Ad shakes up universities’ PC little world

Monday, May 14, 2001

(Editor’s note: Copyright 2001, The News Leader. Reprinted by permission. This is one in a series of occasional “Other Voices” — guest commentaries from newspapers on various First Amendment issues.)

Once upon a time, when our colleges and universities were centers of learning and hotbeds of debate, in the mist-enshrouded days when “free speech” was worshipped, before those colleges and universities became the People’s Republic of Academia, differing viewpoints were not only permissible, but encouraged.

No more.

If anyone doubts that the plague of political correctness still infects our alleged institutes of higher learning, a recent news item dispelled those doubts.

First, a little background.

David Horowitz is a conservative author based in Los Angeles. Horowitz came by his conservatism the hard way, when, as an editor for the leftist publication Ramparts, he sent a friend to work for the Black Panther Party. The Panthers murdered his friend, and Horowitz subsequently turned his back on leftism. Despite his newfound political persuasion, he has apparently retained one of the skills he learned while working at Ramparts — the ability to make people uneasy and keep the pot boiling.

Horowitz undertook a campaign to take out advertisements in college and university newspapers denouncing calls for reparations to black Americans for slavery. According to The New York Times, Horowitz argues that “because white Christians ended slavery,” blacks do not deserve those reparations, and that “rather than getting compensation, black Americans owe the country for the freedom and prosperity they now enjoy.”

Those college newspapers that chose to run Horowitz’s ad unleashed a firestorm of intolerance and narrow-mindedness that is not likely to see its match for some time to come.

At Brown University in Rhode Island, students seized the entire first run of the Brown Daily Herald, removing stacks of newspapers from campus newsstands.

Students at the University of Wisconsin demanded the resignation of Badger Daily Herald editor Julie Bosman after she ran the advertisement. Stacks of papers were taken from stands and trashed.

Never mind whether you agree with or abhor Horowitz’s message. What Horowitz accomplished was to gaily point out that our universities and colleges may give lip service to free speech, the First Amendment and dissent, but tolerate only approved dissent — dissent that is politically correct and has the imprimatur of the new Cotton Mathers that inhabit American campuses.

What occurred at Brown, the University of Wisconsin and other campuses was simply a replay of the Nazi book-burnings of the 1930s, a confirmation that despite all the fuzzy, feel-good rhetoric, narrow-mindedness is still king among the ivory towers of academia.

Dennis Neal is opinion editor of The News Leader in Staunton, Va. He won the Virginia Press Association’s D. Lathan Mims Award for editorial service to the community in 1998. This commentary originally appeared March 26 in The News Leader.

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