My sole-begotten son, who is midway through Oxford, is visiting me over the Easter holidays. He has brought along a friend from Brown, a classical archaeology major, and basically what the boys do all day long is get plastered. Which is as it should be, of course.
When sober, the future archaeologist tells me about life at Brown. Last year he was expelled when a former girlfriend, out of coquettishness verging on spite, informed the college authorities that he kept guns in his room. A search by the campus police uncovered no guns; they did, however, find a small axe head, two pen knives and a book on medieval armor – terrorist fetishes, in short, deemed sufficient to commence expulsion proceedings. Only after the parents had sent in the lawyers was the college persuaded to reconsider, at length reinstating this embryonic Osama.
A college chum of his did get expelled. Apparently, the boy came by his best friend’s dorm one night, urging him to come out drinking. The friend demurred, with studying for exams as his feeble excuse. Whereupon the hapless bon-vivant shouted up to the dorm window that he should “stop being such a Jew, just get down here and let’s grab some brewskis.” A snitch on another floor overheard this remark and reported it to the authorities. Notwithstanding the fact that the ostensibly offended party was the allegedly offending party’s most intimate friend at university, he happened to be Jewish and, sure as Genesis, expulsion proceedings followed. The ostensible victim of racist abuse, to give credit where credit’s due, did all he could to save his friend from ignominy, but was told that his own view of the incident was immaterial.
A still more instructive item of current Brunoniana involves the Carrie Tower, a venerable brick structure that a student group has now called on the university to destroy because “it was built by slaves.” Now, instead of expelling the nincompoops, on the rational grounds that anybody who thinks a 1904 structure predates the Thirteenth Amendment must have deceived the university admissions committee by forging a high-school diploma, Brown has responded to these rumblings of discontent by launching a Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, headed by – who else? Not Tom Fleming, surely – a professor of “Africana Studies” with the evocative surname of Bogues.
The founder of the college, admittedly, had been a slave owner. But so was Tolstoy in Russia – as my son’s friend remonstrates over yet another glass of horseradish-flavored vodka – to say nothing of some 25% of the 1,515,605 free families in the fifteen slave states, or 8% of all American families, that owned slaves by 1860. Expiation is a wondrous thing, no doubt, but I find my own sympathies rather lie with the poor Brunonian who wanted to get sloshed with his Jewish friend.
According to Brown University’s information site, apart from being a distinguished humanities professor at Addis Ababa University and an associate director of the Center for Caribbean Thought at the University of the West Indies, Professor Bogues is “an associate editor of the Caribbean journal Small Axe.” Well, well, well.
Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles. The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator. His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.