Yesterday around 10.15 in the morning, I entered the classroom where I teach to set up the audio-visual equipment so that I could screen a film for the students in my 10.20 class. Normally I would have been in the classroom about five minutes earlier, but the previous instructor appeared to be in conference with a student, so I politely delayed my appropriation of the premises. At 10.15, however, I judged that I ought to assert my presence. As I walked through the classroom door, I noticed that the other instructor, a young adjunct, was indeed in conversation, as it seemed, with a tall, male, Caucasian person with long dark hair, whose manner struck me as heated and over-animated in a peculiar and immediately disturbing way. That something odd was going on was instantly confirmed when the person, turning to face me, loudly and truculently demanded to know where I stood on school shootings and gun ownership. When I made it evident that I had no interest in discussing the issue with him, he demanded that I give him my email address so that he could “send me a message.”
I looked at “Bob,” the young instructor, shrugging my shoulders in a silent appeal whether he could explain who this agitated party might be. Bob replied in a quiet voice that he had no knowledge of the loudmouth’s identity. That voluble person was now verbally harassing those of my students who were seating themselves in expectation of the film – insisting loudly and aggressively that they should answer his bizarre and random inquisitions. Drawing me aside, Bob said to me swiftly and in a manner sotto voce that this person had inserted himself into the classroom uninvited early in the session, asking whether he could participate in a debate that Bob’s students were conducting and that he had overheard from outside.
Acting on my perception that the strange party’s behavior violated both decorum and propriety and migrated well into the wild land of the abnormal, I took myself to the departmental office and asked the administrative assistant to call campus security so as to request officers to come to the scene. I went back to the classroom to find the miscreant still there, telling students in his loud and bullying voice that they should give him their contact information and other brazen and impolite things. At this point I experienced fear for the students. My gut told me, Tom, you are confronting a psychotic. I addressed the interloper and told him in my best police-officer voice that, not being an enrolled member of my class, he had no business in my classroom and should depart from it on the instant. He demurred with a nasty look. I instructed him again, and he asked smugly whether I was going to call campus security. When I said that I had already called campus security, he made his way out into the corridor in a show of defiant slowness.
In the corridor and its adjacent departmental common spaces, the party continued to harass people. He singled out a coed from my class, more or less maneuvering her so that she was in a corner and he was blocking her from exiting it. At that point I intervened, taking the coed by her arm and asking her quietly to take herself off to the asylum of the departmental office. Where were the police? There was as yet no evidence of them. I wanted the harasser out of the departmental space entirely and I managed to cajole him into taking the stairs down to the next level. I followed at a distance and saw that the security officers had finally arrived and were, at last, confronting the hooligan. Later in the day, I offered my description of the event to the same officers. In the course of speaking with them, I said that my gut-feeling about the person was that violence was simmering just below the surface and was about to erupt. Both officers nodded in agreement.
I come now to the significance of the incident. The adjunct instructor had permitted a total stranger, who turned out to be a student, but who looked older than an undergraduate, and who was behaving extravagantly, to enter his classroom uninvited. Why had he done this? Because he is young, shy, easily intimidated, and because he could not bring himself to say no or even to request that the stranger leave after the alarming behavior commenced, which was pretty much immediately. And because, on no account, is anyone ever permitted not to be nice to someone else. Other faculty members, all of them female, noticed that something odd was happening, once the lunatic had emerged from the classroom and was making a scene in the commons, but they preferred to ignore the commotion by retreating to their offices. No one except the lone adult male, and that would be me, had any sense of a threat, and no one except me made any move to intervene to prevent something bad from happening. Had the psychotic individual barged into my classroom while I was conducting a class session, I would have first of all have asked the students to leave the room as swiftly as possible, and then I would have done what I did: Call security. But then I am a sixty-three-year-old man, fortunate enough by age to have escaped inculcation in the cult of jejune niceness.
I remark the extraordinary passivity with which everyone except me responded to what was, objectively, a breach of behavioral norms so alarming that it could, by a reasonable person, only be construed as a potential threat to public safety. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the departmental walls are festooned with copies of an insipid poster expressing the mantra that our faculty is a “welcoming” one and that everyone is free to use our commons. The late Lawrence Auster used to borrow from H. G. Wells to describe the current generation of hopelessly naïve young people, including college students, as Eloi. In The Time Machine the Eloi are a race of effete human beings bred by the troglodytic and cannibalistic Morlocks as cattle, to live for awhile carefree and then be consumed. It is not just the young, but everyone, as it seems to me, who has submitted to what is called, nowadays, sensitivity. The term means the opposite of what it says: It really means insensitivity to violations of the norm, because, of course, it is the norm, and not the uncouth behavior, that poses the real threat.