Thought Policing 101

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The disgraceful academic lynching and slandering of Professor Walter Block by the Loyola College administration and some members of the College’s economics department has taught me a few things about the academic Left’s modus operandi for eliminating all dissent to socialist ideology on college campuses.

One lesson came from an emailer in California who was an economics student at a state university in the early 1990s. "This is like déjà vu," he wrote. He told me that as part of his studies he researched the economics literature on the male/female "wage gap" and arrived at basically the same conclusions that Professor Block did in his Loyola College lecture: Once one accounts for the effects of marriage and numerous other economic factors, there is little evidence that sex discrimination is a very important determinant of the "wage gap."

He presented his paper at some kind of student forum, and informs me that the campus feminists immediately began calling him the vilest of names and demanding that he apologize. Being totalitarian minded, the California campus feminists were convinced that they, and only they, held THE TRUTH about the wage gap. Therefore, any dissenters were not to be debated but embarrassed and ridiculed, which is what an "apology" would do. Any such apology would also go a long way in deterring anyone else from bringing the subject up in the future.

Now that the academic feminists are deans, vice presidents and presidents of universities, they no longer bother to demand apologies from those who question their superstitions: they make them themselves, as Loyola College did in the case of Professor Block. The apparent objective is the same as with the California feminists: to prohibit freedom of speech when it comes to their cherished superstitions, such as the notion that capitalism is inherently sexist; hence the "wage gap" and the "glass ceiling."

After the blatant attack on academic freedom by the Loyola College administration and some members of the economics department, quite a few students expressed their disgust with the administration and its obedient economists in the school newspaper and on various blogs. One emailer even told me that a blog devoted to the Loyola basketball team was occupied with expressions of disgust over the College’s assault on academic freedom. As one student wrote in the school newspaper, "Loyola is running the risk of seriously undermining academic freedom in the name of political correctness, and the Econ Dept’s apology is the most recent example of this." Unlike the College administration, this student understands that "controversial opinions deserve to be expressed on this campus and ARGUED ON THEIR MERITS, AND NOT CENSORED OR PROHIBITED." He realizes that he is being cheated out of a genuine education despite the fact that it is costing him $40,000/year.

In response to all of this, and perhaps to all of the negative publicity over the Web and in the local media, the president of Loyola College issued a press release on the College website two weeks after Professor Block’s lecture proclaiming the College’s alleged devotion to academic freedom and denying that the administration had actually apologized for Professor Block’s presence on campus, as the bloggers had been saying.

This claim is disingenuous. In the College president’s original letter, which was sent out to all students and alumni, he stated that the economics department was issuing an apology. This in itself is untrue: Although the letter was signed "The Economics Department," the department chairman, Father Hank Hilton, S.J., did not sign it, and neither did I. Of the signatories, only three were actually in attendance at Professor Block’s lecture, and to this day, no one from Loyola College has contacted Professor Block to ask him what he said in his lecture.

The president’s letter, which mentioned the "economics department" apology, was sent out three days before the actual department letter was published. This proves that the main author of the letter, Professor Steve Walters, was working hand-in-hand with the administration on an "apology letter." The apparent strategy was to have faculty members issue the "apology," which is obviously a way of slapping down any campus speaker who dissents from politically-correct orthodoxy, while the College administration itself can proclaim that it supports academic freedom. This proves that the College administration understands that an "apology letter" is in fact an attack on academic freedom.

This strategy is very common with the academic Left. As journalist John Leo, who has been writing about political correctness on college campuses for years, wrote in the Winter 2007 City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute: "Campus sensors" practice a "double standard by combining effusive praise for free speech with an eagerness to suppress unwelcome views." These "new censors aren’t interested in debates or open forums. They want to shut up dissenters." And, in a comment that is especially relevant to the Walter Block fiasco, John Leo noted that "Nothing makes the campus censors angrier than someone who dares to question race and gender preferences, especially if he uses satire to do it." The end result is that "universities have made honest disagreement dangerous, making students fearful of saying what they think."

There was no controversy or acrimony during Professor Block’s lecture, which apology letter writer Professor Steve Walters said was "very good" when he sat with Professor Block and me at dinner afterwards. It was all very scholarly and polite, with a dozen or so students sticking around to ask questions after the lecture. Four of them approached me to thank me for arranging to have at least one campus speaker who provided an alternative viewpoint to such issues. It was a first for all of them, they said.

I’ve been told by one of my economics students, a very bright senior who is headed for law school, that the whole farce was instigated by one single student who claims to have had his sensibilities ruffled by the talk. His first contact was apparently the "social justice" faculty. He made no attempt to discuss the issue with Professor Block, who stood around in the classroom for a half hour after his lecture.

Within twenty-four hours I learned from an email from the College administration that the president had already decided to issue a letter that would essentially smear and slander Professor Block as a racist and a sexist. And the letter did just that, in a most underhanded way. It first claimed that "some" had found Professor Block’s lecture to be "insensitive." No information was given regarding what was said that was "insensitive," and to this day I have been unable to get an answer about this from anyone at Loyola. When a Baltimore Sun reporter contacted the College administration to ask what, exactly, was said that was so insensitive, they gave her no answer. (None of them was in attendance at the lecture.)

After complaining of "insensitivity" without explaining what was said, the president’s letter went on and on about the College’s commitment to racial justice, opposition to sexism and racism, etc. Thus, step 1: Claim that Professor Block’s comments were "insensitive" to "some." Step 2: Give a long-winded speech about your opposition to racism and sexism. The average person would naturally conclude, "I don’t know what Professor Block said, but it must have been really racist and sexist, so much so that the College administrators could not even bring themselves to repeat it." This is all a preposterous lie and a farce. I suspect a lawyer must have been involved in the writing of this letter which managed to smear Professor Block as a racist and sexist without actually saying "he is a racist and sexist." And besides that, it is important to note that Walter Block is one of the most famous libertarians in the world. Racism and sexism are diametrically opposed to everything libertarians believe in. They are thoroughly collectivist notions (judging people according to a group they belong to), whereas all true libertarians are individualists and believe in judging people as individuals.

Another email from a mother of three college-age children gave me a good idea of why this bizarre attack on academic freedom took place, and why it took place so quickly. She told me of how her son was once accused by a female student of making "harassing" statements and placed on probation at another Jesuit university. When she confronted a university official and told him that this was impossible — her son was not raised in that way — the official rather nonchalantly said (paraphrasing): "Well, in these politically-correct times, an accusation is all that is needed." After threatening to withdraw her son (and his $40k/year tuition) from the university, and to cancel plans to send her other two children there, all charges against her son were dropped, she told me.

This is how most universities operate these days, including Loyola College. (The name will change to "Loyola University Maryland" next year; an alumnus wrote me recently to say that a more appropriate name would be "Diversity University of Maryland"). Any accusation by any of the mascots of the academic Left (women, minorities, gays, the transgendered, etc.) is immediately taken as Gospel truth without any concern for due process, or even hearing the other side of the story. Again, John Leo has uncovered the roots of this totalitarian tactic:

Much campus censorship rests on philosophical underpinnings that go back to social theorist Herbert Marcuse, a hero to sixties radicals. Marcuse argued that traditional tolerance is repressive — it wards off reform by making the status quo . . . well, tolerable. Marcuse favored intolerance of established and conservative views, with tolerance offered only to the opinions of the oppressed, radicals, subversives, and other outsiders. Indoctrination of students and u2018deeply pervasive’ censorship of others would be necessary, starting on the campuses . . .

This has all been in place for at least twenty years now in academe, so that "the officially oppressed — designated race and gender groups — know that they weren’t subject to the standards and rules set for other students." Thus, some students at Loyola College and elsewhere are taught that rather than engaging campus speakers in civilized conversation and debate, if the speakers challenge any of their cherished PC platitudes the thing to do is to wage a smear and slander campaign against the speaker. "College officials point to the hurt feelings of women and minorities as evidence that a violation must have occurred," writes John Leo. "[H]urt feelings are trump cards in the contemporary campus culture." It is a culture, in other words, that teaches college students to behave like infants.

This is a perfect explanation of the behavior of the Duke University faculty (most of it) and administration several years ago when three lacrosse players were accused of rape by a mentally unstable prostitute. The whole world knows now that the three young men were completely exonerated and the North Carolina prosecutor in the case went to prison himself and was disbarred. But as soon as the accusation against the Duke lacrosse players was made the faculty and administration of Duke University immediately issued letters of condemnation of the three young men before there was any public discussion at all of their side of the story, or the presentation of any kind of evidence, DNA or otherwise. The mere accusation by a mascot of the academic Left was sufficient.

Even after this horrible spectacle was concluded and the young men exonerated, the Duke faculty still refused to apologize for their letter. Being good Marcusians they said that yes, the boys are innocent of this particular alleged crime, but as affluent white males they are part of the oppressor class, and are therefore "guilty" of far greater "crimes." Thus, there will be no apology. Nor do I expect anyone from Loyola College to apologize to Professor Block. He is after all an affluent white male and therefore, by definition, an oppressor.

Finally, I’ve learned that a joking comment that has been made over the years by various academic colleagues is really no joke. The comment is that "the College administration does not permit diversity of opinion on the subject of diversity." Everyone who hears this laughs, since it is so obviously Orwellian. But the cultural Marxists who dominate academe are serious about it. They have seen to it that university human resources departments have adopted the "hostile environment" doctrine invented by law professor Catherine MacKinnon (who gained notoriety by writing a book arguing that all sex — even marital sex — was rape and merely a means by which male oppressors oppress women).

According to MacKinnon, "inegalitarian speech" is a "harmful action" in a workplace such as a university. If it "harms" those who support egalitarianism, then it creates a "hostile work environment." If the "hostile work environment" is so hostile that it prevents egalitarian-minded employees whose feelings have been hurt by the speech from performing their normal work duties, then the opponent of egalitarianism can be fired. This policy was explained to me by the vice president for academic affairs at Loyola College. It is this kind of political correctness run amok that led a Loyola College student to write in the student newspaper recently that "no self-respecting academic will come here and deliver a speech if they feel like they’ll be dismissed later as a radical or a kook for expressing a legitimate academic viewpoint."

Thomas J. DiLorenzo [send him mail] is professor of economics at Loyola College in Maryland and the author of The Real Lincoln; Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know about Dishonest Abe and How Capitalism Saved America. His latest book is Hamilton’s Curse: How Jefferson’s Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution — And What It Means for America Today.

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at LRC

Thomas DiLorenzo Archives at Mises.org

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