My Article 'PC Never Died' in Reason Magazine
January 11, 2010
The Huffington Post
Today, Reason magazine posted my feature article "PC Never Died" on its website. The article debunks the myth that speech codes and PC censorship died with grunge rock back in the 1990s.
While the article covers dozens of crazy cases of campus censorship, I thought the section called "Beyond Left and Right," in which I discuss the weird status of campus free speech in the all-consuming culture war, would be of the most interest to Huffington Post readers. Here's an excerpt:
Because America's universities tend to tilt left, and because many targets of P.C. censorship are socially conservative, campus censorship has too often come to be understood as a niche issue for the conservative media and blogosphere. This is a bizarre development, not only because free speech was once a central liberal cause but because liberals are by no means immune from campus censorship. Hindley, the Brandeis professor who was punished for his instructional use of 'wetback', is a liberal. Sampson, the student who read a book about the Klan, is an Obama voter, and some of the most vocal students opposing the Delaware residence program were liberals. This strange pigeonholing may explain why cases like that of Elizabeth Ito, who lost her job at Forsyth Technical Community College in North Carolina after criticizing the war in Iraq, or the students at the University of Texas who last year were threatened with expulsion for having an Obama poster in their window, struggled to find a receptive audience in the media.
The perception that free speech on campus is primarily a conservative issue ultimately enables campus censors. Free speech zones, for example, are often tiny, out-of-the-way areas where some campuses quarantine protest activities. Obtaining permission to use even these limited spaces often involves waiting periods and registration requirements. In my experience the zones disproportionately affect left-wing protests. In November, for example, three professors were banned from campus at Southwestern College in California after they supported students whose protest against budget cuts took place outside--I am not making this up--the "free speech patio." Nevertheless, the conservative website CampusReform.org has listed a free speech zone as a "leftist" campus abuse. While the site commendably wants to bring attention to these speech cages, such labeling helps campus bureaucrats brush off criticism as the hobbyhorse of a disfavored political minority, rather than an expression of concern over policies that affect all students.
The reason for P.C. censorship often has nothing to do with left or right. Sensitivity is often a cynical excuse to squelch speech that administrators don't like for purely self-interested reasons. In late 2002, for example, the administration at Harvard Business School threatened a student newspaper editor because he ran a cartoon mocking the I.T. department for the failure of its computer system during interview week. The dean claimed the cartoon violated "community standards" because it was not "respectful discourse," but ultimately the rationale was one that FIRE frequently sees from campus administrators: I believe in free speech and all, but I draw the line at making fun of me.
Check out the whole article here.