University President Anderson and I agree very little on most issues. He’s an incredibly friendly man who handles everything with resilient grace, but we conservatives tend to be respectfully wary of liberal university officials. Last Friday, however, I gained a newfound sympathy for Anderson’s position when I sat through an onslaught of outrageous demands that progressive student leaders launched at our president.
The school required officers from every club to attend a leadership training called Leadershipalooza (yes, really). The event was mostly mundane, until Anderson made an appearance at the end. He spoke to us with that characteristically calm smile and measured tone about some new plans for the university (renovating Chapman and so forth), and then asked for student feedback. An uncomfortably lengthy barrage of demands followed. Anderson stood with that unflagging smile as students lobbed demands at him that ranged from laughable to truly dangerous.
“One of my professors handed out the roster on the first day and didn’t have a spot for preferred names, and that can make non-binary students feel really unsafe,” ranted one student. Another insisted on gender-neutral housing. Many students brought up issues which Anderson could not possibly address personally, such as a transfer student who complained that her classes were too big, or a sophomore who launched into a diatribe about not being close enough to her professors, or another student who vaguely said she wasn’t “feeling represented.”
Certain students had ample rage but little conviction. One senior educated the room on the importance of doing everything one can to address climate change at all costs, and then complained that the nearest glass recycling bin was too far from her room. Another student said that, despite not being an orthodox Jew, she felt uncomfortable taking finals on Saturday. And then there were the predictable calls for greater diversity, and that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion “isn’t enough.” One student, complaining about the food in Mabee Dining Hall, summed up progressive angst well: “I’m not blaming the Mabee workers… I’m blaming the institution, I guess.”
Anderson’s calmness in the face of that vitriol serves as a good lesson in leadership for conservatives and liberals alike. He prefaced his speech with a quote about how universities can be institutions of white supremacy and then was cannibalized by his own side of the spectrum for not arranging the university around their standards. It has been theorized that Anderson’s affability and willingness to listen are just for show, a way to placate dissatisfied students by giving them the illusion of input. Although I’m hesitant to believe that Anderson’s interest is insincere, we can only hope that was the case at Leadershipalooza.