The politically incorrect professor

Posted: Sep 28, 2000 12:00 AM
Is political correctness a "hate crime"? The federal government defines hate crimes as "crimes that manifest evidence of prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity, including where appropriate the crimes of murder, non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, aggravated assault, simple assault, intimidation, arson, and destruction, damage or vandalism of property." Consider the case of Dr. Richard Zeller, formerly a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. After 25 years of teaching at the school, Dr. Zeller retired in protest. Why? He wanted to teach a course on political correctness. From talking to students, Zeller learned that many felt pressured to adopt politically correct views in order to get a passing grade. One student told Zeller that, in order to get a good grade, a professor virtually forced the student to agree that all whites are racist. Another student said that he felt pressured to adopt a "pro-choice" position on abortion, even though he considered himself staunchly pro-life. Professor Zeller got an idea. What about a course on political correctness, on the tyranny within academia that forces students to conform to a prescribed set of views? Zeller put together a proposed course curriculum. He included books like "Illiberal Education" by Dinesh D'Souza; "The Bell Curve" by R. Herrnstein and C. Murray; "Two Steps Ahead of the Thought Police" by J. Leo; "Inside American Education" by Thomas Sowell; "A Nation of Victims" by C. Sykes; and "Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action" by S. Yates. But Zeller's sociology colleagues said "no" to the course. Zeller protested, and ultimately the sociology department voted on whether or not he could teach the course. Zeller lost 9-5. Zeller then attempted to teach the course in other departments, but no other department granted approval for the course. So much for academic freedom, for diversity of thought. Not only that, Zeller found friends few and far between. For example, one newspaper quoted BGSU's Dr. Kathleen Dixon, the Director of Women's Studies, who said of Zeller's attempted course, "We forbid any course that says we restrict free speech!" We forbid any course that says we restrict free speech?! A BGSU ethnic studies professor said that Zeller's attitude would help students " ... feel good about the ruling paradigm, which since the inception of the United States, has said that genocide is good, racism is better, and exploitation of the women and poor is the best way to go." Gee, poor Zeller thought he was simply teaching a course on political correctness. How about professor Gary Lee, the BGSU Sociology Department Chairman, who said, "Unfortunately, tenure protects the incompetent and malicious; Rich has tenure, so he cannot be fired without cause." Fired? For wanting to teach a course in political correctness? For good measure, Zeller also received death threats, and someone wrote "Zeller you die" on sanitary napkins left on the professor's front porch at home. Weary of the battle, Dr. Zeller offered his resignation. In a letter to the school, Zeller expressed his frustration and anger. He directs his concern, said the professor, not at himself, but at the students deprived of an education that challenges assumptions and questions the status quo. Zeller said, "But don't cry for me. I'm doing just fine, thank you. Cry out, instead, for the students who regularly get intellectually mugged on the BGSU campus"; "the traditionalist who believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, but can't say so for fear of failing"; "the conservative who believes in minimizing government interference in our lives and says so in a sociology class"; "the woman who believes that abortion is murder, but must write a pro-choice essay to pass English 111"; and "all of those who have 'adjusted' and 'self-censored' their ideas so that they can pass their classes." Zeller also said, "BGSU has sold its soul to the thought police of political correctness. There was a time that ... honorable people could disagree honorably; now, any challenge to the campus sacred cows (feminism, affirmative action, and multiculturalism) is denounced as evil." About Zeller's travails, the Christian Science Monitor's Sanford Pinsker said, "Amid all the self-congratulatory talk about diversity one hears on American campuses, it is not at all clear that intellectual diversity is alive and well. If the result of Zeller's pressing for a course that might expose students to controversial thinkers and books had been an honest debate -- rather than an exercise in character assassination -- all of us might well have benefited. As it stands, however, everyone at BGSU has lost." Or, as BGSU's Women's Studies Director might have put it, BGSU prevents any discussion about any topic that suggests we prevent any discussion about any topic. Got that?

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