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The New York Sun


"Indoctrinate U."-Type Episode

April 17, 2008

By John H. McWhorter

I've just attended a showing of Evan Coyne Maloney�s fine documentary about political correctness on college campuses, "Indoctrinate U." Finally what we usually only read about: University of California Regent Ward Connerly shouted down by a near-violent audience, or an English professor whose department tried to blackball her when they found out she was a Republican.

The film got me thinking about how I was treated when I was teaching at Berkeley and wrote a book against racial preferences. The truth is that if someone made a movie about my life and had students throwing bricks through my office window and a cabal of professors signing a petition calling for my tenure to be revoked, it'd be good drama but sloppy history.

Most people, including professors, are not especially political, and I should say that the Berkeley administration was nothing but supportive of me, seeming to value that my new press presence kept Berkeley in the news more than anything else.

Sure, I got some catcalls, and God knows what sorts of things were being said behind my back. And there was, in fact, one "Indoctrinate U"-type episode. A black education professor invited a black-ish star sociology professor to come to campus and "debate" me, and the event turned out to be an occasion for audience members loudly booing me and hurling extended tirades.

To me, it was all in a day's work: you don't do what I do expecting not to be hated. What has never left me, however, is a chat I had with the education professor a few days later. He actually thought the event—a know-nothing burning in effigy in which my opponent had clearly not even read my book—had been a useful debate. To him, that public spanking was a productive and appropriate response to my opinions — at a university no less. I will never forget his sober expression, his sad, earnest eyes: he actually was sincere.

This is the ideology "Indoctrinate U" is about, and it is mistaken to treat these people as bullies, willfully precluding debate by hurling epithets like "racist" and "sexist." This analysis implies an insecurity of these people which they do not feel. They thrill as much to the idea of open dialogue as anyone — but they think that a radical leftist perspective is truth, not opinion. To them, dialogue about a conservative perspective's correctness is no more legitimate than dialogue about heliocentrism.

The social scientists are under the impression that statistical analysis proves that leftism is correct. The less numerate, it would seem, labor under an impression that ever just around the corner is that great day when the truth is revealed: that a just world will be run according to the politics of Noam Chomsky.

The only question people like this have is just how they will enlighten the world with their precious gospel. Another vignette from my Berkeley days that sticks with me (again, it�s the little things that hang on) is when I was talking to two graduate students in the wake of September 11. September 11 had made me very angry at the people who perpetrated it. It had made these two even angrier than they already were at George Bush. Our conversation was friendly enough, but each time I made an observation, before one of them responded they would give each other a smug smile: "Oh, listen to him — he doesn't know the truth!"

This sense of the politics of the Nation as intellectually unassailable is so unquestioned in campus culture that it becomes easy to forget the rest of the country thinks differently. For example, it is assumed in this strain of campus culture that devout Christianity is peculiar and benighted. Hence it is no surprise that Mr. Obama let slip his comment about working class people "clinging" to religion.

No, I cannot justify that one. I don�t expect to like everything about a candidate I still think would be a highly valuable president. A few weeks ago, his pastor�s mindset taught us that Mr. Obama is culturally blacker than we thought. This time we have found out that, big surprise, as a Harvard Law School grad he's more of a collegetown Blue American than he has let on.

What is striking is how comfortable Mr. Obama was depicting religion as a defensive crutch once he was with a certain Chardonnay-sipping crowd (I know — what about his professed religion? That's another column). This stuff sits deep: persuasion cannot reach it.

Thus we cannot expect "Indoctrinate U" to make the standardbearers of campus leftism look inward. Hopefully the film will bolster efforts to bring faculty representing a wider spectrum of views to college campuses, to counterbalance the leftist crusaders. The Manhattan Institute�s Center for the American University will be key, for example.

The students are ready. The day after September 11 I devoted my two classes to discussing the event. I placed myself firmly in the political middle and directed the discussion accordingly. After both classes, several students came up and thanked me for fostering a discussion where more views were welcome than ones from the hard left.

I thought I was just doing my job—but to the types "Indoctrinate U" documents, I was selling out.

Original Source:



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