Sunday, May 6, 2001
An Uncivil Discourse
The Uproar Over David Horowitz's Ad in the UC Berkeley Newspaper Has
Challenged One of the Fundamentals of University Life: the Free Exchange of
By FRED DICKEY
For those who love learning, UC Berkeley is a reassuring shrine to how
great our state can be. Sather Gate, the peaked tower of the chiming
campanile and the muscular granite buildings that never age represent the
apex of American scholarship. This place has earned the deep character
lines that seam its face. They come from battles fought here during the
'60s and '70s for academic honesty and the freedom to espouse ideas,
especially unpopular ones. Even tear gas and police truncheons could not
hold back the ideas. People's Park, the Free Speech Movement: they called
it "Berserkley," but it prevailed.
The campus today is a congested city of thousands of young adults who have
come together for the sometimes messy business of learning. Many are
products of the new California. Their skins and life experiences span the
spectrum, and thus reflect light differently. These differences create
tension, which picks its own time and place to erupt, as it did in March.
It began with a full-page advertisement in the student newspaper, the Daily
Californian, on Feb. 28. The ad was paid for by an off-campus political
action group headed by David Horowitz, a Malibu conservative intellectual
and, ironically, a former student radical leader at Berkeley in the early
'60s. In the ad, Horowitz declared that a proposal from some African
Americans that the U.S. government pay reparations to blacks for slavery
would be bad public policy.
The fallout was swift and seismic because the issue quickly mutated into a
free speech battle, digging up old bones at Berkeley. The first reaction
from administrators and students was puzzlement and resentment because the
issue had not been a big deal among them. They didn't seem to realize that
Horowitz had sucker-punched them. He is an accomplished author and an
intellectual street fighter. Give him an opening with a weak rebuttal and
he'll chew your nose off. But he can be chewed on, too. On this day, his
intention was to highlight a volatile public issue and then sit back and
wait for the reaction, one that would demonstrate his belief that college
campuses today give comfort to the enemies of free speech.
The day following the ad's publication, all hell broke loose at the office
of the student newspaper. About 40 students, accompanied by a faculty
member from the African American studies department, stormed the office and
demanded a printed apology. Some students, including members of the
newspaper staff, took papers out of campus news racks and destroyed them.
After a hurried meeting, top editors of the Daily Californian, which is run
by students independently of the university administration, unanimously
decided to print an apology and to allot generous space for others to
counter Horowitz's arguments. The apology stated that the paper had been
"an inadvertent vehicle for bigotry."
Then came another reaction. More than 1,000 e-mails cascaded in, mostly
accusing the newspaper's editor, Daniel Hernandez, and the university of
cowardly caving in to "politically correct" pressure and undercutting the
1st Amendment. Liberal columnist Nat Hentoff, an authority on the Bill of
Rights, wrote, "First, although the ad offended many students, there is as
yet no constitutional amendment protecting Americans from being offended.
Second, the ad is neither bigoted nor racist. It's part of a continuing
debate. And to call Horowitz a racist is to cheapen the word and diminish
its moral clout."
At the request of UC Berkeley's student Republican organization, Horowitz
spoke on campus on March 13. The auditorium audience was screened by metal
detectors and observed by about two dozen campus cops. The speech went
smoothly until Horowitz was shouted down by an audience member during the
question-and-answer period. He threw up his hands and left suddenly.
Horowitz has since returned to L.A., the students have returned to class
and the issue of reparations has returned to the back burner. What remains
is the question of what this episode has taught us about Berkeley and other
universities whose mission is to encourage a free exchange of ideas in the
hope that, through discourse, education will thrive.
THE DAILY CALIFORNIAN IS ON THE 6TH FLOOR OF ESHLEMAN HALL ON the edge of
campus. The elevator opens to a ratty barn-like area with stacks of
newspaper sitting about. Signs on the walls reflect wacky, risque college
humor: "PUKE IN THE SHOWER AMANDA"the consequence of a party that went too
long, and "TOE SUCKING SARAH" suggests . . . well, there's not enough
information. The campus newspaper offices are traditionally a fun place,
where opinions are shouted and jokes offend with a smile; it's also a place
of irreverence, where if 10 people have only nine opinions, a coward is
suspected to be lurking about.
But several days after the unanimous vote to apologize for the Horowitz ad,
the staff is hunkered down. The student journalists are
uncharacteristically tight-lipped and refer questions on the matter to the
editor. The solidarity shows some cracks. One editor, Andrea O'Brien, a
20-year-old sophomore from Claremont, speaks softly and a bit nervously as
she gives her opinion about the newspaper's action:
"In retrospect, I'm not quite so sure that we should have been so quick to
apologize for someone else's right to have their speech." Is hers a
minority opinion? "Not necessarily," she says quickly.
Daniel Hernandez didn't come to Berkeley from San Diego looking for a
fight, but he certainly stepped into the middle of one when he became chief
editor of the Californian. He originally approved the ad for publication
and was the one most apologetic after it ran. He called the ad bigoted.
Hernandez is a thoughtful, slight young man who walks out of his office
with a tentative smile. If he appears shellshocked, it's because he's had
some big ones whistle over his head lately and explode close enough to make
him duck. An editor of a cable-news network wrote in an e-mail, "Your
cowardice and audacity astounded me." Another irate observer e-mailed,
"Danny, you are a coward. Get a job as an administrator at UC so you can
spend the rest of your life on your knees before mobs of ignorant
children." And an attorney e-mailed, "I could carve a man with a firmer
spine than you out of a banana. That you may wish to make a career in
publishing and the news industry is frightening." There were hundreds more
like these. Heavy stuff for a 20-year-old college junior.
The gist of the 10 points in Horowitz's ad was that the Civil War is long
over, African Americans are prospering today, and the families of most of
today's Americans bear no responsibility for slavery or the Jim Crow laws
that followed anyway. Why, he asked, should a struggling recent immigrant
have to pay for injustices that happened in another time?
Most of the points were reasonably arguable both ways. The ad was blunt,
but not a racist screed. One argument in particular was silly and could be
considered offensive: Horowitz suggested that welfare payments to blacks
through the years were themselves a form of reparations, and not just a
right of equal citizenship.
Hernandez sees the decision to apologize as a defense of minority rights.
"I think people are too quick to dismiss political correctness," which he
defines as "saying we [minorities] will be addressed in a certain way and
we demand a certain amount of respect. Latino and African American students
whose ancestors [were persecuted] are now in a position to say, 'We don't
have to listen to that.' This is a reversal of fortune, a reversal of
suppression." As for his role as newspaper editor, he says, "There has to
be a sensitivity to your readership. This is a very volatile issue for
people whose ancestors are being trivialized in such a way. It was obvious
[Horowitz] didn't want to spark a debate; he just wanted to be
confrontational. The ad also ran on the last day of Black History Month,
and, anyway, this is a campus where many people who are black and Latino
feel unwelcome. Since the end of affirmative action, our numbers are
dwindling, and it just isn't a positive place to be. You walk into a
classroom and you're the only non-Asian or nonwhite person there. And if
there's an issue about race, you're forced by default to represent your
Hernandez is determined to make California a better place for people of
color, especially immigrants, which his parents were. Hernandez's father
came to the U.S. at 17 and started working as a field hand. He gradually
earned a college degree and is now a school counselor. Hernandez says that
his family emphasizes the importance of retaining Latino roots and speaks
Spanish at home. He entered the university on a scholarship in 1998, after
the end of affirmative action. He was notified of his acceptance by a
personal phone call from the chancellor.
The future looks great for Hernandez. This summer, he is scheduled to
intern at The Times, and when he graduates he would like to attend the
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Tom Goldstein, dean of
that school, is on the advisory board of the Daily Californian.
Hernandez has taken flak because some see him as an ingrate who doesn't
appreciate all of the breaks he's received. But he also gets pressure from
those who share his barrio roots. "A lot of my people think I've already
sold out. 'You're not working in the community.' Or, 'You're not doing
grass-roots work.' Or, 'You want to work in the media elite. Where are you,
Daniel? Where are you going?'
"All my life, we lived so close to the border. We lived in a half-country.
My world has been Mexico and the U.S. I find it difficult to claim, 'I'm
American.' Or, 'I'm Mexican.' I'm not comfortable living in both worlds. I
attend fancy receptions to represent the university, and I think, 'God, my
cousins are worlds away from this.' And for some reason, it's difficult to
reconcile that." Although the Daily Californian is managed by students, it
has a group of advisors who are prominent in journalism. Hernandez would
not divulge the entire list, but he did mention a member of the Berkeley
journalism department named Paul Grabowicz. When contacted at his office
and asked about the Horowitz ad and apology, Grabowicz said, "I'm not going
to get involved with that." Other advisors include Goldstein and John
Oppendahl, publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle. Repeated messages were
left for both seeking comment on the controversy, but no calls were returned.
SOME THINGS DON'T CHANGE. STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF SPROUL Plaza, I
overhear a young woman say, "My mother is sooooo weird!" I also notice that
the large fountain nearby looks bubbly and clean, probably because someone
dumped laundry soap into it.
I am waiting to meet a leader of one of the most beleaguered minority
organizations on campus. Its followers have few advocates in high places.
Many faculty members make fun of them and administrators rarely inquire
about their welfare. Were they to stage a street demonstration, they could
expect neither fond quotes from a sympathetic press nor community activists
pumping fists in support.
The young man who approaches is obviously the one I await. Ben Carrasco's
appearance makes it clear he's never put a baseball cap on backward in his
life. He's neatly groomed and dressed, which makes him look like a Mormon
missionary among these students, some of whom stylishly resemble moving rag
piles. He's a graduating senior in political science and plans to attend
Carrasco is editor in chief of the California Patriot, the student
conservative newspaper, and a leader of the small coterie of campus
Republicans. It was his group that invited Horowitz onto the campus to
speak because they thought the principle of free speech had been compromised.
In many ways Carrasco resembles Daniel Hernandez, not only in the snapping
black eyes but also in his heritage. He, too, is the son of immigrant
parents who have done well for themselves. Yet there is a difference
between Carrasco and his counterpart at the Daily Californian. Carrasco
does not often refer to himself as a Latino.
His grandparents immigrated from Mexico to Laredo, Texas, where his father
was born. From day one, the family objective was to become Americanized as
quickly as possible. From what he has been told, Spanish was spoken at home
but English fluency was the goal. Carrasco himself speaks almost no
Spanish, but realizes that he'll have to become proficient if he wants to
become a Republican politician.
Carrasco's father was a quick learner and became the city manager of
Austin, Texas, at 34. "I've seen hard work and persistence pay off. My dad
is the embodiment of that. He was the son of immigrants, and he's worked
hard and become very successful. The lesson of that is very clear." Asked
why he chooses to be an ideological minority on an overwhelmingly liberal
campus, Carrasco says, "A lot of students here are from privilege, too, so
they're not leftists because of personal injustice. Maybe it's a form of
rebellion. My family always stressed patriotism, education, honesty and
hard work. I like to think [that] those are conservative values."
Carrasco has been zinged with ethnic barbs. "Kids can be mean, even when
they're kidding around. I've been called the usual ethnic slurs, but I just
shrug it off. After all, I'm a hardened foe of political correctness so I'd
be the last one to complain about stupid comments that generally mean
nothing except stupidity."
He is troubled that many minority students take opposition to affirmative
action personally. "If you're opposed to affirmative action, you're seen as
opposed to black people. That touchiness is what ignited this whole thing
about the ad." The experience reminded him that it's considered bad form
for conservatives to initiate a discussion on race and other hot-button
issues. "Freedom of expression here is taken for granted by the left, but
we have to fight for it. It didn't surprise me a bit that the Daily Cal
Inviting Horowitz to speak on campus was not the first jut-jaw forum
sponsored by the campus Republicans. Last fall, Carrasco invited a
conservative speaker who argued for the guilt of condemned cop-killer Mumia
Abu-Jamal, a cause celebre for some liberals. The speaker, according to
Carrasco, was shouted down, threatened, even mooned in the auditorium.
Afterward, copies of the Patriot were burned outside, he says.
Carrasco appreciates his education but won't miss the campus. "The whole
chip-on-the-shoulder thing, I don't understand it. These students should be
the living embodiment about what's great about America. I don't understand
why they should be cynical and resentful."
He thinks UC Berkeley is supportive testimony for the American melting pot.
"The more fragmented the community is, the more confrontations you seem to
have. Seems like a pretty good argument for assimilation to me."
THE UC BERKELEY ADMINISTRATORS IN CHARGE OF MORE THAN 30,000 young adults
deserve our sympathy. They are educators and some are blue-chip
intellectuals, but they are also bureaucrats in the most kindly sense of
the word. It is their job to hire people to clean the chalkboards, schedule
classes, make sure the lights go on and off and, most important, to keep
the peace. It is in that last function that trouble can easily erupt, and
it makes them skittish.
A college administrator who sets guidelines for thousands of students, many
still in their teens, is like a tiger trainer. He or she has the upper hand
as long as the tiger buys into it. Administrators can't call in cops with
clubs whenever students burn newspapers or disrupt meetings. They can only
persuade, looking for opportunities to encourage civil discourse and the
free exchange of ideas. As the Horowitz ad demonstrated, some universities
are better at this than others.
Of the 73 campus newspapers asked to carry the ad, including those at
Harvard and Columbia, just 24 accepted. The Brown Daily Herald was one of
them. In the protest that followed, Brown University campus journalists and
administrators stood their ground in the face of feelings so intense that
an appearance by Horowitz was canceled for fear of violent demonstrations.
After angry students stole stacks of Brown's Daily Herald to prevent
distribution of the ad, Daily Herald staff members personally handed out
the next day's issue. Its editors also published opinion pieces challenging
Horowitz's views. The interim college president, Sheila E. Blumstein,
defended publication of the ad and used the occasion to encourage campus
forums where freedom of speech and reparations were discussed.
Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl speaks of Horowitz as though the man
had kicked his dog. "He opened up an issue, reparations for slavery, that
nobody was talking about," he says in an interview. "I said, 'Why is he
doing this?' Also, [the ad] was couched in offensive language. This is a
guy who acts outrageously, wants to outrage people, and then cries foul
when they are outraged and offended. I think it's all perfectly ridiculous
because nobody takes him seriously, except maybe himself."
Berdahl said that reparations was a nonissue on campus. Hernandez said the
same thing, as did Charles Henry, chair of the African American studies
department. None realized at the time that, within days, the CBS program
"60 Minutes" would devote a lengthy segment to the issue, diving into a
subject that a great university was reluctant to broach. Henry, who also is
the chancellor's affirmative action officer, has acknowledged that interest
in the issue has intensified on campus since Horowitz's ad appeared.
Having vented about Horowitz's use of it, Berdahl does rush to the defense
of free speech: "The destruction of newspapers is reprehensible and a
violation of property rights. However, we are operating in a supercharged
environment. We do have people who react to controversial speakers in ways
that are wrong and offensive; we have people who have been shouted down,
and that's wrong. What you do is try very hard to create an environment
that has a modicum of civility."
To show his support for rational debate on campus, Berdahl paid for a
half-page ad in the Daily Californian on March 15, urging calm and
reminding the campus of the right to free speech. UC Berkeley political
science professor Jack Citrin, who has taught at Berkeley for 30 years,
considers the chancellor's response illustrative of the halfhearted support
that free speech is given at the school: "The standard response is to issue
a tsk-tsk statement supporting free speech and then do nothing to make sure
it happens. It's window dressing."
That a university chancellor would feel the need to buy an ad to gently
remind students of another's right to speak, and then for a senior
professor to challenge his sincerity, raises a question about how
fundamental free speech is to the school's philosophy. It seems that the
spirit of the 1st Amendment would be hallowed on a campus where ideas are
born to be challenged.
In recent years, however, a type of political correctness known as
"identity politics" has argued for a limitation on the right to openly
express ideas that are offensive to minorities and disadvantaged groups. In
other words, if what you argue is painful, you should be prevented from
Donald Downs, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin
and a Berkeley PhD, says, "Many campuses actually have speech codes that
are used to suppress ideas. They are the product of people who have
departed from traditional liberalism because they feel guilty about the
past and are afraid of being called racist. It is destructive to democracy,
and it is patronizing to those it's supposed to help."
At Berkeley, the free speech issue was agonized over during a debate before
the student senate last fall, well before the Horowitz ad appeared.
Finally, a "Resolution in Support of Freedom of Speech" passed, with 11
"yes" votes out of 18. A key part of the resolution opposed book burnings,
such as one staged in October by opponents at a conservative students'
rally. With that less-than-ringing proclamation as background, it should
come as no shock that irate Berkeley students would feel justified in
pulling the plug on Horowitz's ideas.
Students, though they would be loath to admit it, take their cue from
administrators and faculty. Lacking an institutionalized, firm commitment
with teeth to the principle of respecting others' rights of speech, perhaps
it's understandable that a handful of students would feel justified in
shouting down others or even burning books. Author Jonathan Rauch, a
prominent free speech essayist, says, "Most administrators seem more
interested in keeping campuses quiet and covering themselves than taking a
strong stand on 1st Amendment rights. They are not particularly sympathetic
to opponents of free speech, they just want the problem to go away." What
Rauch would like to see is an administrator who would say, "Look, students
are paying good money to come here and part of their education is to
encounter ideas they might find strange and offensive. If you oppose that,
you don't belong here."
Charles Henry has a different view. He turns aside the issue of whether the
protesting students and the newspaper staff denied Horowitz his voice.
Instead, he focuses on the medium of the message. Henry says, and the
Californian editor and the chancellor make the same argument, that because
Horowitz's statements were in the form of a paid advertisement, they didn't
fall under the umbrella of free speech. "The newspaper issue was one of
free speech versus paid ad," Henry says. "Horowitz did not present it as an
opinion piece; he paid to have it printed."
To most newspapers, such distinctions are ludicrous, says Jack Quinton,
advertising professor and newspaper advisor to San Jose State University's
Spartan Daily, which was not approached to carry the ad. "To say that
advertising is somehow in a different category of free speech is completely
bogus," he says. "Advertising is essential to forming political opinions in
this country. The individual's freedom to place an ad is just as important
as the freedom to have his voice expressed in opinion pages. They are all
ideas, and they all should be heard."
Like Henry, Hernandez insists that Horowitz's point of view should have
been on the opinion pages rather than appearing as an ad. When asked if
Horowitz would have been given space on those pages, he says, "probably not."
Opponents of Horowitz cite two other reasons for their belief that running
his ad was inappropriate. They argue that he was factually wrong in his
arguments, and that he was unforgivably offensive in running the ad on the
last day of Black History Month.
The idea that the murky labyrinth of history can be reduced to a simplistic
"right" or "wrong" makes eyes go wide among some Berkeley scholars. "I
cannot believe anyone was taught that at Berkeley," says longtime UC
Berkeley history professor Leon Litwack, who teaches African American
history. Also, others at the university say that to claim the Horowitz
argument was an offense to Black History Month is to relegate that
observance to feel-good social therapy, and it is an insult to the history
of black Americans, which very nicely stands up to objective scholarly
AUTHOR LOREN LOMASKY, a philosophy professor at Bowling Green University,
wrote recently that it is a university's job to teach all students not to
insult or deliberately offend others. But equally important, he says, it
must also teach them not to be easily offended themselves, to develop a
self-protective thick skin to abrasive ideas. To do otherwise is
unscholarly and patronizing to any students given such misguided
"protection." "Tolerance and freedom of speech are difficult things to
manage," Citrin says. "We don't like to hear what we disagree with. It can
be hard for people to accept ideas that contradict their passions. But
we've got to learn those things in order for democracy to survive, and good
lord, the university is where we're supposed to learn them."
Brown University, and perhaps a handful of other schools, apparently agree
At Berkeley, Bancroft Library opened a long-planned exhibit on April 13 to
pay tribute to the Free Speech Movement of the 1960s, of which student
David Horowitz was a pioneer.
Fred Dickey Last Wrote for the Magazine About a Beverly Hills Shooting
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