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Politically Correct

Campus Follies Lesson Two

In lesson one, we examined the ritual of freshman "orientation." From the first moment on campus, white males are taught a new status hierarchy; - the long list of groups they must defer to; and they are told that within this unfamiliar status hierarchy, they are at the very bottom.

The rest are taught the hierarchy of claims they may assert and of the deferential behaviors they should expect arising out of their minority or oppressed status.

Thus, orientation is the first exposure that students get to the demands of (and privileges conferred by) political correctness.

Lest anyone suspect that our campuses might focus overmuch on the divisive distinctions of sex and race, and may no longer be serious about their educational mission, we then took a quick tour of the Modern Language Association and College Art Association conventions to remove any doubt.

This week, we attempt to define "politically correct" with a selection of excerpts from five articles out of the Wall Street Journal. The first two are concrete examples of "political correctness" in action. Excerpts three and four are surveys of the campus scene with an emphasis on speech codes and "thought crimes", the core of what we commonly understand as "political correctness."

The fifth excerpt concludes this session with a hilarious chronicle of the chaos that broke out when the University of California at Santa Cruz attempted to implement a few simple curriculum changes to advance this new balkanized vision of America.

In truth, "political correctness" has very little to do with politics. Rather, it is a set of behavioral norms or manners imposed and enforced by disciplinary codes of the universities.

To most adults educated more than 20 years ago, the activity described in these articles is going to sound extremely odd. For hundreds of years, Western Civilization has attempted to downplay particularist group traits such as race or ethnicity and promote the more generalized individual qualities such as talent and performance. It is going to be very difficult for older adults to understand how this sudden emphasis on particularist group traits can possibly lead to improved understanding and harmony.

Rather, it looks very much as if our universities have abandoned the whole idea of "integration" or the dissolving of differences, in favor of a competitive tribalism in which differences are accentuated and feelings of ethnic insult are encouraged. It is a society in which racial harmony is achieved by imposing submissive behaviors on males of European extraction.

Care to take any bets on whether such a vision of America will succeed?

Yggdrasil recommends that you read the following:


Jan. 12, 1993 Wall Street Journal A-14
Notable & Quotable

At Wellesley College, the Women's Studies department has sent letters to all the students who declare Modern European History as their major. This letter accuses these students of perpetuating the "dominant white male" attitudes and behavior that have been oppressing women for generations. Mothers, don't let your girls grow up to be historians.


Jan 5, 1992 Wall Street Journal A-14
Language Censors

The language censors have been sighted again at one of their favorite campuses - the mammoth University of Michigan. A student got in trouble there this fall for writing a term paper. More accurately, he got in trouble for the paper's vocabulary.

The undergraduate has been accused of harassment by a female teaching assistant on the basis of a hypothetical example he put in a term paper. The crime? It seems the hapless student was unwise enough to ignore the political science department's "Checklist for Nonsexist Writing."

Here's the offending passage, written by sophomore Shawn Brown for Political Science 111, Introduction to American Politics: "Another problem with sampling polls is that some people desire their privacy and don't want to be bothered by a pollster. Let's say Dave Stud is entertaining three beautiful ladies in his penthouse when the phone rings. A pollster on the other end wants to know if we should eliminate the capital gains tax. Now Dave is a knowledgeable businessperson who cares a lot about this issue. But since Dave is "tied up" at the moment, he tells the pollster to "bother" someone else. Now this is perhaps a ludicrous example, but there is simply a segment of, the population who wish to be left alone. They have more important things to be concerned about - jobs, family, school, etc. If this segment of the population is never actually polled, then the results of the poll could be skewed."

Now, it seems to us a sensible referee would see that what we have here is a wash: "Dave Stud" may strike some as a 15-yard penalty, but note that the student did use the sexless "businessperson" as well. In any event, Mr. Brown's point about the reliability of polls today is an interesting one. But none of these considerations caught the attention of his teacher, Debbie Meizlish. Instead, Ms. Meizlish was horrified at what she perceived as Mr. Brown's verbal assault on her. She wrote:

"You are right. This is ludicrous & inappropriate & OFFENSIVE. This is completely inappropriate for a serious political science paper. lt completely violates the standard of non-sexist writing. Professor Rosenstone has encouraged me to interpret this comment as an example of sexual harassment and to take the appropriate formal steps. I have chosen not to do so in this instance. However, any future comments, in a paper, in a class or in any dealings w/me will be interpreted as sexual harassment and formal steps will be taken. Professor Rosenstone is aware of these comments - & is prepared to intervene. You are forewarned!"

Thus threatened, Mr. Brown made a sensible decision. He dropped the course, presumably in the hope of finding a political scientist at Michigan who was interested in teaching him political science instead of political correctness.

* * *

It is very hard to see how this enterprise can lead to much good end. If we know anything from history, it is that such exercises in the policing of language and thought drive people into lifetime opposition. The gender-fastidious profs and teaching assistants at Michigan may still be conveying something useful about America's political system, but they are also likely turning out many ardent enemies of their relentless and watchful cause.


Nov. 6, 1990 Wall Street Journal p A10
Politically Correct

Every day now echoes of trouble on the nation's campuses sound louder. Some time ago the powers that be at many of our colleges and universities agreed that the true mission of higher education was to advance a new political consciousness, to provide instruction in the inequities and injustice perpetrated by Western culture. The effects are now beginning to sink in, the chief one of which is an extraordinarily potent effort in academia to stifle dissenters from what has come to be known on campuses around the U.S. as Politically Correct views.

Political Correctness, though it is pervasive now on American campuses, is a subject that has received remarkably little attention beyond the schools themselves, perhaps because it strikes outsiders as silly. It isn't; it's worse than that. Political Correctness requires that students, faculty and administration project "right" opinions about women, sexism, race and the numerous other categories of victimology (white males have been identified by the Politically Correct as history's primary force of oppression). The chief victim of this effort is, of course, intellectual freedom.

At Clark University, philosophy Professor Christina Hoff Sommers objected to a university form requiring her to explain how she planned to incorporate "pluralistic views" and concerns in a proposed course. Professor Sommers explained that in her view course proposals ought to be politically neutral and that she objected to thought control. This, however, was an offense against the most politically sacrosanct of sacred cows on campuses today -- multiculturalism, the official euphemism for studies emphasizing the oppression of women and minorities.

In addition to the campus rally organized against her in response to this violation, Clark's dean of students, Douglas Astolfi, let it be known that it was Professor Sommers and her objection to thought control that were the threat to academic freedom.

At Smith College, a hub of Political Correctness, administrators have issued a list of definitions designed to provide students with the appropriate, sensitive and progressive vocabulary. The list, titled "Specific Manifestations of Oppression," includes an exotic range of offenses. One of these is "Ableism," defined as "oppression of the differently abled by the temporarily abled." The document explains that words like handicapped and disabled are unacceptable. The list also includes "lookism -- the belief that appearance is an indicator of a person's value." "Heterosexism" is explained as oppression of gay and lesbian people; "this can take place by not acknowledging their existence."

In colleges and universities the country over, political re-education has been institutionalized. At Tulane University, the administration's statement on race and gender enrichment puts forward the view that "racism and sexism are fundamentally present in all American institutions" and "We are all the progeny of a racist and sexist society."

At Haverford College -- and elsewhere -- students who want to graduate must fulfill a "Social Justice Requirement" -- which means at least one course in subjects like "Postcolonial Women Writers," "Psychological Issues of Lesbians and Gay Males" or "Feminist Political Theory."

In New Jersey the Department of Higher Education has funded something called the New Jersey Project that will, according to its bulletin, integrate issues of "women and gender, race, class, ethnicity and homophobia and heterosexism" into all the state's colleges.

Nor is life easy for the student who challenges the official view. One University of Pennsylvania student, appointed to a committee for "diversity education" wrote a memo to a fellow committee member referring to her "regard for the individual." A college official sent the letter back with the word "individual" circled and the warning that the word was "a red flag phrase today which is considered by many to be racist." The official warned of the inequities that resulted from championing individual over group rights.

Next month the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, the professional organization for the English and Humanities departments, will offer a host of scholarly panels that faithfully reflect the subject matter holding center stage on campuses. Where once scholarly papers were offered on Shakespeare, Marlowe, Donne, Yeats and other such male Eurocentric oppressors, today's MLA panels offer "The Lesbian Phallus -- or Does Heterosexuality Exist?" and "Strategies for Feminist Team Teaching of Hispanic Women Writers."

* * *

We suspect that Political Correctness will ultimately meet the same fate as all totalitarian endeavors -- a demise hastened by its inherent absurdities. Opposition groups, such as the National Association of Scholars, are forming and attracting professors, increasing numbers of whom are lifelong liberals repelled by the ferocity of their Politically Correct colleagues. The current issue of the New York Review of Books carries a critique of the phenomenon by philosopher John Searle. In due course the parents shelling out some $20,000 a year tuition for a Politically Correct education may also start to take note of just what it is they are paying for.


June 10, 1992 Wall Street Journal A14
Speech Codes and Censors

The academic year ends as it began. Campus enforcers of political conformity are still busy denying that any effort to restrict free speech exists. The concern over "political correctness," they say, is overstated. Such denials don't alter the clear evidence that freedom of speech and scholarship is no longer assured in many colleges and universities.

We have only to look at all the schools where nervously compliant administrations have established "harassment" policies. These behavioral codes, which more often than not bear a close resemblance to a political sermon, would clearly restrict freedom of speech as well as a few other freedoms. Laughing at the wrong kind of joke, for instance, is sometimes listed among the punishable forms of harassment.

Last month, at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, protesters demanding more minority control of the Collegian, a student newspaper, twice invaded the paper's offices, destroyed property, and threatened and attacked staff members. One protester chased an editor and threatened him with a baseball bat.

In the face of this violence, the administration took a loftily evenhanded view. The whole thing was, U. Mass Chancellor Richard O' Brien told us, a struggle "between the ins and the outs," and that he did not think the university should take sides. The chancellor did not tell us what degree of mob rule and violence it would take for the administration to decide it could venture an opinion on the matter. He might, of course, have consulted his university's own harassment policy, which includes in its definition of harassment physical attack.

Unless, of course, editors of the school paper representing what the chancellor calls "the status quo" aren't the sort of people eligible for protection under the code.

On a lighter note, though no less telling, we have the case of Camille Paglia and the Connecticut College summer reading list. Ms. Paglia, who specializes in making hash of the wilder reaches of feminist scholarship, is the author of a book titled "Sexual Personae." When the book was included on the reading list, members of the Women's Studies Committee and other centers of feminist theology, and their campus allies, set about removing it.

Assistant professor of art history Robert Baldwin told the school's student paper the book was "offensive to human beings, especially women." Others complained that Ms. Paglia's book was hate literature, like "Mein Kampf." The campaign to remove Ms. Paglia's book from the list succeeded.

* * *

Anyone doubting that an unhealthy and repressive climate exists on campuses today has only to look at the policies on harassment put in place at - to name just a few - Stanford, the University of Pennsylvania and Minnesota, Florida and Brown.

At Brown, as at other institutions, the code says that harassment can be defined as any behavior that produces "feelings of impotence" or "anger" or "disenfranchisement." And the harassing speech or behavior doesn't have to be deliberate. "It can be intentional or unintentional."

Colby College's policy decrees that any behavior or speech that causes someone to feel "loss of self-esteem," a "vague sense of danger" is harassment. Emory-like many other institutions - says that harassment is any behavior or language directed at others on account of race, age, gender, sexual orientation, handicap, etc. that has the "reasonably foreseeable effect" of creating a hostile environment for those in the above identified categories.

We are clearly sunk here in a marshland of never-ending offenses, where anything from a look or a laugh can be defined as harassment--and has been. Harassment is punishable by all sorts of measures - including "separation from the university." The University of Minnesota includes in its faculty guidelines the suggestion that the faculty "monitor" the classroom climate by having students "comment anonymously - in writing - about . . . things they have seen or heard that they want to acknowledge." All that is missing is the suggestion that students be convened for mass confessions, or trials where they can all come forward and repent of having laughed inappropriately (an offense at the U. Conn.).

* * *

In the 1950s--the era of senator Joe McCarthy and other zealots - college students often sang a protest song called "Die Gedanken Sind Frei"-My Thoughts Are Free. A song of leftist origins sung by Pete Seeger, it nevertheless came to be the anthem for students of all political persuasions who detested efforts to stifle dissent. "My thoughts will not cater to duke or dictator," went one of the lines. Who, then, could have believed that the nation's campuses would a few decades later become the only place in American society where censorship and intimidation rule, and where ideological dukes and dictators flourish?


Dec. 12, 1990 Wall Street Journal p A10
So Very PC at UCSC

BY JEROME NEU

SANTA CRUZ, Calif. -- All across the country, universities have been confronting the problems posed by an increasingly diverse and contentious society. The future may have already arrived at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Two years ago, at one of Santa Cruz's eight residential colleges, there was what came to be known as the "Asian Food Affair." A dinner with Asian (some say, Philippine) food and themes was planned for early December. A staff member noticed that the date coincided with Pearl Harbor Day and, following her suggestion, the Asian celebration was postponed and the menu changed. When word of the change got out, there were demonstrations by students in another college, and letters were written to the press charging racial insensitivity and racism (for grouping all Asians together, and for seemingly blaming the living for the actions of certain Japanese long ago).

Despite apologies, claims of good intentions and the fact that the staff member who had recommended the change was herself of Japanese descent, the champions of tolerance showed little tolerance. Charges and counter-charges proliferated, there were resignations, lawsuits and serious illness induced by stress. The memory lingers.

Last year, five professors of good will, with diverse backgrounds and from different fields (biology, philosophy, literature, linguistics and sociology), got together in an effort to design an innovative course to meet the challenge of growing ethnic diversity in the student body and the growing need for multicultural understanding in the society at large. They put together a two-quarter "World Culture" course that studies a number of different societies from a number of different perspectives. Now a required "core" course for freshmen at one of Santa Cruz's colleges, the course is meant to be a model for new multicultural campus-wide courses. It is being taught this year for the first time.

Signs of trouble emerged early. One professor, a biologist, began a lecture about Darwin with an apology for speaking about the work of a "dead white male." The same professor (himself a living white male, originally from Canada) choked with emotion at a session with other professors and graduate teaching assistants over the fact that he was not a member of any oppressed minority.

A few weeks into the course, another of the professors (a former Jesuit from Spain) spoke about Islam. As his final topic, he considered the role of women in Islam, reading passages from the Koran and from the statutes enacted in Iran with the coming of the Ayatollah Khomeini. As might be guessed, the depiction was rather grim.

After the class, the lecturer received a letter from another professor in the course (self-described as a "scholar of color," he is a sociologist who studies race and is himself black) complaining that he was "deeply disturbed" by the lecture. He asked for half of the next lecture to respond. The lecturer refused to yield his time.

Then there came another of the sessions of professors with graduate student teaching assistants. The scholar of color rose and announced that he had been "deeply disturbed" by the lecture on Islam. He proceeded to spell out what had disturbed him. It turned out that he did not disagree with any of the statements the lecturer had made. He believed that all of the quotations from texts were accurate. Rather, he was upset at what had been left out. In particular, he noted, no mention had been made of the fact that the U.S. kills people in the electric chair, that it had dropped the atom bomb on people of another race, that for a long period it had practiced slavery and so on.

* * *

Animosities and recriminations flew. People took sides. It happened that the scholar of color was scheduled to give the next lecture. Since all the professors (as part of this innovative model course) regularly attended each other's lectures (to help establish recurring themes), the ex-Jesuit threatened that he would walk out in as noticeable a way as possible if the scholar of color used the occasion to criticize him before the undergraduates for what he had not said in his lecture on Islam. The ex-Jesuit was persuaded not to attend -- but had someone record the lecture for him. The scholar of color also had the lecture recorded. Apparently nothing untoward was said.

While there have been meetings and reconciliations since, the scholar of color subsequently announced his resignation from the course, and will not be participating next quarter. All this in a model course designed to teach students new approaches to cross-cultural understanding and pluralistic sensitivity. The former Jesuit, who had grown up in Spain and taught in Germany and Japan before coming to California, concluded: "These days, it is not possible to be pluralistic enough."

Most recently, two residential colleges pooled resources to have a "Native American College Night." One might have thought that this pre-Thanksgiving event was a nicely timed effort to look at things from another side. It produced an angry letter to the campus paper from the "Student Alliance of North American Indians," complaining of the failure of the colleges to "fully involve" the organization in the planning of the event. The performance was described as "mediocre," and the alliance declared "we cannot support or condone events which do not involve Native-Americans in the planning process."

Does one have to be a member of a given minority in order to understand that minority, or to say anything about it? In a university?

I mentioned at the beginning that the World Culture course is being offered as a "core" course at one of Santa Cruz's residential colleges. It is the same college that was the site of the "Asian Food Affair" (and thus was presumably in special need of multicultural sensitivity and understanding). There is now apparently a question about whether the college will sponsor the World Culture core course for its originally planned second quarter. The second quarter was supposed to include consideration of Japanese culture. People are nervous. . . .

Mr. Neu is a professor of philosophy at the University of California at Santa Cruz.


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