Political correctness has taken over almost every university in America — leading to the suppression of free thought and freedom of speech. Now, this liberal feminist is going after those who have caused that. Enjoy:
This paper is a modified version of a talk that was given at the Smart Set Forum: Free Speech on the College Campus on April 21, 2016 at Drexel University. The Forum was sponsored by the Pennoni Honors College. This article originally appeared on The Smart Set and was republished with permission.
Our current controversies over free speech on campus actually represent the second set of battles in a culture war that erupted in the U.S. during the late 1980s and that subsided by the mid-1990s — its cessation probably due to the emergence of the World Wide Web as a vast, new forum for dissenting ideas.
The openness of the web scattered and partly dissipated the hostile energies that had been building and raging in the mainstream media about political correctness for nearly a decade. However, those problems have stubbornly returned, because they were never fully or honestly addressed by university administrations or faculty the first time around. Now a new generation of college students, born in the 1990s and never exposed to open public debate over free speech, has brought its own assumptions and expectations to the conflict.
As a veteran of more than four decades of college teaching, almost entirely at art schools, my primary disappointment is with American faculty, the overwhelming majority of whom failed from the start to acknowledge the seriousness of political correctness as an academic issue and who passively permitted a swollen campus bureaucracy, empowered by intrusive federal regulation, to usurp the faculty’s historic responsibility and prerogative to shape the educational mission and to protect the free flow of ideas. The end result, I believe, is a violation of the free speech rights of students as well as faculty.
In short, free speech and free expression, no matter how offensive or shocking, were at the heart of the 1960s cultural revolution. Free speech was a primary weapon of the Left against the moralism and conformism of the Right. How then, we must ask, has campus Leftism in the U.S. been so transformed that it now encourage, endorses, and celebrates the suppression of ideas, including those that question its own current agenda and orthodoxy?
To understand how political correctness was later able to sweep like a plague through U.S. humanities departments, it must be stressed that the prevalent approach to literature in Great Britain and the U.S. since the 1940s had been the New Criticism, which in its focus on textual explication minimized or totally excluded history and psychology. When Buffalo’s Leslie Fiedler, who grounded literature in both history and psychology, including sex, gave a lecture at Yale while I was there, not one professor from the English department attended. Fiedler’s insulting ostracism could not have been more obvious. Hard as it is to believe now, my doctoral dissertation, Sexual Personae, was the only dissertation on sex in the Yale Graduate School at the time. Asking questions about sex and gender was considered bad form. That, as well as my fervent interest in mass media and popular culture (which were regarded as frivolous), certainly complicated and nearly derailed my first search for a teaching job.
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