Dear Presidents Klawe and Chodosh,
Harvey Mudd College (HMC) and Claremont McKenna College (CMC) share much in common. Most obviously, they share a campus. But prior to this physical connection is a shared commitment to the founding principles of the schools; HMC and CMC are great colleges because they are true to the principles with which the founders envisioned in the college: for Claremont McKenna, that the future leaders of the world require an education-focused in economics and government, and for Harvey Mudd, that the best and brightest quantitative students should not miss out on the classical humanities elements of a liberal arts education.
Through decades of upheaval, the schools’ respective focuses and visions have remained the same. But, your reactions to the recent student demonstrations put these very missions at grave risk. The very core of your commitment to intellectual freedom is being hijacked by a very vocal group of very progressive students.
Both of your reactions to the recent political upheaval follow a similar timeline. Initially, you sent an email that would’ve been justified for any other national tragedy; you rightfully condemned the murder of George Floyd, opposed racism, and reaffirmed the school’s commitment to equality.
This condemnation of racism was not enough for the progressive mob. You were subject to demands by students who would not yield until you kowtowed to their ideals. They started petitions, made ridiculous demands, and implicitly suggested violence was imminent without immediate reforms. You both eventually caved in as a result. You changed your official statements to nearly fit their exact demands: President Klawe gave explicit support for the Black Lives Matter movement, an umbrella movement that includes much more than just the rightful advocacy of black lives. But, it did not end there; you both implemented radical changes in your school’s structure and curriculum to appease these students.
For example, President Chodosh, in your most recent initiative at addressing some diversity issues at CMC, you simply disregarded all institutional values of CMC. You changed the hiring process for faculty from a focus on ability to a focus on “diversity” by forcing hiring committees to include a diversity officer. The college’s commitment to academic freedom in the classroom is maimed when you demanded that professors incorporate “anti-racist” elements into their curriculum; progressive anti-racism implies that our institution is at fault for “systematic racism.” This pernicious myth backed solely by dogma would be destructive to the idea of a united campus culture. You also shifted the values of the school in a way unintended by the founder’s vision when you gave the diversity and inclusion officer nearly the same level of sovereignty over the college as yourself. While all of Harvey Mudd’s plans have not been released, rumors are that HMC’s plans do not appear to be much different in spirit than CMC’s.
In supporting the progressive agenda, you both departed from the principles with which your institutions were created to stand by and the virtues with which your institutions intended to instill in students. Your colleges’ openness to students across the political spectrum and academic freedom — critical in both the natural and social sciences — is being replaced by the explicit acceptance of a radical, social Marxist movement. Black Lives Matter as an organization is about power politics, more than just the principle of black lives being important in America. The organization makes claims of widespread systematic racism and attacks those who still believe the notion that “all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” As a Black Lives Matter leader said, “if [the] U.S. doesn’t give us what we want, then we will burn down this system.” In supporting this entire movement — an umbrella of policies — you allowed your college’s virtuous stance on taking political positions to be molested by angry progressives.
The education that these progressives on campus are loudly pushing for explicitly rejects the principles of academic discourse and free inquiry. You are giving in to a group of individuals that do not care about learning and intellectual development. They care about imbuing in the culture of the schools an acceptance of progressive values that mirror the dogmatism of radical religiosity. They will not stop until every single shred of opposing ideology is silenced through — as we have seen on Facebook group pages related to Claremont — virtual and in-person struggle sessions, callouts, and cries to purge the colleges of elements that do not agree with a particular brand of progressivism. The future of the educational curriculum under such a progressive culture is more similar to the Cultural Revolution’s fervent reeducation, indoctrination, and purges — wrongs that have been widely acknowledged.
Now, to be fair, the Claremont Independent and I have much experience with these progressives and their tactics. Our own articles have at times attracted the attention of the progressive mob. Just days ago, the mob went after my editors and me. They issued slews of offensive remarks, blatantly false accusations about doxing, public posts, emails, to try to bully us into taking down our article. They lacked all civility and mannerisms, going so far as threatening to “jump us” and “cancel” our paper. We could have caved in, like you both did. But out of principle, we refused to give in to their demands.
In short, a college’s values projects onto its future successes. It’s hard to be taken seriously as an institution when your values are whatever students are demanding at the time. Ask Oberlin College. Caving to radical progressives may seem like a smart maneuver in the short term because of the practical convenience. But, in the long term, it sets a harmful precedent for the college’s future success as an institution open to all ideologies. When CMC President George C.S. Benson faced violent mobs trying to shut down the college’s ROTC chapter, it would have been much easier to roll over, as Pomona College and many others did. But, Benson probably recognized the implications of conceding such a program to student demands and refused to give in
The results of easily conceding are already becoming apparent with the next round of student demands at Harvey Mudd. Students clamored for the removal of any companies that work with defense or policing from HMC’s job fairs; if they get their way, students would have a more difficult time working for companies such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and even Microsoft. Both CMC and Harvey Mudd were created to further American interests. HMC was created in response to the American-Soviet space race. To refuse to work with companies that defend America against even more tyrannical forces would be an affront to the founder’s inspiration for Harvey Mudd College.
But, alas, where does it all end? Is there a limit to the extent that administrators will be bullied by the loudest among us? What line can be drawn so that the answer to ever more radical demands is “no”? By appealing to mobs of angry students, you have demonstrated to them and all future students that with enough power and force, they can make you do anything. I hope this behavior is not the value you hope to instill in students as you prepare them to be the future leaders of the world.
Jordan N. Esrig
“Debate, like religion, had become in their minds only an opiate. You defeated your opponent’s argument by trampling on your opponents, and by treating them with contempt.” — CMC Professor Harry Jaffa’s 1989 valedictory lecture
Correction: This updated version correctly lists the CMC President Benson’s name as “George C.S. Benson.”
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