Tuesday, April 04, 2006

# Posted 5:11 PM by Patrick Porter  

LETS BE DIVERSE AND THINK MY WAY: Islands of oppression in a sea of freedom? Erudito reflects on a new book which attacks the insidious erosion of free speech on the American campus.

It would be too easy to froth at the mouth in a loud moral panic about this, though that would be fun. Campus life at the grass roots level is still often a great environment for argument, satire, and being intellectually challenged. But it seems that at the official level of student government and university administration that free speech is undermined. My own experience of campus life, six years of it as I was a lazy bum, was that the organisations which most used the mantras of 'diversity', 'plurality' and 'variety' were the quickest to demand that speakers be disinvited, organisations banned and publications censored.

Consider the following incidents. The democratically elected state premier shouted down in the public lecture theatre. Not because of what he said. But because he was there. Several students from my own class who talked daily about the need for a tolerant society were there. They showed their commitment to civil co-existence by unfurling a banner demanding his removal from campus.

A pro-life organisation had set up a table promoting opposition to abortion. People who were openly opposed to abortion at university did not grow on trees. This table was attacked and vandalised by some members of the student government, who had campaigned on their respect for minorities. Minority viewpoints on campus were clearly not to be tolerated. I still remember the defence they voiced: they 'felt' offended and 'felt' upset. Which implied their right to indulge their own 'feelings' by silencing their adversary. Dealing with being offended is part of the difficult path of enlightened citizenship. University life should cultivate it, not insulate students from it.

And of course there was the ban on posters deemed 'militaristic.' Open to abusively broad interpretation, this would rule out posters calling for peacekeeping forces in East Timor, Bosnia and Darfur. Not that this measure was used to prohibit militarism that was approved for its revolutionary credentials: pictures of Che Guevara abounded, a theorist of guerrilla warfare who said “We must carry the war into every corner the enemy happens to carry it, to his home, to his centers of entertainment: a total war" and "Hatred as an element of the struggle; a relentless hatred of the enemy, impelling us over and beyond the natural limitations that man is heir to and transforming him into an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine."

Only your militarism is illegitimate, dear. Like an irregular verb: I support revolutionary freedom fighters, you are a misguided neocon, he is a warmonger. The point is not to decide by committee fiat which militarism is ok and which is intolerable. The point, perhaps, is to let students decide and debate for themselves.

So alongside the unbelievably cool times that were undergraduate days, at the dizzy heights of student politics were conformists masquerading as 'diversitists', who paid lip service to tolerance but actually wanted to craft a space in which their opinions could not be challenged.

However, this is not universal. At Yale where I once did some archival research, I saw something that was genuinely inspiring. A student was handing out leaflets denouncing Israel's West Bank Wall. A few minutes later, some other students turned up to distribute leaflets rebutting the case. Both parties were quiet, courteous and friendly. Its amazing what happens when students are allowed to work out their own disagreements without regulation from on high.
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The fact that you found this "inspiring" shows just how low your standards are for Yale.
Can I clear something up... were you ever a student at an American university?
I believe Mr. Porter divided his time between Australian and British universities, but he can tell you for sure.

Also, I'd like to second the high marks for Yale. In my four years there, a few incidents aside, all sides recognized that the most vigorous debate is the best.
Hey niall K,

I wasn't at an American university as a student. But the observations of the commentators I cite also apply broadly to my undergrad experience in Oz. Well, at least I think they do.

Fair point, but lets not suggest it's only left liberals who suppress debate. Have a look at the following piece by Gary Younge. It's one sided in a different way, but redresses the balance:
Let's try that link again:
SO... wouldn't it be a better idea to make explicitly clear that you weren't a US student? Just in case someone would, you know,erroneously take your personal experiences as evidence in support of the contention of the book mentioned in the first two sentences.

Better to be rigorous about these things... you don't want to be accused of intellectual sloppiness now do you??
I go to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and I'll agree wholeheartedly with pretty much every criticism of the people that make noise on campus here. It's not surprising, given that the Economics department is the foremost in Marxist Economics and a walk through the PoliSci department turns up more pictures of Che Guevara on professors doors than anything in support of Bush or Republicans, not to mention majors like Womens Studies, Afro-American Studies (where my teacher helpfully points out on the syllabus how "the US military refuses to count civilian casualties but you can be sure Al-Qaeda and Osama know how many innocent Iraqis are dying") and even introductory Statistics courses where the teacher feels compelled to point out that "oh dear, there is probably sampling error there because it says there are more registered Republicans than Democrats in the US" as I bang my head against the desk, and where the same cabal of "progressive thinkers" dominate the campus elections every year because the only people that care enough to vote are the minorities who then consistently yell at everyone and claim they are being underrepresented somehow.

Sorry, had to get some of that off my chest, but go to www.dailycollegian.com and read through some of the editorials if you want to see how poor these people are in terms of both logical thinking and writing ability.
"but you can be sure Al-Queda and Osama know exactly how many innocent Iraqis are dying." It's easy to keep track when your the people who keep driving car bombs into markets and chopping people's heads off.
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