Washington and Lee University is a small, private liberal arts university in Western Virginia. It’s named after George Washington and Robert E. Lee, who became its president after the Civil War. As is the case with all small, private liberal arts colleges in America except for Hillsdale, WLU is essentially a leftist indoctrination center for those students who attend.
However, even by liberal arts standards, WLU took things to a whole new level this semester when it offered first-year students a three-credit class called “How to Overthrow the State.” WLU is entitled to do so, but it seems appropriate that the taxpayers of this state have a say in the matter. Therefore, President Trump should issue an executive order withholding all federal funds from the university.
The class is one of 18 different choices offered to freshmen for their required writing seminar. All of the seminars stress that their purpose is to teach students to write well, and many of them throw in identity politics.
For example, Seminar 100-01, about “memoir and identity in literature,” promises to examine whether a “memoir also challenge[s] and educate[s] us about the identities of marginalized or silenced voices.”
Seminar 100.02, entitled “Shut Up and Play: Black Athletes and Activism,” focuses on Kaepernick’s capers.
Then there’s seminar 100-07, entitled “Don’t ‘I’ Me: Privilege, Otherness and Writing,” which covers “ the complexities of and correspondence between (suggested) inferiority and otherness based on factors such as color, gender, education, sexual orientation, privilege, and language.”
All of these classes sound incredibly boring, self-involved, and mindlessly reductive. None expand the mind; all contract it.
This post, however, is about one specific freshman writing seminar, 100-18 (“How to Overthrow the State”), that’s caused an uproar in conservative circles:
This course places each student at the head of a popular revolutionary movement aiming to overthrow a sitting government and forge a better society. How will you attain power? How will you communicate with the masses? How do you plan on improving the lives of the people? How will you deal with the past? From Frantz Fanon to Che Guevara to Mohandas Gandhi and others, we explore examples of revolutionary thought and action from across the Global South. Students engage these texts by participating in a variety of writing exercises, such as producing a Manifesto, drafting a white paper that critically analyzes a particular issue, and writing a persuasive essay on rewriting history and confronting memory.
Nowadays, this type of class is common at American liberal arts colleges. Most history, social science, and political science classes teach variations on this theme, something you learn if you spend time reading college course catalogs, especially for the small liberal arts colleges.
The only thing that stands out about 100-18 is that title: “How to Overthrow the State.” The shock is its honesty.
What was also a little shocking to me was that the man teaching it, Matt Gildner, is a University of Texas, Austin, graduate. When I was at UT Austin, roughly twenty years before Gildner, some at Austin liked to boast that it was liberal enough to be the UC Berkeley of Texas. It wasn’t. I know because I’d come there from Cal. UT Austin was still reasonably conservative back in the 1980s. That’s no longer the case.
When called out for a class that seems to foment revolution quite openly, the university administration refused to back down. The university’s hard line on this is a reminder that modern colleges and universities will always stand behind leftist craziness.
They’re less fond of other principles. For example, at USC, the college president grovelingly apologized because a faculty member used a Chinese word that, to emotionally vulnerable black students, sounded like a weirdly pronounced version of the word that dare not speak its name (i.e., “the N-word”).
WLU President Will Dudley told a reporter at the local news station that the fuss was much ado about nothing and an attack on intellectual freedom:
He continued to say “We are expressly committed to encouraging all to speak their minds freely and to consider carefully alternative points of view. It is incumbent upon us to treat each other with respect and not perpetrate or tolerate personal attacks.”— Kathryn Young (@itskathrynyoung) September 7, 2020
“I try to view every challenge as an opportunity, and the challenge posed by this episode is an opportunity to remind ourselves of the value of liberal arts education and the means by which we provide it.”— Kathryn Young (@itskathrynyoung) September 7, 2020
President Dudley is free to hold firm. However, in that same spirit of freedom and respect, I’d like to suggest that President Trump show some respect for American taxpayers by withdrawing all federal funds from WLU. After all, it seems wrong that the citizens of the American state should be funding an institution that’s instructing students on that state’s overthrow.
Currently, WLU boasts that the federal government will subsidize students who want to attend the university through federal financial aid, Pell grants, or Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant. It’s time to turn off that spigot, just as it’s time to turn off the spigot to any institution of higher education that uses taxpayer money to train students to overthrow America.