A Professor Tells Students How to Fight the Woke University

AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel

The school year is nearly over. Millions of high school students are deciding what to do next. Many of them are still deciding on a four-year college. As a college professor, my own advice to students and their parents matches that of the radio host Dennis Prager: unless you are aiming at one of the serious (usually religious) institutions that is explicitly “right wing” in educational terms (meaning committed to traditional conceptions of education as imparting knowledge of the sciences and the humanistic wisdom of western civilization by teaching a philosophical habit of mind) then you should just go to whichever one is cheapest.

But if students do not go to one of those outlier schools such as Hillsdale, Grove City, the University of Dallas, my own University of St. Thomas in Houston, they have to be ready for what they will encounter. They have to prepare to recognize the kind of left-wing brainwashing they will encounter and be ready to fight back. Thankfully, Drexel University management professor Stanley Ridgley has written a book that does precisely that. Brutal Minds: The Dark World of Left-Wing Brainwashing in Our Universities is not only a guide to the mechanisms by which the world of the American university, which had been tilting left for decades, became a fully woke indoctrination center bent on imposing a dogmatic leftist take on race and gender. It also explains how the indoctrination works in practice and gives advice for how best to resist it.

While many ordinary Americans blame the professors for this shift, Ridgley rightly argues that full-blown activists are still a minority of faculty at most schools. Certainly students will find the kind of brutal Maoist techniques designed to separate them from their families, communities, and sense of morality in some classes, but the most dangerous people on campus are those in the “student affairs” (sometimes called “student services” or “student development”) positions—counselors, student orientation directors, residence life directors, first-year experience directors, academic advisors, and especially the hordes of diversity, equity, and inclusion staffers who have taken over.

Though Ridgley does not think the faculty in general are the biggest problems, some academic departments come in for special blame: mostly in the social sciences, the “studies” (women’s, sexuality, black, social justice, etc.), and especially the schools of education.

For Ridgley, the student affairs bureaucracies and the education departments form, along with the national student affairs guilds such as NASPA and ACPA, a three-headed beast that he names Cerberus after the mythical guard dog of the underworld. The way it works is that the education schools give credentials to the activists trained by the guilds who then take over administrative positions within the universities and create more administrative positions for the activists to take over.

Many people, reading news about how Stanford University has almost as many administrators as it does students, will assume that most of these positions are no-show or make-work positions and lament the waste. If only the problem were simply waste! In fact, the problem is that many of these administrators are indeed making work—but the work they are making is the ideological brainwashing he mentions in the title. Ridgley describes the contemporary campus under the sway of these figures as “a world populated by paranoiacs, by their duped followers, by amateur psychotherapists, by neo-Marxist totalitarians, by unqualified faculty apprentices, by ancillary support personnel with delusions of grandeur, by student affairs staffers imbued with autocratic mentality, and by thought reformers who violate federal law against human subject experimentation to attack young people in workshops, to destroy their relationships with parents and friends, and to clear the way for new relationships grounded in a hate-filled racialist ideology.”

A recent Babylon Bee story was titled “Kim Jong Un Attends Ivy League University To Learn New Brainwashing Techniques.” Yet the satire site’s premise is not very far from reality. In the first part of Brutal Minds, Ridgley shows how these ideologues with master’s degrees (and occasionally doctorates in education) go about the task of trying to remold the minds and hearts of young people with Marxian and Maoist ideas usually derived from the Brazilian socialist educational philosopher Paolo Freire and coercive psychological techniques actually developed in Maoist China and by MIT social psychologist Kurt Lewin.

The activist professors and the legion of student affairs workers (whom Ridgley refers to throughout as “Good Soldier Schweiks,” after the titular character of Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek’s novel of an incompetent and foolish soldier during World War I, for their useful idiot qualities) engage in reeducation designed to inculcate “antiracist” and other left-wing ideas through mandatory “training,” classes, workshops, seminars, and other gatherings. In these, they generally attempt to get students to surrender personal information, which will then be used to cajole and manipulate students into acceptance of the new ideology.

Ridgley’s volume takes the readers behind the curtain to see how this “mystical manipulation” operates, showing how the activist student affairs workers use key words and set up social gatherings to maximize pressure on students. He notes that many of the techniques involved are psychological in nature and thus should be subject to Institutional Review Boards at the institutions.

Ridgley’s final chapters encourage students and parents to take the information he offers and use it to stop the activists in their tracks. Given that university administrators and boards of governors finally are only concerned with lawsuits and bad publicity, pressure from students and parents holds out the possibility of reform on campuses that are not fully left-wing. Thus, he offers a path of recognizing these abuses, resisting them, and then reporting them. He encourages presidents and boards of governors to reassert their authority over the universities. And he encourages state legislatures to actually exercise oversight over state universities and colleges—and use the powers of the purse to stop the ideological takeovers.

Ridgley’s is an incredibly useful book—and one that rings true to this reviewer who has been involved in higher education for over twenty years. Ridgley rightly notes how this massive take-over by academic wannabes with bogus education department degrees has largely been achieved since the 1990s and especially since the George Floyd riots shook the country three years ago. I do have several caveats, though, about both the possibility for reform and also what reform looks like.

First, while Ridgley is correct that the numbers of fully woke professors are still in the minority status at many institutions, younger faculty—many hired in the last decade—are fully on board with the ideological turns that have been taken. And while many of the student affairs and DEI bureaucrats did weasel their way into power, it was often with the full approval of university presidents, provosts, and deans. The problems at many colleges and universities may well have become insuperable absent the possibility of rebooting the entire institutions by firing everybody and starting over.

Second, while Ridgley focuses on the disturbing racialist ideology that is being pushed on students, this may not even be the worst aspect of the current indoctrination. The purposeful destruction of the idea of male and female and the inculcation of the incoherent notions of “gender” are both doing even more damage to students and to the possibility of real study of the world.  

Third, Ridgley throughout assumes that the goal is to return American universities to “Enlightenment ideals,” often characterizing the wokesters as “medieval” in the brutality of their minds. Yet if the secular Enlightenment was able to achieve certain humanistic reforms in the context of a residually Christian Europe and America, the last two hundred years have shown that the attempts to bracket God from university education have created the very vacuum that harder and uglier secular ideas have filled. I began this article noting that the small institutions that still keep alive a vibrant and serious educational ethos are largely the ones that take Christian faith seriously. I think Ridgley ought to consider that the fruit of Enlightenment ideals may not be possible when cut off from the tree of Jewish and Christian ideas.

Despite these criticisms, Brutal Minds is a very important book. Every university student, every parent of students, every university employee who has been keeping his head down and hoping to survive the great awokening, and every politician who has the possibility of influencing education ought to be reading this book. An old joke has it that academic disputes are so fierce because the stakes are so small. Brutal Minds shows why this is certainly not the case now. The disputes we have right now are about the very nature of education and whether ours will produce free people capable of self-government or simply slaves fixated on racial grievance and unable to figure out which bathroom to use.  

David P. Deavel teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas. He is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative.

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