College Campuses Crawling With Crazies
A report on political correctness, back when it was still news..
BY JAMES TARANTO
New York City Tribune, Friday, July 13, 1990
WASHINGTON--In Eastern Europe, hundreds of professors of Marxism-Leninism have suddenly found themselves unemployed. They might consider defecting to the United States, where their views would likely bring considerable sympathy in the academic world.
I was among a group of former and present college students who participated in a Washington conference held by Accuracy in Academia (AIA), a conservative campus watchdog group, last weekend. The comparison between American universities and their erstwhile communist counterparts may sound exaggerated, but the horror students related by students at the conference are all too typical.
For example, Judith Henderson, a middle-aged Long Beach, Calif., woman who had returned to college at Cal State Long Beach, signed up for an anthropology course taught by Dr. Eugene Ruyle. Instead of instruction in anthropology, she said, she got "crude propagandizing" about the evils of capitalism and the glories of Marxism.
Ruyle's book, The Human Adventure, was required reading for the course. In it, the professor states: "The first step is to understand that existing capitalism and our government are in fact 'structures of evil.' It may seem extreme to call capitalism 'the kingdom of Satan,' but what else can one say about a system which starves to death millions of children every year, that denies billions of people their most fundamental human rights and perpetuates its existence by threatening to destroy the entire world?"
But if capitalism is so bad, why do people adhere to it? Because, writes Ruyle, "capitalism . . . tempts us as thoroughly as Jesus was ever tempted by Satan--with good food, comfortable housing, nice cars, the latest electronic gadgetry, vacations at Club Med and perhaps our own yachts."
Henderson says many of her classmates viewed Ruyle as a laughingstock, but by semester's end, nearly two-thirds of the students had dropped the class. Henderson, for her part, was "very angry at being cheated of a class in anthropology." She complained to the president of the university, who said it wasn't for him to decide what is and is not anthropology.
Marxism isn't the only fashionable ideology of the campus left, of course. Radical feminism, environmentalism, anti-white racism and militant homosexuality all find a home in the American academy.
Bob Jansen, a student at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo, found this out when his girlfriend enrolled in a women's studies course called "Women in Contemporary Society." Among the required texts for the course: That Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color; The Lesbian Path; and Women, Race, and Class, by Angela Davis, vice chairman of the Communist Party USA.
One essay in This Bridge Called My Back explains the shortcomings of white "wimmin," as seen by one Doris Davenport, a black lesbian and "believer in tequila": "Esthetically (and physically) we frequently find white wimmin repulsive. That is, their skin colors are unesthetic (ugly, to some people). Their hair, stringy and straight, is unattractive. Their bodies, rather like misshapen lumps of whitish clay or dough, that somebody forgot to mold in-certain-areas [sic]. Furthermore, they have a strange body odor."
Instructors didn't actually teach this course; instead, something called a "rotating chair" was used. That is, students took turns leading the class, and when one student was done, he'd call on the next.
It's not clear from the class syllabus that the instructors did much of anything--with one notable exception. In one session, the instructors demonstrated for the female students how to perform a cervical self-examination. The course syllabus explains: "[The instructor] will show how to insert the speculum and how to use a mirror to view the vagina and cervix. At that time, anyone who wishes to see what a vagina and cervix look like, may view [the instructor's]." These instructors are graduate students with no medical expertise.
"There's nothing medical about it," department chairman Elizabeth Kennedy told the New York City Tribune, saying the purpose of the exam is to "de-mystify" women's bodies.
Students were expected to keep a journal, but they weren't actually required to write anything. Quoting the syllabus again: "Your journal does not have to rely only on prose. If you are a poet, artist, cartoonist, lyricist--If you collect cartoons, newspaper clippings, or TV guides--If you have family photos, old baby booties, or the pink slip from your first job--If any of these things are relevant to your discussion of the material they may be included in the journal."
When assembling their poems, family photos, and TV guides, students were expected to apply "critical analysis." "Critical analysis means you have to think and reason," the syllabus helpfully points out. "Critical analysis is not broad generalization, like 'all men are scum,' or 'capitalism is bad,' without any further analysis."
Perhaps I'm a chauvinist, but I would argue that there are better uses of class time than sitting around chatting, gawking at vaginas and baby booties, and applying careful analysis to prove that all men are scum.
Yet the course taken by Jansen's now ex-girlfriend--she ended the relationship by declaring herself a socialist and hanging up the phone--may be tame by the standards of the discipline of women's studies. Leslie Carbone, executive director of AIA, recently attended a conference of the National Women's Studies Association in Akron, Ohio, where she was told that heterosexual men are "necrophiliacs," because women who haven't discovered the joys of lesbianism aren't really alive. She also received instruction in the evils of "lesbophobia," "fatobphobia" and "lookism." The latter can be defined, roughly, as the sin of being more attracted to attractive people than to unattractive ones.
At SUNY's Binghamton campus, meanwhile, things are even worse. Not only has the university created a department of gay and lesbian studies, but it's also moved to stifle criticism of its decision to do so.
The Binghamton Review, a conservative campus paper edited by political science student Kathryn Doherty, published a cartoon depicting a job applicant being booted from an interviewer's office after explaining that his degree was in gay and lesbian studies. Doherty says the cartoon was intended not to bash homosexuals but simply to question the academic value of a major in gay studies.
Nonetheless, the paper was accused of "discrimination," on the grounds that the cartoon would make homosexual students less likely to apply to work at the paper, and the Review was denied university funds. As Doherty points out, however, the university's action was probably unconstitutional. Because SUNY is a state-run school, its students are protected from administrative censorship.
Equating free speech with discrimination has become a common tactic of university administrators responding to a putative trend toward bigotry on campus. Many schools have instituted codes limiting what students may say, ostensibly to protect minorities from harassment. But often these codes are vaguely worded and apply to far more than racial epithets and fighting words.
Last year, Wesley Wynne won a landmark ruling in a case against the University of Michigan, which had adopted a code barring "discriminatory harassment on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, sexual orientation, creed, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, handicap or Vietnam-era veteran status."
Wynne was a student of psychobiology at Michigan, and he worried that legitimate avenues of scholarly inquiry would be cut off by the policy. Indeed, after he filed suit, Wynne discovered that a graduate student in social work had been charged with discriminatory harassment for arguing in class that homosexuality is an illness.
The American Civil Liberties Union took on Wynne's case, and a judge struck down the policy as unconstitutionally overbroad.
Ironically, the ACLU itself is moving away from its traditional support for the First Amendment. The California chapters of the ACLU have endorsed harassment policies similar to the University of Michigan's, on the grounds that "racism, for example, has proved intransigent and we live in a real world, not an idealized marketplace of ideas," as Mary Ellen Gale, former president of the ACLU's Southern California chapter, told The New York Times. Gale, a law professor, helped draft a resolution supporting restrictions on campus speech.
My involvement with the conference stemmed from an experience I had three years ago when I was news editor of the Daily Sundial, the student newspaper at California State University, Northridge. I'd read about an episode at nearby UCLA, in which the school paper there, the Daily Bruin, published a cartoon depicting a rooster who had entered school through affirmative action.
Though the cartoon was quite mild, eight left-wing minority students stormed the office of editor Ron Bell and held him prisoner for half an hour. One f the students shouted at Bell: "I should do to you what they do to roosters. Do you know what they do to roosters?"
The university took swift disciplinary action, suspending Bell and his art director from their jobs for a week for "racial insensitivity." The specific charge was that they had violated a school rule barring "articles that perpetuate derogatory ethnic or cultural stereotypes" in campus publications.
At UCLA, both sides backed down: The suspensions were overturned when Bell both apologized and threatened to sue. But when I read about the case, I was outraged, particularly when I went to UCLA and picked up a copy of Nommo, the black student newspaper. Nommo, which is subject to the same restrictions as the Bruin, had published a vicious, racist attack on white people. "Their abstract theories and philosophy concerning government and economics has [sic] an underlying tone of possessiveness and greediness, because their character is made up of such things," declared the author, Nkuli Lind. "They cannot see the merit in collectivism and socialism because they do not possess the qualities of rational thought, generosity and magnanimity necessary to be part of a social order or system."
Ironically enough, Bell reported that Nommo staffers were among the group that stormed his office to protest the rooster cartoon.
My opinion article denouncing UCLA's double-standard did not go over well with the journalism faculty at Cal State. Cynthia Rawitch, then faculty publisher of the Sundial, suspended me from my position for two weeks for violating a rule, never before enforced, barring publication of "controversial" material without faculty approval.
Rawitch argued that the cartoon was indeed a violation of the UCLA rule, because affirmative action applies only to minorities and women, the Nommo article, she said, was OK because "white people are not an ethnic or cultural group." When I told her I believed the suspension was unconstitutional, she sneered, "Under what constitution?"
My story had a happy ending. In May 1988, represented by the ACLU, I filed suite against Rawitch, claming the suspension was a violation of my rights under the First Amendment and the California Constitution. The case was set to go to trial in June 1989, but a few weeks before, the journalism faculty gave in and agreed to rewrite its policy to affirm the free-speech rights of students.
At a press conference announcing the settlement, held at the ACLU's Washington headquarters and attended by former Attorney General Ed Meese, ACLU Washington National Director Morton Halperin declared that there is indeed a double-standard on campus. "There are no cases where universities discipline students for views or opinions on the far left, or for racist comments against non-minorities," Halperin declared.
Indeed, even racist comments against minorities are sometimes acceptable to the campus left. The saddest story at the conference was told by Marc Thiessen, a graduate of Poughkeepsie's Vassar College and a former editor of the conservative Vassar Spectator.
In 1988, an ugly confrontation took place between two black students: left-wing militant Anthony Grate and conservative Jason Wimberley, a Spectator staffer. Grate accused Wimberley of being a traitor to his race, and rubbed Wimberley's skin to see if the color would come off. Grate also called a Jewish member of the Spectator staff a "dirty Jew" and a "stupid Jew."
When the Spectator complained to Vassar officials about harassment on Grate's part, nothing was done. But when the paper published an editorial calling Grate "hypocrite of the month" for provoking racial confrontation while claiming to oppose racism, the college cut off the Spectator's funds.
The justification for the action was that the article "fosters an attitude of hatred and anger, destroying the atmosphere which welcomes the free exchange of ideas." "Thus," as a writer for Rolling Stone noted, "the Vassar Spectator became perhaps the first college newspaper banned in the name of free speech."
The Spectator acquired independent funding and continued publishing, and now receives some Vassar funds again. The heartbreaking part of the story is what happened to Wimberley: He was subjected to a relentless campaign of harassment by black leftists, and eventually was forced to leave the college before graduating.
The human costs of such incidents are distressing enough. But the danger to American higher education should not be underestimated.
Most students already view college as merely a place to prepare for a career. If liberals arts and humanities departments become nothing but propaganda organs for various radical political beliefs, Americans will become more cynical about intellectual and scholarly pursuits.
Radical professors aren't likely to indoctrinate a generation of students into the tenets of Marxism, radical feminism and hatred of civilization. Students are too smart for that. But as long as the kooks dominate our college and university campuses, scholarship will recede further and further onto the margins of society.
By dressing up nonsense in a clock of intellectual pretentiousness, the campus left is making life a lot easier for anti-intellectuals.
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