around the world try to come here legally and illegally. There is a strong movement to ruin our good fortune, and reduce us to the same poverty, privation, crime, suffering and authoritarian regimes as the rest of the world.

    It is clear at this point that, “Trust me. I’m an academic,” is laughably untrue. It used to be that an academic’s opinion put weight behind an argument, but it is now perfectly clear that many are unreasoning politicized hacks willing to overlook reason and evidence to achieve political goals.

    We are a free market economy. The answer is to produce a competing education track, preschool to graduate school, that is, preferably, unbiased, but rather produces adults with clear reasoning. Unfortunately, the Department of Education interferes with private and charter schools, requiring them to teach Common Core.

  2. Here’s the truth with a capital T: Christine Ford is a fraud. And a liar. With a political agenda.

    In her well rehearsed “do I sound vulnerable enough?” baby talk voice, Chrissy Ford testified that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her almost 40 years ago. She doesn’t remember any other key details. Except that she had only one beer. And that it was Brett Kavanaugh. She’s 100% certain it was Brett Kavanaugh. And that her best friend was there with her when this life-altering trauma happened to her as a 15 year old girl. But she’s not sure what year it happened, exactly. Or whose house she was at when it happened. She’s pretty sure she was 15, though. And her best friend was there too. Oh wait, the best friend says she doesn’t even know Brett Kavanaugh? Huh. Well, as Chrissy said, she had only one beer and she’s 100% certain that Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her. And this is enough? This woman’s word is enough to destroy a man’s career and reputation and forever label him as “a rapist”?

    And anyone who questions this flimsy, unethical accusation, and comes to a well reasoned, thoughtful, but different conclusion? Well, she should be destroyed, too. Sen. Collins voted for Kavanaugh, and for this? she can go to hell. And until she arrives safely in hell where she belongs, the Democrat/media/campus mob will make sure her life is a living hell from this day forward. And retroactively, too. Just like Justice Kavanaugh’s. No peace for you. This is the Democrat party today. There is nothing “democratic” about it.

    Here’s a thought. Since there is so much talk about rescinding awards, how about taking back that Nobel Peace Prize y’all handed out to Barack Obama? He was the first president in history to be at war every single day of his two terms in office. He sure did escalate those drone wars too, what with all that extra killing he did with drones and all. And how about that Syrian genocide he turned his back on? Rescind the prize. It’s the right thing to do.

  3. The letter signed by the St. Lawrence profs reeks of naive idealism and militancy. It repeats the slogan “rape culture” almost a dozen times. There is no scholarly attempt to detail the dimensions of immature male sex deviancy on the St. Lawrence campus. There is an absurd statement that Sen. Collins could have beat back rape culture on campus by withholding her yes vote for Justice Kavanaugh. That’s the naive calculus of today’s liberals….take a complex, gnarly problem and fight it with symbolic posturing. (What ever happened to pitchforks and torches??)

    It’s true that a deviant subculture of binge-drinking and coercive (reluctant-consent) oral and anal sex among today’s youth. Colleges have it, but so do high schools and middle schools.
    Many adults have turned a blind eye to this subculture, which is natural considering that the subculture has rules that keep responsible adults in the dark about the styles of partying and hooking up. And, adults didn’t grow up bathed in the chaos of 24/7 social media gossip, and have a hard time understanding how this has changed social acceptance, “fitting in”, or alternatively being shamed, bullied and disincluded for refusing to “play the game” (racking up points for realizing sexual ambitions, and being considered popular with peers).

    I’m distressed by the tendency of many adults to escape to their comfort spots when confronted with the reality of immature sex deviancy / binge-drinking / status seeking. Are the adults not supposed to be safeguarding sexual norms? Those who think that a purely law-enforcement approach will knock back this deformation of norms should study the pot and hash hippie drug subculture of the 1960s. It burned itself out (or grew tamer) through normal maturation processes, and a gradual recognition that addictive behaviors stunt one’s life path opportunities. Law enforcement had no significant impact.

    This suggests that youth will have the power to shape norms, so the question is how do we shape 8-12-year-olds? The most promising approach is to give them many more facts about what they will be walking into on the sexual playground starting in middle school. Facts about primate instinctual behaviors. Facts about pheramones. Facts about alcohol inebriation putting the pre-frontal-cortex (PFC) to sleep, and letting the primitive brain call the shots. Facts about the essential role of the PFC in impulse control and weighing of future consequences. Facts about how boys and girls with the right social skills can build a trusting, fulfilling pair-bonding relationship and enjoy being sexual beings with full agency. Facts about the need to pursue your sex life sober and within the cocoon of privacy of two consenting teens. Facts about the corrosive effects of social media dissolving the veil of sexual privacy.
    And facts about mob psychology, how norms are defended, and how deviants can effectively be isolated and defanged.

    I would expect an institution of higher learning to be fully engaged at this level, rather than standoffish labeling a “rape culture” with not a clue about its etiology, its vulnerabilities, its grounding in naive, immature behaviors and deficient socio-sexual development of youth.
    I see these pseudo-academics posturing from a perch of clueless self-righteousness. We can do much better.

    1. The St. Lawrence diatribe is absurd, and does not reflect well on the school, its faculty or its alumni.

  4. Let them go the way of Evergreen College. Stop all funding of higher education and let the free market decide. The Dept of Education needs to be nuked.

    1. Unfortunately, Evergreen hasn’t been shut down by the State of Washington. It should be.

  5. Perhaps the faculty and students at St. Lawrence University could benefit from a course in Constitutional Law.

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