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America’s campus meltdown

This is what happens when the ideological left controls higher education


A sign stands at the protest encampment at Columbia University in New York on April 22. Associated Press/Photo by Stefan Jeremiah

America’s campus meltdown

The chaos engulfing elite college campuses across America should surprise no one. The sight of privileged university students chanting “from the river to the sea” and calling for an end to American support of Israel was absolutely predictable. This is exactly what happens when the ideological left is in the driver’s seat and leftist students are all too ready to go along for the ride. Americans of a certain age might be tempted to say this is 1968 all over again. But, in the case of the campus protesters, the current situation is actually far worse.

Just look at New York’s famed Columbia University, founded as a college by the Church of England and later the historic school of American patriots. In 1968 Columbia was the scene of campus protests and a surging ideological Left, with students directing their ire at the U.S. government and the war in Vietnam. Like many elite institutions, it has a long history of anti-Semitism. Fast forward to 2024 and the same scenes now flood back, with students protesting and leftism ascendant. This time the anger is directed at the State of Israel and the students have styled themselves as liberationist allies of the Palestinians, who they present as victims of Israel’s “settler colonialism.” They demand an immediate divestment of any university funds connected to Israel. But listen carefully and some are demanding an end to Israel itself.

None of this is by accident. Decades ago, Columbia, along with other elite universities, started hiring a cadre of young professors who were products of the New Left or other ideologically progressive forms of thought. Whether influenced by the Frankfort School with its updated neo-Marxism, Gramscian political theory, or French deconstructionism, these young faculty were the vanguard of a new army of political progressives. They included literary theorists, legal scholars, and a host of others, but the energies were saturated with the ideologies of the left, including the mandatory dynamic of oppressor and the oppressed.

Higher education was turning into a laboratory for social engineering and intellectual revolution. Specialties such as “post-colonial studies” percolated with promises of liberation, often translated into nationalist movements and identity politics. Edward Said, for example, taught literature at Columbia from 1963-2003. But Said’s significance has mostly to do with his arguments that Western cultures had been condescending and imperialistic toward Eastern and Near-Eastern cultures, approaching them through the false lenses of “orientalism.” Said also identified with the Arabs in Palestine, seeing Israel, the Jewish state, as an illegitimate project driven by what was labeled “settler colonialism.”

It goes on. The current Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies is Rashid Khalidi, who has extended Said’s criticism of Israel and the indictment of Israel as the product of “settler colonialism.” Khalidi, we should note, had earlier been politically involved with the Palestinian cause in Beirut. At the time, some sources identified him as a spokesman for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). His exact involvement is unclear.

Your local college is almost certainly doing its best to look like Columbia University.

What is not unclear is that the students now condemning Israel are the products of an elite American academic industry that offers leftist ideologies as its main product and, brace yourselves, the younger professors on many campuses are much further to left in both ideology and politics. The old liberals are scared to death of the young leftists.

Furthermore, the young professors are scared to death of the students, many of whom have been coddled in privilege and even more of whom have been marinated in a brine of radical ideologies. They have been indoctrinated by DEI offices and recruited into social activism. In recent days, they hit the protest button. It’s back to the barricades for the young leftists. The media lap it all up.

The protests have spread coast to coast, and no one should be surprised. We know exactly where this comes from. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson went to the Columbia campus to speak sense, and was predictably shouted down. He called for Columbia University president Nemat Shafik to restore order to the campus or resign. She is now under attack from the right for allowing chaos to happen and from the left for having some student protesters arrested. She might well lose her job, but her successor is almost certain to be even more progressive. The reason is simple, the leftist ideological takeover of the elite American college campus is nearly complete.

Here is even worse news: Your local college is almost certainly doing its best to look like Columbia University. This is exactly how higher education has been lost in America. When you send your children and grandchildren to these schools, and brag about Junior’s admission to the elite university, just understand what you are celebrating.

I know you think your kid would not be one of the students with the zip ties tying her wrists behind her back at the protest. Maybe not. But there are a scores of American parents who are finding out too late that their offspring think that Israel—and the United States—are illegitimate settler colonial states. Many of America’s most elite universities are now experiencing a campus meltdown. Shame on anyone who claims this comes as a surprise.


R. Albert Mohler Jr.

Albert Mohler is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College and editor of WORLD Opinions. He is also the host of The Briefing and Thinking in Public. He is the author of several books, including The Gathering Storm: Secularism, Culture, and the Church. He is the seminary’s Centennial Professor of Christian Thought and a minister, having served as pastor and staff minister of several Southern Baptist churches.


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