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Jewish World Review April 22, 2005/ 13 Nisan, 5765

Nat Hentoff

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High-schooler flunks Harvard professors | High school student Drew Toop's editorial, "You can speak freely — as long as it's politically correct," should be read around the nation as a reminder of why we have to remain a free people. The op-ed appeared in the March 29 Yakima Herald-Republic in Yakima, Wash. Parents particularly concerned about which colleges their children should apply to should read what he has to say.

Asking "how free is our speech anymore," Toop of Davis High School in Yakima astutely noted: "Most people believe that we can say what we think and as we feel without fear. But there is a force out there that is hazardous to all of this freedom. Instead of being some remote dictatorship or Gestapo-like government organism, as it often has been in the lands of tyranny and oppression, our freedom is quashed by political correctness."

Young Mr. Toop illustrated his alarm by citing the famous — or rather, infamous — incident involving Harvard University President Lawrence Summers earlier this year — when he challenged the academic audience at a closed-door conference in Cambridge of the National Bureau of Economic Research to speculate on possible reasons for the scarcity of female professors in science faculties at major universities. Does being a mother sidetrack careers? Is there anything to some research indicating gender differences in choices of specialties? How relevant is gender in certain careers?

President Summers offered no conclusions. He wanted these intellectuals to do what they're supposed to do — think. But his challenge resulted — as high-schooler Toop wrote — in "the political correctness squad (rushing) upon him like a pack of bloodthirsty dingos that just smelled baby."

Condemned as a sexist for raising the questions, the president of Harvard, after being denounced at a March 15 meeting of the university's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, was humiliated internationally when the august professors voted 218-to-185 that they "lacked confidence" in his leadership. While there have been critics of his sometimes brusque leadership style, it was clear that, if Summers had not raised those questions about women professors in the sciences, he would not have been given so reverberating a failing grade.

At that March 15 meeting, Stephan Thernstrom, the Winthrop professor of history at Harvard, tried unsuccessfully to make his colleagues see how they were undermining the principles of higher education. In his speech, printed in the March 17 New York Sun, professor Thernstrom told his politically correct colleagues:

"It is amazing to me that many of us here no longer seem to understand that the expression of controversial ideas and the freedom to debate them is at the heart of any greater institution of higher learning. The whole point of tenure, as I understand it, is to protect professors from the thought police.

"But now they are not just outside, on some congressional or state legislative committee. They are inside too, in our midst."

High-schooler Drew Toop was troubled that Summers, fearful of losing his job after that vote of no confidence, "apologized left and right." He "was ripped apart by ... political correctness run amuck."

Thernstrom was of the same mind: "It is somewhat difficult to defend the academic freedom of a man who seems to have surrendered it again and again, in his ever more abject apologies for his ... remarks." But, much worse, the vote to "censure him for his speech will set the university back by 50 years, back to the days of McCarthyism."

Not only will those Harvard University punishers of speech set Harvard back for their hypocritical political correctness, but the attack on President Summers for raising entirely legitimate academic questions has underlined the plague of political correctness on many faculties around the country that are overwhelmingly composed of liberals.

A recent survey, "Political and Professional Advancement Among College Faculty," by professors Stanley Rothman (Smith College), Neil Nevitte (University of Toronto), and S. Robert Lichter (George Mason University), revealed that around the country:

"In four different departments — English literature, philosophy, political science, and religious studies — at least 80 percent of faculty are liberal and no more than 5 percent are conservative."

The findings also "suggest strongly that a leftward shift has occurred on college campuses in recent years, to the extent that political conservatives have become an endangered species in some departments."

What gives me hope for true diversity of ideas returning to tenured college faculties are Drew Toop and the rising backlash among conservatives and independent-thinking college students as vigorously presented in non-mainstream campus student newspapers that mock political correctness by faculty members who engage in groupthink rather than independent inquiry.

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Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance". Comment by clicking here.

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