One of the graduates of the university is the conservative journalist, lawyer, author and activist, Phyllis Schlafly. She has been a prominent opponent of radical feminism since the early 1970s.
She received an honorary degree from the university at this year's commencement ceremony in front of 14,000 people. Some of the staff and students were displeased at a conservative being honoured this way and stood up and turned their backs when she received the award.
The 83-year-old Mrs Schlafly was unfazed by the protest and clearly enjoyed the moment. She later described the protest as "tacky".
And this is where it gets particularly interesting. Some of the staff and students are running a campaign to have the university take back the honorary degree.
Fourteen Washington University law professors have written a letter to the Chancellor, Mark Wrighton, in which they explain that,
Our objection to honoring Ms. Schlafly ... stems from the fact that she has devoted her career to demagoguery and anti-intellectualism in the pursuit of her political agenda.
Demagoguery? Anti-intellectualism? Compared to most political websites, Phyllis Schlafly's Eagle Forum is genteel in style - about as far away from demagoguery as you can imagine.
The claim has more to do with the inner workings of the professors' political mindset, which, in the closed environment of a university, has probably rarely been challenged.
One retired law professor did step in with an alternative view:
Jules Gerard, a retired Washington U. law professor who worked with Schlafly to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment, said that if the university were to rescind the degree, then it would have to change its policy statements — to say that the school tolerates all views except conservative ones.
And what about the Chancellor, Mark Wrighton? He is acting more strangely than anyone:
Wrighton said the university will review the process for awarding honorary degres and will propose appropriate changes.
"Personally, I do not endorse her views or opinions, and in many instances, I strongly disagree with them," Wrighton said.
... Wrighton affirmed his personal commitment to strengthening diversity and inclusiveness and to improving gender balance at the university.
"Washington University -- or any other university -- is neither perfect nor are all its processes for making decisions. We can always do better. In the aftermath of Commencement, I am deeply committed to whatever work needs to be done to rebuild damaged relationships with members of our community -- faculty, students, alumni, parents, trustees and staff. I thank you for all that you do to make this a community so open, tolerant and inclusive ..."
He affirmed his commitment to strengthening diversity and inclusiveness and to improving gender balance? Perhaps you're thinking right now that Washington University is an unusual campus at which men vastly outnumber women and at which ethnic minorities are unfairly underrepresented.
But that's not the case at all. There are slighly more female than male undergraduate students at the university (52% to 48%). Exactly half of graduate students are female.
58% of the students are white. This is higher than the percentage of whites who live in the city precinct of St Louis (44%). However, it's much lower than the percentage of whites in the population of the state of Missouri (87%). So there is a strong case that it is whites who are underrepresented at Washington University.
Therefore, the chancellor is beating himself around the head for crimes against liberal diversity that don't even exist. It reminds me of the situation of apparatchiks under communist rule who also had to prove their loyalty to the system by readily confessing to phantom offences against Marxist-Leninism (although of course the stakes were higher in the USSR - Wrighton doesn't face a knock on the door at night).
And all this because of a single award to an 83-year-old conservative. What this demonstrates is that liberals, despite their mantra of tolerance, are radically intolerant.
A single, small manifestation of something non-liberal, something outside the system, being publicly acknowledged, and they immediately feel the need to confess their sins, to promise never to repeat the offense, to redouble their efforts to purge themselves of the intrusion and to take diversity and inclusion to ever more radical lengths - even to the point at which it becomes a kind of exclusion.