Free Speech & Silly Speech on Campus

Two terrific articles to bring to your attention today, and then an event announcement/invitation for East Bay Power Line readers.

First up is Robert Boyers, a professor of English at Skidmore College and editor of Salmagundi, a literary journal not widely known beyond the halls of academe, writing this week in the Chronicle of Higher Education about “The Academy’s Assault on Intellectual Diversity.” Very much worth reading the whole thing, but here’s a good sample:

[A] great many contemporary liberals subscribe to the belief — however loath they may be to acknowledge it — that certain ideas are “heretical” or “divisive” and that those who dare to articulate them must be, in one way or another, cast out. The burning desire to paint a scarlet letter on the breast of those who fail to observe the officially sanctioned view of things has taken possession of many ostensibly liberal people in academe, which has tended more and more in recent years to resemble what the Yale English professor David Bromwich calls “a church held together by the hunt for heresies.” . . .

What does such a total cultural environment look like? In the university it looks like a place in which all constituencies have been mobilized for the same end, in which every activity is to be monitored to ensure that everyone is “on board.” Do courses in all departments reflect the commitment of the institution to raise “awareness” about all of the approved hot-button topics? If not, something must be done. Are all incoming freshmen assigned a suitably pointed, heavily ideological summer-reading text that tells them what they should be primarily concerned about as they enter? Check. Does the college calendar feature carefully orchestrated consciousness-raising sessions led by “human resources” specialists trained to facilitate “dialogues” leading where everyone must agree they ought to lead? Check. Is every member of the community primed to invoke the customary terms — “privilege,” “power,” “hostile,” “unsafe” — no matter how incidental or spurious they seem in a given context? Essential. . .

Boyers concludes by calling this state of academic affairs “tyranny.”

Next up, don’t miss Heather Mac Donald in the Wall Street Journal today, writing on “Does Harvard Consider Oscar Wilde ‘Marginalized’?” It seems Harvard’s English department has decided to throw in its lot with the grievance mongers:

Starting next fall, English majors at Harvard will be required to take a course in authors “marginalized for historical reasons.” Those “reasons” include “racism, patriarchy and heteronormativity,” the English Department’s chairman, James Simpson, told the Harvard Crimson. . .

A student who has been taught to see bias rather than beauty in literature has lost the chance of opening herself to bygone worlds, where she could experience real diversity. Told that literature is one long process of “marginalization,” she is less likely to lose herself in the shady groves of pastoral poetry, being instead on the hunt for patriarchy.

She has also been unfitted for adulthood. The narrative of curricular oppression bleeds ineluctably into the narrative of personal oppression. Every place a college student looks today, she has been primed to see marginalization, usually her own—even, hilariously, at regally privileged Ivy League colleges. That is a delusion, but one that will distort a student’s perception of reality for the rest of her life.

Like Boyers’s article above, very much worth reading the whole thing.

And this leads me to my event announcement. On Monday. I’m hosting Heather and Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution and the National Journal on campus at Berkeley for an event on “The Future of Free Speech on Campus,” where we’ll air out a number of aspects of this issue. (See the complete flyer below.) The panel will go off from 12:30 to 2 pm in the Library at Moses Hall, right smack in the middle of campus. If you’re interested in coming, please RSVP to Whitney Mello ([email protected]) so we can know how many seats we’ll need, and also how much food to order up (yes—free lunch will be served!).

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