The absolutely unthinkable, devastating election results of last week have upset millions, even to the extent that some liberal university students are reportedly unable to function and professors are cancelling classes and postponing midterm exams. Whether the reports are true or not, they are prevalent enough to prompt one Yale professor, Steven Berry, to write a guest editorial in the Washington Post defending the strength of his students.
While I respect Professor Berry’s coming to the defense of his students, I have to wonder why this phenomenon exists at all. What has happened that students at the university level are apparently so brittle that they can’t deal with real life? I was in 7th grade on November 22, 1963. We were out of school that day for some reason, but on Monday, November 25, we went back. There were no grief counselors, the school district didn’t cancel school, teachers didn’t excuse us from doing homework. We talked about what Kennedy’s assassination meant. We talked about how the Constitution provides for continuity of government. We talked about being saddened. But we also talked about how life would go on. The United States would remain safe (remember, this was during the Cold War and the threat of nuclear attack by the Soviet Union was real). In short, we dealt with it.
I have to think that it was because we had already been exposed to concepts that threatened our beliefs, and that we continued to be exposed to concepts like that, that we, as junior high students, didn’t crumble. I still remember American History in 1964. This was an election year. Our American History teacher contrasted the Republicans, Democrats and even the Communists on the bulletin board. Think of that! We were exposed to the Communists, whose leader, Nikita Khrushchev, had pounded his shoe on the podium at the United Nations and said the USSR would bury the United States, when we were but pre-pubescent, vulnerable children.
Professor Berry solved his students’ dilemma by way of a standing offer that he has. If a student, for whatever reason, feels he or she isn’t ready to take one of the two midterm exams, the student can opt out and transfer the entire weight of the exam to the final. Professor Berry feels that was a “clever” solution. But is it really?
I’m a lawyer. If I have a big trial tomorrow and I’m upset over the results of the election, the judge doesn’t care. A surgeon can’t tell his patient that he stayed up too late and is too upset about the Trump win to operate and remove the patient’s malignant tumor — sorry, it just has to wait. That response doesn’t fly in the real world. It shouldn’t fly in colleges and universities either.