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Saturday, March 06, 2004

More on diversity (of the political thought variety) at Duke.

My original posts are here (responding to this article), here (responding to this one) and here (responding to my very first (!) commenter).

InstantMan notes that, as a result of the widespread discussion in the press and blogosphere, Duke held a panel discussion. Only the faculty and administration got to speak. Please remember that this is the faculty that has already been documented to come almost entirely from one side of the political spectrum. And also note that it is likely that the administration (which hired the faculty) shares the political bent of the faculty. Question: Would a panel discussion concerning the racial or gender makeup of the Duke faculty in which no minorities or women were permitted to speak be received seriously? Anywhere?

If you can look beyond the seriously flawed makeup of the panel, its subject was "Does Political Affiliation Matter?" Isn't the answer blindingly obvious? When your presence on the Duke faculty predicts your political affiliation with near 100% accuracy, clearly your political affiliation is in some way related to your ability to get a position on the faculty at Duke. Don't bother trying to convince me that the fact that the faculty is uniformly Democratic is a result of random chance. Would such an assertion be given any credence whatsoever if the faculty were uniformly white male and the issue was racial or gender discrimination in hiring? No? Then why should I give the same argument credence in a situation where the issue is still discriminatory hiring, just not discrimination based on skin color?

I am not suggesting that there is any overt bias against hiring conservatives. I am certain that there is nothing in the Duke personnel manual about rejecting Republicans. But at the very least, the homogeneous nature of the faculty's political affiliation is partially the result of an environment in which liberals feel free to ridicule conservatives in terms which, if the situation were reversed, would land the speaker in hot water with the speech police. And that is discriminatory. If you have odious rules like speech codes (which, as noted below, Duke has) they should be applied uniformly. They are not.

Nor am I suggesting that the only proper result is for the faculty to reflect the same political spectrum as the general population. This is, as has been pointed out, a self selected group. There are bound to be factors which cause the group to differ from the general population, such as the availability of the time and money required to get a doctoral degree or a post doc, not to mention the desire to do so.

No, I think that the fact that Duke's faculty is uniformly Democratic shows us more about what the future would be like if the nation were under the control of the left wing of the already left leaning Democratic Party than anything else. I think that the future under either the religious right or the Deaniacs (remember, Howard Dean claims to represent the democratic wing of the Democratic Party) would be more than a little scary, because true believers, whatever part of the political spectrum they reside in, almost always end up doing the same types of damage to civil liberties.

My wife is convinced that civil liberties are currently under attack, and she believes that the attack is coming from the religious right. First, I agree that civil liberties are currently under attack. But then, they are almost always under attack. That is not intended to minimize the serious nature of the situation, just to emphasize that freedoms do not disappear in large chunks. They are slowly eroded, except in unusual situations. And I also agree that the religious right has a number of causes that conflict with civil liberties. They want to reduce or eliminate the right to abortion. They want to regulate my sex life. They want to limit what I can read or listen to on the radio or see on TV. They want to ban a specific form of speech: flag burning. These are all extremely important matters which bear directly on my ability to be and remain free of government interference in my life to the extent possible.

But the religious right is not alone in its attempt to curtail freedom in this country. The left also has its windmills.

The left starts off with the quite reasonable premise that officially sanctioned or overlooked discrimination against women and minorities is a bad thing and then advocates, as a remedy for discrimination which occurred in the past, officially sanctioned discrimination in favor of those minorities. The concept that one can acquire rights by reason of membership in one racial, ethnic or gender group or another is, to my mind, just as ridculous when applied to the advantage of white males as it is when applied to the advantage of, say, African American women. And I can't say often enough that imposing a new and different regime of government sponsored discriminatory rules will never result in the end of discrimination.

The left also has serious problems with free speech. They start off with the entirely reasonable position that everyone should be secure in their dignity and then adopt speech codes to protect people from "harassment" or "intimidation.". Duke University, for example, has a speech code. It is couched in terms of a policy against harassment, but it nonetheless regulates speech. It defines harassment as "the creation of a hostile or intimidating environment, in which verbal or physical conduct, because of its severity and/or persistence, is likely to interfere significantly with an individual?s work or education, or affect adversely an individual?s living conditions." (Emphasis added.) Well, when Professor Brandon feels perfectly free to ridicule and dismiss the political beliefs of others as "stupid" and suggest that students take the opportunity provided by contact with the professor's superior intellect to discard their stupid ideas and adopt those more in line with the professor's, might that not "interfere significantly with an individual's ... education"?

And when this potential violation of Duke's own speech code occurred, did anyone even consider the possibility that Brandon violated Duke's rules? No. Why not? Because the speech codes are not intended to be enforced against the people who adopted them, they are intended to be enforced only against "wrong thinking people." That's one reason that the speech codes are always so vague. If they were more precise in what types of speech that they banned, there would be no room to interpret them so as to apply them in a one sided manner. These days, on campus at least, the "wrong thinking people" are conservatives, and therefore the speech codes are applied almost uniformly to punish conservatives.

A more concrete example occurs regularly when campus conservatives hold "affirmative action bake sales," in which goods are sold at varying prices depending on the ethnic or racial affiliation of the customer. Intended to poke fun at affirmative action and make a political point, such events are regularly shut down by school authorities. Worse yet, more than occasionally the protesting conservatives are harassed or even physically attacked by other students, leading to intervention by campus police. And rather than protect the ability to conduct a lawful protest against school policies, the campus police shut down the bake sale. Various reasons for doing so are given. Maintaining order, preventing violence, no permit to sell food. Whatever. Regardless of the reason for shutting down the bake sale protest in response to verbal or physical attacks on the protestors, doing so clearly violates the protestors' right to speak.

Both the left and the right are well on their way to advocating an authoritarian government in the United States. The left's approach is more incremental. For forty years they have been advocating a "nanny state" to protect me from the consequences of my own decisions, which in turn leads to the more extreme elements of the left wanting to make those decisions for me. The right is more direct (and therefore less successful) in its approach. But the extreme ends of both sides of the political spectrum want the government to be able to tell me what I can say and to whom I can say it. The type of society desired by the extreme left differs radically from that desired by the extreme right. But the methods chosen to achieve that desired society are identical: reduction of freedom now in exchange for supposed benefits later.

Sorry. No deal.
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