Camille Paglia and UArts fight back against the snowflakes The Sunday Times 21.04.19
The original article is here.
Students calling for Camille Paglia to be fired from her university post have been brushed aside. It is a victory but the war against political correctness is far from over, says the academic
Camille Paglia was about to discuss Mick Jagger and David Bowie in her lecture on gender imagery in western culture when an angry riot interrupted proceedings. “Trans lives matter!” went the chant.
A group of about 100 students at University of the Arts (UArts) in Philadelphia, where Paglia has taught for 35 years, had staged a sit-in protest. The lecture was eventually cancelled after a fire alarm went off.
Now a small band of students is calling for Paglia to be ousted and for the academic to be replaced by, somewhat inexplicably, a “queer person of colour”.
The students maintain that Paglia — a lesbian who identifies as transgender — is transphobic, and are enraged by comments she has made about victimhood in the #MeToo era. (“We believe survivors!” went a second chant.)
In the American college culture of safe spaces, trigger warnings and offence-taking, so far, so standard. However, rather than Paglia being fired or publicly flagellated by university administrators keen to placate their snowflake students, something unusual happened. Straight after the protest, UArts’s president, David Yager, stood firm against the clamouring mob.
“Limiting the range of voices in society erodes our democracy,” he declared in a public statement. Arguing that artists have long suffered censorship, Yager wrote with a flourish: “My answer is simple: not now, not at UArts.”
As an ardent critic of “the plague of political correctness”, Paglia, 72, is hopeful that this is a fightback that will prove “a turning point for the restoration of free thought and free speech to university campuses everywhere”.
Undeterred by Yager’s statement, the students launched a petition to get Paglia sacked, accusing UArts of “disrespecting your students and putting them in danger”. The petition also calls for Yager to apologise and for Paglia’s books not to be sold on campus. More than 1,200 people have given it their backing.
Joseph McAndrew, the student who organised the protest, and who identifies as non-binary, said the group intended to take the petition to Yager and would demand a discussion with Paglia and the university’s leaders.
“I’m not going to be swept aside by an email from the president,” McAndrew told The Inquirer, a Philadelphia newspaper. “It’s almost like a social-justice duty.”
The professor of humanities and media studies is unsurprisingly scathing about her student critics.
“They get their information from social media and are alarmingly vulnerable to agitprop,” Paglia told me via email last week. “There is reason for concern about the future of democracy when a rising generation is so susceptible to ideological manipulation.”
Her attackers, she argues, are ignorant of her work (she has written eight books over the past 29 years).
In her essay collection, Free Women, Free Men, Paglia called for an end to “Infirmary Feminism, with its bedlam of bellyachers, anorexics, bulimics, depressives, rape victims and incest survivors”. In the early 1990s, she argued that the only solution to date rape was “female self-awareness and self-control”. Earlier this year she told the conservative magazine Spiked that it was “ridiculous” that university students expect authority figures to address “a mistake that they might make at a fraternity party and then . . . regret six months later”.
Paglia also incited ire by questioning whether the “transgender choice is genuine in every single case”.
“There is no pope or official doctrine in feminism or transgenderism,” she told me. “My lifelong alienation from gender norms has been the principal source and motivation of my work. I apologise to no one for my own dissident view of human life.”
Paglia says she has received an “avalanche of messages from around the world supporting me and praising the president to the skies”. A counter-petition to protect her “from political persecution” has been signed by more than 6,000 people. The controversial Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, a fellow advocate of individual responsibility, has tweeted it to his 1m followers.
A similar case this month in Indiana suggests college leaders are beginning to stand up to the mob. At Taylor University, students campaigned to ban the vice-president, Mike Pence, from speaking at their graduation ceremony. They argued that his presence would make everyone associated with the private college “complicit in the Trump-Pence administration’s policies, which we believe are not consistent with the Christian ethic of love we hold dear”.
The university’s president snubbed the protest, sticking to his guns — and with Pence.
Protective parents who have shielded their children from adversity and unfamiliar opinions are not to blame, says Paglia. “Western culture in general” is. The great gift of the web has turned into a nightmare zone of hallucination and hatred. Young people seeking identity and community drift into tribal hives where everyone thinks alike. Different opinions are felt as an obliteration of selfhood.”
Arguing that western universities have fallen off a cliff both in terms of their administration and intellectual substance, Paglia also blames bloated bureaucracy. In America, the power has shifted from professors to “the student services and Title IX offices [which deal with cases of sexual assault and discrimination], who cater to and infantilise students and treat them like victims requiring nursing”, she said.
“The students, confused and anxious in our unstable time, are pathetically grateful for this attention, but then turn into greedy monsters.”
While there are currently no new plans for protests against Paglia, William Creeley of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, an organisation that defends free speech on campus, warns that Paglia might not be out of the woods just yet. “We’ve seen initial statements protecting the faculty member, but as the chorus of outrage grows, that position can prove untenable and may be abandoned,” he said.
So far, Paglia’s student opponents have seemingly strengthened free speech rather than quashed it.