Freedom Watch: UMass Amherst parodies itself
March 11, 2005
The Boston Phoenix
The administrative Pooh-Bahs at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst have demonstrated once again that they are too cynical, too cowardly, or a combination of both to recognize the difference between "hate speech" and parody. As we reported last fall (see "Send Out the Clowns," News and Features, October 29, 2004), following a hotly contested student election in which one of the candidates had been unfairly branded a racist, a group of student leaders threw a party where they parodied the racism accusations. They took photographs of themselves posing in front of a cartoon depicting the candidate dressed in Ku Klux Klan garb, with a moronic expression on his face. It was difficult â€" nearly impossible â€" to miss the comic intent of the drawing. Yet the campus race lobby chose to put pressure on UMass Amherstâ€™s pliant administration, which in turn forced the student leaders to resign their positions. Further, Chancellor John V. Lombardi, eager to defuse the crisis, appointed a special Commission on Campus Diversity to review the universityâ€™s climate of "racism." On March 1, the commission delivered its report, titled "Diversity and Inclusion at UMass Amherst: A Blueprint for Change." If Lombardi had an ounce of common sense, he would have ditched it and used the opportunity to lecture the campus on the role and importance of parody in a free society. Instead, he gave it his spirited endorsement and urged that its 15 recommendations be swiftly implemented.
The commissionâ€™s report, which Lombardi admitted he did not even read in its entirety, was entirely predictable. It found â€" what a shock! â€" racism on campus. Its major recommendation â€" surprise! â€" was to create another expensive and useless bureaucracy led by a "senior-level administrator with adequate staffing, budget and resources to report directly to the Chancellor to review and coordinate all diversity and inclusion activities." In a system without the resources to support a full-time tenured faculty, at a campus that makes increasing use of part-time contract teachers but has become too expensive for most working-class and minority students to attend, the commission nonetheless concluded that another bureaucracy was needed to solve the "problem" posed by an obvious parody. Indeed, the report notes that in light of serious budgetary challenges, the university will have to "find or raise the funds necessary" to accommodate its proposals. No wonder thereâ€™s not enough money to fund poor kidsâ€™ educations: what little piece of the pie was reserved for them is being spent on expensive thought reform.
The chancellorâ€™s enthusiasm â€" real or pretended â€" for the report can perhaps be explained by an incident that ensnared Lombardi himself in the mindless web of campus race politics. When he was president of the University of Florida, Lombardi was forced to apologize publicly for a comment he made at an informal 1997 Christmas party, in which he characterized his African-American boss as an "Oreo" â€" a reference to a black person who "acts white." The university systemâ€™s board of regents censured Lombardi for his comment and put him on probation for six months, a humiliating experience that he undoubtedly does not want to relive in his current job.
Unfortunately, the university and its students â€" not to mention academic freedom and the ancient art of parody â€" will have to pay for Lombardiâ€™s cowardice.
- Freedom Watch: UMass Amherst parodies itself, PDF, 248.5 KB , The Boston Phoenix