• Hypocrisy, Thy Name Is Academe

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    Education
    requires freedom of speech as a precondition. Yet American universities
    systematically censor voices that are politically incorrect while
    those advancing the "correct" view – such as radical feminism
    or militant anti-racism – remain strangely unrestrained. Yet, from
    many accounts, hate speech on campuses is on the rise.

    In his book Illiberal
    Education
    , Dinesh D'Souza calls this phenomenon "prejudice,
    not from ignorance, but from experience." By this, D'Souza
    means that laws and policies that favor certain groups at the expense
    of others create an intolerance where none previously existed. For
    example, whites resent blacks who are admitted to universities on
    a preferred basis. Males who watch their every word resent feminists
    who male-bash with impunity.

    Consider a remark made by Ann Rhodes – the University of Iowa's Vice
    President for relations and UI spokeswoman – at a news briefing on
    April 20th.

    The
    briefing was meant to announce an arrest in connection with a bomb
    threat and racist e-mails at the College of Dentistry. A reporter
    asked Rhodes if she was surprised that the guilty party was an African-American
    female student. An official UI spokeswoman for the past 11 years,
    Rhodes replied, "I figured it was going to be a white guy between
    25 and 55 because they're the root of most evil" – thus compressing
    racism, sexism, and ageism into one brief sentence. If a male official
    made such a similar comment about black women, he would be suspended
    pending disciplinary action. Rhodes merely apologized. Then she
    pointed out how many letters of support she'd received from women,
    thus converting her apology into a quasi-defense.

    What was UI's response? On April 21st, UI President Mary
    Sue Coleman sent out a vague letter stating, "Let us take it
    as a wake-up call that reminds us that we should judge each other
    as individuals by the content of our character." The "wake-up
    call" referred to the racist e-mails and bomb threat, not Rhodes.
    In a later statement, Coleman softened the comment about white males
    being evil, "Ann tried to relieve her tension [about the arrest]
    with a very inappropriate comment." Mary New – Assistant
    Director for University Affairs – said she had "no knowledge"
    of whether Rhodes would attend sensitivity training, a standard
    cure imposed on men who make "very inappropriate comments."
    On April 27th, the university declared the matter to
    be closed.

    Contrast this experience with that of University of Oklahoma Professor
    David Deming. In February, Deming wrote a letter to the student
    newspaper the Oklahoma Daily in response to an anti-gun article
    by Yale student Joni Kletter. She had written, "easy access
    to a handgun allows everyone in this country…to quickly and easily
    kill as many random people as they want." Deming commented
    that Kletter's "easy access to a vagina" allowed her to
    have sex with random people. Nevertheless, he hoped she was "as
    responsible with her equipment as most gun owners are with theirs."

    There are striking differences between the comments of Rhodes and
    Deming. Rhodes spoke as an UI representative; Deming was an individual
    expressing a personal opinion. Rhodes made a blanket statement about
    a racial, gender and age group; Deming spoke to one specific individual.
    Rhodes declared a group to be the root of evil; Deming merely used
    the word "vagina" to draw a clumsy parallel.

    The difference in how Deming was treated is striking as well. A
    letter collectively signed by professors and grad students condemned
    him in the Oklahoma Daily. John Snow, the dean of the College
    of Geosciences where Deming works, wrote him a letter stating, "In
    the future, when you enter into public discussion on controversial
    social issues, I ask that you weigh fully the non-trivial costs
    and consequences to the individuals with whom you work and the institutions
    which provide you a professional home." Only one professor
    spoke out in his defense.

    More than twenty-five complaints were registered against Deming
    with the university's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative
    Action. One of them was filed by Becky Hebert – an associate professor
    of human relations. Under extreme pressure from both the media and
    Deming's lawyers at the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), U of
    O dismissed the complaints. The complainants appealed. Curt Levey
    of CIR later informed me, "A day after the appeal hearing the
    Univ. of Oklahoma reversed its earlier dismissal of the charges.
    Deming is scheduled to be tried on the sexual harassment charge
    May 5." On May 5th, CIR issued a press release.
    Minutes before CIR filed suit with a federal court, the U of O had
    canceled all disciplinary proceedings. The University's General
    Counsel conceded that "the First Amendment…would allow but
    one conclusion" – namely, the university would lose.

    There is good news about the Rhodes controversy. The Daily Iowan
    (05/03) reported, "A California-based "European-American"
    group filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Civil
    Rights Commission last week because of a remark made at an April
    20 UI press conference." Rodger Murphey, a spokesman for the
    US Education Department, said that federal law requires them to
    investigate any discrimination based on race, religion, age, sex
    or disability. The fact that UI receives federal tax money for its
    operation lobbies for pursuing the complaint. According to the most
    recent information available, the University of Iowa received $167.2
    million in federal tax money, grants and contracts. Murphey stated
    that it might take a few weeks to evaluate the case.

    The complaint against Rhodes is good news in one sense only – that
    is, if those who espouse political correctness are made to feel
    the brunt of their own censorship policies, then freedom of speech
    may re-emerge on American campuses. No one – not Deming or Rhodes – should
    face legal sanction for expressing an opinion. The suppression is
    particularly offensive at state-funded universities, where speech
    codes constitute nothing less then government censorship.

    A bitter irony underlies the speech codes championed by radical
    feminists, militant anti-racists, and gay/lesbian groups. The irony
    is this: as little as three decades ago, a fledgling feminist movement
    could not have developed without freewheeling discussion and dissent
    about gender stereotypes. The early civil rights movement consciously
    used confrontational language and provocative images. The gay rights
    movement could not have flourished without the in-your-face attitude
    of its early politics. Yet these groups are motive forces behind
    the new campus censorship. Having been born in free speech, they
    conclude that less discussion – not more – is called for.

    In his book Hate
    Speech: the History of an American Controversy
    , Samuel Walker
    offered an explanation of why these aggressive groups have been
    so successful at imposing campus speech codes. They constituted
    "a coalition of advocates who…faced poorly organized opposition
    in defense of an absolutist position on free speech." The good
    news is that freedom of speech advocates may be organizing at long
    last.

    Ann Rhodes has an inalienable right to state that white men are
    the root of all evil, not merely most. (Whether UI should fire her
    as a representative is a separable issue.) Nevertheless, I cannot
    suppress a tingle of glee at seeing the u2018politically correct' squirm
    in a trap of their own making. I can't resist laughing out loud
    as I read feminist attempts in the Daily Iowan to justify
    Rhodes' statement. For example, consider the following self-proclaimed
    "tips for offended white males" and imagine a man offering
    the same to an offended feminist. The tips include, "Don't
    get so emotional…. Don't take everything so personally…. Try
    to understand your adversary's viewpoint…. Don't simply whine
    and bitch about unfair generalizations."

    If the tables turn in a sufficiently jarring manner, then perhaps
    the speech code crusaders will remember a key lesson – namely, that
    censorship does not serve the interests of victimized groups. It
    always serves those in power, with whom rests the decision of what
    to censor. u201870s feminists, civil rights workers and gay rights activists
    knew this. The new campus censors have let a bit of temporary power
    go to their heads and affect their memories.

    Let freedom ring and let it be raucous!

    May
    18, 2000

    Wendy
    McElroy is author of The
    Reasonable Woman
    .

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