The Generational Swindle

By on April 26, 2005

American students of these times are victims of
a generational swindle of truly epic proportions. My own academic cohort
appears to have no shame, and it has moved on campus after campus from its Free
Speech Movement to its speech codes; from its struggle against mandatory
religious chapel to its struggle for mandatory sensitivity “training” in
matters of race, sex, and sexuality; and from its freedom to smoke pot openly
on college lawns to its war against the kegs and spirits—literal and
metaphorical—of today’s undergraduates. It is always revealing to look at
policies enacted in the early ’70s to protect student rights from “traditionalist”
administrators and faculty. What a different song the “Don’t Trust Anyone Over
30” crowd sings today—“Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30.”

At Penn, where I teach, for example, the faculty and administration,
in the 1970s, overwhelmingly passed a set of Guidelines on Open Expression that
stated plainly, “The substance or the nature of the views expressed [by
students or faculty] is not an appropriate basis for the restriction upon or
encouragement of an assembly or demonstration.” Indeed, the Guidelines
proclaimed that they took precedence over any other university policy. By the
1980s, however, with the authors of such policies themselves faculty and
administrators, and students now deemed children in need of chastisement or
protection, Penn had its speech codes, and the Guidelines on Open Expression
were an archaeological artifact for politically incorrect students, an
artifact buried under new repressive policies and new double standards.

I spoke at Colgate
University this past
Thursday, and reviewed their policies before speaking. One subject of debate at
Colgate, as at most universities today, is the fate of politically incorrect
students who dissent in politically correct classrooms. What are their rights? What
are their protections against inappropriate political grading of their work? No
one I spoke to at Colgate—student or faculty—was aware of what was still
operative policy there, buried toward the end of the Student Handbook. Passed
in January 21, 1974, by the Committee on Faculty Affairs to protect radical
students from traditionalist professors, Colgate’s
on “Student’s Freedom of
Expression and Inquiry” got it just right, taking its cue, knowingly or
unknowingly, from the AAUP’s own statement of student rights. It should be the
standard everywhere—from Colgate, to Columbia,
to Berkeley, to Citrus College—although
it sadly is the standard almost nowhere:

Grievance Policy

Freedom of Expression and Inquiry.

At its meeting of January 21, 1974, the Committee on Faculty Affairs approved
the following statement:

The professor in the classroom and in conference should, consistent with the
nature of the course, encourage free discussion, inquiry, and expression.
Student performance should be evaluated solely on an academic basis, not on
opinions or conduct in matters unrelated to academic standards

 Students should be free to take reasoned exception to the data or views offered
in any course of study and to reserve judgment about matters of opinion, but
they are responsible for learning the content of any course of study for which
they are enrolled.

Students should have protection through orderly procedures against prejudiced
or capricious academic evaluation. At the same time, they are responsible for
maintaining standards of academic performance established for each course in
which they are enrolled.

If every campus were capable of summoning the will to protect
its students in this manner, what a victory it would be for critical mind,
education, restraint of abusive power, and individual liberty.

Schools: Colgate University