Bleeding Heart Conservative
One of Mark Hyman’s favored sources for his editorials on matters touching on academia is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, and he recently devoted two “Points” to the ISI’s “Polly Awards.”
According to Hyman, “[t]he Pollys recognize the biggest campus outrages.” In fact, they are a means of getting media attention for instances of what the ISI considers political correctness run amok. Given that the ISI is an organization with the stated goal of fostering a conservative political agenda on college campuses, it should surprise no one that the “biggest campus outrages” are confined to instances when the conservative ISI feels its particular political goal is being thwarted.
On the other hand, despite the disingenuousness of Hyman’s framing of the “Pollys,” if an institution’s actions are an affront to the goals of creating an atmosphere of learning and free exchange of ideas, these actions should be criticized, from whatever part of the political spectrum they seem to emanate.
So, let’s take a look at the “outrages” Hyman mentions in his first editorial and see if they fit the label.
First, Hyman and ISI chide Canisius College and the University of Iowa for “deep sixing” memorial services for the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Hyman says that in its place, Iowa held a “Peacefest sponsored by Socialist groups.” (Full disclosure: I received my doctorate from the University of Iowa and worked there for two years afterwards).
But Hyman misrepresents both incidents. According to the ISI itself, Canisius College did not cancel plans for a memorial, but simply refused a specific request by the College Republicans to include, as part of the memorial, 3,000 American flags planted in the campus quad. According to the college, sticking so many flags in the ground would likely damage the sprinkler system in the area. Putting aside the lack of appropriateness of using only American flags to honor those who died (many of those who were killed in the Twin Towers were foreign nationals—it was the World Trade Center, after all), neither ISI nor Hyman offer any evidence that this decision was based on political motivations rather than practical concerns.
As for the University of Iowa, it has held a number of elaborate memorials for the victims of the 9/11 attacks in the past, including having a flag that flew over Ground Zero displayed at halftime of a football game. In 2005, a large number of organizations, some of which included university students and faculty, organized “PeaceFest 2005” that commemorated the events of 9/11 and did it in the context of advocating nonviolent means to solve problems. Cosponsors of the event included anti-domestic violence groups, veterans groups (one of the speakers was a former interrogator at Abu Ghraib), physicians, churches, a Quaker school in the area, the university’s United Nations Association, a local theatre, and a host of other groups. Of the 34 listed cosponsors of the event, only 3 had the word “socialist” as part of their name. Nothing I could find suggested it was an official U of I event.
And the larger question remains: what is wrong with commemorating the victims of violence through a call for nonviolence? What, precisely, is the “outrage”? Wouldn’t the conflation of a memorial service for the victims of September 11th with a call for support of the ongoing war in Iraq (something Hyman would presumably approve of) be far more outrageous, particularly given that there is no evidence that Iraq had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks? Wouldn’t that be a true hijacking of the memory of those who died for crass political purposes?
Next on the list is the University of California university system, which ISI claims is discriminating against Christians because it won’t recognize high school credit for some courses taught at religious schools that use textbooks put out by conservative Christian publishers. Once again, Hyman misrepresents not only the true situation, but even ISI’s interpretation of it. According to Hyman, California public universities refuse “to accept many Christian school students for admission,” implying that students are turned down because of their religious beliefs. But that’s not what ISI claims.
Moreover the problem is not the religious beliefs of the students or the affiliation of the schools they attend, but simply the fact that in some cases, students are being taught using textbooks that don’t meet basic educational standards set out by the university system (for example, a biology textbook that says it puts the “Word of God” first, science second). As university officials have noted, plenty of courses are rejected as not counting toward admissions standards. Again, neither ISI nor Hyman offer any evidence to suggest that California universities are singling out classes offered at Christian schools or that their decision is based on anything other than the fact that by virtue of the narrowness of their approach to the topic, they don’t meet the state standards.
Next are Stanford University and Holy Cross College, who, according to Hyman, tried to do away with “alternative” student newspapers on their campuses. Hyman says that “alternative” in academia usually means “neutral or conservative in philosophy.” But both papers involved are self-avowedly conservative. In fact, as even the ISI admits, the supposed attempts to “shut down” the newspapers amounts to nothing more than requiring them to abide by existing policies that prohibit distributing newspapers in the dormitories. ISI claims that these policies were “dormant,” but that does not seem to be the case at Stanford, where editors of the conservative newspaper stated specifically that they knew about the policy and chose to break it.
ISI offers no evidence that the policy at Holy Cross was “dormant” either, but if it was resurrected, it might have something to do with the fact that the conservative newspaper ran a cartoon that equated homosexuality with bestiality (ISI says euphemistically that the paper merely offered a “satire” of the a college’s gay/lesbian organization). While the newspaper has the right to be as crass as it wants to be, students at Holy Cross also have the right not to have pornographic hatefulness literally dropped on their doorstep.
Finally, Hyman accuses DePaul university of “suspending an adjunct professor who offered to debate students handing out pro-Palestinian literature.” In fact, everyone involved in the incident acknowledges that the teacher did not “offer” to debate, but did debate, and was yelling as he did so. According to the students, the teacher also made racist comments and used an obscene hand gesture (the instructor denies these specifics).
Colleges and universities need to be places where people feel free to express their ideas passionately, even if they are unpopular or controversial. If the instructor did use obscene and racist language, he deserves to be disciplined in some way. If he did not, then the college was wrong to suspend him for arguing, however passionately, with students. That should be part of the give and take on a campus.
But let’s also keep in mind that just a couple of weeks ago, Hyman expressed his approval of the fact that a community college teacher eventually resigned in the wake of an incident in which the teacher sent a private email to a student. Having received an email advertising an upcoming speech by a pro-war speaker, the teacher sent a reply to the student responsible for the advertisement saying, in part, “[r]eal freedom will come when soldiers in Iraq turn their guns on their superiors and fight for just causes and for people's needs—such freedom fighters can be counted throughout American history and they certainly will be counted again.”
Hyman touted this as an example of “hatred in academia.” But why does this constitute hatred, and screaming at students handing out literature is simply “offering to debate”? Why is it good that one teacher was forced into resigning, but an “outrage” that the other was suspended?
Does it have anything to do with the incidents themselves, or is it because of the different political beliefs being expressed in each case?
In my opinion, neither teacher should be suspended, forced to resign, etc. If either one used abusive language directed at students, that should be dealt with, but there’s no evidence that such language was used in the email case, and the jury is apparently still out on that matter regarding the DePaul incident. And unless it was part of a continuing pattern, neither teacher should face losing his job because of it. For colleges and universities to work, both teachers and students need to feel free to express points of view, both inside and outside the classroom.
What this case reveals, along with the example of the campus newspapers, is that Hyman and the ISI are guilty of precisely what they charge others with: having a double standard based on political beliefs.
In fact, taken as a whole, all of these complaints show Hyman and the ISI engaging in exactly the sorts of behavior they claim are stereotypically liberal: asking for preferential treatment, having double standards based on political belief, not advocating for individual personal responsibility, deriding traditional academic standards, and playing the “victim” card.
Maybe there is such a thing as a bleeding heart conservative. The catch is that, at least in the case of Hyman and the ISI, their hearts only bleed for their own ideological kin.
And that’s The Counterpoint.
Hyman Index: 4.76