(Duke University) First Amendment speaker faults ‘double standard’

January 22, 2003

By Aaron Levine at The Chronicle Online

Alan Kors reached into his back pockets and stepped from behind the podium with an air of confidence, unafraid of offending. “I wondered who would possibly hire him,” he said. A roll of laughter descended upon him, and Kors stepped back to the podium, grasping it on both sides.

Kors was referring to Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta as exemplifying what he calls a “generational swindle of truly epic proportions.” More specifically, he said, college administrators often take duplicitous stances on the freedom of speech.

“Most universities promise academic freedom, but deliver selective discrimination,” said Kors, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, where Moneta previously worked.

In a Duke Conservative Union-sponsored speech delivered to about 60 people, Kors focused on what he sees as the inequalities of censorship and the overemphasis of politically correctness at American universities.

In attempts to include all ethnic groups, Kors said universities have simultaneously alienated both minorities and non-minorities alike.

“So-called multiculturalists have never meant the evangelical culture, the traditional Catholic culture or the Protestant culture,” Kors said.

While emphasizing his more serious lines, Kors delivered much of his speech tongue-in-cheek, citing examples of university rulings that many in the audience responded to with laughter.

In response to the question of why people who occupy top university positions continue to subject students to double-standards when addressing free speech, Kors said, “The highest administrators, whatever their ideologies, they are careerists…. They are talentless people…. They can’t offend certain self-appointed spokespersons of certain groups,” in order to keep receiving promotions.

One example Kors mentioned was the “water buffalo incident” at the University of Pennsylvania in 1993, in which Moneta, then Penn’s associate vice provost for university life, played a decisive role in the university’s disciplinary action.

Eden Jacobowitz, studying in his room, was continually disrupted by a group of girls outside. After allegedly telling them to quiet down several times, he referred to the girls, who were black, as “water buffaloes.” The university brought charges against Jacobowitz, which were upheld by Moneta after extensive deliberation. Kors took up Jacobowitz’s defense against disciplinary action.

“[Moneta] sat down with 10 dictionaries and two papers from leading mammalians. Later he called me up and said he had found that in the American Heritage Dictionary, the fifth entry described the water buffalo as originating in Africa. It turned out that, in fact [the dictionary] had confused the water buffalo with the cake buffalo,” Kors said.

“This kind of prosecution is absurd,” he added.

Kors did not mention Moneta except in reference to the “water buffalo incident,” but Kors did say that Duke used a form of unfair censorship with its tendency toward “in loco parentis social engineering.”

Reached by telephone Tuesday evening, Moneta declined to comment on Kors’ speech, which he did not attend. He recommended a recent book, Innocent Until Nominated: The Breakdown of the Presidential Appointments Process, by Colby College government professor Calvin MacKenzie. It describes the pitfalls of getting nominated to positions of importance.

And while unabashed humor characterized much of Kors’ speech, more serious political lines crept their way into the talk.

“It is a defining struggle in the time which we find ourselves,” Kors said. “All students have the right to equal protection under the law.”

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Schools: Duke University