I said that I was going to follow up on the Grove City story, and so here I am, following up on it. Some people talk about keeping their word; others just go ahead and keep their word. Perhaps you know what I am trying to say. Because I got a lot of letters on this for the previous installment, I am opening comments on this point. Please keep your comments civil, on point, and I would particularly like to hear testimonies in defense of Grove City.
Since my first piece ran, a few things have happened. But first, if you need a refresher, here is my contribution to that first round, just below.
Since that time, if you have an account with The Daily Wire, you can read something that they published on all of this. Josh Abottoy, who wrote the initial piece for American Reformer, followed up with another article for The American Mind. And then we have this very revealing podcast put out by the Classical Learning Test, in which Jeremy Tate of CLT interviewed Lee Wishing of Grove City, Carl Trueman of Grove City, and Megan Basham, who wrote the Daily Wire piece.
The CLT podcast was particularly illuminating, if for no other reason than to illustrate how peopley and complicated these things can be. But however complicated it can get, our duties need to remain plain.
In the podcast, Megan Basham did an outstanding job of pursuing the actual issues at hand, Carl Trueman made a couple of really substantive points, and Lee Wishing was basically caught in an impossible situation. More on all that below.
There are four areas of concern that have been raised about the situation at Grove City. The first was an education class that had woke books in the syllabus, and nothing but woke books in the syllabus. The second issue was the line-up of woke speakers at chapel, radiating various meter-bouncing curies of wokeness. The third was the fact of multiple reports from students saying that the RA training there was also doing the wokey pokey. And the last issue has to do with the mere existence of a diversity office, and whether or not it had any involvement with the first three issues.
Megan Basham was gracious but firm, and kept the whole discussion from wandering off the point. Carl Trueman didn’t pretend to know anything about the particular allegations, and so was not there to testify about them, but he did make a couple of general points that were really valuable. One was his observation that any institution the size of Grove City is going to have management problems. As P.G. Wodehouse once put it, somebody is always up to something, and the rest of them are up to something else. The real test, Trueman said, will come in how the board and administration respond when something like this hits the fan. I believe this is exactly correct, and there will be more on this below. Everything rides on this, actually.
The second thing Trueman pointed out that was helpful was that the mere presence of dodgy books on a syllabus tells you nothing about the course. He cited some of his own classes, and I could add my own testimony to the same effect.
Another good point Trueman made, and which needs to be remembered, is that these things are all personnel issues, and as such have to be handled judiciously and deliberately. It would not be right to have an uproar over something, and to have somebody thrown off the sled to the howling wolves on the following Monday. I am against lynch mob justice wherever people might want to apply it. So Grove City cannot appease the parents by saying—following the lead of the wise woman of Abel-Beth-maachah—that the head of Sheba son of Bichri will be thrown to them over the wall (2 Sam. 20:21).
But Grove City can say that these allegations will be thoroughly investigated, and that if it is found that there was any level of wokeness involved in any of these incidents, the people found to have been responsible will be fired. They can say that.
And incidentally, in the meantime they also need to stop complaining about how the parents published their petition. All the concerned voices in this are concerned about substance, and it is the perennial temptation of administrators to circle the wagons of bureaucratic process in cases like this. And besides, the parents maintain that they did try to communicate with the college about these things before going public. So in the meantime, the college needs to stop complaining about how this controversy was put into play. The issue is really a pretty simple one—are there any woke people employed by Grove City doing woke things? If a customer of Wendy’s complains to the evening news about a mouse head he found in his chili, the PR guy for Wendy’s should NOT respond by complaining about how that customer had actually called the wrong hot line at corporate headquarters. “Had he just made the effort to call the right number, we would have been all over it.” That is a losing move, and at some point becomes a new grievance.
As an aside—it was hard to tell, and I don’t want to be taking too much upon myself—but I think there were a handful of dark references to me and my blog in that discussion. If you listen to the podcast you will understand why I can’t be sure, but there were oblique warnings about the blogosphere’s involvement in all this. And yet I don’t want to be like that spectator at the football game who thought that every time the offense went into a huddle, they were somehow talking about him. So let me just assume they were talking about me so that I can offer my think-nothing-of-it-thanks, and we can all move on.
This is not an attempt by a New St. Andrews guy to hobble a competitor. It is my earnest hope that Grove City gets through this successfully, and retains its earned position as one of the few remaining conservative institutions in higher education. I hope ten years in the future that NSA loses some students we were recruiting to Grove City, and that the students concerned would get a first-rate education. The thing that would be a shame would be if their parents sent them there expecting one thing, and then got quite another.
More Than Mistakes
The education class that had all the woke titles in the assigned reading was heavily advertised, and the posters were of the raised fist/raised consciousness variety. Trueman came in at that point and said that there was no question but that the advertising for that course was a “mistake.” And everybody agreed on that.
But here is where life gets a little more festive and interesting. What kind of mistake? If the instructor of that course is woke, and was trying to bring the Resistance to Grove City, then the flyers advertising his efforts to do so were not actually a “mistake.” It was on purpose. They were an example of exactly the kind of thing that the concerned parents were talking about. In other words, if that were the case, the parents were aware of a CRT problem in a Grove City classroom before the president and administration were aware of it. That’s not what you want.
If, however, the instructor was wanting to have his students learn just how radical and dangerous wokeism is, and he thought that putting up posters with a radical-vibe would be just the ticket for attracting students who were starting to dabble in that stuff, and then wham, he would hit them with reserved readings at the library—you know, Thomas Sowell, John McWhorter, Walter Williams—then that would have been a mistake. He would look like he was doing something woke when he was in fact trying to do the opposite. That would have been a mistake.
The issue with this education class is that it kind of looked like he was doing what he might actually have been doing. It reminds me of Washington’s definition of a gaffe—when someone in office accidentally speaks the truth. And so IF he was doing what it looks like he was doing—which should be determined by a judicious investigation, and not by a mob—then he should be fired. And why? Because he is not in alignment with Grove City’s mission and purpose.
That Diversity Office
I was talking about the whole situation with Ben Merkle, the president of NSA, and the diversity office issue came up. He mentioned something that I had previously thought of, which is that a diversity office may have been an accreditation requirement. If that were the case, then Grove City couldn’t be faulted for merely having the office, because they could still resist the tyranny involved by staffing the office with right-wing Vikings.
But in the podcast, it came out that the diversity office had been created by President McNulty in the aftermath of the George Floyd death, in the wake of all that nation-wide riot and mayhem. There was some discussion about whether or not a college should be “reacting” in such a direct way to outside current events. For a different example, Hillsdale had responded to it by saying that their entire curriculum was dedicated to equipping students for such situations. They didn’t need to alter anything.
In my view, the issue is not whether a college does something in the wake of nationwide riots. The issue is what they in fact decide to do—what direction they decide to go. Colleges don’t exist in a bubble, and we are affected by events and movements in the broader culture. So of course there are occasions when an institutional response is necessary. But when the Left explodes with rage, and starts burning down cities in order to make the whole country bow to their totalitolerant demands, for a college to choose that moment to decide that what this country needs is another diversity office in higher education speaks of a worldview tone-deafness.
What Grove City could have done, and it would have been a much better response to the cultural moment, is establish a Heritage Walk on campus, and vow that they were going to put up a statue for every statue that was being pulled down around the country by the savages. And because the statues being put up would represent quite a disparate group—abolitionists, explorers, missionaries, Quakers, Confederate generals, Union generals, and more—the nickname for the walk that would develop over time would be Diversity Walk.
The Matter of Caesar’s Wife
When Julius Caesar divorced his second wife, Pompeia, he said that “my wife ought not even be under suspicion.” This gave rise to a proverb, one which ran along the same lines—”Caesar’s wife ought to be above suspicion.” This is a roundabout way of saying that a higher reputation carries a higher responsibility. And the nature of the reputation matters, and is closely related to the nature of the responsibility.
This is what I mean. There are a handful of colleges that have built a reputation that appeals to a constituency that is deeply conservative. To speak in the parlance of the day, the fact that these colleges are resisting the general leftward tide is an essential part of their brand. I am talking schools like Hillsdale, and Grove City, and Patrick Henry, and New St. Andrews. This is an essential part of what they are about. They raise money on the basis of it. They recruit students on the basis of it. They live on the basis of it.
Without it they die. Without it they blend into the background of a thousand and one evangelical colleges that just drift with the current, like one more dead cow in the Rio Grande.
Thus just a whiff of wokeness at Grove City is going to do a whole lot more damage than some new outrage at Wheaton, a college which is already in danger of apologizing to the Auca Indians for the harassment that some Wheaton alums put them through. But in contrast to this, Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. And so to return to Trueman’s point, the response to this apparent encroachment of the wokeness disease is what counts, and this is why it really needs to be vigorous. And that word vigorous is an understatement. Their response—once the judicious investigation is completed—needs to be more like a Corinthian response to a concern the apostle Paul once registered with them.
“For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter.”
2 Corinthians 7:11 (NKJV)
The People Responsible Have Been Sacked
I don’t think anybody wants a “ready, fire, aim” investigation. But the parents who have expressed their concerns do want, and should get, a fair-minded and thorough investigation into all of this. The investigation must actually determine what has been going on, and must be seen to have determined this.
And because this issue lies right at the center of Grove City’s identity, it is something that the board of Grove City needs to be actively involved in. The board will have to sign off on the results of the investigation, and so they need to be entirely satisfied that the woke process did not begin on their watch.
At the end of the process, if it is found that anybody in the employ of Grove City was acting in a manner contrary to Grove City’s foundational mission—which all the racialist woke stuff most certainly is—that person should be sacked. And when I say sacked, I mean in the spirit of the great Monty Python “credits sacking.”