Campus thought tyranny

Posted: May 29, 2002 12:00 AM
Have you ever wondered why liberals, who consider themselves open-minded, tolerant and the guardians of our civil liberties, sit idly by as many of our college campuses function as incubators for narrow-mindedness and enemies of free thought and expression? If you haven't, you should. Remember when vandals burglarized the College Republicans' office at the University of California at Berkeley one night in late February, stealing 3,000 copies of the student publication The California Patriot? What ideas do you think these progressive thieves were anxious to suppress? In keeping with the liberal tradition of assigning victimhood, however, maybe we should consider that these students are just hapless products of their environment. So let's look to root causes, like the influence faculty may be exerting on these innocent young felons. Just this month, UC Berkeley made the news again, this time for the actions of one of its instructors. Professor Snehal Shingavi, who teaches "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance," a required class for students of reading and composition, according to The New York Times, telegraphed his political bias in his course description for the class. "The brutal Israeli military occupation of Palestine," he wrote, "an occupation that has been ongoing since 1948, has systematically displaced, killed and maimed millions of Palestinian people. ... The right of Palestinians to fight for their own self-determination is not up for debate." But the clincher was in the last line, "Conservative thinkers are encouraged to seek other sections." The university's website boasts that its vision "is to be the world's leading university in the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge." Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl ordered the professor to remove the last line from the course description but reportedly said in a telephone interview that students gave the professor favorable evaluations. Well, I guess that should settle the issue then -- the indoctrinees approve of their indoctrinator. The Stockholm Syndrome is alive and well at UC Berkeley. Now, let's fly across the continent to the University of South Carolina, whose published policies provide: "The professor in the classroom ... should encourage free discussion, inquiry and expression. Student performances should be evaluated solely on an academic basis, not opinions or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards." And, "Students should be free to take reasoned exceptions to the data or views offered in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion." These lofty statements sound very good, but where's the beef? The syllabus for "Women's Studies 797: Seminar in Women's Studies," a required course for a graduate degree in women's studies, states that classroom participation will constitute 20 percent of the student's grade. So far so good, but the professor also distributed "Guidelines for Classroom Discussion," that impose conditions on the students' right to participate. They must "acknowledge that racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism and other institutionalized forms of oppression exist." What about professor brainwashing-ism? The Guidelines also required students to "acknowledge that one mechanism of institutionalized racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, etc., is that we are all systematically taught misinformation about our own group and about members of other groups." Oh boy. If you don't believe me, I invite you to review the guidelines for yourself at If you do, please don't miss Guideline No. 8 -- a model for modern chutzpa -- "Create a safe atmosphere for open discussion." Everyone, regardless of his political leanings, should be concerned about this continuing trend on our campuses. (These are not isolated examples; many more are documented by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) on its website,, such as West Virginia University restricting free speech to two small zones on campus.) But until I witness just some liberals outraged at this rampant academic tyranny, I will be compelled to assume that their desire that students believe like they do is more important to them than their professed homage to freedom of thought, expression, pluralism and openness of academic inquiry. There's not much room for middle ground here. Liberals should either embrace this thought-fascism or denounce it. After all, liberals should be sufficiently confident about the plausibility, if not superiority, of their ideas to allow airing of the opposing viewpoint in the classroom. All of us who care the least bit about the future of our society must decide whether we want our universities to produce thought-numbed automatons or freethinking individuals. It matters more than we might ever imagine.