Founded as a “hippie school” with no grades or majors, Evergreen State College may have been ripe for a student takeover — but academics warn what has happened in Olympia, Washington, could happen anywhere.
Classes resumed Monday after an anonymous threat shut down the campus for nearly three days.
“At Evergreen, campus safety is our number-one priority,” Evergreen President George Bridges said in a statement. “After consultation with law enforcement today, we have determined there is no active threat to campus. We are ready to get back to the business of teaching and learning.”
The discord, however, is far from over: More than 50 faculty members penned an open letter over the weekend calling on the administration to open an investigation into biology professor Bret Weinstein, blaming the campus unrest on his refusal to participate in a no-whites day on campus.
“Weinstein has endangered faculty, staff, and students, making them targets of white supremacist backlash by promulgating misinformation in public emails, on national television, in news outlets, and on social media,” the letter read.
On May 23, Mr. Weinstein’s class was interrupted by more than 50 students who took issue with an email he wrote explaining his refusal to participate in the “Day of Absence,” in which white students, faculty and staff were asked to leave campus for a day.
“You may take this letter as a formal protest of this year’s structure, and you may assume I will be on campus during the Day of Absence,” Mr. Weinstein wrote in the email. “On a college campus, one’s right to speak — or to be — must never be based on skin color.”
Video posted to social media showed the students shouting and cursing at Mr. Weinstein, accusing him of racism and calling for his resignation.
After they were confronted by campus police, the protesters barricaded themselves in the school library and issued demands of the administration.
Campus police, fearing for Mr. Weinstein’s safety, advised him to teach off campus.
Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, said the strife at Evergreen is the logical conclusion of the school’s founding.
“It was one of those experimental colleges created in the late 1960s with a declared intention of not having an organized curriculum in the usual sense: no courses, no grading, very few tests,” Mr. Wood said. “Putting all of that together, there wasn’t much left for it to be other than an extension of social resentment and progressive ideology.”
But he said the line between the Evergreens of the world and more mainstream universities has begun to blur.
He pointed to a remarkably similar incident at Yale University in 2015, in which students shouted down sociology professor Nicholas Christakis after he tried to defend an email sent by his wife, Erika Christakis, standing up for the right to wear inappropriate Halloween costumes.
Earlier this year, a mob of students at Middlebury College injured Allison Stanger, a professor of international politics and economics, during a protest over a talk she agreed to moderate with social scientist Charles Murray.
Those incidents did not lead to the same level of chaos witnessed at Evergreen, but Mr. Wood said they are rooted in the same ideology.
“Evergreen is probably in the category of the most radical colleges to be found in the United States and therefore willing to take things to an even greater extreme than elsewhere,” Mr. Wood said. “But it’s only a matter of degrees, not of kind.
“There are probably, at almost any college or university you could name, a contingent of faculty members and students who are every bit as radicalized as the Evergreen students and faculty are,” he said.
Although students resumed classes Monday, the picture is far from rosy at Evergreen.
In response to the student protests, Washington state lawmakers have proposed legislation to revoke Evergreen’s $24 million in annual public funding. In a letter to the administration last week, Rep. Matt Manweller called the Evergreen student body an embarrassment.
“You are a taxpayer funded school and the taxpayers expect you to provide an environment of education not a dystopia of indoctrination,” Mr. Manweller wrote. “If your goal is to create a modern-day version of a reeducation camp, then do it on your own dime.”
Shortly thereafter, Evergreen’s board of trustees issued a statement underscoring the school’s commitment to free speech.
“Anyone who prevents Evergreen from delivering a positive and productive learning environment for all students has, and will continue to be held accountable for their actions and face appropriate consequences,” the board said in a statement.
But university President George S. Bridges previously promised not to punish students who participated in the demonstrations, during which students, among other things, barricaded themselves within the library and issued demands of the administration.
In a social media post Sunday, Mr. Weinstein indicated that punitive measures have already been taken against him, saying his access to the online faculty directory had been cut off.
Ari Cohn, director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said Evergreen cannot punish Mr. Weinstein for speech with which it disagrees.
“Faculty members retain the First Amendment right to speak out on matters of public concern, and that’s exactly what Bret Weinstein did,” Mr. Cohn said. “He saw that students were engaging in their own protected expression and offered a counter argument. To punish a professor for engaging in that kind of speech would be highly inappropriate.”
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