Today’s FIRE press release dealt with the case of Professor Peter Ratener at Bellevue Community College (BCC) in Washington state, who has been suspended for a week for writing a supposedly “racist” math problem. Suspending a professor for a week for such speech—especially when one of your deans has acknowledged that the “offensive” message was unintentional—is an absurd and unconstitutional overreaction. Unfortunately, though, as is all too common in higher education these days, the college did not stop overreacting once it punished Ratener. As history professor David Beito’s blog entry over on the History News Network recounts, BCC decided that the answer to accusations of racism against one person was this: Mandatory sensitivity training for everyone! As Beito’s blog explains, some of what constitutes “sensitivity training” in today’s academy can be quite chilling.
So, not content merely to punish one professor for his allegedly and unprovably racist speech, BCC went on to inflict sensitivity training on a whole group of people who were not accused of racism. It’s no surprise that this happened on one of today’s campuses—remember ex-President Larry Summers of Harvard and his “sexist” comments—but it’s still disturbing. Let’s hope that now that BCC’s overreaction has been exposed, BCC will be slower to compromise principles of freedom, both for individual faculty members and for the members of the BCC community at large.