I received an e-mail on Sunday from the president of Princeton University, one of my several almae matres, discussing steps he plans to take to address perceived racial injustice on campus.
Princeton is only the latest major university to face upheavals over race relations this fall, in the wake of the conflict at the University of Missouri which led to the resignation of its president earlier this month.
These conflicts have faced their own backlash in the media, with more than a few commentators complaining that the students' perceptions of their safety and acceptance within the general campus environment are far out of proportion to any threats and slights they may have received. Commentators blame the students for being whiners with a fetish for victimhood.
I don't believe today's students are appreciably whinier on issues of race than students were when I first started teaching at the university level two decades ago. Rather, I believe the real difference is that, while we seem to have more and more college administrators, fewer and fewer of them are interacting on a daily basis with students and faculty.
Neglecting student concerns doesn't make them go away. (Neither does neglecting faculty concerns, for that matter.) The reason students are aggrieved is that they do not perceive that university administrators care about them or their experiences. And, frankly, when university administrators spend most of their time talking to major donors or to each other, to the exclusion of talking to the students who are the core constituency and raison d'être for the university, they become blind to what is actually happening on their campuses, and become blindsided when problems escalate into public protests.