One of Shakespeare’s most widely known and most misunderstood lines comes in the form of a famous gibe from Act IV of Henry VI, Part II: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” Spoken by Dick the Butcher, the aptly named flunky of English revolutionary leader Jack Cade, the words are, on one level, an ironic jab at the then-booming legal profession, but they also carry a deeper axiom about political order: Shakespeare, and by extension his rebels, understood that to seize power, the law and its stewards first must be overthrown. Destroy the established law, and the usurpers are free to make their own and to mete out justice as they see fit.
To understand this truth, one need only look to the nation’s colleges and universities, those little despotic kingdoms dotting the land of the free. Once-venerable institutions, committed to unwritten laws governing the pursuit of truth (intellectual exploration, academic freedom, and the other eminent tenets that compose a truly higher education) are now thoroughly overrun by an upstart class of petty, would-be authoritarians: grubby, administrative bureaucrats whose primary goal is the continual justification of their six-figure salaries. As such, their loyalties lie not with outdated notions of “free inquiry” or “due process,” but rather with whatever fresh sentiment of epistemological protectionism is prevailing among the loudest-shouting members of campus — under which auspices administrators can erect yet another regulatory edifice and thus fulfill their raison d’etre.
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