I graduated from Davidson College in 1965. President Bill Clinton’s deputy White House counsel, Vincent W. Foster, Jr., who died violently and mysteriously in 1993, graduated in 1967. My senior year there I was the secretary of the Young Democrats Club and Vince was a member. At about the same height, we also matched up against one another in intramural basketball. I had known that the college had changed quite a bit since our graduation, but developments in the past two years have come down on me like a ton of bricks. Had Vince lived, I don’t think he would recognize his old college. Unfortunately, from all I have seen lately, Davidson is not all that atypical of colleges and universities around the country.
Davidson, founded by and still affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, was all male when we attended. In 1973 it became officially co-educational. It’s beginning to look like it made its most drastic departure from tradition when it appointed its first female president in 2011 in the person of Carol Quillen, an administrator and former professor of history at Rice University. Last year, she made the very disturbing decision to appoint perhaps America’s biggest proponent of the ill-starred, criminal invasion of Iraq, William Kristol, to an endowed chair as Visiting Professor of Ethics in Society, after the perennially money-losing magazine that he edited, the Weekly Standard, finally mercifully closed up shop.
“Bill is one of the nation’s most widely respected thinkers on policy and politics,” she said at the time. “He has a deep commitment to education and public service. We are privileged to have him as our inaugural Vann Professor.”
I was hardly alone among Davidson alumni dissenting from that opinion. “This is, without question, the most publicly humiliating event that has befallen Davidson, at least since I arrived as a member of the Class of 2006,” wrote Matthew Bandyk in a submission to the student newspaper, the Davidsonian, for which he had been a reporter and editor during his time at the college.
“That Kristol is to be a professor of ethics (ethics!) is so backwards it feels like a sick joke,” Bandyk wrote further. “Any ethical person with an ounce of humility who had been as catastrophically wrong as Kristol would be so embarrassed that their only option would be to withdraw from public life and retreat to, say, a monastery for a few decades of soul-searching.”
“What a profound embarrassment for Davidson!” he concluded.
But we were not yet up to 2020, when the embarrassments would come quick and fast. There had been something distinctly odd about the appointment of arch-warmonger Kristol to the Davidson faculty by President Quillen, who flaunts the fact that she attended private Quaker schools in Delaware from pre-kindergarten through high school. Quakers are known for their pacifism and their penchant for left-liberal politics. Any antiwar bent that President Quillen might have has not yet come into view, from the perspective of this alumnus, but when it comes to left-wing fanaticism, Quillen and the college she heads up could give Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez a run for their money these days.
As a loyal alumnus and regular contributor through the years, I am on Davidson’s email list. On June 1 of this year, this message turned up in my inbox:
These are painful times. In some ways, with a global pandemic, they are unlike anything we’ve seen in our lives. And at the same time the deadly violence against black people is painfully familiar. It keeps happening. Black people killed by the police, as was George Floyd, or black people killed by those who use the system to escape accountability, as did the killer of Trayvon Martin.
I share your grief. All of this is so much to handle. I care about you all. I hope you can find moments of respite even in these days.
Systemic racism obviously affects different people differently. White people like me can and must study systemic racism. We must learn about it, call it out and work in a sustained way to dismantle it. White people like me do not, day after day, experience it. It is a headwind that we white people will never face because we ride with that wind at our backs. Day after day, I jog, shop, drive, enter my own house, and answer my own door without fear.
To the black, indigenous and people of color in the Davidson community, I respect you, I value you and I’m grateful for all you do. I will actively work to keep these issues front and center for everyone. Racism is my problem. I commit to educating myself, to listening and to working to dismantle the structures and practices that sustain it.
Davidson as a community strives to honor the dignity of each human being. We commit ourselves to the quest for truth and we seek to lead lives of leadership and service. These values compel us, as individuals and as a community, to understand and to fight against all manifestations of racism so that, together, we can build a more just and humane world.
Please take good care,
Carol E. Quillen
Now, high on the list of things included in a college president’s job description is raising money for the college. A major source of such funding is the contributions of the college’s alumni. One has to wonder what sort of academic echo chamber President Quillen lives in for her not to realize that such a message as this might have a serious alienating effect upon a substantial portion of Davidson’s contributor base. Certainly, the effect upon this one alumnus was not what she intended. I have compiled a pretty large list of the email addresses of my Davidson ’65 classmates, and on June 7, forwarding Quillen’s statement, I offered this opinion:
The “systemic racism” of which our current “dear leader” writes is a pernicious myth. It was a part of the North Carolina in which I grew up, and it no doubt continues among pockets of individuals here and there, but systemically it is defunct, dead and buried, and we should all celebrate that great accomplishment that we have witnessed in our lifetimes. Instead, we get this utter and complete nonsense from the person who would have us believe that the man who is probably the greatest warmonger in the country, William Kristol, is some sort of authority on ethics, of all things, and is qualified to mold the minds of those now walking in our footsteps at Davidson. For shame!
The reaction that I received was generally favorable. I think that I was even able to bring around one of the classmates who took issue with me in our ensuing exchange. I did not respond directly to President Quillen at the time, though.
Then, in August, I ran across an article online that seemed to put the nail in the coffin to the claim that there continues to exist “systemic racism” in the United States, and I was moved to send the following email on August 21:
Dear President Quillen,
On June 1, in a message to the Davidson College community, you wrote, “Systemic racism obviously affects different people differently. White people like me can and must study systemic racism. We must learn about it, call it out and work in a sustained way to dismantle it. White people like me do not, day after day, experience it. It is a headwind that we white people will never face because we ride with that wind at our backs. Day after day, I jog, shop, drive, enter my own house, and answer my own door without fear.”
Unless you can present a cogent rebuttal to Vasko Kohlmayer’s article, “The Myth of Systemic Racism: In America, Reverse Discrimination Is the Norm,” which I am confident you can’t do, I believe you should retract and apologize for your statement. Contrary to what you imply, systemic racism in the United States has long since been dismantled, as I told my Davidson classmates at the time of your message.
To my considerable surprise, Quillen actually responded just three days later:
Dear Mr. Martin,
I hope you and your family are well at this difficult time.
Thank you for sharing your views with me. I have read Kohlmayer’s essay as well as the writings of others who question either the meaning or the existence of systemic racism. Respectfully, while I have learned from these writings, I disagree with their arguments, in part, I think, because we have differing definitions of racism and of system.
My own thinking about race, racism and structures/systems has been shaped by my experience—growing up in a small town, in a Presbyterian church and at a Quaker school, and in college as a US history major at the University of Chicago—and then through studying these subjects later. The works of historians C. Vann Woodward (The Strange Career of Jim Crow), Edmund Morgan (American Slavery, American Freedom) and John Hope Franklin made a huge impact on me in college. More recently, I learned a lot from Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) and Richard Rothstein (The Color of Law) and a book called The Long Southern Strategy. My faith continues to shape my exploration of these issues.
My understanding of race and racism, shaped as it is by these authors and my experience, is different from that of Mr. Kohlmayer. Starting with different definitions as we do, it’s not surprising that Mr. Kohlmayer and I end up in different places.
There are specifics that I could point to—my sense is that, given our different definitions, these would not resonate with Mr. Kohlmayer.
Thank you again for sharing your views.
I responded immediately as follows:
Dear President Quillen,
In your response, you have done a very good job of putting your finger on what was wrong with your initial “reaching out” statement. You are talking about the past, invoking history, as though nothing has changed, and this in the wake of our having elected Barack Obama to be our president for eight years. Here’s how Vasko Kohlmayer addresses that question:
“Today, however, no discriminatory laws or practices are cited by the protestors. Lacking in specificity, therefore, their allegations of systemic racism are empty and in-actionable. Rather than to rectify genuine injustices, the main objective behind such claims seems to be the desire to evoke guilt for the purpose of obtaining political power.”
You also assert that your difference with Kohlmeyer is essentially definitional, meaning, I assume, that you would differ over what is meant by the term “systemic racism.” But that’s the problem. You and lots of other people sling the term around as a sort of weapon without explaining what you mean by it, as though you had no obligation to define it. Since you premised your June statement on the George Floyd and Trayvon Martin cases, Kohlmayer’s framing of the issue seems to address itself directly to your use of the current “systemic racism” accusation: “The most frequently used argument in support of the claim of systemic racism is the use of force by police against blacks, which it is claimed, is disproportional and racially motivated. This, it is said, is symptomatic of the intrinsically racist nature of American society which uses law enforcement to harass and oppress minorities. ”
The question when we hear of the use of what seems to be the use of excessive force by police against blacks is whether it is representative or anomalous. Kohlmayer cites a Wall Street Journal report of 2019 that blacks in the country account for 53% of the homicides and 60% of the robberies, but they represent only 25% of the people fatally shot by police. While this latter number is higher than the 13% of the population that is black, it is very much lower than one should expect in relation to their likely violent encounters with police related to their crime rate.
Those numbers are in complete accord with a conversation I had a couple of years ago with a local Fairfax County, VA, policeman who is married to the daughter of longtime family friends. He said that police generally are far less likely to use force against blacks than others because of the high level of political sensitivity of the issue. It’s really a pretty simple matter of self-preservation at work. Like anyone else, white or black, cops prefer to stay out of trouble.
Finally, I must say that my earlier communication to you failed to point out what was most objectionable in your June statement. It is this: “It keeps happening. Black people killed by the police, as was George Floyd, or black people killed by those who use the system to escape accountability, as did the killer of Trayvon Martin.”
Now that we have Floyd’s autopsy report and the body camera footage—inexcusably withheld for a long time—the snap judgment that Floyd was “killed by police” has been seriously called into question. Floyd is seen to be behaving in a bizarre fashion, complaining of difficulty in breathing even before being laid prone on the street beside the police cruiser. His body showed an overdose of fentanyl and breathing difficulty is one of the symptoms of such an overdose, I understand.
Your slandering of George Zimmerman, the man who shot Trayvon Martin to death, however, is far worse. The court records clearly show that the much smaller Zimmerman was ambushed and sucker punched and stood a good chance of being beaten to death by Martin had he not defended himself with his weapon. Far from duly escaping accountability, Zimmerman’s life was wrecked by a court case that never should have been brought in the first place. More recently we have learned that it was far worse for Zimmerman than what came out in the trial. You will see that “Exposing the Trayvon Martin Hoax” was written more than eight months before your slander of Zimmerman, so you really have no excuse for it. I would also commend my recent song parody, “Trayvon’s Fake Witness,” to your attention.
And that, as far as my exchanges went with President Quillen, was the end of that. I dare say that I was presenting facts of a sort that are seldom heard at Davidson or many other college campuses around the country these days, and she was apparently not prepared to counter them.
Quillen Not Alone
What is typically heard at Davidson, reflecting the sort of leftist echo chamber that the college has become, I discovered soon afterwards. It came in the form of something called the “Faculty Statement on Systemic Racism and Injustice.” It had been made on June 10, but I did not find it on the Internet until September 21. Perhaps the faculty members behind it were a bit more prudent than President Quillen and realized that it might not go over all that well with quite a high percentage of its alumni.
It bore the following sub-headline: “A majority of faculty members of Davidson College issue the following statement in response to systemic racism and injustice. (emphasis added)
Outraged by the killings of Black and Indigenous people and People of Color (BIPOC) at the hands of police and vigilantes and by the lack of accountability and justice that these killings highlight;
Mindful of the ways the criminal justice system systematically devalues, dehumanizes, and disposes of BIPOC lives, particularly BIPOC who identify as transgender, BIPOC with disabilities, and Black and Brown non-citizens;
Disgusted by the gratuitous violence against demonstrators in recent weeks;
But hopeful in the face of the unprecedented massive engagement of people of all walks of life against systemic injustices and police brutality,
We, the undersigned faculty members of Davidson College, issue the following statement:
- We stand in complete solidarity with our students, colleagues, and other Davidson community members of color who face a litany of historic systemic injustices and the heinous escalation of violence in the last two weeks;
- We firmly support the legitimacy and historic importance of the Black Lives Matter movement and pledge to uphold and to act in accordance with itsprinciples of justice for BIPOC in our professional and personal lives;
- We recognize the right of all those on U.S. soil to protest and to engage in various acts of civil disobedience against systemic injustices and police brutality without fear of violent retaliation by local, state, or federal authorities;
- We therefore strongly support and pledge to join or initiate various forms of action to aid the BLM movement in its goals for an immediate end to systemic racism upheld by racist and discriminatory laws, systems, institutions, and practices, and manifested as racist discrimination and violence by public servants in the United States;
- We affirm thatthe dignity and integrity of human life are inviolable, and that their safety and preservation are always and invariably more important than the safety or preservation of any form or amount of goods or property;
- We absolutely and unequivocally condemn the violent response by local and state police, by the National Guard, and by any armed forces mobilized thus far or in the future to suppress a legitimate movement of their fellow citizens;
- We abhor and condemn as unjust, unjustified, and unwarranted the use of batons, tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons, police dogs, bullets and projectiles of any form, or any other weapons used indiscriminately and with impunity against unarmed or nonviolent protesters;
- We denounce as dangerous, indefensible, and illegitimate any words or actions coming from our elected or appointed officials and public servants, from political organizations, and from non-governmental organizations that — intentionally or unintentionally — foment racial, class, political, religious, generational, or regional discord, as well as their calls to suppress protests through violent retaliation under the guise of protecting property;
- We ask that Davidson College require and implement intensive and ongoing anti-racism training for all students, faculty, staff, and campus police after input from and consultation with BIPOC and diversity leaders on campus;
- We ask that Davidson College investigate all accounts of racial profiling by Davidson College Campus Police, and that it take immediate and appropriate action to discipline those found responsible for racial profiling;
- We recognize that the Davidson BIPOC community has long raised their voices in denouncing racism. We, the undersigned faculty, pledge to amplify their calls, and demand that the administration no longer make rhetorical gestures of inclusion, but rather take action on transforming the institution toward its stated values;
- We also recognize that the onus for educating White people about the effects of racialization and racism on the lives of BIPOC does not fall on BIPOC, but on those who benefit from the privileges that whiteness confers;
- We further recognize that as faculty whose primary role is to educate, it falls on us as a collective to name injustice when we see it, to amplify the voices of those who are not being heard, to reflect critically on our own privileges and positions of power, and to engage with the academic and activist work of social justice and anti-racism;
- We therefore pledge ourselves as faculty to learn and practice inclusive pedagogy, design inclusive syllabi, and ensure that our pedagogical and research agendas actively consider justice and fairness wherever applicable, and actively expose and resist white supremacy, racism and antisemitism, as well as prejudice and exclusion on the basis of gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, religion or belief, political affiliation, ableism, or citizenship or documentation status;
- We, the undersigned faculty, commit to continuing the ongoing work at Davidson College, call on others to do the same, and urge for increased participation and greater accountability. Racism and other forms of discrimination — including xenophobia, anti-Black racism, antisemitism, homophobia, sexism, and ableism — have informed in overt and subtle ways where the college is today, and continue to inform how far it has come and how far it has to go in bringing about reconciliation, healing, and a just community. Ongoing work by students, faculty, and staff that addresses the history and consequences of discrimination includes, but is not limited toThe Commission on Race and Slavery,FIRST, The Davidson Microaggressions Project, Disorienting Davidson, The JEC Requirement, the Faculty of Color Caucus, the H. Little Library’s Anti-Racism Resource Guide, Justice, Equality, and Community Archives, and community-based projects, programs and scholarship in partnership with our communities;
- We call on our extensive network of Davidson College alumni to support those who are fighting for liberation through financial and material assistance, political action, refusal to uphold racist laws or to carry out racist or violent orders, and, most importantly, by joining in protest and by unrelentingly acting to expose and condemn racism in their lives and in respective communities;
- Confident that this statement is in agreement with the Davidson CollegeStatement of Purpose, with itsCommitment to Diversity and Inclusion, and with its principles of community, we respectfully call on the Davidson College administration and its Board of Trustees to join us in this collective statement and the actions called for herein;
- We request that this statement be posted prominently and in its entirety on the homepage of the Davidson College website, that it be posted and linked to permanently on all its social media accounts, and that it be emailed to students, staff, faculty, alumni, and to any other networks affiliated with Davidson College.
With an honest acknowledgment that what we are saying here means nothing if actions do not follow, and that if the actions that BIPOC are already always taking are not supported or, at the very least, amplified, we have failed or will have continued to fail;
With the knowledge that true, honest, genuine, helpful support for anti-racist work requires risk-taking, deep self-reflection, and the de-centering of whiteness (which for those of us who are White means de-centering ourselves and listening);
With the promise that what we say here and what we are signing our names to does not only live in this document and is not just a performative act of allyship;
A long list of names and titles followed, which we shan’t repeat here, including two faculty members who didn’t want the public to know that they had signed on and expressed a wish to remain anonymous. But for the fact that Davidson does not yet call itself a university, I might dedicate my “Timorous Eunuchs” poem to these last two:
In the universities You’ll find our finest minds. The problem isn’t with their brains. Oh no, it’s with their spines.
Now, going over the statement critically, one might conclude that I would be a bit generous in this case to conclude that the problem is not with their brains. If they are actually intelligent, with good brains, it would appear that this fairly large number of people are not using them very well to absorb information. A Rip Van Winkle, emerging from his sleep and reading this would get an impression of what has been going on in cities around the country recently that is 180 degrees opposite from the actual facts of the matter. As for the ongoing situation, I must refer readers once again to the soberly fact-based analysis of Vasko Kohlmayer’s “Myth of Systemic Racism” article.
What we see on display here, I would offer, is not stupidity, though, but a form of mass insanity. It is a form of insanity, unfortunately, to which those who people the groves of academe are particularly vulnerable. Members of America’s so-called intellectual class were always the biggest supporters of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, wanting so badly to believe that he was creating a workers’ paradise instead of the virtual hell on earth that was the Soviet reality. It is also a sort of mass insanity that sweeps over people of a left-wing bent periodically around the world, from France in the late 18th century to Russia, China, Cuba, Cambodia, etc. in the 20thcentury.
Reading this crack-brained, self-righteous screed I am reminded of nothing so much as an anecdote from Richard Wright in his contribution to the classic Richard Crossman collection of essays by disillusioned former Communists, The God that Failed. It turned out that one of the prominent members of his Communist cell in Chicago had to be committed to a hospital for the insane. The man’s clear insanity, Wright offers upon reflection, was not at all noticeable in the context of a typical gathering of his Communist group, however. That is the sort of insanity that seems to have swept over my alma mater’s faculty and administration. In some ways, it’s not all that far removed from Washington’s Evergreen State University, it would appear.
My response upon making my discovery was to send out this generally well-received notice to my class mailing list with the subject heading, “BIPOCs of the World, Arise”:
For just $70,000 a year you can have your son, daughter, or non-gender-specific offspring indoctrinated by this crowd: https://www.davidson.edu/news/2020/06/10/faculty-statement-systemic-racism-and-injustice
President Carol Quillen, unfortunately, is not an outlier.
More evidence of Davidson’s rampant wokeness emerged in August. On the 11th, the college made this announcement: How to Be an Antiracist author Ibram X. Kendi to deliver 2020 Reynolds Lecture. This was a decision that rose up to bite them when Kendi became somewhat notorious with his suggestion on Twitter that Supreme Court nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett was just another “white colonizer” for having adopted two black children from Haiti. One can get a good idea of the sort of wisdom that Kendi (birth name Henry Rogers) shared with his virtual Davidson audience by reading Coleman Hughes’s review of his book, How to Be an Antiracist, which Hughes entitles, “How to Be an Anti-Intellectual.” Even better, you can just listen to the man directly on YouTube and make up your own mind about him, or perhaps let your mind be somewhat influenced by the 1,790 comments, by current count, most of which are quite negative.
Then, on the 19th, WFAE in Charlotte carried this headline on its web site: Davidson College Apologizes for Support of Slavery and Other Racist Laws.
Davidson College issued a public apology on Wednesday for its support of slavery and other racist laws and policies, while announcing plans to consider renaming university buildings and commemorate the contributions of enslaved people.
The public apology coincided with a report from the college’s Commission on Race and Slavery, which was convened in 2017 to investigate the college’s legacy of slavery and racial inequity, and suggest possible amends. The commission was headed by Davidson alum and former Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx.
And here Davidson’s founding Presbyterian fathers thought they were making a contribution to civilization, not realizing what vile creatures they were all along. How much luckier we are to have Davidson headed up by such devotees to truth and justice, so willing and eager to ask forgiveness for the sins of others!
Most recently, with students back on campus, I found this announcement in my inbox on October 7: An Evening with Sarah Bellamy. Bellamy is not as well-known as Kendi, but she is apparently cut from the same cloth. This is from her Paris Review article, “Performing Whiteness”:
White folks, you must dig into your embodied racism, even—especially—if you think it’s not there. And this is not just to shift what you say and how you shape your arguments, questions, Facebook posts, tweets. It’s not about performing your wokeness. This isn’t about what you say—it’s about how you act; how your body might be predisposed to rely on a racial inheritance that endangers the lives of others. What’s in your guts, in your muscles, in your blood? What are you carrying dormant in your body that springs up when confronted with Black joy, Black power, Black brilliance, Black Blackness in the world? How can you train your bodies to respond differently when you are triggered, when you’re in fight-or-flight mode? How can I help you stop yourselves from killing us?
What a contrast this Brave New Davidson is with the one that Vince Foster and I attended! In spite of the fact that we had mandatory assemblies three times a week at which we often had very good, stimulating visiting speakers, it is really quite remarkable, looking back on it, how little interest seemed to be paid to current politics. Social life dominated, and on that front a groundswell of change was taking place that we were hardly even aware of. All the best music was performed by black bands—in our area it has since come to be called beach music—and I imagine that at virtually every fraternity party that Foster attended, one of those bands would have furnished the entertainment. But by the time I graduated, there was still not a single American black student enrolled. We had admitted a student from the Belgian Congo my sophomore year and another my junior year. When President D. Grier Martin held his one and only question-and-answer session with the students at assembly in the spring of my junior year, it was left to me to stand up and ask him when we would admit our first American black student. President Martin responded that they were actively attempting to recruit American blacks, but they had not yet had one to apply who measured up academically.
My graduation yearbook the next year begins like this, “This year has been a year of change and desire for more change…,” and it proceeds with a list of ten areas of such change. The question of race makes no appearance. The college still had just those two foreign black students when I graduated.
Davidson has certainly changed drastically from what it was when Vince and I were there, but it is very hard to say that going from too little politics to way too much represents an improvement. I thought of myself as something of a dissenter from what I saw around me when I was there, and I’m pretty sure I would be one now, but for very different reasons. Back then, it was right wingers like Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms who stirred the racial pot and whipped up racial animosity for their own career benefit. These days, it’s primarily left wingers who do it.