Censoring Speech at the University of California
One of the latest things in universities, including at University of California (where I teach) is condemning “microaggressions,” supposed “brief, subtle verbal or non-verbal exchanges that send denigrating messages to the recipient because of his or her group membership (such as race, gender, age or socio-economic status).” Such microaggressions, the argument goes, can lead to a “hostile learning environment,” which UC — and the federal government — views as legally actionable. This is stuff you could get disciplined or fired for, especially if you aren’t a tenured faculty member.In short, certain opinions that somebody might hold are being summarily banned on campus.
But of course this concept is now being used to suppress not just, say, personal insults or discrimination in hiring or grading, but also ideas that the UC wants to exclude from university classrooms. Here, from the UC Office of the President, Academic and Personnel Programs department’s site . . . are some of what the UC wants to see stamped out, in classrooms and presumably elsewhere as well:
Tool: Recognizing Microaggressions and the Messages They Send
Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (from Diversity in the Classroom, UCLA Diversity & Faculty Development, 2014). The first step in addressing microaggressions is to recognize when a microaggression has occurred and what message it may be sending. The context of the relationship and situation is critical. Below are common themes to which microaggressions attach….
[Theme:] Color Blindness[:] Statements that indicate that a White person does not want to or need to acknowledge race.
[Microaggression Examples:] “There is only one race, the human race.”
“America is a melting pot.”
“I don’t believe in race.” …
[Theme:] Denial of Individual Racism/Sexism/Heterosexism[:] A statement made when bias is denied….
[Microaggression Examples:] … To a person of color: “Are you sure you were being followed in the store? I can’t believe it.” …
[Theme:] Myth of Meritocracy[:] Statements which assert that race or gender does not play a role in life successes, for example in issues like faculty demographics.
[Microaggression Examples:] “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”
“Of course he’ll get tenure, even though he hasn’t published much — he’s Black!”
“Men and women have equal opportunities for achievement.”
“Gender plays no part in who we hire.”
“America is the land of opportunity.”
“Everyone can succeed in this society, if they work hard enough.”
“Affirmative action is racist.”
Interestingly, microaggressions against whites are apparently OK. Ranting about “white privilege” or telling a white person “check your privilege” is OK. Also, telling a male that he “cannot understand” this or that issue because of his gender is also fine.
Nothing here says that comments against Christianity are in any way questionable. But civil rights legislation protects (in the letter of the law and in legislative history) whites as well as blacks, males as well as females and Christians as well as Muslims and atheists.
Well, I’m happy to say that I’m just going to keep on microaggressing. I like to think that I’m generally polite, so I won’t express these views rudely. And I try not to inject my own irrelevant opinions into classes I teach, so there are many situations in which I won’t bring up these views simply because it’s not my job to express my views in those contexts. But the document that I quote isn’t about keeping classes on-topic or preventing personal insults — it’s about suppressing particular viewpoints. And what’s tenure for, if not to resist these attempts to stop the expression of unpopular views?Volokh may be in la-la land on this.
Since these “microaggressions” can supposedly lead to a “hostile learning environment,” tenure may be no protection for a professor who steps out of line and voices a disapproved opinion.
And Volokh is doubtless correct in saying that:
But I’m afraid that many faculty members who aren’t yet tenured, many adjuncts and lecturers who aren’t on the tenure ladder, many staff members, and likely even many students — and perhaps even quite a few tenured faculty members as well — will get the message that certain viewpoints are best not expressed when you’re working for UC, whether in the classroom, in casual discussions, in scholarship, in op-eds, on blogs, or elsewhere. (Remember that when talk turns to speech that supposedly creates a “hostile learning environment,” speech off campus or among supposed friends can easily be condemned as creating such an environment, once others on campus learn about it.) A serious blow to academic freedom and to freedom of discourse more generally, courtesy of the University of California administration.Note, again, the hypocrisy of the academic left in trying to protect politically correct minorities from opinions with which they are presumed to disagree. The former director of Marquette’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, trying to defend painting a mural of a cop killer on the wall of the center, asserted:
Effective learning happens with healthy discomfort and sometimes with controversy.But somehow, blacks are to be protected from any disapproval of affirmative action, or even the notion that America is the land of opportunity.
Only certain groups, it seems, should be exposed to any “discomfort” on a college campus.
Unintended Consequences?If somebody is overgenerous toward university administrators and to the leftist faculty who push “diversity” initiatives, one might say that this is a laudable attempt to include previously excluded groups that has merely gone too far.
But that would be flatly wrong. Leftist faculty want to shut up opinions with which they disagree. They simply don’t like free speech or academic freedom (that is, unless it protects them).
And administrators, with their typical petty bureaucratic mentality, take the path of least resistance, pandering to leftist faculty, clamorous leftist student organizations and activist liberal federal bureaucrats.