You may have heard about the brief and stressful birth, life and demise of “Youth for Western Civilization (YWC),” a conservative group at Towson University summarized well by and Jordan Russell at the university newspaper, The Towerlight. The organization at Towson was conceived of by student Matthew Heimbach.
Last June, he described for me what the ethos and nature of YWC would be like, and the genesis of the organization. Matt asked me if I would be the advisor for the organization. He sounded a bit combative and spoke of encountering an “highly apathetic and hostile environment” at Towson.
I wrote back to him the following:
“Sounds doable if we could meet in a couple of weeks.
As I say, the only point you make that brings me pause is the inclusion of protests and assumption of a hostile environment before the evidence presents itself.
Part of conservatism is giving people a chance to demonstrate their good faith.
To make a long, complicated story relatively short, YWC indicated over time that they had encountered substantial anger, threats and harassment from a small number of campus denizens, but that several members of the Student Government Association (a truly excellent group of young men and women this academic year, incidentally) had offered their regrets.
I wrote to Matt, simply enough, “Always act resolutely with dignity – it’s the conservative way, even when it is difficult.” He assured me he and his group did.
The relations with other campus groups were fractious, and I attended a meeting of Unity in the Community Campus Forum wherein I was given a copy of an article by the YWC president printed on the national Youth for Western Civilization website
After reading Matthew’s lengthy piece, I wrote the following e-mail to him March 8 (with a few errors cleaned up):
Matthew, I write this in sorrow, not in anger.
I attended the Unity in the Community Campus Forum discussion today for about an hour and 15 minutes, and I noted two things:
1. Except for Black Student Union president Kenan Herbert, there was no one who expressed the slightest concern that YWC had been threatened, harassed and mistreated on campus.
2. No one sympathetic to YWC expressed the slightest concern regarding YWC’s frightening rhetoric, referring to political opponents as “cancer,” using the words Islam and Muslim disparagingly, and referencing “disgusting degenerates that make up our opposition.”
I am sorry, but that is not how impressive and serious conservatives argue their case. Look at any of William F. Buckley’s treatises, Barry Goldwater’s, [George F. Will’s], Paul Ryan’s or go back to Voltaire [or Edmund Burke] and you will find nothing of this style.
I realize that I have been your advisor only nominally, but I cannot in good conscience advise a group that attacks people or groups personally or tactlessly or does not recognize their dignity and the value of dignified argument in the marketplace of ideas.
I wish you and the YWC the best of luck, and I hope that your better side wins out in the long run and also that you and your political opponents at Towson understand that the quality of being physically secure at a university is non-negotiable as a starting point.
I have never had an off-putting interaction with Matt Heimbach, either in person or by e-mail, but there are limits to what I can as a faculty advisor accept in the style and content of public debate by an organization to which I am an advisor.
The final paragraph of my e-mail is important, I believe, to the effect that public discourse requires a level of dignity that when violated becomes unacceptable in the marketplace of ideas.
The Premier blog of conservative and Republican politics and ideas in the Free State, named one of Maryland's best political blogs by the Washington Post.
Dr. Vatz has been a professor at Towson University for over 35 years.