SAN DIEGO, February 27, 2014 — Where can freedom of speech and the mutual exchange of ideas find a better home than our college campuses? And what better place to champion such values than America’s most venerable institution of higher learning, Harvard University? In these prestigious corridors, varying viewpoints are cherished and protected.
Sometimes professors get fired over their expressed viewpoints, and not all of Harvard’s students even like the idea of academic freedom.
Sandra Korn, for instance, is not particularly enamored with the notion of free speech. A senior and columnist for the Harvard Crimson, Korn recently wrote:
“If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals?”
Korn may be a mere undergrad, but her words have garnered national attention. Her comments contain fallacious conclusions and coded words.
Every decent person is against racism and in favor of women’s rights. But when litmus tests are given, definitions tend to change.
These days the designation “racist” may mean nothing more than being a Tea Party member or admitting that you did not vote for President Obama.
People who expressed solidarity with the first wave of feminism, where women obtained the vote, learned that if they do not also accept lesbianism and abortion, they are not truly in favor of women’s rights. Indeed, they are on a war against women.
The term “heterosexism” offers a sledgehammer hint about the view academia is expected to embrace regarding homosexuality. The university must have zero tolerance toward those who oppose the gay lifestyle even if their reasons are phrased with the kind of skepticism that is supposed to be part of the learning process.
Some are not convinced that every single homosexual is born that way. They point to Dr. Charles Socarides and other psychiatrists who challenged the APA’s 1973 decision to declassify homosexuality as a disorder.
Their challenge is promptly met with a rebuke reminiscent of the Global Warming discussion: “The debate is over.”
Debates should not be over so quickly at an institution of higher learning. And therein lies the biggest problem with Korn’s comments. They seek to strip away the very reason for having universities.
Many parents send their kids off to college for the purpose of career preparation and the guarantee of a higher paying job upon graduation. Certainly that’s part of it, but the original idea behind a university education, an idea with roots in ancient Greece, was that knowledge and wisdom were noble goals worth pursuing in their own rights.
The university is supposed to teach people how to think, not what to think.
One would not know this if they read the subtitle to Sandra Korn’s column:
“Let’s give up on academic freedom in favor of justice.”
This clever usage of Orwellian Newspeak seeks to rationalize the erosion of free speech by pointing to a cause greater than freedom, justice. Who isn’t in favor of justice?
It isn’t really justice, of course, unless it’s a cause Sandra believes in. She offered a few examples of justice so as not to leave anybody hanging or confused.
She zealously articulates an opinion of Harvard economics professor Subramanian Swamy, whose summer lectures were discontinued after he wrote a column in the Indian Daily News and Analyses newspaper which was offensive to Muslims.
Swamy suggested the removal of a mosque in “Kashi Vishwanath temple and the 300 masjids at other temple sites.”
As a result, Swamy no longer teaches at Harvard. This was justice according to Sandra Korn.
Swarmy has his own view of justice, inasmuch as his column was written in response to a terrorist bombing in the city of Mumbai, India.
Korn also calls for a just academic boycott of Israel.
Some might reply that Israel is itself the victim of injustice and historical revision. They oppose the popular lie that Israel has no legal and ancient claim to the Holy Land. They are disgusted when Israel is forced to make deals with the very people who call for her complete annihilation.
Korn disagrees and sees Israel as a suppressor of Palestinian rights. She’s entitled to her opinion. Unfortunately, she doesn’t seem to believe that others are just as entitled.
If it bothers Korn that people may disagree with her well-informed thoughts, perhaps she should make her arguments more persuasive instead of calling for a silence of all opposition.
Many media pundits have dismissed Sandra Korn as a lot of hot air not to be taken seriously. After all, what difference does the writing of one student in a college newspaper make?
Unfortunately, the problem is much bigger. Korn’s comments were not created in a vacuum. We live in a country whose president publicly loathes Fox News for keeping stories about Benghazi and the IRS scandal alive. He seems irritated that they don’t get in step with the other major news outlets, which take him at his word.
We also have judges who rule that the Establishment Clause can’t be applied if a Christian photographer prefers not to photograph a lesbian wedding.
America is just part of a bigger world, where the United Nations seems on a course to make it an international crime to speak against Islam.
College campuses often reflect the world in microcosm. Korn herself may be harmless — she personally does not have the power to silence speech — but the very fact that a student at Harvard University can talk as if she has more in common with a dictator than our American Constitution and be taken seriously ought to send chills up Massachusetts Bay.
At the moment, America remains a free nation. While the window of opportunity still exists, citizens on both sides of the aisle need to wake up. You may disagree with others on a host of subjects from religion, to politics, to same-sex marriage, to matching pottery. Whichever side we find ourselves on, maintaining freedom of speech must be embraced by all. If not, you will be caught off guard when the winds change direction.
Next time Sandra, a conservative student may call for an end to your opinions. That would be just as wrong. Ironically, even your call to silence free speech is also free speech. You might not want to work so hard against the very Constitution which allows you to write such drivel.
This is Bob Siegel, making the obvious obvious.
Bob Siegel is a radio talk show host and columnist. Information about his radio show can be found at bobsiegel.net.
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