2/27/2005

Stifling debate

From Todd Gitlin in Mother Jones:
He writes: "Not satisfied to control the White House, the Senate, the House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, the rest of the federal courts, most governorships and state legislatures, not to mention the most powerful amalgamation of capital and military force in the history of the world, not to mention Fox News, Clear Channel, etc., some of the right's culture warriors are in an uproar about those redoubts of left-wing authority...the colleges." He goes on to discuss the campaign launched by ex-leftist David Horowitz, himself more than 40 years out of school but the founder of Students for Academic Freedom, to convince state legislatures to protect "academic diversity" by passing an "academic bill of rights" that sounds noble but in fact would put the government in the business of enforcing pluralism.

Here's a choice passage and an excellent critique of the right wingers on this issue:

Much cited in conservative columns is a 2002 survey by the student newspaper at Wesleyan University, according to which a full 32 percent of the students felt "uncomfortable speaking their opinion" on the famously liberal campus.
Whatever that means exactly, the pop-psych language is telling. Since when is higher education supposed to make you feel comfortable, anyway? In a largely unexamined triumph of marketplace values, college has come to be seen as a consumable product. Parents invest through the nose hoping for practical payoff. What follows is grade inflation, epidemic cheating, scorn for a common curriculum, and an all-around supermarket attitude. Consumer choice--embrace whatever turns you on, avoid whatever turns you off--is elevated to a matter of high principle. But weren't conservatives supposed to be fixing our minds on higher values?
Here's the contradiction inherent in this right-wing crusade. In their sudden sensitivity to the comfort of minorities--ideological ones, in this case--the advocates of legislative intervention on campus speech discard one of the virtues that conservatives have long embraced: the insistence on standing strong. They tend to cast students as frail, helpless victims of "abuse" who need institutional muscle to defend them against forces of evil they dare not confront on their own.

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