Ed Driscoll

A Modest Proposal

Douglas Kern of <a title=”TCS: Tech Central Station – We Need More Speech Codes” href=”http://www.techcentralstation.com/030105B.html”>Tech Central Station says that colleges should have more speech codes–many more:

Big academia promulgates the illusion of free speech while quietly enforcing the de facto reality of opinion censorship. It’s the worst of both worlds.

Like every good baby conservative, I spent my college years inveighing against academic speech codes that canted the sphere of acceptable public discourse to the far left. Naively, I assumed that the abolition of speech codes would inaugurate a new era of open, civilized academic discourse, free from artificially imposed bias. Ah, the bitter folly of youth! There was nothing artificial about that bias. Ridiculous speech codes were a symptom of deranged ideology, not the cause.

So let’s stop playing five-card socialist stud and start playing five-card Texas Cultural Hold’em. Let’s pull our smelly little institutional orthodoxies out in the open. Hey, big academia: you don’t like social conservatives? Don’t want to tolerate anti-feminist opinions, or reactionaries who reject rights for gay couples, or Neanderthals who question Darwin? Fine — but say so directly. And be prepared to accept the consequences from alumni, bloggers, and taxpayers. The same goes for conservative schools, or schools supported with tax money squeezed out of conservatives. Don’t want the Ward Churchills of the world to promulgate crypto-Islamicism on your time and your dime? Okay, but have the guts to put that rule in writing.

I hasten to add that I have no problem in principle with smelly little orthodoxies. I hold to quite a few of them myself, and some orthodoxies aren’t so smelly. Every thinking person embraces a host of biases and prejudices with which to sort through a confusing, contradictory world. But I accept my prejudices. I don’t conceal them. Quite the contrary — I hold them up for public display and judgment. My “speech codes” are a matter of public record. Can Harvard say the same?

Had Harvard told its faculty from the very start that belief in the equality of the sexes was non-negotiable, reasonable people might have asked some probing questions: Why can’t faculty members hold that view? What harm could come from such an opinion? Why does the pro-equality crowd fear even the possibility of open discussion of the subject? Open, fully articulated rules can be discussed, and accepted or rejected on their merits. But what good comes from a “speech code” that hides the preferences of the school under an unconvincing veneer of free speech?

Big academia suffers from the same problem of bias that afflicts the mainstream media. It’s fine to be overtly politicized, but when you hide your biases behind a posture of perfect, disinterested neutrality, you insulate your biases from critical scrutiny. Behold the debacle of Memogate. Would CBS have behaved so recklessly but for its irrational certainty that its left-wing biases were nothing more than tough, objective journalism? Having concealed its prejudices for so long that it even fooled itself, CBS was rendered helpless when those same prejudices consumed its professional judgment. Harvard and Colorado know that helplessness well.

Of course, Kern’s proposal will never happen, for reasons very similiar to the notion that no one who’s for big government will tell you how large he wants that big government to be: why limit your reach with transparent rules?