Kerfuffle escalates at Northwestern University; students call for President’s resignation

October 22, 2020 • 10:00 am

Two days ago I reported that the President of Northwestern University {NU), Morton Schapiro, wrote a letter to the university community decrying the vandalism and obstructionism of protestors who are trying to get NU to disband its police force. He asserted that “while the University has every intention to continue improving NUPD, we have absolutely no intention to abolish it,” decried the protestors who camped illegally outside his house, criticized them for chanting obscenities outside his house (including calling him a “pig,” which he construed as anti-Semitic), and, at the end, expressed his willingness to engage in peaceful dialogue but added “I refuse to engage with individuals who continue to use the tactics of intimidation and violence.”

It was a remarkable letter given the tendency of university administrators to truckle and grovel before student demands, particularly on issues that bear on race—as the police issue does.  (The students argue that the NU police intimidate and terrorize black students.) Our Provost wrote a similar response after her house was picketed and she (of Chinese ancestry) was subject to racist slurs. Provost Lee also declared that the University of Chicago is not going to get rid of its campus police. (For those non-Americans unfamiliar with university police, yes, we have them and in some cases, as with our own police, we need them, particularly at large schools that take substantial policing and are located in high-crime areas.)

Of course, Schapiro’s refusal to abase himself enraged the students, and now an entire NU department, that of African American Studies, has published an equally strong (but to me, not equally convincing) response, and the students are calling on Schapiro to resign unless he meets all their demands.  These events are reported in two articles in the campus newspaper the Daily Northwestern, and you can read them by clicking on the screenshots below.


There’s not much new in the article, really, except for a few things. First, the second article gives a link to a response to Schapiro by an entire department of Northwestern. More on that in a second.

Contrary to Schapiro’s suggestion that the protestors may have included some “outside agitators” as well as students (I think he intended this to soften his accusations), the group denies any outside agitation. From the first article:

The organizers pushed back against Schapiro’s contention that their campaign purposely provokes police officers and that they are “outside agitators.” The group connected that language to President Donald Trump’s suggestion that Black Lives Matter protesters were paid actors and southern politicians deriding Civil Rights organizers as communist agitators.

Okay, then, we’ll assume that the vast majority of protestors are NU students.

Second, there’s a ludicrous response to Shapiro’s strong statement about the protestors below:

I ask the protestors to consider how their parents and siblings would feel if a group came to their homes in the middle of the night to wake up their families with such vile and personal attacks. To those protesters and their supporters who justify such actions, I ask you to take a long hard look in the mirror and realize that this isn’t actually “speaking truth to power” or furthering your cause. It is an abomination and you should be ashamed of yourselves.

. . . If you haven’t yet gotten my point, I am disgusted by those who chose to disgrace this University in such a fashion. I especially condemn the effect of their actions on our friends, neighbors and other members of our community who are trying to sustain viable businesses, raise families, study and do research, while facing a global pandemic and the injustices of the world without losing their sense of humanity.

As the paper reports, the protest group NU Community Not Cops responded this way:

They added that it’s an insult for Schapiro to draw on “racist, coded language” like “abomination” and vile.” Questioning whether Black protestors had “lost their sense of humanity” is inherently anti-Black, the group wrote.

Schapiro said nothing about black protestors; he was referring to the protestors in general. And words like “abomination” and “vile” are most definitely not “racist coded language.” This shows that the protestors will glom onto and exaggerate anything if it fits their narrative about race.

Finally, having survived the Sixties well aware that “pig” is a derogatory term for “cop”, I don’t think Schapiro should have implied that applying the term to him was anti-Semitic. I just think he was a bit clueless. But it was a still a vile abomination to call the president a “pig”. The protesting organization responded (from the NU paper):

Schapiro’s suggestion that “pig” is an anti-Semitic term stems from a medieval trope wherein Jewish people were depicted by European countries as engaging in lewd relations with pigs. NU Community Not Cops said they find it “absurd” for Schapiro to suggest that protesters were invoking this trope and not the word “pig” as it refers to the modern slang term about police.

NU Community Not Cops leaders condemned anti-Semitism in their statement, saying that their use of the term “pig” relates to the generations-long practice of Black radical movements invoking the structural violence presented by the police. Members of the campaign called Schapiro a pig, they said, because he has prioritized police and private property “over the lives of Black students.”

“We called Morty a pig because he’s a f–king cop,” one organizer said Monday night. “Can we get some oinks?”

Well, that’s an improvement, isn’t it?

At any rate, of greater interest—and import—is the letter from the Department of African American Studies to Schapiro, which you can find here.  It’s signed by the Faculty and Affiliates of the African American Studies Department, which implies that, at least among the faculty, there was no dissent.

The letter is the usual melange of assertions about harm, structural racism, and so on, and is striking in that despite its vehement assertions about violence, harm, and undue policing of black students, it gives no example, and only once piece of data (see below). As usual, I suspect that most of the assertions are simple grievances without much support. Here are a few statements that sound strongly like exaggerations:

Perhaps we are saddest given that this denunciation is the most full throated expression of “disgust” or call for “accountability” that we have heard from you or your office over the last 6 months—months in which our University and our country have seen so many displays of actual violence against Black people, Indigenous people, Asian and Asian American people, Latinx people, international students, transgender people, people with the temerity to wear masks, queer people, people speaking Spanish in public, and other marginalized groups nearly too numerous to name. Here at Northwestern, Black students wrote to you on June 3 and the Department of African American Studies wrote to you on October 15 detailing concerns about police violence and structural racism at Northwestern, and outlining a long list of remedies. Both were, at best, met with a pusillanimous response.

If there has been “so many” displays of violence by the University against minority people, not to mention against people waring masks, I don’t know about them. What is the “actual violence”? Was it real violence or only words? We don’t know.

They also drag in Trump’s misguided threat to withdraw funding from universities that teach Critical Race Theory (CRT), though, in mentioning it, the Department implies that CRT is essential for their antiracist scholarship. (By the way, Trump’s threat did not “criminalize” the teaching of CRT, much less the work of Northwesterns African American Studies Department.)

It is offensive in the extreme to read your prompt and strongly worded denunciation of nonviolent student protests given that there was NO letter denouncing the remote Zoom attack on the University’s Women’s Center this past spring, despite the vile and criminal child pornography that accompanied this attack, and NO letter reassuring Northwestern’s faculty of color—and all faculty who have dedicated their lives to writing, researching, and teaching antiracist scholarship—that the White House’s recent executive order criminalizing our work would find no purchase here. Even the police’s killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, which many people denounced months ago as nothing short of municipally-sanctioned murder, became, in your exceedingly brief statement, their “fatal mistreatment” of an unarmed man.

This is what it’s come to: unless Schapiro mouths the words that the death of George Floyd was “municipally sanctioned murder,” he’s toast. But we don’t even know whether Floyd’s murder (and it was a homicide) was motivated by racism. Further, there’s the implicit mission that CRT is the basis of the department, and I feel sorry for its students, who are clearly experiencing ideologically uncontested brainwashing.

The one complaint that does deserve investigation is the claim (also made against our own campus police) that the NU police come down disproportionately on minority students. If that’s the case, and if it’s not because minority students are involved in more incidents that require summoning the cops, then this needs to be investigated, and, if there’s bigotry, the police must be trained to be equitable. But the following still has the air of hyperbole.

To read your damning letter to students in this context forces us to hear the shallowness of your concerns and priorities with excruciating clarity. It is beyond tone deaf for you to ask this group of protesters to imagine what it would be like for their families to be disturbed in the middle of the night “by such vile and personal attacks.” In the wake of the murder of Breonna Taylor—who was shot and killed in her own home while sleeping in her bed in the middle of the night, and afforded no justice even in death—this is precisely what Black and brown people have been imagining and experiencing. These images are regularly, consistently accompanied and occasioned by the specter of the police’s terrifying power, and their failure to serve or protect communities of color. Here on campus, reporting by the Daily Northwestern documents the disproportionate policing of Black students. Whereas Black students comprise roughly 6 percent of the student population, 22-40% of NUPD field-initiated stops over the past two years have been of Black people.

At last we have a statistic, and I assume it’s the case. What we need to know is how many of the stops included students versus other people in Evanston (at the U of C, the police serve a huge area of largely black people not on campus), and whether the disproportionality reflects racism versus the alternative of Black students being involved in more reported incidents. If the former, then something needs to be done.

Finally, the letter goes after Schapiro for personalizing the debate by saying that “pigs” was anti-Semitic, but that his discomfort must pale before that of the anger of the students who constantly have “nightmarish experiences.” At the end, the letter states, “We condemn your failure to lead and imbue Northwestern with a grander and more humane vision for the present and the future.”

While the Department’s response is histrionic and full of hyperbole, the police issue needs to be (and I hope is) getting investigated. But in the meantime, Schapiro is right in that NU should be improving its campus police but not abolishing them.

What makes this serious is that an entire department has turned against the college President. What with the students calling for Schapiro’s resignation, and the protests continuing (yes, there was illegal activity, window-breaking, graffiti, and so on), Schapiro’s job may be in jeopardy.

I hope not, for there are precious few college administrators willing to stand up to offended and woke students. If Schapiro goes, it’s a message to all college presidents that they must grovel before the demands of their students, even if those demands are unreasonable.

31 thoughts on “Kerfuffle escalates at Northwestern University; students call for President’s resignation

  1. I also grew up in the 60’s when the term “pig” was applied to the police. Nevertheless, figuring that Mr Schapiro likely had never been a policeman, I didn’t link this particular use of the slur as referring to his support for the campus police. Also, it’s been literally decades since that slur has been commonly used in my experience, so my first take on it was “Huh?”. That made his interpretation as anti-Semitic believable to me. At any rate, I support his letter and not these anti-free speech cancel culturists.

  2. How would they go about removing Shapiro? He could resign because of pressure, I suppose, but he doesn’t seem the type.

  3. John McWhorter is currently working on a book about BLM and related movements, and how anti-racism has taken on the character of, in his words, “a religion”.

    At first I thought this was a stretch, mainly because unlike God, racism actually exists!

    But as we keep seeing at elite colleges, there seems to be a huge exaggeration of the nature and extent of the racism. There certainly is a fictive element of the claims of racism…when asked to give specifics, the anti-racists often come up very short.

    Even worse (and this is where the religious thinking really starts to kick in), the mere act of asking for specifics on the racism, which is a necessary step in eliminating it, is itself labeled as a racist act! Circular reason much?

    Thus, the fictive, hysterical element of anti-racism combined with its circular, religious-style rationalizing does make it very much like a faith-based movement.

  4. It appears to me they may need more police to protect the school, administration and property from the students. I wonder what is the actual connection between the BLM demonstrations and the campus police at Northwest. It just looks to me like students of chaos. Send them back where they came from – their parents.

  5. I just wonder what the legal position would regarding expelling any students found guilty of criminal acts. I support peaceful protests but it would appear that some of the protests and protestors have gone too far.

  6. “Schapiro’s suggestion that “pig” is an anti-Semitic term stems from a medieval trope wherein Jewish people were depicted by European countries as engaging in lewd relations with pigs. NU Community Not Cops said they find it “absurd” for Schapiro to suggest that protesters were invoking this trope and not the word “pig” as it refers to the modern slang term about police.”

    Yeah, I mean, look in the mirror people and see the double standard. “Vile” and “abomination” are coded racist speech because you say that it is. “Pig” is not coded anti-Semitic because you say that it isn’t. Either intentions don’t matter or they do. Or perhaps they only matter when you are “speaking truth to power”. Also, fuck off. Assholes.

    1. I almost wonder if this is a tactical misunderstanding on his part. 5 minutes ago the woke orthodoxy was that any insult is to be judged solely by how its recipient feels, the speaker’s intentions count for nothing. How dare you question feelings of oppression (even among people who are materially pretty well off). But now… now they are loudly arguing the other side’s case.

      1. I think it’s as I suggest, where the person of power is not permitted to allow his subjective feelings to override the objective evaluation of the speech content. It’s different rules depending on where you fall in the intersectionality grid. This idea of punching up excuses all sorts of abominable behavior. If you’re a white guy, even an old Jewish white guy, you don’t get to decide the direction of the punch. Pig is offensive no matter how it’s used really. Try calling a police officer a pig and see what happens. Calling someone a pig whose religion considers pigs to be unclean is quite offensive, I imagine.

  7. Now that “abomination” and “vile” have been exposed as coded racist language, we can expect denunciations of the recent animated film comedy and older British fantasy film about the Abominable Snowman. And music
    professors will be forced to resign when charged with using the word “viol”, which sounds so much like you-know-what. We also now learn that the word “pig” is OK when it
    refers, not to Jews, but to policemen—and to anyone who refuses to abolish policemen.

    Both statements show how the campaign to abolish police forces everywhere is
    linked to an implicit call for language policing. And who will police language against “coded racist” words? Well, no doubt this will require a new authority, no doubt vested in the D/E/I bureaucracy.

  8. Very interesting is this summary: “Black people, Indigenous people, Asian and Asian American people, Latinx people, international students, transgender people, people with the temerity to wear masks, queer people, people speaking Spanish in public, and other marginalized groups nearly too numerous to name.”

    Let me remind first I am not American, and regard US society as deeply racistic, because the idea and construction of so-called “human races” is deemed very important over there and is a constant element from census data, voting blocks, communities but also as bigotry against especially blacks with a long history of discrimmination.

    However, my observation is that Critical Race Theory and the subset called “Intersectionality” not initially, but by now is a multiculturalist, anti-white and anti-“western” ideology, associated also with Republicans and evangelicals and whatever is held typical for American “whites”. This is also not informed by data, but by way of association as the black voters are associated more with Democrats. Based on anecdote I have the strongest impression that CRT believers are foremost multiculturalist, which is the ideology that cultures, not inviduals, matter. They further dislike or hate what they see as the culture of the White Man, which gets associated stereotypically with whatever white men do more typically.

    The anecdotes from various different observations are further supported by who they always construe as “victims”. There could be at least two apparent explanations for their list. The first one is my hypothesis, that it really is just bland anti-white (man) bigotry with lots of academic rationalisation tacked on that has no basis in evidence. The ideology seals itself by declaring it racist only when prejudice is paired with power.

    The second possible explanation is that what they say is generally true enough, and that everyone else in the USA but white people, face such problems and their lists are just dispassionate collections of data. Now, let’s look at the data.

    What always arouses suspicion is the absence of Jews from their lists, and the inclusion of Asians (or Asian-Americans). A readily available stats is for instance this one:

    Racial/Ethnic Bias List
    “3.4 percent were victims of anti-Asian bias.”

    Religious Bias List
    “56.9 percent were victims of crimes motivated by offenders’ anti-Jewish bias.”

    1. Antiracism based on critical race theory is a neo-Marxist movement. The exclusion of Jews from the victim list is likely influenced by the far left’s pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel tendency and regarding Jews as the archetype of the bourgeoisie. Bankers, doctors, lawyers, etc. This is ridiculous, but I think that’s where it comes from. I also don’t understand the inclusion of Asian Americans unless it’s true that China is actually pulling the levers on the destruction of western civilization.

      1. You are correct regarding Jews, but the “neo marxism” assertion is arrant nonsense.

        The Woke, intersectional critical race and gender theorist are generally desinterested in any economical matters. Even corporations love to get on board, because the “diversity” keyword plays into their hand anyway, now that the markets are increasingly international, in particular also women in foreign markets with more disposable money.

        Right winger love to mention Marx because it’s a magic word that sets their pants on fire and they are properly scared. Makes the whole thing sound left wing, even though that’s very arguable.

        1. Maoist then. The tactics are so much like the Chinese Cultural Revolution that I don’t see how you can deny there is a Marxist element, regardless of any specific economic goals. Group think attacks wrong think. The twitter mob has replaced the struggle session. It’s about control. What the corporations are doing is cowing to it, just like everyone else. Economics do enter into it, especially regarding equality of outcomes.

  9. Schapiro was in a no-win situation from the start. He could bow down to the mob which would have been followed by more and more demands. He could stand up and be pilloried. He could try some weaselly middle ground which would neither help the university (and its students) nor satisfy his critics.

    He did the right thing but I imagine his days are numbered. NU is private and if the alumni come to his support, he may survive.

  10. I agree with you that Shapiro was clueless in claiming “pig” as anti-Semitic. Aside from its being a well-known slur for police, it was used by the Sixties counterculture more generally as a pejorative for the rich and greedy. This was the allegorical sense in which it was used on The White Album in the Beatles’ song ““Piggies” — and by the Manson family (under the sway of Charlie’s outré misinterpretation of The White Album) when they left the words “pigs” and “death to pigs” written in blood at the scenes of the Tate and LaBianca murders. Hell, you can trace this connotation of “pig” at least as far back as Orwell’s use of porcine beasts as the greediest and most deceitful of all those inhabiting Animal Farm.

  11. When the means by which an individual learns if they are wrong is itself rejected, the individual is no longer committed to what the university is committed.

  12. I have the feeling this is going to an important case. If Shapiro manages to stay in power it might signal a turning point in the struggle against the woke, a point where their rhetoric and exaggerations will have lost effectiveness.

    If he’s forced out it I predict the new President will make soothing noises about getting rid of the police department but do nothing about it—or do the sort of fake abolishing done elsewhere.

  13. Contrary to Schapiro’s suggestion that the protestors may have included some “outside agitators” as well as students (I think he intended this to soften his accusations), the group denies any outside agitation.

    Well then, i think they’ve scored themselves an ‘own goal’ here. My very limited impression of his initial response was that he was choosing not to initially blame the students for vandalism and looting. Their response here is essentially to say “yes, we and not outsiders were the vandals and looters.” If the purpose is to get the administration to listen to your requests, they just took a huge step backwards.

    Perhaps we are saddest given that this denunciation is the most full throated expression of “disgust” or call for “accountability” that we have heard from you or your office over the last 6 months

    I think this is a legitimate complaint, and I hope the administration will take a lesson from it. If you only listen to the squeaky wheel people, you’ve just incentivized people to squeak. In the future if they want less squeaky wheels, they should give a reasonable hearing to the students’ first, relatively tame complaints. It’s sort of developing a healthy social contract; the administration agrees to take time out of it’s schedule to listen to the students, even if they personally think the complaints are nothingburgers. They’re giving up their time and resources for cooperation, as it were. In return, the students agree not to escalate into nonviolent illegal or worse conduct, even if the outcome of discussion is not what they ideally want. They’re giving up their control for cooperation.

    1. As he says in his letter, there has been a dialogue going on for weeks, if not months. so it’s not like he hasn’t been listening. He’s just not caving instantly to the demands of a mob. What do they want in terms of accountability? Have the NU police been responsible for racially motivated killings? A university police department? This seems unlikely. Theft, property damage, and disorderly conduct are probably what they are mostly dealing with.

      1. It sounds like they wanted a denunciation of generalized racist police conduct in response to BLM, Floyd’s death, Taylor’s death…a response at least in the emotional ballpark as the one he gave when the victim was his own house (and the crime much less). I’d note this is not a big lift; pretty much everyone denounced Floyd’s killing.

        I don’t know the truth here as I’m certainly not very close to the situation. Maybe he dialogued a lot, gave a public denunciation, and the students are just not compromising. Maybe he didn’t and they’re legitimately pointing that he only gets moved to action when it’s his own personal butt being inconvenienced. However plugging “Northwestern denounces police violence” into google doesn’t turn up any good match, so at least superficially it looks to me like the students may have a point (that point only: I reject theirs or anyone’s defense that looting and violence is justified).

        1. I don’t see how it is incumbent upon a university president weigh in on a matter of serious political debate. Yeah, debate. And that’s the thing that the woke can’t get their heads around. Defunding the police does not have widespread support. Most Americans are against it. More and more each day as these protests carry on and are hijacked by anarchists.

          Breonna Taylor’s shooting was a terrible tragedy, but it was a grave operational error at the root of it. There was no murder, and no one will be charged with murder. For many, it seems there is no justice unless someone is charged with and convicted of a crime. But a criminal charge without evidence is also an injustice. This is wrongful death, and the city of Louisville have settled it for a record $12 million.

          The woke say that silence is violence. This is not true. No person or institution should feel compelled into a speech act by anyone. Speech is not free if you feel you don’t have a choice. It adds no value. It is frankly okay for a university to offer no opinion on alleged police excessive use of force. As institutions, universities should be apolitical.

  14. Protesters. Protesters. Protesters. With an “E.” Will no one rid me of that damn “O”? It’s not a hard word to spell.

  15. MLK specifically removed one aspect of Black agitation: the sense that it is a zero-sum game, the widespread notion that if Black people gain, White people lose. Nearly all the WSJ admonitions I’ve seen are injecting that zero-sum notion back again. Now all the secret bigots are emerging from the moldy woodwork and taking advantage of the white working-class people who responded to MLK’s Universal appeal.

  16. Thank you for summarizing this bonkers madness, professor, so I don’t have to research it myself.

    I rarely read such nonsense as the response to the dean’s letter.

    There is a huge moral panic going on (in SO MANY PLACES!) that has slipped the bounds of objective reality and turned itself into a self promotion machine of virtue signaling, bad arguments, wonky precedents and just obsessive hate.

    The crying shame is that it DETRACTS and DAMAGES actual justice and efforts towards real equality.

    I’m with you 100% on your commentary here – for what that’s worth. 🙂

    D.A., J.D., NYC
    (writer and former defense attorney for marginalized people/minorities, Queens & Manhattan court system, fmr Hillary campaign volunteer, lifelong lefty).

    I have an article about all this coming out soon I will send you.
    (yeah. that fkn guy with this d-g!) hehehe

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