OP-ED: Has political correctness gotten out of control on campus?
America's attention shifted back to Missouri this week — not to Ferguson but to the University of Missouri, where students protesting recent incidents of racism forced the resignation of the university president.
That was alarming enough to some observers, but what happened next drew condemnation even from many liberals: Protesters physically forced student journalists to leave a public quad where the protest was taking place, trampling the journalists' First Amendment rights with the help of a faculty member who called for "muscle" to assist in the removal.
Have the forces of political correctness gone too far? What's the proper response? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
Joel Mathis: I'm actually a big fan of political correctness.
Mostly, I think, the much-castigated term is just another way of saying "polite." As in, it's "polite" not to make people of other ethnicities feel uncomfortable or put-upon just because you can. It means having the maturity not to dress in offensive Halloween costumes or put on brown-face or make dumb jokes that punch down against people of other heritages or genders. Done right, a healthy sense of political correctness helps us choose to balance our freedoms with respect for other people and their sensibilities.
At its best, "political correctness" embodies the idea that your point of view is not the only one in the universe, a way of staying humble and respectful of different people and their different outlooks.
What we saw at Mizzou this week was not, sadly, political correctness at its best.
Watch the video of student journalist Tim Tai as he tries to take pictures of protesters on the Mizzou quad. Watch as angry students crowd his space — then accuse him of encroaching on theirs. Watch as they grab at him in order to prevent his picture-taking, implicitly threatening his safety in the name of their "safe spaces." Watch as he explains, and is disregarded, that he is (like the protesters) exercising his First Amendment rights. Watch, most chillingly, as a faculty member calls for "muscle" to remove a second student journalist.
It's all very nasty, very frightening stuff. It was also illiberal.
I write cautiously, aware that I have "white privilege" and that I can sometimes be blind to its effects. But some ideas are important to defend.
So to my Mizzou friends I say this: Your activism is only useful if it serves to expand the sum total of human freedom — both your own and that of those around you. If you become bullies who try to drive out oppression only to become oppressors yourselves, well, you've failed. End of story. You're a triumph that ends in tragedy. Worse yet, you're a cliche: We've seen that story a million times throughout history.
It never ends well.
Ben Boychuk: That University of Missouri faculty member who called for "muscle" to remove a student journalist? Her name is Melissa Click. Until Tuesday, she was a "courtesy appointment" at the University of Missouri's fabled school of journalism. She resigned that position and offered an apology to Tim Tai.
Evidently, Click's antics were too much for other faculty at the J-school. They demanded her appointment be rescinded. She will still teach in the communications department, though.
See, it's one thing to fight the university power structure, institutional racism and other phantom injustices. "Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted," as journalists sometimes say. But afflict the afflicters? That's beyond the pale.
On Tuesday evening, J-school president and dean David Kurpius sent an email to 12,000 alumni and donors that went on at great length how the incident with Tai and Click offered many "teachable moments."
Most important, Kurpius reiterated that the school takes a strong stance on inclusiveness. But it could be stronger still. To that end, Kurpius reports, "a respected inclusivity expert will come to the School early next semester to help faculty, staff and student leaders develop the skills that promote learning through difficult dialogues on a routine basis."
That should be edifying.
Even more edifying would be to name Click to succeed Timothy Wolfe, the university system president who resigned Monday in the vain hope of calming student outrage and appeasing the school's NCAA Division I football team.
Is Click qualified for the job? Who cares! Enough half-measures and lame promises of greater "inclusiveness" and more diversity training. Make the capitulation complete and official: The university is no longer a place of free inquiry.
And not just Mizzou. At Yale last week, students screamed, yelled and cursed at a house master and her husband for their rather mild defense of free expression at Halloween. They screamed, yelled and cursed at panelists on campus for a conference about freedom of speech. Yale's president met with minority students and apologized for failing to "make them feel safe" at one of the most elite universities in America.
This is madness. And yet no reform is possible, except through a profound change in the American mind: End the tyranny of the four-year degree. There are too many people going to college, not too few.
— Ben Boychuk (firstname.lastname@example.org) is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Joel Mathis (email@example.com) is associate editor for Philadelphia Magazine. Visit them on Facebook: www.facebook.com/benandjoel.