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Institutionalized Discontent


Examining past experiences of student activism at Berkeley this article suggests that the present storm of political correctness sweeping American universities represents more than just another of the periodic crusades that have disrupted academic life over the years. The current wave of activism is different largely because the ever-present minorities of militant faculty and student activists have gained significant reinforcements in their struggle to transform the culture and mission of higher education. Over the last several decades federal regulations and funds have created an alternative bureaucracy within universities that is devoted, not to the core academic mission of teaching and research, but to improving the social climate of university life. The legitimacy and power of the social climate bureaucracy depend on heightening the perception that academic life involves a dangerous environment, from which students need protection - a service provided through creating safe spaces, helping students to recognize micro-aggressions, training them in sexual assault prevention, conducting sensitivity training for faculty and the like. Devoted to heightening this perception of the university campus as a hostile environment, the climate bureaucracy has become a source of institutionalized discontent.

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