John Leo

Also emerging from the pack of Sheldon contenders is Warren Baker, president of California Polytechnic State University -- San Luis Obispo. A number of black students were offended when a white student at the Multicultural Center attempted to post a flier advertising a speech by black writer Mason Weaver, author of It’s OK to Leave the Plantation, an argument that dependence on government harms black Americans. The student, Steven Hinkle, offered to discuss the flier but was met by threats to call police. The Cal Poly judicial affairs office
found Hinkle guilty of “disruption of a campus event,” although five of the seven complainants said the meeting had not yet started and all seven said Hinkle entered quietly and conducted himself civilly when challenged. So the “disruption” seemed to be in the minds of the complainants: They were offended by the content of the flier. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) entered the case, sending two letters to President Baker explaining his legal and moral obligation to the First Amendment and academic freedom. No dice. He refused to act.

Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University, has made one of the strongest bids for the Sheldon by allowing subordinates to shut down a student bake sale that mocked the unfairness of race and gender preferences: Identical cookies were offered at different prices for whites, minorities, and women. The director of the student center said the issue wasn’t free speech but “a hostile environment being created that was potentially volatile.”

Campus satire about affirmative action is greeted in much the same way that jokes about Allah are welcomed by the Taliban. Hostile-environment charges are a traditional campus way of saying “I am offended, so silence those who disagree with me.” And if violence is threatened, says University of California -- Los Angeles law Prof. Eugene Volokh, a university should respond “by protecting the speakers against the would-be thugs, rather than by shutting up the speakers and letting the thugs win.” President Turner, however, declined to intervene, letting the censors win.

The presidents of SMU and Cal Poly are clearly way ahead of their Sheldon-seeking rivals. Since there is little difference between them, the Sheldon judges are awarding two trophies this year. Congratulations to Gerald Turner and Warren Baker, Sheldon laureates of 2003.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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