Subtitle: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses.
This book is © 1998, seventeen years ago as I type.
(Yes, it took a very long time to get to the top of the to-be-read
pile. Sue me.)
One author, Alan Charles Kors, is a history professor at the University
of Pennsylvania; the other, Harvey Silverglate, is a Massachusetts
lawyer. After this book came out, they founded FIRE, the
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, still going strong.
The book starts out with a particularly egregious example: 1993's
persecution of Eden Jacobowitz, a student who yelled "Shut up, you
buffalo" out of his UPenn dorm window to a group of
boisterous students below. Unfortunately for Eden, the targets of this
shouted demand were mostly black females, who complained. Penn
administrators demanded a disproportionate and unjust punishment. But
unlike most students, Eden fought back. (Prof Kors was his advocate,
to his good fortune.) Eventually, it became a national cause célèbre
and Penn backed down.
Eden's case had a happy conclusion, but the drawn-out battle, wasteful,
draining, and contentious as it was, was its own punishment.
And, as Kors and Silverlate show, it was hardly an outlier.
One might expect universities, of all places, to be champions of free
and unfettered discussion, due process for accused misbehavior, and
tolerance for oddball, unpopular views. But, as Kors and Silverglate
show with sometimes mind-numbing recitations of case after case, exactly
the opposite is true. Mostly drawing from the 1980s and 1990s, they
detail arbitrary penalties and unfair procedures, mostly aimed at the
unfortunate minorities deemed to be politically incorrect. They are
predictably and justifiably outraged.
The roots of this behavior, the book argues, lie in the 1960s,
where are generation of deep thinkers learned Herbert
Marcuse's Marxist philosophy, with special attention to
his theory of repressive
tolerance: the notion that fair treatment of all ideas only benefits
capitalistic domination of the masses. Hence, some ideas should be "more
equal than others", and there's nothing wrong with people holding
Now, to be fair, only a small (but very vocal) fraction of today's
university personnel are true Marcusean social justice warriors. But
the strident oft find allies with the spineless. In this case,
go-along-to-get-along administrators whose primary interest is in
keeping controversy and contention (with its attendant bad publicity)
to a minimum.
The results, over and over, are episodes that seem like they could
spring from a novel co-written by Franz Kafka, George Orwell, and Ayn
Rand: secretive and power-drunk villains deploy their full arbitrary
powers against (at best) minor infractions and offenses. As in Eden's
case, the good guys usually prevail, but only after excruciating
legal procedures and publicity.
There are a lot of New Hampshire roots in the book, going back to
v. New Hampshire, based on an incident that happened just up the
street in Rochester, which generated the regrettable "fighting words"
limitation on First Amendment rights. There was also
Maynard, the irony-inspired case
of the free thinker who got in trouble
for taping over the "Live Free or Die" motto on
his license plates.
New Hampshire's university system is also (sadly) well-represented here,
going back to
the 1950s, the state's efforts to hassle then-professor
Sweezy about his (acknowledged) Marxist views and associates is
discussed. In more modern times, there was UNH's efforts to discipline Professor
Donald Silva for allegedly creating a “hostile and offensive environment” in
his classroom with his (um) colorful analogies and examples. Up north at
Plymouth State, Leroy Young, a graphic design professor
was summarily canned after allegations of sexual harassment of his
students. (I'm not sure how Young's suit against Plymouth and USNH
[Well after the book came out, UNH showed that it hadn't learned much
about free expression by evicting
a student who posted a satirical flier in his dorm's elevator. UNH
continues to have a red
light rating from FIRE for its unconsitutionally overbroad
policy on "sexual harassment".]
So: while you might expect a 17-year-old book on then-current events
to be dated, it turns out (regrettably) not to be at all.
The mentalities and procedures
it describes are still in vogue in American higher ed,
as any look at recent headlines shows. (See, for example:
easily-found stories from the past few weeks.) Plus ça change, plus
c'est la même chose, or as President Eisenhower [never
actually] said: things are
more like they are today than they've ever been before.
A relatively new wrinkle is the Obama Administration's aggressive
(and probably unconstitutional, but what's new) push
to force schools and colleges to cut back on due process and free
speech via an expansive interpretation of its authority granted
by anti-discrimination statutes, like the famous Title IX. This book
doesn't cover that, obviously, but it's easy to see how it could be
the source for Volume II.