“Crap” — a term once considered too vulgar to print in a newspaper — is now common in print and on the airwaves. But it’s still news when a public official uses the C-word. Eyebrows elevated last year when former Vice President Dick Cheney said that a Senate committee’s report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs was “full of crap.”
Likewise, this newspaper dutifully reported that UC President Janet Napolitano, confronted at a regents’ meeting by student protesters who were chanting and removing their clothes, told Chairman Bruce Varner: “Let’s go. We don’t have to listen to this crap.”
Shock horror, as they say in British tabloids.
Napolitano has apologized, but the UC Student Assn. isn’t mollified. The group issued a statement saying Napolitano’s comment showed “a disturbing disconnect with the students she serves" and was a slap at free expression.
Not only that. The student group suggested that the chancellor had been mean to sensitive students who had screwed up their courage to the point of stripping down to their underwear to dramatize the fact that they had to “give the shirt off their back” to pay excessively high tuition. (Get it?)
“It takes a lot of courage to speak in public in front of figures of authority, and being vulnerable about concerns," the UC Student Assn. statement said. "To hear this come from the president of the university makes it even more challenging for students to come forward to share their thoughts with university administration, especially when it is accompanied by an intimidating police presence."
Three things struck me about this incident and the reaction:
1. The idea that the student protesters were “vulnerable” is laughable — but it does reflect the broader narrative that college students are tender flowers that must be protected by trigger warnings and elaborate speech codes.
2. Guerrilla theater has a long tradition in student protest, but no one should confuse it with "sharing thoughts." It’s entirely possible that Napolitano was imputing crapitude not to the argument that tuition is too high but to the student’s theatrics.
3. Dialogue works both ways. An editorial in the Daily Californian, the student newspaper at UC Berkeley, was critical of Napolitano but also noted that “student protesters are often unwilling to do their parts at the table — we saw that when student leaders walked out of a meeting with Napolitano, and we see it when drowning the regents with hollering consistently trumps hearing them out.”
In other words, the students need to cut the crap.
Follow Michael McGough on Twitter @MichaelMcGough3