Silverglate Reponds to Critic of UMass Amherst Column
March 30, 2005
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—nearly impossible—to miss the comic intent of the drawing.
Its major recommendation—surprise!—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.
It’s one thing to defend the free-speech rights of conservative students on a liberal campus. However, Silverglate chooses to ignore the bigger issues of race and class on the UMass campus. In his telling, the conservative students were simply victims of “the campus race lobby,” but in real life, they had taken steps to dismantle student-government-funded campus minority-advocacy groups. Does that mean that they are racist? Maybe not, but it certainly makes the grand-wizard cartoon a little less convincing as “parody.” One can argue whether the plan drawn up in response to the diversity commission’s report will improve the campus climate—that debate is happening within the extended campus community now. But if all Silverglate can see is the conservative students’ plight, he’s ignoring the real story.
My pieces on the UMass KKK-cartoon parody and related diversity initiative did not defend “conservative” students, nor minimize the importance of race relations. Rather, I defended free speech and academic freedom, which were grievously wounded when the “conservative” students were punished for engaging in a parody that was clearly constitutionally protected, and I decried the university’s throwing more money and more administrators at a “problem” that is best left for students to work out without the “help” of the already-oppressive racial-diversity apparatus.