Notes & Comments November 1993
Speech or action?
Late in September, we got yet another glimpse of what marvelous things are happening on American campuses. In an article called “Free Speech on Campus? It’s a Matter of Debate,” The New York Times reported on the latest tactic in the strategy of politically correct intimidation. This time the PC police are using theft as a means of enforcing their brand of conformity. At a number of campuses across the country, student activists have taken to trespassing on college property to abscond with copies of conservative student newspapers—newspapers whose only offense is to espouse a politics with which the activists disagree. Some of these incidents—at the University of Pennsylvania, for instance—have made national headlines. At Penn—the former home, we remind readers, of Sheldon Hackney, now Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities—several black students broke into various university buildings and stole nearly the entire press run of one issue of The Daily Pennsylvanian. The student perpetrators were duly apprehended. But a university committee set up to review the offense decided that they were engaged in a form of “protest activity” and so took no action against them. (A campus policeman, however, was reassigned to desk duty because he had displayed insufficient sensitivity.)
Contrast this with the proliferation of speech codes and sexual-harassment legislation on college campuses.
Contrast this with the proliferation of speech codes and sexual-harassment legislation on college campuses. At many institutions, one can be fined, suspended, or sent to “consciousness-raising” classes simply for expressing opinions or making comments that contradict the reigning orthodoxy mandates. One thinks, to take just one example, of the college where “mis-directed laughter” is a punishable offense. Thus it is that the robust exercise of free speech is viewed as a form of discriminatory action, and hence is open to sanction.
So here’s the formula: In the academy, conservative speech is a form of action that is liable to disciplinary review, but radical action—breaking into college property, for example, or even theft—is to be regarded as a protected form of speech. In other words, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 12 Number 3, on page 3
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