Political correctness claims one more victim
Excellent analysis. This movement, and its cruel ability to cow people, has been a long time in the making. I was a professor in the 1980s and 1990s, as the PC movement found its legs. Before that, college and university administrators cravenly caved to students, and student organizations, who practiced not just civil disobedience but violence during the Vietnam war. So academia has had at least two generations to reach this point.
What one hopes for is a university administration that says, in a letter addressed to the pack: "No, we decline to accept your resignation, and here's why:" Then the administrators say in their own words what O'Neill says in this column. You will never see that. You can't even tell whether the administrators are merely weak, or if they actually agree with the people who hound them.
Another interesting development is why Twitter and the other instantaneous means of communication seem to have so much power. You want to think that deliberation, reflection, judiciousness, and wisdom have preference over the fulminations of a cyber-mob. And we've always hoped that those qualities of reason would reside in the academy, if not in other parts of life. As it is, other parts of life demonstrate these qualities far more than the academy. Life at the university starts to seem like life in Lord of the Flies.
Sanctimony has entered every part of life in the academy. To be sanctimonious is to make a show of being morally superior to other people. The mob has power now, but its power is based on nothing outside of itself. If only one university president with a reputation for integrity would publicly repudiate this movement, it would collapse. The movement has become well entrenched, so its power might ebb rapidly rather than collapse, but if only one academic leader spoke the truth, as O'Neill's article does, others would recognize the terrible damage already inflicted on academic integrity and freedom.
Interestingly, Joseph McCarthy's downfall came in the context of character assassination, which is what happened to Tim Hunt. Joseph Welch, an attorney at the Army-McCarthy hearings, stood up to McCarthy, to defend a colleague whom McCarthy had publicly attacked. McCarthyism collapsed. The following is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on Joseph N. Welch>
On June 9, 1954, the 30th day of the Army–McCarthy hearings, McCarthy accused Fred Fisher, one of the junior attorneys at Welch's law firm, of associating while in law school with the National Lawyers Guild (NLG), a group that J. Edgar Hoover sought to have the U.S. attorney general designate as a Communist front organization. Welch had privately discussed the matter with Fisher and the two agreed Fisher should withdraw from the hearings. Welch dismissed Fisher's association with the NLG as a youthful indiscretion and attacked McCarthy for naming the young man before a nationwide television audience without prior warning or previous agreement to do so:
"Until this moment, Senator, I think I have never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness. Fred Fisher is a young man who went to the Harvard Law School and came into my firm and is starting what looks to be a brilliant career with us. Little did I dream you could be so reckless and so cruel as to do an injury to that lad. It is true he is still with Hale and Dorr. It is true that he will continue to be with Hale and Dorr. It is, I regret to say, equally true that I fear he shall always bear a scar needlessly inflicted by you. If it were in my power to forgive you for your reckless cruelty I would do so. I like to think I am a gentle man, but your forgiveness will have to come from someone other than me."
When McCarthy tried to renew his attack, Welch interrupted him:
"Senator, may we not drop this? We know he belonged to the Lawyers Guild. Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?"
McCarthy tried to ask Welch another question about Fisher, and Welch interrupted:
"Mr. McCarthy, I will not discuss this further with you. You have sat within six feet of me and could have asked me about Fred Fisher. You have seen fit to bring it out. And if there is a God in Heaven it will do neither you nor your cause any good. I will not discuss it further. I will not ask Mr. Cohn any more questions. You, Mr. Chairman, may, if you will, call the next witness."