UC’s PC po­lice

Some ideas are too ‘ ag­gres­sive’ for can­did dis­cus­sion? Non­sense.

Los Angeles Times - - OP - ED - By Eu­gene Volokh Eu­gene Volokh is a pro­fes­sor at the UCLA School of Law.

Call­ing af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion “racist” is an ex­am­ple of a racial “mi­croag­gres­sion,” says the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia ad­min­is­tra­tion. Other ex­am­ples of sup­posed mi­croag­gres­sions: “Amer­ica is a melt­ing pot,” “I be­lieve the most qual­i­fied per­son should get the job,” “Gen­der plays no part in who we hire” and “Amer­ica is the land of op­por­tu­nity.”

Deans and depart­ment chairs might come across these claims in sem­i­nars, where they learn how to “en­hance depart­ment and cam­pus cli­mate.” Pro­fes­sors and teach­ing as­sis­tants might find them online, on UC Web pages that pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions for in­struc­tors.

It’s clear that UC wants to pre­vent such mi­croag­gres­sions, which the Aca­demic Per­son­nel and Pro­grams Depart­ment de­fines as “slights, snubs, or in­sults, whether in­ten­tional or un­in­ten­tional, that com­mu­ni­cate hos­tile, deroga­tory, or neg­a­tive mes­sages to tar­get per­sons based solely upon their marginal­ized group mem­ber­ship.”

“Mi­croag­gres­sions,” it as­serts, are “one form of sys­temic ev­ery­day racism.”

UC also ar­gues that mi­croag­gres­sions are es­pe­cially harm­ful in the class­room be­cause they may “cre­ate a hos­tile learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment.” UC — and the fed­eral Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion — view the cre­ation of a “hos­tile learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment” as the ba­sis for le­gal li­a­bil­ity and a vi­o­la­tion of per­son­nel poli­cies.

Some peo­ple are in­deed up­set by crit­i­cism of af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion, or claims that Amer­ica is the land of op­por­tu­nity. But univer­si­ties are places where peo­ple must be free to ex­press their ideas, even when oth­ers find those ideas of­fen­sive. Ad­min­is­tra­tors should not be pres­sur­ing pro­fes­sors, grad­u­ate stu­dents and oth­ers to cen­sor them­selves.

De­spite the clear im­pli­ca­tions of the mi­croa­gres­sion ma­te­ri­als, UC de­nies that it wants to pre­vent peo­ple from voic­ing cer­tain views.

A univer­sity spokes­woman wrote to tell me: “To sug­gest that the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia is cen­sor­ing class­room dis­cus­sions on our cam­puses is wrong and ir­re­spon­si­ble. No such cen­sor­ship ex­ists. UC is com­mit­ted to up­hold­ing, en­cour­ag­ing, and pre­serv­ing aca­demic free­dom and the free f low of ideas through­out the univer­sity. As such, the media char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of vol­un­tary sem­i­nars for UC deans and depart­ment heads about cam­pus cli­mate is­sues — sim­i­lar to sem­i­nars at univer­sity cam­puses through­out the coun­try — is in­ac­cu­rate.

“Con­trary to what has been re­ported,” the mes­sage con­tin­ued, “no one at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia is pro­hib­ited from mak­ing state­ments such as ‘ Amer­ica is a melt­ing pot,’ ‘ Amer­ica is the land of op­por­tu­nity,’ or any other such state­ment. Given the di­verse back­grounds of our stu­dents, fac­ulty and staff, UC of­fered these sem­i­nars to make peo­ple aware of how their words or ac­tions may be in­ter­preted when used in cer­tain con­texts. Deans and depart­ment heads were in­vited, but not re­quired, to at­tend the sem­i­nars.”

But that de­fense is un­per­sua­sive. Say you are a UC em­ployee with­out ten­ure: a young pro­fes­sor, an ad­junct lec­turer, a teach­ing as­sis­tant. Your em­ployer has re­peat­edly stressed the need to main­tain a wel­com­ing cam­pus cli­mate and to pro­mote di­ver­sity.

In­deed, your em­ployer makes “con­tri­bu­tions to di­ver­sity and equal op­por­tu­nity” — such as “re­search … that high­lights in­equal­i­ties” — a fac­tor in em­ploy­ment de­ci­sions, ac­cord­ing to its aca­demic per­son­nel man­ual.

Now your em­ployer tells you that ex­press­ing cer­tain views is tan­ta­mount to racial ag­gres­sion, mi­cro or oth­er­wise.

Is your re­ac­tion, “No prob­lem, I can write and say what­ever I think is right about af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion or mer­i­toc­racy — af­ter all, peo­ple were only in­vited, not re­quired, to at­tend the sem­i­nars where my opin­ions were con­demned as a form of racism”?

Or would your re­ac­tion be, “If I want to keep my job, I had bet­ter avoid the views that my em­ployer says are po­ten­tially ‘ hos­tile, deroga­tory, or neg­a­tive’ ”?

Of course, univer­sity em­ploy­ees, like other em­ploy­ees, should be po­lite to one another, as well as to stu­dents. The univer­sity could and should en­cour­age heal- thy class­room en­vi­ron­ments by dis­cour­ag­ing per­sonal in­sults. And as a UC fac­ulty mem­ber, I gen­er­ally try to avoid work­ing my own po­lit­i­cal views into class­room dis­cus­sions, though I’m open about those views in my writ­ing and in con­ver­sa­tion. ( UC’s con­dem­na­tion of mi­croag­gres­sions isn’t lim­ited to the class­room.)

But UC isn’t even­hand­edly try­ing to pre­vent in­sult or to keep class dis­cus­sions bal­anced. In­stead, it is con­demn­ing the ex­pres­sion of par­tic­u­lar view­points — by fac­ulty and grad­u­ate stu­dents, not just deans and depart­ment heads — about deeply im­por­tant is­sues.

Amer­i­can univer­si­ties should be open to ar­gu­ments de­fend­ing race- based af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion — and to ar­gu­ments con­demn­ing race- based af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion. They should be open to speech point­ing out Amer­ica’s f laws, and to speech ar­gu­ing that Amer­ica is the land of op­por­tu­nity. They should be open to speech con­demn­ing or de­fend­ing re­li­gios­ity, to speech crit­i­ciz­ing or prais­ing fem­i­nism, to speech sup­port­ing or op­pos­ing same- sex mar­riage.

Univer­si­ties shouldn’t teach ad­min­is­tra­tors, pro­fes­sors and grad­u­ate stu­dents that cer­tain ideas are too “ag­gres­sive” for can­did dis­cus­sion.

Univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tors have a duty to pro­tect free­dom of dis­cus­sion, whether in the class­room, the fac­ulty lounge, schol­ar­ship, blog posts or op- eds. In this in­stance, they have failed in that duty.

Some ideas are too ‘ ag­gres­sive’ for can­did dis­cus­sion? Non­sense.

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