PC or Not PC

RICHARD REEVES

October 22, 1993|By RICHARD REEVES

Boston. -- For the record, I am a liberal Democrat of the New York kind. Few people can question my squishy-soft wimp credentials. Having said that and having held out for years of nonsense, I have snapped on the subject of ''political correctness.''

Now, of course, I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings about this. But there are a lot of nutty people in the land of the free and the home of the braying. The one who pushed me over the edge into the abyss once populated by prehistoric Rush Limbaughs and such is a man named David Scott. Mr. Scott, who I am sure is a fine fellow of sterling credentials, is the chancellor of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. This is a big job at a big university, 23,000 students.

And UMass-Amherst is a politically correct institution. In 1972, the school changed the name of its teams because the name ''Redskins'' was seen by some as likely to hurt the feelings of Native Americans and other examples of ethnic purity. (I notice, however, that the Dallas franchise of the National Football League is still the ''Cowboys.'')

The new name chosen for UM athletes 20 years ago was the ''Minutemen'' -- as in 1776, Concord, North Bridge and the shot heard 'round the world. We had a revolution here, remember, and we won it with the help of farmers and merchants ready to grab their muskets at a minute's notice to fight the British occupiers. We not only fought them, we hurt their feelings, calling them ''Red Coats'' and ''Lobster Backs.''

Last week, a couple of dozen UMass students gathered to protest against the Minuteman mascot, branding it just another white male with a gun. Racist, sexist, militaristic.

Chancellor Scott, who apparently would not have been much help at North Bridge that April morning in 1775, responded that he was ready to negotiate with the students. The leader of the PC protesters, a junior named Martin Jones, with his own organization called the American Freedom Foundation, welcomed the chancellor's openness and called for a vote to choose a more inoffensive school symbol, saying he preferred something ''inanimate.'' Perhaps the ''Endive.''

''The most effective way to change a culture is to change its symbols,'' said Mr. Jones.

The protest leader then announced that his group's next targets would be the ''Indians'' of Dartmouth College and the Native American on the great seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He noted, too, that there was a shield on the state seal and that, as far as he was concerned, was another symbol of violence.

Then reality interrupted the UMass dialogue. The meeting of the minds at Amherst was overshadowed by another great American symbol: The Almighty Dollar. UMass is a state institution. The money comes from the state capital in Boston. Gov. William Weld offered this opinion of UMass' correctness: ''This is ridiculous!''

So it ended, for now. Chancellor Scott said: ''I have the highest admiration for the valor of the minutemen and their enormous contributions to Massachusetts and this nation. . . . While we continue to welcome people's opinions on the mascot, there will be no formal debate on the issue at this time.''

He felt that his willingness to talk had been misinterpreted by some, including hundreds of angry alumni. But he said he still thought women athletes might have a legitimate gripe with being called Minutemen. Then he added: ''Anything involved with war has a certain amount of violence associated with it. But I think there are some causes that are worth fighting for.''

Yeah, like freedom, independence, America and state aid.

Mr. Jones, the student, was upset. ''This is America,'' he said. ''We have the right to question anything we want.''

You got it, kid. We can even question the sanity of the well-meaning.

Richard Reeves is a syndicated columnist.

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