One thing that Columbia University's recent invitation to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmajinidad made clear was that questionable intellect and moral imbecility will not immediately disqualify someone from being an honored speaker on the most prestigious American campuses. What might get you disinvited, however — as it did for former Harvard president Lawrence Summers at the University of California, Davis — is to have committed the unforgiveable sin of questioning the lock-step orthodoxies prevalent on liberal-leaning campuses.
In fact, looking at recent decisions over whom to invite on campus and whom to disinvite seems once again to give credence to an observation by Abigail Thernstrom, who categorized politically-correct universities as "an island of repression in a sea of freedom." Instead of serving as marketplaces of ideas, universities continue to implement policies that control speech and attitudes that do not conform to the prevailing liberal view of politics, race, or culture.
Summers, a prodigy who entered Massachusetts Institute of Technology at age 16, became the youngest tenured professor in Harvard history at the age of 28, and later served as Bill Clinton's treasury secretary, apparently no longer warrants a speaking invitation to campuses where "diversity" is held sacred — diversity, that is, strictly limited to the liberal Left's acceptable notions about race, sex, and politics. UC Davis professor Maureen Stanton, chairwoman of the section of evolution and ecology, who was absolutely "stunned" when she learned that the school had invited Summers to speak, said that she "was appalled that someone articulating that point of view would be invited by the regents."
That forbidden point of view of which she spoke, of course, referred to Summers' informal remarks at a January 2004 conference on women in science in which he suggested, off-the-cuff and simply as one possible viewpoint, that the absence of women from science faculties might be linked to superior genetically-based quantitative reasoning on the part of men. "Though research amply bears out the unequal distribution of the most abstract mathematical abilities, Summers' allusion to this research set off an immediate spasm of revulsion and horror among Harvard's feminist faculty members," says Heather Mac Donald, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. In fact, Nancy Hopkins, an MIT professor of biology and a feminism huckster with a record of crying sexism in the advancement of her own career, could barely keep from fainting after hearing Summers' remarks at the conference. "This kind of bias," she was quick to proclaim to everyone within earshot, including the Boston Globe, "makes me physically sick," and had she not been able to flee the room, she said, "I would've either blacked out or thrown up."
In the firestorm from angry leftist and feminist critics on the faculty that followed, Summers was denounced for even daring to utter words that were one plausible explanation of the dearth of women in the math and sciences faculties of elite universities: that innate differences in biology might explain the disparity. That particular explanation is, of course, one which liberals and feminists will not accept or abide — the root cause, instead, must be discrimination, exclusion, or institutional policy that overlooks, shuns, or otherwise excludes qualified women from achieving academic rank. The stringency of Summers' opponents was evident in their fundamental refusal to even discuss an alternative view of the issue: for them, only one, acceptable view was even worth talking about, and opposing views were not to be heard or respected; in fact, they were to be reviled and positioned as intellectually abhorrent.
So for Professor Stanton, disinviting Summers became imperative since she felt it was "a symbolic invitation and a symbolic measure that [she] believe[d] sen[t] the wrong message about the University of California and its cultural principles."
Most disingenuous is how universities like UC Davis, while horrified by the prospect of a Lawrence Summers visit, use diversity as a cover for regularly bringing outrageous, anti-American, anti-Israel, out-of-the-mainstream views to campuses — either in student-run organizations, in course materials and teaching philosophies, in the sponsorship of festivals and cultural events, or in the person of controversial speakers and artists. For example, the "cultural principles" that the indignant Professor Stanton so self-righteously trumpeted have managed to lapse on several recent occasions when speakers with considerably less intellectual standing than Summers were enthusiastically invited to the UC Davis campus, notable among them DePaul's Norman Finkelstein (guest of the Muslim Students Association) and, scheduled to speak in November as a guest of the Palestine Students for Justice, the notorious and recently-dismissed academic fraud from the University of Colorado, Ward Churchill.
Churchill, who until recently served as chair of Colorado's Ethnic Studies Department, has defined his academic career by spewing forth anti-American, Marxist ideology and his perceived connection of the evils of colonialism, imperialism, Western genocidal impulses, and, in keeping with the theme of his upcoming UC Davis talk, "Zionism, Manifest Destiny, and Nazi Lebensraumpolitik," the oppression by Israel of the Palestinians. Particularly galling to critics was Churchill's describing the victims of 9/11 as people who, as part of the machinery of capitalism, got what they deserved when homicidal madmen commandeered jet planes and flew into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. "If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers," he cruelly proclaimed, "I'd really be interested in hearing about it."
The fallout from this particular set of observations proved to be inconvenient and disastrous as a career move for Churchill, who, though he was ardently and fiercely defended from condemnation for his hateful speech by many of his fellow Left-leaning academics, was eventually dismissed by Colorado for accusations of plagiarism, shoddy scholarship, and possibly misrepresenting his true ethnicity. Nevertheless, his vitriol against the oppression of capitalism, Americanism, Zionism, and other enemies of Third World victims makes him a welcomed guest and useful mouthpiece for such organizations as UC Davis's Palestine Students for Justice, who no doubt enjoy looking at Native Americans as an American version of the ever-oppressed Palestinians.
Eager not to miss an opportunity to invite speakers who help demonize Israel and denounce Zionism, in May the UC Davis Muslim Student Association and Students for Justice in Palestine invited another luminary of the academic netherworld, Norman Finkelstein, a man who professor Steven Plaut of the University of Haifa has called a "pseudo-scholar and Holocaust trivializer" who "used his position at DePaul University in Chicago to promote his open celebration of Middle East terrorism" and is "best known for his cheerleading the Hizbollah and his endless smearing of Holocaust survivors, [and] has a completely empty record of academic publication."
His best known screed, The Holocaust Industry: Reflections On The Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, minimizes the magnitude of the Holocaust while simultaneously making the perverse accusation that it is used by Zionists to extract sympathy from the world community and to justify the oppression and subjugation of the Palestinians by Israelis, positing the morally inverted notion that "by hammering on the uniqueness of the Holocaust and the exclusive link between Holocaust and Jews, the Holocaust industry has become the main promoter of anti-semitism." He also sympathizes with Israel's and America's enemies, saying that, "The honorable thing now is to show solidarity with Hezbollah as the United States and Israel target it for liquidation. Indeed, looking back my chief regret is that I wasn't even more forceful in publicly defending Hezbollah against terrorist intimidation and attack."
At his May appearance at UC Davis, Finkelstein spoke to his rapt audience with a Palestinian flag behind him. Making a 2006 visit to the University of California at Irvine for the Muslim Student Union-sponsored "Holocaust in the Holy Land," he "felt right at home at the annual Israel-bashing event at UC Irvine, a hotbed of anti-Israel activism," said Los Angeles writer Aaron Hanscom. "Finkelstein, who dismisses the suffering of the six million Jews who died during the Holocaust, didn't feel compelled to mention Hamas' desire to drive the Jews into the sea. His only concern with regards to Hamas was exposing the ‘hypocrisy' of demanding the terrorist group to recognize Israel's right to exist . . . Finkelstein ended the night by making the ludicrous claim that he can think of no other place in the world that has less anti-Semitism than Palestine."
Both Finkelstein and Churchill serve a purpose for the Leftist academics on American campuses who profess an adoration for academic free speech, even speech that those with normal sensibilities and intellect would find repulsive, vitriolic, outlandish, anti-American, and sometimes nearly seditious. In their zeal to prove how open they are to "diversity" of thought, campuses welcome these academic charlatans who need not exercise restraint in their fulminations as long as they attack those institutions and ideals already reviled by liberals. So on a campus where the former president of one of the world's leading universities — a true intellect with a prodigious record of academic and professional achievement — is not welcomed because he dared question prevailing liberal thought, vitriol-spewing academic charlatans are given open invitations without a whisper of dissent from the same University's administration and faculty.
Liberal-leaning academics at UC Davis and on other American campuses seemingly hold the notion that free speech is only good when it articulates politically correct, ideologically-acceptable views of protected victim or minority groups. But true intellectual diversity — the ideal that is often bandied about but rarely achieved — must be dedicated to the protection of unfettered speech, representing opposing viewpoints, where the best ideas become clear through the utterance of weaker ones. For Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, for instance, the protection of free expression for all views was essential, not only to allow discourse of popular topics, but, even more importantly, in instances where unpopular or currently-controversial speech is deemed offensive and unworthy of being heard. "If there is any principal of the Constitution," he observed, "that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other, it is the principal of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate."
Richard L. Cravatts, PhD, director of Boston University's new Program in Book and Magazine Publishing at the Center for Professional Education, writes frequently on marketing, politics, housing, religion, and culture.