George Will: Yale offers a tutorial in social descent

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Yale University Sterling Memorial Library

WASHINGTON — Summer brings no respite for academics committed to campus purifications, particularly at the institution that is the leader in the silliness sweepstakes, Yale. Its Committee on Art in Public Spaces has discovered that a stone carving that has adorned an entrance to Sterling Memorial Library since it opened 86 years ago has become “not appropriate.”

The carving, according to Yale Alumni Magazine, depicts “a hostile encounter: a Puritan pointing a musket at a Native American.” Actually, the Native American and the Puritan are looking not hostilely at each other but into the distance. Still, one can’t be too careful, so the musket has been covered with stone. This is unilateral disarmament: The Native American’s weapon, a bow, has not been covered up. Perhaps Yale thinks armed white men are more “triggering” (this academic-speak means “upsetting to the emotionally brittle”) than armed people of color. National Review Online’s Kyle Smith drolly worries that Yale might be perpetuating harmful stereotypes.

If such campus folderols merely added to what Samuel Johnson called “the public stock of harmless pleasure,” Americans could welcome a new academic year the way they once welcomed new burlesque acts. Unfortunately, the descent of institutions of learning into ludicrousness is symptomatic of larger social distempers that Frank Furedi has diagnosed abroad as well as in America.

Furedi is a professor emeritus in England and author of “What’s Happened to the University?: A Sociological Exploration of Its Infantilization.” Writing in The American Interest, he cites a warning issued to Oxford University postgraduate students about the danger of “vicarious trauma,” which supposedly results from “hearing about and engaging with the traumatic experiences of others.” This, Furedi says, is symptomatic of the “medicalization” of almost everything in universities that strive to be “therapeutic.”

Universities are “promoting theories and practices that encourage people to interpret their anxieties, distress and disappointment through the language of psychological deficits.” This generates self-fulfilling diagnoses of emotionally fragile…

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