Race-obsessed students rant against white supremacy and campus mobs destroy an innocent professor's career in Netflix's new dramedy, The Chair. The show both acknowledges woke mobs and campus dysfunction while promoting the very ideas that have contributed to the decline of American higher education in the first place.
The series focuses on the new chair of the English Department at fictional Pembroke College, Ji-Yoon Kim (Sandra Oh). While classes on Chaucer and American Literature with elderly white professors remain empty, students flock to the class "Sex and the Novel" taught by the up-and-coming black female professor Yaz McKay (Nana Mensah).
In McKay's full class, students talk about "white supremacy" and sing "No women on board!" in a rap about Moby Dick. In fact, the only thing students seem to care about in every class that is not empty is race and feminist issues. The obsession is myopic.
Students come to Prof. Kim's office concerned that Prof. McKay might be denied tenure.
Student 1: Poli-Sci just denied tenure to the only person of color in their department. We're worried about Professor McKay.
Kim: They're conservative assholes.
Student 1: Black faculty are held to different standards. They're research isn't considered as rigorous. They're assumed to be more disorganized, less collegial.
Kim: I know.
Student 2: They get invited less often to their colleagues' houses for dinner.
This dire description of life for black faculty does not square with recent multiple real-life incidents of white professors pretending to be black or other minorities in order to advance their academic careers. Prof. Kim's mention of "conservative assholes" also tells you how important ideological diversity on campus is to her.
She frets about the importance of "feminist scholarship and critical race theory" and bemoans that her department is "87% white," saying, "We need more women of color."
Yet, for all the preoccupation over the color of a person's skin or their chromosomes, this dramedy is surprisingly smart when it tackles how student mobs can destroy an innocent professor's life without due process.
A young, popular white English professor, Bill Dobson (Jay Duplass), mockingly makes a Hitler salute when explaining the definition of "fascism." Students record it on their cell phones and it goes viral on social media. Soon, students are chanting "No Nazis at Pembroke" outside the English Department offices and calling the teacher "Professor Hitler."
Thinking he can reason with the students, Prof. Dobson prepares for a public town hall on the quad. He is still naïve about the reality he faces. He tells Prof. Kim, "For once, I'm in trouble for something demonstrably stupid." Apparently, he has not heard of Evergreen College's Professor Bret Weinstein, Professors Erika and Nicholas Christakis at Yale, Providence College's Anthony Esolen, and others, all of whom were pillaried by campus mobs without just cause.
The next day, the town hall quickly goes south as students shout accusations:
Dobson: If you are suggesting that what I did is the same as propagating neo-Nazism, that's inaccurate. This is a willful misrecognition of what was clearly...
Student 1: Are you saying we misrecognized a Nazi salute?
Dobson: No. I'm not saying that at all. I was merely trying to say...
Student 1: This is how it always goes. You do something that's objectively fucked up, and then when we call you out on it, we get accused of getting it wrong.
Dobson: I didn't say anyone was overreacting. I was merely making the case...
Student 2: Are you going to apologize?
Student 2: Okay, so let's hear it.
Dobson: Okay. I'm sorry if I made anyone feel...
Student 3: That's not an apology.
Dobson: If I made you fell...
Student 4: You're sorry about my feelings.
Student 5: You're minimizing your responsibility by saying you're sorry for how we feel.
Student 4: Hey, Dean Larson. It's nice to see you come out to defend a member of Pembroke faculty for saluting Hitler!
Prof. Dobson is presumed guilty and attacked when he defends himself. Complaints about due process and a "kangaroo court" in later episodes fall on deaf hears. By the time it is all over, the student mob wins and Prof. Dobson loses his job.
Soon, Prof. Kim also finds herself in hot water. The student newspaper calls her "the face of totalitarianism on campus" after something she said to a teacher's assistant regarding the press is misconstrued.
Prof. Kim tries to defend the students' behavior by arguing that "the world is burning," so, of course, they are acting out. The irony is that students are acting out precisely because left-wing radicals have controlled academia for decades and their Marxist-Leninist obsessions with race and gender instead of truth and beauty are precisely what has lead to the mob mentality they are witnessing.
The Chair seems to want the best of both worlds, taking on the absurdism of woke cultural excess while placating and advocating for that culture at the same time. At this point in academia's spiraling decline, it is impossible to have it both ways.