THE LEADERS of our colleges and universities, including Dartmouth, bear a high responsibility to their students and to society. By precept and example, they must inculcate in a future generation an understanding of the principles of truth and justice, which are the essential basis of the liberal community.
An explosive controversy at Dartmouth raises troubling questions about how its academic leadership is discharging its moral commitments and obliWilliam E.Simongations to the college's students and to society.
Dartmouth's independent conservative newspaper, the Dartmouth Review, recently was sabotaged. Someone secretly gained access to the production process and inserted a vicious anti-Semitic slur from Hitler's "Mein Kampf" in the journal's credo. Since the slur was deviously implanted in a section that remains unchanged from week to week, the subterfuge eluded proofreaders.
When it was discovered on campus, however, a horrified Kevin Pritchett, the editor, repudiated the slur in the strongest terms, apologized in hand-delivered letters to the community and destroyed several thousand copies of the newspaper. In addition to its internal inquiry, the Review has called for investigations by the local police, the New Hampshire attorney general and the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith.
At this point, one might expect Dartmouth's leadership, understandably concerned over the incident, to launch an immediate fact-finding mission. It is preposterous to believe that the Review espouses the sentiments of Hitler: For a decade, the newspaper has strongly supported Israel and condemned the rise of anti-Semitism on the political left, and the staff has always included several Jewish writers and editors. The Forward, the Jewish weekly in New York, editorialized that the Review is a friend of Jewish causes on a campus increasingly hostile to them.
Nevertheless, led by the college president, James O. Freedman, Dartmouth administrators rebuffed efforts by the Review to share its knowledge and solicit cooperation. When editors of the newspaper sought to alert Freedman to discrepancies in typeface that strongly pointed to sabotage, his office said he wasn't interested.
He led the campus in a nationally publicized rally against hate that quickly metamorphosed into an instrument of hate -- hate directed against student journalists who, as a result, suffered death warnings, threats of violence, as well as mean-spirited accusations. One Review staffer who has lost more than two dozen relatives in the Nazi Holocaust returned to his room to find swastikas and epithets on his door.
Why would the president of a prominent college act in such reckless disregard of the facts? Why would he publicly pronounce that "the issue isn't sabotage" and that such protestation "misses the point?" Why would he cynically exploit a false charge of anti-Semitism against the Review to jeopardize the safety and careers of innocent undergraduates? Such behavior is hardly consonant with that of a thoughtful and responsible adult, let alone one dedicated to the ideals of truth and fairness.
The answer lies in the unique role played by the Review, which is to question, challenge and even deride the dominant liberal orthodoxy on the campus, exposing its hypocrisies.
With two editors from India, three female editors and its current black editor, the Review is not a white male's bastion. It is the Review's relentless exposure of the excesses of contemporary liberalism, with its emphasis on the preferred treatment of favored groups, that gives the newspaper its peculiar power to shape the Dartmouth agenda, to the embarrassment of college officials.
When the Review published a critique of a black music professor whose classes were filled with epithets, racial slurs directed against white students and ideological diatribes unrelated to his course material, instead of debating his lectures, Dartmouth sought to shut up the journalists involved by finding them guilty of "vexatious oral exchange" and expelling them.
The John M. Olin Foundation helped the students meet legal expenses to argue their claim in court. (The Review's operating expenses are met through subscriptions by more than 6,000 alumni.) A judge vindicated the students, restored them to class and found the Dartmouth proceedings biased and unfair.
Does Freedman hope that the false accusation that the Review is anti-Semitic will provide a more convenient way to destroy his student critics? The issue is not whether we agree with all of the Review's content. I certainly don't. But the administration should not be allowed to silence Dartmouth's only independent source of news and of dissent. Freedman should not be permitted to debase the serious issue of anti-Semitism by using it for political expediency and self-aggrandizement.
College officials should be ashamed of abusing the authority and resources of the institution to damage lives, and the Dartmouth administration should be held accountable for its rash willingness to sacrifice the truth and justice of this case to the temptations of political opportunism.
William E. Simon, former secretary of the treasury, is president of the John M. Olin Foundation.