Readings — From the March 2016 issue

Political Correction

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By Osita Nwanevu. Nwanevu is a recent graduate of the University of Chicago and the editor of the South Side Weekly.

Last fall, not long after students at Yale began demanding the resignation of faculty members Erika and Nicholas Christakis over an email Erika had written, a video began making the rounds of conservative media. It showed a Yale student telling Nicholas that he was “disgusting” and “should not sleep at night.” A week later, Yale’s William F. Buckley Jr. Program — an organization for conservative students — held its fifth annual conference and gala, whose theme was “The Future of Free Speech: Threats in Higher Education and Beyond.” During a conference panel called “The State of Free Expression and Intellectual Diversity in Higher Education,” Greg Lukianoff, the head of a free-speech-advocacy group, joked that students had responded to Erika Christakis’s email as though “she had actually wiped out an Indian village.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, a student activist named Edward Columbia began shouting. He kept it up until he was physically removed from the building and put into a police car. Within two hours, protesters had assembled outside the panel with signs reading genocide is not a joke. The whole episode seemed to confirm everything the Buckley Program was saying about liberal intolerance.

For decades, writers on the right have kept a careful record of the Orwellianism of liberal university faculty and the intolerance of left-wing and minority students. The latest wave of political correctness — marked, it is said, by its interest in identity politics and “safe spaces” where students can avoid exposure to unpleasant ideas — represents for many in the conservative press the logical progression of liberals’ fifty-year hegemony over campus culture. The push to censor dissenting views, along with the creation of actual physical spaces that would insulate students from all that could threaten their dearly held beliefs, is, on this view, merely a natural extension of decades of unchallenged leftist indoctrination.

It would not surprise these writers to learn that one particularly pompous and intolerant Yale undergraduate wrote a book with the subtitle The Superstitions of “Academic Freedom.” “I believe it to be an indisputable fact,” writes the author, who was twenty-five years old and a year and a half out of Yale at the time of publication, “that most colleges and universities, and certainly Yale, the protests and pretensions of their educators and theorists notwithstanding, do not practice, cannot practice, and cannot even believe what they say about education and academic freedom.” What might surprise today’s conservative media is that this book, published in 1951, was God and Man at Yale, which launched the career of its author, William F. Buckley Jr.

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