“Madonna G. Constantine, whose specialty is race, racial identity, and multiculturalism, stood before protesters at midday and thanked her supporters.” So reported the New York Times this morning. Constantine is a professor at Columbia University Teachers College, and on Tuesday some unknown person had hung a noose around her office door.
Campus reactions picked up by the Times were intense. Constantine declared she was “upset that the Teachers College community has been exposed to such an unbelievably vile incident.”
“It’s like throwing a match on a haystack,” said Christien Tompkins, a Columbia senior, who is co-chairman of the United Students of Color Council.
University President Lee Bollinger, fresh from his encounter with the genocidal anti-Semite Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, had to face what the Columbia Spectator called “a deeply frustrated and often angry audience” confronting him about the incident.
Students, reports the Spectator, “were much more palpably angry at and less supportive of the way the University was conducting itself” than had been the case at the meeting Bollinger held with students three weeks ago after Ahmadinejad was invited to Columbia. They accused the administration “of being unresponsive and disconnected.” At several points, Bollinger “found himself defending and justifying his record on issues such as diversifying the faculty.”
Columbia is not the only target of the fury. The noose incident, said Tompkins, is the “latest and maybe most visible and extreme case of a climate of racism that we face in our entire society.”
What can one say about this episode? Hanging a noose is indeed an ugly act, and given the implicit threat it contains, it is also perhaps a crime. The “noose thing” said Mayor Bloomberg is “despicable and disgraceful.”
But am I alone in detecting, along with all the outward indignation, a strong whiff of opportunistic glee in the outrage now on display?
Draping a noose on the office door of a professor at work on a book called “Addressing Racism,” was, in all likelihood, the work of a lone and disgruntled perpetrator, whose race–black, white, Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Islander, to use the official check list–is as yet unknown. The avidity with which the incident is being blown up into something far larger–an indictment of our entire society for alleged widespread racism, and a torch for reigniting the race battles of yore–should not escape notice.
It is bad enough that so many students and members of the Columbia faculty are carrying on in this way, and let us hope that the perpetrator of the crime is swiftly apprehended and justice is done. But Bollinger’s handwringing appeasement of the protestors’ assault on his university–an abdication of his basic responsibility to put things in perspective–is yet another example of the atmosphere of intellectual dishonesty that has descended on our campuses when it comes to the set of issues that are Professor Constantine’s specialty: “race, racial identity, and multiculturalism.”