Patai on Double Standards in the Academy

FIRE Board Member and University of Massachusetts Professor Daphne Patai, in the latest issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, addresses academic handwringing over two new websites — and Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch — that, claim the detractors, amount to neo-McCarthyism. Patai rightly condemns the self-serving hypocrisy of these academics (“as usual, it is not a principle that is being defended, but a particular political position”).

The irony is rich indeed. Patai notes that such systems of reporting and publicizing certain types of speech are on campuses all across the country:

Here at the University of Massachusetts, the latest version of the sexual-harassment policy boasts “two significant modifications”: “the expansion of locations where one could go to report allegations of sexual harassment and the identification of campus contacts who can provide assistance to those using the process.” Nothing about expanding the rights of the accused, which continue to be given short shrift, or about the “chilled” effect on professors who never know when charges against them may surface — charges that will automatically be treated with great respect by campus political overseers.

It doesn’t end there. Where is the criticism of the George Washington University’s nefarious “Compliance Line,” under which anonymous accusations and secret investigations are encouraged? What of the “Bias-Related Incidents Team” at Ithaca College, that debated recently whether or not a speech by Bay Buchanan was hate speech? Where is their criticism of this McCarthyism, where Indiana University Bloomington keeps a website of all (supposed) racial incidents on campus — many of which can only really be called racial, or even incidents, in pure jest?

Those who argue that blacks, women, Hispanics, gays, etc., need such reporting schemes peddle the bigoted notion that members of these groups are too weak to live with freedom, and so they need the warm, paternalistic embrace of university mandarins to make sure their precious feelings aren’t hurt. Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s legal director, put it well in Patai’s article, with reference to the supposed “chilling effect” of mere speech:

“The First Amendment requires a certain minimal toughness of citizens,” Lukianoff explains. “It is understandable that speech would be ‘chilled’ if people felt they risked arrest every time they opened their mouths. However, when people claim they have been ‘chilled’ by the speech of others, simply because it conflicts with their views or casts them in a bad light, they are only saying they are cowards and would like to live in a world where everyone agrees with them.”

These claims are obvious balderdash, but they are not benign. These policies have consequences, not just for how justice is administered on campus, but also for how students today learn about the parameters of free speech. If they are told in college that banning offensive speech is both legitimate and constitutional, they will believe it when they are much older.