If hypocrisy and doublethink were Olympic events, New York’s academic community would be awash with gold medals.
Two controversies this month have shown the extent to which noble and supposedly immutable concepts like free speech and opposition to censorship can be tweaked and twisted to suit political agendas.
The New School’s president, Bob Kerrey, has invited Senator John McCain to address the university’s commencement ceremony on Friday. Some students are so angry about this that they have organized a petition to get the invite revoked.
Senator McCain’s crime appears to be that he is a conservative. The protesters’ absurd rationale is that having the Senator at the ceremony is not compatible with the institution’s commitment to freethinking.
“It is extremely distasteful and hypocritical to allow McCain, someone who does not value the ideals we have consistently been taught in our education, to speak at the ceremony that represents the culmination of our experiences with this university,” Brittany Charlton, the vice chairwoman of the University Student Senate, told The New York Times.
Across the East River, however, it’s a different story. There, graduate students of Brooklyn College, supported by the faculty, have complained long and loud about having to relocate an art show after the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation shuttered it.
The show stayed open for only one day at the Brooklyn War Memorial in Cadman Plaza. The memorial includes a roll of honor commemorating people from the borough who lost their lives in the Second World War.
The college art exhibition features a sculpture of a penis and other sexually loaded material. As such, the Parks Department contended that it breached a verbal agreement that had held for six years, under which the college agreed that items exhibited at the memorial would be appropriate for families and for the setting.
In response to the enforced closure, the students organized public protests, Brooklyn College’s faculty council passed a motion announcing that its members “deplore[d] this act of censorship,” and attorney Norman Siegel said he would help the students sue the city and the college’s administration.
The message to be drawn from these events seems clear. In the eyes of the academy, removing prurient art from a space that commemorates the dead is censorship. But stopping a speech by a conservative shows a love of diversity.
Where is George Orwell when we need him?
It is blatantly obvious that they do not object at all to their graduation being used as a political platform, so long as the politics in question are liberal—hence the dreamy reference to the “values and spirit” of the college. What they object to is the same platform being given to political opinions with which they disagree. It is deeply worrying that such a mentality should pervade a university, of all places.
It is not just New School students who are discomfited by Senator McCain. The politician also elicited a smaller protest at Columbia University from students who did not believe he should be permitted to address that institution’s class day yesterday.
The Columbia students launched their own anti-McCain petition, which showed they were more than a match for their downtown peers when it came to disingenuous reasoning.
They accused Mr. McCain of providing ballast for the Reverend Jerry Falwell’s reactionary teachings by giving the graduation address at Mr. Falwell’s Liberty University last Saturday.
Mr. Falwell is indeed a loathsome figure. But the students cannot have it both ways. Senator McCain’s attendance at graduations either implies his endorsement of the ethos of all the institutions or none of them.
If he is held to be supporting Mr. Falwell by appearing at Liberty, why he is said to be undermining the values of Columbia or the New School by speaking in those places?
At Columbia, the New School and in Brooklyn, the mentality of the protesting students and their faculty supporters is appallingly skewed.
Taken in total, their actions convey a belief that it is fine to display a penis at a memorial for the dead, but not to let a conservative address students; that diversity permits dead war heroes to be dishonored, but denies a living war hero, who happens to be Republican, the chance to air his views; and that a university’s open-mindedness can be measured by its willingness to ban right-wingers from its most prestigious occasions.
Save us all from such illiberal “liberalism.”