December 9, 2004

Where is the Moral Outrage?

I remember being in college – as a political science major – and having no idea about the political beliefs of my professors. But that is often not true today, a change for the worse that strikes at the very heart of the intellectual freedom we cherish as American citizens.

The magnitude of the problem is highlighted again in two adjoining stories in the December 3 edition of the Wall Street Journal.

The first story – an editorial – speaks to the ongoing problem of classroom politicization and intolerance in American colleges. Is raising this problem – again – just another rant by conservatives? If that is your reaction, then read the second story and ask yourself the question again. The decisions highlighted in the latter story are another example of the consequences of this intolerance and political correctness. And they deserve a response of nothing less than contempt and moral outrage.

In the first story, a new survey among 50 top American colleges commissioned by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) shows "A Chill in the Classroom."

The editorial notes:

Most troubling, however, were the responses to the survey item "On my campus, there are courses in which students feel they have to agree with the professor’s political or social views in order to get a good grade" – 29% agreed.

ACTA’s president, Anne Neal, is alarmed. "One case of political intolerance is too many," she says. "But the fact that half the students are reporting [some] abuses is simply unacceptable. If these were reports of sexual harassment in the classroom, they would get people’s attention."

Some of the students’ survey comments include: (i) "My professor mocked conservatives constantly"; (ii) "Pro left-wing jokes abound"; (iii) "I feel intimidated"; and, (iv) "[teacher] actively silenced people who disagreed with her."

The editorial concludes:

…just as teachers’ freedom of speech must be protected, so must students’ freedom to learn, if it is threatened. After all, as ACTA’s Anne Neal points out, "The inability to benefit from a robust and free exchange of ideas – intellectual harassment if you will – goes to the very heart of the academic enterprise."

In the second story, entitled "Meet the Newest Member of the Faculty," Roger Kimball talks about how the Kirkland Project for the Study of Gender, Society, and Culture at Hamilton College has hired Susan Rosenberg as an "artist/activist-in-residence" to teach a seminar entitled "Resistance Memoirs: Writing, Identity and Change." The college’s administrators describe Ms. Rosenberg as "an award-winning writer, an activist and a teacher who offers a unique perspective as a writer." Sounds interesting, no?

But Ms. Rosenberg is not just any activist or writer. She is an alumna of the Weather Underground who was serving a sentence of 58 years in prison until President Clinton commuted her sentence to a large outcry in January 2001.

She was indicted as an accessory to a 1981 Brinks armored car holdup in which a Brinks guard and two police officers were murdered. She stayed on the run from the law until she was caught in 1984 with a cache of weapons, including 740 pounds of explosives.

Upon her 2001 release from prison, Kimball writes:

…she tentatively renounced individual violence. But nowhere in her evasive circumlocutions did she renounce collective violence, what she described in 1993 as "the necessity for armed self-defense" in the pursuit of "revolutionary anti-imperialistic resistance…[she] likes to call herself 'a former U.S. political prisoner.'"

While not everyone at Hamilton College is happy,

Steven Goldberg, a professor of art history, noted "there are nine children today who will never see their father…three women who are widowed,"

Kimball goes on to describe the double standard these days in academia:

Under fire, Hamilton administrators have wrapped themselves in the mantle of free speech…they stated, "the college does not normally put limits on which voices can be heard and which cannot."

Well, that depends…when a Hamilton alumnus and official class representative sought to alert his classmates to the Rosenberg appointment, the college’s development office refused to send out a letter from him, as it normally would…Ah yes: Free speech for me, but not for thee.

To put it another way, do you believe Hamilton College would be touting its commitment to free speech or there would be a similar lack of public outrage if they had hired someone – equally evil – who had murdered three abortion doctors and continued to talk about the ongoing requirement for armed activity against those who practice abortion?

By the way, what grade do you think a student in her seminar will get if they write about George Washington and Thomas Jefferson when addressing the pursuit of "revolutionary anti-imperialistic resistance" against England in 1776?

So where is our moral outrage? Where are the citizens in academia and across America who will be vigilant defenders of academic freedom for all students, regardless of their political persuasion?

We had best remember the words of David Hume (as quoted by Mary Anastasia O'Grady in a December 3 editorial), who wrote:

It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once. Slavery has so frightful an aspect to men accustomed to freedom that it must steal in upon them by degrees and must disguise itself in a thousand shapes in order to be received.