Column: Between a monk and a Klansman

Paul Kengor

Students at Indiana University-Bloomington recently went into panic mode at the sight of a Dominican friar, who they mistook for a Ku Klux Klan member. Funny? Yes, but also sad. It is a further sign of the decline of our universities, and what is and isn’t being taught.

Residential hall adviser Ethan Gill zapped an email to his peers, warning them of the ominous “threat” marching across the quad: “There has been a person reported walking around campus in a KKK outfit holding a whip. ... Please PLEASE PLEASE be careful out there tonight.” Later in the evening, a relieved Gill retracted his warning: “I see this picture. It’s a priest. With a rosary.”

This year happens to mark the 800th anniversary of the Dominicans. The Dominicans, named for their founder, Dominic de Guzman, a Spanish priest and contemporary of another giant of the faith, Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscans, long pre-date the KKK.

The Dominicans far pre-date the American university, too. Not unrelated, our universities once taught what we commonly call “Western civ,” or “Western civilization,” where students learned the elemental facts of their Western world, and where contemporary campus oddities like religious figures were not alien to their mind’s eye.

But such is not the zeitgeist of the modern university, where today’s typical student is enmeshed with a thoroughly secular worldview where a trinity of race, gender, and sexual orientation account for what is held sacred. They are carefully trained to be ever-vigilant for the slightest micro-aggression of racism, sexism, or the like. Their “education” is such that an ancient religious order is utterly unrecognizable.

In fact, consider this irony: Fittingly, mere days after this incident in Bloomington, students at Stanford University rejected an effort to add a required course on Western civ to the curriculum. The campus secularists can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that a dangerous Western civ requirement will not cut into enrollment for courses like “Narrating Queer Drama” at Stanford’s department of Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.

And here’s the height of the irony: If students at Stanford, Indiana University-Bloomington, and elsewhere would dare explore Western civilization, they might discover that their entire educational tradition owes quite a debt to these arcane men with robes and beads.

It was the monks, starting with the Benedictines (founded in the 5th century), that preserved crucial ancient texts and were the educators who established the model and laid the foundation for the university system. We arguably would not have the modern university without monks.

Needless to say, college students will not learn any of this in their courses on “Transgender Studies” or “Gay Autobiography.” The progressive professors running these courses are championing the thoughts of Harry Hay (the Marxist gay-rights pioneer) rather than Dominic de Guzman.

In the ashes of the Judeo-Christian values and timeless absolutes they have set ablaze, our modern progressives in the academy have fashioned a molten calf of politically and culturally correct nostrums. They peddle false faiths full of contradiction and selective application, such as their “tolerance” and “diversity” heresies — carefully applied only to things they want to tolerate. It is tolerance and diversity for me but not for thee.

And thus, when these late-adolescent products of contemporary academia look at a Dominican brother with confused fear, we shouldn’t be surprised. This is a direct extension of their “higher” education. This is what they and their parents have paid for at great financial and moral cost.

In the 1960s, the campus counterculture had decidedly different overtones than it does now, 50 years later. To be counterculture in the 21st century means to fight to retain the best of the timeless Western Judeo-Christian values that got us here. And it certainly means knowing the difference between a priest and a Klansman.

Paul Kengor, author of “Takedown,” is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.