A good friend and faithful reader wrote last week to remonstrate with me for not focusing more on the ideological thought control being enforced on university campuses in my recent discussions of what columnist Jonah Goldberg has termed, in a book of the same name, liberal fascism.
My friend is right.
Pollster Frank Luntz provided the Israeli government with some distressing results this week about waning Democratic support. Among highly educated, high income, politically involved Democrats, 76% believe Israel that Israel wields too much control over American foreign policy; almost one-half think Israel is a racist country and less than a half think Israel desires peace. Forty-five percent said they would be more likely to support a candidate who criticized Israel's policy towards the Palestinians. The contrast with Republicans could not have been sharper.
Luntz's findings come at a time when numerous polls show America trending more liberal and Democratic Party identification up.
TO A LARGE EXTENT those worrisome trends reflect the hegemony of leftist thought in the groves of American academe. Those Democrats polled by Luntz are shaped in America's universities, where a particular political orthodoxy is ever more entrenched. America's universities spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually ensuring every type of diversity, except one: diversity of thought.
At the University of Iowa Law School, for instance, until very recently 49 out of fifty members of the law school faculty were registered Democrats. Of 155 Princeton faculty and staff members who contributed to the presidential campaign in 2012, only two contributed to Mitt Romney – a visiting engineering professor and a custodian.
Not by accident is the most leftist dominated segment of American life also that in which free speech is least protected. And attitudes to campus free speech are an excellent barometer of the degree to which education has devolved into indoctrination. Kirsten Powers (a Democrat) has written a new book called The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. Much of that book is devoted to American universities where left-wing students, administrators, and faculty have sent the message that "anyone [who] strays off the leftist script . . . might find themselves investigated, harassed, ostracized, even expelled" because their speech has given offense.
Nearly sixty percent of the colleges and universities in America have campus speech codes that dramatically restrict, if not obliterate, freedom of speech. One, for instance, bars students from "offending . . . a member of the University community." Fordham University prohibits using email to "insult." Offense and insult are determined by the ones so offended. Numerous universities have instituted "trigger warnings" on course content to warn students that course material may cause them distress by challenging their world view.
Janet Napolitano, chancellor of the University of California system, the nation's largest, recently instituted seminars for deans and department chairs to guide them in things that should no longer be said because they constitute "micro-aggressions," defined as "brief, subtle verbal or non-verbal exchanges that send denigrating message to the recipient because of his or her group membership." Included are such statements as "America is a land of opportunity;" "I believe that the most qualified person should get the job;" "America is a melting pot," "Affirmative action is racist."
Each of these "suggestions" seeks to impose a particular societal vision and/or foreclose societal debate. They constitute a liberal version of the Gulag's re-education centers. The objection to the first two statements is that they implicitly deny the proposition that America is a country so racist that individual merit and hard work are never rewarded and a meritocracy is impossible. "America is a melting-pot" is objectionable because it prefers the traditional view of America as an affirmational society bound together by certain common ideas over the multi-cultural vision of a balkanized society based on ethnic, racial, and sexual identities. The view that non-color blind admissions and hiring is inherently racist is one side of a longstanding debate, and it just happens to be the view adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court of late, at least with respect to university admissions policy.
A group of Scholars of Color recently disrupted a class at UCLA, charging that the tenured professor had committed "micro-aggressions" against them. Example: The professor changed one student's capitalization of "indigenous" to lower case, and thus disrespected her ideological point of view. Were the students punished for disrupting a class? No. The 79-year-old professor was instructed to stay off the graduate campus for a year, and UCLA commissioned an "Independent Investigative Report on Acts of Bias and Discrimination Involving Faculty."
At Marquette University, a Jesuit school, Professor John McAdams was stripped of tenure and fired for a blogpost, in which he criticized by name a graduate teaching assistant who had told a student that he could not defend the traditional Catholic teaching on same-gender marriage in class because it might offend other students. McAdams wrote that the graduate student had used "a tactic typical among liberals now. Opinions with which they disagree are not merely wrong and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed 'offensive' and need to be shut up." His firing proved how right he was and how effective those tactics have proven.
Georgetown law professor Jonathan Turley notes the irony that while the University of California system now seeks to prevent verbal micro-aggressions against members of select victim groups it refused to dismiss an associate professor of gender studies who led her students in vandalizing and then stealing a pro-life display, prior to attacking one of the teenage pro-life advocates. Indeed the professor appears to have had overwhelming faculty and student support.
IRONIC, HOWEVER, WOULD BE TOO MILD to describe the different way that Jewish students are treated. They live in a hostile environment, which can at times be genuinely frightening, on many campuses across America. Last summer, Boston police had to protect pro-Israel students over three successive days from pro-Palestinian mobs shouting, "Jews back to Birkenau." Over fifty percent of Jewish students report that they have personally experienced or witnessed anti-Semitism.
No one, it seems, is particularly concerned about aggressions – micro or otherwise – against them, even though Jew hatred is not exactly an unknown phenomenon throughout history. On about 200 campuses, there are annual Israel Apartheid Week rallies calling for the destruction of the State of Israel. Many of the events are formally sponsored by academic departments and promoted by professors on their emails.
Ruth Wisse, in "Anti-Semitism Goes to School" (in the May Mosaic) describes how a group of pro-Palestinian student groups demanded that candidates for student government at UCLA and Berkeley sign a pledge that they will not participate in trips to Israel organized by groups like AIPAC or Aish International's Hasbara Fellowships. Most candidates refused to sign, but the student government president did.
While expressing discomfort with the pledge, UCLA's Jewish chancellor declined to go further on the grounds that promotion of the pledge is a form of free-speech. When it comes to leftists, minorities, and those otherwise easily offended, the subjective hurt of those offended trumps free speech; when it comes to insult and intimidation of Jewish students, however, the value of campus free inquiry and speech is suddenly rediscovered. As Wisse puts it, "Institutions that enforce 'sensitivity training' to insure toleration for gays, blacks and other minorities may inadvertently be bringing some of these groups together in common hostility to Jews as the only campus minority against whom hostility is condoned."
Crossing the Line 2: The New Face on Anti-Semitism on Campus, an excellent documentary by Jerusalem U intersperses interviews with Jewish students with scenes form campus anti-Israel rallies. In one surreal scene, Becky Sebo, a student at Ohio University speaking against a student government BDS resolution, is dragged away by police in handcuffs. The police were called by the student government president, who we see in another scene pouring a bucket of blood on herself in support of BDS.
IT IS WORTH ASKING: Why is the assault on free speech on campus being led by the political Left? Doesn't the Left stand for freedom?
Fifty years ago, the campus Free Speech Movement began on the Berkeley campus, when the administration tried to enforce existing restrictions against solicitations for political causes on campus. When a former graduate student named Jack Weinstein, sitting at the table of CORE, a radical civil rights group, was arrested, the confrontation with authorities began.
Then the battle was to open up free discussion on campus; today it is to declare "case closed" and all discussion ended, especially when "sensitivities" of victim groups are at stake.
Today's college administrators and students alike are students of Herbert Marcuse, whether they have ever heard the name or read One-Dimensional Man or Repressive Tolerance. Marcuse preached that the restoration of freedom on thought would require what he called with Orwellian inversion "repressive tolerance" – i.e., "new and rigid restrictions on teachings" that protect entrenched oppression. Bad ideas out; good ideas in. True, to his Marxist training, Marcuse was confident that he could distinguish the permissible good from the forbidden bad ideas.
Marcuse was explicit. Other icons of modern progressive thought are more subtle. Edward Said's Orientalism was a book-length effort to suppress Western scholarship, even comment, on Muslim societies, as inevitably tainted by Western colonialism. In its own way, Justice Kennedy's opinion in Oberegell declares the nature of marriage to be another one of those subjects about which only one side is admissible. Traditional marriage is found to be so irrational, so incapable of justification on any ground other than bigotry, that no state can legislate in accordance with the received wisdom of mankind since time immemorial.
As we argued last week, the progressive mind elevates results over means, and accordingly, is not very concerned with the rules of the game or proper procedures. For instance, the question of who should be determining societal norms in a democracy – legislatures or courts – little troubles them. Their preference is inevitably for the judges who can be assumed to be the products of many years of university education and thus more likely to be from the "enlightened society," of which Justice Aharon Barak always spoke.
The underlying assumption of progressivism is that the smart people should rule. The modern administrative state, with its massive delegation of rule-making authority to unelected bureaucrats, was the great achievement of the early progressives. The bigger the government and the heavier the regulatory burden the better for fewer decisions are thereby left in the hands of individual consumers of indeterminate intelligence – i.e., market a– and more power placed in the hands of rational central planners. (The repeated failures of economic central planning must, of course, be ignored.)
So great is progressives' assurance of their own superior intelligence and of the divine right of the smart that they must always struggle with the totalitarian temptation to suppress and rule out of order "stupid" ideas.
Ari Shavit, a man of the Left writing in the newspaper of the Left, Ha'aretz, has been one of the sharpest critics of that totalitarian tendency of the Left. At the outset of Oslo, he lamented the "totalitarian self-assurance" of Israel's cultural elites and their belief that "our truth is the only truth." That self-assurance led them to believe, he argued, that they were entitled to be at once players in the game, the referees, and to make the rules -- all in the name of truth and justice. He protested the willingness to use "whatever influence we can muster as referees[in the democratic process debate], reporters, and commentators to influence the game in our favor and to do whatever it takes to ensure our final victory [and] vanquish once and for all the Sons of Darkness on the opposing team."
Given that will to power and self-assurance of superior insight and morality, the suppression of open inquiry on the modern campus is no longer a surprise. It is what one would expect. And it could get a lot worse.