Half the students in Prof. William Watson’s Western Civilization course at University of Colorado Boulder abandoned class last Wednesday to join the “4/20” pro-legalization marijuana protest being held on campus. Watson blogged that he was taken by surprise by the pot protest– an annual event that garners national media coverage– but that it ironically gave his lecture that day on Protestant religious values greater power and relevancy. Watson told the students who showed up that it was the Protestant Work Ethic that made America great and encouraged them to “live responsible and sober li[ves]… and one day become good spouse[s] and parent[s].” He told them that they would all receive extra credit for their “faithful attendance” and for “choosing to learn about responsibility, instead of blowing smoke in the quad.”
On my way to class I passed through the quad and saw several thousand students (as well as many homeless folks and others who didn’t seem to belong there). They were all in small circles of four to five people, and every circle was passing around marijuana cigarettes. I almost felt high myself as I tried to make it across the quad to my class. Half the class never showed up; they were enjoying the activity out on the lawn.
My lecture that day was Calvinism, Puritanism and the Protestant Ethic, how these values made America great, but that we were now unfortunately losing them here in America. How appropriate! As I spoke of living a responsible and sober life, studying hard to be a success, becoming an upstanding member of the community, and of one day becoming a good spouse and parent, my students automatically juxtaposed the activities outside our classroom where the other half of the class was spending their time. I told them that I felt I was preaching to the choir, but promised them all extra credit for their faithful attendance, choosing to learn about responsibility, instead of blowing smoke in the quad.
Watson is an adjunct instructor at CU and a full-time faculty member at Colorado Christian University, which hosts the Centennial Institute, a conservative think tank.
The apparent conclusiveness of the thesis Watson presented to the class on the religious “isms” that “made America great” would likely be opened up with counter narratives by most scholars of history teaching at major public research universities like CU-Boulder.
Among the hundreds of protesting pot smokers who packed the campus last Wednesday, it’s unclear why Watson thought many of them were “homeless folks.” The full population of actual homeless people in Boulder would be marginal in any gathering of substantial numbers.
CU-Boulder’s Center for Western Civilization was established as part of a wider conservative-politics effort to turn university curricula away from what advocates see as the liberal bias of U.S. higher education.