Academic Political Correctness
battle for freedom of speech in colleges and universities goes on.
Legal action is now underway against a number of administrators
at or associated with North Hennepin Community College near Minneapolis,
Minnesota, because of a number of suppression incidents dating back
to the middle of the last decade. The action was brought by Jon
Willand, a professor of history at the college since it opened its
doors. For a couple of years, it seems, Professor Willand had had
on his office door a poster
depicting General George Custer inviting the public to enlist in
the cavalry to "help put down the Militant Sioux." The
poster is an obvious send-up of World War I-era "Uncle Sam
Wants You" posters. No reasonable person would think Professor
Willand hated American Indians because of a poster on his office
Alexander, Interim Dean of Institutional Services at North Hennepin,
removed the poster, however, without telling Willand in advance.
He followed up by issuing a directing citing an unspecified complaint
and expressed a desire to "avoid students, employees or visitors
being offended." Alexander issued two more directives, ordering
Willand not to put the Custer "poster back up, either in [his]
office, on [his] door, or in any other location on campus."
The other directive told him not to "post any other materials
which may be offensive to others."
also tried to suspend Willand "without pay for ten days as
a disciplinary action based on offensive comments made in your class."
It seems Willand had on various occasions told students the following:
the Nazis engaged in "human recycling" of their
Stalin’s regime was responsible for more murders than Hitler’s;
Pocahontas did handsprings nude through Jamestown;
"Native American" is not an accurate term;
"God is on the side of the guys with the guns" (a
college’s effort to suspend Willand ultimately failed, but not before
a protracted and professionally damaging internal appeals process,
and he remained under the sway of a set of directives that clearly
hampered his freedom to present his understanding of history in
his own classroom. The directives included the following:
will avoid making comments, nor will you use phraseology, which
does not manifest a clear concern for student sensibilities
and which may promote student misunderstandings."
will avoid making comments and using phraseology which may be
interpreted by a reasonable person as articulating or promoting
racism, sexism, or any other ideology which incorporates stereotypical,
prejudicial, or discriminatory overgeneralizations that might
intimidate or insult students."
will not use language or examples which are provocative or inflammatory,
hence likely to give rise to offense in others."
will in all others [sic.] ways manifest a sensitivity
to the opinions of others in your dealings with students."
These remarks, of course, are administratese for, "Don’t say or
do anything in class that any member of any government-designated
victim group might find offensive." Professor Willand was also forbidden
to access a website
that provided the source for his remarks about Pocahontas, raising
additional issues about the college’s computer policy and uses of
the Internet as a source of materials for the classroom more generally.
Professor Willand did what more and more people in
his situation are doing. Having exhausted the internal appeals process,
operating in the face of administrators who couldn’t care less about
free speech, and with his professional reputation at stake, he filed
suit. He named Alexander, North Hennepin president Ann Wynia, members
of the Board of Trustees of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities,
and two state commissioners. He contacted the Washington, D.C. based
Center For Individual Rights
(CIR) and challenged the ban on his speech and Internet activities
on First Amendment grounds. According to its complaint, "Willand’s
statements for which he was discplined were all made in teaching
the curriculum he is assigned to teach, specifically, American history
and the history of World War II. He was disciplined for those statements
because they all contradict a political orthodoxy known as ‘political
is also being represented by attorney Dan Rosen of the Minneapolis-based
Rosen & Rosen firm. The latter’s statement begins, "This
case is a fight against the enforcement of what is known as ‘political
correctness’ in a Minnesota college. A professor of history who
has been on the faculty of the North Hennepin Community College
since the day that college opened in 1966 has been muzzled and had
his reputation injured becaseu he has not tailored his speech to
comport with the politically correct way of discussing U.S. History,
particularly in matters relating to American Indians." Rosen
also remarked in the CIR press release that "Political correctness
may be a powerful force in academia … but it does not trump the
First Amendment." Curt Levey, CIR's Director of Legal &
Public Affairs, continued in the same release that "viewpoint-based
restrictions on speech, such as those imposed on Professor Willand,
are viewed with great suspicion by the law and are simply not permitted….
We brought this lawsuit not only to vindicate Professor Willand's
rights, but also to strengthen the First Amendment protection of
academics everywhere." The Minnesota Civil Liberties Union
has gotten involved, and promised to file a brief supporting Willand’s
CIR has been the organization most at the forefront of the legal
end of the struggle against political correctness. It has far more
victories than losses, with a number of cases pending. The CIR represented
Donald Silva in his successful fight against the University of New
Hampshire after a "sexual harassment" complaint was lodged
against him by feminists there. The CIR was victorious against the
University of Texas School of Law in Hopwood, its most famous
case to date and the most important attempt to end racial preferences
in universities. Last year, CIR efforts led the University of Oklahoma
to back down from censoring a geology professor, David Deming, who
had published a letter to the editor in the student newspaper that
offended the delicate sensibilities of that school’s feminist thought
plain truth is, suppression on a college or university campus in
the name of political correctness violates the First Amendment,
pure and simple. While the First Amendment does not protect just
any sort of speech whatsoever (insert here that chestnut about shouting
fire in a crowded theater) it surely protects the activities of
scholars and teachers at public institutions. It may also be invoked
to protect the open discussion of the multitude of issues on the
public table that are affecting millions of people’s lives. In a
word, it is designed to ensure that the flow of information throughout
society is free, and not constrained by a political orthodoxy. A
free society cannot guarantee that no one will ever get her toes
stepped on. There is no Constitutional guarantee of "freedom
from offense." There are things that offend me (rap "music,"
for instance), but I am not lobbying to have them removed from society.
the First Amendment only works if those with power (1) know something
about it and (2) agree to respect it and restrain themselves accordingly,
or (3) can be brought under control by those who do honor it. Today,
we are at the tail end of the rapid ascent to power of "scholars"
who have no concept of anything beyond power and "social constructions,"
and are willing to enforce conformity by any means necessary. Politically
correctness has moved from colleges and universities through every
sector of government and the legal system and now controls large
corporations who see pandering to minority-sensitivities as "good
for business" (and as a way of avoiding damaging lawsuits by
the NAACP and other radical groups). It remains strongest in colleges
and universities, however, and has almost destroyed the curriculum
at many institutions.
us consider just one example of the damaging effects of political
correctness and its rejection of anything even remotely resembling
traditional higher education. Roger Kimball observed in a recent
article in American Legion magazine entitled "Higher
Education’s Left Turn" that one can peruse course offerings
and find courses with names like "Pornography: Writing of Prostitutes."
This particular academic wonder delves into the deep insights on
the subject available in Hustler, considered in light of
the works of the Marquis de Sade. Offered at the prestigious Wesleyan
University (Hillary Clinton’s alma mater), this course calls on
students to write their own pornography, having delved into the
writings of others on voyeurism, sadism, masochism, bestiality,
and so on.
can also find courses on the lyrics of, say, Bruce Springsteen and
other rock stars, on how Star Trek exemplifies diversity,
etc. However, two areas continue to fascinate the politically correct
ultraradicals: sexuality and racial resentment. Expressions of the
former are getting increasingly perverse in their efforts to "shock
the bourgeousie." The latter, as everyone by now knows, are
leading to potentially disastrous calls for reparations for a practice
that hasn’t existed in this country for over 135 years now (aside
from the slavery of the income tax system, of course). These things,
Kimball observes, are no longer exceptions; they have become the
in his book Tenured Radicals (the original edition of which
was published over ten years ago) and numerous other writings by
numerous other authors, have shown that this sort of rubbish has
become standard fare. Despite all the warnings, colleges and universities
have fallen under the complete sway of politically correct orthodoxy.
University students now graduate knowing more about the underground
railroad, the history of the women’s movement and sexual fetishes
than they will the country’s founding principles. One of the chief
tenets of political correctness is that both the Constitution and
the traditional literary canon are optional products of "white,
male, heterosexist elitists" who were only protecting their
class interests. To this way of thinking, there is no such thing
as intrinsic literary or philosophical value, and Constitutional
principles are a delusion that "privileges" the values
of the white male elite (it is a mark of contemporary academese
to use the word privilege as a verb instead of a noun). Thus
the traditional canon including, say Shakespeare, has no special
advantages over Hustler besides the preferences of those
stodgy old white male elitists. Kimball wrote that "The very
idea that the works of … Shakespeare might be indisputably greater
than the collected cartoons of Bugs Bunny is often rejected as ‘antidemocratic’
and ‘elitist,’ an imposition on the freedom and political interests
of various groups." The same kinds of professors will teach
Karl Marx as gospel despite the manifest failure of Marxist ideology
all over the world. This illustrates a related point about what
the politically correct really excel at: staring facts in the face
and rationalizing them out of sight.
the last analysis, this is what happens when you abandon objectively-knowable
truth and objectively-knowable canons of value especially moral
value. You end up with the relativistic notion that one cultural
form of life is as good as any other, with the only difference being
which orthodoxy ends up running the various cultures. Of course,
once a society accepts these premises, power gets the last word.
The politically correct, if we observe them carefully in their activities
as deans, radical professors, prominent political agitators of the
Johnny Cochran stripe or sometimes as activist-turned-politician
(think of Hillary Clinton), leave us with no doubt that they understand
what, if anything, can be done to stop this runaway train?
lawsuits the Center For Individual Rights is handling are providing
a valuable service, and reminding us that there are good people
in the legal system willing to stand up for the Constitutional rights
of individuals. We would be much, much worse off without such organizations.
But lawsuits aren’t enough. This is clear from the fact that despite
a number of highly visible CIR victories, political correctness
still maintains a firm grip on the vast majority of educational
institutions in this country. Despite cases like Hopwood,
racial preferences continue in different guises. "Diversity"
continues to be the official code word, despite the evidence that
its actual referent is uniformity in the realm of ideas.
Radical feminists dominate many departments in the humanities; it
is clear that many male professors are either afraid of them (for
the most part, their fears are justified) or essentially on their
in the above mentioned article, has what seems to me a useful idea.
That is for parents to get involved, and refuse to pay tuition money
when they learn that Johnny or Jane is learning more about the underground
railroad or the sex lives of prostitutes than the countries Founders
or the Constitution. Today a four-year education at a reputable
university costs tens of thousands of dollars and at a so-called
elite institution, the amount can easily surpass six figures. Of
course, a lot of students obtain scholarships, loans or both; it
has become impossible for many families to pay college tuition.
The response here is that the money must still come from somewhere;
many scholarships come from businesses, others from foundations,
still others from other sources. It is time for the donors of this
money to get involved, and to withdraw their support from institutions
that have filled up with faculty members who see their mission as
to "shock the bourgeousie" instead of educate, or who
wish to "transform" of Western culture into their vision
of a race-and-gender socialist utopia.
people must stop electing politicians whose song and dance is "more
money for education, more money for education." Too many taxpayer
dollars are simply being thrown down rat-holes. It is time to start
supporting independent political movements who will free us from
political straitjackets ranging from the income tax to diversity
mandates. Freedom from the former in particular will make it easier
to start up new endeavors, ranging from news publications to entirely
new universities making use of the tremendous possibilities of the
Internet, as well as defunding the bureaucracy necessary to enforce
the mandates. This will be the most immediate way to undo the damage
that has been done in just the past 20 years of academic radicalism,
should it turn out (as seems likely in many instances) that the
old ones cannot be saved.
is, after all, the only language college and university administrators
appear to understand. If the financial well starts drying up, they
may eventually figure out that something is wrong, and that their
agendas do not have the support of the tuition-paying and taxpaying
public. But the latter must act. Parents and alumni must get involved.
Donors to scholarship funds must get involved. They must pay attention
to where their money is going, and what students are being told
in their classes. If they continue to do nothing beyond cheering
for school’s sports teams, the situation regarding political correctness
in this country will worsen until we wake up one day and discover
that it is actually an illegal, jailable offense to utter
statements that may be construed as "offensive" to government-designated
victim groups; or to criticize official government policies of affirmative
action, whether we call them that or hide them behind code words
such as diversity. There are places in the world that have
for all practical purposes reached that point. If we do nothing,
we will not be far behind.
Yates [send him mail]
has a Ph.D. in Philosophy and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (ICS Press,
1994). He is a professional writer at work on a number of projects
including a work of political philosophy, The Paradox of Liberty.
He also writes for the Edgefield
Journal, and is available for lectures. He has started writing
a novel and also set up a small freelance writing business, Millennium
3 Communications, in the hope that one or the other will eventually
lead to an escape from underemployment. He lives in Columbia, South
© 2001 LewRockwell.com