Are Colleges Teaching Tomorrow's Leaders the Wrong Lessons?

When we say, “There’s a time and a place for everything, and it’s called college,” we don’t mean for kids to take it literally. The message is that screwing up in the real world can have severe consequences. School, on the other hand, tends to be a bit more forgiving of the young and dumb.

Maybe that is the wrong message to to send impressionable young adults, even in jest. If we really want to prepare our future business and political leaders for the real world, we should teach them personal accountability: that actions, good or bad, lead to consequences. Also that we’re a nation of laws that distinguish right from wrong.

But who would have thought that the schools themselves would to take the joke seriously? Lately, it seems that colleges across America are becoming backwards bizarro worlds where bad behavior goes unpunished and lawlessness prevails.

At a Harvard Law School event some weeks ago, a student later identified as Husam El-Qoulaq stood up in front of 150 colleagues and professors during the Q&A following a presentation by former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni to reportedly ask, “How is it that you are so smelly? It’s regarding your odor … very smelly.”

That prompted Dean Martha Minow to send an email to the entire law school condemning the comment as disturbing, offensive, inappropriate and anti-Semitic, calling it “an embarrassment to this institution and an assault upon the values we seek to uphold.” I couldn’t agree more.

But instead of putting some teeth into it, so students know that such behavior would not be tolerated, to my knowledge, the student suffered no consequences. On the contrary, the administration made every effort to hide his identity, and the Harvard Law Record published A Letter in Support of Husam El-Qoulaq.

Of course free speech is protected, but there’s a nuance to the First Amendment that seems to escape more and more people these days: it only applies in public, not in private. When someone disrupts a private event of any kind, whether it takes place in a boardroom or a class room – leaders have the right to remediate the problem.

That kind of disruptive and childish nonsense would not be tolerated in the corporate world, nor should it be tolerated in an institution of higher learning.

The student did, however, issue an apology – not for disrupting the event or insulting a guest of the school; he simply didn’t intend for his comments to be perceived as anti-Semitic.

Meanwhile, in 2011, the Obama Administration decided it would be a good idea to deal with a growing problem of sexual assaults on campus by taking such cases out of the hands of the criminal justice system and putting them into the hands of kangaroo courts where university administrators act as judge and jury in on-campus rape trials.

While the wording of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and several supplemental letters detailing schools’ responsibilities in sexual violence cases are pretty onerous, and all federally funded institutions are required to comply, college administrators seem to have taken their newfound authority too far.

From Yale and Amherst College to Duke and the University of Michigan, falsely accused students are suing their schools for expelling and labelling them sex offenders without due process or a chance for appeal, even after investigations discover that the “rapes” in question were actually consensual sex.

Apparently, 28 faculty members of Harvard Law School wrote a strongly worded objection to the university’s “procedures for deciding cases of alleged sexual misconduct.” The professors say Harvard’s policies “lack the most basic elements of fairness and due process, are overwhelmingly stacked against the accused, and are in no way required by Title IX law or regulation.”

I’m guessing the legal profs know their subject matter.

And the irony is, there’s no real evidence that Title IX, the way it’s being interpreted, or the way schools are metering out justice are actually effective in reducing the number of rapes on campus.

Those are just a few examples of a trend I see playing out across the country, that schools are being run in ways that are alarmingly inconsistent with our culture’s most esteemed core values, namely that personal accountability means actions lead to consequences, and that those consequences are determined by the rule of law.

When I think back on all the crazy things I did in college, the only saving grace is that I knew what I was doing was wrong. How did I know? Not only was my bad behavior not condoned by my professors, the consequences were swift, harsh and fair. I learned those lessons the hard way, and that prepared me for the real world.

Unfortunately, that’s not happening today. Tomorrow’s leaders are learning the wrong lessons. How can that not have a profound influence on our culture?