Arthur Brooks and CMC: A Match Made in an Executive Boardroom
“Politics is about the free competition of ideas,” says the man wielding $20 million worth of Koch Brothers funding and the commencement speech microphone.
Money talks, and it speaks loudly at Claremont McKenna College. It speaks at the Athenaeum, it speaks through a professor’s voice, it speaks over the loudspeaker at the $70 million Roberts Sports Pavilion. It purses its lips when students ask about mental health resources or a more diverse faculty.
People surprised about the Arthur Brooks commencement decision must not hear the money speaking. Perhaps they wish they were involved in a different institution, one animated by something other than social, economic and racial power.
Arthur Brooks’s nomination reeks like the breath of a toothless old man, so lost in his ramblings that your presence does not seem to matter. Arthur Brooks’s nomination smells like the cheap cologne the man applies too heavily to cover the smell of his deteriorating flesh.
Arthur Brooks is that cologne to a conservative right, bent on selling neoliberalism as social justice. You might hear his feeble voice shouting for dialogue as people reject a racist pseudo-intellectual. With these attitudes, he will fit perfectly behind the CMC logo at graduation.
That scent of cheap cologne betrays the vulnerability of the CMC administration–their fear of the students they have yet to subdue, the students challenging the college every day with their mere existence. In their organizing, they have uncovered the rottenness of the college’s priorities, demanding their needs and refusing to back down when the administration responds by inviting a white supremacist to its most prized speaking institution.
These students hold no pretensions about the nature of the institution in which they deal. They have come to expect well-funded reactionary pundits, suspensions for challenging power, and millions of dollars towards programs of social engagement that refuse to stray from a free market ideology.
When the administration coughs “free speech,” these students hear the money in its lungs. They know that if speech were free, students might have had a say in their own speaker. If free speech meant anything, these students might have gotten a response when they spoke time and again about supporting the needs of the very same students CMC touts in its diversity statistics.
Free speech isn’t about the competition of ideas, it’s about the competition of power. In these moments, it might be easy to think that the reactionary position has won the day as it puts money, whiteness and neoliberalism atop the graduation podium. Those wiser can smell the fear and, with it, their moment of opportunity. They carry on struggles that are generations in the making. Taking control of these memories in this moment of danger, it remains to be seen whose voice will prove victorious.
Editor’s Note: This is an opinion article and the views of the author do not necessarily reflect the views of The Forum or the Editorial Board.