Montréal, 14 octobre 2000  /  No 69
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Ralph Maddocks is a retired textile executive and former management consultant. He lives in Cowansville.
by Ralph Maddocks
          Recently, an item in one of the daily news digests caught my attention. It had to do with university courses on Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, the Enlightenment and the Romantic poets being withdrawn in favour of some politically correct nonsense. We have all read or heard about courses being offered which seek to teach students how Shakespeare's work discriminates against women or how racism « informs » his work. All quite boring – or « differently interesting » to use PCspeak – and irrelevant.
Women on campus 
          The author, a lady, wondered why, especially at a university where places may cost $30,000 or more each year, any sane parent would pay such amounts on behalf of their offspring. According to the author of the piece they don't any more, and enrolment in English courses is declining. Could this be a sign that the public is waking up at last? 
          Looking at a few examples from US college courses on offer one finds such nuggets as Oberlin College's Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. A course which aims to « emphasise how gender must be understood in relation to history, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and other significant social categories. » The course promises to do this by engaging in « critiques, resistant readings, and reinterpretations » of the Bard of Avon. Perhaps we are supposed to believe that Shakespeare cannot be read or understood unless transformed by feminists on campus. 
          The University of Northern Arizona is offering a course on Women, Gender Identity and Ethnicity, which will discuss « important women's issues, » such as « witches » and « fairy tales ». Can you imagine a better way to prepare your daughter for the vicissitudes of life and the workforce than to learn how to construct a « mini Welfare budget » and role play as a single mother? Well, at this university 10% of her grade would depend upon it. The course also includes exploring the exploitation of women in rock videos and advertising. 
          If you are enrolled at the University of California at Santa Barbara, you can take part in a black studies course which teaches that Black Marxism is different from the plain old Marxism we all thought we knew and loved. While I do not recall Marx saying very much about sociology, anthropology or black literature and studies, he did use the « n » word often and didn't seem to like black people very much. Academics of the Marxist persuasion seem intent upon preaching his discredited ideas and employing the suffix « ism », even where it has little or no relevance. 
          With a course on Star Trek and Religion at Indiana promising to discuss how religion is portrayed on Star Trek, one may have touched the bottom of this particular pit. The course promises to delve into the writings of « critics who hope for the demise of religion, » and those who believe that « religion can be re-imagined in mystical or cosmic terms. » 
          While I found many other examples, the above will have to suffice. 
Careful what you say 
          Political correctness seems to have become so deeply embedded in the minds of people that they no longer find it abhorrent. Few seem to be bothered by it any more, simply accepting it as « normal », a word also beloved by the politically correct. However outrageous a proposition may be it is considered to be « normal » in this topsy-turvy world. 
          The PC movement over the last two decades or so has provided many with an endless source of amusement. No more can one be an orphan, one is « parentally disadvantaged » instead. Hospital users are no longer patients – though they may have to exercise that quality in today's hospitals – but clients. Descriptively accurate terms such as black, red or yellow may no longer be used when describing skin colour. In a curious deviation of logic it is not permissible to use the word « paleface » (well established by the 1820s as a description of the white man by those who used to be called Red Indians) to describe a person previously known as a « white man » but now to be described as a Caucasian or a « person of non-colour ». 
     « As a mere male, I have never understood why the feminists seem to think that so many of their sisters are so very weak and unable deal with such issues. History has shown women to be the equal of men, in most if not all respects, and it seems to me that such claims as are being advanced on their behalf do not do women justice. » 
          So pervasive has this movement become that even my e-mail programme objects if I receive messages containing words it considers to be politically incorrect. The first intimation of this was a warning attached to a message that I received from a niece of mine in England. She was relating how successful she had been in her attempt to give up smoking. She told me that she had now stopped smoking completely, having « gone from 20 fags a day to none ». A « chili » pepper, the symbol used by the e-mail programme to denote objectionable material, accompanied this snippet of information. Thus showing yet again that the English and the Americans are the same people divided only by a language, and that Americans write most e-mail programmes. 
The criminalization of academic content 
          Concomitant with the rise of the doctrine of political correctness has been an increase in the number of cases of alleged sexual harassment in the United States. Each centre of learning seems to have its own code of behaviour. Tongue twisting job titles such as the « Co-ordinator of Sexual Misconduct Prevention and Education » appear in the literature and procedures are outlined to be followed in such cases. For a country that prides itself on freedom of speech, and judicial fairness one might be forgiven for believing oneself to be in some fascist dictatorship. 
          Hearings are not adversarial courtroom-type proceedings; the defendant does not necessarily have the right to be present or to hear other witnesses, and does not have the right to cross-examine witnesses or prevent relevant evidence being considered. Defendants may not be allowed to confront their accuser, or even to hear the testimony of the accuser. The accused may be free to consult with an attorney, but they are not permitted to have one present during the hearing or at any resulting appeal. The defendant has no right to discuss his or her case, being in effect under a gag order. As the Legal Director of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Nicholas Hentoff, said of Columbia University's policy, « It is not far-fetched to conclude that Columbia University students had more due process protections when the school was founded in 1754, under a royal charter from King George II, than they do today under the new sexual misconduct policy. » 
          His organisation, FIRE, sent a letter to the trustees of Columbia University that read in part;  
          ... under the new policy, a student in his senior year could be expelled from Columbia as a result of charges from an ex-girlfriend that he allegedly committed « date rape » in his freshman year. He could be informed of those charges less than ten days before a hearing. He would not know the specific nature of the evidence alleged against him until the hearing officer described it to him immediately prior to the student's own testimony. Despite the grave seriousness of the charges and the ruin awaiting him from false conviction, the student would not have an attorney present to advise him and would not have the right to be present even to hear the testimony of either his accuser or the witnesses against him. He has no right to cross-examination, which, elsewhere in this society, is regarded as the principal way to test the believability of a witness and the truth of testimony. Indeed, the policy goes out of its way specifically to prohibit cross-examination. In short, the accused student lacks even the minimal information, time, and means to defend himself.
          A fairly damning criticism which so far doesn't seem to have changed things very much because an early victim of Columbia's policy was its distinguished Cardozo Professor of Jurisprudence, George Fletcher. Professor Fletcher was told that a question in his 1999 law class exam was possibly « unlawful » because it may have violated « harassment » law and discriminated against women by creating a « hostile environment ». 
          To quote from the letter sent by FIRE to the Dean of Law at Columbia University Law School,  
          The examination consisted of three questions. The question that sparked the controversy was entitled « Revenge of the Big Monkey ». It presented a hypothetical question that was nonetheless based upon facts found in a number of actual cases. It was the story of an « anti-fertility » cult that sent one of its members out on the street to « hunt out pregnant women and kill as many foetuses as he can ». In the course of performing his bizarre duty, « David » attacked three women. 
          While the violent nature of the hypothetical raised some controversy within the Law School community, the portion of the question that seemed most controversial involved the last victim of David's assaults, a woman named « Gaye, » who had been seeking, without success, an abortion of an unwanted fetus she was carrying. After David's attack succeeded in killing her fetus, Gaye « tells the doctors that she wants to write a thank you note to her assailant ». This detail injected into the controversy, above and beyond the « violence against women » theme, the notion that somehow a woman can be asking for an attack or might actually be thankful for the violence visited upon her.
          The case has brought forth an outpouring of righteous indignation against what is seen as the outright criminalization of academic content and an assault against academic freedom. The lady president of the American Civil Liberties Union, Nadine Strossen, observed that: « At stake in this situation are not only free speech and academic freedom, but also women's dignity and equality. » 
          At the time of writing no account of the affair's resolution has appeared in the press, and no reply to their letter to the Dean of Law has been received by FIRE. 
          As a mere male, I have never understood why the feminists seem to think that so many of their sisters are so very weak and unable deal with such issues. History has shown women to be the equal of men, in most if not all respects, and it seems to me that such claims as are being advanced on their behalf do not do women justice. The issues raised by Professor Fletcher's exam are unpleasant, but no more so than the kinds of cases and issues a criminal law practitioner faces every day. To see them as a violation of women's civil rights is profoundly repugnant and demonstrates the need to rid us of this blight on our society before it completely destroys our little remaining freedom. 
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