Political correctness: harmless, well-meaning nonsense or harmful, wrongheaded ideas with potentially damaging consequences? Columnist Andrew Sullivan seems to suggest the latter in his critique of the New York Times' scandal over the fraudulent reporting of Jayson Blair.
The Times reported that the 27-year old Blair "committed frequent acts of journalistic fraud" that involved making up quotes and stealing material from other publications. The Times' belated investigation of Blair's work revealed problems in 36 of his 73 articles between late October and May 1. The paper described these events as "a low point in the 152-year history of the newspaper."
In analyzing why Blair's "enablers" didn't restrain, fire or discipline Blair -- a black man -- earlier, Sullivan said, "Offending minority journalists is more of a no-no than allowing the paper's reputation to hit a 152-year low."
Regardless of whether Sullivan is correct in this particular case -- and I believe he probably is -- we can't ignore that political correctness can have real-life ramifications. Which is why it is appalling that many of our college and high school campuses have become incubation centers for politically correct dogma. Consider a few recent examples.
Indiana University's Commission on Multicultural Understanding gave an award to graduate student B. Afena Cobham, in part for calling on a student newspaper, the "Indiana Daily Student," to terminate editor John Paul Benitez for publishing an editorial cartoon critical of affirmative action. Cobham's demand letter said, "we call upon John Paul Benitez to resign from his position with the IDS immediately. If he refuses, then he should be removed. His action is not protected free speech and has no place on a college campus."
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts officials refused to grant two student groups permission to have a pig roast in the college quadrangle, claiming it might offend vegetarians. Brian Harcourt, a member of both clubs, said, "The campus allows many other different types of cookouts, and they never seem to have a problem with them." One university spokeswoman claimed that the issue went beyond just offending vegetarians. But she admitted, "I'm not a vegetarian, but I personally don't want to look out my window at a pig roasting on a spit … An ice cream social would be nice."
The University of Massachusetts at Amherst hired a firm for $10,000 to help design a new mascot to replace the Minuteman, which has been the Umass symbol since it replaced the previously politically incorrect "Redman" in 1972. School officials said the design firm expressed concern "with the single-gender ethnicity of the Minuteman, and the fact he's carrying a firearm (in the logo) is also a concern."
Chip Chaffee, a 13-year old student at Walden School in Vermont, enjoys reading and writing and was eager to complete a writing assignment for his class due in the spring. So he spent most of his Thanksgiving vacation working on a fictional war story inspired both by current events and his father and grandfather's military experiences. Once Chip told his teacher what he had written about, she refused to let him turn in his paper. "I wrote that whole story and worked really hard, and she told me I couldn't have violence in it," said Chip. The teacher replied, "The Walden School discourages students from violent acts, violent language and playing violent games in school. I take these ideals and use them in my curriculum in both language arts and life skills." Lovely!
A decommissioned A-4 Skyhawk Marine fighter plane has been on display in front of Encinal High School in Alameda, Calif. since 1984. But when the school principal sent the plane off to be sanded and repainted a few months ago, a small group of teachers and parents vowed to block its return because it represents American militarism. There is some community sympathy for this position, evidenced by the Alameda City Council's unanimously passed resolution implicitly opposing America's war against Iraq. Tony Daysog, a councilman and the high school's student body president in 1984 when the jet arrived said, "There's less affinity for the military and all it represents now than what was there five to 10 years ago." What kind of rock is this guy living under?
Janet Gibson, a school board member said, "I would think there is a better symbol for the school, something that might reflect education and intelligence." A statue of Neville Chamberlain, perhaps?