I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, December 26, 2005

More campus conservative victims cry for help

One of the most pernicious movements of the 1980s and 90s was left-wing political correctness on college campuses, which sought to impose codes of intellectual orthodoxy on students and faculty alike, and to punish those who expressed dissenting views on the ground that such views created a "hostile" academic environment and made certain students "uncomfortable." While vestiges of that movement remain, it has been largely discredited by the realization that academia is the last place where political views and speech ought to be regulated.

That failed left-wing attack on political speech and free inquiry on college campuses has been replaced by its increasingly vibrant, equally pernicious mirror image – a movement based upon petulant demands by campus conservatives that academic institutions not just permit them to freely express their conservative political views, but also to ban disagreement with those views and to punish faculty members who criticize conservatism or, worst of all, who commit the ultimate sin of speaking ill of President George W. Bush in the classroom.

I wrote about the last two such concocted campus "controversies"-- one which was peddled in National Review and the other, the following week, in The Weekly Standard -– and those incidents are quite illustrative of what is going on here. These "controversies" almost never entail efforts to suppress the views of conservative students, nor are they about conservative students being disciplined for expressing their views. Instead, these shrieking complaints arise out of nothing more than the claim that conservative students feel "uncomfortable" because their professors and college administrators disagree with their views and say so. And there is a handful of publicity-seeking groups, the shrillest of which is led by the incomparably shrill David Horowitz, which are behind most of these controversies.

These chronically complaining activists -- who are plainly in search of some of that precious victim glory – wormed their way into the pages of The New York Times this weekend (h/t ReddHedd), in an article which reports that these groups have now recruited some state legislators to their viewpoint-suppressing cause. Their belief that they are entitled to a dissent-free environment, even in the classroom, is noteworthy on its face, but always more striking, at least to me, is the emotional fragility and delicate sense of entitlement which these campus conservatives exude without embarrassment.

Just listen to these complainers describe the grave injustices which are befalling them:

While attending a Pennsylvania Republican Party picnic, Jennie Mae Brown bumped into her state representative and started venting.

"How could this happen?" Ms. Brown asked Representative Gibson C. Armstrong two summers ago, complaining about a physics professor at the York campus of Pennsylvania State University who she said routinely used class time to belittle President Bush and the war in Iraq. As an Air Force veteran, Ms. Brown said she felt the teacher's comments were inappropriate for the classroom.

And here’s another self-styled victim of academic tyranny:

The student group has fielded concerns from people like Nathaniel Nelson, a former student at the University of Rhode Island and a conservative, who said a philosophy teacher he had during his junior year referred often to his own homosexuality and made clear his dislike for Mr. Bush.

Mr. Nelson, now a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, said in an interview that the teacher frequently called on him to defend his conservative values while making it clear he did not care for Republicans.

"On the first day of class, he said, 'If you don't like me, get out of my class,' " Mr. Nelson said. "But it was the only time that fall the course was being offered, and I wanted to take it."

These poor little adults-disguised-as-babies have to endure professors who are openly gay, and worse, who criticize the President of the United States – a wildly inappropriate thing to do in a college classroom, of course. Sometimes, these professors even go so far as to criticize the students' views. And these oppressed students have conservative self-victimizing groups lurking behind them urging them to play up their mental trauma and to dishonestly and quite pitifully conflate disagreement with their views with some sort of authoritarian effort to suppress those views.

One of the principal benefits and purposes of college is to have one’s previously unexamined views scrutinized, dissected and challenged. If individuals don’t want to have their political and other views challenged and even attacked, they ought not to go to college, or they ought to attend one of the many academic institutions which exist for the purpose of propagating specific political or religious doctrines in a harmonious echo chamber.

Conservative viewpoints are not exactly hard to find these days. All three branches of the federal government are controlled by people who ascribe to those views, and all of our most significant media venues for expressing political opinion entail, at least, an equal dose of conservatism as they do any other viewpoint. And in academia, there are prominent and outspoken conservative professors on virtually every campus who pursue their conservative scholarship and express their conservative views without any limitations at all.

Listening to conservative students whine about their plight all because their professors disagree with their views is quite annoying. But the effort by these students and their sponsoring victim groups to start recruiting lawmakers to their cause, with threats of regulating ideological expression on college campuses, is far more than just annoying. These groups masquerade under the banner of diversity of opinion but are plainly devoted to imposing their own orthodoxy in academic institutions and to punishing faculty members who are openly critical of their ideology and/or critical of George Bush.

Anyone who opposed the political correctness movement when it came from the Left ought to be criticizing this new conservative version of it with equal vigor. Instead, many of the same people who insisted (correctly) that the PC movement of the Left was a grave threat to academic freedom and free expression have co-opted those very weapons and, based on the very same premises, are seeking to use them to ban academic faculty from expressing any political opinions with which they disagree.

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