Freedom to Be Correct

GEORGE F. WILL

October 21, 1991|By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON. — Washington -- On campuses there is a new tenet in the catechism of ''political correctness,'' the enforced orthodoxy of leftism. The new tenet of political correctness is that political correctness does not exist.

If you dare to question this nonexistence, if you doubt aloud that free expression is uninhibited, you may be harassed on campus, even driven from town, as was Professor Alan Gribben, of whom more anon.

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported the founding of ''Teachers for a Democratic Culture,'' an organization of academics that ''denies that left-wing students and academics are squelching dissent on college campuses.'' That is ''misinformation'' and ''distortion'' from ''right-wing ideologies.'' Oh.

The Chronicle of one week earlier reported from Tempe, Arizona:

''In what has been called 'a classic instance of political correctness,' a speech by a Mexican-American woman who served in the Reagan administration has been canceled at Arizona State University because of student opposition.''

Linda Chavez was invited to speak about her new book, ''Out of the Barrio,'' on Hispanic-American politics and assimilation. She was disinvited because the director of the lecture series had not realized that (these are the director's words) Ms. Chavez' ''stand on the issue of bilingualism'' is ''so controversial among minority students.''

A spokesman for the university insisted that Ms. Chavez had not been disinvited because she had not really been invited, a contract not having been issued. But a contract had been issued. And the letter disinviting Ms. Chavez used the word ''cancel'': ''The Minority Coalition has requested that we cancel this engagement and bring other speakers whose views are more in line with their politics.''

Arizona State's president urged that she be invited back. She has been, in the politically correct manner -- not to give a speech but to debate. When politically incorrect people are invited to speak, they often are supposed to speak in tandem with a corrective person.

The University of Northern Colorado withdrew its invitation to Ms. Chavez to give the commencement address. It declared that the invitation had been intended as to show ''sensitivity to cultural diversity'' but now seemed ''grossly insensitive.'' The university promised she would be invited back to be part of a forum. She has not been invited.

Invitations to her have been withdrawn from Rutgers' Camden (N.J.) campus and the Stony Brook campus of the State University of New York. No one can say at how many colleges considerations of political correctness prevent any invitation from being issued.

The Chronicle that reported Arizona State's treatment of Ms. Chavez also reports this: ''Some professors are planning ways to counter charges that universities have become centers of left-wing indoctrination.'' Faculty and students at the University of Michigan are planning a conference the title of which refutes the point of the conference: ''The 'PC' Frame-up: What's behind the Attack.'' This conference disputing the reality of political correctness will be politically correct.

Lynne Cheney, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, recently cataloged some costs of political correctness. A Harvard historian has quit teaching a course on immigration rather than endure more accusations of racism. He found that to defend himself from such smears he would have to record all his classes and conversation with students. A Michigan professor stopped teaching a particular class rather than endure charges of ''racial insensitivity'' when he had students read the portions of Malcolm X's autobiography in which Malcolm describes himself as a pimp and a thief.

Six University of Minnesota professors were charged with sexual-harassment offenses, including, says Ms. Cheney, ''Not greeting a student in a friendly enough manner. Not teaching in a sensitive enough way. Not having read a certain novel.'' These charges were eventually dropped, but not until the professors had suffered substantial expenses and pain.

Alan Gribben has fared worse.

In the early 1970s he was a student radical at Berkeley. For 17 years he taught English as the University of Texas at Austin. But this Mark Twain scholar ran afoul of political correctness when he voted against a master's-level program in Third World and minority literature. (He favored a doctoral-level program.) He was denounced as a racist. (His wife is Chinese-American.)

When material with a left-wing slant was made required reading for a required course in English composition, Professor Gribben protested this subordination of instruction to political indoctrination. He was shunned by colleagues, avoided by graduate students, effectively expelled from the life of the department, denounced as a racist at a campus rally. He received hate mail and anonymous phone calls.

He now teaches at Auburn University's campus in Montgomery, Alabama. You can contact him to tell him that political correctness has never existed.

George F. Will is a syndicated columnist.

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