Old Main Hall at Western Washington University in Bellingham. The Atlantic says Western students are embracing a self-defeating radicalism.
Old Main Hall at Western Washington University in Bellingham. The Atlantic magazine says well-meaning Western students are currently embracing a "self-defeating radicalism." Jim Feliciano/Shutterstock

Conor Friedersdorf:

At Western Washington University, a public institution with roughly 15,000 students, a group of leftist activists calling itself the Student Assembly for Power and Liberation has issued a sweeping list of demands that would radically reshape its school. The demands pose a direct challenge to academic freedom; threaten free speech; and would arguably harm the very students from historically marginalized groups that the activists truly want to help. Whether one thinks that the campus climate at Western Washington is wonderful or requires reforms, however, the particular agenda put forth by these activists is deeply misguided.

That doesn’t make these students villains.

Their experiences and grievances are worth trying to understand, no matter how unpracticed they are at expressing them by committee...

But their existing demands show how well-intentioned students in an ideological bubble can rally around measures that would destroy their institution. This is especially so when their agenda is thick with ideology and bereft of fact-finding or empiricism.

The movement at Western, according to Friedersdorf, is currently demanding "decision-making power over the hiring of faculty" ("guaranteeing viewpoint discrimination," Friedersdorf writes); calling for "tens of millions of dollars" to be spent implementing activist demands, with no realistic plan for how that money will be secured and no assessment of how the new spending might affect tuition (and therefore, potentially, low-income students); construction of a new dorm that "The Committee for Social Transformation" would control; and:

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The creation of a 15-member student panel, dubbed the Office for Social Transformation, “to monitor, document, and archive all racist, anti-black, transphobic, cissexist, misogynistic, ablest, homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, anti-semitic, and otherwise oppressive behavior.” This panel would have the power to investigate and discipline students and faculty members and to fire even tenured faculty members.

Toward the end of the story, Friedersdorf concludes: "Anti-racism is too important to be ceded to wrongheaded, doomed campaigns." Here's the full piece.