Academic freedom -- and quality -- suffered a blow last week when writer Richard Rodriguez announced that he would not speak at California State University East Bay's commencement. He didn't want to endure a ceremony boycotted by some students. So reasonable minds didn't get to hear what Rodriguez has to say because unreasonable mouths won the day.
"He believes in assimilation and rejection of one's own cultural identity," student and bilingual teacher Leah Perez complained to The San Francisco Chronicle. That's a ridiculous assertion. Rodriguez does not reject his identity. The more accurate charge would be that he is not a fanatic.
Sarah Gonzales, a professor -- all bow -- who supports the move to intimidate Rodriguez, used doublespeak when she told The Chronicle: "We need to teach our students to be able to listen to diverse opinions, but they also need to be able to respond. As a commencement speaker, he gets free air time." Guess what. He also gets free speech.
Except at CSU East Bay.
And so the censorious students and authoritarian faculty decided to have their own little graduation ceremony, even with Rodriguez bowing out. That way, they won't have to expose their minds to any view that might offend them. When they threw their graduation caps into the air, they could pat themselves on the back for guaranteeing a ceremony that didn't make them think.
I take what happened to Rodriguez personally, because while he is getting flak from the left, I experience the same nasty censoriousness from the far right. If you stray from a certain set of opinions, the posse of extremism goes a-hunting. You see, no pundit is allowed to think that, just maybe sometimes, folks from another political persuasion have a point.
In the Internet age, partisans can log on to opinions tailor-made to conform to their own beliefs or sites that report only news they like. So they've come to see conservative-only news as something of a right: The right to not hear contrary opinions and discomforting information.
They also believe the Internet and talk radio will -- and should -- spare them from information they don't like. The far left and the far right share this dangerous conviction that they shouldn't even be exposed to what other Americans think. In this case, the students' rage was based on their views of Rodriguez's 1982 book, "Hunger of Memory." "The sad part is people doing this based on a book they haven't read," campus spokesman Kim Huggett told The Chronicle.