Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Free Speech on Campus, Depending on Who’s Speaking

In what is yet more evidence that universities have become, at least where campus free speech is concerned, as Harvard’s wise Abigail Thernstrom has described them, “islands of repression in a sea of freedom,” the University Of California, San Diego has been undergoing collective apoplexy over some incendiary racial slurs made by students involved in an off-campus fraternity party and in a subsequent broadcast from the school’s radio station. The discovery of a noose and a roughly-fashioned Ku Klux Klan hood on campus only helped stoke tensions and inflame rage at the perceived racism.

Coinciding with celebrations for Black History Month, the February 15th ghetto-themed party was advertised on Facebook as the “Compton Cookout,” with the suggested dress involving over-sized T-shirts, gold chains, and other stereotypical wear of “thuggish” black men; women were advised to dress like “ghetto chicks” and be ostentatious, boorish, and combative. More outrage was added to the evolving controversy when days later Kris Gregorian, editor of satirical student publication the Koala, with a long history of insulting minority groups, impoliticly suggested on the school’s TV station that members of UCSD’s Black Student Union who loudly protested the party’s theme were “ungrateful niggers.”

Though black, Hispanic, Muslim and many white students and administrators immediately leveled blame at white fraternity members, Koala writers, and other purported racists lurking on campus, it turns out that a comedian with the improbable (not to mention derogatory) stage name of Jiggaboo Jones, an African-American himself, had actually orchestrated the party for some 250 people as part of a promotional event, something he had done at other West Coast locations. But the damage had been done, and self-righteous members of the UCSD campus stampeded on one another to profess their outrage, indignation, and shock at the loutish behavior of and “state of emergency” created by a small group of students involved at a private party held off-campus.

Members of the Black Student Union wasted no time in drafting a 6-page memo for school officials (who eagerly embraced them), in which they itemized a veritable encyclopedia of demands by which, it was felt, the racist climate could be modified, with the “aim to move the university past hurtful incidents and improve the campus climate by enhancing diversity on the campus, in the curriculum and throughout the UC San Diego community.” Cries of “institutionalized racism” and a “toxic environment” at UCSD were heard. Because the BSU felt that African-Americans were being “racially demoralized,” those demands included, among others, establishing ethnic studies programs, a “rewrite the Student Code of Conduct,” presumably meaning a speech code that would proscribe certain speech deemed inappropriate by the code’s creators, and, ominously, a mandatory “diversity sensitivity requirement for every undergraduate student.”

While calling for further investigation into the specific incidents that had sparked the outrage, and promising to identify and punish the perpetrators, embarrassed school officials also met with angry minority students, promised to increase efforts at diversity, pledged more minority faculty hiring and student enrollment, set up psychological counseling facilities, met with community leaders and state officials, and even flew in Berkeley’s law school dean, Christopher Edley, to help arbitrate the situation. The president of the University’s Associated Students also took the breathtakingly audacious step, with the apparent approval of school officials, of not only closing down the student TV station but freezing funding for all 33 on-campus student publications, not just the offensive Koala. The danger of racist expression meant that all expression would be curtailed—at least until a way could be found to defund the offending publication and TV station.

For Tara Sweeney, senior program officer at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a Pennsylvania-based advocacy group that defends campus speech controversies and has contacted the UCSD administration in the past and in relation to these events, the constitutional issue is very clear: Publishing or otherwise expressing “a parody, no matter how objectionable to some, is in no way tantamount to ‘harassment.’”

The hypocrisy of campus speech control is also evident at UC San Diego, since the extent to which officials will tolerate errant speech apparently depends on which group is uttering it. When white frat boys, with an evident dearth of social tact, make fun of black people—a clearly protected, “under-represented,” campus victim group―no one on campus seems to have had the slightest difficulty in denouncing the vile expressions as blatant racism—indeed, as essential hate speech that might well be criminally punishable. School administrators have not come to the defense of the Koala or its editor with the argument that the views expressed, though vile, were protected, not unlawful, speech; they also have not publicly announced, as they did in 1995 regarding another student publication, that university officials should not and can not be in the business of censoring student-run publications.

Voz Fronteriza, a UCSD Chicano-oriented student publication published by MEChA, self-described as “shamelessly leftist” and intended “to advance anti-imperialist movements and/or any struggle for the self-determination of oppressed/exploited people throughout the world,” in 1995 grotesquely cheered after the death of a Latino Immigration and Naturalization Service officer; even worse, the publication urged the murder of other Latino officials, deemed by the thoughtful editors to be “race traitors.” Interestingly, when those outrageous sentiments came to light, UCSD’s Vice Chancellor Joseph W. Watson was adamant that Voz Fronteriza, despite the odious nature of its content and the potentially “hurtful” language, had the “right to publish their views without adverse administrative action,” since, he correctly pointed out, “student newspapers are protected by the first amendment of the U.S. constitution.” Watson was even more emphatic and direct, issuing a statement that UCSD, in fact, was “legally prohibited from censuring the content of student publications,” something it apparently has forgotten since.

Nor have UCSD officials sought to suppress or even condemn other inflammatory on-campus speech when it comes from other protected minority groups. Amir-Abdel Malik-Ali, for instance, the black former Nation of Islam member, convert to Islam, and cheerleader for Hamas and Hezbollah, who has been a ubiquitous, poisonous presence on the UC Irvine campus, has also appeared at UC San Diego as a guest of the Muslim Student Association. Malik-Ali never hesitates to vilify and defame Israel, Zionists, Jewish power, and Jews themselves as he weaves incoherent, hallucinatory conspiracies about the Middle East and the West. In a February 2004 speech Malik-Ali “implied that Zionism is a mixture of ‘chosen people-ness [sic] and white supremacy’; that the Iraqi war is in the process of ‘Israelization’; that the Zionists had the ‘Congress, the media and the FBI in their back pocket.’”

Malik-Ali used a February 2005 event to proclaim that “Zionism is a mixture, a fusion of the concept of white supremacy and the chosen people . . . You will have to hear more about the Holocaust when you accuse them of their Nazi behavior,” he warned, after railing against Zionist control of the press, media, and political decisions of the American government.

Speaking from a podium with a banner reading “Israel, the 4th Reich” in May 2006, Malik-Ali referred to Jews as “new Nazis” and “a bunch of straight-up punks.” “The truth of the matter is your days are numbered,” he admonished Jews everywhere. At other of Malik-Ali’s incendiary lectures, displays and posters regularly depict the Israeli flag splattered in blood and the Star of David shown to be equating a swastika, punctuated with numerous hysterical references to a “Holocaust in the Holy Land,” “genocide,” “ethnic cleansing,” “Zionism = racism,” and the oft-repeated blood libel against Jews that “Israelis murder children.”

But tellingly, no officials in the UC system have tripped over themselves to denounce Malik-Ali’s venomous speech and shut down those organizations which sponsored it and those publications that reported about it. They did not set up counseling sessions for Jewish students who might have been “intimidated,” “harassed,” or made to feel “unsafe” on campus as a result of hearing that they were the new Nazis, that the Jewish state was the chief impediment to world peace, that Jews control the media and Washington, and that Jews, who are committing genocide on the innocent, long-oppressed Palestinians, deserve to be murdered. Campus leaders did not reach out to civic leaders and other external stakeholders to help heal the wounds that this hate speech may have caused within the Jewish student body, nor did they bring in high-profile experts who could moderate between Muslim student groups and Jewish students made to bear these oppressive attacks on their religion and people. Mandatory “sensitivity” classes were not set up so that non-Jewish students could be forced to have positive attitudes towards Israel and Jews. And Jewish students did not submit a list of demands for on-campus Jewish art galleries, Israel studies programs, more Jewish faculty, special accommodations in recruiting and applications, or campus-apologies and repentance for spewing forth hateful, insulting, and odious speech.

None of this took place precisely because campuses today have a startling double standard when it comes to who may say what about whom. Either because they are feckless or want to coddle perceived protected student minority groups in the name of diversity, university administrations are morally inconsistent when taking a stand against what they consider “hate speech,” believing, mistakenly, that only harsh expression against victim groups needs to be moderated. When other groups―whites, Christians, Republicans, heterosexuals, Jews, for example―are the object of offensive speech, no protection is deemed to be necessary.

So while campus free speech is enshrined as one of the university’s chief principles, experience shows us that it rarely occurs as free speech for everyone, only for a few. But if we want speech to be truly free, to paraphrase Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., then we have to embrace not only speech with which we agree, but also that speech with which we disagree, that speech that we hate.


“Reagan test” exposes current textbooks’ flaws

If you want to know just what your kids are learning from their history books, all you have to do is apply the "Reagan test," says Professor Larry Schweikart. As the Texas textbook battle continues to simmer, Schweikart says the first thing he does to determine whether a book is politically slanted is to go to any section discussing President Ronald Reagan. What you'll find there, he says, will tell you everything you need to know, he says.

Schweikart says the majority of books he’s examined credit former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev with ending the Cold War, and not Reagan. That's “a joke,” Schweikart says. “I lived through the Reagan years, I remember.” “The reason why textbooks get to where they are is because this is the world view of (a) the people who write the text books, (b) people who edit the text books, and (c) people who publish them,” the history professor says.

Schweikart says the textbooks' authors bring an inherently liberal viewpoint to their work. “They all tend to come from New York, Boston, Washington and Philadelphia,” giving them a “drastically” different viewpoint from the rest of America, he says.

Aside from bias, there are factual errors as well. One book -- Call to Freedom: Beginnings to 1877 (Holt, 2003) -- states on pages 53-54 that Christopher Columbus was "the first European explorer to land in the Americas." But Norseman Leif Ericson actually arrived hundreds of years earlier – a fact that is stated on page 18 of the same book.

How about the Louisiana Purchase in 1803? The same textbook says that the Louisiana Purchase extended America to the Mississippi River, when it actually expanded all the way to the Rocky Mountains.

Another text, The American Nation: Beginnings Through 1877 (Prentice, 2003), states that the city of New Orleans was settled by the French in the 1600s. But didn’t actually happen until 1718.

With this in mind, parents may be inspired to start digging into their own children’s books to see what’s inside. And experts say that's a great idea. Gilbert T. Sewall, Director of the American Textbook Council, says: “The facts are often used to create an interpretation or reality that simply is at the very least controversial and may be dead wrong.”

Dr. Frank Wang, one-time president of Saxon Publishing, says there are serious “quality control” problems. Wang cautions that many books are thrown together on a tight schedule by a group of freelance writers, leaving them with little time or pride of authorship. He’s spotted errors touching on everything from the Statue of Liberty to the Korean War.

Sewall is also aware of the mistakes. “The problem with textbooks," he says, "is missing information, or distorted information.”


This lunacy about Latin makes me want to weep with rage

How can we understand our world unless we understand the ancient world first, asks Boris Johnson. I am a much more amateur Latinist than Mayor Johnson but I share his feelings about the importance and utility of Latin. Just for starters, it is a must for any lover of classical music. To understand what is being said in the wonderful "Stabat Mater" by Pergolesi is to double one's enjoyment of an already great work -- JR

Being an even-tempered fellow, and given that we have already put up with so much nonsense from the Labour Government, I find there are very few ministerial pronouncements that make me wild with anger. We have learnt to be phlegmatic about the mistakes of a government that has banned 4,300 courses of human conduct, plunged this country into the deepest recession in memory, and so skewed the economy that 70 per cent of the Newcastle workforce is in the pay of the state. But there are times when a minister says something so maddening, so death-defyingly stupid, that I am glad not to be in the same room in case I should reach out, grab his tie, and end what is left of my political career with one almighty head-butt.

Such were my feelings on reading Mr Ed Balls on the subject of teaching Latin in schools. Speaking on the radio, Spheroids dismissed the idea that Latin could inspire or motivate pupils. Head teachers often took him to see the benefits of dance, or technology, or sport, said this intergalactic ass, and continued: "No one has ever taken me to a Latin lesson to make the same point. Very few parents are pushing for it, very few pupils want to study it."

It is nothing short of a disaster that this man is still nominally in charge of education, science, scholarship and learning in this country. He is in danger of undoing the excellent work of his predecessor, Andrew Adonis, and he is just wrong. Of course he doesn't get taken round many Latin classes in the state sector. That is because only 15 per cent of maintained schools offer the subject, against 60 per cent of fee-paying schools. But to say that "very few" want to study the subject, to say that there is no demand for Latin – it makes me want to weep with rage. The demand is huge and it is growing, and I don't just mean that the public is fascinated with the ancient world – though that is obviously true, and demonstrated, for instance, by the success of Robert Harris's Cicero novels.

There is a hunger for the language itself and, thanks to the efforts of a small number of organisations and volunteers, Latin is fighting its way back on to the curriculum. The Cambridge Classics Project did a 2008 study that found that no fewer than 500 secondary schools had started teaching Latin in the past eight years. That is a fantastic thing. Those schools deserve support.

What do they get? The tragic and wilful ignorance of the Secretary of State – and in the face of such wrong-headedness it is hard to know where to begin. I suppose it is too much to hope that Balls would accept the argument from utility – passionately though I believe it to be true. Latin and Greek are great intellectual disciplines, forcing young minds to think in a logical and analytical way. They allow you to surprise your family and delight your friends by deciphering inscriptions.

They are also a giant universal spanner for other languages. Suppose your kid scrapes her knee on holiday in Italy. You are much more likely to administer the right first aid if you know that caldo means hot rather than cold – as you will, if you know Latin. Suppose you are captured by cannibals in the Mato Grosso, and you find a scrap of Portuguese newspaper in your hut revealing that there is about to be an eclipse; and suppose that by successfully prophesying this event you convince your captors that you are a god and secure your release – I reckon you would be thankful for your Latin, eh?

And even if you reject any such practical advantages (and, experto crede, they are huge), I don't care, because they are not the point. The reason we should boost the study of Latin and Greek is that they are the key to a phenomenal and unsurpassed treasury of literature and history and philosophy, and we cannot possibly understand our modern world unless we understand the ancient world that made us all.

If Ed Balls is still unconvinced, then let me make one final point, and remind him that in his supposed anti-elitism he is being viciously elitist. Like me, Ed Balls was lucky to be educated at a wonderful fee-paying school where they taught us Latin. For the past 30 years children from such schools have dominated the study of classics at university. They have a ladder up to follow great courses, under brilliant men and women, at some of the best universities in the world – and to go on to good jobs. How mad, how infamous, that a Labour minister – a Labour minister – should seek to kick that ladder away for children less privileged than him.

Ed Balls should remember that some of the greatest socialists of the past 100 years were classicists, from Denis Healey to Geoffrey de Ste Croix, the formidable Marxist historian and author of The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World. What would Ste Croix have made of a government that actively tried to restrict the study of a great and profitable discipline to the bourgeoisie? He would have denounced it as an act of class war, and he would have been right.

It is thanks to the efforts of hundreds of dedicated teachers and volunteers that the tide is now turning. This Government places insane obstacles in the path of all who want to teach Latin in the maintained sector. Labour refuses to recognise Latin as a language for Ofsted purposes, and even though 60 Latin teachers are retiring every year, the Government will find funding for only 27 teachers a year to graduate with a PGCE enabling them to teach classics. That is 27 for the entire country.

In spite of these restrictions, and in spite of all the snootiness of Ed Balls, the enthusiasts are winning. For the first time in decades there are now – in absolute numbers – more state schools than private schools that teach Latin. Ed Balls should be proud of that achievement. He should celebrate it, and encourage it in the name – if nothing else – of social justice.


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