Self-Censorship In Academe
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September 15, 2007, 07:41 PM
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Professor Robert Weissberg at describes how he censored a course in Constitutional History to fit the "spirit of the times."

Let me offer a first-hand example. I once taught the basic American government lecture course and Constitution lecture covered the three-fifths compromise - the Article I, Section 2 provision that counted "other persons" (i.e., slaves and untaxed Indians - blacks are never mentioned by name ) as three-fifths of a person for purposes of House representation. I explained that Southerners wanted to treat slaves as a whole person since this would sharply boost their representation while abolitionist New Englanders proposed counting slaves as zero. Unfortunately, this three-fifths provision has now been interpreted by some black activists (including an African American colleague who stated her misinformed opinion in a public law school lecture) as "proof" of America`s racist origins. Black students have probably encountered this historical mistruth elsewhere (Jesse Jackson once endorsed it) and it does appear superficially plausible.[ note: Condoleezza Rice is a believer, in spite of her academic credentials.]

Rather than risk being accused of covering up racism or telling lies, I dropped the topic altogether. I similarly removed all discussion of slavery so students thus never learned that the while the Constitution did not outlaw slavery, it did permit a ban on importing slaves after 1808 and this was, indeed, done - which, in turn, made those slaves already in America exceedingly costly and thus at times too valuable to risk at dangerous labor (I further skipped how the ever-plentiful Irish were instead hired for life-threatening jobs).

And, as one might become carried away in a long-delayed spring cleaning, out went most references to crime (no small accomplishment in a course covering the Supreme Court), the dubious legal use of racial gerrymandering to insure black election victories, the possible downside of affirmative action and anything else that might remotely prove an ideological fire hazard. And this clean up did not end with race-related issues.The Hidden Impact Of Political Correctness (Originals)

There are serious consequences for giving even accidental offense. Weissberg tells a tragic story about a colleague who died in 2001.

I had a distinguished colleague - Stuart Nagel - whose tale is worth telling. He taught public policy and one day explained that black businesses in Kenya were uncompetitive against Indian-run enterprises since blacks where too generous in granting credit to friends and family. He had been invited by the government of Kenya to study the situation and suggested better business training for black Kenyans. The topic was indisputably part of the course and thus totally protected by AAUP academic speech guidelines. Stuart was also extremely liberal on all racial issues.

Nevertheless, to condense a long story, an anonymous letter from irritated black students complained of Nagel`s "racism" and included the preposterous change of "workplace violence." After a protracted and bungled internal university investigation, two federal trials (I testified at one), he was stripped of his teaching responsibilities and coerced into retirement. Interestingly, having been charged as "racist," his departmental colleagues, save two conservatives, abandoned him. A few years later, partially as a result of this emotionally and financially draining incident ($100,000 out-of-pocket for legal fees), he committed suicide. I can only speculate that he believed that years spent being a "good liberal" (including service in the Justice Department`s Civil Rights Division) would insulate him from being denounced as a "racist." Nor would he have anticipated that the university would spend the hundreds of thousands in legal fees to punish a famous tenured faculty member who "offended" two students. Nagel`s sad saga undoubtedly provided useful lessons to many others—stupidity can really be dangerous, even in a university. Better keep quiet.