A Quiet Defeat for Political Correctness

Maybe this is how political correctness ends; not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Across the country, universities that had abandoned in loco parentis in the 1960s because it was too oppressive and intrusive have replaced it with in loco Big Brother programs of political and cultural re-education.

Last fall, for instance, the University of Wisconsin unveiled an ambitious "diversity" campaign designed to root out inappropriate speech and behaviors on campus. The "Think Respect" campaign was not as controversial as the University of Delaware's re-education program that required students to confess their racial guilt and demanded that they demonstrate "correct" attitudes toward sexuality and environmentalism.

But UW's program was just as creepy. Posters appeared around the campus that included suggestions how students could "Put Up a 'No Hate' Sign in Your Room,"  "Become a Big Brother or Sister," and "Confront Inappropriate Jokes." ("How many feminists does it take to change a light bulb?" "That's not funny.")

When not confronting such inappropriate humor, students were also encouraged to inform on one another.

At the center of "Think Respect," was a "bias reporting mechanism" that encouraged students to report oppressive and racist worst, attitudes, and behavior. Students could download a form to make their allegations, which would then be investigated by the administration. The university's website  encouraged a liberal use of the system:

"A bias incident is a threat or act of bigotry, harassment or intimidation - verbal, written or physical - that is personally directed against or targets a University of Wisconsin-Madison student because of that student's race, age, gender identity or expression, disability, national or ethnic origin, political affiliation, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, veteran status, or other actual or perceived characteristic." (Emphasis added.)
"Students can report anything, from a hate crime to graffiti to verbal harassment."
When the reporting system was unveiled, UW Law professor and blogger Ann Althouse commented:
"Students can report anything? And remember [Chancellor John] Wiley's statement: "We will not tolerate bias, racism, disrespect or hate." We will not tolerate disrespect? You know, I want students to feel good about campus life, but isn't part of campus life having rowdy debates and vigorous arguments?.... This program should make students worry that anything other than bland pleasantries is going to get them in trouble with the administration."
Free speech champion Donald Downs, who is also on the UW faculty, noted that the program "encourages campus citizens to report not only acts of harassment or discrimination that constitute official misconduct, but all forms of ‘bias,' verbal and non-verbal, without that term being defined in a manner that is consistent with First Amendment principles. In other words, the present policy amounts to a speech code, as it encourages people to file reports on other people's attitudes and speech that informants deem insufficiently sensitive."

At the University of Delaware a legal challenge from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a media firestorm, and accompanying widespread ridicule, forced the university to abandon its North Korean-style indoctrination program.

At Wisconsin, the "Think Respect" program died from indifference. It simply withered away.

Even at one of the most political righteous campuses in the nation, it turned out that students did not want to rat one another out to the diversity police. As the student newspaper the Badger Herald reported last week: 

"The campaign now is relegated to its spot in the vast bank of inactive organizations occupying the Student Organization Office's web space and the bias reporting mechanism fills a similar role on the Dean of Students' website."
The dean who launched "Think Respect" now admits that the campaign "didn't gain momentum for subsequent years" and they "haven't had many reports" of bias or oppressive behavior.

UW Law student Robert Phansalkar wrote the epitaph for the program, whose origin he traced "to our downright insatiable desire to legislate and litigate everything."

The diverse-o-crats assume that college students are unable to deal with issues like racism on their own. But the reality, he wrote, is that "we have the ability to do so."
"This is precisely why students did not turn to campaigns or reporting forms to deal with those who offended them during the past year.

"It seems obvious; we simply do not rush to a computer to fill out a form online when someone has offended us - we confront the person. We do not go to counseling to discuss an offensive remark - we talk it through...

"The assumption that students simply cannot take care of themselves is the root of the very kind of paternalism that the ‘Think Campaign' perpetuates. The campaign and reporting forms advance the mentality that we cannot deal with these problems on our own.

"But, as lack of enthusiasm and disuse of these programs plainly show, we are more than capable of dealing with the racism of today on our own."
Even without Big Brother looking over their shoulders.

Charles J. Sykes is the author of Dumbing Down Our Kids and, most recently, 50 Rules Kids Won't Learn in School.
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