In yet another descent into Orwellianism, on Thursday, the Regents of the University of California’s Committee on Education Policy will attempt to formulate an agenda for students and faculty that amounts to nothing more than a censorship free pass by establishing a right not to be offended.
The “Statement of Principles Against Intolerance” is a compendium of progressive contradictions that begins by stating the University of California (UC) “is committed to protecting its bedrock values of respect, inclusion, and academic freedom,” as well as free expression and the open exchange of ideas that are “principles enshrined in our national and state Constitutions” and “part of the university’s fiber.”
Not exactly. “Intolerance has no place at the University of California,” the statement continues. “We define intolerance as unwelcome conduct motivated by discrimination against, or hatred toward, other individuals or groups. It may take the form of acts of violence or intimidation, threats, harassment, hate speech, derogatory language reflecting stereotypes or prejudice, or inflammatory or derogatory use of culturally recognized symbols of hate, prejudice, or discrimination.”
As defined by whom?
Regardless, these doyens of political correctness believe they can successfully sidestep First Amendment protections by insisting the policy is limited “to attacks on individuals or groups and does not apply to the free exchange of ideas in keeping with the principles of academic freedom and free speech” and that it “shall not be used as the basis to discipline students, faculty, or staff.”
Nonetheless an addendum to the policy contains a “non-exhaustive list” of behavioral examples that run afoul of UC’s “values of inclusion and tolerance.” Items on the list include vandalism and graffiti “reflecting culturally recognized symbols of hate or prejudice…intended to intimidate, threaten, mock and/or harass individuals or groups,” questioning a student’s fitness for leadership or campus community membership based on “race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, citizenship, sex, or sexual orientation,” articulating a position that some ethnic or racial groups are “less ambitious, less hardworking or talented, or more threatening than other groups,” and expressing any view of people with disabilities—both visible and invisible—that depicts them “as incapable.”
UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh illuminates some of the problems associated with such nonsense, explaining that a student could face disciplinary procedures for making statements that people with intellectual or physical disabilities are incapable of performing certain tasks, or stating that illegal aliens “ought not be appointed to be, say, the student member of the Board of Regents.” He further cites potential problems that could be raised by criticizing religion, defending same-sex marriage, or discussing certain differences in the physical and mental makeup of men and women.
Volokh explains he’ll continue expressing his views despite this sort of policy — because he is a tenured faculty member. “But what about undergraduates?” he asks. “Graduate students, who might be relying on the university for teaching assistant positions, progress in their departments, and more? Lecturers who don’t have tenure? Tenure-track faculty members who don’t yet have tenure?” He further wonders if students will feel comfortable discussing these verboten topics, or if they will simply “realize that they had best follow the orthodoxy?”
Unfortunately Volokh omits the most obvious question of all: how many faculty members and student will champion this policy?
And not just at UC. In an op-ed written for the student newspaper, four Columbia University undergraduates have called on the Ivy League school to implement trigger warnings—for Greek mythology. “Students need to feel safe in the classroom, and that requires a learning environment that recognizes the multiplicity of their identities,” the undergrads declare. They suggest three solutions that include sending a letter to faculty members “about potential trigger warnings and suggestions for how to support triggered students,” implementing a “mechanism for students to communicate their concerns to professors anonymously, as well as a mediation mechanism for students who have identity-based disagreements with professors,” and creating a faculty training program “which will enable them to constructively facilitate conversations that embrace all identities, share best practices, and think critically about how the Core Curriculum is framed for their students.”
Laughably, they also insist they have no intention of infringing on the faculty’s academic freedom, but rather they are providing them with the tools necessary “to engage with potential conflicts and confrontations in the classroom, whether they are between students or in response to the material itself.”
UC remains on the leading edge of such hypersensitivity. Last year on the Santa Barbara campus, students belonging to the Associated Students Senate passed a resolution urging university officials to mandate trigger warnings on class syllabi that could induce Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). They further insisted that professors be required to warn students about offending material before it is presented and to refrain from taking points away from students who opt out of classes that might upset them. In a 2014 column for the New York Times, then-second year UCLA student Bailey Loverin made the ludicrous argument that trigger warnings encourage free thought and debate because without them, trauma survivors “might black out, become hysterical or feel forced to leave the room,” which “effectively stops their learning process.”
Apparently the learning process of every other student forced to learn in an atmosphere more closely resembling a mental health facility than a college campus is irrelevant.
The 2014-2015 school year was also the time when a faculty seminar discussing “diversity in the classroom” was held at nine of the 10 UC campuses. It included a worksheet titled “Tool: Recognizing Microagressions and the Messages They Send.” The lowlight of that worksheet was the “Myth of Meritocracy” section that warned faculty members that statements such as “I believe the most qualified person should get the job,” “everyone can succeed if they work hard enough,” and “America is the land of opportunity,” were in conflict with a campus agenda dedicated to the proposition that victimization, racism, homophobia and misogyny are endemic parts of the American experience.
Yet it would seem some expressions of intolerance are “more equal” than others. Jewish students at UC have asked the university to formally adopt a U.S. State Department definition of anti-Semitism that includes denying Israel’s right to exist and comparing Israelis to Nazis as part of their latest policy. The students cite campus demonstrations that cross the line from legitimate protests to anti-Semitism, creating a hostile environment for Jewish students. Opponents of the measure insist that definition of anti-Semitism is too specific and would limit freedom of speech at UC campuses. UC President Janet Napolitano and UC Regents Chairwoman Monica Lozano declined to be interview by the Los Angeles Times about the issue prior to Thursday’s meeting. In May Napolitano indicated she was comfortable with the State Department definition, but it would be up to the regents to decide whether it would be implemented at UC.
Twenty years ago, the notion that Greek mythology or any other subject taught on campus would require a trigger warning to prevent blackouts, hysteria—or PTSD—would have been completely dismissed as the psychobabble it truly is. Yet there is little doubt what the long-term objective is of promoting this thinking on campus. A greater number of hypersensitive students marinated in a campus culture of victimhood equals more human cannon fodder for the would be totalitarians, who provide ever more layers of emotional insulation from the vicissitudes of life. In other words an ever-expanding Nanny State requires ever-expanding infantilization.