It can happen here too – officially inspired and condoned popular demonstrations against expressions viewed as hurting others by attacking their “faith.”
Sound familiar? This brief description refers not to the violent demonstrations and destruction now convulsing the world of Islam in response to a crude, American-made film which denigrates the Muslim faith and makes fun of their Prophet Muhammad.
Instead, it calls to mind the student demonstration at Madison’s nearby DoubleTree Hotel a year ago on September 13, 2011. The demonstrators protested an off-campus press conference that reported the results of a new analysis of UW-Madison’s preferential admissions policy for minority applicants. That analysis by the Washington-based Center for Equal Opportunity reported “severe discrimination,” against Caucasians and Asians and favoring African-Americans and Hispanics.
The demonstration was fomented by Vice Provost for Diversity and Climate Damon Williams and Dean of Students Lori Berquam. The night before the press conference, they called an emergency meeting of a multicultural student group. They characterized the CEO study as part of a national effort to roll back affirmative action and told the students their voices needed to be heard.
With this prompting by University of Wisconsin-Madison officials, a shouting, placard-waving group of roughly 100 demonstrators assembled outside the nearby DoubleTree Hotel prior to the 11 a.m. press conference. They soon gained access to the hotel lobby, disrupted hotel operations with their chanting and finally overcame the efforts of hotel personnel to block them from the press conference room.
The chanting mob swarmed into the room waving their placards and disrupting the end of the press conference. The demonstrators made no effort to engage CEO President Roger Clegg in a discussion of his findings. When Clegg departed from the room, chanting demonstrators followed him and attempted to board the elevator as he returned to his hotel room.
That evening Clegg debated affirmative action with law Professor Larry Church. Apparently fearing further disruption, top campus officials met that afternoon and decided to move the debate to a large room in Union South. They also decided to provide massive police security to prevent any further disruption. Although some heckling occurred, the student protesters had apparently been warned to mind their manners.
What the Madison public witnessed was a effort to defend what has been described aptly as “the new fighting faith on campus: diversity.” Instead of a rational discussion of the CEO report as might be expected in a university setting, its findings were viewed as an attack on diversity and minority students. Then mob psychology took over. Strangely, campus officials appear to have made no effort to refute the CEO findings.
Now, a year later many questions about the demonstration remain unanswered. On whose authority did Williams and Berquam encourage students to demonstrate at the DoubleTree Hotel? Who decided that students would be given printed instructions on how to conduct themselves in on-campus demonstrations? Why didn’t the Office of the Chancellor quash the demonstration scheduled to occur at an off-campus site?
Did Williams give additional encouragement to the protesters sitting in at the DoubleTree lobby when he emerged from the press conference room smiling and pumping his fist up and down as if telling them to “go to it,” which they soon did?
Did Williams really speak for the campus administration when, to justify the demonstration he claimed the Chancellor, the Provost and the Dean of Students were all deeply concerned about the “pain” that would be felt and the “tears” that would be shed because students viewed the CEO report as a “personal attack” on them?
What has UW-Madison done to make amends for this disgraceful event? Did the Chancellor or Provost ever issue an apology to the privately-owned DoubleTree Hotel and its employees? Were Williams and Berquam disciplined, and if so, how were they disciplined for fomenting the demonstration and perhaps engaging as public officials in an illegal activity?
What a telling example of UW-Madison’s allegiance to its “fighting faith” in “diversity,” and a blemish on its long-standing commitment to the words on the “sifting and winnowing” plaque mounted on the front entrance to Bascom Hall.
W. Lee Hansen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Professor Emeritus in the economics department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.