By The Hesperian‘s Editorial Board
The recent racial strife on Chapman University’s campus came quickly and without much warning. After George Floyd’s tragic death, Chapman students quickly mobilized to increase racial, intersectional, and historical awareness on campus. Students turned their attention to the busts of historical figures on Chapman’s campus and sought to have multiple busts removed for alleged past misdeeds. Though, The Hesperian has discovered that controversies surrounding the campus busts are a fairly cyclical event. And, because of its cyclical nature, the Hesperian Editorial Board feels confident in predicting how this current crusade against the busts will turn out.
For context, a Chapman Newsroom article explained why Chapman University has busts in the first place:
“Since 1994, Chapman has maintained a tradition of honoring endowed chair gifts with this unique method of donor recognition. When an individual, family or organization funds an endowed chair (a permanently endowed faculty position), they select a renowned figure representing the field of study supported by their gift. Another private donor – usually a friend of the chair donor – pays for the creation and casting of the bust.”
After a bit of research, we at The Hesperian have found that this pattern of controversy surrounding the busts did not start in 2020, rather in 2011. “Bust Hysteria” has coincided with every presidential cycle for nearly the past decade.
2011: The earliest controversy that we could find was when the busts of President Ronald Regan and George P. Shultz were stolen from the campus, according to Chapman Newsroom. Due to the busts’ location in the middle of the campus in high-traffic areas, Chapman Public Safety concluded that the busts were deliberately targeted. Fortunately, the bust of Shultz was found in a garbage bin in Huntington Beach, but the Reagan bust apparently was never found and Chapman University had to recommission an artist to make it.
2015: The busts of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Milton Freedman, Ayn Rand, and Albert Schweitzer were defaced with caution tape and posters accusing the historical figures of “racism,” “homophobia,” and “neo-liberalist ideology,” according to Campus Reform. The posters were placed by students, and Chapman’s spokeswoman, Marry Platt, confirmed that they had identified the perpetrators, but no disciplinary action would be taken. The students later came forward and demanded that Chapman University condemn the racism of the busts, add a bust of liberal icon Dolores Huerta, and enact “mandatory diversity training” for the university.
2020: Again, the Ronald Reagan bust was an obvious target of a new class of crusading students. In addition, the busts of Albert Schweitzer, Margaret Thatcher, Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand were also, once again, under attack. Over 700 individuals had signed an angry petition calling for the removal of the aforementioned busts. Their reason to remove the busts? Students feel oppressed when walking by the busts.
The petition predictably called for the “oppressive” busts of conservative icons to be replaced with busts of liberal icons such as Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Harvey Milk, Nelson Mandela, Princess Diana, John Lewis, Cesar Chavez, James Baldwin, and Dolores Huerta. This recent episode of anti-bust demonstrations coincided with national demonstrations and riots that aimed to remove statues of historical figures.
The petition stated, “We believe the removal provides not only a display of allyship, but also a hopeful opportunity for educating students on the ways these historical figures abused their power to mistreat others.” Markos Buhler, the Chapman student who created the petition, said in a written statement to The Hesperian, “This petition was started in order to make Chapman’s campus a more inclusive and safe environment for all students.”
The crimes cited by the petition were, in our opinion, very trivial and opinionated. Depending on an individual’s perspective and willingness to bend the truth, the same type of “crimes” could be applied to any bust on campus. Even Chapman University president, Daniele Struppa, refused to cede to the students’ demands, saying in a campus-wide email that “with rare exception, it is difficult not to find controversial aspects in most of these figures.”
For example, the crime committed by Milton Friedman, according to the petition, was that he believed capitalism would eliminate racism (which it largely has). For evidence of Margaret Thatcher’s crimes, the petition cited the Labour Party as a source on Thatcher, which is a bit like citing the KKK as a source on Martin Luther King Jr.
Of course, these extremist students’ purity tests are so intense and unrealistic that not even the greatest civil rights icon in American history can meet their standards. If Milton Friedman can be “cancelled” for genuinely believing that capitalism is good, then surely Martin Luther King Jr. should be “cancelled” for his horrible treatment of women.
As previously stated, the petition demanded a bust of Malcolm X. Why would these students want a bust of Malcolm X when he said that white people are “a race of devils?” Additionally, Malcolm X’s Nation of Islam believed that all races were inferior to black people.
Of course, these activist students don’t actually care about racism, otherwise they would be against this. They only like the racist Malcolm X because he is a leftist icon.
These activist students’ approval of Malcolm X – in combination with their condemnation of benign figures like Milton Friedman – proves that these student activists are entirely motivated by politics rather than a sense of justice. Additionally, these students want to replace the current busts only with people who align with their leftist ideological viewpoint, regardless of whether or not the people were actually “good” or “moral” in their lives.
This crusade against Chapman’s busts is entirely political and has nothing to do with justice. These students do not hate these historical figures for moral reasons. These students hate these historical figures because they had different political opinions.
The activist students’ real, authoritarian message to students and faculty was clear: Just as we can remove busts of conservative figures, we also have the power and the inclination to remove you from this campus if you dare to profess similar conservative viewpoints.
In contrast to what these activist students believe, we are not actually the first perfect generation in world history, who is infallible and can look at historical figures and condemn them wholly for behavior that was acceptable in their time. Nobody is claiming that these historical figures were perfect, but neither were Martin Luther King Jr. nor Malcolm X. These activist students fail to make that distinction.
So, Chapman students should stop acting like their heroes are uniquely perfect, or like they are the first ever perfect, infallible generation. It is misguided to judge individuals on their worst faults rather than on their greatest achievements.
The busts are a figure of Chapman and are there to educate students, faculty, and visitors on the influential people that came before them. As we stated in an earlier editorial, the purpose of a university is to create an atmosphere of open expression and intellectual inquiry. By removing the busts, these students are removing the purpose of the university.
Fortunately, Chapman University has a record of refusing to take down the busts, and we believe that Chapman will maintain its record. The busts will not come down any time soon, though we can likely expect another episode of “Bust Hysteria” during the next presidential election.
In a statement to The Hesperian, SGA President Philip Goodrich said, “I agree that certain busts on our campus represent a problematic past but I also agree that it is important to preserve history and promote intellectual diversity. It will be far more beneficial for our community to focus on deeper institutional changes.”
We agree. Taking down the busts will make no progress, and will actually hurt Chapman’s ability to promote intellectual diversity. If Chapman wants to become more “diverse,” then there are better (or, at least, less harmful) ways to achieve that goal.
In regard to the busts, The Hesperian Editorial Board hopes that these students open up their minds and realize that there are – have been, and will be – good people in the world who should be honored and remembered, despite them having different political opinions.