College students have plenty to protest

The Norwich Bulletin
By Scott Deshefy
November 20, 2015

In May 1971, while occupying an administrative building during the Vietnam moratorium, I stopped a fellow freshman from damaging a desk. Scratching furniture for which mahogany trees paid dearly just didn’t jive with nonviolent civil disobedience.

Since then, whenever someone blows off steam, however righteous the anger, I’m reminded of a 1799 sketch by Francisco Goya, “El sueno de la razon produce monstruos” (The sleep of reason yields monsters). Belying their agitation, the bats, owls, cats and other “children of the night” in Goya’s dream are rather inviting. But, the message is clear: Reason mustn’t lapse for long.

Recent unrest on campuses is part of the college experience and long overdue, especially when opportunities grow scarce for people without money or influence. Indifference is breached when students feel the brunt as well. Like the culturally insulated military, colleges have become hotbeds of sexual assault. Racial tensions seep into dormitories from Main Streets.

Students are exploited for profit by private businesses. Corinthian Colleges, a corporation closed by regulators and dissolved through bankruptcy, misled tens of thousands of students about career prospects, then left them indebted to federal lenders for $3.5 billion. Meanwhile, Jill Stein (Green Party) and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are the only presidential candidates consistently championing debt forgiveness and tuition-free education.

While some of my best memories were collegiate track and football, it’s sad to see colleges more dependent on sports than scholarship for publicity, especially with graduation rates are lower for athletes than for student bodies as a whole. Worse, coaches and school administrators make CEO-like salaries from the revenues.

Black football players at the University of Missouri recently threatened to boycott a game over “marginalized student experiences,” including racial epithets, grad students denied health insurance, swastikas drawn with excrement and Planned Parenthood services “stripped from the campus.” To avoid a forfeit and losing millions in proceeds, the school’s president resigned ─ kudos to the Tigers for leveraging ticket sales to achieve student rights.

Not so Yale University, where failures to censor Halloween costumes and a white-girls-only fraternity party produced predictable backlash. When a residential college master declined to police costumes on grounds that “free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are hallmarks of a free and open society,” Yale chose diversity training over Ronald Dworkin’s two models on rights as applied to the First Amendment: First, find balance between individual rights and societal demands. Second, denying a right is worse than inflating one.

The First Amendment cuts both ways. The right to protest war, hunting, racism and poverty also allows the disagreeable voice.

Scott Deshefy is two-time Green Party congressional candidate. Email him at