GEORGE WILL: Closing of the American mind

By George Will

WASHINGTON – In 2007, Keith John Sampson, a middle-aged student working his way through Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis as a janitor, was declared guilty of racial harassment. Without granting Sampson a hearing, the university administration – acting as prosecutor, judge and jury – convicted him of “openly reading [a] book related to a historically and racially abhorrent subject.”
“Openly.” “Related to.” Good grief.
The book, “Notre Dame vs. the Klan,” celebrated the 1924 defeat of the Ku Klux Klan in a fight with Notre Dame students. But some of Sampson’s co-workers disliked the book’s cover, which featured a black-and-white photograph of a Klan rally. Someone was offended, therefore someone else must be guilty of harassment.
This non sequitur reflects the right never to be annoyed, a new campus entitlement. Legions of administrators, who now outnumber full-time faculty, are kept busy making students mind their manners, with good manners understood as conformity to liberal politics.
Liberals are most concentrated and untrammeled on campuses, so look there for evidence of what, given the opportunity, they would do to America. Ample evidence is in “Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate” by Greg Lukianoff, 38, a graduate of Stanford Law School who describes himself as a liberal, pro-choice, pro-gay rights, lifelong Democrat who belongs to “the notoriously politically correct Park Slope Food Co-Op in Brooklyn” and has never voted for a Republican “nor do I plan to.” But as president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) he knows that the most common justifications for liberal censorship are “sensitivity” about “diversity” and “multiculturalism,” as academic liberals understand those things.
In recent years, a University of Oklahoma vice president has declared that no university resources, including email, could be used for “the forwarding of political humor/commentary.” Rhode Island College prohibited, among many other things, certain “attitudes.”Texas A&M promised “freedom from indignity of any type.”
In 2007, Donald Hindley, a politics professor at Brandeis, was found guilty of harassment because when teaching Latin American politics he explained the origin of the word “wetbacks,” which refers to immigrants crossing the Rio Grande. Without a hearing, the university provost sent Hindley a letter stating that the university “will not tolerate inappropriate, racial and discriminatory conduct.” The assistant provost was assigned to monitor Hindley’s classes “to ensure that you do not engage in further violations of the nondiscrimination and harassment policy.” Hindley was required to attend “anti-discrimination training.”
“What happens on campus,” Lukianoff says, “doesn’t stay on campus” because censorship has “downstream effects.” He quotes a sociologist whose data he says demonstrate that “those with the highest levels of education have the lowest exposure to people with conflicting points of view.” This encourages “the human tendency to live within our own echo chambers.” Parents’ tuition dollars and student indebtedness are paying for this. Good grief.
George Will’s email address is georgewill@washpost.com.