Campus Conscience Police?

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

“Over one’s
inner mind, and self, no one has coercive power.”

So
write attorneys Jordan Lorence and Harvey A. Silverglate, authors
of the just-published Guide
to First-Year Orientation and Thought Reform on Campus
from
the Foundation for Individual
Rights in Education
(FIRE).

The Guide is
yet another indication that political correctness is faltering on
campuses across North America. To those who value the right of individuals
to a conscience – that is, to judge right and wrong for themselves
– this is welcome news.

Political
correctness
is the belief that certain ideas and attitudes are
improper and, so, should be discouraged or prohibited by punishing
those who advance them. Conversely, ideas and attitudes that are
proper should be encouraged by being enforced.

An example
of a politically incorrect idea: inherent biological differences
between the two sexes explain why there are more male than female
scientists. The correct version: discrimination against women explains
the "gender imbalance" in science, and the discrimination must be
remedied.

Both preceding
explanations may have merit but PC is not interested in weighing
evidence. It acts to quash the ideologically incorrect idea and
to champion the correct one.

Last January,
when Harvard University President Lawrence Summers raised the mere
possibility of biological differences as an explanation for the
"gender imbalance" in science, a vicious PC backlash forced him
to apologize publicly no less than three times. After what some
called his “Soviet-show-trial-style
apologies,”
Summers made an act
of contrition
by pledging “to spend $50 million over the next
decade to improve the climate for women on campus.”

The most important
aspect of the sad episode is not whether the explanation of biological
differences is correct. It is that the idea cannot be so much as
suggested without the "offender" paying a terrible price in public
humiliation and in his career.

The cost to
society is high; creativity and intellectual progress wither. The
cost to individuals is higher; without competing ideas, people cannot
adequately judge for themselves what is true and false, right or
wrong, moral and immoral. For me, that private judgment is what
constitutes a conscience, to which every human being has an indispensable
and inalienable right.

The Summers
debacle was a high-profile example of a PC process that has proceeded
more quietly across North American campuses for decades.

The ability
of students to judge for themselves is restricted by limiting the
ideas upon which those judgments would be passed. In turn, this
impoverishes the quality of conscience.

FIRE’s new
Guide – the fifth in a
series
of ideological survival manuals for college students
– describes both the manner in which the right of conscience is
being attacked on campus and how the tide is turning toward individual
rights.

Three common
ways in which universities limit a student’s access to ideas are
speech codes, mandatory "diversity" tests or training, and "non-discrimination"
policies.

Speech
codes
prohibit expression that could give offense on the basis
of gender, sexual orientation, race or other "historical disadvantage."
The codes are used primarily to protect women, minorities and gays
from words or ideas that they might experience as insulting. The
guidelines are often so vague as to prohibit the open discussion
of issues like affirmative action or religious objections to homosexuality.

Shippensburg
University in Pennsylvania offers an example.
In April 2003, the university defined harassment as any “unwanted
conduct which annoys, threatens, or alarms a person or group.” “[E]very
member of the community” was required to adopt the administration’s
guidelines not only in his or her behaviors but also “in their attitudes.”
In 2004, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
issued a preliminary injunction against the university’s codes as
unconstitutional and they were repealed.

Mandatory diversity
tests and training attempt to correct the unacceptable political
views of students. The experience of Ed
Swan
, a self-described conservative Christian at Washington
State’s College of Education, offers an example.

Swan expressed
the belief that white privilege and male privilege do not currently
exist in our society. In 2004 he was given low scores on a “dispositions
criteria”
by which some universities rank the “social commitment”
of students. The university threatened to disenroll Swan if he did
not sign a
contract
that committed him to further political screening and
re-orientation. Due to a letter from FIRE and a high-profile protest,
the contract requirement was dropped.

Non-discrimination
policies, which are ostensibly inclusive, have been used to ban
“dissenting” groups from campus and from receiving the student funds
to which their members are required to contribute. Christian groups
seem particularly vulnerable.

For example,
in April 2005, the group Princeton Faith and Action sought official
student status. Its application was denied because FPA is connected
to an outside organization (the Christian Union) that was not yet
established at Princeton University. Other groups were not required
to meet a similar standard.

On May 13,
the student newspaper the Daily Princetonian reported,
“Nassau Hall has reversed its policy on the recognition of religious
student groups after being contacted by an outside civil liberties
organization that protested the treatment of one such group as an
‘ongoing injustice’.”

The right to
judge for yourself what is true and false, what is right and wrong
is a prerequisite for both freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
The right of conscience is the bottom line of personal liberty itself.
And it is being reasserted.

December
23, 2005

Wendy
McElroy [send her mail]
is the editor of ifeminists.com
and a research fellow for The
Independent Institute
in Oakland, Calif. She is the author and
editor of many books and articles, including the new book, Liberty
for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century

(Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002).

Wendy
McElroy Archives

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare
  • LRC Blog

  • LRC Podcasts