[sixties-l] An Uncivil Discourse

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Tue May 08 2001 - 21:06:09 EDT

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    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


    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.
    It worked.
    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.

    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.

    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
    law school.
    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
    caved in."
    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."

    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
    arguing it.
    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
    with Citrin.
    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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