Aug 29 2008

The Left at Christian Universities, part 5: Silencing Free Expression the Gentle, Positive Way

This is a post in the chain on “The Left at Christian Universities”. The last, on diversity, was The Left at Christian Univs, part 4: Diversity.

It now appears that at least portions of the American academy are waking up to the threat against free speech and academic freedom represented by speech codes and “hate speech” laws, even in other nations.

Beware of Canada, where academic freedom is in jeopardy. That’s the message of a growing number of eminent scholars within the American Political Science Association (APSA) who have signed a petition expressing concern about presenting their work in Toronto, the expected location of the 2009 APSA conference.

And excerpts from the petition:

[…] whereas Canada’s Human Rights Commissions (HRCs) have recently sought to suppress speech and impose legal penalties on speakers for expressing opinions on issues ranging from the morality of homosexual conduct and the question of legal recognition of same-sex unions to the threat to freedom posed by violent extremists acting in the name of Islam, speech that, according to all accounts, would be protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States;

And whereas, while we know of no direct suppression of academic freedom that has yet occurred in Canada, yet the writ of Canada’s HRCs runs without evident limit to encompass any speech, academic or otherwise, to which potential complainants take “offense”, and whereas, the arbitrariness and procedurally unconstrained practices of the HRCs create an air of uncertainty regarding whose speech, on what subjects, before what audiences, will be targeted next;

And whereas members of the Association ought to be able at the 2009 annual meeting to present research and argument on controversial topics, such as public policy concerning homosexuality or the character of and proper response to terrorist elements acting in the name of Islam, without fear of legal repercussions of any kind,

THEREFORE we petition the Council and staff of the APSA to take all steps necessary to ensure that academic freedom and free speech, even on controversial topics such as these, are not threatened at the 2009 annual meeting, including soliciting legal advice and seeking the assurance of the Government of Canada and local authorities that the civil rights and liberties of members to free speech and academic freedom will be secure.

The Chronicle of Higher Education takes note:

At issue are Canada’s federal and provincial human-rights commissions, which have recently been accused of trampling on free speech. In a decision last May, the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission ordered a right-wing Christian organization to “cease publishing in newspapers, by e-mail, on the radio, in public speeches, or on the Internet, in future, disparaging remarks about gays and homosexuals.” And Maclean’s, the Canadian newsweekly, was brought before a British Columbia tribunal in June for publishing an allegedly anti-Muslim article; the tribunal has not yet issued a ruling.

This last is a reference to the hearings accusing Mark Steyn, and his publisher, Maclean’s, of hate speech under Canadian laws.

There are other links in this article to attempts in USA academia to stifle free discussion.  Among other points:

In the United States, abuses of academic freedom are less often camouflaged in terms of human rights and more often camouflaged as “harassment” or “civility” codes.

Now, to connect this to Christian universities:

It is very common for the “human resources” people in universities (when did they stop being the personnel office?) to take it upon themselves to indoctrinate faculty and staff on dangerous speech.  Basically, that means anything that anyone might find offensive.  The warning is so broad that it covers everything from jokes to classroom presentations to academic discussion, if it involves gender, race, sexual orientation, religious preferences, etc.  I have witnessed such sessions myself, where we were warned not to engage in “risky speech” that might result in someone being “offended”, with the implication of possible employment repercussions and lawsuits.

I suppose I’ll have to retire my sheaf of jokes that begin, “A Jew, a Nun, a Black Muslim, and a Chinese Presbyterian were sitting in a gay bar, and the Mexican bartender said…..”   See, I’ve already got your attention, don’t I?

I note that it continues to be just fine for faculty “of color” to drone on and on about “white privilege”, “dead white males”, etc., and female faculty are just fine talking constantly about  “male oppression of women”, and the like…  I’m supposed to just be grown up about it and not take offense.

All kidding aside:  freedom of expression is the very root of authentic Christian witness, preaching and scholarship.  We can disguise our policies as “diversity” and “multicultural”, we can condemn “hate speech”, call for “inclusive dialog” that recognizes the “other”,  claim that our concern is really for “justice”, but in the end, what do we gain if we win the world’s approval for our inclusiveness, but lose our Christian distinctiveness?  The easy road (and a very broad one indeed) is to say, “me too,” and to dilute our historic Christian commitments.  We will win the approval of the world.  We will also lose something crucial.

Christians must be free to speak directly about issues of culture, society, various religious traditions, and political movements.  We can “diversify” our institutions, but we had better do so with fear and trembling, not in a rush, with a very measured assessment of the impact it is having on our institutions.  We must remain free to speak our minds about the influences that diversification brings to our campuses, to make observations about the moral status of the activists who seek to change our institutions, and to resist the wholesale adoption of perspectives originating from the secular left under a sham version of “Christian acceptance”.

Unfortunately, the effect of “sensititivity sessions”, “diversity training” and the like is to create a climate of fear on the part of people who hold traditional values.  If you speak up, you may be called a racist (oh, maybe not overtly… but the implication will be there…  or you’ll just be labeled “insensitive to minorities” or something).  If you speak up, someone may question your Christian commitment, because, after all, the institution has already decided that diversity and multi-culturalism are by definition “Christian”.  No one wants to be thought a bigot in whom the Holy Spirit is quenched.

From where I stand, the Left, by and large, simply denies historic Christian perspectives on a wide spectrum of issues.  The Left is responsible for the modern diversity mania, both historically and ideologically.  The embrace of diversity as an unalloyed good is almost impossible to separate from the embrace of the Left.  And the so-called religious Left seems to have gotten nearly all of its ideas from warmed over Marxism and Utopian idealism (complete with proof-texted pseudo-confirmation of socialism from the Gospels), all the while accusing the religious Right of “triumphalism”…  surely a case of looking in the mirror and assuming it’s a portrait of someone else.

So, a challenge:  how, exactly, can Christian institutions embrace diversity without also moving farther Left?  I doubt that it’s possible, but I’m willing to consider it.  Unfortunately, with the mania for diversity, multi-culturalism, assessment, relevance, “justice” and “equality” sweeping the land, those in control of Christian universities often seem oblivious to the problem.  The people and institutions putting pressure on Christian universities to be “diverse” include accrediting associations, government agencies, faculty (especially younger faculty) with doctorates from institutions that have indoctrinated them in Leftist thought (often without much awareness on the part of the grad student), and, again, mostly people from the secular Left who are not particular friends of the mission of Christian universities, and are often hostile to it.

Sometimes events develop a momentum.  Nominally Christian universities of today may fall to “Baylorization” and be replaced in their turn by a new crop of younger, more vigorous Christian colleges.  We can hope and pray for that not to be so in individual cases, but the trends are clear.  Can anyone name a modern Christian university that is moving to the Right? If you can name one, can you name two?  Compare that to the list of those moving Left, and you’ll see the point, I think.

What would be required is oversight in the process of “diversification” that considered carefully each new step, each new program, each new diversity-related employment position, each new training methodology, etc., to assure at least an ideological balance between Left and Right in the institution’s approach.

That seems not to be happening at most places that are busy getting “diverse”.  It is not surprising, given that “diversity”, as a solution to society’s ills, has always been a racist enterprise on its face, dehumanizing and quota-based, denying the integrity of the individual apart from some “social group” which is supposed to be more important to the identity of the person than personal ability, choice, behavior and character.  Ultimately, “diversity” cannot be ideologically neutral (which means it cannot be theologically neutral), because it elevates social/racial categories above personal ones.

Play that funky music, white boy.

UPDATE:  Part 6 in this series is here.

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4 Responses to “The Left at Christian Universities, part 5: Silencing Free Expression the Gentle, Positive Way”

  1. harmonicminer » The Left At Christian Universities, Part 6: You can’t post that HERE! says:

    […] discussed all this before.  The main point:  “diversity” is not politically neutral.  It always […]

  2. harmonicminer » The Left at Christian Univs, part 4: Diversity says:

    […] UPDATE:  Part 5 in this series is here. […]

  3. harmonicminer » The Left at Christian Universities, part 7: Speech codes says:

    […] So the bad news is this:  students attending Christian colleges and universities may be among those “at particular risk of bullying and indoctrination by campus administrators and faculty who are zealous ideologues”.  Faculty who do not agree with the agenda may be deemed racist, and that word may well be used in public descriptions and “faculty round-tables” to describe those who simply don’t buy into the entire concept of diversity.  The added bite: faculty who don’t sign on to the entire diversity agenda are racists who are going to hell!  It is actually said in faculty meetings at some Christian universities and colleges.  Not all agree, of course, but they are likely to feel too intimidated to speak up. […]

  4. enharmonic says:

    I could name at least 4 “christian” universities where this would be true (as I have first hand knowledge). It seems the true Christian professors and staff are simply being “retired” out and replaced by those who have acquired just enough christian jargon to maintain the pretense of what once was. The money and students continue to pour in.

    We had an interesting visit in Germany a couple of summers ago. Two girls from Baylor University were on a boat with us cruising down the Rhine river and we fell into conversation on deck as they were obviously Americans. They were traveling the youth hostels through Europe on vacation between semesters. My husband said, “Isn’t Baylor a Christian School?” “Heavens no” was their response. Hmmm….

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